Sermon for EPIPHANY 3
EPIPHANY 3 [click here to listen to the Sermon]
1 Cor 12:12-31
I want to begin this morning with a simple exercise – not of the physical type, but it has to do with the body.
I’m going to say a few things to you as a congregation and I I want you to respond appropriately – I’ll say a phrase and I’d like you to respond back to me
Now everyone is a little twitchy – this sounds difficult! – Don’t worry they are very familiar phases
The peace of Christ be always with you
And also with you
There – that wasn’t too painful 🙂
Ok – a couple more
E to Whanau, we are the body of Christ
By one spirit we were baptised into one body
Keep the Unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace
Amen. We are bound by the love of Christ
Back in England, I used to say from time to time that I preached the same sermon every week and no-one listened – there I would say pretty much all we have just said ‘We are the body of Christ, in one spirit we were all baptised into one body, let us therefore pursue all that makes for peace and builds p our common life’ – It being the less democratic Church of England, I got to say it all 🙂 But here we say pretty much the same thing although to each other, which I like – but do we hear what we are saying?
As some of you have noticed, I preface the Lord’s prayer with the words ‘we are very bold to say’ – because it is outrageously Daring to address God as Father – to say we are dependent on him for daily bread, and to give him leave to use our forgiveness of others as the measure for his forgiveness of us – as Jesus says, the measure you give will be the measure you get . . . Daring words – Daring prayer – calling us to a largeness of Life.
Yet hardly less bold and daring, and certainly no less demanding are the words we’ve just rehearsed . . . By virtue of one baptism of the spirit . . . We are the body of Christ . . .
We Are the body of Christ. St Paul in his letter to the Corinthians as we know says this but he is not as it were struggling to find some metaphor for the church . . . ‘ermm let me think, the church, well I guess it is like Christ’s body!’ . . . as if this were just one of many possibilities – no Paul starts of saying this . . ‘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. ‘So it is with Christ’ He goes on to describe the church ‘For in the one spirit we were all baptised into one body – but he is talking of Christ. His primary reference is not the church, ‘the church is like . . .’, no it is Christ.
Paul in describing the church understands the Church as Christ’s body – the identification of Christ with his Church as being total – and this is why for so many many years the idea of Schism in the church was unthinkable. When Martin Luther stuck his theses to the door of Wittemburg Church, he wasn’t thinking ‘Hah – that will show you, I’m off to form my own church!’ The idea would have been ludicrous to him. There is One Body – there can only be one church!’ But of course Luther lived also in an age where the spirit of the age, the philosophy of the world was driving heavily towards Individualism and fragmentation – the end of which we see in our own age.
No – for much of the history of the church and pretty definitively for the first thousand years the idea of there being more than one church was anathema – you could not divide the Church for Christ is One.
It strikes me that perhaps the greatest challenge the church faces in our age is this complete lack of sense of who we are – that we are the body of Christ
In the Church of England service, as I said the words before the Peace were slightly different and I think helpfully so – for the Priest would say – let us therefore pursue all that makes for peace – pursue peace – work for peace, amongst ourselves . . . and builds up our common life. Our common life . . . it is an interesting phrase – one worthy of meditation.
Back in the Middle Ages, when Christendom seemed to sit astride Western Europe – the great theologian Thomas Aquinas applied his mind to what he called, ‘The Common Good’ – that which is good for all. And our own Andrew Bradstock is busy doing some work on this at the moment I know.
Well in one way or another we are all Thomists, or at least his thinking about society took deep root. But his conception was of a whole people Under God – the Church was everywhere – it held all but supreme power – to speak of the common good was in a sense to speak of the good of the church – what else was there? There were a few heretics – but generally you hounded them away or burnt them 🙂
But of course those days are long gone although their perception still holds sway – so now when we speak of working for peace – we do Not primarily think of that amongst ourselves, but rather of working for peace in society, ironically from a deeply fractured and fragmented church. Of course we can think of this in terms of the witness of a church of many denominations – but it is more true of the local church which is Always where people either do, or do not encounter Christ.
Our common Life – it is an interesting question. Do we have a common life? When people encounter us as a body do they find that our Common life, our Life Together (to use Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s phrase) speaks to them of Christ. In what sense apart from this hour or so on a Sunday do We have a common life, or is the Individualism which so thoroughly infects our society also infect us? St Paul says ‘the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you’ Is there a member (good word) of this church whom we say in effect we could do without? Do we recognise deep down that we Do Need each other, that we cannot be the church without each other – and if we answer Yes to that, then how is that expressed?
Through Lent I will be running a series of studies into the life of the church and I do hope that we can express some of that common life in coming together around the Word of God for a time each week – however we are still in Epiphany, and as I have said, Epiphany is for meditating on the manifestation of Christ. Paul let us not forget says, as the members are one body, So it is With Christ – he would have us looking to Christ. And so he is manifested – in the adoration of the magi – in his baptism – his Glory revealed at the Wedding at Cana when the bridegroom comes for his bride, his people – and this week he is manifested as the one who fulfills the Law and the prophets.
Imagine the dramatic scene – he comes to those who were his own – to Nazareth where he was brought up He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
He Is the Messianic servant long foretold – but his words are staggering and like the words of the Lord’s prayer, like the words of the peace, I think we miss their import. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” Has been fulfilled. Not I have come to announce a great new project that I want you all to get in on – there’s work to be done folk – no – Today, this scripture has been fulfilled. Christ is the fulfillment of the words of the prophet – In Christ is where they are fulfilled. And the world makes its judgement. For the people of NAzareth it was quite clear they wanted none of it – they went to throw him off the cliff. Why do you throw a man off a cliff for announcing a project of good works? You don’t. He had had the temerity to say that in HIm ‘It is finished’ – ‘It is fulfilled’ In him!
But we look around at the world and say – we can’t see it – but we are looking in the wrong place – it is fulfilled in Christ – in his very being, in himself, in his body . . . where should we see good news for the poor? In his body, in the church – ‘there were no poor amongst them’ – Where should we see people set free from all that binds them? In Christ, In his body, in the church. Where should the blind see? In Christ this is fulfilled – in his body – in the church – ‘I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see’
And we look around and say ‘are you serious?’ How can this be? And the world may well ask the same questions. How can this be? ‘Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee . . .’ When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit. how can it be? It can be, if we are once more filled with power from on high – it is the Life of Christ that makes us the body of Christ. It is His Life that is Our Common Life
Glory be to God for all things
Let us pray
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created, And You shall renew the face of the earth.