My glee at finally touching snow and making a snow person aside, I was delighted to return to a community for whom a fondness has quickly grown, and to speak into their theme of Christian unity from my PhD work with the letter to the Romans and its celebration of unity that is enriched by diversity.
Here are words from our 'Thinking about ...' time; my reflection, introducing the portions of Romans 12–16 that I read (I haven't learnt them by heart yet, that's this month's task); and a prayer I wrote for our thanksgiving and concerns.
Thinking about – a place for each, a place for allWe’re going to sing a couple of songs in a moment – actually they could be two verses of the same song, as they have the same tune.
When we listen to the biblical story in a bit, we’ll be hearing from a letter to the early church that highlights the importance of each member of the body for the strength and vitality of the whole body together.
I think sometimes we find it difficult to balance doing what we need to for our own health and wellbeing with doing what we can and need to for the health and wellbeing of others, or the whole community. Sometimes I think the church actually doesn’t do too well in helping us with this, because we place such an emphasis on helping each other, with the stories of showing love to Jesus when we clothe those without clothes, visit those in prison, feed the hungry; or the story of the Samaritan who helped the Jew who had been beaten almost to death.
I’m not sure we tell the stories of Jesus withdrawing to pray quite as often. I’m not sure we remember what is implied in love your neighbour as yourself – in other words, you do need to love yourself.
Have you ever flown on a plane?
Have you noticed in the health and safety instructions they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others?
I think that is a very good reminder that we cannot help others if we have not taken good care of ourselves. It helps others if we are also taking care of our own health and wellbeing.
So, when we hear the stories of the importance of each member in the body of Christ, in the Christian community – remember, that includes you. You need time, too, to spend with God, to rest, to eat well, to do things that give you joy – and then you will be energized for the giving of yourself and your gifts for the health of others and the whole body together.
Then we sang from the Church Hymnary numbers 619 and 620
ReflectionOur portion from the bible and sermon are being delivered as one today, as I bring my PhD project into conversation with your series on Christian Unity.
Briefly, my PhD project is to tell the story of Biblical Performance Criticism, a newish approach to interpreting the bible with a focus on the oral and performed origins biblical writings. I am exploring in what ways performance itself is a way of interpreting the biblical compositions, using the body, emotion and the relationship with the audience as tools for making meaning. I am using the letter to the Romans as a test case, which speaks quite well to Christian Unity in a happy coincidence for us today.
In the first eleven chapters of Romans, Paul is exploring the way the different Jewish and Gentile traditions have been brought into the one community, the followers of Jesus. He spends quite a bit of time thinking through with his audience the implications of choosing to follow Jesus for Jews, and what their relationship to God looks like now. There’s been a lot of division within Rome and also the wider church, and Paul is keen to heal the breach. Then we come to chapters 12 to 16 and we’ll hear portions from this later section of the letter today – in chapter 12, Paul celebrates the unique gifts of each member for the wholeness and wellbeing of the whole body. chapter 13 which we won’t hear today explores the relationship of followers of Jesus with the wider community. in chapter 14 we again come to the differences between Jewish and Gentile members of the church. chapter 15 includes some particulars from Paul’s own life and experience, bridging the gap between jewish and gentile communities of Christ. chapter 16, with its list of exhortations to greet, welcome, or embrace, particular members, is for me a glorious call to embody the welcome for one another in love that Paul encourages throughout the whole letter.
if we are choosing this way of Jesus, choosing to be members of the body of Christ, we must make space for each other, for each member to grow and be healthy, to each offer our gifts for the sake of the wellbeing of the whole body. we must celebrate our differences and invite them to enrich our community, not use them as excuses to buy into fear, which causes division.
Prayers of thanks and concern - in the week for Christian Unity
In the silent pauses, give your heart and your words to God in prayer.
We give thanks for your story; and we give thanks for our spiritual ancestors, who have lived and told your story faithfully through the generations.
We ask for courage as we receive your story, to live it well, and to tell it faithfully and appropriately in our time.
We give thanks for your abiding and transforming presence, and the myriad ways we encounter, experience and express relationship with you.
We ask for courage as we make space for the differences within the Christian community, and between those of Christian and other faith traditions.
We give thanks for the Spirit's gifts and calling to each individual and congregation embodying Jesus in the world.
We ask for courage to celebrate difference, welcoming one another in love; as we rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
We give thanks for Jesus the Christ, whom we follow on your way of Love.
We ask for courage to follow Jesus' call to love with radical hospitality, to live a different way, to be and to see him wherever we go.
In our words and our silence, Holy One, hear our prayers.