Interdependent and Indispensable
Based on Nehemiah 8:1-10, 1Corinthians 12:12-31, Luke 4:14-21
From my earliest days I have been fascinated with how the body works. Whether it was animal and fish bodies or human bodies. I grew up in a family that hunted and fished, so from a young age I was schooled in how to take a harvested animal or fish and make it ready to eat. I had learned to field dress the game, and I was fascinated to see the inner workings and design of the organs and their placement in different species.
Later, when I had advanced Biology and then cadaveric Anatomy and Physiology, I gained an appreciation for the interdependent nature of how our body’s organs function. Everything is connected by the same blood flow and nerves, each organ system doing what it was designed to do – to support the whole. From the top of our heads to the soles of our feet, there is never a part of us that is autonomous or isolated. As I studied further in Pharmacy school about using chemicals to alter the things that the body was doing – I began to really understand the Psalmist who wrote that our bodies are indeed awesomely and wonderfully made. I was humbled by the overwhelming number of cell divisions that must occur correctly to create a healthy human baby, and the numerous and redundant feedback loops that keep the body working when something fails. I have come to know that there are no unimportant parts of our bodies (though you can argue that the appendix really doesn’t do much) – everything is interdependent and indispensable, created by God in that way.
Our spiritual selves have been ordered in the same way. We are created to be in community with each other, to need each other, and we are discipled to understand that we are called to be in right relationship with God and with every human being (all of creation really). Our scriptures today tell us of God’s plan with us and for us, and how we are all interdependent and indispensable to the coming of the kingdom of God. Let us pray now to God with grateful hearts for being so designed…
The Hebrew Bible books of Ezra and Nehemiah are linked in that they tell the story of how life was for the exiles returning to a destroyed Jerusalem. Ezra was a priest and Nehemiah was the governor appointed by the Persian King to oversee the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Our text from Nehemiah today tells of the people who gathered at the Water Gate to hear the reading of God’s law. Though they had rededicated themselves to serving the One true God while in Babylon, they needed to hear and understand what God expected and what God had promised. Learned scribes were among the people to help interpret what was being read so that all could understand. The gathered were told that this was a holy day, and they went away to drink and eat rejoicing in what they now understood from the word of God.
Likewise, Jesus is back in his hometown of Nazareth following his temptation in the wilderness (according to Luke). Jesus was at the beginning of his ministry and he went to the synagogue to worship and to teach. He was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and he read about how the “year of the Lord’s favor” had come upon the house of Israel. He interpreted the scripture to those assembled and we are told that “…all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth….” Yet when we go farther into the story where Jesus really tries to educate them, the crowd turns on him and wants to throw him over the cliff. They had hearing of the word, but unlike their forebears following the Exile, they did not understand what they had just heard and from who’s authority it came.
Paul is continuing the rhetoric that he began in our reading from last week. He is trying to help the Corinthian believers understand that they are all dependent on one another – that they need one another, to promote the gospel and live according to the teachings of Jesus. Whether they are rich or poor, slave or free, male or female, or any other arbitrary distinction, all are needed for the kingdom to work. Paul, though not a physiologist, still manages to get his point across that we are all of us important and necessary parts of the Body of Christ through our baptisms and Holy Spirit gifting.
So, how do we understand the teachings of these scriptures – what is the meaning behind interdependent and indispensable? At their core the scriptures, and specifically Paul’s letter, expose a persistent lie that we and the world tell ourselves. It has been said that no person is an island, yet our pioneer culture and narratives like “make do or do without”, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”, “the one who dies with the most toys wins”, etc, give us the sense that we are and should be completely self-sufficient. This persistent and ubiquitous lie hides the uncomfortable truth which is that our interdependence starts at birth and ends when we are laid to rest. The author, Brene´ Brown, in her book entitled, “Rising Strong” has this to say about our need for each other; “…We accept our dependence as babies, and ultimately, with varying levels of resistance, we accept help as we get to the end of our lives. But in the middle of our lives, we mistakenly fall prey to the myth that successful people are those who help rather than need, and broken people need rather than help. Given enough resources, we can even pay for help and create the mirage that we are completely self-sufficient. But the truth is that no amount of money, influence, resources, or determination will change our physical, emotional, and spiritual dependence on others….”
I grew up with the self-talk that I didn’t need help from anyone; I was gifted to go into a “helping profession” (or two). I was the smart one, the focused one, the leader in many situations, the one who was always seeking to help others – I couldn’t let myself appear vulnerable and need of help. I’ll quote Dr. Brown again from the same book, “…In a culture of scarcity and perfectionism, asking for help can be shaming if we’re not raised to understand how seeking help is human and foundational to connection….” I struggled mightily for a while, certainly longer than necessary, and had to suffer the fate of being confronted by situations that were beyond my ability to solve, before I could “swallow my pride” and seek help. I had to learn that asking for help was not a moral failure on my part, but rather an act of courage that encouraged deeper and more fruitful relationships with fellow students, colleagues, family and friends. At 56 I am better at it than before, but it is still a growing edge for me.
The whole of the Bible is about how we come from a world which seeks to divide us into silos by skin color, wealth, birth place, social status, etc, into a world which seeks unity of all persons with our creator God. Raising children helps me to understand that it does take a village to raise a child – turns out ours was the size of Manhattan! Single parents know this even better than those of us who have helpful spouses. Life is hard – no doubt about it, and no one can go through it in a healthy way alone. Too many things happen like divorce, death, financial strife, job stress, wars, natural disasters, et cetera, to cope with on our own. We need a community of people who understand that having helping, unconditionally loving people who are differently gifted and yet available to us in our time of need is critical to our everyday lives. Because even with this kind of community, life often gets the better of us. The saying, “God never gives us more than WE can handle” is about the plural we – not the kingly we. God created us to be part of a larger interdependent and indispensable whole – not the isolated and fearful, disconnected pieces that we too often become.
God gave us the law to help us understand how to live together in peace and love. When that didn’t work, God’s love came down as Jesus to help us understand how to love God with everything we have and to love each other so much that we would finally realize that all were needed so that we could function as a coordinated, fruitful whole. To realize the reality of the kingdom of God at work in us and through us across the whole world. Dr. Brown again from “Rising Strong”, “…The bottom line is that we need each other. And not just the civilized, proper, convenient kind of need. Not one of us gets through this life without expressing desperate, messy and uncivilized need….” God knows, Jesus knows, Paul knew…the secret to this whole life of being a disciple of Jesus is about loving enough to allow ourselves to be fully vulnerable and available to each other. When we shut ourselves off from one another in our need, we miss the opportunity for the Body of Christ to meet our need and to save us. May we all learn to love each other in this interdependent and indispensable way. Amen!