Two Sundays ago I got to preach at my church, Lake B, for the first time in person. The video is here if you’re interested in watching rather than reading it.
I was struck by how different it is to preach in person as opposed to recording a sermon online. Among a supportive community, it’s a beautiful thing. I’m thankful for the people who laugh at the funny parts and say “yes” or “amen” or nod their heads when they resonate with something.
Anyhow, I thought I’d share a written form of the sermon here in three segments. The topic of the sermon is “shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God.” I got to choose a scripture passage to go along with it, and I chose 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.
Here’s the scripture passage in the NIV:
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.
And here’s the first part of the sermon—some initial general thoughts and then some thoughts focusing on shelter:
I really love the picture 1 Corinthians 12 paints of a community of interconnected members who all bring different gifts to the table—like a human body made up of many unique, connected, important parts. I love this idea that everyone has something to offer. And our differences make us stronger together.
We’re a couple weeks into a sermon series about the “Six Great Ends” of the church. This is apparently a Presbyterian thing that I’d never heard of until a few weeks ago. “Great Ends” is just a way of saying, these are some of the things we want church to be about at its core. These are some of the goals we’re aiming for.
Some of the “Ends” we’ve talked about already are worship and the proclamation of the Gospel. Our “End” for this morning is shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God. In the next couple weeks we’ll talk about things like social righteousness and preservation of the truth.
I kind of feel like I got the nice “End” here. Shelter, nurture, spiritual fellowship—these are all nice, warm, fuzzy, friendly things. They’re community-oriented, in a very nice and pleasant-sounding way. Things like proclamation, social righteousness, preservation of the truth all sound a little more challenging. But shelter, nurture, fellowship—it all sounds so nice and cozy.
One might even wonder: Why are we talking about comfy-sounding things like shelter and nurture? Aren’t we all about boldly confronting the powers that be, embodying justice, protesting and lamenting and engaging with our world in transformational ways? Aren’t shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship perhaps a little bit insular? Are they a little inward-focused—focused on ourselves rather than the broader communities we’re a part of?
In one sense, I would say, yes, kind of. They are all about us. They’re about the community we have among ourselves—by which I mean the people in this room, and the people tuning in online (hi), and the people who couldn’t make it this morning—anyone who considers Lake B their church community. It’s all about us—our togetherness, the strength of our connections and relationships.
But I would suggest that looking inward in our community is not at all at odds with our more obviously outward-facing values like justice and collaboration and hospitality—our values that center us in our broader communities beyond the walls of church. I would suggest that the strength of our nurture and fellowship within this community is actually what empowers us to do the work of justice in our world. The shelter and nurture we experience here strengthens the work of our lives beyond here.
And, to flip things around, I would also suggest that when we do work for justice in our world, we aren’t just aiming for justice for justice’s sake. We’re aiming for justice because it’s an essential step toward building a truly beloved community. So it’s all connected together. These things reinforce one another.
These are some of the things I think about more generally when I think about today’s “End” in light of the metaphor of the human body from 1 Corinthians 12. But I also want to get into the specifics of the three different parts of this “End.” Let’s start with shelter.
I feel like shelter can have a bit of a negative vibe sometimes. We might say, you’re so sheltered, to mean sheltered from reality. Or, even worse, shelter can be used in the sense of a cover or hiding place—as in, that organization (or that church, theology, etc.) provides shelter for abusers. This is, of course, not the kind of shelter we want to be.
And yet, shelter, in some sense of the word, is a good thing. It’s something we all need. We all need safe spaces. I think of Jesus imagining himself as a mother hen who longs to gather her people under her wing (Luke 13:34). We all need safe places to gather, under wings of love and peace and comfort.
What does it mean to cultivate truly safe space, truly safe community? When we read in scripture about the metaphor in the body, we see that the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are actually indispensable (1 Cor 12:22-3). They are treated with honor.
Truly safe spaces are spaces where all of us are treated with honor. They’re spaces where the most vulnerable ones among us especially are treated with honor—or, really, where they’re recognized for the honor they already carry in their being. The dignity they already embody as children of God is recognized by the whole community.
We live in a world where some people are considered dispensable. Sometimes that’s women, when our rights of autonomy are revoked. Sometimes that’s people of color, in our society built on racism and racial violence. Sometimes that’s grocery store workers and healthcare workers and other people considered “essential workers” but also considered dispensable during a pandemic.
But in the metaphor of the body, there are no dispensable people. A community of safety—a community of shelter—lives out this reality. There are no dispensable people.
Really, the metaphor of the body is a metaphor of belonging. In a body there is no part that does not belong. And there is no person here among us who does not belong. Belonging is for everybody. This is where a true sense of safety and shelter come from—from knowing deep within ourselves that we belong.
We can offer this gift of belonging to one another. This is what Jesus did throughout his life. I think of Jesus giving away belonging like Oprah gives away cars. You get a car, you get a car, you get a car. Everywhere Jesus went and everyone he interacted with—I picture him saying, basically, you belong, you belong, you belong.
I picture him saying, you don’t deserve to be plagued by that demon. You belong. You with the illness—you belong. You who are outcast—you belong.
You belong, exactly as you are. Not just the nice parts you like to show on social media. Not just the nice parts you like to bring to church. You belong—the real you.
True shelter doesn’t mean we won’t hurt one another, or that we’re all perfect and have no room to grow. Far from it. But it does mean we are responsible to one another. We are accountable to one another. Shelter is shelter not necessarily for everything we say and do but for the core of who we are.
We can claim this belonging for ourselves. And we can offer this belonging to one another. It’s the gift of shelter, and we share it with one another in community.
That’s the first part! Come back next week for the second section—thoughts on the body of Christ and the idea of nurture.