Blog Post by
Tony De La Rosa, Ruling Elder
Transitional Synod Executive
Synod of Mid-America
Trigger warning: this is a sermon about blood. If you are at all sensitive about the subject, or if it makes you queasy, be aware that I will be talking about it… a lot. You can take comfort in the fact that I will not be showing you any bloody pictures or gory videos; I just want to avoid having you becoming lightheaded or faint, even if you belong of one of those congregations where being lightheaded and fainting during the sermon is at all common. Rest assured that this is not that type of message.
There is a wonderfully unique tourist attraction in Quebec City, Canada, called the “Musée de la Civilisation,” or the Museum of Civilization. The museum’s exhibits are broadly thematic rather than focused, spanning science, technology, history, literature, and the arts in drawing deep and compelling connections between seemingly disparate and disconnected elements of our lives as human beings.
On the day that I happened to visit the museum, there was an exhibit devoted to the subject of blood. As you can expect, there was a fair amount of material devoted to the medical understanding of blood, its viscous nature, its cellular make-up, its function in transporting all-important oxygen throughout the body to keep organs, tissues, and other cells alive. These were aspects of blood that one would expect in an American museum devoted to the science of the human body, but the Civilization Museum took a distinctly Francophone approach by expanding its presentation to blood as an abstract concept in literature, art, and the popular imagination. Among the exhibit’s presentations of the subject was blood’s evocation in literary works and classic poetry as symbolic of violence, such as in the spilling of blood or the presence of pools of blood.
But perhaps the most powerful conceptual theme discussed in the exhibit was the notion of blood signifying human identity and relationship, and specifically, familial connection. Bloodlines, blood relatives, and blood brothers are just a few of the terms incorporating blood that describe relationships that are enduring and eternal. Our hearts may be intertwined, we may be of one mind, but shared blood is seemingly stronger than even life itself. Family, or more broadly speaking your “tribe,” is always your tribe. You are born into an identity and a set of connections that cannot be shaken. No matter how hard you may try, blood ties cannot be undermined. It is, after all, in your blood.
The Christian Church, for its part, recognized very early in its history that no one tribe – not even the chosen people of Israel – could uniquely lay claim to the love of God and the salvation that awaited us in the afterlife. The greatest early proponent of this principle of the new Christian faith was the apostle Paul. He argued with other followers of Christ that the lifeblood of Jesus had been shed for all humankind, both Jew and Gentile, and all those who believed — whatever their origin — were to be welcomed as a member of the faithful family. Every one of the followers of Christ were as strongly interconnected as blood relatives because they were all part of the beloved household of Jesus.
Paul’s vision, noble as it was, met with problems from the start. His beloved community was often wracked with disagreement and distaste for one another. The new followers of Jesus Christ could not escape the idea that some were more favored than other followers, that a privileged segment were more legitimate or deserving of honor than others. They just could not abide being with those who were so different from them, and they brought their socially well-honed suspicions and prejudices into the Church where they sowed discord and division. All of Paul’s extensive missionary efforts threatened to come apart at the seams.
The situation in Corinth was particularly troublesome. As Paul’s letters to the Corinthian congregation reveal, there was so much hope and possibility which a few petty disagreements imperiled. In this morning’s scripture passage from I Corinthians 12, Paul looked to human anatomy to explain why the Corinthian congregation’s diversity was part of God’s design, and why that diversity was crucial to the community’s very existence.
Paul’s line of reasoning began with a restatement of the overarching principle of Christian unity. “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free….” He then moved to compare this unity with the nature of the human body. He noted the diverse and complex functions different specialized parts of the individual human body played. These different parts of the body and their attendant functions were no less important than others. Indeed seemingly “inferior” parts played among the most important roles in the health of the whole body. This last observation was important for his Corinthian audience to hear since some were attempting to impose a spiritual hierarchy that Paul argued simply did not exist. In fact, Paul asserted God’s design ran exactly to the contrary.
“But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another.”
Just in case some missed the point, Paul concludes his admonition by listing the specialized roles different members might fulfill, including apostles, prophets, teachers, miracle workers, healers, and a variety of others. No one is universally gifted, he notes, but all have something to contribute to health and wholeness of the faith community, a community whose bonds are just as immutable and indestructible as any family or tribe thanks to the blood of Christ.
In our day and age, the Church still struggles with the fractious tendencies that plagued the Corinthian believers millennia ago. Rather than embrace one another and lift up each other’s gifts, we find ourselves beset by those who insist that Christian living is a purity pageant where we compete for divine favor. Ignoring all that Paul taught us, some have divided us and done that well, insisting that they have no need of the less observant, the less ideological, less constrained faith that is somehow inferior. Seeing no irony in their efforts, they seek to be blameless in their ardor, destroying all sense of community because they cannot perceive that God would be that loving, that broad, that universal.
We hear Paul begging at us, yelling at us, to stop this madness. The body cannot endure with parts of it opting to tear us apart. But more than just staying in community, we can do more. Sunday, January 23rd is “Per Capita Sunday” in our denominational calendar, a chance for all of us re-commit our support for the beloved community that is the greater Church, the institution that serves as the visible expression of our shared spiritual connection in Christ’s blood. Per capita, the per member assessment for denominational support is often wrongly described as a Presbyterian “head tax.” To the contrary, like all other dollars contributed to the church, it is an expression of thankfulness to God for the gift of community, even when that community might otherwise annoy or disappoint or even anger us. Per capita helps to fund core denominational programs like support and nurture congregations like yours, with programs like pastoral search support, boundary training, technology assistance, and even this 4th Sunday sermon series.
There are some who use the withholding of per capita contributions as a way to divide us, to bring into question the fallible institution that is the visible Church and to try to bring it harm. It is, to use Paul’s metaphor, the eye saying to the hand, “I have no need of you.” What does bring harm is not the refusal to contribute per capita, but rather, the sentiment that some would harbor that the Church somehow deserves to be harmed. Sowing dissension and division in the body of Christ is never the answer.
We may disagree in our understandings of how God is speaking to us, yet nevertheless, we remain connected in Christ, and no amount of attempted manipulation from those who seek to divide us can undercut the faith binds us in blessed union with one another. Our ties in the blood of Christ are immutable and everlasting. As Paul counseled his Corinthian converts, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” Both Scripture and our history tells us that tearing the body up yields only pain and sorrow, never purity and righteousness. Per capita contributions are just one way we can honor one another and rejoice together as the unified whole God intended for us to be.
After all, we are tied together. By blood. Amen.
Tony De La Rosa, Ruling Elder
Transitional Synod Executive
Synod of Mid-America
 Eugene H. Petersen in The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002), provides an interesting paraphrase and interpretation of I Corinthians 12:27-31 to the NRSV used here.
I CORINTHIANS 12:12-31a
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But strive for the greater gifts.