Sermon – January 24, 2016

I will try to regularly post sermons here from time to time … see I am already cutting myself some slack!  I realise a printed sermon is but a pale shadow of the preached in the midst of the gathered community experience but maybe someone will have an idle moment or have a sick day and … who knows?  And apologies in advance to anyone who recognizes their own words or thoughts in any of these sermons.  My only defence is that I am sure you pinched it off someone!

I virtually always use the lectionary.


Bible Readings for January 24, 2016

Luke 4:14 – 21,

1 Corinthians 12:12 – 31

We are still in the season of epiphany – those who have been here over the past few weeks will recall me saying that epiphany is all about the the revealing of Jesus, disclosing who he is, showing forth the glory of the Lord.  It is about that most modern of preoccupations…identity.  It is about asking, “Who is this one”?

It is a vital question, not just for the obvious category of teenagers grappling with this issue, but also your more mature person, as I read recently in the Toronto Sun.  The paper reports that a tourist group traveling by bus in Iceland made a pit stop near the canyon park. The woman in question went inside to freshen up and change her clothes at the rest stop, and when she came back “her busmates didn’t recognize her.”

Word spread among the group of a missing passenger, and the woman didn’t recognize the description of herself. Next thing you know, a 50-person search party was canvassing the area, and the coast guard was mobilizing to deploy a search party of its own.

About 3am, some genius in the group finally figured out that the missing woman was actually in the search party, albeit in different clothes, and the search was called off.

No word on what kind of wardrobe was involved in this woman’s “freshening up.” But her sense of self-image must be way out of whack to join a search party until 3am without even suspecting for a minute that the woman in the description bore some resemblance to herself.

Jesus has gone back to the home town of Nazareth.  A pretty nondescript town that apart from this mention is pretty much unknown either in or outside the Bible.  Probably an agricultural village of around 500 – 2000 people just off a major trade route that ran between Egypt and Asia.  One of those places the young people invariably move away from to study, marry, get a job.  Very few move to these towns. Putting those snippets together you would be thinking locally of ….????

The local boy stands and reads from the scriptures (I’m paraphrasing slightly )

God’s Spirit is on me;
God has chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind,
To set the burdened and battered free, to announce, “This is God’s year (God’s time, God’s Kairos) to act!”

The words Jesus quoted in today’s Bible reading are from the prophet Isaiah who lived around 700 years before Jesus.  That makes them around 2700 years old.

The thing is they are still being fulfilled.  I never tire of saying that the way we are to read the Bible is as if it is far more interested in what is happening today than what happened 2000 years ago.And what our faith teaches us is that being Christian, being part of the church, means being the people who are commissioned to be focussed upon bringing this vision to reality. 

The apostle Paul picks up this idea of being Christian means having a role to play, a task to fulfil up with his body language.

The body of Christ is one of Paul’s images for what it means to be the church, the community gathered into being by the Spirit, around the resurrected Jesus. Christ’s identity, the revealing of Christ, is through the Body of Christ – i.e. the church. It is not Paul’s only image, but it is one of his favourites.  I wonder what it was in a living, organic image of a body that appealed to Paul? He does give us some strong indications.

Paul tells us we are the Body of Christ, both in our strengths and in our weakness, in our vulnerabilities and frailty and shame. And supremely in today’s reading, in our differences.  Paul puts the spotlight in today’s passage about being the body of Christ upon the differences in spiritual gifts.  And he does it very strongly with a “unity in diversity” theme. Our differences as the body of Christ are not obstacles to overcome, but gifts to delight in, that enrich us and enable us to be who we are. But what I have learned over the years is people find it hard to name their strengths, or in today’s terms, our spiritual gifts.   Whenever I have done the exercise of asking people to write down  their strengths or what they like about themselves down one side of the paper and what they do not like about themselves, or their work area in their lives down the other side of the paper the side with the strengths is  always light on.  So with spiritual gifts – it’s like we have been unable to identify them, or we have thought to do so is boastful and arrogant.  “What me? Gifted by the Spirit!” we too often shudder, as if these were gifts we had earned or bestowed upon ourselves.

Paul’s view of the Church is a place gifted variously by God and as a place where we address difference. But we have to be very careful with this thing that we are charged with creating space for people with difference as the body of Christ.  That easily becomes patronizing.  Let me tell you the day I learnt most about that. One of my profound experiences of church was sitting at a task group meeting dealing with inclusion of people with disabilities.  The token person with a disability was a feisty woman in a wheelchair.  It turned out she was more than a token.  When the conversation went along those lines of the creation of space for the disabled to be part of the church– she finally snapped and glaring at us she exclaimed, “What are you people on about?  You do not have to work at including disabled people as part of the church.  We already are.  The only question is when you people are going to wake up to this and start treating us as what we are and how Christ treats us”.  Kind of changed the slant of the rest of the meeting as I recall.

Now there is a pretty bland version of that we sometimes settle for in the church, or even in the more liberal minded parts of our society.  For some people it means little more than a bunch of like minded people that can reflect back to you how you think of yourself and you can retreat to when you need a little ego bolstering.

Paul takes it to a whole new level when he speaks of community as a non voluntary thing.  Paul’s points seems to be that the more differences are held within a body the stronger, more enriched and more complete is that body.  Yeah, you are not in this community cos you looked at the people and their habits and practices and decided you share something and would like to join.  Now, Paul says, Christ is a single body with many parts, and all of us, whether Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free, (that is all the things that would hopelessly divide us if this were merely a bunch of likeminded people) have been baptised into the one body by the same spirit.  The rather startling conclusion we must come to is I reckon you could almost say if there was not someone in this church you did not look like, did not share much in common, then what is our unity based upon? Is it anything more than common interests or values?  And there are Christian communities like that. 

Nathan Nettleton makes a good point when he says that Paul’s argument, on the other hand, is not a pragmatic or self-interested one. The reason we are to value and dignify everyone equally is not because it will be beneficial, though it might be, but because of who Jesus is and what Jesus is doing. The first line of our reading gave a strong hint about this. It says, “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 ….” the Church? No, it doesn’t say that. It says “so it is with Christ”. It doesn’t even say “with the body of Christ.” It just says “so it is with Christ”. We are to be a unified body in which all members are valued and treated with honour and dignity, not merely because it works better, but because we are called to be a reflection of Jesus Christ and that is what he is like and what he is on about.

The quickest most powerful way to overcome prejudice is to spend time having a conversation or a coffee, or even better and profoundly Christian, eating a meal so looking into the eye of someone who is different, whether, koori, mental illness or disability, gay, refugee, unemployed, the addicted, the depressed, the homeless.  Or a white middle aged, middle class male.  It all depends doesn’t it?

Paul sees this being “the body of Christ” as the defining relationship of not just our spirituality, but our humanity.  We are baptised into Christ and this bunch of people, flaws and all, is the body of Christ. The only entry requirement for the body of Christ is to profess Jesus is Lord and beyond that we are stuck with each other.

What if it is more than a cliché, an easy rolling off the tongue expressions, the body of Christ?  What if those Catholics at Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception (does not sound like us does it?) are part of us and we of them, what if the same could be said of the Holy Apostles Anglicans down on Anderson St and the Presbyterians  and the Weslyean Methodists, and the Sudanese and the Chin and the Potter’s House? Enjoy church in sunshine North with 1800 people attending a Sunday? To my shame the only church leader I have met in 5 months here at Sunshine Uniting is Colin from the Salvos who I met at the interfaith group and we had a coffee together. So I have to do something about that because what if together we literally are to think of ourselves as the resurrected body of Christ.  Maybe we all have a piece of the puzzle, a gift that belongs to the body.