The Body of Christ
When I first visited this parish and came to a service, one thing that really struck me was the incredible warm welcome that I received. You did not know who I was, I turned up with my family, unannounced, and you were ready to receive us. There was someone on the door to greet us with a smile and show us what to do; friendly faces made way for us as we clattered into your family space, dropping toys and making a scene – an extremely kind person even came over and introduced us to another family to connect with and welcome us in. I was really touched. I felt accepted, seen and valued. This is the love of Christ in action. I have no doubt that you would extend that welcome to anyone who came through those doors. You are, of course amazing people, but that is the work of the Holy Spirit – that is what happens when we allow God to shape our lives, that was full evidence of loving your neighbour and that is how Jesus says his disciples shall be known (John 13:35).
How people experience church is really significant. When I walked through your doors, although you did not know this, I was already a Christian and confident of God’s love for me. But for many people, they may turn up with quite different hopes and expectations; trepidation, anxiety, suspicion, dread, apathy, fear – to name a few. The church is the body of Christ – the people, not the building! So, even though I love the pink paint, it is the people who reflect God. How we serve each other matters.
Rightly or wrongly, people who have felt rejected by the church can then feel rejected by God. My initial response has always been that we must separate the two: the church is flawed but God is not. But what good is that to someone who has been rejected? We are the body of Christ, we are His hands and feet in this world – if we are not reflecting Jesus, then who is? And might I ask, what are we actually doing?
Whether we like it or not, being the body of Christ means we are dependent on… one another. I will confess to finding this a more challenging part of discipleship. As a young Christian, I was ready to give my life to God – God is awesome! All powerful, all mighty, all knowing, totally perfect, knows all my flaws and still loves me – how could I not?! But, ahem, the church (*whispers* – the humans!) how could I trust them? I wasn’t quite so enthusiastic initially about signing my life away to fallible beings. I wanted to be independent, and I definitely did not want to get hurt. Individualism is steeped in our culture, and I wonder if some you might relate to that. Sure I will be a Christian, but can we eliminate the risk factor?
God – in His infinite wisdom – has connected us all. We are relational beings. When we share communion, we connect with God and with each other. It is intended that way. The picture of a body, for the church, is a deliberate picture of connectedness. While parts are varied, they cannot work in isolation from each other. So it is the same with us, even if we deny it. We are designed to connect with each other. The well being of the individual cannot be disconnected from the well being of the community. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it (1 Corinthians 12:26).
And so we come to see why politics is so critical in our faith. How we organise our communities is really important. As we have reflected this week on how politics might interact with our faith, and how our faith might impact our responses to racism, I’d like us today to think about how this might impact the church. What would happen if people experience rejection instead of welcome? What would happen if people did not feel connected into the body of Christ, but felt second class, overlooked or totally excluded? We cannot connect and serve other people if we do not take time to know them, so that they can also feel seen and valued. This is not a criticism of us as individuals – this is about the church as a whole – we are, after all, all connected.
Perhaps today we could ask God to show us how we can love our neighbours more. Are we ready to embrace the ‘risk factor’ and go deeper into relationships with ‘fallible humans’? What impact might it have on our wider community if our relationships within the church were deeper, more meaningful and more loving?