1 Corinthains 12: 12-30
I want to start out this morning with some numbers. All of these numbers that have to do with the world we live in. The ﬁrst number is 10,000. This is the number of species of birds that scientists believe live in our world today, and in all fairness this number can go as high as 16,000 depending on which scientist you believe. How about 151. That's how many species of wild potatoes there are in the world-- and of those 151, not one of them is edible-- domesticated potatoes are in a whole other category. How about 19? 19 is the number of main species of jellyﬁsh there are-- each one very unique in its appearance, color, shape, and size. There are jellyﬁsh that are bigger than I am, and others that are as small as a freckle on your face. And how about 750. On average there are 750 different species of bacteria-- not the number of bacteria, but 750 different species of bacteria that are living in your stomach right now.
So when Paul says that we all have a place as part of Christ's body, he's not joking around. We live in a diverse world! We have diverse worlds living within us. It's an amazing thing to think about-- mind blowing really-- to recognize the vast diversity of life that is all around us all the time.
And yet so often we fall into a trap of believing that we're all supposed to be the same, think the same, act the same, believe the same, love the same. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians asks a great question, "If we were all one part, where would the body be?"
Do you know what it's called when one part doesn't play it's part-- when a cell doesn't become speciﬁc to the part of the body it belongs to-- when a heart cell doesn't become a heart cell, it just reproduces consistently, creating all cells exactly like itself that do not become specialized at all-- do you know what that's called? Cancer.
Where would we be if we were all one part? We wouldn't be part of the body-- we'd be a monster, as the Message describes it, or in modern terms, we would be a cancerous tumor.
And we've seen that tumor all too clearly lately. A year ago we prayed for the families of the victims of the shooting at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. We watched with broken hearts as many of those families chose to forgive the man who tried to spread the cancerous idea that some of us are better than others and that the world will be better off when we're all the same. Last week we watched and prayed again, this time for the families of 49 young people, mostly gay men, who were terrorized and killed for being gay; for being Latino; for being different. And once again we can see the cancerous ideas that the man who shot them was idolizing-- that we all have to act a certain way; love only certain people; and believe all the same things.
But many of the people of Charleston and the people of Orlando responded with such diversity and love, that the cancerous ideas do not get the last word. Some people gave their lives to save others. Some people reached out across all kinds of barriers to show compassion and love. Hundreds of people went immediately to give blood and to reach out to the families. We are at our best when each person lives into their part; when we all respond to the hurts of the body; when we use our gifts, not for our own selﬁsh gain or for the destruction of others, but when we use our gifts to lift up the community.
We are diverse. And what's more, God meant for us to be diverse! We actually work better together when we know who we are and we are able to work as a body-- functioning together for the beneﬁt of all.
So why is being diverse also so difﬁcult? Because we so often don't realize who we are, and that makes it almost impossible to appreciate who our neighbor is.
I want to switch metaphors for a moment. We, as human beings, are complex in the ways that we are made up, and one way of showing this is to show you a picture of an iceberg.
The top of the iceberg, the part that juts out of the sea, consists of those things we can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell about each other. This includes our language, what we eat, what we look like, how we greet one another, etc. The top is what we can see and appreciate and think we understand, and for the most part it’s easily changeable. When I visit another culture, I can change my language (with a bit of work!), I can adapt to some cultural norms that are around me in order to ﬁt in better. But the main part of our icebergs, the part that makes up really who we are, is the bottom of the iceberg— the part underwater. This part of the iceberg is all of the things that make us who we are that we often don't ever question or even realize exist. These are our beliefs, values, ways of being in the world that we don’t even realize are different from other people. This is how we handle conﬂict; how we communicate happiness or sadness or anger; how we understand authority; what body language we use to communicate; what stories we have to make sense of our lives; etc. etc. And this is all underwater. We can’t see these things on the surface. So when two different people or two different groups of people try to interact and they don't realize what their own ice berg is and they really don't realize what the other person's ice berg is, the ice bergs collide long before we even get close to one another.
In using the metaphor of the body, if I don't know fully realize what it means to be an ear, than when I meet one of you that is a mouth I will ﬁnd it difﬁcult to appreciate that you talk all of the time because I'm trying so hard to listen and I don't realize that my role is to listen and yours is to talk. I’ll just want to know why you are talking all of the time and I will get exasperated! Or if you don't realize that you're part of the digestive track, and how vitally important your function is for breaking down food as nutrients for the body, then you may just get aggravated with your coworker who keeps bending all of the time because they are an ankle and they never take any time to break down food! And since all of these things are most often assumptions and ways that we communicate with each other and habits of how we deal with anger and expectations of roles in families and all kinds of things that people don't tend to talk about, our icebergs hit each other long before we realize that they do and we get uncomfortable and we hurt each other. And sometimes, when we get so focused on our part of the body being the best, we even try to get rid of the other parts of the body. You see the ﬁrst step, is to disassociate ourselves from the other— to see someone else as different, odd, perhaps even not as good as us because they don’t have the same function. But continue down that path, and soon you have a few people who go so far as to say “if they’re not like me, than they’re not human and they shouldn’t exist.”
And when any of that happens— from disassociation to dehumanizing people, all of the parts suffer— even those that won't admit they are even connected to the other parts.
So part of what we can all do, is to recognize how specialized we are-- how diverse we are culturally, ethnically, spiritually, personality-wise... The list goes on and on. We have to do the hard work of knowing what our iceberg is made of so we know why we react to people the way we do; we know why we're uncomfortable so we don't blame the other for our own discomfort;
we know why we're afraid of the differences we see and we can take responsibility for our own fear instead of channeling that fear into hatred of the other. The better we know our own iceberg, the better we know which part of the body we are and what we are supposed to be doing, we can appreciate that others are different from us and we can celebrate that difference.
We are diverse!
And this is how God made us.
In God's inﬁnite wisdom, God made us diverse. And our diversity is a gift.
And the most amazing part? Do you remember all of the numbers I gave you about the species of birds being in the thousands and species of bacteria just in our stomachs? I have one more number for you-- the number 1. Because that is what we are-- we are one species of humanity. There may be 19 different species of jellyﬁsh, but there's only one species of humanity.
We are diverse. We are also united. May God give us the grace to appreciate our diversity and learn to recognize the gifts God has given us so that we can also recognize the gifts God has given to others.