I imagine the story has been told and shaped for a long time to fit the needs of the audience that is hearing it. The story is about a child who wants some playing time with her father, but the father has other interests occupying his attention. In order to give himself some time to focus on his interests he grabs a magazine with a picture on the cover . . . rips it off . . . tears it up into lots and lots of pieces . . . and, then tells the child that the two of them will play once she gets the picture of the world put back together. The father figured this would give himself a couple of hours of peace and quiet.
Quite satisfied with himself, the father set out to attend to his business. After a while though, he was surprised to see his daughter standing before him with the picture of the world put back together in one piece. Shocked that the child had done this so quickly, he asked, “How did you do this so fast?”
“Well,” replied the little girl, “it was hard at first because there were so many pieces and I wasn’t sure how it all fit together; but then, I remembered seeing a picture of Jesus on the back side when you ripped it off the magazine. I turned all the pieces over and put the picture of Jesus back together. When I put the picture of Jesus back together I was able to put the world back together.”
Whether this story is true in this form or any form, I do not know. What I do know as a follower of Jesus is that there is a whole lot of truth in the statement of that little girl. A truth that the Apostle Paul knew and understood. We see that understanding being expressed in our scripture reading this morning as Paul addresses the congregation in Rome. In Paul’s letter to the Romans he lays out his understanding of the good news or gospel of Jesus. Paul also uses this understanding in other letters that he writes to congregations, in particular the church in Corinth.
The apostle sees the “church” or fellowship of followers as being the “body of Christ”. Each is a separate piece . . . each has a separate function, but when these pieces are put together they form the presence of Jesus and serve only one function. That function is to do God’s will of bringing about the Kingdom . . . of restoring that intimate relationship with God. It is a relationship that is expressed in the way that the followers relate to one another because of their relationship with God. The picture is put together when all the pieces come together to form that picture of Jesus.
Now Paul acknowledges that this is easier said than done. Paul understands that each and every piece of the puzzle has been created uniquely and individually by God . . . that each piece serves a particular role as given by God. And, he acknowledges, looking at the pieces strewn across the landscape of faith, that it sure looks like a mess that might not ever be solved and pieced back together. Yet, at the same time he knows that if the pieces are never put together to form that picture of Jesus . . . he knows that the world can never be put back together. Thus it is that he pushes for the followers to pull together as one to be that presence of Jesus in the world.
Well, if Paul thought the situation looked difficult back in his time, he would probably be flabbergasted at what he would see today. What he would see today is a world that is terribly fractured and divided . . . a world in which there is very little that points to a wholeness or holiness in its present state of being . . . a world that is marked by separation, ignorance, violence, hatred, and an unwillingness to come together as one family created by God. I do not think that I need to give to any of you examples . . . read the newspapers, listen to the radio, or watch your televisions. On a daily basis we are reminded of the brokenness of the world in which we live . . . we are reminded of the divisions that separate us . . . reminded that we are far from the purpose of Jesus in restoring God’s creation as God intended it to be.
Right now, it looks like we are a long, long ways from being that”one body” that the Apostle Paul calls us to be.
Long ago, Aristotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
The idea of individuality is at the root of how many of us see ourselves . . . we are individuals who are unique, special, and have our own talents, gifts, and quirks. We have our own way of being, and with that being said, we also have a desire to be accepted for who we are . . . we want to be seen as individuals. We see that manifested in our society and the world in which we belong . . . individual this, individual that . . . that is my individual right. There is no denying that individuality is well grounded in us as people, as a nation, as a world.
And, that is great. All of us should come to know who we are as God created us . . . after all, we are all created in the image of God. We should know who we are, what we are good at, what we are weak at, and how it is that we function in the world in which we live. Yet, we need not to stop at this point and go no further. We are individuals, but each of us is a part of the puzzle . . . a part of the bigger picture. Remember Aristotle’s words: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” As we claim our individuality, we must also claim the greater responsibility of seeing how each of us fits together to form the “whole”.
The apostle writes: “Just as each one of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to the others.”
In forming “one body” we become more than we ever could as individuals or small groups . . . we become the body of Christ . . . we become the Kingdom restored. But, to do this, we have to move beyond claiming our individuality as the end result and begin contemplating how we fit together to make the whole. This is the prelude warning that Paul places before he pushes for the people to consider being the “one body”: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”
It is in our coming together as one body that we fulfil God’s desire to be the presence of the Kingdom . . . to be the presence of Jesus . . . where we are. Jesus came not to destroy, but to build . . . not to get rid of what was, but to enable what was meant to be. Nowhere did he ever mean for it to be an individual thing . . . it was always meant to be one. The key is putting all the pieces together to create the picture as it is meant to be.
I think that we as individual followers of Jesus, and we--as the body of Christ, the “church”, have entered into a challenging time. A challenging time that confronts us in light of what we are witnessing in the world around us . . . what we see in the world, our nation, our state, our communities. We are not the only community of the faithful in which the concern for how we see one another and treat one another has been raised . . . or have questioned how we got to this point. No, we are not the only ones struggling with this dilemma of faith. All the followers of Jesus are in the same boat, and this constant concern and question only points to this challenge we are facing.
How do we put this puzzle with its millions and millions, even billions, of pieces together?
I am not certain how we do that, but I am certain that this table that we gather around each week probably shows us the way. This table represents a place where all of God’s children . . . all of God’s creation . . . can gather. At this table we set aside our individuality . . . set aside our differences . . . and, we begin to listen, understand, and accept one another--not so much as individuals (even though that is part of it), but as a “whole” . . . understand how we fit together for the common good and benefit of all. At this table we become one . . . one body in Christ Jesus.
I think that is where begin . . . at the table. We begin to examine our lives as individuals and see who we have left out from taking their place at the table . . . and, then, we invite them to join us at the table. Together the conversation begins in exploring how to become one.
I believe that the only picture of Jesus is the one that comes together in our unity as God’s children. It comes together piece by piece . . . may we all discover our place in the wholeness and holiness that is Jesus and his desire for the Kingdom of God. Amen.