Friday, 22 January 2016

One body in Christ?

I wonder what it means for you to feel like you really belong that you are part of something.

When Paul was writing his letter to the new Christian community in Corinth he writes to a fragmented group that was struggling for a sense of identity and had problems with division.

There were members of the community who did not feel like they belonged whilst others claimed a stronger sense of belonging and so deliberately excluded others.  In many ways this behavior of this early Christian community reflects the nature of many community groups and churches right through to our present day.

Paul’s response is to emphasis again and again the unity and bond that the group has not in their own acceptance of each other but in and through God’s love in Christ and through the Holy Spirit:

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 

So it is he uses political imagery of the community as a body to help emphasize that every member has importance.  It is highly likely that this body imagery that was borrowed from the Roman statesman Marcus Agrippa and was also used by one of Paul’s contemporaries Plutarch.

As modern day Christians we are probably used to hearing this passage and thinking of it as somehow uniquely Christian but the reality is that it is not.  It is borrow political imagery designed to help people see beyond feeling of exclusion and inclusion and into the embrace of God’s love which is offered to all.  It is about saying that you belong.  But, and this is an important but, it is also about saying you, and you and you and them and they and us belong as well.

This invitation and challenge to invite belonging in the body of Christ is a challenging one. It has been eroded by denominationalism and by the theological traditions that influence us.  It has been further distorted through history by nationalism and cultural imperialism.  Yet still we are called into the one body.

My feeling is that this sense of belonging to God and to community is a salient topic for us to be reflecting on together as we approach Australia Day or Invasion Day, however you might see it.  Often what creates belonging for one group creates exclusion for another and debates around Australia Day or Invasion Day reflect this within our own culture.

Nearly twenty years ago now a little book entitled Rainbow Spirit Theology began to explore the meaning of an Australian Aboriginal Theology.  It is a book that pushes theological boundaries and reminds us of our chequered history.  The authors ask, “whether the Gospel, brought to us by missionaries, is part of the culture which enslaved us, or whether the power of the Gospel frees us to be our true to ourselves and our land.”  The Jesus present to Aboriginal people was a “white” Jesus which it could be argued had been domesticated by the English and European culture of the missionaries themselves.

For us to speak of being one body of Christ in Australia as we approach Australia Day-Invasion Day the discomfort of our history should challenge us to go deeper into the resources of our faith to find that common ground and seek reconciliation with the people that were dispossessed by the arrival of Europeans.

The Uniting Church in Australia in its decision to adopt a preamble to our Constitution has recognised the history and therefore the very people which had been previously ignored in our past.  This preamble reminds us:

Many in the uniting churches shared the values and relationships of the emerging colonial society including paternalism and racism towards the First Peoples. They were complicit in the injustice that resulted in many of the First Peoples being dispossessed from their land, their language, their culture and spirituality, becoming strangers in their own land.

This act of confession is a step towards true healing and hope.  Returning to the book Rainbow spirit Theology we read:

Paul declares that Christ is the power of God which broke down the diving wall of hostility which existed between the Jews and the Gentiles of his day… Christ, who has broken down this wall, is among us now to break down the dividing wall which separates Aboriginal Australians from other Australian’s in this country.  Through Christ we can be one.  Through the suffering Christ we can be reconciled. Christ is calling us, inviting us to be a part of that healing, that reconciliation.

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians he was encouraging them to see beyond their ethnicity and status into their life in Christ: Jews and Greeks, slaves and free.   It was a political statement and an unsettling one.  The boundaries created by our human communities and our socio-economic status were being transcended by God’s love, could the people of God follow and embrace this reality.  If we examine human history and the history especially of the church the truth is that this has always been a challenge for us and it appears more the exception than the norm that people find a true sense of belonging at the same time as accepting those that are different.

So it is that we too in our day as Australian Christians are being continually called beyond ourselves and our tribalism: Anglo and Aboriginal; European, Asian, Islander, African, American and so on.  We are continually being called beyond ourselves and our elitism: rich and poor, educated and uneducated, white collar and blue collar.  We are one body in Christ and in Christ’s body every member has a place.

As I contemplated this I was struck by a reflection about Australia Day by a young Muslim women, Fatima Measham, who is a reporter in Australia.  She who talks about belonging in this way, “Belonging is not something to be conferred, nor is it the default effect of being here. In the end it depends on whether we feel fundamentally safe being who we are.”

As Christians we find this sense of safety first and foremost in Christ but as Paul reminds us this should lead us into our belonging in each other.  To me when we encounter such a sense of belonging as being one in Christ we are encountering what Jesus preached about in Nazareth – the year of the Lord’s favor.  And when that year comes good news to the poor, the captive is released, the blind see, and the oppressed go free.  

So the good news is this, Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. The question is of course can we accept that other individuals, different individuals, strange individuals are also part of that body? For whether we do or not, they are!

You belong, you and you and they and them belong – we are the body of Christ. This is the good news: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

We are one body in Christ!

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