Scripture – 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

Sermon preached by Gregory Knox Jones

Sunday, January 29, 2023


Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis has a partnership with Christians in Cuba similar to our partnership in Guatemala. When those Minnesota Westminsterites are in Cuba they travel in an old American school bus that was donated by a group in the states.

Tim Hart-Andersen, their pastor, remembers a time a few years ago, when their group was on this bus traveling in a rural part of the country. They were far from any city when something went wrong with the motor and the bus coasted to a stop. They were in a small hamlet with only a handful of homes.

The driver climbed out and checked under the hood. A belt had broken. With no gas station, auto parts store, or roadside assistance, everyone stepped off the bus and into the road to ponder their options.

A few men from the hamlet wandered over to them greeted them warmly and asked about the bus. The driver held up the broken belt. At that, an older man smiled and beckoned for a few of them to follow him.

The man led them to a ramshackle shed and invited everyone to step inside. They were wide-eyed when they realized they had hit pay dirt. They were standing in front of a wall with dozens of old, used belts for virtually any vehicle. The driver handed over the broken belt and the host measured it against a few of the hanging belts until he found one the same size. Belt in hand and joy in their hearts, they trekked back to the bus and in no time it was up and running.

A member of the group tried to pay the Cuban man for the belt and the work he did on the motor to get it going, but he waved them off. He said, “No es necessario. Estamos juntos en esto.” Not necessary. We’re in this together.”

Cubans call it solidarity. South Africans call it Ubuntu, which means “I am because we are.” Those cultures recognize that we do not move through life as isolated individuals. We belong to one another.”1

We are social creatures. We are incomplete when we live as hermits. We thrive when we interact with one another.

In today’s passage from First Corinthians, we discover the Apostle Paul’s favorite image of the church – the human body. He shares this mental portrait with congregations in Corinth, Rome, Colossae, and Ephesus.

As you have heard before, the body is comprised of arms and legs, hands and feet, eyes and ears, and these different parts operate in harmony with each other. Similarly, a spiritual community is composed of people with different gifts and who perform different functions. For the church to become what God wants it to be, we must be in this together.

One of the beauties of Paul’s image is that a body has multiple parts but they are connected. A body cannot function if it is only comprised of one element. If a body is only eyes, it is a distortion. The eyes depend on the ears for hearing, on the legs for moving, and on the hands for working. The not too subtle point is that we need each other. We do not function properly in isolation.

Despite the fact that some are introverts and need time away from people, Homo sapiens cannot flourish in solitude only. We need people-time because we have an internal desire to belong. If we are cut off from others, it not only wounds our psyche, over time it warps us. Priest and poet, John O’Donohue points out that “The pain of rejection confirms the intensity of our longing to belong. In a soul-sense we cannot be fully ourselves without others. In order to be, we need to be with. There is something incomplete in purely individual presence. Being together with others completes something in us.”2

You may have read that an increasing number of Americans are feeling lonely. Of course the pandemic put an exclamation point on this fact for many. Before the vaccines became available, we all pulled away from each other to protect our health. Unfortunately for many, that morphed into a habit of not being with others and they have settled into a new routine that is not good for their health. We might readily acknowledge that cutting ourselves off from others is not good for our psychological and spiritual health, but recent studies indicate that it is not good for our physical health.

Just over a year ago, an article in Psychology Today, pointed to two studies that came to a remarkable conclusion: “Close relationships with other people have more of an impact on our physical health and longevity than even our genes. (Mineo, 2017, Vadantam, 2018). (Even more stunning, four studies) found that loneliness is a risk factor comparable to smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure (Holt-Lunstad, et al., 2010, Hawkley, et al, 2010, House, et al., 1988, Murphy, et al., 2017).3 Being part of a faith community gives a boost not only to your spiritual health and your emotional health, but also your physical health.

Just two weeks ago, “Marketwatch” reported on a study conducted by professors from Wellesley College, Notre Dame, and Ohio State that is being circulated by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The study focused on the rise in what are called “deaths of despair” such as suicide and alcohol abuse. These deaths have been blamed on various phenomenon, chiefly opioid abuse. But this study found a more significant culprit – decline in religious participation. They found that states that experienced larger declines in religious participation saw larger increases in deaths of despair. Further, their study indicated that what a person believes or what personal spiritual activities they engaged in such as prayer, had little impact. The key driver is actual participation in a religious community.4

It is no coincidence that our church family has an abundance of people who live into their nineties. Active engagement in worship and other church activities heightens our health.

As the older of the two creation stories acknowledges, God created us as social creatures. After the first person was created, the word came from on high: “It is not good that (the first human) should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18)

Camilla Cook, the pastor of Georgetown Presbyterian Church in Washington, relayed a conversation she had with a pastor of a mega church in South Korea. He shared how his congregation took a significant dip during COVID, but has almost completely rebounded. She said that wasn’t her experience or the experience of any other congregation she knew of, so she asked, “How did you do it?”

His answer? “I yelled at them and told them they were being lazy.” She followed up: “That worked?” He replied, “Yes, because they knew it was true.”5

I’m not so sure his advice would bear fruit here, so I’m not going to yell at everyone watching online or those who have yet to reengage. But there is a healthy challenge in his words.

It’s critical for us to be together in person. While being together virtually is better than not at all, it still is not as robust as being together physically; seeing each other face-to-face, hearing the inflections in one another’s voices, picking up the cues of body language, praying together and singing together as a community of faith.

A pastor quipped to his choir director that when he stands in front of the choir and sings a hymn he sounds a great deal better than when he sings on his own. The choir director said, “That’s because you don’t just sound better with strong singers around you, you actually sing better.”

So it is with the church. When we are active members of the Body of Christ, we can do so much more together than we can do on our own, and we help one another flourish.

To those staying away, we miss you. If you are able, please come home.

A colleague writes, “Life in family and life in community is both our sorest test and our sweetest joy. The only thing harder than getting along with people is getting along without them.”6

We belong to God and we belong to each other. In 2023, may each of us pledge to do everything in our power to strengthen the ties that bind us together.



  1. Tim Hart-Andersen, “Belong Is Where We Begin,” January 9, 2022.
  2. John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2002), p.258.
  3. Avrum Weiss, “The Devastating Tool of Men’s Loneliness,” Psychology Today, posted November 21, 2001.
  4. Steve Goldstein, “Rise in middle-aged white ‘deaths of despair’ may be fueled by loss of religion, new research paper argues,” com, January 17, 2023.
  5. Shannon J. Kershner, “Church as Project, not Product, Part 1” August 21, 2022.
  6. Michael Lindvall, “Serves Them Right!” September 7, 2008.


Blessing of the Prayer Shawls


Weaver of Creation, Comfort of the Weary, as we bless these prayer shawls, we celebrate the opportunity to share tangible gifts of compassion with those in need. We give thanks for the artistry, dedication, and care of Close Knit, and pray that the love with which these shawls were created may encircle those who receive them. We lift before you these sisters and brothers – many of whom know too well the shroud of grief, the ache of loneliness, or the pain of illness – and we entrust them to your care.

Gracious God, bless these shawls, that they may be reminders of the faithful love and abiding care you bestow upon all people – especially those who yearn for your comfort.

Bless those who receive these gifts, that they may feel your tender embrace whenever they wrap them around their shoulders and know in their hearts the comfort of your presence.

And bless us, we pray, to your service, that we might offer compassion, practice kindness, nurture peace, and participate in your healing work until the day when every tear is wiped away and all creation sings for joy.

We lift this and every prayer in the name of your son, who gave us words to pray:

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.