Friday, 22 January 2010

Jan 24th 2010

The 'core' of the readings I'm using are:
1 Corinthians 12: 14-27
Luke 4: 16-21

I know the lectionary readings slightly overlap these, but I had the interesting experience of trying to remember what they were for someone yesterday (so that they can get readers for one of the services) - and when I looked at a BIble they seemed about right.

That's the sort of week I've had, really - doing the best I can with the time available. I was trying to have a 'study week' to get the first draft of my dissertation finished - but of course things kept intruding in (as they do in ministry). The result is I've gone from about half way to about two thirds of the way through the diss; but I am feeling a bit frazzled. Writing is not my natural form of communication (better just talking on my hind legs with no notes!) and I find swapping between 'academic' writing and sermon-writing quite difficult.

Anyway - enough of the moan (and of course it is precisely that same flexibility and unpredictability that I love about ministry!).
Here's the sermon:
Unity 1 Corinthians 12: 12-31a Luke 4: 14-21
I don’t know if you remember the ‘Peanuts’ cartoons, Charlie Brown, Snoopy the dog & my favourites: a girl of about 7 called Lucy and her younger brother, Linus. In one cartoon Lucy demanded that Linus change TV channels. "What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?" asks Linus. "These five fingers," says Lucy. "Individually they're nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold." "Which channel do you want?" asks Linus. Turning away, he looks at his fingers and says, "Why can't you guys get organised like that?"
It’s the week of prayer for Christian Unity, and yet sometimes it seems like the Christian churches are just like that – we can’t seem to get organised into an effective single unit!

Paul offers us inspiration with his talk 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 uniform and identical and 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 fundamentally wrong and sinful. There is only one body of Christ, one Spirit, one Lord, one baptism, says St Paul.

So what 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 the Baptists or even other Anglicans! But we do have to ask 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 fiefdoms.

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.

And this is where the Gospel reading can help us.
The story 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.
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 his world – we will forget our own agendas and do God’s work, building up God’s kingdom.

But remember Paul’s point 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 and different denominations, so that we come to appreciate what it is that each of the different parts of the body, weak or strong, beautiful or bashful, have to offer to the whole.

This week of prayer for Christian Unity, let’s commit ourselves to telling our own story and listening to our brothers and sisters in Christ, so that the whole body of Christ may be honoured and its underlying unity in the one Spirit and the One Lord be declared – to the glory of the God who is Unity-in-diversity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

That's the Anglican 'sermon' - Now I just have to think about the all-age service at the United Reformed Church...

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