“One Body”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

October 6, 2013 World Communion Sunday

Scripture:  1 Corinthians 12:12-26

 

Jofre lives in Quito, Ecuador, a city of two-plus million, high in the Andes mountains.  He’s a bright, intelligent boy with the biggest smile you ever did see, and when he laughs, it’s pure joy.  In many ways, he’s like any seven-year-old—he loves to be tickled, and to bounce on the trampoline, and to give and receive hugs from visitors.  But there’s a tough side to his story, too.

Jofre was born with severe cerebral palsy to a mother who could not take care of him.  He was abandoned as a newborn, left in a park at the foot of a statue.  When he was found, he weighed only four pounds.  He has received wonderful care and loving attention at the orphanage where he lives, and he is healthy now, but his CP means that he can’t walk or talk, so he uses a wheelchair to get around and communicates with basic signs—touching his ear for “yes” and his chin for “no.”  Despite these challenges, he is loving and joyful in his demeanor, and he hopes—we all hope—that one day he will find a forever family.

I got to feed Jofre his lunch several times while I was at that orphanage on a mission trip a couple of summers ago.  Spooning pureed carrots into his mouth, trying not to clink the spoon against his teeth…  Figuring out what size bite of chicken and rice he could chew and swallow at a time…  Wiping the drips from his chin with a napkin…  Consoling him when his arm jerked, and he spilled his juice all over his lap, and he started to cry from embarrassment…  There’s something so tender about the experience of feeding another person who struggles to feed himself, something that binds your heart inextricably to his, something that makes you feel a part of one another.  It’s more than just an emotional connection—it’s a visceral link, a sense of attachment way down deep in your belly—and once you feel it, you can’t un-feel it.  You are bound together with that person forever.

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María lives in Bosques del Oriente, Mexico, a tiny town in the mountains above Acapulco.  You can only reach the village by way of very rugged dirt roads, passable only in good weather, with four-wheel-drive and good fortune on your side.  Most people don’t have cars anyway, so they make their journeys on horseback, or by mule, or on foot.  There is no indoor plumbing there, so you shower when there’s enough water in the bucket on the roof, or you bathe in the river, and do your business in an outdoor latrine.  María and her family scrape a living out of that steep and rocky soil.  They’re getting by, but only just barely.

And yet, when I stayed in her home while traveling in that region some years ago with the organization where I used to work, María cooked us a feast.  She must have spent all day in the kitchen, making homemade tortillas, and mole, and pozole, and several other dishes whose names I never learned.  God only knows what she traded or spent for the ingredients she couldn’t grow at home, and I’m sure her family ate plainer meals than usual for a quite some time as a result…  But that night, we feasted like kings and queens and did not count the cost.

There’s something so tender about the experience of being fed extravagantly by another person who struggles to feed herself and her family, something that binds your heart inextricably to hers, something that makes you feel a part of one another.  It’s more than just an emotional connection—it’s a visceral link, a sense of attachment way down deep in your belly—and once you feel it, you can’t un-feel it.  You are bound together with that person forever.

*          *          *

This is what Paul meant when he wrote that “the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body.”  He wasn’t talking about membership as we understand it—a voluntary association, a choice we make to join a program or organization when we see a benefit in doing so.  It’s not like being a member of Historic New England, or the Audubon Society, or NPR, where you pay your yearly dues and receive certain privileges as a result.  It’s not like being a member of Triple-A or American Express, where you can sign up when you want to and cancel your membership when it’s no longer useful to you.  No, the membership Paul was talking about is a different kind of membership altogether.

The Greek word Paul uses, the one we translate as “member,” is literally translated as “limb,” as in an arm or a leg, a physical part of the body.  Membership, understood this way, means that we depend on one another for our very survival.  If we are members, limbs, of the same body, then if you are starving, so am I.  If I am wounded, you also feel pain.  If I have a cold, you sneeze.  If you get a cut, I bleed.

Membership, understood this way, means that our hearts are bound inextricably together.  It’s more than just an emotional connection—it’s a visceral link, a sense of attachment way down deep in your belly.  It means that we are, quite literally, part of one another.

What if we thought of one another that way?  Not just as people with whom we share a pew on Sunday morning, but as people with whom we share the very essence of life, as people with whom we are connected on the deepest possible level?  What would we do differently because of that?

And what if we extended this way of thinking beyond this sanctuary, reaching out to include people all over the world, our sisters and brothers throughout the human family?  Living here in the Quiet Corner, it’s easy to feel far away from places like Ecuador and Mexico, Syria and Egypt, Afghanistan and Pakistan.  It’s easy to care in the abstract about what happens in those far-flung corners of the earth, but not to feel it in our own hearts, our own bellies, our own bones.  It’s a wide, wide world, and we inhabit just a tiny little corner of it…  But the truth of our faith is that we are connected, viscerally linked, bound inextricably together with every person on this planet.

And so we will start today by feeding one another, because there is something so tender about the act of giving and receiving food.  In a little while, we will share the ritual feast of communion.  As you receive the bread from the person beside you, look that person in the eye, and take your time, and consider the gift she is offering—nourishment for stomach and spirit, a common plate for a common body.  As you pass the juice to the person on your other side, look that person in the eye, and take your time, and consider the gift you are sharing—sweetness to gladden the tongue and the heart, a common cup for a common life.

And as we all eat the bread together, think of María, and of all the people like her, for whom daily bread is a struggle unto itself.  And as we all drink the cup together, think of Jofre, and of all the people like him, for whom the sweetness of human love is scarcer than it ought to be.

Let that connection sink in, way down deep into your belly.  And know this:  once you feel it, you can’t un-feel it.  You are bound together with that person, with all these people, forever—and I think that’s very good news indeed.

Thanks be to God.