Play nice with the other children- and that goes for all of you!

Church is a bit like preschool, and if you’re not sure what I mean, you need to have a look at 1 Corinthians chapter 12 v12-27, and then (if you can without being escorted off the premises) take a visit to a preschool near you… For those who like to compare and contrast, your can listen to Cathy preach on this passage here, then read my reflections on it below… see where we picked up on the same things and where we disappeared into different directions from the same starting point…

Week 5 of our series ‘living the Christian life’ and we’ve been thinking about generosity, compassion, love and now being part of the family- ‘unity’…

I was struck by the way that the passage we looked at seems much clearer and simpler to us than a lot of Paul’s other writings- was he just having a good day, or is it rather that to us this idea of equality and unity, whilst hard to do, is fairly simple to comprehend… but for his original readers the idea of racial and social equality really was a challenging and new concept… anyway, just something that I was wondering in those moments after I’d finished prepping the talk and before I stood up to give it…

Our key passage this week comes from Paul’s first letter to the church that he founded in Corinth- a letter written at least in part in response to problems of division and spiritual hierarchies that were developing among the Christians and churches in and around Corinth.  Paul is writing to encourage the believers to come together around their shared understanding of who Jesus is- their Christology, and in our series on the Christian life this Lent its an appropriate passage for us to look at as we consider what does it mean for Christians to call ourselves one family.

Paul uses the image of the human body here- we are all one body, with many parts- each one of us baptised into one body and given one Spirit. Paul is, in one image emphasising the unity and diversity of the church, but also keeping at the forefront what it is that joins them- baptism in the name of Jesus and the presence of God’s Holy Spirit within us…

We’re called to love the different parts of the body of Christ- other people in our church, other churches in our village and region, because we are part of the same thing… but in order to do that we have to overcome two hurdles- firstly we have to come to love ourselves- its all very well to tell me that I need to love another Christian as I love my own limbs, but if I’ve got arthritis or a broken wrist, or bunions or just ugly feet, well… I might not feel I can love the other parts of my own body… if I don’t look like a supermodel, dance like a strictly finalist, run like an Olympian, how am I supposed to love what I don’t really like?

This is where the family image comes in- sometimes we don’t really like our families. They know us too well, they know the buttons to push without even realising, all our first mistakes were done in front of them and they’ve heard our stories a hundred times. And yet… family are who we turn to, family are who we’ll walk on broken glass for. Family are us and we are them. If one part suffers we all suffer… but we’d never be rid of them. We don’t always get on well with our families, but we love them.  They define us- I am the son of my parents and the youngest of three children, my remaining grandmother was 101 on her last birthday and I never met one of my grandfathers… none of them are perfect, but they are my family. In the same way, my body is my body- if I was starting from scratch I wouldn’t design one like this, but this is what I’ve got… with these hands, ears, knees and eyes, arms that are too long, feet that would suit a ballet dancer and a wonky rib for good measure, not to mention the various scars that its picked up during the course of my life…

But, each of those scars comes from something that I went through- all of me- a fall here, an operation there, and all of me was weakened and recovered. Each of the parts of my body works together- somehow it manages to balance on a bicycle, to hold a pen and read a book, to do jigsaw puzzles and play badminton. The different parts of our body are suited for different things, but they also work together in harmony to achieve what they could not do alone.

And that is the second hurdle we need to overcome- the realisation that alone each part is weak, vulnerable and ultimately non-viable.  This week I read a comment by a friend about the Europa Cup tie between Liverpool and Man Utd… two teams with a lot of history and not much of it good. He was writing about his own memories of games as a child, of glory hunters following first one team and then the other, of the noise at the ground on match days. Committed fans of each would say that they hate the opposition and yet… without them, what does their own team mean? A football match needs both teams, and is the better when the opposition is quality. If one team just doesn’t show up- either literally or metaphorically, there isn’t much of a game. We need one another to be who we are.

But the key shortcoming of that image is that what brings two football teams together is the desire to compete and win- In the church, as parts of the body of Christ we need to properly recognise that what brings us together is stronger than what keeps us apart- for Christians there is much we can disagree on, from the first centuries where the early church struggled to describe the relationship between Father Son and Holy Spirit, through the various understandings of womens ministry over the centuries, not to mention those things that are of personal taste- which prayer to use and what hymns we prefer… and yet… Christians are united by the truth of the Gospel and the call that it places on us-

We proclaim and confess that Jesus of Nazareth is the son of the most high God, that he died and rose again to bring forgiveness of sin to all who would receive it, and that he sent the Holy Spirit to be with his followers. During his ministry and as he left his followers he instructed them to continue the work he had begun- of taking that Good News to all the world, of growing in their own discipleship… and we are only here in this place because of the determination of those missionaries sent to Britain, and those who came to the west and brought that message to the people they found… And today anyone who signs up to that, who is part of the body of Christ, all of us are connected to one another, and all of us are committed to one another- their success is my success, my pain is their pain. Where you flourish, I flourish. And as we learn to live more fully as family, as the body of Christ, loving one another, so we will see God’s blessings poured out more fully on all his people.

Our key passage this week comes from Paul’s first letter to the church that he founded in Corinth- a letter written at least in part in response to problems of division and spiritual hierarchies that were developing among the Christians and churches in and around Corinth.  Paul is writing to encourage the believers to come together around their shared understanding of who Jesus is- their Christology, and in our series on the Christian life this Lent its an appropriate passage for us to look at as we consider what does it mean for Christians to call ourselves one family.

Paul uses the image of the human body here- we are all one body, with many parts- each one of us baptised into one body and given one Spirit. Paul is, in one image emphasising the unity and diversity of the church, but also keeping at the forefront what it is that joins them- baptism in the name of Jesus and the presence of God’s Holy Spirit within us…

We’re called to love the different parts of the body of Christ- other people in our church, other churches in our village and region, because we are part of the same thing… but in order to do that we have to overcome two hurdles- firstly we have to come to love ourselves- its all very well to tell me that I need to love another Christian as I love my own limbs, but if I’ve got arthritis or a broken wrist, or bunions or just ugly feet, well… I might not feel I can love the other parts of my own body… if I don’t look like a supermodel, dance like a strictly finalist, run like an Olympian, how am I supposed to love what I don’t really like?

This is where the family image comes in- sometimes we don’t really like our families. They know us too well, they know the buttons to push without even realising, all our first mistakes were done in front of them and they’ve heard our stories a hundred times. And yet… family are who we turn to, family are who we’ll walk on broken glass for. Family are us and we are them. If one part suffers we all suffer… but we’d never be rid of them. We don’t always get on well with our families, but we love them.  They define us- I am the son of my parents and the youngest of three children, my remaining grandmother was 101 on her last birthday and I never met one of my grandfathers… none of them are perfect, but they are my family. In the same way, my body is my body- if I was starting from scratch I wouldn’t design one like this, but this is what I’ve got… with these hands, ears, knees and eyes, arms that are too long, feet that would suit a ballet dancer and a wonky rib for good measure, not to mention the various scars that its picked up during the course of my life…

But, each of those scars comes from something that I went through- all of me- a fall here, an operation there, and all of me was weakened and recovered. Each of the parts of my body works together- somehow it manages to balance on a bicycle, to hold a pen and read a book, to do jigsaw puzzles and play badminton. The different parts of our body are suited for different things, but they also work together in harmony to achieve what they could not do alone.

And that is the second hurdle we need to overcome- the realisation that alone each part is weak, vulnerable and ultimately non-viable.  This week I read a comment by a friend about the Europa Cup tie between Liverpool and Man Utd… two teams with a lot of history and not much of it good. He was writing about his own memories of games as a child, of glory hunters following first one team and then the other, of the noise at the ground on match days. Committed fans of each would say that they hate the opposition and yet… without them, what does their own team mean? A football match needs both teams, and is the better when the opposition is quality. If one team just doesn’t show up- either literally or metaphorically, there isn’t much of a game. We need one another to be who we are.

But the key shortcoming of that image is that what brings two football teams together is the desire to compete and win- In the church, as parts of the body of Christ we need to properly recognise that what brings us together is stronger than what keeps us apart- for Christians there is much we can disagree on, from the first centuries where the early church struggled to describe the relationship between Father Son and Holy Spirit, through the various understandings of womens ministry over the centuries, not to mention those things that are of personal taste- which prayer to use and what hymns we prefer… and yet… Christians are united by the truth of the Gospel and the call that it places on us-

We proclaim and confess that Jesus of Nazareth is the son of the most high God, that he died and rose again to bring forgiveness of sin to all who would receive it, and that he sent the Holy Spirit to be with his followers. During his ministry and as he left his followers he instructed them to continue the work he had begun- of taking that Good News to all the world, of growing in their own discipleship… and we are only here in this place because of the determination of those missionaries sent to Britain, and those who came to the west and brought that message to the people they found… And today anyone who signs up to that, who is part of the body of Christ, all of us are connected to one another, and all of us are committed to one another- their success is my success, my pain is their pain. Where you flourish, I flourish. And as we learn to live more fully as family, as the body of Christ, loving one another, so we will see God’s blessings poured out more fully on all his people.

So what does it mean to live this out in a really tangible way? A small group of us met up last night to consider this, and one of the things we ended up doing was praying for every street in our neighbourhood- not just our own, or the ones where we knew people, but each street equally, by name… That’s just a start, so what’s next?

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