A Diverse, Loving Community

Eighth in a Series on Central’s Core Values,
Delivered March 14, 1999 by Dr. Ronald W. Scates

Sermon Text:
1 Corinthians 12:12-20
12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all
its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.
13 For we were all baptized by [1] one Spirit into one body–whether Jews
or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.
15 If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the
body," it would not for that reason cease to be 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 cease to be 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 arranged 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.

Imagine going to a performance of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and there was no harmony. All of the instruments were playing the exact same notes just the same way. And all the instruments were – no offense, Griz – trombones. It would be awful. We love diversity, especially what diversity produces in something like a symphony. And you and I love diversity when it comes to grocery stores and TV programming, and vacation options and restaurant menus, and of course, financial investing. Don’t forget to diversify that portfolio. We love diversity, except when it comes to people. Even brothers and sisters in Christ. When it comes to people, gosh, pretty much we like to be with other people who are just like us. We balk at diversity when it comes to people. Even the church growth experts will tell you, if you really want to grow a church you’ve got to take into consideration what they call the homogeneous unit principal. And that basically says that people like to be with people that are like them. And so to grow your church, target people that are just like you. And build in a comfort level, a comfort zone in the church that will not be threatened by racial or cultural or socioeconomic diversity.

Here at Central Pres. we’re not really into just packing pews. We are committed to building a diverse, loving community of believers in Jesus Christ. We are committed to diversity. Why? Because God is committed to diversity. Look at the creation out there, God has made petunias and porcupines, He’s made mitochondria and mountains, He’s made rivers and rutabagas. God loves to be diverse in His creation. And so we believe that we’re to be intentional about diversity too. In fact, as your Session, your elders, went through the grueling process of hammering out these Core Values that we are gathering ourselves around as a congregation, we were convicted by a verse of Scripture and I would encourage you to turn to that verse in the last book of the Bible, Revelation. The seventh chapter, the ninth verse. Here in this verse the Apostle John is given a vision of what the fulfilled kingdom of God is going to look like. And in that verse he says he saw a multitude of people that were beyond counting. There were people there from every tribe, every nation, every people group, every language. God is into diversity. And we felt convicted by that verse that we too are to be intentional about diversity here at Central Church. To build a diverse, loving community of faith. That’s not an easy thing to do. And this morning we’re going to get some guidance for how one congregation in the early Church went about it. They were struggling. We’re going to see Paul writing to a congregation that’s pretty much fractured, they’re struggling in a very multi-cultural, multi-racial, religiously pluralistic city. The city of Corinth. So I would invite you to turn with me in your Bibles to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian Christians, the 12th chapter and this morning let’s take a look at verses 12 through 20.

This is the Word of God, Paul writes to them and to us:

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 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 cease to be part of the body. 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? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

Join me as we pray: And now Father, as my words are true to your Word, may they be taken to heart. But as my words should stray from your Word, may they be quickly forgotten. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Some of the best preparation for ministry I ever received was in college, where I was a pre-veterinary major. I studied. I dissected. I performed surgery on all different kinds of animals. And as I did I had to learn body parts and muscles groups and organ systems. And through that whole experience I was continually amazed by all of the interdependency, by all of the diversity and complexity and yet harmony and unity that makes up just one organism. And then in graduate school I was taken further into God’s creation, down to the sub-cellular level, where I studied about cell organelles and biochemical reactions. And again, I was overwhelmed by the complexity and yet the harmony and unity of how diverse chemical reactions create things that produce life. Oh, I came across those situations were there was a lack of diversity. A lack of interdependence. I came across those situations where like-minded cells stuck together with just their kind and did their own thing. That’s what a malignant tumor is all about.

And here in this text before us, what the Apostle Paul does is he gives the Corinthian Christians and you and me a lesson in spiritual anatomy 101. On what ought to characterize the body of Christ in terms of diversity. And in this text before us, we learn at least four things about diversity. And the first is this: that diversity is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. Just like in the human body, every part needs every other part. The parts are different but complementary to each other. They are all interdependent, they need each other. Just like the human body, so it is with the body of Christ. There are different parts, they all play a needed function. And in verses 12 and 14 and 19 and 20, what Paul does is he shoot some pretty significant holes into the homogenous unit principal. He says the body is one, but there’s a whole lot of different parts. The body is made up, not of all of the same parts. They’re different. Imagine a body made up of say, 50 kidneys all stuck together. That would be rather interesting. It would probably get a lot of press coverage. But I think that person would be somewhat less effective in terms of teaching Sunday School or doing evangelism. If a body was all kidneys, it just wouldn’t work. The body is diverse, with interdependent parts. God doesn’t like monotony. We have words for when everything’s the same, when everybody’s the same: boring, monotonous. God’s diverse. Imagine if Michelangelo, in painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel used only the color green.

A second thing we learn about diversity from this text is that diversity within the body of Christ doesn’t happen by chance. It is not by accident. It’s not serendipitous. Look at verse 18 of your text. We learn in this verse that diversity within the body of Christ is not only something that God wishes and desires, it’s something that he actually orchestrates. He’s at work bringing diverse Christians with diverse gifts, Christians who look different, that have different tastes, together. He’s in the business creating the body of Christ as a mosaic of all different shades and complexions.

It’s not by accident, it’s by God’s design that diversity is to characterize the very body of Christ. We sometimes flee from that. I like being with people that are like me. I don’t get up in the morning and think about going out and trying to find people different from me and hooking up with them. Our natural inclination is to be with those who are just like us. And yet, if we look at this verse, verse 18, this is a verse that latent racists like me need to wrestle with, because this blows apart the idea of homogeneity and any racism that’s in us. God is bringing together all of this diversity. And it’s uncomfortable for a lot of us. But this is who God is. This is how He operates. It’s His intention.

Here at Central Church we’ve looked at that verse and said “well, if God’s going to be intentional about it, then we need to be intentional too.” And so we open the doors wide to this place, welcome anybody. But beyond that, we’ve started to move out and we’re trying to draw the different folks that God wants to be here. To help them find their place in the body of Christ. God is orchestrating the diversity of His body. And you know what? Right here, we get a case study. Jump back up to verse 13. Right here Paul gives us a case study of how God is doing that in one congregation there in Corinth. He says that God is intentionally, intentionally creating a diverse multi-racial congregation. He’s bringing together what? – Jews and Greeks – which mix about as well as oil and water. The Greeks hated those cliquish, self-righteous Jews. And the Jews couldn’t stand those pagan Greek pigs.

And yet God orchestrates them to come together. He says “Learn to live together as the body of Christ.” And in verse 13 we see that God is intentionally orchestrating a multi-culturally diverse congregation. Again, Greek culture and Hebrew culture are like night and day. One is occidental, one is oriental. The Greeks were people of the head, Jews were people of the heart. The Greeks think linearly, Jews think poetically. And yet God puts them together, says, “Learn to live together.” And here in verse 13 we see that God is intentionally creating a diverse socio-economic congregation. Slaves and free people. Folks who are at the very bottom rung of the socio-economic status ladder all the way up to the top rung. People on welfare, millionaires, God is intentionally orchestrating them to come together. They need each other. “Learn to live together,” that’s what God is saying.

The third thing we learn about diversity in this text is that the lack of diversity there in Corinth, and in Baltimore, in the body of Christ, may sometimes be more to self-exclusion rather than keeping people out. These doors are wide open to anybody that wants to come. Why aren’t we more culturally diverse? Why are we not more racially diverse? That’s a question the Presbyterian Church USA is asking. We’ve got a project to try to intentionally become more racially diverse over the next 10 years. This congregation, we’re going to try to do that too. Why? Why is it not the case? It’s largely because people exclude themselves from congregations.

In verses 15 and 16, Paul gives us a couple of vignettes how that works. Here’s Frankie the foot, now Frankie’s become a Christian, he’s looking for a congregation. And he sees one, says “Hey, this looks like a pretty good congregation, it’s close to my home, I think I’ll join this church. Uh oh. St. Hand’s Presbyterian Church. They’re all hands in there. They’re not like me! I wouldn’t fit in there. I’m certainly not going to go to that church.” Then we find Ella the Ear. And Ella, she’s heard the Gospel, and she’s become a Christian. She’s looking for a Bible Study to really help her grow in her faith in Christ. She finds one, it’s on Thursday nights. That fits her schedule. Then she looks at the title of it: Eyes of Faith Bible Study. “Ooh, Would I fit in there?” Seems to be a little too visual for me. Sounds like they’re not really my type, I’m not going to go there.

Unfortunately we’ve got Christians running around all over the body of Christ who latently have bought into the homogenous unit principal. That I can only go to church with people who are just like me. That I’m not worthy to go with others. Or I don’t fit in or I don’t have as many gifts as they have or whatever. We’ve got black folks who say I would never think of joining a white church, “Man, I’d be like a chocolate chip in a pile of Cool Whip. I wouldn’t fit in there.” We’ve got white folks who say, “I would never think about joining a Korean church, I mean, I don’t like kimche.” We’ve got people of all stripes running around saying “I’m not worthy to be a part of that church” or “I’m not gifted enough” or “I don’t have enough money” or “I don’t have enough talent or ability. Certainly I can’t be a part of that church.” And they exclude themselves and they run around looking for churches where they fit, where they are comfortable, rather than asking the question: “Hey God, where do you want me to fit into the body of Christ?” They exclude themselves. We’ve got a lot of Christians running around with a spiritual inferiority complex. They feel like they could never be a part of certain churches. This is about the only place I can find in Paul’s letters where he really kind of zeroes in on negative Christian self-images. It’s almost like Paul takes on sort of a Robert Schuller/Norman Vincent Peale angle in this text. Although remember the phrase, “I find Paul appealing and Peale appalling.” There’s a lot of truth to that, but nevertheless, Paul says “Christians, do not tear yourself down. Don’t be self-negative. Don’t denigrate yourself. Frankie the foot, you’ve got a place in the body of Christ. You may not be a hand, but you belong in the body of Christ. Plug in where God wants you to be. Ella the ear, you may not be an eyeball, but you bring your own gifts to the body. Don’t just find a place where you fit, or where it’s comfortable. Plug in where God wants you to be.” The homogenous unit principal is really not for the body of Christ. We’re to find that place where God wants us to be. He’s orchestrating that diversity. Don’t exclude yourself because you don’t seem to fit. Go where God is leading.

A fourth thing we learn about diversity in this text is that though diversity means that there isn’t uniformity it doesn’t mean that there’s not unity in the body of Christ. We’re committed to creating a diverse, loving community of faith here at Central Church. Community – common unity – in the church that always involves theological unity. There are some beliefs that you and I must hold in common if we are truly going to be unified. If we’re really going to be Christians together amidst our diversity. The reason a lot of evangelicals flinch at the idea of diversity is that they think that that means theological pluralism with no boundaries. Uh uh. Look at verse 13 again of your text. Paul says to the Corinthians that it’s the Holy Spirit whose orchestrating this whole thing. He’s bringing many different parts together into one body. We drink of one spirit.

That means you and I have got to ask the question: what’s the primary function of the Holy Spirit. The first two primary functions of the Holy Spirit are these: first, the Holy Spirit always points past himself to Jesus Christ. Secondly, the Holy Spirit illumines the truth of God’s Word in Scripture to us. We are committed to being a diverse, loving community of faith. We’re all different. Different complexions, we look different, we dress different, we have different interests and tastes. We’re differently gifted, some of us have great gifts others have more mundane gifts. Let me tell you a great self-image story. Newsweek magazine a few years ago interviewed Stacey King of the Chicago Bulls. And they asked him “what’s been your greatest moment in the NBA?” and he said, “No question. It was the night, a glorious night, I’ll never forget the night, when Michael Jordan and I combined for 70 points.” What Stacey King did not tell the interviewer is that Michael Jordan hit for 69 points that evening and Stacey King only scored one point. But think about it. Isn’t that great? That he thinks of it as they did it together. Cause they did. They were a part of the same team. I’m here to tell you, I don’t care what you look like, I don’t care what race you are, what side of town you’re from, I don’t care about your bank balance, or which side of the tracks you came here from. I don’t care what your gifts are. Maybe you can only score one point. Maybe you can hit for 70. There’s a place for you in the body of Christ. There’s a place for you. And here at Central Pres. we’re committed to struggling to make that a reality.

Join me as we pray:
Father, you’re such a great and gracious God, and you blow us away with your complexity, your diversity. We praise you for the mosaic that you have created here on earth. We also confess Lord, that it makes us a little bit uncomfortable and we would have designed it differently. And the world would be a much sadder place if we were in control. So we thank you that you’re sovereign and we pray that this place would continue to be a place where Christians of all walks of life, every race and nation, tribe and tongue, can find its place of servanthood for Jesus’ sake. And we lift our prayer now, in His holy name. Amen.