Saturday, 23 January 2016

Whose body?

Paul's first letter to the Corinthians contains his famous allegorical reference to the body (1 Cor. 12).  This of course comes just prior to his treatise on love in chapter 13.  However, when we conceive of the body whose body do we see?  Is it Paul's conception, probably male or is it our modern day conception, either male or female, depending on our outlook?

This is perhaps not as ludicrous a question as it appears.  Most people would perhaps say that it means the Church and it does not matter whether the body alluded to is male or female.  In a manner of speaking this is quite correct but, and it is a big but, we have already excluded people by being binary and saying 'it does not male or female'. We have already made a decision that the 'church' is male or female.  This means that there is a range of bodies that are excluded from our thinking and if we are to be an inclusive body we need to start thinking of the androgynous body and all that the LGBT community means as part of the body of Christ.  We determine the extent of our relationships by defining who the body is and if we stay with an exclusive view that is binary we exclude part of what it means to be human and thus part of God's body, Christ's body.  Yet if we are to be part of our everyday communities we overlook or incorporate the other 'body' forms into our presence often without knowing who they are.  It sometimes comes as a shock when we realise that one of our friends turns out to be different to the expectations  we have built up as a result of our visual experience of them.

Let me come back to our concept of the 'body' again.  We have already made an allusion to the male female dichotomy of our thinking what about the body's wholeness.  I suspect that Paul in his writing is visualising a complete well formed individual.  Almost athletic in stance.  He speaks of eyes, feet and hands, etc.  I suspect that when the Body of Christ is spoken about we also have an image of a well formed body that is not missing any limbs, eyes, or other tissue.  Today we recognise, more so than previously, the body that is missing parts.  We accept and have seen those who have been maimed by terrorism and violence or do we?.  That is we accept them as part of society.  Yet, I wonder,  how accepting we are of those who are dis-abled within the body of Christ, Are we as inclusive within our own ministries of those who may have a physical impairment,,.mental impairment or just are not what we wish to believe as 'normal'.  I suspect that we are willing to 'minister to' rather than 'minister with'.  I am well aware of how it feels to be with someone you love who has a 'visually disturbing' physicality.  The stares and the turning away are an embarrassment for the person and the Christian community.

Do we need to stare or do we need to accept?

Archbishop Tutu has said that it is not a person's colour that decides whether we are God's child it is our humanness.  If we allow our pre-judgements to colour how we see people then we will not be seeing Christ in the other but rather the reflection of our own imperfect sight imposed upon the world.  The hard part is not in understanding these things the hard part is in the practicality of doing these things.  It is only when we have placed our cultural and societal inflicted blindpots to the side will we begin to understand Luke's telling of Christ's inaugural visit to the synagogue in Nazareth (Lk 4.14-21).

Christ does not take a single passage from Isaiah to read but rather mixes and matches passages so that the unacceptable becomes the norm rather than the expected.  By drawing the disparate passages from the prophet Christ outlines God's and our agenda of ministry and service.  There are no blindpots but rather a call to bring the good news to all people irrespective of who they are and no matter where they are.  All of God's people are brought into community, the poor, the outcast, the physically impaired and the prisoner.  We do not follow the agenda of humanity but rather the agenda of God in the things that we do.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Baptism and beyond

Over the past two Sundays the church at St David's Applecross has had the joy of two consecutive baptisms.  One on the celebration of the Baptism of our Lord and one on the Second Sunday of Epiphany.

During these services we have come to see how important our baptism into Christ is at its significance for our lives as Christians in the world.  My initial question was posed at the first of these services in terms of our understanding of what is original sin in a modern context and most especially in terms of a baby or child brought to baptism?

Our primal urge as human beings is for our own self preservation, from birth onwards we are concerned with our own continued existence.  A baby will squeal and squall when it hungry, wet, or needs attention.  In certain respects this need for the self can be linked back to the Genesis story of Eve's temptation and resultant fall by the serpent.  It is her selfishness to taste and obtain something that looks good and similarly with Adam when presented with the fruit, that leads them to the fall.  Yes, they disobey God but in doing so they act upon their own selfish understanding and needs.  Just as the baby does, although in the case of the baby it knows no better, other than its selfish desire of preservation and comfort.  Indeed we can often see in the conflicts of the world a root in selfish behaviour, whether it is in terms of fundamentalist religion or the needs and wants of nation states on 'behalf' of their own populace.  Our consumerist society of course plays on that selfishness to the extent that we create desire in people for drugs, tv programmes, sport, alcohol, 'essential' conveniences, etc, etc.

Often when we are discern the gifts given to us at baptism we treat these with selfishness harbouring them for our benefit or else trading inconsequential snide remarks to try and retain power or authority over some small area of our communal lives.  W are given gifts but treat them as personal precious belongings not to be shred or if shared in such a way that it belongs to ourselves.  Like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings we try to retain our 'precious's' for ourselves.  In doing so we come into conflict or harbour spitefulness in our own lives.  We reveal to the world that which is of the world rather than as was 'hoped' when baptised, become bearers of the light and died to sin.

Godparents and parents are asked to bring their children up into Christ, into selflessness.  we are asked at confirmation to take on those promises/vows of selflessness for ourselves.  In obedience to Christ we are asked to put aside thoughts of ourselves and take upon ourselves a way of life that reaches out to the other and enhances their lives rather than our own.  Perhaps this is extremely counter intuitive for survival in today's world and in any society.  Yet that is precisely what we are asked as Christians to do as part of our life in Christ.  We must abandon our own lives and live lives that give life to others.  It is a sacrifice that means that we must let go of the boxes and boundaries that we have placed around ourselves for our protection.  Boxes and boundaries that are put their by our own selfishness.

Let us open our boxes and share the contents with the world

Let us give away our controlling structures and embrace the fact that others may also be called into relationship with ourselves as we are required to do through our baptism.  Others who have different views and different outlooks that need to be accommodated within our lives so that we can  truly become one body in Christ rather than groups of selfish individuals putting up fences and walls to delineate  our selfish wants and power structures.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Whose Epiphany?

(A synopsis of a sermon given on January the 10th 2016 at Applecross Parish, Perth)

Today, we celebrate Epiphany and the question that needs to be asked is Whose Epiphany?

Epiphany means a revelation.  If you have seen the Karate Kid film you will remember the epiphany that the boy had after his extreme frustration with Mr Miyagi.  He had been told that he would learn karate and all that he had been doing up until this point was "wax on" and 'wax off" or "paint up" and 'paint down'. (Think of his actions).  The kid then blows his top and wonders why Mr Miyagi had not fulfilled his part of the contract and taught him karate.  At which point Miyagi punches him saying "Wax on".  The punch is of course blocked and there is an epiphanic moment as the kid realises that indeed he has been learning.

So whose Epiphany? Certainly not the wise men (or people) as they already knew who they were looking for - the King of the Jews.  They ask after him at the court of Herod.  So it can be no epiphany for them they already know.  What about Herod? Well I suppose in a way but really he doesn't care except to ensure that there is no threat to him.  Like all despots from Pol Pot to Idi Amin and others their only interest is in maintaining power by any means.  Slaughter of the innocents is perhaps the best way to ensure that his power stays intact.

Paul had his epiphany on the road to Damascus when have you had yours recently?  When have you who celebrate Epiphany in this place have seen God in the flesh incarnate in the people around you, the druggie, the thief, the down and out, the stranger, the migrant?

Who is this? Our Epiphany or an SEP?

God is incarnate in human flesh.  Here he is in his mothers arms, he has already experienced the smell of domestic animals and shepherds, in a moment he will be a destitute child in hiding in Egypt, a refugee who will eventually run around barefoot in the village Nazareth, know the stink of the crowds in Jerusalem, and the clean air of a boat on the water.  The whole gamut of human experience.

Just maybe if we offered a cup of coffee or hospitality to the man down and out, he would be so relieved because he has nowhere to go and no friend.  Perhaps if we offered something for the child to do to keep themselves occupied there would be no need for drugs or to break in to someones home for dun.  Instead of looking at the 'expected' or for the 'assumption' we need to be looking for that epiphanic moment when we realise that this is God before us, incarnate in human flesh just waiting for our own interaction, just waiting for an outpouring of love in return for his.

It is only our epiphany if we open our eyes to God's incarnate presence in the lives of those we shy away from.  If we cannot or will not open our eyes to God's presence we will miss the Epiphany and our celebration will be empty of meaning.  Only when we allow ourselves to be challenged by God in the face of the rejected and despised, to minister and bring God's love into the lives of others around us will we eventually awaken to the new dawn of Christ incarnate and present to us.  Can we as we go out from this building form community with those we despise and have that moment of epiphany when we actually realise that God is present to us in the here and now.