One of the most powerful underlying themes of our American identity is our rugged individualism. Historically we showed fearless courage as we pressed from the eastern shores of our founding to the unknown western coast. Families in wagons pressed on in groups to travel the treacherous trails to Santa Fe, California, or Oregon. Riders from St. Joseph, Missouri took a satchel, the reigns of a horse and their lives in their hands to carry the mail through hostile territory. The story of our individualism lives on not only in our history books but even today as one by one we continue to press the boundaries of what is humanly possible.
Have you ever heard something described as a “blessing and a curse?”
Our “individualism” falls into this category of description. Yes it is a blessing because of all that we have accomplished through the drive of individuals. But in the church, individualism is an infectious disease that if left untreated can kill the body.
For some of us this may be a foreign concept while others of us have some level of understanding. The Apostle Paul in his response to the Christians at Corinth describes the church as a body – Jesus Christ is the “head” and the people were the members of the body. His purpose in this letter was to correct behaviors that was fracturing the Corinthian faith community. They were continuing to practice cultural norms like classism, the forcing of Jewish religious practices on Gentiles, disruptions in worship, and many others. Their individualism began to manifest itself and it was killing the Spirit of the body in Corinth.
In some sense then and even now, it was more about their individual preferences being seen as truth (orthodoxy) and right practice (orthopraxy) than what was the most faithful interpretation and application for the community as a whole.
I used a metaphor on Sunday – it was a 500 piece puzzle. Everyone took a piece and held it during worship. Their “Individual” piece represented their life. And in order for the picture to unfold in its fullest all of the pieces have to be connected in the place that only each individual piece can occupy. No swapping or trading places; no trying to fit in a spot that was not crafted for you – one perfect place for it to fit and only one. Two ways of viewing their piece to the puzzle.
1) As we exercise free will and choice, we can certainly keep our piece of the puzzle out of the big picture; we can go missing for a period of time; we can even connect for a short period of time but maybe only on one or two sides. Unfortunately we may not connect at a level that we become fully integrated into the puzzle filling the spot that we were uniquely crafted for. The same is true with the body of Christ – God crafted us as a unique piece to fit into the picture of His vision for the community of faith, the local body of Christ. But some of us live in our individualism and exercise our free will based upon our priorities instead of God’s. And so we are there and then not there; we serve at our convenience or not at all; we look for the benefits that we receive versus the call to sacrifice and give away. As such, we don’t fit in our proper place and disease sets in.
2) Some find the truth of God’s invitation to abundant life now – it comes through submission.The greatest exercise of our free will is to choose to be a servant, a slave of Jesus Christ. This requires everything from us – we give up control over our own destiny, we subordinate our dreams and goals to the will and purpose of God, and we become the least among our community. It also means that we are fully connected on all sides content to live in the place that God crafted for us. We love God so much that we could not even conceive of taking our piece out of the picture of God’s vision. We love our neighbors so much that we could not imagine disconnecting from them. And we hear the call to service as our first priority.
Granted this is a challenging scenario but this is supposed to be. It is more than a mental exercise that you perform – it is a life calling. It is more than an hour or so on Sunday and a few moments here and there during the week – it is a 24 hour a day, 7 days out of the week kind of existence.
If you have accepted and experienced God’s redeeming grace through the forgiveness of your sins then you have been redeem to be a part of the body of Christ – a community of faith; you have been brought into the newness of life that is restoration, healing, and a journey toward wholeness. This can only be discovered when you take your life-long place in the big picture, in the body of Christ.
You are a vital part of the body.
You are an equal member of the body.
You have a role to play that was uniquely crafted by God, just for you.
You can discover each of these when you submit to Jesus Christ as your Lord and Master.
When you learn his story, his words, his character, and his way of acting in the world and those become yours – you have submitted.
When you discover your spiritual gifts and begin to use them for the good of the body – you have submitted.
When you see the needs of someone in your faith community and you drop your priorities to help them – you have submitted.
When you join in the picture of God’s vision for your community of faith and people in your world begin to see more fully the revelation of God’s loving presence here and now – you have submitted.
So, you hold your individual piece in your hand – what will you do with it?
Will you continue to be influenced by our rugged but lonely individualism hoping that it might fulfill you?
OR will you be submit to Christ, take your rightful place in the community of faith, and live a well-connected and well-off life in the body of Christ?
As some one said “choose, but choose wisely.”