Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Body of Christ

We are the body of Christ

We are the body of Christ

The New Testament module I have just completed was interesting in many ways. Its main focus was on several of the Pauline letters, including the epistles to the Galatians, Romans and Corinthians. New insights were gained into the background, setting and context of these letters as well as the character of Paul himself. This was particularly challenging as my natural tendency is to regard Paul with a small measure of annoyance and a gritting of teeth.

Don’t get me wrong, I have learned to love and admire St Paul; for his sheer hard work and determination in setting up the early churches, his zealousness for spreading the message of Christ and his genuineness in his beliefs. It’s just that sometimes I wonder, ‘Is that really what you meant Paul?’

One passage though, in which he explained the metaphor of ‘the body of Christ’ brooks no argument from me and we were asked to prepare a sermon on it as part of the course. Here then is a copy of that sermon, intended with my own church congregation in mind, but here delivered hopefully to an equally receptive, varied and open online congregation.

The passage it relates to is 1 Corinthians 12:12-26

As the writing on the barn wall stated, “All animals are equal…” This declaration by the animals in George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm laid down a rule which many democratic societies have upheld as a basic principle. However, if we are all equal doesn’t that mean that we all have to be the same? Not physically the same but doing the same thing, thinking the same thoughts, making everything neat and uniform, because in this way we will surely achieve unity. Won’t we? And isn’t uniformity the thing that we as a church strive for in our liturgy, church management and doctrine?

Well equality is not the same as uniformity and uniformity is actually not really helpful to true unity. As the animals later discovered when they added a codicil to the rule – “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” There is something more that needs to happen and Paul points to it in one of his clearest and least controversial statements in his first letter to the church in Corinth, when he identifies what it means to be the body of Christ

We could so easily just look at the analogy of each of the members of the church being represented as different body parts. We all have different roles to play which could equate to a particular limb or organ within a body – the choir representing the harmonious vocal chords; the sidespeople as helpful hands; ‘Jonathan’ [in my own church], who likes to disagree with every sermon, as the grumbling appendix!… Each of us creating a complete and unified metaphorical human being that is wonderfully made, but which can occasionally stumble and fall, but invariably picks itself up again.

 Still is this what Paul really means and is this the only way we can think of being one body?

For a start we are all different, and that’s great; because it would be an odd shaped body if we were all the same part. After all, like a body, we need the unique gifts offered by all of the various members. These various gifts provide diversity, a diversity that is God-given; and coming as they do from such a source they need to be used for the good of all. Paul recognises that the thing that unites us is the Holy Spirit and it is through the work of the Holy Spirit that believers become bound together into one body.

However, our diversity needs to be based on interdependency rather than independence… Just as we use different parts of our bodies to perform different tasks, we all have particular talents which make us very good at the jobs we choose to do; and sometimes we can jealously guard those jobs that we like doing, thereby preventing others from a chance of receiving equal recognition. In addition, if we perceive that these are highly skilled tasks we can begin to give them a superior status, which often leads to pride. Yet the work we perform in God’s name cannot be based on a belief of self-sufficiency – our successes are built on the grace of God and the shoulders of those that support us –this sermon would be pretty pointless if the church and its people weren’t present – and a lot has happened in the past and behind the scenes to bring everybody to this particular point in time. Just take a moment to think why and how it is you are here today?

Moreover, who are we to judge the worthiness of each role played within the church? Just as our limbs depend on muscles, and tendons; nerves and microscopic synapses to function efficiently, and would be useless without them, so we have to ensure that every role a person has is equally valued. Furthermore, we need to realise that if we are working towards a common purpose – a united body – then we have to recognise that there will be some within that ‘body’ who may be vulnerable and therefore need to be nurtured and cared for.

Often, living in a society that prizes outward signs of power and achievement, we can despise weakness and vulnerability, but Paul turns this on its head, so that as Christians we should honour those ‘less respectable members’ and instead afford them mutual respect. It could be anyone of us that fluffs their lines in the readings, or takes a long time to get up to the altar rail or forgets the milk for refreshments…If we learn to be more accepting then the church will truly function as the body of Christ

Of course there are going to be time when we do disagree with each other, but it will be how we deal with this that counts. If our disagreements are forever aired publicly, rather than quietly and with concern for the other person, then we run the risk that we lower the respect that we need to have for each other as well as the respect that others have for us. We devalue the whole

What then should the shape of the whole look like? Well, in a world that is forever dieting and primping to maintain the body beautiful, we need to put that image aside. Our body should be fluid and growing, accepting new members so that every part of the body can grow stronger. We shouldn’t pick and choose what sort of parts or people we might need more of, or reject what might be to some insignificant or worthless. We have to allow people to be what they are; love each other unconditionally and rejoice in our unity – because if we don’t then we not acting as the body of Christ; and In the words of a song by the music group Casting Crowns – “Jesus paid much too high a price for us to pick and choose who should come… and we are the body of Christ”


Lyrics from If We Are The Body – Casting Crowns

It’s crowded in worship today
As she slips in trying to fade into the faces.
The girls’ teasing laughter is carrying farther than they know
Farther than they know

A traveller is far away from home
He sheds his coat and quietly sinks into the back row.
The weight of their judgemental glances
Tells him that his chances are better out on the road

But if we are the body
Why aren’t his arms reaching?
Why aren’t his hands healing?
Why aren’t his words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren’t his feet going?
Why is His love not showing them there is a way?
There is a way

Jesus paid much too high a price
For us to pick and choose who should come
And we are the body of Christ

Jesus is the way

© Casting Crowns 2003

Disclaimer: Any names mentioned within this sermon have been changed to protect people’s anonymity and because I would still like to worship there. They know who they might be!

A State Of Flux

State of Flux

State of Flux

Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul, • and why are you so disquieted within me?
Psalm 42:6

Just lately I have been feeling really unsettled and I just can’t put my finger on it. On the surface nothing has obviously happened that might cause this feeling of unrest; in fact things have been falling into place and my self-confidence has been gradually increasing – but still there is a feeling of general unease.

Obviously, looking back there are many changes that have taken place in my life over the last few months; the excitement and nervousness about starting college; learning how to split my week between study and wanting to continue to serve my home church; as well as pulling back on some of my voluntary commitments. Alongside these, in my personal life, I have been rediscovering what it means to be part of a married couple, now that the girls have left home and are more or less independent.

These are all definite changes, and as I’ve written about before, change is not something to be concerned about, but is necessary for us to grow as people and in our faith. So I don’t think it’s that. Perhaps it’s more about transformation

You might say that change is actually only the events or things that we either choose or have thrust upon us, which will have an effect on us in some way. What comes out of those changes is transformation, because we will never be the same and we can never go back to being the person we were before.

This can apply to so many life events, but a vivid example, where this is clearly apparent is where death and loss are concerned. Mags Blackie in a recent post, spoke about Kay Warren, an American pastor’s wife and her family’s emotional journey through grief, following the suicide of her son. There was an expectation from people around them, that life would eventually get back to ‘normal’. However, Kay’s observation was that her true friends recognised that this wasn’t going to happen, ‘they don’t pressure their friend to be the old familiar person they’re used to; they’re willing to accept that things are different’. 

Clearly this and similar events involve huge and uncomfortable changes and where our faith is concerned, those changes might not on the surface be so obvious. If we were to look to biblical times, there are many more examples where ordinary people have come into contact with God and the changes that that entailed transformed them and their lives forever. We can think of Peter, who after meeting Jesus, was transformed from a humble fisherman to a leader of Christ’s church; or Mary Magdalene, a woman with a troubled past, but who’s devotion to Jesus transformed her into the one who was trusted to reveal his resurrection to the other apostles.

Yet none of these things happened overnight, it was something that occurred gradually, and whilst it was emerging there would often be a period when they were in a state of flux – uncertain of what was to be done but aware that it preceded a new direction for their lives.

What I am certain of is that no-one once they have come into contact with God, as creator, redeemer or sustainer can remain unchanged. So if you too are seeing changes in your lives and are feeling uncomfortable or unsure about it – just hold on in there, for all will eventually be revealed.

Perhaps for me this period of unrest is just one of those moments, when I am beginning to realise that things are irrevocably changing and that life is not going to ever be the same again. In that case, I’m going to take a deep breath and say, ‘Let the transformation continue…’

O put your trust in God; • for I will yet give him thanks,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.
Psalm 42:7

Lenten Days

God Breathed Speck of Dust

God Breathed Speck of Dust

From dust you came, and to dust you shall return. Turn from sin and be faithful to Christ.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent – a period of 40 days, when time is taken to take a long hard look at ourselves; to strip away all that overindulges our minds and bodies and to focus on the days ahead which lead to the joyfulness of Easter. However you chose to mark this Lenten season I pray that it will be a worthwhile time of reflection and renewal.

Lenten Days

A God-breathed speck of dust –
the cosmos expanded to fullness,
then contracted its atoms
moulded and shaped,
quickened by the Spirit.
Alpha – the beginning…

Burnt palms, transformed to carbon silk,
mixed with Holy oil
to anoint the faithful.
A smear of dirt; bisecting lines
not brushed aside, but fade;
absorbed in mental flesh

The Paschal mystery re-centres our thoughts
on the pain and suffering;
and the human world reaches out
with eager hands to grasp
the nettle of contradiction
seen in purple packaged symbols

Self-control required; temptation fought,
leads to a time of reflection and reckoning;
to draw nearer, only to discover
how far there is still to go.
Casting off of habits that cloy appetites,
to cleanse palates and souls
in sparse Lenten days

An anticipation of joy, subdued;
made lean by abstinence
and sharpened senses attuned
to rhythms of restraint.
While lengthening days bring light,
and hope springs in bud and blossom;
announcing promise to the earth
of new life to come

The Power of Prayer

Focussing our prayers

Focusing our prayers

I have been thinking a lot about prayer recently, and about what a powerful tool it is for our faith lives. It is both the simplest and at the same time the most difficult thing we are asked to do

Prayer in its simplest form is often an immediate unrehearsed plea for help – dashing off our requests, pleading for a solution to a problem, dutifully reciting some well-worn words. The basics are that we start up a conversation with God – but so often it can seem a one-sided conversation with awkward pauses amidst feelings that – I’m pretty sure I’m not doing this right – I actually don’t know what words I’m supposed to say – what if I’m just talking to myself?

The good news is that you definitely will not be talking to yourself, the bad news is that what you hear might not necessarily be in an audible language

It often helps if we have can have some point of focus and set time aside each day to spend time in prayer, whether it’s in formal worship such as Morning and Evening Prayer or simply lighting a candle and being still in God’s presence. It is in these times of stillness that prayer often just naturally happens. We start off in one direction and as our thoughts whirl and settle we find ourselves focused on a particular person or situation.

The fact is we tend to forget that we are actually bringing nothing new to God’s attention; and while we may frequently offer intercessions for people  we will never know or meet and situations we will never be a part of, what it does do is emphasis our concerns, so that we come alongside God, who is already aware of what needs to happen

Praying for others

Praying for others

This sense that our prayers will only be answered according to God’s will, can be hard to accept, especially when we are praying for people and situations known to us and if that will seems to be contrary to our desires; but that doesn’t mean that our prayers will not have any effect. 

I have often found that when I come across situations that need prayer, one of the most valuable outcomes is the comfort it gives to those for whom prayer is offered. Moreover, when there is nothing physical or practical that can be done about the situation, it is often the ONLY thing you can offer

The knowledge that people are upholding you in prayer has been a particularly encouraging aspect of my ordination training;  not only from my sending church or as part of my college group, but more specifically the smaller OMC prayer group. The beautiful prayer beads (above right) that slip over a finger and nestle in the palm of your hand, were a  gift from one of the members of this group. Each strand represents one of the five members, including myself; which helps us focus our prayers for each other as well as reminding us to pray for ourselves, something we often fail to do.

In whatever manner you choose to pray – whether as a congregation or as an individual; whether for yourself or for others; whether you know that your prayer has been answered or  if you’re still waiting to find out what that answer will be – do be aware of the potential power your prayer might release. In the meantime may the words of a traditional Celtic blessing sustain you on your journey with God

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

May God hold you in the palm of his hand

May God hold you in the palm of his hand