Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 (NRSV)
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, 'Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body', that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, 'Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body', that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you', nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you.' On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
"On your marks… get set… bake!"
So begins each challenge on the BBC's Great British Bake-Off, which I discovered and promptly devoured during some post-Christmas down time this year. The contestants, amateur bakers from across the U.K., are tasked with creating all kinds of show-stopping baked goods: pies and cakes, tarts and puddings, rolls and breads, scones and doughnuts, biscuits and pastries, and everything in between.
The challenges go something like this. "Today we would like you to bake your choice of British cake, done in miniature. We'd like 36 perfect miniature cakes. Each one must be identical in size, flavor, and texture. Each one must be beautifully decorated. You've got three and a half hours."
The results of these challenges are stunning: tiered towers of cake and icing, shiny chocolate ganache with fresh raspberries, lemon drizzles topped with violets - each one matching in shape, size, and color, each one baked to perfection (most of the time, at least).
I enjoy baking. I like to think I'm decent at it, but I would be a disaster on such a show. Producing identical, perfect items every time is just not my speed. You might say I go more for the rustic, homemade look, where imperfections are part of the charm.
Thankfully, I think the apostle Paul is on my side. He exhorts the members of the church at Corinth to be beautiful not by being identical, but by embracing the wild variety of shapes, sizes, and textures in their midst. He celebrates varied spiritual gifts, given in different measure to different people. He reminds us that our communities would be ill-equipped for ministry, not to mention rather boring, if every member were exactly the same.
So whether you can produce a perfect custard tart or struggle to make toast, whether you prefer sweet or savory, whether you go gluten-free, low-fat, whole-grain, or plain-and-simple, know this: you have a seat at God's table, a role to play in creating the banquet feast that Christ longs to serve to a hungry world.
On your marks… get set… bake!
God, we thank you that there are so many different ways to be your people. Stir us together into one body, and make our discipleship both nourishing and sweet. Amen.
Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer
The Rev. Jocelyn Gardner Spencer is the President of the Southern New England Conference and the Senior Minister of United Church on the Green, New Haven CT.