Sunday, 24 January 2010

Epiphany 3 Body building (2) 24th January 2009

We’re thinking again this week about Body building as we continue through 1 Corinthians Chapter 12. Body building changes flab to muscle, weakness to strength. So it is with the body of Christ.

We looked last week at how the ministry gifts of individuals are given to strengthen the church for the common good. To best use these gifts God’s given us we need to be organised and not freelance. Otherwise we’ll see body breaking and not body building! This truth is taken up in verse 28 and following at the end of this week’s section when Paul speaks of the special authority of apostles, prophets and teachers and so on.

On Saturday we launch our stewardship renewal at a special supper. In coming weeks we’ll be inviting church members to consider what God has given them and how they can put their gifts to the best use. I believe this scripture passage is God’s gift to us at this time.

Let’s turn to the passage then and read together verses 12 to 14: 12The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.

You and I are one with Christ. When they say Jim and Sue are an item we know what they mean. Paul is saying you and I and Christ are an item, a unit.

Saint Teresa of Avila’s made a famous commentary on this passage Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours, yours are the eyes with which he looks in compassion on this world, yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours, yours are the eyes with which he looks in compassion on this world. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

It’s a rich passage but there’s a problem with this interpretation of 1 Corinthians 12. We are sinners but Christ is sinless. Yet the Church is Christ’s body of which he’s head and he needs our gifts to do his work. Last week I was listing some of the ministry gifts we exercise here at St Giles. Richard Harrison is to share about the ministries that keep our buildings in order at the end of the service.

Some would question how the body of a man who lived and died in poverty could live on associated through his members with the splendour of St Giles. Richard will have an answer!

More profoundly when you read through Paul’s laboured description of different body parts working together its uncomfortable to recall there are now 39,000 Christian denominations. At least tonight the three or so local variants of Christ’s body will be coming together. This is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – but if Christians really were one with Christ there wouldn’t be need of such a week and we’d be one body and not 39,000!

Do we see what Paul is saying about the church as Christ’s body as just an image? Or is the body of Christ to be seen as an organic reality? I believe the second myself and lament the visible disunity of Christians. Would that nothing we do as Christians worked against the maximising of Christian unity!

One illumination of the word and concept is found in the Hebrew understanding Paul would share. Hebraic thought is different to Greek thought which is interested in the meaning of things in themselves. The Hebrew and biblical understanding sees things by contrast in relation to what they’re called to be. The meaning of an object doesn’t come from analysing it but in its purpose.

Just to illustrate this, the consecration of the Eucharist is an event that’s linked to biblical Hebrew thinking. When Jesus says, or I as his priest say for him over bread, ‘This is my Body’ that bread does not cease to be bread but becomes what it is not. By the biblical promise it becomes the instrument and bearer of God’s presence.

In the same way when we say we’re Christ’s body – or Christ has no body here on earth but ours – we’re talking not of what we are – gifted but sinful beings – but of what God’s calling us to be – sharers of the divine nature!

If you read through Paul’s letters, again and again he tells you Christ is in us. Again and again he tells us that sin is in us. The church is sinful yet Christ-filled. As such it’s a place of hope. As the French theologian PĆ©guy once wrote, a Christian is a sad man saved from despair by the Cross of Christ.

St Paul says he’s ‘a Hebrew of the Hebrews’ and he also regards the Church as the organ of Christ’s presence uniting his members to himself and to one another. He’s talking though more of what we’re to be than what we are now. Our calling is like the consecration of the bread of the eucharist which becomes his body despite its ordinariness. Jesus gives it new purpose.

For us the obstacle to being used by God – our sin - is more than our ordinariness. It’s the destructive virus of sin. Christ by his death has the antidote to sin. Christ by his resurrection life has the empowerment we need to hallow God’s name, build his kingdom and effect his will.

As we read earlier we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body. Our unity as a church within the universal church is given us by our baptism and the associated determination to drown our sin and drink of the one Spirit to use the imagery of baptism. Christ’s body is a body of death – a body that’s discovered how to do away with sin – and a body of life – a body that’s got within it a fluorescent stream of life that shines out from all who bear the Holy Spirit.

Let’s look back one last time at our passage, skipping over the large repetitive section and read verses 26 and 27: 26If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. 27Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

We’ve just come out of a time of hardship weather-wise that confirms this sort of thinking for us as a village. We’ve seen people baking for one another, sweeping snow and giving lifts to one another. This is the very sort of solidarity Paul speaks of when he writes of how in the church If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. Isn’t this also true of the international response to Haiti? It has also been impressive to see Christian priests and nuns in the vanguard of caring for the distressed in that troubled situation. People ask where God is in this tragedy but all the evidence is that God’s people and priests are there getting there hands dirty.

The solidarity we know in Christ’s body is built both on human fragility and divine purpose.

Just as human beings gain solidarity from severe weather or an earthquake so we members of Christ’s body find unity in our need for the forgiveness and healing God gives us in Christ.

Just as human beings gain solidarity to serve a purpose such as earthquake relief so we as members of Christ’s body find unity in our desire to hallow God’s name, build his kingdom and effect his will.

To live as Christ’s body is to live united both by our need of grace and by a common cause, the cause that’s been served 800 years on this hill and that will outlast all of us. The coming weeks are a time to consider the investment of our lives and to commit ourselves more fully to this cause which is Christ’s cause no less.

If Jesus Christ be God, and died for us, then no sacrifice can be too great for us to make for Him. His sacrifice is being recalled now at this altar. Will you be more fully part of his body, his cause and his sacrifice?

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Epiphany 2 Body building (1) 17th January 2009

A little boy came home from a school trip to a local gym. He told his mother that it was the strangest experience he'd ever had, everyone in there was swollen and screaming.

Body building is a strange phenomenon. There’s a special weights room at the gym I attend in Haywards Heath where the swollen and screaming hang out but I stick to the tread mill!

The advantage of exercising every day is that you die healthier. It’s well documented that for every mile that you jog, you add one minute to your life. That’ll mean that when I’m 85 I’ll be able to spend an additional 5 months in my nursing home!

We’ve got a two part mini sermon series starting this morning on 1 Corinthians 12 which I’m calling Body building. You’ll gather from the green in Church that we’ve passed back to the ordinary season of the Church’s year which is twice interrupted for the Advent-Christmas and Lent-Easter cycles. Outside of those two seasons the Church takes us systematically through scripture on Sundays and these next two weeks we’re reading the 12th Chapter of the first letter of St Paul to Corinth.

It contains teaching about the use of the gifts of Christians within the body of Christ All these gifts he says are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. Over the coming two months at the sending-out end of the Eucharist we’ll be hearing of how some of us exercise their gifts to build up Christ’s body. The renewal of our Christian stewardship is an occasion to communicate what ministries we exercise at St Giles and hopefully help more of us identify their gifts and exercise them to build the body. Last week in the Martindale Caroline Rich shared about the lift scheme. Today Chris Wheatley will share about the Life and Faith group.

Concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. Paul says in verse 1 of 1 Corinthians 12. He goes on to explain in verses 2 and 3 that ministry in the Church is animated by the Holy Spirit under the name of Jesus. He then outlines the glorious diversity of ministry gifts there are in Corinth, reminding those who have them that what they’ve been given is given not for them but for body building. In this passage Paul lists supernatural gifts – wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, speaking in tongues and the gift to interpret that. We need to read this list alongside two other lists of ministries Paul gives in Romans 12, where he adds serving, teaching, exhortation, generosity and leadership and Ephesians 4, where he adds apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastors.

The Ephesians ministry gift list ends with him saying they’re given to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. This corresponds to the section of 1 Corinthians 12 we’ll be reading next Sunday where Paul develops how we Christians should see ourselves as the body of Christ and individually members of it.

Body building makes muscles out of flab. Church building makes individuals lose selfish agendas for a common agenda. Let’s read together verses 4 to 7 of today’s reading: 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

At St Giles there are administrators, churchyard maintainers, speakers, Sunday Club leaders, brass polishers, people who lift others by car, offer Christ’s forgiveness, lead evensong at Westall House, read, administer the chalice, offer people prayer, help train confirmation candidates, consecrate the eucharist, Family Support and Faith in Action ministries, intercessors, church cleaners – I could go on!

Notice the priestly functions of absolution and consecration are in the varieties of services. I need to say again and again, ministerial priesthood is one among many gifted ministries in the body of Christ. It has a wider significance in uniting us through the bishops and their predecessors to the apostles and across the world, today, with the universal church, but as a priest I am part of the team of ministers.

Last Saturday morning those who exercised gifts of prayer in the Lady Chapel told me they thought we should move the main Sunday eucharist to the Martindale and we did. That involved a whole team of folk, some of you ministering as evangelists bringing others to a church service which was made uniquely accessible in last Sunday’s dreadful weather.

In his first letter to Corinth Paul’s chapter 12 and 14 are about supernatural gifts and their best use. These two chapters – 14 is mainly about speaking in tongues – have the famous one on love, Chapter 13 in the midst. He lists the gifts and goes on to say they’re all great but they’ll go nowhere unless you use them lovingly, submitting to the body of Christ as a whole. He says elsewhere that no Christian can be right with God unless they’re right with those over them in the Lord. To best use what God has given us we need to use it in an authorised way and not freelance. Otherwise we see body breaking and not body building!

Let’s read on together, verses 8 to 11: 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

A few brief points. The Greek word for gifts is charismata. The gifts we read out are called charismatic gifts and many churches are recovering them nowadays. The first two, wisdom and knowledge are the capacity to receive supernatural information about situations through which God can change things. Faith is not the gift of faith by which we all believe but a special gift linked to believing God for the next two gifts healing and miracles. Prophecy and discernment are capacities to help the church see the way ahead. Tongues and interpretation are similar gifts but linked to deepening prayer and praise in individuals for the common good.

Body building changes flab to muscle, weakness to strength. So it is in the body of Christ. The ministry gifts of individuals are given for the common good. This is true whether they’re the supernatural gifts of healing and so on just listed or the more natural gifts of helpfulness and leadership I pointed to in the parallel Romans and Ephesians passages.

If St Giles is going to deepen its life and grow new members we need to make space for the exercise of both natural and supernatural ministry gifts. We need to recognise that these gifts are to be exercised under authority, ultimately that of the bishop. We need a safe structure, just like our natural bodies need our skeletons. We also need the Holy Spirit’s giftings to clothe the skeleton, so to speak, of holy church. We don’t want to be the dry bones mentioned in the book of Ezekiel.

A last Body building image. The bible many times compares believers to trees that bear fruit. It says we’ll be judged ultimately by the fruit of the Spirit we bear – love, joy, peace and so on. In this passage Paul is speaking not of fruitfulness but of empowerment. It’s not a fruit tree image for the church but a Christmas tree image! You know, we’ve been carrying the old Christmas trees to the rec this week. Presents hung on a Christmas tree can be taken off by people but they don’t grow from the Christmas tree as fruit grows from an apple tree. You and I are called to bear fruit, the church is called to bear fruit, but we also get gifts given us by God that don’t come from us but are given to empower others when they receive them. People given gifts of healing are given them by the one Spirit not from out of themselves but from God above. What they’re given is given to bring blessing to others, not for their own benefit but to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.

More on this next week.

Epiphany 6th & 10th January 2010

As I reflected on today’s celebration of the Epiphany two words came to my mind – spiritual journey.

Firstly the spiritual journey of humankind as we enter a new decade.

Then, secondly, there’s the spiritual journey of the wise men to Our Lord and their offering at journey’s end.

Linked to this there is the Church’s spiritual journey through her Seasons. This year my own journey through Advent and Christmas into Epiphany has something novel about it, my first as your parish priest.

This brought me to the final thought of another much simpler spiritual journey.

It is of but a few inches - fifteen inches…

The story goes there was once a rabbi in Cracow, Isaac son of Yekel, who dreamed one night that there was a great treasure under the bridge at Prague.

He set off at once for Prague, but when he got there found that there was a heavy guard on the bridge. The rabbi had no choice but to explain his dream to one of the guards.

When the guard heard the story he burst into laughter. ‘How crazy can you get? Suppose everyone went off after their dreams? Why I once dreamed that there was a treasure hidden in a house in Cracow. It was in the house of a man called Isaac, son of Yekel, but do you think I was going off to Cracow because of that dream?

So the Rabbi Isaac returned to Cracow.

The rabbi had treasure at home. He did not need to go to Prague.

So it is with the spiritual journey. If we want spiritual riches we’re more likely to find them by opening our eyes to what we have already than by journeying the world over.

The truth of Christmas is about God coming down to our level to dwell in human hearts.

If people want to journey to God today they need move inches and not miles.

Fifteen inches, to be precise, down from the head to the heart. That is where we find God.

These days when many of us are housebound can be a precious gift.

Too often our capacity for doing things and going places works against what’s most important – the short journey, always possible, to rest in God, to contemplate the one who made us and offers himself to us continually.

Our restless minds distract us. They move us away from the treasure to be found in the stillness of the heart. When the mind can be stilled, and lowered, into the heart - there is salvation.

The Kingdom of Christ is within us.

Accomplishing this short journey within means taking time day by day to reflect, to sit or kneel in God’s presence and indeed our own presence.

There we find hunger and longing, hurt and inadequacy, pride and fearfulness.

None of these melt away on the spiritual journey but they can be owned and offered to the Lord who meets us just as we are.

Fear not to enter his courts in the slenderness of the poor wealth thou wouldst reckon as thine.

The journey within takes courage. There’s so much that would keep us on the surface, even the so-called mission task of the Church, not to mention the multitude of recreational options available to us, the manifold activities we can choose to fill up our lives!

The inner journey takes courage and it takes time, time to be.

The famous writer Pascal said most of mankind’s problems derive from our inability to sit still in a room.

How have you been managing these last few days? As you’ve had to stay put? Will you manage better after this eucharist? Please God you will!

Just maybe 15 minutes a day - 5 minutes with the Scriptures, 5 minutes in quiet worship and 5 minutes in intercession, prayer for others, including our parish - what a difference if we made that the flavour of our spiritual journey in the coming year!

‘Jesus loves us as we are’ it’s said.

As we own that love day by day we own ourselves, our souls and bodies and make them more and more fully a living sacrifice to be united with his perfect Offering in the eucharist.

Speaking of this sort of spiritual journey T.S.Eliot wrote these great lines: And the end of all our exploring – will be to arrive where we started – and to know the place for the first time.

The Kingdom of Christ is within us.

Wise men still journey to Jesus but they don’t move anywhere.

Whatever we do in 2010 as individuals or as a Church may we be the Church better by being Christians better so that the depths of Christ may resonate from our prayers and our eucharist’s and our lives here in Horsted Keynes!

Be still and know that I am God!

Friday, 1 January 2010

New Year’s Day 2009

Today Christmas thoughts of eternity entering time in Jesus Christ give way to thoughts about time itself.

It’s New Year’s Day and with this particular new day the calendar turns to 2010.

We’re in the 10’s now moving towards the teenage years of the 21st century. It’s a new Decade.

The bible says in the book of Psalms that we’re made for seven decades, maybe eight. I’m well through and have lived more than half my life by that reckoning.

How about you? How many New Year’s Days lie ahead for you?

Time like a never ending stream bears all its sons away. They fly forgotten like a dream dies at the opening day.

This morning we’re reminded that our time is running out and will one day carry us out as mortality wears us away. This last week has seen the last days of two of our parishioners, Elsie Day and Robin Deacon. Our prayers this morning are with them and with Beth Kemp, Connie Deacon and their families

We’re frail mortals. We should approach a New Year with humility because we’re from the earth and will return to the earth.

We’ve also grounds for confidence though. God loves mortals and desires to plant immortal life within them in Jesus Christ whose naming we mark today.

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, says Paul he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

Today is the first day of the rest of my life.

What’s most important as I live my life in the days and years ahead is to possess the Spirit who gives life to mortal bodies in this world and the next.

Every Eucharist is a calling down of the same Spirit, upon the gifts and upon the people, making holy gifts and holy people.

Let’s welcome the holy and life giving Spirit as 2010 begins. He’ll be our main asset, the grounds of Christian confidence to face the uncertainties ahead. Let’s pray for him now in a moment of silence before we profess our faith together.