Sunday 27th January 2019
1 Corinthians 12: 12-31a, Luke 4: 14-21
Today is Holocaust Memorial Day, with this years theme being “ Torn from home”. It is also designated Homelessness Sunday and we are still in the Week of prayer for Christian Unity.
So with those things in mind, how can todays readings relate to us, a body of God’s people, in this time and in this place?
Paul offers us inspiration with his helpful analogy of the body. He says to the individual members of the church in Corinth, and through them to the individual churches into which the followers of Jesus’ are drawn. Christ is one body, but made up of many parts. There are different tasks for the different parts of the body to do, but they must work together for the good of the one body, because they are all working through the one spirit.
We might describe this as diversity in unity. Paul isn’t telling people to fall into line, to all be exactly the same, to all do exactly the same things, he doesn’t see Christians working together like an army of ants – each doing and being the same and so losing their individuality.
But he does point to an underlying unity.
The week of prayer for Christian unity is not just about getting organised so we can be more effective, it is about celebrating and committing ourselves to that underlying unity which we already have, because there can be only one body of Christ, however many different parts of it there are.
Division of Christians is not just foolish or wasteful of resources, it is wrong. ‘There is only one body of Christ, one Spirit, one Lord, one baptism,’ says St Paul
Unfortunately, Christianity has not always had a positive impact on Western civilisation and the peoples it has colonised or evangelised. Nations that identify as Christian, can be viewed as the most militaristic, greedy, and untrue to the teacher we claim to follow. Our societies are often judged not upon the servant leadership that Jesus modelled, but on the common domination and control model that produces racism, classism, sexism, power seeking, and income inequality.
That’s not to say our ancestors didn’t have faith, that Grandma and Grandpa were not good people. But by and large we Christians did not and do not always know how to produce positive change in culture or institutions that operated differently than the rest. Christianity has however shaped some wonderfully liberated saints, prophets and leaders.
As Dorothy Day (1897–1980) a journalist, author and Catholic who, in her own words, dedicated herself “as a person bringing about the kind of society where it is easier to be good”. Often said in her inimitable Kingdom style, “Nothing is going to change until we stop accepting this dirty, rotten system!” Our beliefs, our faith and the way we live them cannot be divorced from social and systemic implications.
We can recognise this in stories we read or hear from the genocide of the Second World War or perhaps even closer to home from some of the Syrian refugees, those who have experienced the loss of everything they identify as home, those who have risked travelling hundreds of miles in search of safety, some of those who attend and are offered welcome, friendship and hospitality at the language classes here on a Monday morning. By folk from different Churches and none.
So what other steps do we have to take as Christian churches to reclaim our underlying unity?
One thing is to understand that unity is not uniformity. We cannot expect the Catholic church to do things as we do, or the Salvation Army, or even Anglicans! But it is sometimes worth taking the time to stop our busy-ness, and take stock; not only as an opportunity to recharge our own batteries, but to look at whether what we are doing is for the health of the whole body, building the kingdom of God, or whether we are stuck in competition with one another and are building our own little empires.
We need, above all, to remember that when we work together as the body of Christ, we are doing it for God and God’s world, not for ourselves. I don’t think that this message is only about working with other denominations or congregations. There is diversity with in each family and each Christian family that we all need to accept or learn to live with.
I believe that this is where the Gospel reading can help us. The passage we heard comes directly after the temptation of Jesus. Turning stones to bread, throwing himself down from the temple, seeking domination over the world – all these were temptations for Jesus to place himself at the centre of his ministry.
Then he comes into the synagogue in Nazareth and reads from the scroll of Isaiah. ‘the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, he has anointed me to declare good news for the poor, release of the captive, recovery of sight for the blind’.
Jesus announces that he has not come just to live out his life or tell his own story, to become some kind of legend by exalting himself. Jesus reading scripture and preaching in his home town!
But just a minute, this is not what the listeners expected to hear from him! There were questions about his identity and authority! He no longer fitted in so they attempted to throw him from a cliff!
He has come to be part of God’s story, to align himself with God’s kingdom, to be a sign of what God is doing in the world.
When the Christian churches remember that they are part of the one body of Christ, we too will align ourselves with what God is doing in the world – we will forget our own wills, desires and agendas and do God’s work, building up God’s kingdom.
But let’s remember what Paul said about diversity in unity – being part of God’s story doesn’t mean that our story is unimportant. For the body of Christ to enjoy health and vitality we need to be ready to listen to one another’s stories, as different Christians, as different people made in the image of God, so that we come to appreciate what it is that each of the different parts of the body, weak or strong, beautiful or less so, outgoing or reserved in worldly image, have to offer to the whole.
Humanity needs a Jesus who is historical, yet relevant for real life, physical and concrete, like we are. A Jesus whose life can save us even more than his death does. A Jesus we can imitate in practical ways and who shows for us what it means to be fully human.
Today some Christians like to keep Jesus on a pedestal, worshiping a caricature on a cross while avoiding what Jesus said and did. May we have the courage, to align ourselves with the all embracing, love and mercy of God, know Christ as our living Lord and imitate his pattern for life, walking the way….