Friday, 21 August 2015

We Are The Body of Christ


Ephesians 4: 1-16 and John 6: 24-35
If our eternal life with God depends upon us being one body, indwelled by the Holy Spirit, activated by Christ the Head, do we want it or not?
Are we as a Church a united body? I wonder how we see our roles within the church? Several times in Ephesians, Paul refers to the Church as the Body of Christ. We are therefore the continuing presence of Christ in the world; Jesus is here, no longer literally in his own material body, but spiritually and physically in his body, the Church.
St. Teresa of Avila wrote a poem that goes like this:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours;
Yours are the eyes with which he looks with compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good;
Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands; yours are the feet
Yours are the eyes; you are his body.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
If we look back at the ministry of Jesus in the Gospels, if we are to faithfully embody Christ in the world, what does that look like? Where will we be drawn to serve? What type of people will we be drawn to?
We often think of each Christian being called to be like Jesus, but the body imagery that Paul uses stresses something slightly different – that together as a Church we embody Jesus. How does that feel to you? In verses 11-13 the roles of prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are mentioned and these are important. Good leadership, good teaching is crucial.
We need people who are confident in their faith to share that with others. Just dropping in to see how the summer activity club were getting on with their heavenly heroes this week it was clear to see how those helping and leading were so keen to share their faith with those children present.
And of course we need people who are good listeners, people who are good at pastoral care. But how can those who don’t have those particular gifts also embody Jesus. And how good are we here at equipping people for their role within the body of Christ?
On 24th September we have Phil Dykes coming to speak to us from Winchester Diocese on these very themes. He’s coming to encourage us, to help us discern the gifts that we all have so that as a community we can grow together as the body of Jesus. I’ve called it How to Grow Your Church but I’ll try to think of a more dynamic title. Because it will be an exciting, energizing evening. Do come.
We are a community – a group of people who come together with a desire to worship God and follow Jesus. It only works if we unite and join together as the body because God has given us all different gifts and they are all needed to make up that body.
I said just now that we are a community. I read in a recent article in the Church Times that people today are looking to avoid community not become part of a community. I’d be interested to know what you think – because I’m not sure the writer of that article is correct. I think we are made, created to be in community with others rather than be an island, alone.
When Paul writes to the Ephesians he encourages them to make every effort to work together, to keep unity through the bond of peace. However he goes on to say that to function properly each body part needs to be connected to the other parts of the body and particularly to the head. The challenge for us is how we can stay connected to Jesus and to each other in a way that both sustains us and helps us be Christ to the world.
I wonder what gifts you have or in which ways you feel called to serve Jesus? How does our church embody Christ in our local community, and how do you contribute to the healthy functioning of the body of Christ.
I know everything feels rather different in August – people are away on holiday, our schools and pre-schools are closed for the summer, many students are now at home, but think of a normal week in term time. Where are you within the body of Christ? Does God need you to be doing more, or less maybe, so that you grow in discipleship and our church also serves effectively as the body of Christ?
How will you know the answer to this? Well I think one of the answers comes from our Gospel reading today. It’s about the strength of our faith. Our passage ended with Jesus declaring that he is the bread of life. He is encouraging us to see God through him, to have a living faith – a living relationship with God through him.
We heard that again the crowds are following Jesus and we discover a lot about what the people thought they were looking for in him. This passage follows closely on the feeding of the five thousand and we’re told that the people following Jesus were hoping not just for more healing miracles but were hoping never to go without a meal again.
We don’t know who these people were who were following Jesus. They can’t have had steady 9.00 to 5.00 types of jobs because some of them obviously were following him for days. Perhaps they were those who were concerned about where their next meal would come from. Jesus wasn’t angry with them but he’s trying to make them look beyond the next meal. He’s trying to get them to work out what his signs and miracles tell them and no doubt many would have returned home, none the wiser.
Jesus is trying to get them to make a commitment to him but many try to wriggle out of it. ‘Do another miracle to help us believe’ they say.  But Jesus isn’t fooled. ‘I am the bread of life’, he says. He’s offering them eternal life. Do you want it or not? It’s interesting isn’t it – they don’t know how to answer.
It was easy when they could persuade themselves that Jesus was talking about actual food, ‘Give it to us always’ they said. But when he was talking about commitment to him, belief in God and working for food that endures for eternal life – when he was talking about salvation – well it was a bit different then. They weren’t sure if they wanted that.
Are we sure about what we want from our faith? If our eternal life with God depends upon us being one body, indwelled by the Holy Spirit, activated by Christ the Head, do we want it or not? Our readings this morning challenge us to consider our faith and what it means for us.
Let me end by praying that prayer from St. Teresa
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours;
Yours are the eyes with which he looks with compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good;
Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands; yours are the feet
Yours are the eyes; you are his body.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
Amen
Ann Keating, 16 August 2015
You may like to listen to these two sung versions available on YouTube
Christ has no body but yours by David Ogden. Performed by the Exultate Singers 
St Theresa's Prayer by John Michael Talbot