Archive for the ‘Paul’ Category

Wholly God’s

April 13, 2019

Palm Sunday – 2019
Philippians 2:5-11
Marian Free

In the name of God whose Son frees us from death and opens the way to eternal life. Amen.

You all know the story. God creates Adam. God puts Adam in a garden. God gives Adam everything in the garden – exceptthe fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The snake tells Adam that the reason that God doesn’t want him to eat the fruit is because he would become like God – implying at the same time that God has misled Adam. When Adam realises that he will not die but will become “wise” he decides that being like God is worth the risk of eating the forbidden fruit. He eats the fruit. God finds out (of course!). Adam and Eve are banished from the garden. Instead of a life of peace and ease they are both punished with lives of pain and toil. As it records in Genesis 3: ‘Then the Lord God said, ‘See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever’. As a consequence of eating from the tree of knowledge, Adam was refused access to the tree of life and so all human beings who came after him became subject to mortality.

You will notice that I refer to Adam and not to Eve. This is because, as we can see from the letters of Paul, that at least in first century Judaism, Adam (not Eve) was given responsibility for the “fall”. Paul understood that it was through Adam that sin and death came into the world and that ever since all humanity have shared in Adam’s fate.

Paul’s letters reveal that he was convinced that the consequences of Adam’s action had been reversed in Jesus’ life. Jesus’ obedience contrasted starkly with Adam’s disobedience. Jesus’ refusal to claim equality with God completely reversed Adam’s desire to be like God. Death may have come to all through Adam. Life is made available to everyone through Jesus.

Paul explores this theme in a number of places. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul claims: “For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. (1 Cor 15:21,22) Paul’s discussion in Romans 5 makes a similar point: “if, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (5:17). In other words, Paul believes that Jesus has undone the damage caused by Adam’s disobedience. Adam created a breach between humanity and God that led to death. Jesus has repaired the damage done, brought us back into the ideal relationship with God and given us access to eternal life.

The hymn that formed our reading from Philippians today is based on that understanding. For those who know the story of Adam, it is quite clear that Jesus’ behaviour is the opposite to that of Adam. Both were created in the image of God but whereas Adam sought equality, Jesus did not. Adam rejected servanthood, but Jesus embraced the role that he saw to be his. Adam who desired to be like God was found in human likeness but Jesus “who was in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited”. In his desire for self-aggrandisement Adam exalted himself. On the other hand Jesus, who was entitled to be arrogant, humbled himself. Adam was disobedient unto death. Jesus was obedient unto death. As a consequence of their actions, Adam was condemned by God and Jesus was exalted by God[1].

This hymn, which may in fact pre-date Paul, not only compares Adam with Jesus but also provides the model for Christian living. If Adam is the model of human existence before Jesus, Jesus is the model for Christian existence in the present. Jesus’ “obedience unto death” informs us that only if we empty ourselves of all desires and all ambitions can we be filled with God. Only if we are aware that we are not and never will be God, will we be willing and free to submit to God’s greater wisdom and direction. Only if we make ourselves completely God’s can God’s will be done in us.

Jesus’ life and death are an apparent contradiction. The one who is God behaves as the servant of God. The one who need never die, submits to death.

Those who follow Jesus must live out this contradiction. We must learn that, contrary to our natural inclination it is by not trying that we win the kingdom, it is by not striving that we attain life eternal. As soon as – like Adam – we think we can achieve goodness, holiness, wisdom or any other god-like characteristic by our own efforts, we demonstrate that we have placed our trust not in God, but in ourselves. When we acknowledge our limitations, we understand that a life directed by God is infinitely more satisfying than any life that is determined by our own choices and when we really believe that God knows us better than we know ourselves, we will have the confidence to trust God with life itself. It is not the things of this world that will meet our deepest needs, but only those of the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus (who was God) did not count equality with God as something to be exploited, we who are not God, should not place our trust in ourselves, but give our lives wholly to God who gives Godself wholly to us. Then, filled with the presence of God, we like Christ can be the God’s presence in the world.

[1]See further Malina and Pilch. On the letters of Paul. 307.

Wisdom and the cross

February 8, 2014

Epiphany 5

1 Corinthians 2:1-13

Marian Free 

In the name of God, whose foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. Amen.

 If someone were to ask me which of Paul’s letters was my favourite, I think I would say the first letter to the Corinthians for no other reason than it reveals Paul’s profound insight into and interpretation of the cross. The community almost certainly Gentiles so it is not surprising that, as the letter indicates, they were a little confused as to the details of this new faith. It has to be remembered that at that time, there were no Christian scriptures. New converts were entirely dependent on the teaching of itinerant preachers who did not stay long enough in the community to ensure that all possible problems had been dealt with and all questions answered. Even though Paul had spent quite some time among the Corinthians, it seems that confusion reigned once he had left the city.

Paul writes this (possibly his second)[1] letter to Corinth in response to some concerns which had been reported by Chloe’s people[2] and also in response to a letter that the community had written to him[3]. Chloe’s concerns relate to divisions and competition in the community and immoral and un-Christian behaviour. Paul’s deals with issues such as members striving to outdo each other with regard to spiritual gifts, sub-groups following different leaders, a man living with his father’s wife and believers taking one-another to court. The letter also deals with more specific issues, many of which relate to relationships and sex: how to behave towards one’s spouse (whether to have sex or not, whether one should divorce a non-believing partner) and to marry or not to marry.

Even though Paul is addressing these very specific issues, he does so in a way that is theologically insightful and which interprets the cross of Christ is such a way that he can apply it to the community life of the believers in Corinth and to his own ministry.

The Corinthians, as I have said, were a divided community who had not fully grasped Paul’s message of the gospel. Perhaps based on the religions from which they had come, they placed wisdom as the high point of their faith and competed for the distinction of being the wisest or most knowledgeable in the community. It is clear that knowledge or wisdom is at issue. More than once Paul challenges their supposed wisdom with the question: “Do you not know?” (Obviously they do not!)

In order to demonstrate that the Corinthians wisdom is only narrow and partial, Paul points out the absurd contradiction of a crucified man proving to be God’s chosen one. As he says, any self-respecting Jew would have nothing to do with such a person – let alone elevate him to the status of God’s anointed.  On the other hand Greeks would think that to have faith in such a man would be utter foolishness.  To be fair, if we were to strip away sentimentality, dogma and creed, we too would think that a crucified Saviour was both gruesome and ridiculous (and impossible to sell). God, in Christ, has done something absolutely ludicrous. This, Paul claims, this is exactly the point. Christians believe that a man who was condemned to death as a criminal was the one sent by God. God’s action begs the question: Why on earth or in heaven would God chose such a person, or allow such an awful fate to befall the one whom he sent? He provides the answer using the words of Isaiah “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” (29:14)

According to Paul, God’s purpose in presenting us with a crucified Saviour was precisely to confound and unsettle us, to create some sort of cognitive dissonance that would force us to rely, not on ourselves, but on God, to shake us out of our complacency and to open our eyes to a completely different way of seeing, so that instead of being limited and bound by our own intelligence and by the constraints of the human imagination, we might be freed to see and hear what God is actually doing and saying. This, the cross demonstrates, is often the exact reverse of what we expect God to say and do.

In today’s text, Paul extends his argument about the cross to his proclamation of the gospel.  Paul made no attempt to claim power or knowledge for himself as did other preachers. He did not pretend to be anything he was not but allowed the Corinthians to see his weaknesses and imperfections. Paul has no need to compete, to demonstrate that he is wiser, stronger or more knowledgeable than anyone else. He is content to be weak and inarticulate because he knows that this enables him to be used by God and to be receptive to the Spirit. What is more those who come to faith know that they have not been swayed by the power of Paul’s presence and the force of his argument, but by the power of God working through him. Their faith lies where it belongs, in God and not in Paul.

The contradiction of the cross turns everything upside down. In so doing the cross exposes the flaws in what we might have thought we knew and the limitations of human knowledge and understanding – about worldly values, wisdom and strength. Through the cross God makes us aware that our knowledge, however good, is always incomplete and imperfect. The only true wisdom is that of God and the only way to achieve that wisdom is through recognizing the vast gulf between ourselves and the creator of all – who saw fit not to stun us with a triumphant king or a military victory, but a vulnerable, friendless man who died one of the most shocking deaths of all.

The purpose of the cross is to challenge the arrogance and self-conceit that allows us to believe that we know all there is to know about God. A crucified Saviour confronts our need for certainty and our dependence on doctrine, ritual and yes, even scripture and to open us to the power of God working in us and through us.


[1] 1 Corinthians 5:9

[2] 1 Corinthians 1:11

[3] “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote” (7:1, cf 7:25, 8:1).

Paul and Galatia

June 8, 2013

Pentecost 3 2013

Galatians (Paul)

Marian Free 

In the name of God who speaks to us in many and various ways. Amen.

Reading the letters of Paul is rather like going on an archeological dig. Apart from the book of Acts, our only information about Paul and about his message is in the letters. What we now accept as holy scripture were the writings of a travelling missionary to the communities that he had founded. Very often Paul writes in reaction to something that has happened in his absence or to a question that the community would like answered.  If we look below the surface of the text it is possible to a limited extent to reconstruct what is going on, to learn something about the community itself and something about the gospel which Paul preached.

Paul tells us very little about himself in the letters. There is no need – the recipients already know who he is. That said, we know that he was passionate about the gospel, that there was some event in his life which turned him from a persecutor to a believer and that he cared deeply for the communities he founded.

For the next few weeks the lectionary is going to take us through Paul’s letter to the Galatians. It is in this letter that most appears to be at stake, and in which Paul reveals the most about himself. By his own admission Paul was a zealous Jew who persecuted those who believed in Jesus. This came to an end when God revealed himself to him. The letters also tell us that Paul had too some sort of physical ailment and that this was the reason that he stopped in Galatia. He is not explicit as to the nature of the complaint, but the fact that he claims that the Galatians would have plucked out their eyes for him, leads us to believe that the problem was with his vision.

While Galatians provides a fair amount of information about Paul (in comparison to the other letters), there is much less detail about the recipients of the letter and where they actually were. There are a number of problems when it comes to identifying to whom Paul is writing. First of all, Galatia is a region not a city. Secondly, Galatia could be one of two places – one in the north and one in the south. Southern Galatia makes most sense as the letter’s destination as Paul may well have passed through the area on one of his journeys. However, references to mountains in the letter point to a northern hypothesis as the local religion of the north related to a mountain. Whether north or south, the letter does not provide many clues as to the nature of the community. Were they a largely Gentile community or were they a mixed community of Jews and Gentiles?

The introduction to the letter tells us that other teachers have come to the community. They are confusing the new believers and, in Paul’s terms: “perverting the gospel of Christ”. Who these people might be creates another puzzle for the reader. Are they travelling preachers like Paul who have a different view of the gospel? Are they Jewish members of the community who want the Gentiles to become like them? or Are they members of the local cult who are trying to persuade the community to return to the faith of their ancestors?

These might seem to be minor details, but trying to resolve these sorts of questions helps us to better understand Paul’s arguments in the letter and to appreciate that Paul is not sitting down writing reasoned theology, but responding to a crisis and defending his position with regard to the issue at hand.

So in order to understand the letter to the Galatians we have to peel back the layers to see if we can work out what is going on. In the letter we have what could be described as Act three of a three-part drama.[1]. In Act one Paul, forced to stop in Galatia for health reasons, takes advantage of the situation to preach the gospel to the people there. Some come to faith and form a worshipping community. Act two sees the arrival of other teachers who, the letter tells us, teach things contrary to Paul’s teaching and unsettle the Galatians to the point that they appear to be considering the radical step of circumcision – something Paul strenuously objects to. Finally, in Act three Paul, hearing that the Galatians are being convinced to abandon the gospel he preached, puts pen to paper and writes what turns out to be his most caustic letter

In order to understand Paul’s argument, we have to work backwards from the letter. Paul’s response to those whom he labels “false prophets” tells us something of what they were teaching. In turn, if these other teachers were teaching something different from Paul, it is possible, though somewhat speculative, to work out what it was that Paul had first taught.

Our best guess as to what was going on is this: after Paul left Galatia, other teachers arrived and persuaded the Galatians that in order to be truly members of the faith, to be really children of Abraham, they needed to adopt the Jewish law and to be circumcised. The Galatians, whose faith was only new, were easily persuaded by these new arguments and are either considering circumcision, or are planning to abandon their new-found faith because circumcision was too hard. Paul feels betrayed by their prevarication, but his greater concern is that by accepting the teaching of his opponents, the Galatians have jeopardized their hope of salvation.

Paul uses a number of tactics to try to bring the Galatians back to what he calls “his gospel”. Firstly, as we heard this morning, he makes it clear that his gospel (which does not compel Gentiles to be circumcised or to keep the law) came directly from God and not from any human source. Secondly, he reports that the so-called leaders of the church in Jerusalem gave this circumcision-free gospel their stamp of approval. Thirdly, Paul recounts how he stood up to Peter to defend his position. Having established his credentials Paul moves on to question the Galatians and to counter the arguments of the “false apostles”. He wants to know if they received the Spirit as a result of keeping the law or through faith, knowing before he asks that the answer is the latter.

The central argument of the opponents seems to be that Abraham and his descendants were circumcised therefore if the new believers want to truly belong, they too must be circumcised. Paul however, is able to demonstrate that circumcision was only the seal of a prior promise – that Abraham would be the father of all nations. Further, Paul argues that it was Abraham’s faith which saved him (not circumcision). The logical conclusion is that justification/salvation is based on faith not law. As the Galatians have demonstrated that they have faith they have no need now to adopt the law. This is a great equalizer as we shall see in chapter three in which Paul proclaims: “There is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ.” (3:25)

Paul then uses two arguments to defend his point that the law enslaves rather than liberates – it acts in a custodial role for those who do not have the Spirit and it binds one to an earthly rather than a heavenly existence. After his great battle cry: “For freedom, Christ has set us free” (5:1), Paul concludes the letter by exhorting the Galatians to allow their lives to be directed by the Spirit and by teaching them how to live in community.

Of course, I have only skimmed the surface of a complex, yet profound argument.  At the heart of the letter to Galatia is Paul’s argument that faith is the primary criterion for membership in the community that followed Christ and the fact that this opened the way for Gentiles to join the new faith without first becoming Jews. Along the way Paul provides some profound insights into the gospel as he understood it.

Paul writes not theology, but occasional letters aimed at particular communities with particular issues. For centuries Paul has been misrepresented, misused and misunderstood. Many people have written him off as too difficult to understand. Yet the communities to whom he wrote these letters were convinced that their contents would benefit a much wider audience. The letters were shared, collected and considered so important that they were finally included in what we call the New Testament.

Isn’t it time we took the trouble to get to know him and to discover the treasures for ourselves?


[1] I am indebted to Winger for this concept. Winger, Michael. “Act 1, Paul arrives in Galatia.” New Testament Studies 48 (2002):548-567.

“People can’t talk about God from the outside”

May 18, 2013

Pentecost – 2013

John 14:8-17, Romans 8

Marian Free

In the name of God whose Spirit moves within us so that we might know God as we are known by God. Amen.

There are so many books in the world that I tend to read most books only once. However, there are some exceptions, some (to me) iconic books that I return to time and again. Sometimes I re-read them in their entirety because the story is just so imaginative or moving and sometimes I just dip in and out looking for that brilliant idea or expression that made a difficult concept much clearer to grasp. One such book is called Mister God This is Anna[1]. It is the story of an unlikely friendship between a nineteen year old boy, Fynn and a five year old girl – Anna.  Their lives collide, when late one foggy night, Fynn sees Anna sitting alone on a grating down by the docklands in the East End of London. Fynn sits beside her and offers her his hotdog. Initially hesitant, Anna gradually loosens up, laughs and plays, finally deciding that Fynn loves her.

At ten thirty, it is time to go home. Fynn asks Anna where she lives. She announces that she lives nowhere, she has run away. She flatly refuses to tell him where she lives and absolutely refuses to be taken to the cop shop. On being asked about her parents she states firmly that her mother is a cow and her father is a sop. She is, she says, going to live with Fynn. It is late and so Fynn takes her home with him. At home the whole household is awoken by their arrival and they busy themselves preparing a bath for what is – after three days on the streets – a very dirty little girl. It is only when Anna’s clothes are removed and she is sitting naked on the table that Fynn understands why she cringed in fear and whimpered piteously when she accidentally blew sausage in his face while blowing out his match. It is clear that she had expected him to thrash her for the perceived offence. She is used to being beaten – her whole little body is bruised and sore.

Despite all their efforts, Anna never tells the family where she comes from and she simply will not go to the cop shop. So it is that Anna joins this warm, welcoming family. Anna is bright, curious, unconventional and engaging and her relationship with God, which is what draws me back time and again to the book, is direct, personal and insightful. For example, when the parson asks her why she doesn’t go to church, she responds: “Because I know it all!” “What do you know?” “I know to love Mister God and to love people and cats and dogs and spiders and flowers and trees,” and the catalogue went on, “- with all of me.” (33)

Another time, Anna is pondering the nature of love, especially God’s love. She fills Fynn with despair by claiming: “Mister God doesn’t love us. I love Mister God truly, but he don’t love me!” Fynn needn’t have feared. Anna has not lost her innocent faith, she has simply taken it to a different level. “No he don’t love me, not like you do, it’s different, it’s millions of times bigger.” “People can only love outside and can only kiss outside, but Mister God can love you right inside and Mister God can kiss you right inside. Mister God can know things and people from the inside too. So you see Fynn, people can’t talk about God from the outside; you can only talk about Mister God from the inside of him.” (40-43)

It is an extraordinarily profound insight, one that – had Anna been versed in the Bible – could have come straight out of Paul’s letter to the Romans or from the gospel of John, yet stated with such simplicity and such clarity that it needs little further explanation. God’s love is incomprehensible, God can only be known through the presence of God in us and our being in God.

It seemed to me that this was a useful way to think and speak of the Holy Spirit, who to my mind is the most elusive, the most difficult member of the Trinity to describe.

Few of us have felt the Spirit as a violent, rushing wind or seen it as tongues of fire. I don’t know about you, but I have never seen the Spirit descend like a dove. We imagine that we can see God the Creator in the world around us. We can come to know about Jesus’ life and teaching through the words of the Gospels. The Holy Spirit is much harder to pin down because the Spirit has to be experienced, to be felt by us and to be known in us and in our lives. The Holy Spirit moves within and among us.  At our best, the Holy Spirit informs, inspires and directs us. It is the Holy Spirit who fills us with the knowledge and love of God and who is, in fact the presence of God dwelling within us.

In John’s gospel the presence of the Holy Spirit is expressed in this way: before he departs, Jesus tells the disciples that the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, will abide with them and in them. The in-dwelling Spirit will take what belongs to Jesus and declare it to them. The Holy Spirit will teach them all things and remind them of all that Jesus has taught. The Holy Spirit, who is indistinguishable from Jesus, who in turn is indistinguishable from God will make a home within the disciples – will indeed “know them from the inside out”, and help them to know God from “the inside of God.”

Paul too claims that the Spirit of God dwells in those who believe. In Romans he says that the Spirit will give life to our mortal bodies and bear witness with our spirit that we are children of God. “Those who live according to the Spirit, set their minds on the Spirit,” Paul says. (8:6) What is more, the “Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints, according to the will of God.”(8:26-27)

The Holy Spirit then, is God dwelling within us, enlivening us, revealing God’s love to us, reminding us of all that Jesus taught us, enabling us to be children of God, searching our hearts and speaking to God for us. To use Anna’s insight, the Spirit who is God knows us from the inside out and the inside of God enables us to speak about God.

If we are open and willing, we will learn that the Holy Spirit fills us with the presence of God, so that we can know and talk to God from the inside, because through the Holy Spirit God is already inside us. God who has already given us everything through Jesus Christ, gives us this one thing more – God’s own self as an integral part of our being, an essential part of our lives – that is how we know the Holy Spirit, through the Holy Spirit knowing us.


[1] Fynn. Mister God this is Anna.  London:William Collins and Sons Co Ltd, 1974.

An unusual body

January 26, 2013

Epiphany 3

1 Corinthians 12

Marian Free

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

In December 2009, in Melbourne, conjoined twins – Trishna and Krishna – were separated in a complex process that took a large team of people thirty-two hours to complete.  You will all remember the details. As the twins were joined at the head, it was a particularly difficult operation. Doctors had studied the brains of both children to identify where the blood vessels and brain material needed to be separated. For months they had practiced on models of the twins until they were sure that they knew exactly what they had to do and how to position the girls at exactly the right angle in order to be able to carry out the operation with sufficient skill to cause the least amount of damage to their brains and to give the twins the best chance at survival.

The surgery required a team of sixteen surgeons including plastic surgeons and neuro-surgeons. Also taking part in the marathon event were anaesthetists, cardiologists, doctors nurses and goodness knows who else. Each member of the team would have been trained over a long period of time to ensure that everyone was proficient and knew exactly what their role was and how to carry it out. The absence of any one member of the team could have jeopardized or delayed the whole operation.

Surgery, particularly complex surgery, is not the only example situation in which individuals have to put their egos aside to work together to achieve a common goal. Fire-fighting, rescue work and the distribution of aid all have the best results when no one person is striving to stand out from the crowd and when each person is carrying out their allotted task to the best of their ability in order to contribute to a successful outcome. The reverse is also true, when teams do not work together or when one individual is seeking their own aggrandisement, the effort is at best ineffective and at worst damaging.

Good team work can save lives. Failure to work as a team can cost lives. Working together can achieve a desired result. Working against each other can be totally unproductive.

There are a variety of ways to talk about working together (or not). We talk about team-work, team building or pulling together. If a team is not working, we use language that refers to the weak link in the chain or to people not pulling their weight. In 1 Corinthians Paul uses the image of body to capture the idea of the interdependence of members of the Christian community. In using the term body, Paul is not being original. The term was used by the Greeks as a symbol of social unity. In fact “body” was the most common expression for unity as was the idea that all people are different and that all members of the body should work together for the greater good.

While it is not original, Paul’s use of the body imagery differs from that of his contemporaries in a number of ways. Firstly, Paul identifies God as the source of both difference and of unity. Second, rather than urging some (usually the less gifted) individuals to subordinate themselves for the sake of the body, Paul argues not only that members of the body should work together in such a way that everyone would benefit, but he makes the extraordinary claim that the weaker members are indispensable and deserve greater honour and respect. Further, when Paul suggests that the Corinthians are one body, he doesn’t mean just any body or the sum total of the community. The body that the Corinthians are called to be is Christ’s body.

Transferred to our time and place, the implications of Paul’s discussion on the body are profound and deserve some serious consideration. For a start, it means that on our own, you and I are not Christ’s body. The body of Christ on earth is expressed best when Christians together exemplify Christ. It means too that we are called collectively and not individually to be the presence of Christ in the world. It means that the community that formed in Christ’s name – the church – has to recognise that each member is dependent on all the other members, and how much Christ’s continuing mission relies on the efforts of the community as a whole and not on our individual efforts. Our part in Christ’s body, our contribution to the continuation of Christ’s mission on earth depends not just on what we ourselves do, but on what the community – with our help – does. What is more, the body of Christ is dependent on our recognition of the value of the contribution of every other member  – not just those whose contribution stands out or is more obvious. “We simply cannot afford for any part of the body to consider themselves unnecessary to the whole[1].” Nor can we allow ourselves to believe that our contribution is more significant than that of anyone else – that we alone make the difference.

In some ways the image of the body is comforting. It is reassuring to know that the continuation of Christ’s mission in the world does not stand or fall according to what I do – or for that matter what you do. At the same time the image is challenging. In order for Christ’s body to be a living reality, we all have to learn to work and grow together, to value, support and encourage each other.

In this individualistic, privatized western world, it is easy to think that it is our personal relationship with God that is all important, that our salvation stands or falls on what we do and how we behave. It is easy to convince ourselves that we can be a Christian without coming to church or that developing our personal spirituality is as important, if not more so than participating in the spiritual growth of the body as a whole. However, the opposite is true. Not only do we need the body, but the body needs us. Whether we are a foot or a heart, an arm or a nose, our contribution is essential to the proper functioning of the body. When we are not functioning, when we are absent or when we are suffering, the body as a whole suffers. Equally, whether we are a brain or a toe, a hip or an eye we will be unable to function properly if we are not connected to and working with the remainder of the body.

Our life in Christ is just that – in Christ – and therefore in the body of Christ – the gathered community of believers. One of the challenges for the twenty first century church is to recover a sense of our interdependence, to learn to recognise and value our place in the whole, to celebrate each other no matter how great or small, how visible or invisible their contribution and to understand that without us (or for that matter without any one of us) the gathered community is in some way diminished and impoverished. Unlike a surgical team, or a rescue crew, our commitment to the body doesn’t end when the job is done. Being part of the body is our life, our Christian responsibility and God’s gift to us.

 

Week after week we affirm “We are the body of Christ.” Let us do all that we can to ensure that that is in fact our lived reality.

[1] Gooder, Paula. Everyday God: The Spirit of the Ordinary.Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2012, 113.


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