Through the Bible in a Year – March 5

The Scheme for March and April can be found here

Lev 8-9; Romans 14; Psalm 80

Christian faith can only be known in and through the community of faith, Christ’s body, the Church. Jesus tells us ‘when two or more are gathered in my name, there I am, in the midst of them’. This it must be said is at best a minor note in much contemporary Christian faith. Church, although we all know better, is still primarily related to in terms of place and the services – worship and pastoral – which it provides.

This community of faith reveals the Life of Christ in the world, but in order to do so, each of its members relate to one another only in and through Christ. Thus the emphasis on not judging one another – that we must consider that each member lives to the Lord.

Paul warns against our actions causing offence to ‘weaker’ brethren. Here the issue is eating foods which may have been offered in pagan sacrifice. Paul knows that this is not a matter which should concern the believers, but that not everyone is sufficiently grown in faith to have come to this realisation, thus the more mature should refrain from eating such food, for fear effectively that the eyes of the members of the community ‘younger in faith’ fall from looking to Christ and instead fall upon what they might yet consider to be unclean practices.

The clear teaching of Jesus, not to judge one another, is given clear commentary here by Paul. Of course it sounds hoplessly idealistic, unless we take the first commandment with complete seriousness. We are to Love God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind, and all our strength. In other words, our eyes are always to be fixed on Christ. This is in as far as it is possible a physical requirement, that we do not as it were stand beside our brethren, looking first at Christ, then at them, then at Christ and telling him what we have seen in our kindred, rather that we Only see our brothers and sisters in and through Christ – remembering ‘that there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ That we who were guilty have been pronounced innocent in and through Christ, as have our brethren.

The Church as a body is one that should always be growing more and more into the fullness of Christ, as each individually plays his or her part and grows deeper into the reality of the new life we have been given in Him. This is what we are all called to – and our focus is not the behaviour of our brethren, but the Life revealed to un in Christ.

If our vision is not captivated by Christ – that we fail to see our brothers and sisters in Him, that we fail to see that they too are redeemed and are being sanctified, that we see rather their faults and judge them – then clearly we too have much growing to do.

Sermon for Epiphany 3 – Sunday 27th January 2013 – ‘We are the Body of Christ, in whom are fulfilled the Law and the Prophets’

Sermon for EPIPHANY 3

EPIPHANY 3 [click here to listen to the Sermon]

1 Cor 12:12-31
Luke 4:14-21

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

Here goes

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.


Sermon for Advent 2, Year B, 2014. ‘Waiting . . . for the redemption of our bodies’

Advent 2 2014
Samuel Marsden
Isaiah 40
2 Peter 3
Mark 1

Waiting for the redemption of our bodies

As you can’t fail to have noticed this morning, we are celebrating ‘the best Good News since 1814’ – which raises to questions, one general one – what IS the Good News?? If a friend asked you, What is that sign on the Church drive all about? What would you say?? And secondly – waht is Anything does the Good News have to do with our bodies???

I was recently reading an article by a man who had lived through the 1930s in England. His family had been coal miners and to say his existence was harsh would be putting it fairly but perhaps also mildly. Children all sharing the same bed – a lavatory outside the house shared with several other families – poor and sometimes non-existent food – and of course disease, taking children in infancy and leading to life expentancies much much shorter than those we have come to take for granted.

When we consider the collapse of participation in the life of the church, particularly since the 1960s, one factor that I rarely hear mention of is how comfortable our lives are nowadays. After all, IF the big theological problem is ‘Why does an all loving God permit suffering?’ surely when we suffer far far far less than even our parents generations – and we do – then church should be packed with folk giving thanks to God? Surely??

And of course church has itself become  less demanding and more comfortable, as well . . .  and herein might be part of the issue. Back in England many many churches went through the business of ‘re-ordering the church’, at least when financial circumstances were better. By and large that meant making the building more ‘comfortable’. The installation of better heating and of course that perennial bane of a Vicar’s life – the removal of pews to be replaced with ‘comfortable’ chairs . . . but of course does not Isaiah 40 verse 1 say ‘Comfort ye, O Comfort ye my people . . .’ 🙂

Not long before coming here I chaired a Diocesan committee which had both the Archdeacons on it. One evening we met at one of their houses, and as the second Archdeacon came into the room he said to his colleague ‘Ah! that must be your prayer chair!!’ He was pointing at one of these.


And he was right! How did he know?? Except for the assumption that one must be comfortable to pray . . . Imagine being sat on that  or indeed your own favourite comfortable chair – losing all sense of your body, its aches and pains – almost for a moment leaving the material realm and entering into the pure realm of the Spirit . . .

This turn is one of the most ancient heresies of the Church that of Gnosticism, a retreat into the realm of pure Spirit – the denial of our bodies. Which is fundamentally a denial of the heart of our faith. Our bodies are the very realm of our Life as Christians. And as we shall see the Heart of the Good News.

This Gnostic turn is seen in what happens when we pray – together as a body. When I was young it was unthinkable that one might not kneel to pray. In other words without naming it – we were bringing all of who we were before God, and in material terms almost all of who we are is our bodies. Kneeling is of course very Anglican – Other traditions stand to pray. Again very physical and perhaps more demanding. Until very very recently, not to adopt some bodily posture in prayer would be thought most odd. Why leave so much of yourself behind when you pray?

Our Faith is at its heart Embodied. Physical and Spiritual irrevocably woven together – put another way, it is Sacramental.  And thus it cannot be disembodied. Only those who think that there are two realms, one of the Spirit an one of the body could imagine otherwise. Our bodies matter – they are the Realm of the working out of our salvation – as St Paul reminds us ‘‘do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.’ What we do with our bodies is of ultimate significance. they are no mere shells for our ‘selves’ We are our bodies, perhaps more than we are minds in that we might lose our minds yet still live, yet we have no life apart from our bodies

Thus the central outworking of our faith – Worship and Prayer must fully involve the body for us to be present – we eat bread – we drink wine – we are baptised by our bodies being immersed in water – we annoint the body with oil after baptism, for healing and in preparation for death. We stand we kneel, we turn to face the Gospel – for in this Jesus is speaking –  As we enter the Holy of Holies at the Eucharist we change our dress. We HEAR the word with our ears, we respond in speech with our mouths – we SING and action which brings so much more of us bodily into the picture – the body resonates literally with the praise of God. We confess our sins OUT LOUD. This too is why marriage is a Sacrement, because it is Known in the BOdy, the two become one flesh

One of the disciplines of faith I have been teaching our Baptism class has been to read the Bible out Loud even when you are alone. One of the marks of our disembodied existance has been ‘reading in your head’ . St Augistine once found  the Saintly Bishop Ambrose ‘reading without moving his lips’ and thought it so odd that he mentioned it in his writings and tried to explain this Strange behaviour. But as anyone who has ever read out loud and paid attention will note – it is a very different practise. the words are embodied they resnote – all of who we are in involved rather than the very very limited part of our neural pathways involved in reading in our head – ie to read in your head is barely to read at all – indeed such practices as research shows largely shut us down. In this increasingly virtual, unreal world there is a very real sense in which we need to get out of our heads in worship. Not in the Gnostic sense of contemporary charismatic worship wherein people are enjoined to lose sense of their bodies – this is no different to praying in the comfy chair. no we get out of our heads to get our faith into our bodies.

Today as we move through Advent in this the bicentennial year of the announcement of the Good News in these lands we remember Samuel Marsden. Here on Friday, the children from Kaikorai School re-enacted that story as a means of telling the story of Christ’s birth amongst us. Earlier this year with the other members of General Synod I was privileged to visit Oihi Bay. What struck me forcibly was the sense of exposure – of the harshness of what life must have been like for Marsden and his family. Few if any of us know what it is to live in dependence of the hospitality of others. Imagine literally coming ashore in acute dependence for your physical needs, your bodily need for safety, your bodily need for shelter, your bodily need for food and water. As we have lost sense of these needs, so our apprehension of who we are has shrivelled to a point where for all we say the Self is writ large in contemporary society, we have in effect made ourselves disappear, and where is The Good News in that?  Perhaps in no small part we have lost any sense of our faith, of what the Good News is, precisely because of this bodily denial?

So John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.

The people left the comfort of home to meet this strange figure in the wilderness and to be immersed in the water of the baptism of repentance

one cannot help but be struck by the sheer physicality of john the Baptist. There he is in the wilderness, the place always of God’s salvation, the place of physical dependence upon God, the place where the LORD provdes the manna, the daily bread. And dressed in what he could find – camels hair – perhaps an echoe of those skins that the LORD provided for our first parents, Adam and Eve. Living on a diet of what he could forage . . .

Announcing what?

Mark wastes no time in announcing the content of the Good News. Mark Chpater 1 and verse 1 – The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Good News comes to us in a body, that of Jesus. The eternal word of God of which Isaiah spoke becomes FLESH. Born in humility, having family, having nowhere to lay his head, being hungry and thirsty, whipped and scourged, brutally nailed through sinew and bone to a rough wooden cross – the Sphere of our Salvation hope is indisputably the body of Jesus. As St Paul puts it when he is asked what is the message he preaches, ‘it is Jesus Christ and him crucified . . .’ The Good News is known in a body, and in that body God in Christ reconciles the world to himself. And through faith, God raises Jesus from the dead, not as a ‘spirit’ but as a living breathing, fish eating, walking talking living breathing human.

Both Isaiah and Peter speak of the transitory nature of our lives – But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. The physicality of our lives laid bare

All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades;    but the word of our God will stand for ever. And therein lies our Great Hope – for all the frailty of our bodies, our great hope is that in the eternal Word bodily raised from the dead, we too are raised. That Christ’s triumph over death was no mere ‘vague ongoing existence’ as so many of the comfortable ‘modern’ Christians would like to think. That beyond the vagaries of mere beliefs, even our bodies are caught up in the Salvation purposes of God. So we prepare by Worshipping in our bodies, by Praying in our bodies, by fasting in our bodies, by baptising bodily,

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God . . . the word rendered comfort means better Strengthen!! Get ready – prepare yourself, body and soul for the coming of the one who Saves us, Soul and Body