As I read the lectionary epistle for this week, my heart sank a little. I haven’t had the best experiences with 1 Corinthians 12:1-13. It’s not that they’ve been negative, it’s just that most devotionals and sermons I’ve encountered left me longing for more.
I mean, this is typically a feel good passage for most of us, right? Who doesn’t want the Church to embrace every person’s gift? Who doesn’t want to experience that “one body, many parts” image that Paul writes about? It sounds so good and feels so right.
One approach to the passage sounds like this: Everyone has gifts. They are all different but equally important. Whether you sing, or pray, are good with numbers or like teaching children, your gift is important. We need everyone’s experiences and abilities in order to function well as a body and as a ministry.
Another approach is to view the “one body, many parts” language as a metaphor for unity and diversity. And that sounds good, too. We often reach for this passage to cast a vision of a multicultural and multi-ethnic church. As a woman of color who preaches weekly, I will be honest. I don’t think I’ve ever used this passage in that way. For some reason, that interpretation has never resonated for me…and I feel heretical even saying those words.
To be clear, neither of these approaches is wrong or bad. There’s no judgement here. I’ve just always felt like they were missing a deeper meaning below the surface.
I was discussing this passage with a few colleagues last week and discovered that the lectionary reading stops short at verse 11. The good news of this passage, at least for me, comes in verse 13.
“We were all baptized by One Spirit to form One body….” Now that caught my eye; the image of baptism really grabbed me.
And it got me thinking about the people that I have baptized, and the one baptismal question that, until recently, always gave me pause.
“Will you renounce evil in all of its forms?” I’ve often wondered if I should ask those being baptized to list all the specific ways evil shows up in their lives, and how they plan to carry out their “renouncing.” (I don’t know if I’d actually use the word renounce…but I digress…).
But it does make me wonder about the nature of the relationship between our baptism and the evil we verbally renounce….because there is so much evil in the world and there are a gazillion baptized believers in the world, too. So how does that happen? I’m pretty sure that during the ceremony no one has ever openly refused to renounce evil.
In spite of this, there is no doubt that the Church is facing, and sometimes complicit, in all forms of evil: patriarchy, white privilege, unchecked greed, fear, xenophobia, and violence, to name a few.
So…does baptism into the many parts of the one body…does renouncing evil…does it actually make a difference?
A Body Sent Out to Act
It does! But maybe not how we would imagine. It’s in baptism that we are reminded of our deepest identity—as a beloved child of God. When we embrace that belovedness, it frees us to hear hard truths and let go of all that is false—to renounce evil. When we hear those words as a community of believers, they empower us; instead of becoming a body of many parts in rivalry with each other, we become a body sent out to act. And we find the strength and solidarity to step into the world courageously, humbly and imperfectly. To resist. To reject whatever dehumanizes, and share the Good News of a God that values everyone! It’s as this one body, the physical flesh-and-blood baptized body, that we renounce evil.
We are an ongoing work for sure…never quite quite letting go of the old and grabbing onto the new. But as you go out today, wherever and whenever you see water around you, remember the love of God for you that it symbolizes. Because every time we remember, the entire body becomes a little more free to renounce.