Benediction Online

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Being the Body of Christ
1 Corinthians 12:12-31aLuke 4:14-21

We are the Body of Christ. That’s an astonishing statement isn’t it? Look around the room for a moment. You are looking at the Body of Christ.

We were all baptized into one body and so together our mission is to bring into reality the gospel message,
to bring good news to the poor.
to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

In the second reading we heard Paul’s extended metaphor of the Church as Body. Paul points out that we are all different and we all have different gifts and different callings.

We might add that we all have different ideas and different perspectives. If we imagine the Church as a community where there is never disagreement then we create a tyranny of the positive where no-one can express a different opinion, no-one can see things in a different way. That is not a creative way to live. But we all know that it can be difficult to stay together when there is disagreement and tension.

St. Benedict’s has seen its share of disagreement in the past and I hope there will be disagreement in the future.

I say hope because I believe it is when we can creatively deal with our disagreements as well as our places of agreement that we start to truly show the reconciling love of God. Where there is no difference there is no need of reconciliation. In our mission statement we describe ourselves as an inclusive Christian community. Inclusive of whom? Many of us are Democrats or tend to a ‘blue’ political stance. What of those of us who are Republican? Are they outcasts? Lesser citizens? Of course not, but when we assume that everyone agrees we make it uncomfortable to give a counter opinion.

To be able to disagree does not mean to live in tension. It does not mean to dislike each other.

One Sunday morning just after Christmas, after y’all had gone home and Steve and I were just tidying up, I changed the message on the phone machine. I had just said something like “You’ve reached St Benedicts where everyone is welcome whatever their faith journey’ when in the door walked two men dressed in homemade robes looking as though they had just stepped out of a poorly costumed Christmas pageant where they had been playing the shepherds. These guys said that they were travelling round to bring churches the message that we have to love one another, and they needed money for gas. I confess I had a negative reaction. God really challenged me that morning about whether I actually meant that at St Benedict’s everyone is welcome regardless of the faith journey!

When we are truly inclusive we will be open and ready to meet people whom we find difficult, people who make us uncomfortable, people who are very different from us.
When we are truly inclusive we will find ways to disagree and stay in positive loving relationship with each other so that no-one is outcast. In the past we have sometimes chosen not to talk about uncomfortable issues such as the Los Osos sewer for fear that it will be divisive and unhelpful. Not all conversation is helpful, and the sewer may be something we continue not to discuss, but I hope that as we grow together we will find ways that we can have open conversations about things that divide us as well as the things that we share.

James Alison, a Catholic who has written a great deal about the Church’s debate over the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people, says that ultimately it may not matter who is right and who is wrong, but how we deal with the difference and the debate.

Jesus told us to love one another as he has loved us. He did not tell us to agree with one another. Those who have left the Episcopal Church and those who want to exclude us from the Anglican Communion because we include lesbians and gays and because our Presiding Bishop says it is limiting God to say that the Christian path is the only way, those people are, I believe, mistaken in exalting their notion of truth over unity. But equally mistaken are those who stay we must stay together at the expense of gay and lesbian people. The mistake is in imagining this as an either/or situation.

Back to the body analogy. Different parts of the body deal with the same things in quite a different way. My mouth is happy to receive a carrot, but stick it in an ear or up a nostril and it will get a very different reception!

Why am I talking about difference today?

St. Benedict’s has come a long way. There is reason to be very grateful for God’s faithfulness and the results of our labors. It would be easy for us to grow complacent and self-satisfied. It would be easy for us to become inward looking and to unintentionally exclude others by our own sense of community. I think that that will not happen as long as we are able to have difficult conversations, as long as we are able to respect each other’s opinions and gifts.

We need each other. We need our prickly places as well as our well rounded and sunny ones. We need each other’s gifts and we need each other’s weaknesses. Allowing for difference helps to create a safe place where each person, each beloved child of God, can play their part and bring their gifts.

Then we can open our hearts to others who are also different and invite them into community. Then we can
bring good news to the poor,
proclaim release to the captives,
recovery of sight to the blind,
let the oppressed go free,
and proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

Look around the room again. This is the Body of Christ. We were all baptized into one Body.

Thanks be to God.


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