This past Sunday I was scheduled to speak at Element to close out a series on Church. On Friday morning I woke to realize that I had no voice. I was not sick, no cough, no congestion, no nasal activity, just no voice. This was frustrating and disappointing at first. I contacted our pastors and let them know that if the situation did not improve I would literally be unable to speak. There was little improvement by Sunday morning and Melody had graciously prepared to deliver the message God had given me with her own perspective. Initially this seemed like a cruel irony that the day I am supposed to deliver a message about Church as a body, my body broke down. However, after Sunday, I know that God used this situation to orchestrate a beautiful example of exactly what I was going to share without me having to say a word. This seemingly horrible circumstance opened up an opportunity for God to poignantly articulate His message as you will see from the rest of this post.
You may or may not know that my dad has one arm. He got into a battle with a downed high voltage power line and obviously lost. Even though he is technically handicapped by the government definition of the word, we never viewed him that way. In fact, he did things we didn’t really understand. He tied his own shoes, got a residential builder’s license, remodeled our house, and hunted with a crossbow and a muzzle-loader. There was little my dad could not do. I remember on one occasion we had left for school and when we returned, my dad had hung drywall in several rooms (including the ceilings) without any help! If you don’t know anything about building, ask a carpenter or builder how easy it is to hang drywall by yourself with two hands and they will prove how amazing this is. When we asked how he did it, he responded that he couldn’t share his secrets. The only time I saw him not be able to do something was when he needed to cut a steak. He quickly remedied this by filing down the blunt edge of a fork to a razor sharp edge so that he could use it to cut a steak with one hand. His body is not whole, yet he lives a full life. Keep this in mind as we dive into this church as a body concept.
Viewing the church as a body is a fairly common biblical analogy for church; there are over 18 references. So, most of us are familiar with the concept. At first I thought I was going to dwell on the aspect of this analogy that focuses on the “parts” of a body and the function of that in community; but as I was preparing I stumbled across something new to me. We understand the body analogy from the perspective of the 1st century writers who had limited understanding of anatomy and the intricacies of the human body. This analogy was put forth on the level of understanding body parts as visible features like feet, or eyes. This analogy can take on a whole new meaning for us with our more comprehensive understanding of how the human body actually works. For instance, our bodies are made up of over 30 trillion cells working together to form organs and make sure they function effectively. We have over 25,000 miles of blood vessels in our bodies. Our body actually replenishes itself quite rapidly. Our stomach lining for instance is brand new every 5 days, our liver is new every 45 days. It has an uncanny way of healing itself and making sure that all parts are functioning at their best. Our body is even capable of knowing which parts it can use a little less in order to optimize function to other areas for given time periods like injury or exertion. Before I bore you guys too much with this science talk, just keep some of those facts in mind as we continue.
The main reference for this body analogy is 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. It may be helpful to take a moment to read that before you continue. So eyes should be content with being eyes and feet should be content with being feet and we all need to fulfill our roles as best we can to support the body. I think that is pretty self-explanatory. We may have heard that many times. This is very simple and we love simple here at Element, but the ramifications of this body analogy can be very profound if we take it deeper with our more modern understanding of the body. When we are talking about our physical bodies, no matter how complex or simply we look at the body, one fact remains; the only thing that is essential to every part of the body surviving is our blood. Body parts begin to die and decay with lack of blood flow. The blood in our bodies plays several extremely important and vital roles. It regulates homeostasis, it supplies oxygen and nutrients to our tissues, it removes waste, and it regulates pH and temperature. If blood was constricted or lost in any of these processes, it could be fatal or permanently damaging to our bodies. For instance, my dad’s arm was so badly burned that the blood flow to his arm was limited and it could not heal the wounds sufficiently enough to save his arm.
So what does the bible say about blood? Well, there are between 30 and 50 references to Jesus’ blood depending on the translation. Most of these references fall into the categories of blood being redemptive, life-saving (salvation), or the purest love. I feel like the logical process is to link these two analogies to form a more complete view of church. Yes, we are all parts of a body and we have our roles, but the great equalizer in our bodies and in the church is that none of the parts work without the blood. Apostles, prophets, teachers, miracle workers, healers, helpers, organizers, those who pray in tongues; none of these things mean anything without the underlying current of the blood of Jesus Christ. Just like our body parts depend on blood flow, our church communities depend on blood flow. This confirms what Paul says about parts being equally important. This flow of Christ’s love and redeeming power is what sustains us in community. It is what allows us to be authentic. It is where the gifts we have been given come from. It is why an eye cannot say to a foot, “I don’t need you”, or “you are less important”. Blood makes all parts dependent and contingent on its flow. The same is true of church, all people are equal because of the blood of Christ.
As Benjamin talked about marriage a few weeks ago, he expressed the understanding that there is a virtual guarantee that you will get hurt or injured in a marriage. I can’t help but make the same guarantee about our physical bodies. You will be injured at some point in your life and many of you have experienced some serious injuries, like my dad. But the body is an amazing thing. My dad for instance, with the help of doctors was healed by taking skin from other areas of his body to patch the burned areas. And guess what? The body did the rest. My mother experienced a massive brain tumor that doctors said had been growing in her brain for over 30 years! By the time it was removed, it was the size of a navel orange and had crushed a large portion of her brain. Doctors were baffled because my mom did not fit the typical formula for brain tumors. Most brain tumor patients lose at least one of their five senses and struggle with motor skills and thought processes, especially with that much damage to the brain. However, because the tumor was so slow-growing, her brain was able to transfer the processes that were in danger to other areas of the brain so that her body could maintain as close to the status quo as possible.
All this healing in our physical bodies can only be accomplished with what? What again is the common denominator here? Blood! Medicine, nutrients from food, vaccines, brain processes moving; all of these things require a flow of blood. I feel like we are only scratching the surface about what this means when we apply it to church, but for our purposes, suffice it to say that healing in our church communities is contingent on the same thing. Christ’s Blood! We are at our best as a body of Christ when we allow his blood to flow through us and in us unrestricted. This flow of faith, hope and love, along with our choice to accept it, is what heals us and our relationships within the church body. This is where the body/blood analogy begins to break down a bit. Fortunately for us, our body parts cannot consciously decline blood flow. A healthy lung for instance is not all of the sudden just going to stop accepting blood. But in the church context we do have a choice. Unfortunately, we can choose to deny the blood flow within ourselves and within our community. We cut off our own circulation out of pride, or sin, or distraction from the truth about where our source is. We allow these negative influences in our lives to impact how we let Christ’s blood flow in ourselves and in our community. But the analogy still holds up in the fact that this lack of Christ’s blood flow in our communities still results in at least limiting function and at most death and decay. So this is where another analogy that we have used in this series comes into play. The marriage analogy fills in the gap by communicating the choice that we all make on a daily basis to allow this blood flow to continue in our relationships and community in order to heal wounds, create growth, and live to the fullest.
I want to encourage you to read another reference to church as a body in Romans 12:3-21. As you read this passage, try to remember the context of this discussion about Jesus’ blood and its role in our church communities. This contextual focus really brought some new significance to this popular section of scripture.
I really think that God orchestrated the topics in this series because this understanding of Christ’s blood and what it means in community is the culmination of this series. The story that we are a part of the one true narrative of redemption is only possible through the redemptive blood of Jesus Christ. The marriage that we agree to is possible because we choose to embrace the blood that covers us for better or worse. The tree that we become is only possible through the force that gets seeds to grow and that force is the power of grace, mercy and love that comes in the form of Christ’s blood on the cross. Finally, our communities only flourish if we are allowing the sustaining, healing blood of Christ to flow through us and motivate our relationships. Many of us have a deep desire to share this kind of life and relationship, this source of growth, this circulation of Christ’s healing blood with others. A desire to heal the body by mending the parts that have broken off, a desire to help the body flourish by grafting in new parts that may have never experienced this type of blood flow before. To reanimate dry bones and frostbitten appendages and hearts that are dead by inviting them to be infused with this life blood of Jesus. So church, let’s embrace this story, this marriage, this seed culture, and this blood flow to continue creating an authentic community of believers who not only call each other family but live that way.