Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 here.
They say everything happens for a reason. I don’t know who “they” are, but that’s what they say. It must be true because I saw it on the internet. Those exact words aren’t in the Bible, but Paul tells us in Romans that God works all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). I don’t always like everything that happens, but everything that happens to me does have some impact on me and affects my thoughts and my actions, and very often is reflected in some way in my sermons. Ergo, you could say that whatever happens to me also has some affect on you because it affects what I say to you, for better or for worse. And that, my friends, is my first example to you of what Paul is trying to explain in our scripture for today from 1 Corinthians:
We are all connected.
Paul says, “we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit” (1 Cor.12:13).
Walt Disney made a whole ride at Disneyland about this and a song that repeats over and over . . . and over and over: “It’s a small world after all.”
The Holy Spirit binds us together and draws us together. I’m convinced that’s why I felt compelled to be at the special chapel at Sterling College on Friday morning in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I was glad I went and had the opportunity to pray and celebrate the unity we have in Christ with this group that is such a large part of our community here in Sterling, and with members of our UPC church family who were there, and with members of my own immediate family who were there.
The speaker that day was Marvin Daniels, the executive director of the Hope Center in Kansas City. Daniels told us that it is Jesus who gives us the ability to love one another, and who commands us to love one another, and challenged us to work to overcome the things that divide us. Daniels was saying what Paul is also saying: We are all the body of Christ. Jesus is the head, and we make up all the other parts. What happens to one of us affects all of us, because we are all connected by the Holy Spirit. (All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. 1 Cor 12:27)
We acknowledge this when we pray for one another. The Holy Spirit works among us, guiding and prompting our prayers. For example, I knew that Lara McGregor, the pastor of the Presbyterian church in Lyons, was going to be needing surgery, so I was praying for her, but I didn’t know when the surgery was scheduled. One day as I was praying I felt compelled to ask her how she was doing. When I contacted her, she told me that this was the day she was having the surgery. I’d had no idea it was that day, but God knew.
Prayer is one of the big ways we “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). The law of Christ is that Jesus commanded us to love one another. David Hubbard, an Old Testament scholar and president of Fuller Seminary who wrote several books about prayer, said:
The purest form of love is given with no expectation of return. Measured by this standard, earnest prayer for others is a magnificent act of love. –David Hubbard
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that
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. (24-25)
We are all parts of the same body, and all the parts should have equal concern for each other.
When Paul was writing this there were no denominations.
Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. (1 Cor 12:13)
If Paul were writing this today, maybe he would put it this way:
Some of us are Presbyterians, some are (pick any denomination), some are Republicans, and some are Democrats, but we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.
When we walk down the street here in Sterling, we may know some of the people we meet, and we may know something about them, or we may know nothing about them, but Jesus loves them the same as he loves us.
Yesterday my husband Rob met a man walking by the church who stopped him and said Rob looked like one of his relatives. After introducing one another, and finding no immediate connection, the man went on his way and Rob came inside the church and sat down at the piano. Already thinking about the possibility of family connections in Sterling because of the conversation outside, Rob glanced down and noticed the plaque on the piano that tells who donated it. James Edward & Charlotte Brock. Rob’s great-grandparents are named Brock. Our son Tristan’s middle name is Brock in honor of them. Using the magic of Google Rob discovered that the family that donated the piano has connections with Bainbridge, the small town in South Georgia where Rob’s family lives. Are they related? We’re still researching, but it’s likely they are. It’s a small world and we’re all connected!
Another unexpected connection came in a message from my mother earlier in the week. My mother’s best friend from Santa Monica High School in California has kept track of their high school group, and it turns out that one of them moved to Sterling in 2003 and is buried in the Sterling Cemetery. Marilyn Hackett Whittingham. I don’t know the rest of the story yet, but I know that It’s a small world and we’re all connected.
When we read Paul’s words in our text for today, we are tempted to confine its meaning to just those in our local church, but we need to look at what Paul says in 1 Corinthians in three ways – as people who are part of United Presbyterian Church, as people who are part of the entire body of the church in the world, and as people who are part of the human race.
This past week our board of elders, our session, met for the first time in 2019. Last Sunday I asked you all to pray for us and for our meeting on Wednesday. Thank you so much for your prayers. We had a wonderful meeting, and we’ll be telling you later during our congregational meeting about some important decisions we made. In preparation for making those decisions, we did three things.
- We read Jesus’ words in John 15 where Jesus says, “I am the vine and you are the branches…apart from me you can do nothing.” (15:1,5) We needed to remember that we are connected.
- Jesus says, “Abide in me as I abide in you.” (15:4) To help us make sure we were abiding, we prayed more than once.
- We also remembered the words of our mission statement. It’s not new. It was handed down to us by some elders who have gone on to the church triumphant. Their words remain to keep us connected and on track with what we’re to be about. It says this:
As followers of Jesus Christ in obedience to the Word,
we covenant to be a nurturing community
that challenges and equips one another
for worship, witness, and service.
What that says is not too far from what Paul is saying. As the body of Christ, following our leader and his directions to us in his Word, we commit to take care of each other, and to challenge and equip one another for doing the work that Jesus calls us to do. Worship, witness, and service.
Some of that will happen inside this building. Most of it will happen outside these walls. What we do in here needs to encourage, challenge and equip us to remember who we are out there, and that we’re all connected.
Last Monday, for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, we watched the movie Selma (2014) about the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. It was a tough movie to watch for several reasons. It’s hard to see people being hateful. It’s hard to watch people getting beat up and killed. When an actor is doing a really good job, we feel what they’re feeling. We feel their pain. We celebrate their ability to do it well, but the reason that it works is that we are connected. We empathize with one another, and when we do, we are being human. It’s what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 12:26:
If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
It’s much easier to try to distance ourselves from one another and not feel each other’s pain, but we’re all connected because we’re family. In the book of Acts, Paul explains this to the people in Athens to help them understand who God is. He says,
26 From one ancestor[i] he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God[j] and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ (Acts 17:26-28)
We are all family.
In the movie Selma, one of the hardest scenes for me to watch was the brutal scene in which two young white pastors who came from Boston to be a part of the march get beat up and killed by a group of white segregationists. The pastors had come to stand with their brothers and sisters in Christ who were being denied their legal right to vote. As I watched I wondered what was happening in the world today that I would be willing to go that far to support. To get beat up and killed for.
I was curious about those pastors, so I Googled them and discovered that one of them, James Reeb, was born in Wichita. He graduated from St. Olaf and went to Princeton Seminary and became a Presbyterian pastor. It’s remarkably easy to find connections. We are all connected.
The phrase that is the title of this message, All for One and One for All, was made famous by Alexandre Dumas in his book The Three Musketeers. It was the musketeers’ rallying cry for courageous unity as they fought duels, but the motto comes from an earlier event in history. We are big on the separation of church and state in the United States, but our founding fathers’ emphasis on this idea comes from their experience with the centuries old practice of theocracy. Theocracy means that whoever rules the nation also chooses the religion. We read in the Old Testament about the kings of Israel and Judah who led the nation to be faithful to God or to worship idols. As the reformation prompted separation from the Catholic church in 16th century Europe, the kings and queens would dictate whether their subjects would be Catholic or protestant, and thousands were killed for refusing to convert to the legal religion.
In the early 17th century, in what was then Bohemia, the catholic rulers had not been forcing the protestants to convert, even making an official decree allowing them to continue as protestants. But in 1618, Ferdinand became king, and he was not only Catholic but also greatly opposed to the reformation, and he ordered the local governors to stop the construction of protestant chapels in Bohemia.
In the challenges and discussions that ensued, a letter was written that included these words:
As they also absolutely intended to proceed with the execution against us, we came to a unanimous agreement among ourselves that, regardless of any loss of life and limb, honour and property, we would stand firm, with all for one and one for all… nor would we be subservient, but rather we would loyally help and protect each other to the utmost, against all difficulties.
The protestants did stand together, and they were sentenced to be executed by defenestration. Do you know what it means? That sounds like some really horrible kind of execution, and of course all executions are horrible. Defenestration means to throw someone out of a high window. However these men fell 70 feet and survived. And the event is forever recorded in history as the “Defenestration of Prague.”
We are all connected. The Holy Spirit binds us and draws us together. Even those who aren’t aware of it yet. We have the Spirit among us because of the One who died for us all.
There are 7.63 billion people in the world. We don’t all look the same or act the same. We don’t all have the same gifts or abilities or interests. We don’t all have the same opinions or speak the same language. But we are all connected and we are all family. We are made by the same God, and his son Jesus died for us all.
So let’s keep on praying for one another, and serving one another, and let’s give each other the same grace that we have been given.
 As quote in Yancey, Philip. Prayer (p. 301). Zondervan. Kindle Edition. From: David Hubbard, The Problem With Prayer Is … (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1972), 14.