Monday, 25 January 2016

Body Parts - Slapton 24 January 2016 - Epiphany 3

Old Testament Nehemiah 8

all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.
So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.
Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, ‘Amen! Amen!’ Then they bowed down and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.
Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
10 Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’

Epistle 1 Cor 12

Unity and diversity in the body
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 And so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
15 Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

Gospel Luke 4

Alleluia, alleluia. Christ was revealed in flesh, proclaimed among the nations and believed in throughout the world.
Hear the gospel...
Jesus rejected at Nazareth
14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read,17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’


Gospel reading opens with Jesus back home. He had been baptised by John, then full of the Holy Spirit as Luke puts it, Jesus is driven into the wilderness where he is tested by the forces of evil.
Returning after this time of testing, Jesus goes back to Galilee, full of the Spirit, where he is well received in the synagogues and praised by everyone.
In his home town of Nazareth, where Jesus was known as the son of a local artisan, things are very different. He was obviously a regular worshipper, and stood up to read from scripture. Either he chose the scroll of the prophecy of Isaiah or he was given it. Finding a couple of passages from chapters 58 and 61, Jesus puts them together and announces that he himself is the Messiah, and that this prophecy is being fulfilled right now, in their hearing.
You can imagine the impact this announcement had. Nothing less than such a claim would explain why the congregation tried to kill him afterwards by stoning him to death — a fate he narrowly avoided.
The announcement Jesus was making was addressed to the poor. Not necessarily to those with no money, but those with low status, influence or rights. These were the ones Mary sung about in the Magnificat:
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
The mission of Jesus to the poor and marginalised plays out in many ways, as we know from our reading of the gospels. Nowadays his mission is taken forward by the Christian church, of which we are all members.
Paul’s extended metaphor of the human body in today’s epistle reading from I Corinthians is an example to the early church and for us today of how the words and actions of Jesus translate to the modern time.
What Paul is saying is that we are all filled with the Spirit of God at our baptism, just as Luke stressed Jesus was throughout his testing and ministry. All of us are different, or should be, as the gifts and attributes we are given vary one from another.
The church is likened to a human body. A human being is made up of a huge diversity of body parts. The head might think it is the most important, like a rich and privileged man who is brought up to rule. But the head is not an eye. It depends on the eyes and ears to observe and make sense of the world around it.
The hand and foot may feel each is less important, because the body might manage very well without one or other of them. Those hidden parts of the body that are rarely seen and are coyly described by Paul as unpresentable and treated with special modesty might be regarded by the more visible parts as less honourable. And so on... But the truth is that the whole body is made up of separate parts, and if one part suffers or is missing, the whole body is affected.
Where is this leading us, you may say? Well, we are Christ’s body, says Paul, and each one of us is a part of it. We all have our gifts. The man who washes up is no less important that the woman who preaches. The sidesperson who welcomes us to the building is no more or less vital than someone who does pastoral visiting, rings the bells, plays the organ or maintains the stonework.
We are all different, and so are our gifts — but our church should also reflect the diversity of its neighbourhood. It should not appear like a club of similar minded people. If there are young families with children in the village, children should be in church. If there are young people as well as those who are retired, they should be welcomed. Age, ethnic diversity, social variations — all should be reflected in the congregation. Being homogenous — a church made up of people like us — is comfortable but undesirable.
The theme of weakness runs through I Corinthians. According to Paul, the new church in Corinth was not behaving well. The weak socially and economically were not treated as full members of the body of Christ, but rejected, marginalised and despised.
The fact Jesus came to address the weak and those with low status was a wakeup call to the Corinthian church. What Paul was saying was that God has arranged our differences, and that unity in diversity was essential, not unity in the sense that we are all alike. This morning, our epistle reading makes us ask ourselves the same questions about ourselves and about our church.

A congregation can probably exist and even thrive without agreement on liturgy, doctrine and church tradition; but it cannot live without the word of Christ spoken and heard. It is the good news, proclaimed and taught, that will form the church into one body in Christ. Amen

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