Blessed be you, O God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for you have blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. And so may our words and the meditations of our hearts be a blessing to you and to those around us in return, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
When I think of the Body of Christ, here’s what comes to mind:
• Arriving at our Lawrence Avenue site yesterday just after 9am, to find many of you already present, working hard at setting up the tables for the yard sale. Throughout the morning I see Joshua and Bridgette and Anthonia and Dianne and Jimmicia and others taking turns holding the big sign saying “Yard Sale!” and dancing on the street. I see Shirley behind the scenes organising for days, and Hector standing over a hot grill in the sunshine barbecuing for hours. I see the men washing car after car. And so many more of you that I see, sharing your particular talents and gifts that I can’t possibly name you all although I wish I could, because you deserve it. I see the joy and camaraderie, and I see the Body of Christ, and it is so beautiful.
Here’s another thing that I see when I think of the Body of Christ:
• I see our PALS group – our Tuesday night bible study – gathered together in prayer and love, holding up those who are not able to be present because they are sick or away. I look around the circle and I hear the prayers of love and concern and deep faith, and I hear the gratitude that we are able to share each other’s burdens together. I see the Body of Christ, and it is so beautiful.
These are just two recent examples of moments in which you – the body of Christ here at St Mary and St Martha – have blessed me, and have blessed each other, and have blessed the wider community by being the hands and feet of Christ.
Over the last month you’ve been dwelling in Paul’s letter describing the spiritual reality of being rooted and grounded in Christ’s love; being built up into a spiritual dwelling place; and growing into maturity as the Body of Christ. And last week Canon Beth began to dig into what difference that makes for us – what difference does faith actually make in our lives? What does being the Body of Christ, united in this love, mean on a practical level? Beth spoke of being fully ourselves and being fully united, counted worthy by God, living as a sign of God’s reconciling love in and for the world. Blessed to be a blessing.
But as you and I know, living in community is not always that easy, and so the Apostle Paul devotes precious space in this letter to describe how this beautiful body of Christ navigates living in community in a broken world. And the Ephesians, whom Paul was addressing, had their share of problems: Jews and Gentiles learning to come together into one blended family of faith – with different backgrounds and different customs, but one Lord, one faith, one baptism. Not only that, but the early church was still trying to figure out what it looked like; still developing customs, still learning new songs and new ways of worshipping. While all of this was going on they were not only surrounded by paganism on every side, being in the city devoted to the worship of the false goddess Artemis and on major trade routes, but they were also under the threat of persecution for their new faith! So the pressures on the communities that Paul was writing to, while he himself was in prison, were pretty strong, and you can imagine the sorts of petty and not-so-petty issues that might arise in such a context. Going from being an isolated individual to learning to navigate the world as an integral part of a community means learning a whole new way of being.
If any of you have watched the popular show Survivor, it provides an extreme example of people living as isolated individuals, not community. Survivor is an American TV show in which “a group of strangers [are placed] in an isolated location, where they must provide food, fire, and shelter for themselves… The contestants are progressively eliminated from the game as they are voted out by their fellow contestants, until only one remains and is given the title of “Sole Survivor” and is awarded the grand prize of US$1,000,000.” (Wikipedia)
Because the main goal of Survivor is to be the last one standing, any bonds of friendship, alliance, or community that are formed are only temporary. Contestants are encouraged to do whatever it takes to win, and backbiting, slander, gossip, and betrayal are not only encouraged but rewarded on the show if they result in the contestant’s sole survival.
The show is an extreme example of humanity at its not-quite-finest. But it only takes glancing at the news to know that the show is modelled on a real way of surviving in the world: a belief that we’re alone, and it’s up to us to look out for our own interests.
All of that changes when we are baptised into the Body of Christ. When we are baptised into this body, we are no longer lone rangers in the world: we’re stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit and welcomed into the family of God forever. We become integral parts of a spiritual Temple, and members of one beautiful body, of which Christ is the head.
And as our head, he has modelled for us a different way of living in the world, a way of love and sacrifice and laying down our lives as a sweet-smelling aroma to God. He who was first became last so that we might be free to live this new life as his agents of grace to the world.
When you look at this passage, it may seem that Paul is simply giving yet another list of do’s and do-not’s. But in fact what he’s doing for us is showing us how living as a part of the Body of Christ sets us free: free to be God’s agents of grace in our communities and in the world.
Our own safety and security need no longer be our primary concern: rather, we can be free to love others as Christ loved us – to speak the truth in love. To not be scared of anger, but to see it as a proper response to injustice and wrongdoing. We can be free not to seek to gain material goods for ourselves, but for the good of others, because we know that God will care for us. We can be free to use our words not to protect ourselves, to cover up our wrongdoing, to promote ourselves over others, but to build others up with our words, and to rejoice when they are blessed by it.
And we can be freed from the chains of bitterness and anger and wrath and malice that wrap around us, knowing that Christ has forgiven us and taken our pain and sorrow to the cross. Forgiveness is God’s gift to us, a gift to pass along to others. By extending forgiveness, we not only free those who have wronged us but we are freed ourselves from the chains of bitterness and anger and wrath.
Back to those two sketches I gave you at the beginning: one of the Yard Sale, and one of PALS. In both of those the words of Paul to the Ephesians were being acted out in front of me, and the body of Christ was beautiful.
So I encourage you, dear brothers and sisters, to continue to live into the joy of being a part of this beautiful body. Love each other. Forgive each other. Meditate on Paul’s words. Sit in this passage for a few days, and be challenged, but most of all be encouraged. Christ has welcomed us into his family, and has forgiven us, and has given us a place at the table with him. And he has done all of this so that we in turn can be his body, and his agents of grace to a needy, hurting, lonely world, to all the solitary survivors out there, who are trying to make it on their own.
“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Thanks be to God.