The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer
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Reflection for the third Sunday in the season of Epiphany

Based on 1 Corinthians 12: 12-31 a “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one a part of it.”

One of the fallacies about being a Christian that I encounter in all sorts of circumstances and situations is the idea that it’s important to be ‘nice’.  Especially in groups or communities.

This seems quite odd to me as I recall how the mystery of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus entailed all manner of challenging experiences from the cradle to the grave and beyond.   None of it clean, tidy, or nice.

Still, knowing that we inherit everything that has gone before and that includes 2000 years of wrestling scripture and religion to the ground,  it seems to me that we have some historical mopping up to do and some personal decision making about what it means to be Christian here and now.

For me, being Christian involves the very hard work of building community by:

·         commiting to show up

·         being present when we do show up

·         bringing an abiding sense of humour and curiosity when we would as often NOT do that

·         taking the biggest risks of telling one another the truth in love

·         letting go of expected outcomes

and last but not least,

·         choosing to hand it all over in bold faith and confidence to the work of the Holy Spirit ever active, sifting, and refining in our midst.

While I would be hard pressed to direct you to where you might easily access these blueprints for building and being in Christian community in a book, I know them to be based on a process called open space technology, first introduced by Harrison Owen in a variety of learning communities I have experienced both at Naramata Centre and at the Centre for Christian Studies in Winnipeg. 

Do these principles for living the Christian life in community work?

Yes and no.

Are they easy to follow?  Again, yes and no. 

But then, thinking back to the mystery of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus, perfector and model of our faith, there are no guarantees.  Besides which, who said anything would be easy or nice?

Probably the biggest stumbling block in my experience of building and sustaining Christian community is our all too human natures. 

Ironically, this is the hard work we as humans, created in God’s divine image, are called alone and together.  

Knowing that we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses that have gone before, let us return now to our ancient texts for today for further help.

In this morning’s reading taken from Chapter 12 of Paul’s first letter to the people at Corinth, we encounter again that fractious bunch who were having a really hard time figuring out what it meant to be the church in the context of a highly diverse circumstance where competing needs abounded.  And, as I understand it, they were anything but nice!  Rather, they were completely out of control.  Hence, the request from some in the community for help.  Help coming from Paul’s letter.

In last week’s learning and reflection times you may recall that we brainstormed and discussed the bestowing of some of God’s spiritual gifts including wisdom proclamation, and discernment right here in this very congregation.

This morning, our reading goes one step further by describing how spiritual gifts are best shared in the context of community or as Paul describes it, as the body of Christ.

Listen again to a few snippets of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that Phil read for us this morning only this time adapted from Eugene Peterson’s version, The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language (p. 1562-1563)

“What I want to talk about now is the various ways God’s spirit gets worked into our lives…

While all of these gifts have a common origin, they are handed out one by one by the Spirit of God who decides who gets what, and when….

You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. 

Your body has many parts-limbs, organs, cells-but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body…”

And to my way of thinking, this is where the reading gets challenging because while Paul would have us all see and embrace our own individual significance, Paul also cautions us to be mindful of our own needs for self-importance.  To put it another way, I hear Paul saying-everyone matters but also everyone is part of something larger than our own individual selves and concerns. 

 How Peterson’s understanding of the body of Christ functioning in the church reads this way:

“The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church; every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t; the parts we see and the parts we don’t.  If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing.  If one part flourishes, every other part enters into that exuberance.”   

So the next time you find yourself in a church committee or team meeting or in the grocery store or at the library or the opera and someone brings up something about this particular body of Christ we know as Knox United Church, consider this: 

What gifts are you or your neighbour bringing to the building up of the body of Christ in this time or place? 

Where can you be curious when you would just as soon not? 

Where can you affirm a gift you hadn’t noticed before? 

Where can you balance your own needs with those of others? 

Where can you open yourself up to the presence of the Holy Spirit ever at work sifting, refining, and moving us from the past into an unknown and scary future?

Sounds like hard work, yes?  Nothing neat, tidy, or nice about it, and yet its work that has gone on for centuries; and its work we need to continue to do together moment by moment, step by step, day by day, meeting by meeting, event by event, church season by church season, encounter by encounter, and year by year until it’s time to pass the proverbial baton to those who follow after, or perhaps to even just to make space for God’s new world as it unfolds.

During the season of Epiphany, we recall and give thanks that we have been called alone and together to be the hands and feet of Christ in this community of family, friends, and neighbours so that we then offer God’s freely given spiritual gifts for healing and wholeness in our ever widening communities and circles so as to make a difference in our broken and ailing world.  May it be so, amen.