Texts: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 (the Body of Christ); Luke: 4:14-21 (Jesus preaches in Nazareth)
Ever since stories about Jesus and the letters of Paul began circulating in the Roman Empire, the church has described itself as The Body of Christ.
Today, we heard one of the passages in which Paul develops this metaphor. He notes that some in the church are apostles; others prophets; and still others teachers and healers. But despite these differences, we form a gracious unity.
Paul compares this to a physical body. The hand is different than the eye, but both rely on each other. Paul is celebrating diversity while acknowledging unity. He invites us to strive for balance among our diverse parts, both as individuals and in an institution like a church.
In the 1960s, the United Church of Canada’s General Council felt a need to evolve its understanding of what it means to be the Body of Christ. It mandated its Committee on Faith to come up with a modern creed to replace those from the time of Rome. So in 1968, it adopted A New Creed, which has been well-loved in the United Church ever since.
But the creed did not remain static. The first version began as follows: “Man is not alone. Man lives in God’s world.” Then as feminist ideas spread in Canada in the 1970s, a request was made to make the language gender-neutral. This led to a revision adopted by General Council in 1980. Since then, A New Creed has begun with the lines, “We are not alone. We live in God’s world.”
In 1994, another request was made for the creed to acknowledge human responsibility for the natural environment. This led to an addition to the section of the creed that begins “We are called to be the church.” Until 1994, this section read “We are called to be the church to celebrate God’s presence, / to love and serve others, / to seek justice and resist evil, / and to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, / our judge and our hope.”
A committee first suggested adding the phrase “to care for creation” to this section, but that was criticized for implying that humanity is not part of creation. So the phrase was modified to read “to live with respect in Creation.”
I wonder if the fact that the Right Rev. Stan McKay was Moderator at that time – the first Indigenous person to be elected to this role – played a role in the phrase’s final form — “to live with respect in Creation.”
The 1994 addition upholds the value of respect and it reminds us that humanity is, indeed, embedded in creation.
Unfortunately, humanity is a part of creation that threatens the whole. There are different ways to see this threat, but a simple way is to look at the growth in human population.
Eight thousand years ago when agriculture began to replace hunting and gathering, there were only a few million people scattered across the earth. By the time of the Roman Empire, that number had risen to 200 million. The half billion mark was reached by 1650; one billion by 1800; two billion by 1930, three by 1960, four by 1975, five by 1985, six by 2000, and seven billion by 2012. If current trends continue, the earth might see 10 billion people by 2050.
The growth in humanity’s numbers has caused imbalances in the natural world; and restoring balance is not easy given that the world’s economy is based upon ceaseless growth. These imbalances also make the task of finding balance in our families and communities more challenging, I believe.
We try to care for our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs; but this task need not be narrowly focused. Jesus calls us to love our neighbours as ourselves, and this might remind us that we are inter-dependent. At a fundamental level, our neighbours are part of us, and so self-respect also involves caring for our neighbours.
The work of freeing the prisoner, bringing sight to the blind, and raising up the poor, which Jesus proclaims in today’s Gospel reading, is not just good ethics. It is also part of self-care because an injury to one is an injury to all.
Seeking balance in our hearts and minds and in our families and communities is work that never ends. It makes up the daily yin and yang of life; it involves many spiritual practices; and it is the focus of many conversations at home and church.
As the Body of Christ, the church reminds us that we are not alone. We live in God’s world where all living things are our relations. We may struggle to find ways to bring balance between economic activity and the needs of the environment. But we can be confident that every attempt we make to gather in song and prayer, to celebrate our unity amid diversity, and to love our neighbours as ourselves is a faithful response to God’s joyous call that we live with respect in creation.
May it be so. Amen.