Sunday, August 25, 2013

Difference in Worship: Many Parts One Body Empowered by the One Spirit ( 1 Corinthians 12:12-34)... One: On The Road To Unity in 1 Corinthians (part

You'll notice that in this message from Sunday August 25th there are a lot of hyperlinks to sermon series from earlier in the year... AS I was preaching this message I felt the need to encourage the church about what God is calling us to this year... renewal... it has been the overarching theme for the year. Way back In January I posted on my blog where I was going in 2013. And also how that theme will carry on for the rest of the year to look at the renewal of care for creation, renewing our minds and renewing our understanding where Christmas fits in the big picture  of God's plans and purposes.
You walk into the worship area, a bit late as per usual (dig) and something just does not seem to be right. The place is full of these giant eye balls. You try and sneak in unnoticed, but they swivel to look at you. You can tell by the way they look that they are looking down at you. Even without the eyebrows and my kids will tell you that I should know about eye brows, you can tell the eye balls are not pleased with you being there.  You are not an eye ball you are different so you don’t belong.

I don’t want to give you nightmares, I wasn’t thinking in terms of Horror movies here rather trying to capture the almost Monty Python-esque absurdity and humour that Paul uses to teach the church at Corinth and us about being one body made up of many parts. That unity does not necessitate uniformity.  That diversity does not negate unity.  That church is a place where you belong and a place where you have a part to play. Paul uses, what NT Wright describes as, the “most spectacular and famous illustration” that of the human body, in the passage we are looking at today to make that point.

We are working our way through the book of 1 Corinthians to see how they and we as a diverse group of people from different cultural and socio-economic groupings, with different understandings expectations worldviews and with different talents insights and gifts, can come together and be one… and be the Body of Christ .


I’m not saying we are failing at being Church.  I am saying the Spirit of God is calling us to renewal,

It’s been the over arching theme for the whole year. God wants to breath renewal into our lives

God wants to renew us for mission, service and evangelism in this time and place

In this community and this world that he loves.


Ok back to our reading this morning. It’s actually really important for us.


Paul was dealing with issues to do with public worship. He had praised the Corinthians for the way in which they kept the tradition of equality between men and women in leading worship, and had encouraged them to viva la difference. He’d challenged them about the way that they had conformed to their social norms when it came to the way they treated the poor and slaves at the Lord ’s Table. Then as we saw last week he started to talk about the issue of the use of Tongues in public worship. The Corinthians had focused on Spiritual manifestations and particularly the gift of Tongues as a sign of having arrived spiritually, to the point that other gifts were not being acknowledged, worship as we’ll see in chapter 14 was chaotic and unintelligible. He stated dealing with this issue by going back to first principles that our God unlike the mute pagan idols that the Corinthians had worshipped before their conversion, was able to speak and move to and through his people in a variety of ways: Many gifts but one spirit, many services but one lord, many works but the one God. Now he goes on to talk about what is at the heart of our understanding of being God’s people.


Paul starts by saying just like a body, one body, is made up of many parts, so it is with Christ.  This image is not unique to Paul, Roman orators used this metaphor to talk about the body politic in their society. But Paul’s understanding of this as it applies to the kingdom of God, to us as the new people of God is totally radical. When the Roman orators used it, it was to reinforce that yes indeed everyone had a place in their society. At the head was Caesar, and then everyone fitted in and had a place, a status and a function, and the lower and lesser parts were looked down on. Paul has to combat that underlying understanding in the Church in Corinth.  In the Kingdom of God says Paul we cannot say because I’m not this or that I don’t belong nor can we say we don’t need each other. Paul says in the kingdom of God we are equal and interdependent.


He affirms our equality in saying we have all been baptized by the same spirit, we all drink of the same spirit, both Greek and Jew, salve or free. Now some people ask well what about the male female thing here and the answer is that the Corinthians didn’t seem to have a problem with that, sadly it was for the church later on.  


Also sadly this connection of spirit and baptism has been a source of tension and division in the Church. Some have seen baptism in the spirit as a separate second experience, it’s almost been used, totally contra to the context here, as a way of saying if you don’t experience things like me then, you are only a second class citizen. Others have focused on baptism. But the centre of our unity is that Jesus has sent his Holy Spirit to dwell with and in all who would come to know him. AS we have come to Christ we have been drenched in his spirit, we live and sustain our selves each day by the spirit of God in our lives. We are God’s spirited people. I’m always happy to pray for people to be filled with the Holy Spirit, because in Ephesians 5:18 Paul says be filled and keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit. I want people to know more and more of the spirit’s presence in their lives… and it’s open to and for all.


Paul likens what is happening in the church at Corinth to the crazy notion that eyes and ears and noses would say to each other because I’m not like you I don’t belong to the body. Paul brings that home in a series of rhetorical questions in verse 17. The emphasis is we are all one body, made up of different parts. Just because you are different you are still part of the body, because God’s spirit dwells in you.


Then he flips it on its head and says that no part can say that unless you are like me you can’t be part of the body. He is getting to the crux of things here, particularly with the ‘spiritual ones’ at Corinth who were fixating on the gift of tongues as a badge that they were spiritual. No says Paul we all have a part to play and we are all interdependent on each other. We need eyes and ears and hands and feet to see and hear and go and care. In fact says Paul often the weaker parts, and here Paul maybe using the Spiritual one’s own language, as he did in when he was talking about food sacrificed to idols, are indispensable, and the less honourable parts  are treated with special honour. Foot washing may be a great example of this. When a guest or a traveller would come to a meal they would have their feet washed, and Jesus showed us about love for each other by washing the feet of his disciples, again in ancient near eastern society a job that was left for the less important, not so in the Kingdom of God.


 In the end says Paul, it was God who put all these different things together to work as they do, so it is with the church. The result of this is that instead of wanting to do away with this bit or that bit we are to have equal concern for each part. We enter into the joys and sorrows of each part.  Just like injury can affects the whole body and the whole body is needed to heal it. If one part is given honour the whole body rejoices.  When I tell Kris things like that I love her beautiful eyes,  it’s not only her eyes that sparkle her checks blush, her lips curl…upwards in a smile. Her heart may beat a little faster. Her brain probably says what he after.  So with the body of Christ we share each other’s joys and sorrows.


Having established this principle Paul again gives a list of Spiritual gifts, one that is slightly different than the one earlier in this chapter. Some have seen a sort of hierarchy in the way Paul lists these gifts firstly, secondly etc. But that is not the case that goes against the teaching Paul has just given.  Neither is this list about offices or positions within the church. The first three are surprisingly people but this may mean that they are people that God has given a gift who will exercise it on a regular basis rather than being a position or office. The rest of the gifts listed are more ministries with in the church.


The use of the numeracy for the first three may be that they talk of order rather than importan Paul had said he as an apostle had laid the foundation that other built on. And as we looked at last week there is some debate over whether we still have people with an apostolic ministry. Secondly prophets, again are people who make the timeless word of God timely. The Old Testament Prophets were not innovators, rather they took the Sinai covenant and applied it to the situations Israel faced in their times. Just like a new testament prophet would take the gospel and apply it to where the church and society is at. Teachers in the Old Testament were always there… but they come to the fore in the return from the exile where they teach people who do not know God's law what it is. teaching is the on-going ministry of explaining and help people understand and apply the word of God.

Paul then moves on to talk of other gifts healings, and miracles are mentioned, without faith this time and in opposite order to the previous list, so there isn’t any sense of hierarchy here. I actual wonder if these two being together doesn’t also allow for a diversity of what healings means. That it incorporates both people who are gifted at medicine and are able to use the physical realm to heal  but  those who pray and see God move in the miraculous.


Helping, is often seen as people who can do odd jobs round the place or don’t mind doing the dishes after an event. But the idea in the passage is of helping another person. Sometimes I think we can get service which we all called to do, and helping others mixed up.


The NIV translates the next gift as Guidance; in other translations it’s called administration. The NIV want to pick up the idea in the Greek word of seeing the way forward. We might think of administration as keeping things going but here the idea is working ones way forward. It’s about leadership.


Then Paul puts in different types of tongues, with this coming last people have often said Paul is down playing this gift. But he is in actual fact putting it last because here it was the trouble gift, and he wants to balance the emphasis that some were putting on it. All the way through Paul acknowledges it as a genuine gift and that it should be used. It’s usefulness to the whole body, not just the individual,  comes about when what is said is interpreted.


Paul ties this all together to show that there is unity in diversity by asking if everyone does all these things. To which we should answer no, affirming that we need each other and everyone has a valuable part to play.


How does this apply to the here and now?


Firstly that as the new people of God we are one people, that just like in creation with the wonderful abundance of the diversity of life, so it is in God’s new creation, God is wanting his people to be teaming with an diverse abundance of spirit given gifts and talents. In the new people of God it’s not about status or having arrived but it’s about humble service and caring for each other.  In fact the church should be a beacon of light about treating people equally in the world.


Secondly Paul’s metaphor points to the church as organic,  not an organisation.  We spend a lot of time and energy keeping the institution and the organisation, buildings and beaurocracy of what we perceive as ‘being church” going. I do not want to lessen the work and sacrifice that has gone into what we have here.  I am concerned that maintaining it is often seen as a priority over  ministering and caring for each other and the people God calls us to. We are the church, you and I, we embody Christ in the world.


Finally Paul finishes his argument here by telling people two things the first is to seek the greater gifts. We can think of church as a consumer product or a spectator sport. But it’s about being a functioning body where we all play our part. Gordon Fee says that in some churches the focus is on the cerebral gifts, like teaching etc and other focus on the more ‘Charismatic” gifts, but we need both in fact they are all charismatic, they are all gracious gifts.  Paul encourages us all to seek gifts that can be used, to seek ways to serve and care and build up the Church. Again greater does not mean status or superior, but as in the Kingdom of God if you want to be great learn to be the servant of all, seek to be the most use to building up the church. Its not as the "spiritual Ones" at Corinth were doing as a sign of spirituality, but because of the better way Paul now turns to talk of… love.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Difference In Worship: Different Gifts From The One Spirit For The Common Good (1 Corinthians 12:1-11)... One: On The Road To CHristian Unity in 1 Corinthians (Part 13)

Spiritual gifts and in particular tongues, have been the source of division and controversy in the Church, they were at Corinth and again over the last fifty or so years have been with the rise of the Pentecostal movement and within mainline churches the Charismatic movement. Sadly, some people have been put off the idea of spiritual gifts by the excesses and emotionalism that they may have experienced in these movements. The very excesses that Paul addresses in his letter.

Tongues have been the focus of two extremes, being written off, tongues are no longer for today, and written large, you’re not a real Christian unless you speak in tongues. They have been seen as the sign of being a spiritual fruitcake or being spiritually superior, mixing up giftedness with maturity. It is this last point that is at the centre of the section of Paul’s letter we are starting to look at today.

Church has been likened to a rugby match where thirty people, or in the modern era with reserves forty six people in desperate need of rest are running round being watched by thirty thousand people in desperate need of exercise.   When it comes to gifts of the Holy Spirit, churches have often gone looking for a gifted person to lead them and do the ministry, almost turning church into a consumer product. Whereas Pauls teaching here is that we are a gifted people, all given different gifts by the same spirit for the common good.  

We are working our way through Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians to see how they and we as a diverse group of people from different cultural backgrounds, socioeconomic groupings, and with different expectations, understandings, backgrounds and yes theologies can come together and be the new people of God, be one in Christ.  In the section of this letter in chapters 12-14 we are looking at how we are empowered by the spirit with a diversity of gifts to be used in unity to be that people.

Paul had been working his way through issues to do with public worship, a couple of weeks ago we looked at how we are to express that there is neither male nor female in Christ, that women and men were toparticipate fully in the worship life of the church as equals. That together we bring the fullness of the image of God in humanity to worship the fullness of God. Last week we looked at the fact that there was neither rich or poor, salveor free in Christ and how that was to be practically worked out in love at theLord’s Supper. And with the words ‘now about’ Paul moves on to talk about spiritual gifts or things. 

With those words “now about” like with Food sacrificed to idols and marriage Paul is dealing with an issue that the church themselves had bought up with him in a letter that we do not have. To fully understand this passage we have to understand the underlying problem.  It seems to be that at Corinth the spiritual ones saw the manifestation of the gift of tongues as a sign of their maturity in Christ. That they had arrived.  In public worship it was used by some in a manner that was over the top and disruptive. That people tried to assert that they were spiritual by babbling away, which even though it was a legitimate gift made the worship unintelligible to the majority and disorderly. Paul writes to correct this misunderstanding.

My wife Kris is studying math and physics at University at the moment and when she tackles a question in an assignment she has to go back to prove things from first principles: The basic laws of Math and Physics. Paul does the same thing with the issue of spiritual gifts. He takes it back to our understanding of God and then our understanding of the church as the body of Christ. Then in a similar way to how he deals with the other issues we have a theological interlude, Paul gives this most profound exposition of the Christian understanding of love, to say that the Gifts are to be exercised in that context before getting down to deal with practical applications for public worship. This is good for us because just as Paul did not want the brothers and sisters in Corinth to be uninformed, we too need to have a correct understanding of the spiritual gifts that God has given to the whole Church for the common good.

Paul starts by differentiating between how Pagans would see spiritual manifestations and the Christian understanding of spiritual gifts. Most of the Church at Corinth would have come from a pagan background it formed their thinking and worldview. In pagan worship there were weird spiritual manifestations. Be it induced because of physical factors, an ecstasy bought about by dance and music and wining and dining. Or as Paul had already pointed out idol worship was the locus for demonic activity. The manifestations, utterances or babbling or whatever, were themselves seen as  a sign of the reality of the idol being worshipped. Paul says for Christians it is different, spiritual things and manifestations need to be judged by their content and the way in which they are bought forward rather than simply because they seem spiritual. Our God, unlike the mute idols is able to speak to and through his people, God who is not a dead lump of stone or wood is able to move through his people. The test of these utterances is if they are Christ honouring.

It’s only by the Holy Spirit that people can confess “Jesus is Lord”. We might say well those three words are easy to say but we forget that in the first century they were a strong confession that went against the whole of Pagan and Roman and Jewish thinking. For the Pagan’s there were many lords, for the Romans, Caesar is Lord, and to proclaim a convicted revolutionary who had been crucified is Lord is making a bold political statement about the Kingdom of God.  For the Jews such a declaration was also anathema, it was affirming that Jesus was the messiah.  It was and is a confession that changes everything about how we live.

Paul then spends the next two paragraphs talking about the fact that God gives a diversity of gifts to the church to be used in unity. The main reason behind this may be that the Corinthians had fixated on the more spectacular gifts and specifically tongues. But Pauls says the whole of who God is is involved in enabling and empowering us to be the people of God.

In v5-6 we have what is arguably the earliest Trinitarian formula in the New Testament. Paul shows that diversity and unity is a part of the nature of the Godhead. More than that the whole of the God head is involved and engaged in empowering us to be God’s people. There are many different gifts but they are given by the same spirit. This is taken up later again and again as Paul demonstrates the different gifts. The emphasis all th way through that list is on the giver, not that they are possessions of a person. There are many services but One Lord. To a group that saw spirit gifts as a sign of maturity and status, Paul reminds them that these gifts are given for service, that to confess “Jesus is Lord” is to acknowledge a crucified King who came not to be served but to serve. Finally that there are different kinds of workings, but they are all the work of God in each believer.

To limit God to a specific way of acting or moving does not do justice to our understanding of who God is. God is free to act as God chooses and God is gracious is giving to all believers the gifts that we need.

Paul goes on to state that the gifts are given for the common good. They are not to show someone is spiritual or mature, how can they, when they are given by grace and when we need each other’s gifts to be the body of Christ and function as a Church. Which we’ll pick up more on next week. The point of the gifts is to build up the body of Christ. One of my critiques of the charismatic movement is that like the Corinthians we got caught up in the manifestations of the spirit rather than the manifesto of the spirit: the common Good and what we’ll look at next week embodying Christ in the world. Like in Corinth it was easy to become focused on my gifts, sort of like a Christian self-actualisation rather than on serving others. In always laugh about a Christmas dinner we ran down in Rotorua. A women from another church came along to observe what we were doing and asked if she could help, and when someone suggested the dishes might be a good place to start she relied,”oh that’s not my gifting’.

Paul demonstrates the diversity of Gifts and the Unity of who gives them by then giving a list of seven different manifestations of the Spirit. Much has been made of this list and others to try and have a definitive list of the ways that the Spirit moves through his people, and there are several lists in Paul’s letters which cover different aspects of the life of the church. The point with this list is that Paul shows that tongues which he leaves till last are not the only ones. God moves in different ways. All the way through this list the affirmation is different gifts but the same God who gives them. Different gifts given as needed not signs of maturity or merit rather for service and the common Good. One of the Corinthians catch phrases was that they were wise, Paul starts out here by acknowledging that words of wisdom, and knowledge are a gracious gift from God. It is the spirit that enables someone to have insight and understanding of the scripture, it is the spirit that gives us insight to different situations. These have been seen as gifts of instruction.

The second set of gifts mentioned has often been defined as the gifts of power: Faith, healings, and preforming miracles. Faith here is seen not like the faith we need to come to salvation in Christ but rather a special spirit given faith to believe that God can act in a certain situation. Gordon fee likes it to ‘the faith that can move mountains’. It’s interesting to note that it is healings in the plural, that the gift to heal is not simply given to a person, we don’t have faith healers, but rather it is god who by his spirit graciously heals, through people who pray. Miracles covers the other acts of power outside of healing. As we will see when we look at the metaphor of the Church as the body of Christ, Gordon fee notes that faith is bracketed with these two gifts because again we need each other.

The last grouping has been called the gifts of utterance. That God choses to speak to us. Gifts is listed last with a gift that is equally needed to make the gift of tongue of use to the whole church, that of giving an interpretation of it. If it is for the common Good we need to know what is being said. People have wondered why the gift of discerning spirits is placed here  and Godron fee ses that it is here because it is linked with the gift of prophecy, that is making the timeless word of God timely to the present situation. Because while people may give what they think is an inspired word, it is then up to the congregation to discern what that what is being said is from God. So we need the spirits help to do that.

So how does this impact on us today?

It is the same for us today, just as the Corinthians were a product of their culture we are products of our own worldview. It is easy to see spiritual gifts through those eyes. We are unsure of what is and isn’t real when it comes to spiritual things. We can write everything off as emotionalism or attribute it to physical causes. It’s interesting when I am praying in tongues I find myself often saying this is not possible.  We can think of God in terms of our materialistic worldview, limiting how God speaks and Acts, or we go to the other extreme of seeing every manifestation as being of God. There are a lot that are not.  In the end we need to have the same basic understanding and ability to discern God moving and speaking as Paul gives the Corinthians.

Secondly, God speaks and moves through his people. He is not a mute idol. God chooses to minister to others through you and I, in the power of the Holy Spirit. God gives us different ways to do that, and other lists of gifts include such things as acts of service, administration, mercy. Whereas the catch cry of the reformation with its rediscovery of the salvation by grace through faith was “a priesthood of all believers”, we all have equal access to God, as we rediscovered the work of the Holy Spirit in our midst’s the catch cry is ‘a ministry of all believers”. Our response is often who am I? I’m not super spiritual. It’s interesting that that who am I cry in on the lips of the people in the Old Testament that God chose to use… Moses… Gideon… Isaiah… Jeremiah to name a few and the response is similar to what Paul is focusing on in what we looked at today. It’s not who we are, and by the way our main identity is in Christ,  it is who God is and God’s gracious choice to give his gifts to whom he pleases for the common good.  In fact this passage goes against Gifts being a sign of being spiritual, to being given to serve.

Finally, We are the spirited people of God and we need to be aware that that means God wants to and is able to work through us all for the common good. That God gives us all gifts to be used so we as a church can function, so that we might be able to witness to Jesus Christ. As we’ll see next week it calls us all to be willing to exercise our gifts to do our part in the body of Christ. We need each other, I need you and your gifts.  Church is not a consumer product, and it’s not a spectator event, it’s a team sports. It’s not a one man show or even the efforts of a small ensemble cast its all of us.

It’s all of us… empowered in so many different ways to serve
It's all of us... filled by the same Holy Spirit. the Paraclete who comes alongside.

It’s all of us … gifted by the one spirit for the common Good.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Differences in Worship... The Rich and Poor, Free and Slave at the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-34)... One:On The Road To Unity in 1 Corinthins (part 12)

Sadly the meal designed to foster unity in the body of Christ, was a focus for division in the church at Corinth and has divided the church ever since.  Historically debates and schisms have occurred over issues such as how is Christ present in the elements, who can take communion, how do you take communion, who takes what, to what extent is it a sacrifice, how often do you celebrate it, if at all and the connection between baptism and communion.  These things by the way are not spoken to in scripture, they were not the issue at Corinth which Paul deals with in what is the only significant teaching on the Lord’s supper in the New Testament. The issue as NT Wright puts it is “when they came together to celebrate the Lord’s supper they are reinforcing social distinctions which has nothing to do with God’s intentions...This is the division between rich and poor, salve and free.  

We are so used to the words of institution from Paul’s letter being used, by themselves, in a liturgical setting that we miss their impact in the context of Paul’s argument. We can be in danger of losing something of the radical and liberating nature of the Lord’s Supper and what it represents.

Paul’s warning to the Corinthians that they should examine themselves before they come to communion has been misunderstood in church history and has been the cause of many people to come to the Lord’s Table fearfully or to avoid it completely. They miss out on the wonderful affirmation of God’s grace, forgiveness and presence.  I always remember a church history lecture on revivals in the Church of Scotland. Yes full blown revivals in the Church of Scotland, where at meeting held on the same day reports from one meeting said that the low number of people who took communion was a sign of God moving because people were convicted of their sins and the other reported so many coming to take communion which was a sign of God’s grace and mercy.  The picture behind me is of a communion token, which was proof in the old days after an elder’s visit that you were in good conscience able to take communion.  Such an individualistic understanding of self-examination can hinder us hearing the call Paul is making, that we cannot come to this meal and disregard the physical and material needs of our brothers and sisters. We share one common loaf we are one people in Christ.

And we are working our way through Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians to see how they and we as a group drawn from different cultures and backgrounds, socioeconomic groupings with all the different expectations and understandings that entails can live as the new people of God, and be one in Christ.  We are working our way through a section of Paul’s letter were he deals with issues of public worship. We saw last week that he dealt with gender differences, today He deals with how rich and poor are treated at the Lord’s Supper and next week we will move to look at the issue of spiritual gifts.

As we saw last week Paul had praised the Church at Corinth for keeping the tradition that there was neither male nor female in Christ; that both were equally needed and welcome in leading worship. His issue with them had been that they had blurred the distinction between the two. But now Paul turns to the way they keep another tradition, the Lord’s Supper. The issue here is that instead of doing away with social conventions they had maintained them; primarily the distinction between rich and poor, and slave and free.

In the early church worship would have been held in people’s houses. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper was an intricate part of that worship; it had been passed on to them by Christ. The practise seems to have been that it was celebrated as part of a full fellowship meal. The only houses big enough for these gathering would have been the houses of the rich. Archaeologists have found that most of these houses had a small formal dining room and a large outer courtyard. In Roman society it was seen as important to provide hospitality for the poor, however the important people would gather for a scrumptious meal in the dining room and those of lesser significance would be feed inferior food in the courtyard. While they were welcome, in the way they were treated the strict social order was reinforced. This norm was being carried over into the church.

Also from the words Paul uses about eating before everyone arrives another dimension of this issue is that the rich patron’s turned up and started eating and the slaves would only be able to turn up when they had finished their work, so the meal may well have been over by the time they came. Paul summed up the affect by saying some were going home drunk, they had over indulged and others were going away empty. This says Paul did more harm than good. It would be like turning up to a picnic with your sandwiches and water to find some others already their eating steak and drinking the finest of wines. You’d had to spread your blanket on the slightly soggy ground right next to that smelly long drop,  while they feasted by the lakeside at the picnic table.  He hammers this home through a series of rhetorical questions. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? or do you despise the Church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? It’s not on in the kingdom of God.

Once again it’s important to point out that one of the distinctives of the new people of God was that in Christ there was neither male nor female, Jew or Gentile, Greek or Barbarian, free or slave, they are one in Christ.  We can forget how radical a concept this is, we are used to a more domesticated Christianity that has been conformed to our social norms and has been used to reinforce social structures rather than be revolutionary.

Paul responds to this issue by taking the Corinthians back to what we call the words of institution. Jesus establishing the Lord’s Supper.   The focus says Paul is on what Christ has done for us. We remember and celebrate Christ’s death, the means by which we are all bought into a saving relationship with Christ. He does not say it but behind that is Jesus own words and invitation of grace “blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of God.” We are all made right with God, we are all joined together as one people because of Christ’s dead on the cross. In the kingdom of God it is all about new birth not which part of society’s strata we are born.  Paul will go on after this to address being the body of Christ in terms of Spiritual gifts and again the underlying principle of that applies here, that God has poured out his holy spirit on all who believe regardless of gender and socio economic status, even on your slaves and maid servants.

The way the words of institution are phrased point us backwards as well to the Passover, God’s saving action for his people and here again we see that the meal celebrates liberation. That God’s people are to be different to the society around them that they are to be free and a society that shows care and concern for the poor.

With the words 'so then' Paul applies this understanding to the church at Corinth. His argument is that we need to discern the body of Christ so that we eat the body of Christ in a right way. That to carry on as the Corinthians had by not waiting for the slaves and not treating the poor as equal in Christ that they have mistreated the very body and blood of Christ. I can’t help but hear the word of Jesus in the parable of the sheep and the goats echoing in this whatever you do for the least of these my breather you have done for me and like was whatever you have not done for these the least of my breather you have not done to me.’

While it is appropriate to do some self-examination here the emphasis is on how we treat other people. How can we participate in this meal of acknowledging God’s gracious action in Christ, while we show the exact opposite of that in how we treat those with physical and material needs.  That simple fact shows that we have not fully grasped and understood what Christ has done for us.

Paul goes on to speak prophetically, he sees what is happening in the church with people getting sick and dying is a result of the way they act at the Lord’s supper. Now we need to be careful because people have seen this as a hard and fast cause and consequence chain of events, for all times and all places. But Paul here is acting on a prophetic knowledge into this very situation, not a blanket expression of an angry and vengeful God. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise to us that this is the result of maintaining this societal divide, as the two main causes of sickness and death in our world and increasingly in our nation are those caused by poverty and secondly by over indulgence.

Paul is also quick to point out that the church at Corinth can avoid this judgement by actually using a little discernment. He also points out that the purpose of such judgement is not eternal damnation, final judgement but rather that God wants to disciple his people.

Then with the words ‘so then’ Paul applies this theology to the practise of the Church. He tells the church when they gather together as the church they should all eat together. To show their oneness in Christ they wait for the poor and the slaves to come and join them. They eat the same food. Now in many Pacific Island Churches this is symbolically shown during communion by holding the bread and the wine till all are served and then eating together, and drinking together. Likewise says Paul if you want more eat at home. This picks up what he had said beforehand that those used to a fancy meal could still eat it but at home so when they came they   would all share the same food.

How does this apply to us in our world and place today.

As a symbolic act how we do communion matters. Early on the church abandoned celebrating communion in the midst of a full meal. So it was easier for the Lord’s supper as a symbolic meal to demonstrate equality.  That we are one. In our tradition we show this by inviting all to sit for communion. You are all God’s welcome guests seated at the table. It used to be signified when Presbyterians would dress the church for communion. They would put thin strips of linen along the pew backs to signify a common table cloth. For cultures who are used to the idea of a top table the minister and elders sitting up behind the table maybe seen to be about status. But it is in our tradition about leaders as servants.  We are here so it is easy for us to serve you, and as it says in Luke 17:7-10 a servant eats last. I value those traditions but I am happy to eat this meal with all other Christians. And it has been great to see recently the way that communion has not been such a barrier between people. Twenty five years ago I had friends who came back from an ecumenical  renewal conference where there had been a real sense of unity, saddened because on the last day they celebrated the Lord’s supper, the conference split into Catholic and non-Catholic.  When I was trainingo for the ministry they sent me to the local Catholic Church for six month to learn about highly liturgical churches. It was great to see that the church had reformed to the extent that I was welcomed to join them in eating the bread and drinking the cup. A lot of the difficulties from the reformation had been sorted.

But this passage really challenges us about how we treat each other. In the quick summary of the life of the church in Jerusalem after Pentecost we see that a result of the spirits presence was that People sold what they owned to meet the needs of others in the church. There was a carrying of this being one in Christ and caring for each other to a great extent. Like In Corinth we to who share the loaf need to help meet each other physical and material needs.  It’s interesting that one commentator I read said that these day churches are not so much made up of a wide spectrum of people from all socioeconomic groups. We tend to gravitate to congregations of people similar to us. Like with male and female we can lose the insights and emphasises that each bring to the table as it were. But this does not resolve us from responsibility for caring for the physical and material needs of those less fortunate than ourselves.  Likewise in the global village we need to be aware of our brothers and sisters in poverty and sadly those trapped in the up serge of slavery round the world.  It challenges us about how much of the world’s resources we consume when others have none.

Finally, Paul finishes this section with almost a throw away comment,’ and when I come I will give further directions’  as NT Wright points out it leave us ‘open to face issues in our own Church life with the same shrewd clarity and the same theological principles. We are being asked to wrestle with how the church understands equality in terms of sexuality as well as gender; we are confronted with a theology that equates God’s blessing with material wealth and wellbeing that equally shames the churches understanding of all being equal in Christ. On practical issues as a church we face how do we do church that reflects our cultural diversity, without prioritising one way of doing things over another. How do we allow people to express their own culture and still maintain our expression of unity… Making sure we sit as equals at the table. In the end the table maybe what points the way forward that we come together and remember Christ’s death until he comes.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Differences In Worship: Viva La Difference In A Hairy Passage About Gender Difference (1 Corinthians 11:2-16)... One:On The Road To Unity In 1 Coritnhians (Part 11)

I've never head a reaction like it before... There was grumbling and mumbling when  1 Corinthians 11:2-16 was read out in our congregation. The person reading it was worried he would have things thrown at him. There was also a lot of laughter when I stood up to speak and started by saying... 'Let's pray... and boy do we need to pray...' maybe I should have said, "Hang on to your hats!!!"

The passage we read today is often pointed to as evidence that Paul was anti women. That is not the case. It is the case however that this has been one of the most misused scriptures in church history.  It has been used to support the subjugation of women which it does not. The only time the word authority is used is in verse 10 which says a woman has authority over her own head.

It is the passage that launched a thousand hats. Many of you are old enough to remember when women wore hats in Church… some of you are part of cultures where that is still considered the norm.  This passage is also the reason why men wearing hats in church is frowned at. It may surprise you that when I was young I actually had hair… long hair… in church one day  someone came and used the part of the passage that says nature tells us that long hair on a man is a disgrace to say get a haircut son.

I have vivid memories of a hitchhiking tour of Northland when I was in my early twenties.   I went to a conservative Open Brethren chapel one Sunday.  As I went in, there was someone handing out hymn books, but they also had a pile of what I thought were just lace dollies. Now I thought they were there because we were going to have a cup of tea after the service and I could understand that you needed to stop leaving marks of the furniture… But no!!! They were for women who came to church without a head covering. Ironically, in that church it was only the men who prayed and shared scripture…ironic because this passage is one of the strongest affirmations that in the early church men and women participated equally in leading public worship. It says they both prayed and prophesied.

These things may not seem that relevant to us here and now, yet in our foyer is a picture of the first eight women ordained as ministers of word and sacrament in our denomination. That happened in living memory. Two of those women at least have close links with this parish. One was the minister here.

We are working our way through the book of 1 Corinthians to see how they and we as a diverse group of people from different cultures and different socio economic groupings and men and women can come together and be one in Christ.  Paul had dealt with divisions and squabbling over church leaders  by pointing to God’s grace and love. He had dealt with issues of sexual immorality, marriage, and eating food sacrificed to idols, setting the basis of Christian ethics firmly in an understanding of love for God and for each other. Now Paul turns to address issues in Public worship. Firstly in the passage we had read out today… understanding gender differences… then dealing with rich and poor at the Lord ’s Table… and finally the use of spiritual gifts.  All of which speak to us today.

Paul starts this passage by praising the church at Corinth for keeping the traditions he had passed on to them. While we don’t know exactly what these traditions are it does seem that they have to do with public worship.  Judging from the first issue Paul deals with, one of those traditions is the radical Christian ideal that men and women are both equal and that unlike Jewish synagogue worship or pagan temple worship that women are to participate fully in public worship.  That in Christ there is neither male nor female.  As NT Wright points out the church was probably the only place in Greek and Roman society where people gathered as equals: Slave and free, Jew and gentile, Greek and barbarian, rich and poor and men and women.  

When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the believers at Pentecost, it was poured out on both men and women equally, regardless of socio economic standing, as had been promised in the prophesy Peter quotes from Joel chapter 2.  This was the new kingdom of God, the new spirited people of God. As that was the case the early church had women lead public prayers and prophecy in church. While there is some debate over what it meant to prophecy, there is the sense here of speaking the timeless word of God in a timely way to the people of God.  Sadly very early on this tradition and practise was lost.

The issue in Corinth seems to be that some people saw this equality and freedom in Christ as meaning that they could throw off the cultural makers of gender.  They thought they were spiritual beings and so gender did not apply to them anymore.  All the way through Paul’s letter to the Corinthians there is a sense of dealing with the spiritual ones who think that in the kingdom of God that the old had totally passed away, the physical didn’t matter.  They’d arrived and the physical was just unwanted baggage. You could understand some women wanting to throw off the markers of their position in what was a hierarchical society.  Some have pointed to the fact that this was a problem with women only,  but Just like when Paul was talking to the church at Corinth about marriage he was careful to address both men and women. Here Paul talks about the cultural markers of both genders and how that relates to participation in public worship. It maybe that men and women thought that there being neither male nor female in Christ meant that we become some sort of androgynous spiritual beings. And Paul’s argument is that as we are created both male and female in God’s image, dependant on one another, that we need the fullness of that image in humanity to worship the fullness of who God is.   Viva la difference.

So Paul turns to deal with this issue. And yes the primary issue that is presenting is women involved  in leading worship without a head covering. It would be seen as the most visual manifestation of the issue of gender difference. If you have a look at the passage its split into three paragraphs Paul’s argument is threefold. He deals with it by talking about shame. He then turns to look at the created order and finally social convention in society as a whole and practise inside the church as a whole. Before we look at these we need to realise two things the first is that scholars are in agreement that Paul’s argument is hard to follow here, and Paul presupposes some cultural understanding with his readers which is lost to us now. Gordon Fee is quick to acknowledge that the meaning of the sentence at the heart of the argument  verse 10… that women should have authority over their own heads because of the angels… has defied our best scholarly geniuses over the centuries.

Paul’s first argument is that in both Jewish and Roman, Greek cultures it was a sign of shame for women to be in public without some sort of head covering. Some have said that the only women who would walk around like that would have been the temple prostitutes. He certainly points to a woman’s head being shaved as being a sign of shame in both Jewish and roman culture. When the British and American troops liberated towns in Europe during the Second World War, women who had cohabitated with the Germans were shamed by having their heads shaved.  The men colaborators were just shot. Paul is a affirming that in the church women are to be honoured and that the cultural marker of head covering does that.

Men covering their heads when they prayed equally seemed to be a sign of shame it’s interesting that Jewish men covering their heads to pray according to Gordon Fee did not become the norm till the fourth century AD, and maybe even then it was to differentiate them from the Christians, who were originally considered a Jewish sect. So a lot of Film’s about Jesus life where they have Jesus covering his head when he prays are most probably historically inaccurate.

The part of Paul’s first argument that causes us the most trouble is that’s Paul’s rational for this comes from a set of relationships in verse 7 where the word head is used metaphorically. The head of every man is Christ, the head of every woman is man and the head of Christ is God. In English we tend to use head like this to mean a position of authority “head master”, “head of state”, and this passage has been misused to assert that men are supposed to be the boss. It has been translated in some versions that the head of a wife is her husband to tie it into a specific relationship, but one where women are seen as being in submission. But using head like that is not that common in Greek. It is used more often to mean the source of, as in the head waters of a river. Paul’s second paragraph picks this up by referring to the order of creation. 

One of the difficulties of this of course is Paul’s mention of the head of Christ is God. In theological terms this is close to a heretical understanding of the Trinity. But again if you have a look at Paul’s argument from creation in his second paragraph he ends it by saying everything comes from God.

Paul’s second argument comes from the idea of the created order. Paul asserts that in the created order men were created first according to the genesis narrative women were created from man, both are made in God’s image, the point that Paul emphasises is that women somehow complete man, that to do away with the one is to leave the other incomplete. Paul is quick to affirm that in reality as man now comes from women in procreation that it is more that we are dependent on each other. Some have seen the Hebrew word in the genesis narrative translated help mate to describe the women means a subservient role,  but as it is also the word in the Hebrew scripture that is used of the Holy Spirit, this cannot be the case.

 In fact as I mentioned before the only use of the word authority in this whole passage in verse 10 where it says a women has authority over her own head. The fact that this issue  follows on from Paul talking about how we curb our freedom out of love when it came to food sacrificed to idols, may mean Paul is saying in this case as well we curb our freedom for sake of others.  

What about the angels?  There is an understanding that we and the angels join together to worship God. But also in  Isaiah 6:2 the Angels Isaiah sees in his vision of heaven use their wings to cover their feet and heads before the throne of God.  The Corinthians may have thought that as they now spoke in the tongues of angels, which we’ll get to when we look at Spiritual gift they were angelic and Paul reminds them that even the angels cover their heads.

In his final argument, Paul points to nature or at least social understandings to point to the fact that women and men are basically different. It seems in most cultures men have hair that is shorter than women’s hair.. In roman society long hair on men was a sign of being effeminate. It was right then for men and women to lead worship dressed in culturally designated clothing for men and women. Of course some of the passage has been used by some groups to say women shouldn’t wear trousers, or cut their hair. We need to realise that social conventions do change some from place to place and time to time. Those wonderful hats of the 1950’s and 60’s would not have ben what the first century had in mind.   In the end Paul’s last point is that keeping these social markers was the practise of all the other churches. The people in Corinth may think they were wise and more spiritual than other groups but Paul is quick to point to the fact that they are one amongst many churches.

Ok what for us from all this.

Firstly is the strong affirmation of the equality of men and women in Christ. Sadly historically that was lost and is only recently being rediscovered. The church lost its radical affirmation and practise of men and women being equally filled with the Holy Spirit and equally equipped and called to minister and lead public worship and preach.  In fact I wonder what we have lost as a church historically because this early distinctive was lost. And women have borne the brunt of that. Sadly also there are churches and places in the world where women’s equality is not accepted and acknowledged even today.

Secondly In our culture what define a women and a man is not the same as in Paul’s day. To impose those sorts of cultural markers, clothes or hair styles or whatever, wouldn’t be appropriate today. However like in Paul’s day to do away with the differences is also not helpful. Both men and women need to be celebrated.  The difference affirmed. Yes some forms of dress are appropriate and others are not for public worship. One commentator suggested a bikini, and in keeping with the emphasis on men and women, maybe if he’d been a Borat fan...a mankini, is not really appropriate for leading public worship. In different cultural settings this may mean different things and in a multi-cultural church will have to be handled with sensitive and tolerance.  But never compromising the equality of men and women. 
It may well be that the spiritual one thought a certain type of clothing and attire was more spiritual than others, but this is not the case. I choose not to wear clerical garb or robes because I actually believe in the priesthood of all believers that we are all called to be ministers in Christ.

Finally, viva la difference, men and women are equal in Christ, Christ died for us all, we are equally forgiven and reconciled to God, we have equal access to the throne of grace, the spirit has been poured out on everyone equally, everyone has been given gifts and talents to use and we actually need the variety and insights and understanding that each other have so with the full image of God in humanity we can fully worship Our God and saviour. If we do away with that by saying one of these genders is not able to participate we cripple ourselves as the body of Christ. Equally if the two are at loggerheads with each other we are crippled and equally if we say we do away with gender we limit ourselves from the breadth and depth of what we have been given by God, an which has been affirmed in Christ.