Nobody is a Nobody

Romans 12:4-5

4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

Dear Friends in Christ,

I came across an interesting article recently that was written tongue-in-cheek about the church.  It’s entitled “Physicians Confused by Case of Rebelling Organs.”  And it goes like this:

Doctors are searching for the cause of the turmoil within the body of a patient.  “We’ve never seen anything like it,” confessed one health professional.  “Not one part of his body likes the other.  The heels complain that the knees were given caps while they had only been given spurs.  The nostrils are tired of being picked on.  The lips are weary of the hot air constantly coming out of the nose.  The brain seems to have a mind of its own.  And the right hand refuses to let the left know what it is doing.  This is definitely a case of mutiny on the body.  The patient, a Mr. I. M. Church, says attempts at reconciliation have proven futile.”

   “My body parts are unstable,” he explained in an interview.  “Once when I slept, some of them traded places.  My ears swapped with my eyes, my toe swapped with my tongue.  I was a mess.  I had to turn my head sideways to read the paper and each time I spoke, my foot was in my mouth.”  Doctors are running out of treatments for I. M. Church.  One made this statement:  “It will take a Great Physician to keep this body together.  A Great Physician indeed.”

Now how would you like to have a body like that?  How would you feel if the members of your body were at war with one another?  What would you think if one part of your body didn’t like another part of your body or didn’t feel that that other part deserved to be there?  Having asked those questions, let me ask you another one.  How do you suppose Jesus feels when his body, the Church, does the same?  As I mentioned before, that article I shared with you was a tongue-in-cheek description of many churches today – and sadly I’ve been hearing some pretty scary stories lately about churches where the members are at war with one another or with their pastor – so this morning I want to spend some time talking about this subject as we continue with my “Faith Odyssey” sermon series that is finding us going wider in our understanding of fellowship and how we are to relate to one another as brothers and sisters of Christ.

And the first point that I want to make is that we are the body of Christ.  Over and over again the New Testament uses that phrase to identify and describe the Church.  Here are just a few of those references:  Eph. 5:30 says, “We are members of his body.”  Col. 1:18:  “And he is the head of the body, the church.”  Eph. 4:11-12:  “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” You get the point?  We, the Church, are the body of Christ in this world.  We’re his hands, his feet, his eyes, his ears, his mouth.  So when you listen to somebody who is hurting and pouring out their heart to you, you are being Jesus’ ears to that person.  When you feed someone who is hungry, you are Jesus feeding that hungry person.  When you hug someone or put your arm around them to give them comfort or encouragement, that’s like Jesus doing it for that person.

Now please understand, I am not his body.  And you are not his body individually.  But collectively, together, in a mystery that only God truly understands and that only he could orchestrate and make possible, we are his body.  We are not a business or corporation driven by a bottom line.  We’re not a social club fueled by status.  We’re not an honor society defined by success.  We are a church.  We are individual members of Jesus’ invisible body – admitted by his grace, empowered by his Spirit, and intertwined with one another by virtue of our relationship with him.  As Paul puts it in our text for today, “…in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

Do you understand what that means, my friends?  Since we are all part of the same body and we all belong to each other in this body, that means that nobody is a nobody in Christ’s church.  Everybody is a somebody.  Everybody has a place and a purpose in the body of Christ.  Now this truth has many important implications that we’ll be examining over the next couple of months as we take a look at some of the more than 20 “one another” passages that appear in the New Testament.  But this morning, I want to explore just two of those implications with you, starting with this one: If we are members of the same body, then we rely on the same blood.

That’s true of your body, isn’t it?  Does your foot have a separate blood system from your hand?  Does your ear have its own private little heart that pumps blood through it and only it?  Of course not!  Now granted, each part of the body is different from all the others.  And they each have their own specific functions.  Just like those who make up the church.  We’re all different from one another and we all have different functions and gifts and purposes.  Some play the role of the hand of Christ; others serve as his feet; some play the role his lips; others serve as his ears.  Every part is distinct; every part is unique; every part is essential.  And every part is dependent upon the same blood supply.  In our case, that blood supply consists of the shed blood of Jesus on the cross.  Listen to this passage tucked away in Rev. 5:9 where those in heaven are praising the Lamb, Jesus Christ.  And this is what they say:  “You were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

Notice that Jesus did not die once for the white man, then once for the Hispanics, then once for the Orientals, then once for the African Americans.  There is not one cross for males and one cross for females.  He did not die one death that was relatively painless for the good and decent folks of this world and then an excruciatingly painful death for those who are really bad.  We were all bought by the same blood.  We are all included under the same cross.  As I’ve said many times, no ground is more level than what you find at the foot of the cross.

So what does all this mean?  Why am I making such a big deal out of this?  Well, suppose you and I were on a bus trip together and that bus breaks down, like happened on our mission trip this summer.  But eventually this kind fellow in a very large pickup truck comes along and he says, “Hey, if everyone can climb in the back of my truck, I’ll take you to wherever you need to go.”  Now how would you feel if I went up to that guy and I began singling out certain people in our group who I felt didn’t deserve to get  onto the truck?  What if I said to him, “You see that fellow there?  That’s old George who has been in a bad mood all day so I think we should leave him here.  And that woman over there didn’t share any of her candy with me, so I wouldn’t let her get on the truck.  And that fellow over there didn’t say Good Morning to me, so he doesn’t deserve to get on the truck either.”  If I did that, what do you think the driver of that truck would say to me?  I may be wrong, but I suspect he would say, “Listen, buddy, I don’t know you are or who you think you are, but it’s not your decision who gets on my truck.  That’s my decision because it’s my truck.”

Now what does that story have to do with us?  Well, have you ever been in church on a Sunday morning and looked across the sanctuary and thought to yourself:  “What is that person doing here?  I know what they’ve done, or at least I heard it through the grapevine.  I don’t think they deserve to be here.”  Listen, my friends, we don’t have the right or the authority to do that.  If God draws a person to his church, who are we to say that that person shouldn’t be here?  I don’t care how many tattoos they have, how many body piercings, or how horrible their past is.  If God brings them here then we need to make them feel welcome and accepted.

I remember some years ago there was some controversy in the body of Christ when word got out that Jeffrey Dahmer, the mass murderer, rapist, and cannibal had become a Christian in prison.  There were people in the church who were saying, “I don’t know about this.  Can a man like that become a Christian and be forgiven by God for all those terrible things he did?”  Well, suppose he did become a Christian.  Suppose his conversion was genuine and legitimate, and we have no reason to believe it wasn’t, do you and I have the right to point a finger at him and say, “Most people can become a part of Christ’s body, but not a mass murderer, not a Jeffrey Dahmer.”  I’ve never forgotten something Max Lucado said at a Promise Keepers gathering years ago.  He said, “Jesus is the door to heaven.  You are not the screen door.”  On another occasion he said, “Christ’s church has no selection committee.  A sorority does.  A fraternity does.  A country club might.  But Christ’s church has no selection committee.”  If God brings that person into the body through faith in his Son Jesus Christ, then that person is in and is now my spiritual brother or sister because we’re all reliant upon the same blood to cleanse us of our sins.

And that takes us to the last point I want to make.  If we are part of the same body, then we are touched and affected by what happens to other members of the body.  Isn’t that true with your physical body?  When you stub your toe in the middle of the night it sends a message all the way to your brain that your body is in pain.  Earlier this year I found myself suffering from an ankle injury that I sustained on the basketball court when my associate over there stuck out his foot and tripped me on a breakaway lay-up.  No, he didn’t do that!  I’m just kidding.  But even though that injury was concentrated in a small tendon of my ankle, it affected the rest of my body in a variety of ways.

Well, when one member of the body of Christ hurts, we all feel that pain.  And I’m pleased to be able to say that I have seen that plenty of times over the years in our congregation especially when people were facing financial problems, only to have our members rally around them through a door offering and help them through those tough times. It’s a great demonstration of how the body of Christ is supposed to work.

But not only do we share in one another’s heartaches and sorrows, we are also touched and affected by one another’s joys and victories.  Kind of like what happened to Kevin.  Kevin was small for his age, but he loved to play basketball.  He’d always wanted to play on a team, but to be honest, he was kind of slow in both mind and body so he never made the high school team.  So when his church announced they were forming a team, he was the very first one to sign up. He was always the first one at practice and the last to leave.  If enthusiasm alone could make a great basketball player, Kevin would have been one of the best.  But he went the whole year without making a basket.  He played every game because the team was small, but he just couldn’t put the ball through the hoop.  And what’s worse, the team didn’t win a game.

And wouldn’t you know it. The last game of the year pitted this winless team against a team that had gone undefeated.  Well, the predictable happened and midway through the fourth quarter Kevin’s team was down 30 points.  It was beyond hope.  So during a timeout, one of Kevin’s teammates had an idea.  He said, “Alright, fellas, we all know that Kevin hasn’t made a basket all year, but that’s about to change.  Every time we get the ball we’re going to give it to him.  And we want you to shoot it, Kevin.”  So that’s what they did.  Every time they got the ball they fed it to Kevin.  But poor Kevin, even though he was having a blast, he just couldn’t make a basket.  Even the other team caught on and started giving the ball to Kevin.  By this time the fans had caught on too and they were cheering Kevin on every time he got the ball.  And he kept shooting and shooting, but still no basket.  Finally, with time running out on the clock, he let one go and lo and behold it found nothing but the bottom of the net.  And when it did, the crowd went crazy and all the players on both teams whooped and hollered.  And Kevin…well, he started jumping up and down and yelling, “I won!  I won!  I won!”  And you know what?  He did, didn’t he?  And so did everyone else because when one person wins in the body of Christ, everybody wins.

You see, the church is the complete opposite of the television show “Survivor.”  If you’ve ever seen that program, you know that each week somebody gets voted off and the winner is the one who at the end really has no friends to speak of but at least his pockets are full of cash.  Does that sound like a winner to you?  In contrast to that Jesus says, “Give me your Kevins.  Give me the woman caught in the act of adultery.  Give me the Peter who denied me and the Thomas who doubted me and the Saul who persecuted me.  Give me the losers and the failures of the world, and out of those folks, I will make myself, my body, available to the rest of the world.”