Sermon transcript, 7 June 2015
God is building up His Body by Fr. Dana
Exodus 24:3-8, Psalm 116, I Corinthians 11:23-30, John 6:54-63
We’ve heard of the Body of Christ a lot; we say it practically every Sunday during the Eucharist. There are two aspects to the Body of Christ and they’re both very important.
Discerning the Body of Christ
The first is described in today’s Gospel: these are Jesus’ words (John 6:54-58). After the destruction of the temple in the early centuries of the Church, the Romans especially, and others, accused Christians of cannibalism – not because they attended a service, but because they saw the Liturgy. What is this – eating flesh? It has been a problem for the church; it was a problem for the followers of Jesus; it made even the disciples grumble. It is a really hard saying (John 6:60). In our day, if I want to sell a product to you, I will focus on the positive attributes and play down the negative ones, the things that would make you have second thoughts. It’s obvious that Jesus wasn’t selling something – He was calling followers… Actually He wasn’t calling followers – He was calling disciples, people to be committed; and He wanted to make absolutely sure that the people who said “yes” knew what they were signing up for.
The verses that follow bear this out (John 6:61-66). He’s talking to his disciples, not to the crowd. He has just told them something that makes a significant number of them think, “Uh… I don’t know if this is for me; this is pretty strange”; but He doesn’t sugar-coat it – He says, “This is the way it is. You can only accept it if the Father has called you.” This isn’t the Twelve, but it’s some of the others. Some who later went out as the Seventy-Two were included among the disciples: they were those who followed Him; they didn’t just come to get healed or something, but they were following Him around. Some of them after He said this went home: they said, “I can’t do this: it’s too much; I can’t bear it.” Can you imagine that? Can you imagine following Jesus for weeks or months, seeing everything that he did, hearing everything that He said, and then coming to a day where you say to yourself, “I can’t do this; this is not for me”? I find that hard to believe, and yet it happened. And that means I’m capable of that too: it’s not that I’m better than they are. I have the advantage of having read the whole Bible, and still I see that that could happen to me. Some walked away, but some stayed.
This was obviously important then; if it wasn’t important, Jesus would have said, “That’s just a minor theological point: don’t worry about it; it’s above your head. We’ll go on and do more important things.” He didn’t say that. it was important then, and it’s important now – because the importance of what he was saying about His Body and His Blood was not merely symbolic. The truth is, when we go to the table and that Bread and that wine are consecrated and we eat it, we are truly consuming the flesh and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We don’t know how; we can’t explain it; we can’t take a microscope and say, “Oh yes, I see Jesus’ DNA in this”. But it’s true nevertheless: Jesus said it’s true.
And it’s important; and how important it is is expressed in the New Testament reading; because when we eat the flesh of Jesus and drink the blood of Jesus, it affects us. Every person who takes it, it affects us – either to strengthen us or to judge us (I Corinthians 11:27-30). It is as if I was one of the Roman soldiers, even the one who put the spear in His side, or one of those who hammered nails into His hands and feet, I would be guilty. “Not discerning” means “not understanding”: you take it, but it’s like McDonalds. If we take seriously what Jesus said about His Body and His Blood, we must also take seriously the consequences of receiving it unworthily; and that is why every time we come to the table of the Lord we always have Confession first: we take the opportunity to say “This is a miraculous mystery; it’s the price that was paid for me; it’s important, it’s critical, and I need to look at myself: am I worthy?” Not, “Am I worth it in my own eyes?”, because we never are, but “Am I worthy in His sight? Have I cleared the table of all the junk that has accumulated over the week or the day?” Every time we offer the Bread of life, so that it does not become the Bread of judgment, we offer Confession so that we can examine ourselves and ask God to take away our sins. That sounds as if the Body of Christ is pretty important.
We are the Body of Christ
There’s another part of the story, though. It’s an awesome part, but there’s another part. Paul describes the other aspect of the Body of Christ: read I Corinthians 12:12-14. “Now you are the Body of Christ” (I Corinthians 12:27). Do you hear that? This is not just an analogy for a committee, organisation or corporation. Read I Corinthians 12:27-30. He’s making a point here: you are members of a Body – not a political or corporate body, but the Body of Christ. We are not sardines in a can, all of us identical; we’re not Lego pieces, all the same shape and size, and He can build whatever He wants to out of them – we’re unique. We are unique individuals, we have unique talents, we have unique gifts, we have unique skills; we look unique. We have different functions, purposes and roles, but we don’t have different value to Him. The person who has a hard time speaking and sweeps the floors and dusts the pews is every bit important to God as the person who puts £2000 in the plate every Sunday or the person who stands behind the altar: it’s not a difference in value – it’s a difference in role. And all of those gifts, functions and purposes are given to us uniquely for the benefit of the Body, the Body of Christ.
Read Ephesians 4:11-13. “Edifying” means “lifting up”; an edifice is a very imposing building, tall, big, daunting… That’s why He gives us gifts, roles and talents: for the edifying, lifting up, strengthening, making impressive (as in making an impact on the world)… making the Body of Christ imposing… until it is perfect. Last week we talked about teleios, meaning “perfected”, and we used the analogy of a ship: to be teleios is to be a ship in which the hull is sound, there are no leaks, the rudder is strong, the masts are in place, all the rigging is there, the sails are up, ready to go. That’s His goal for the Body of Christ, which we are.
We are called to give our lives for the life of the world
In the verses before today’s Gospel, Jesus compares the Bread that He is to the manna that the Jews ate in the desert (John 6:49-51). Notice He says, “I will give it” [His life]: no one is taking it from Him [John 10:17-18]; no one murdered Jesus. Jesus came to give His life: if He didn’t want to give His life, there wasn’t anybody who could have taken it: not Herod, not the Emperor, not Pilate, no one – He gave it. He gave His flesh on the cross for the sins of the world. He gave His Body – the Body of Christ – for the life of the world; and we, the Church, are called to be His Body. If we are called to be His Body, and if He gives His Body for the life of the world, then He gives us for the life of the world. That is profound.
And that explains why Paul says what he does in Romans 12:1-2. We are called, to present our lives as a sacrifice, just as Jesus did, to give them willingly. God doesn’t take them: He wants us to give our lives to Him, just as Jesus did. It’s our choice. We give our lives in many forms: we give our time (we do this by being here); we give our talents and treasures. Some of us may be called to give our lives unto death: I don’t know what this culture will be like in ten years. But whether we give, and how much we give, is our choice. Jesus gave it all; what we give is our choice. Read II Corinthians 9:6-8. To help you choose: If you sow a little, you’ll reap a little; if you sow a lot, you’ll reap a lot; but it is your choice. This is not a guilt trip; this is your choice. The word for “cheerful” is “hilarious”: not “Ha ha ha…” but “Go for it; take it; I want to see what you’re going to do with it!” The truth is, no matter how much you give – even if you give more than you think you should, or than the world thinks you should; even if you’re the woman who only gives two coins because she only has two coins – you will have always enough, and an abundance for every good work, so that we can do more.
God is building us up
This applies to us individually, and it also applies to St. Stephen’s. We’re in a new place and a new phase. We’re not physically in a new place yet, but we’re entering a time of challenge and change. We don’t know yet what it will look like, but we know it will be different. Some people thrive on change: “Ah, yes! An adventure! Awesome! I’ve been waiting for this!” Some people don’t: for some people change is uncomfortable at least; for some it’s really, really scary. If this change is a little scary for you, a little upsetting, it’s alright: no one should look down on you for that. Change is hard: we’ve got used to the way things are, and now they’re going to be different. Some things will be better, as we see them, and some will be harder, as we see them; but in God’s sight everything will be better in terms of His purposes. We don’t know what the change will look like, but we know that it is part of God’s work to edify the Body. We are the Body; He is building us up, He is strengthening us, He will help us to grow, and we will look different – a good different; we will act differently – a good different; we will have new opportunities – good opportunities. But we will still be who we are.
We are the Body of Christ; Christ is the Head of the Body. Your body, most of the time, does what the head tells it to do. We will go where Christ, our Head, wants us to go, and do what He wants us to do; and the good news is, He will take care of us. Whatever we give, whatever we give up, whatever we sacrifice, He will give us always in all things an all-sufficiency, and in fact an abundance, for us to do good works. His desire is for our good, not our ill. He’s not saying, “Oh, I’ve been waiting for this: you guys have been real trouble; this is going to be fun…” He’s taking us to the next level; and it’s for our good and for the good of people who don’t even know Him yet: people whose lives we’ll touch because of this change, people who don’t know Him yet, but they will know Him in the future, and then they will be part of His Body as well: they will become the Body of Christ.
Right now we’re like the disciples in the boat on the Sea of Galilee and the storm is tipping the boat every way and there’s water splashing in, and they’re saying, “Oh my God! Don’t you care that we’re going to die?” But Jesus said, “What are you worried about?” If you can, instead of hiding in the bottom of the boat and thinking “I’ll be glad when this is over!”, take a deep breath, stand up, walk to the front of the boat, stand there in the crowd and feel water splashing on your face and the wind blowing your hair, and enjoy the adventure –it is going to be an adventure. Feel the spray, feel the wind, and know that neither of those has power over the One in the boat, whose Body we are. Hold fast to the knowledge that He will protect us, and He will bring us to a place of safety – just as He did the boat: they made it to the other side and it was calm – and that place will be a home for St. Stephen’s. If you’re worried, if you have concerns, don’t hold them in; share them with Edye and me; let’s pray about it.
Maybe God put something on your heart that we really need to think about, that needs to be something important about where we go, and it isn’t important where we are now. We need all your input, because we’re moving together. This isn’t my idea: “I’ve been waiting for this; now we can get to the place I want.” He’s taking us where He wants us to go, and He speaks to each of you. Sometimes other voices speak to us too – voices that makes us afraid, voices that tell us, “That can’t be God – no way!” – but by sharing together we can discern what is the Lord and what is not. That’s the way we learn to hear God’s voice: “Oh, I’ve heard that voice before, and that has nothing to do with God”, or “I’ve heard that voice before, and that’s God, and I’m not sure I like what He’s saying” or “I’m not sure I understand what He’s saying”. Together we can do this, because God wants it done.
He will carry us, He will protect us, and He has a place for us, because we are the Body of Christ. We receive the Body of Christ and it changes us; it strengthens us, that we may be the Body of Christ. Let’s do it.