Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Ongoing Road to Unity: Continued Compassion, Conversation and Commitment (1 Corinthians 16)... One:On The Road To Unity in 1 Corinthians (part 18)

This is the last instalment of our series looking at Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. It’s been quite a journey as we’ve looked at how they and we can come together from our different cultural backgrounds, different socio economic groupings, with different worldviews and theological understandings, and be One, be the new people of God that Christ has called us to be.

To a church split and squabbling, Paul spoke of sharing the grace they had received from Christ with one another. He hadn’t sidestepped the issues that divided them, he talked of church discipline, he had been prepared to tackle deep theological misunderstandings and perplexing moral issues.  But at the heart of all this he called them to show the love of Christ to each other.

In 1 Corinthians 16 Paul deals with a couple of practical matters, a collection for the poor in Jerusalem, travel plans and personnel issues, and he finishes the letter off by bring personal greetings, exhorting his hearers,  and a final statement and signature in his own hand writing. If this was a TV series or a movie, you’d get the idea that not everything has been bought to resolution, not all the conflict had been resolved, that there is plenty of room for a sequel. And we know that Paul continues to work with the Church at Corinth, wrestling with the difficulties and issues they have.  There is further correspondence and another big letter, there are visits and arguments and disagreements. The road to unity is one of continued compassion, conversatios and commitment.

Let’s have a look at what Paul says in this passage and how it speaks to us today.

He starts by looking at a collection for the poor. At the council of Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15, one of the things that the gentile had been asked to do was to remember the poor. So in what is called his third Missionary trip, Paul’s raised a collection for the poor believers in Jerusalem. Paul asked the churches in Asia Minor and Europe to give. It wasn’t just about care for the poor but also as we see from passages like Galatians 2:10 it was a way of showing the Jewish and gentile churches that they were family, they belonged together, building unity across the social barrier of their time.  Compassion and care can bridge even such divides.

Paul starts with “now about” which tells us that he had been in conversation with the church at Corinth about the collection before, and they had written to him about it. Paul basically gives them some practical instructions about how they are to put money aside for the collection and how it was going to be taken to Jerusalem.

This is the first mention of the first day of the week and systematic giving in the New Testament, so it’s worthwhile taking a minute to explore it. Christians from an early time had set aside the first day of the week Sunday, when Christ was raised, for public worship and the Lord ’s Supper. Paul says that it’s a good time to set something aside for the collection for the poor. Whether it was collected on the day or set aside at home is a moot point. But the idea is that as they remembered what Christ had done for them they were to set money aside for others. It helped the people see systematic and regular giving and generosity as part of their worshipping life, there response to God. Money in the New Testament church was given for the care of the poor and for the support of those in ministry.

Paul asks them to consider what they want to set aside from what God has provided for them in the week. In the New Testament there is no idea of a tithe being what is expected from people, the only time tithes are mentioned in the New Testament is when Jesus talks to the Pharisees about it, because they were using it to limit their generosity. God’s blessing or cursing does not depend on whether you tithe, despite what some churches say, the call is to be generous givers because of the lavish generosity and grace of God.. It calls us to look at how we spend our money, to simplify our lifestyles for the common good. It calls us to ask questions about how we budget, do we include a compassion component? Do we see it as important to support the work of the gospel? If we are talking about unity and love for one another, does that love reach down to our zips… the zips of our wallets that is.

Paul outlined how the collection will be taken to Jerusalem. Practically in a world where most of it was in coin, not electronic transfers, or bumping phones, it had to have people accompany it for security. Getting people to accompany also guarded his integrity. Churches and mission or aid groups need to be scrupulously honest, and efficient, when it comes to handling money. But also by  having people go to Jerusalem, it was not just about money but relationship. We can often think the solution to poverty is to throw money at it, but the gospel calls us to go and bring good news and embody that Good news. People often look for someone to stand in solidarity with them as well as to help out.

Paul moves on to talk of travel plans. This is of some interest to Bible historians as they try and work out where Paul was at different times. It shows us that Paul wanted to spend time with the Church at Corinth and intended to spend a whole winter with them. Paul is aware that for the church to grow in their love of Christ and love for one another there is no quick fix. He is willing to commit himself to them. Often when there are difficulties and issues within a church it is easy for one side to simply leave and go somewhere else, particularly when there is such an array of different churches in a city and we live in a consumer society, where we can pick and choose what is best for us. But Paul’s love for the church means he cannot simply write them off, Christian community calls us to be committed to one another, warts and all. In fact I tell people if they are looking for the perfect church, if they find it, don’t join it because it will ruin it. The gospel calls us because of Christ’s great love to show that love to one another, forgiveness reconciliation, tolerance, patience, long suffering, compassion these are some of the fruit of God’s Spirit working in us. They grow as we commit ourselves to this imperfect rather ragged thing we call the church.

Paul then moves on to personnel issues. This is helpful because in this passage Paul shows us a lot about Christian leadership.  The churches at Corinth you’ll remember were impressed by appearance and status, up front ability and in the leaders Paul talks about we see a different understanding.

He is concerned that Timothy will not be treated well, Timothy we know was rather young and timid  and di not fit what the Corinthians thought a leader should be like. With the last Now about in his letter Paul answers the Corinthians request that Apollos be sent. We know from Acts that Apollos was a great orator and obviously fitted the churches idea of a leader. Apollos was also one of the leaders that a faction had formed round. There may have been some thought that Paul wasn’t happy with him going to Corinth because of that issue. But Paul had assured the Corinthians thatthere was no conflict between them, Paul had planted and Apollos had watered, but it God who brings the growth. So now Paul tells them that he had urged Apollos to go but Apollos did not see it was the right time.

Then Paul speaks of a third group of leaders and in particular Stephanus and his household, Fortunatus and Achaicus may have been part of that household. It seems to fit the early church to have leaders from amongst the free and slaves. These are the brothers who have been mentioned before and are the ones who would have bought the letter from the church in Corinth to Paul. Paul affirms their leadership, and the basis of Christian leadership, that of faithful service. His affirmation echo Jesus words “if you want to be great in God’s kingdom learn to be the servant of all.” The church then and now can easily mistake giftedness and outward appearances and confidence as signs of the Christian maturity needed to lead a diverse church. Yes we need people to use the gifts God has given them, but the central need is people who have matured in the faith and know that it is about love and serving others.

Paul finishes his letter off with a general exhortation, in verse 13 and 14 where he uses metaphors of a city guard, a watchman to encourage the church to stay strong in their faith. That it takes diligence and courage to follow Jesus. Then he again points they to how that is to be worked out in community, by doing everything out of Love.  It takes courage and strength to do that. This whole epistle is a reflection of that as Paul had had to say some very harsh things, but always the motivation for that is love. It takes courage to change how we treat each other. It takes courage to change our use of liberty so it does not adversely affect other people. It takes courage to use our gifts alongside others for the common good.

He brings some greetings from Pricilla and Aquila who had ministered with him at Corinth. He brings the greetings of the churches in Asia Minor. It is good to know that we are not alone in the faith that we are part of a wider family of brothers and sisters who are on the same journey of following Jesus.

He tells the church to greet one another with a holy Kiss. Now relax we are not going to change the job description for our greeters or start doing training sessions for people in Kissing. In saying this Paul is asking that when they gather there is an expression of reconciliation and love. It’s not the faux air kissing of Hollywood. Church services in our denomination used to be very stayed and formal, you’d come to worship and it was like a collection of individuals, but now we’ve rediscovered something of being the body of Christ together and its highly appropriate that we greet each other and welcome each other with warmth. Instead of being an intermission in our service our greeting time I think is an important and essential part of being church not just doing church. I hope it blossoms into hospitality and opportunities for ministry.

Paul finishes by adding something in his own hand writing. He would have used a trained scribe to write the body of the letter. The original Christian rocker Larry Norman wrote a song about the music scene in the early 1970’s. One of the lines says “the Beatles said all you need is love and then they broke up”. Paul is not like that.

Despite his final warning and all the stuff that Paul had to work through with the Church, this is the only letter we have from Paul that finishes with such a warm expression of grace and personal love… The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you. My love to you all in Christ Jesus.” Within a community, the road to unity is an on-going commitment to one another in love. A love that is willing to keep talking and work through the difficult issues together relying on and flowing out of the grace of God. May we continue to Journey together in love by the grace of God may we be One, may we become the vibrant, authentic, sustainable community, growing as followers of Jesus and inspiring other to join us on that journey”, That we are have a vision to be. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Prophecy in Action: Future Resurrection Reality, Present Resurrection Hope ( 1 Corinthians 15:35-58).... One: On The Road To Unity in 1 Corinthinas (Part 17)

Last week we started looking at 1 Corinthians 15 which has been called the climax of Paul’s letter .  . Here at the end of his great epistle to the Church at Corinth Paul now comes to the core issue. Paul is dealing with the fact that some at Corinth did not believe in the resurrection from the dead. This is the underlying problem that had manifested itself in the divisions and way in which the people at Corinth did not treat each other in a very loving or Christ like manner.  They had a wrong understanding of what new life in Christ and eternal life in Christ meant.


It comes after Paul had been exhorting the Church to seek the gift of prophecy. We often think that is the ability to tell the future, but in biblical terms it is making the timeless word of God very timely. It not foretelling but telling forth the word of God. The Old Testament prophets would analyse what Israel was going through in their time in light of their covenant relationship with God and apply it to that situation. In Corinthians 15 Paul puts Prophecy into action. He tackles the core issue at Corinth by going back to the core of the gospel, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ  and proclaiming it, in a way that it is relevant to what is happening in the church.

Some in Corinth did not believe in the Resurrection of the dead.  And as we saw last week, there were cultural reasons for that. Most of the believers at Corinth had come from a Greek pagan background. They saw a duality in what made up a human being between the body which was inferior and the spirit or soul which was the important bit. For them any understanding of eternal life was a shadowy disembodied spirit. Theologically, the church at Corinth had an element who thought they were the Spiritual ones, that they had arrived and entered fully into what God had for them. There was no future fulfilment, it all had to do with the now, and it all had to do with the spirit, what they did with their bodies how they treated others did not enter into it.


Paul had countered that by going back to the oldest of the churches creeds.

Christ died according to scripture, was buried,

on the third day he rose to life and was seen.

He showed how our faith is based on a historical event. The death and resurrection of Jesus. That Jesus actually died on the cross and was raised to life. He affirmed that bodily resurrection by listing the many witnesses who had encountered Jesus risen from the grave. He included himself in that list as one untimely born. Then he argued how if that didn’t happen then the whole of the faith that he had preached and that the people at Corinth had believed was in vain. It fell down like a house of cards. Then he argued that if Christ was raised from the dead it affirmed the wonderful truth of our forgiveness of sins, new life and a bodily resurrection when Christ returns.  He finished by pointing out that while we experience that new life now we must wait till Christ returns to experience it fully. We live in the tension between the Already, the kingdom of God has come, and the not yet, it will be consummated when Christ returns.


In the passage we are looking at today Paul continues his argument for the bodily resurrection. He gets down the real practical questions, of how and what. How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come with? I don’t know about you but these are the kind of questions that we with our scientific materialistic worldview wrestle with just as much as the ex-pagans did from theirs. It would be great if Paul would suddenly delve into pure science, and talk of atoms and molecules and biology, give us the mechanics, Paul, the maths, but he doesn’t he answers it on a philosophical and theological level. His answers are equally relevant for us as his original hearers.


We might not like it but Paul starts his response to these questions by calling his hearers fools. The NIV softens it a bit by saying, How foolish! But it is very much what foolish people. It’s not an insult to the intelligence of the people at Corinth, Paul uses, some very complex and compelling rhetoric in his letters to them, he doesn’t treat them as stupid. Rather for Paul as a Jewish man he would use the word fool as it is in the Old Testament. A fool was someone who did not factor God into the equation. I once listened to a radio interview with an atheist who was bemoaning the fact that unlike religious people they didn’t have a day of their own to celebrate, and I couldn’t help but txting in, and suggesting April 1st might be an ironic day for them to claim as their own. But it’s easy for us to do that isn’t it? To be trapped in our human mind set and worldview and not to realise that when we are talking about these things we need to factor in the reality of a God who created the whole world.


Paul points his hearers to the creation for analogies of what he believes the bodily resurrection from the dead is going to be like. He says look at the seeds you plant their bodies in the ground and something else amazing springs to life. There is continuity, the seed and what it produces are the same variety, but there is a radical difference between the two. Paul points to the fact that bio diversity shows us that not all bodies are the same. He talks of humans and animals, fish and birds. He talks of the sun and the moon and the stars. Now his cosmology may not stack up to our understanding of the universe, but the analogy stands up. These bodies are suited for the environment they are placed in.


Paul then applies that to our bodies and the resurrection.  Just like with seeds there is continuity but a difference. We are subject to decay and death but we will be raised imperishable. Sown in dishonour, affected by sin, but raised in glory, free from the effects of sin.  Weak but raised in power. Sown natural body but raised a spiritual body. Now that is not the same as a disembodied spirit or a ghost, but that just like a fish is suited for living in water so our body will be recreated by God to be just right for eternity. Earlier in v. 20 Paul had talked of Jesus being the first fruit of this resurrection reality. The first seed that had fallen to the ground and been raised to life, so Paul is able to say these things about the resurrection from the dead because he has seen them in Christ the man raised to life.


Paul goes on to explain how this is possible through origin stories. He goes back to Genesis and talks of our bodies having their origin in Adam, as the representative man, fashioned from the earth, having life breathed into them. But Christ the new Adam, is different, he has been raised to heaven, and is the life giver. Just as in Creation we are in the image of the first Adam, now in God’s new creation when it comes to fruition we will be remade in the image of the last Adam, of Christ.


Lastly in his argument Paul says, it is not a present reality, we cannot fully fathom it now. Unlike what the people at Corinth thought it was not a present reality, our bodies are still perishable: Still subject to death. We can’t simply do a scientific experiment and raise someone from the dead and see if they are different, because what Paul is talking about is not simply a reanimation of some rotting corpse, a reassembling of atoms and molecules and elements and  DNA  strands and x and y chromosomes. We’ll have to wait says Paul, for when the end comes, like a final trumpet call. Because at that time we will be transformed, the dead will be raised and those who are still alive will be changed.


Paul uses the word mystery, and we of course are often nervous about that word. Because we think it means something that we just don’t quite understand yet. That it’s a cop out. Well that’s a mystery. But for Paul, the idea of mystery is something that has been revealed to us in Christ. Paul can say he knows that we will be transformed because that is what happened to Christ. That was the resurrection body that people encountered in Christ. We know this will happen because says Paul death has been defeated> he quotes Isaiah 25 and Hosea 13 almost like a taunt, to say that in Christ’s death and resurrection that death has been overcome.  Death is a result of our falseness and sin, but Christ has broken the power of sin and is overcoming all the consequences of sin. The last one to be overcome is death.


Ok, Paul’s argument does leave a lot of for us to wrestle with. Theologians have often asked does this mean there is some intermediate state we find ourselves in between death and the resurrection and there are a whole lot of theories about that. Soul sleep, the fact that time is a created thing so does the creator stand outside time. Sadly it is not a question that Paul tackles. Jesus had said to the repentant thief today you will be with me in paradise, Paul’s affirmation was to live is Christ to die is gain. That for those who die in Christ the reality is that they are with Christ.


And yes I’d still love to see the maths and the physics, because it’s hard for us as it was the Christians in Corinth to step out of our worldview. It’s hard to think beyond the natural to the supernatural.


But what is there from this for us today.

I posted this wonderful interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:51 on our church facebook page. Because it picks up the hope of our future reality, and the present reality for many of the families here and that we are contact with in the community. It encapsulates the idea that God cares about both realities. That is where Paul leads the people his readers. 


Like the Corinthians the application of what Paul has been saying lies in the therefore of verse 58. This affirmation of our future resurrection, to be with Christ, calls us to be people of hope now. That our belief in the resurrection calls us to act and be in the world now.


Paul starts by calling the Corinthians beloved, brothers and sister.  After all he has had to deal with them, he want to affirm that because of Christ’s death and resurrection they are his family in Christ, they and we are loved by God and are family called to love one another. We share a common hope and so we should care share a common life today.


Stand firm, let nothing move you. He finishes off as he had started this chapter. This future hope we have should encourage us and inspire us to hold strong to the gospel. NT Wright sums up the message of 1 Corinthians like this


“ Christianity, you see isn’t a set of ideas, it isn’t a path of spirituality, it isn’t a rule of life, it isn’t a political agenda, it includes, and gives energy to all those things, but at its very heart it is something different. It is Good News about an event which has happened in the world, an event because of which the world can never be the same again and Those who believe it, and live by it (thank God) will never be the same again either.”


Finally Paul, says that this focus on the future should not make us all heavenly minded and no earthly use rather we should continue on with the work of the gospel. The ‘spiritual ones at Corinth saw that they had somehow transcended the world, it didn’t matter anymore. Rather says Paul the opposite is the case. The hope we have for the whole world should encourage us to be about the work of the gospel now. The spiritual ones though they were like Christ in being beyond this world, but Paul says we will remade in the image of Christ when he returns, but now we should see that break into our lives by being like Christ in his character and his love, in service and in being and proclaiming good news to the world.  With Jesus coming the kingdom of God has broken into this world, with the resurrection on that first day in the garden, God’s new creation has started, and we empowered by the Holy Spirit are agents of that Kingdom, are seeds of that new creation. Here and now


I went to the youth service at Greyfrairs last Sunday night, and the group from St Austell’s New Lynn did this wonderful dance drama, to a song about a man being welcomed into eternity. The song was a bit corny and overly melodramatic, but it spoke to me. This man meet people who had been impacted by his faithful adherence to the things God had called him to do. Someone who had come to Christ through his Teaching Sunday school, giving to missions, it could have been other stuff as well. I found myself crying, which was rather tough because I was sitting between James and Sione, and guys don’t cry. I did think that my son James thought it was another sign of his dadgetting old and sentimental, but it was more he was feeeling the same way as well.  But it brought home the hope of all who follow Christ and care and minister to others. To see people’s lives transformed through the Good news of Christ, so that this world will be transformed, and that they may know eternity with Christ.


Again NT Wright sums it up so well…

“how God will take our prayers, our art, our love, our writing, our political action, our music, our daily work our pastoral care, our teaching, our whole selves- how God will take this and weave it’s varied strands into the glorious tapestry of his new creation, we can at the present have no idea. That he will do so is part of the truth of the resurrection, and perhaps one of the most comforting parts.”

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Prophecy in Action: The Resurrection of Christ and The Resurrection from the Dead. 1 Corinthian 15:1-34... One:On The Road To Christian Unity in 1 Corinthians (Part 16)

For the winter months at St Peter's we've been working our way through Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth and as we come into spring we have almost come to the end of this great epistle.  Like a good movie or a good book, there has been tension and stress, Paul was writing to a group that was split and squabbling over which leader was the best, over what constituted Christian morality, differing views on how they related to the culture round them, how you treated each other when they gathered for worship, over who was more spiritual and what did that mean in the first place. And like a good movie or a good book as we come to the end we come to the climax. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul tackles the core problem at Corinth and he does it by going to the core of the gospel. Behind all the symptoms of disunity and unloving behaviour comes a false understanding of how the resurrection of Jesus Christ is experienced in our lives now and its future ultimate reality.  How we view the resurrection and what it means for us effects how we live our lives as God’s New People in Christ.

The problem that Paul addresses in this chapter is that some did not believe in the resurrection from the dead.  Gordon Fee says that there were cultural and theological factors that contributed to some at Corinth not believing.

Culturally, most of the believers at Corinth had come to faith from a pagan background; they had grown up with a Greek Philosophical understanding of the world:  An understanding that, like our western worldview today did not believe in a bodily resurrection.  For the Greeks there was a dualism between the spiritual and the physical, the body and the soul or spirit. The body was seen as the inferior, it was the soul that mattered. Their understanding of an afterlife was some shadowy existence of that part of us known as the soul. In this life we were embodied spirits; in any afterlife we became disembodied. You can still see some of that thinking today when people talk about being human in terms of body mind and spirit and a hangover in our Christian faith with people talking about saving souls. This understanding impacted on how people lived as well with either an indulging of all the bodies desires with no through of consequence, because it did not have an impact on our soul, or a denying of the body a stoic aestheticism. You can see elements of this in all the issues that plagued the church at Corinth.

The theological factor came with the “spiritual ones” thinking that they had arrived, that they experienced in this life the fullness of God. They thought that in Christ they had become like angels, and for them being spiritual meant a final ditching of the body, not because it was evil but because it was inferior and beneath them.  They had what is technically called an over-realised eschatology. Eschatology means the study of the last things and realised eschatology means people believe   the kingdom of God had come in all its fullness, that there is no future consummation at all.

OK Lets turn to look at how Paul addresses that issue.
He starts by pointing them back to the gospel that he preached to them and which they believed,  a gospel based on an actual event in history, the death and the bodily  resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without which, says Paul, their faith is in vain.
With the same introduction Paul had used about the words of institution for the Lord’s Supper, he shares with them what is seen as one of the most ancient creeds of the Church.
Christ died for our sins
According to scripture
He was buried
and he rose again on the third day
according to scripture
And was seen.

It places this central event of the gospel in its context in God’s plans and purposes because all was done according to scripture and it anchors it in a ‘historical reality.’ He was buried’ affirms the fact that Jesus actually died. ‘He was seen’ is an affirmation of an empty tomb. Jesus rose and was seen, touched and encountered by people.

Like a detective story or a court room drama, Paul calls forth witnesses. He lists the people that had met the risen Christ. Cephas was known and respected by the Church at Corinth, James the brother of Jesus may have been considered a hostile witness as he did not believe in Jesus before the resurrection, but now had become the head of the Church in Jerusalem. This forensic nature of this list may be why Paul does not name the women who had the privilege of being the first to see Jesus risen. In the Jewish legal system of the time women were not able to be witnesses.

   He protects the chain of evidence by saying that  many of these people were still alive, and by putting himself on the list of those who had seen the risen Christ. Paul believed his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road was the last of these encounters. The people at Corinth had heard from an eye witness.

He says that he was like someone untimely born. But the power of that encounter cannot be denied, as Paul digresses to say that he was the least of the apostles.  It may be here that Paul is using a play on his name and stature as Paulus means little one. But also Paul here is saying that he did not deserve God’s grace as he persecuted the church. The meeting with Christ turned his life around. Now he works hard for the sake of the gospel… but even then he says that all this was done by grace.

Paul does this to affirm the fact that the Christian faith is based on the bodily resurrection of Christ. This passage is often used as an apologetic for non-believers, but the key point Paul is making serves as a reaffirmation to believers of the truth of what they already believed. The church may have been split into various factions following various leaders but says Paul we all proclaim this Gospel.  It speaks to us as much today as to the people of Corinth. Given the scientific materialistic world view of our own culture, there are those who would want to see the resurrection as nothing more than a myth, a way that simple first century people explained the sense of Christ’s presence with them after he had died. Paul’s argument is as much a challenge to this as it was to the Church at Corinth.

Paul then takes up two contradictory positions. He takes the Corinthians position that there is no resurrection from the dead, and shows how it causes the whole of the faith to collapse like a pack of cards. If there is no resurrection from the dead then Christ did not rise.  Our preaching is in vain. It’s worse than that; we are calling God a liar. We are still dead in our sins. There is no hope of eternal life. We are just following another dead religious person and we are to be pitied.

Then he contrasts that with the reality of Christ’s resurrection. He says it is the first fruits of  those who have fallen asleep.  He talks of the resurrection in terms of God’s new creation, Just as death had come into the world through one man Adam, so life and new creation has come through one man Jesus Christ. Death and decay and sin have lost. However the fulfilment of that for us is still a future reality. God’s kingdom has come, Christ reigns, but we live between its inauguration and consummation. Christ is restoring all creation to life and the last enemy to be defeated will b death.

Perhaps the best way to explain that is to talk about engagement.  Kris and I got engaged while we were both  students at the Bible College of New Zealand, which is now Laidlaw College. We’d known each other for almost two years and being going out for over a year. We’d been for a walk and sat down on a broken down trailer full of garden rubbish. Romantic setting, right? Kris of Course focuses on the apple orchard we were looking at the sunset over the Waitakere rangers. We’d been talking about weddings and being the smooth romantic guy that I am I said so we’ve been talking about weddings do you think we should think about ours? Kris replied ‘Are you asking me to marry you?’ To which I replied ‘ If I did would you say Yes? She stopped for a long moment then smiled and said yes. So I asked her, and she said yes.  Now Bible College was jokingly called bridal college and there were a few of us engaged guys living on the men’s side. Being good theology students we called ourselves the inaugurated eschatology club. For us it meant already but not yet. We were committed, life had totally changed, but it would have to wait to be consummated. This is the reality that Paul wants to get across to the Corinthians. Yes Jesus has risen from the dead, Yes we experience the new creation and new life happening in our lives, but there will come a time when Christ returns and the dead will be raised. That is a future reality.

Paul then goes on to show the futility of a lot of things if there was no resurrection from the dead. We don’t really know what the practice Paul is talking about when he says “baptism for the dead” it was a practice that was known to the Church at Corinth, and if they didn't believe in the resurrection from the dead, then  it seemed absurd that they would do it. Why says Paul should I bother risking my life for the sake of the gospel.  If there is nothing after this then why put up with the things that he had put up with, he had been mistreated in Ephesus and you tell the depth of his feeling by the way he uses the metaphor of wild beasts.  If this is all there is says Paul why bother Wouldn't it make more sense to go the way of despair and  eat and drink whatever you like? But because of the assurance he has in the resurrection from the dead, because Christ was raised to life, he encourages the Church at Corinth to turn from their sins and to live in a different way.

Ok, So how does this connect with where we are here and now. How does it impact on us as God’s new people?

Firstly there is the affirmation of the resurrection. Even when it runs in the face of our cultural understanding.  We are a people of hope and new life because Christ is alive. Gordon Fe asserts that “ Easter, which should be celebrated more frequently in the Church, and not just at the Easter season, calls for our reaffirming the faith to the converted”. Christ has been raised from the dead, the new creation has started, you and I can experience that in our lives, forgiveness, healing, wholeness, communion with God, engrafting into God’s people.
Secondly, You've heard the saying “all heavenly minded and no earthly use’, living in the resurrection reality says Paul is to be all heavenly minded but that should work its self out in being of great earthly use. In Colossians 3 Paul tells the church that as we have this new life in Christ we should put of the old life, and he lists a whole lot of negative behavior, and calls those who are God’s new creation to put on the new life. This resurrection reality is to be lived out now in how we love, act and react to one another. That’s been at the core of what Paul had been having to encourage and teach the Corinthians to do all the way through his letter. Being Spiritual isn't ditching this existence its infusing it with resurrection realty.

Secondly, The Christian understanding of what it is to be human comes out of the Jewish understanding of a human, which is one in keeping in with what we might call a holistic view. It’s based on the fact that we are made in the image of God. Some people have wanted to quantify that in terms of things we would identify with the soul or spirit, but the biblical narrative does not support that. The whole of who we are matters to God. What we do and what is done to us in our bodies matters to God. The whole of who we are as individuals matters to God.   How we are treated by others and how we treat each other matters to God.

Lastly, we haven’t arrived, this is not the end. We live with the tension between ‘already’ and ‘not yet’. Yes we have new life in Christ but we still live in a world affected by the fall so we suffer; there is disease and death. But God’s kingdom does not give us a way out rather it invites us to enter into and bring (by the spirit and by grace) God’s reign and God’s new life into these hard situations. We do this with the knowledge that, because of the death and resurrection of Christ, God is able to speak into those situations with new life and healing and restoration.  The ultimate fulfillment of that however will have to wait until Christ returns. Then we will be raised to life? What form will that take… well we’ll have to wait to next week. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Difference in Worship: Intelligible and in Order to edify All ( 1 Corinthians 14)...One: On The Road to Unity in 1 Corinthians (Part 15)

NT Wright tells the story of two medieval builders to introduce Paul’s contrasting  the gift of tongues and prophecy in the passage we had read out to us today.  There were two builders, he says, both very gifted and talented, one went to work each day on his own house. He lived in a time when the outsides of houses were very plain. All his skill and talent went into making the inside of the house beautiful, so he and his family could enjoy it.

 The other builder went to work on a building being erected in a public square in town. He worked with other builders with different skills and abilities doing what needed to be done, for this building to be completed. Slowly the building began to take shape and it inspired all who say it. The building was a cathedral and was for all to come and to worship God.  The emphasis at Corinth on speaking in tongues without interpretation says Paul may build up the individual believer, that is what it is given for, but when we gather to worship the emphasis should be on prophecy so that the whole body can be built up. The emphasis of the one is personal spirituality, no problems with that, but when we gather together we need to have things that are intelligible and in order so that we all may, hear from the Spirit and be built up.

Our vision here at St Peter’s is to be a vibrant, sustainable, authentic community, growing as followers of Christ and inspiring others to join us on that journey, and we come to the scriptures as a means by which the Holy Spirit can shape us into such a community.

We are working our way through the book of 1 Corinthians to see how they and we as a group of people drawn from different cultures and backgrounds, with different expectations and understandings and emphasizes can come together and be one: Be the new people of God that we are have a vision to be.

For the past month we’ve been looking at Paul’s teaching on differences in public worship.. Paul had started with the affirmation of the Corinthians upholding of equalitybetween men and women in leading public worship. And that is important to remember when we come to look at a couple of  problem verses in this passage  Hehad had to correct the way in which they maintained the social barriers betweenrich and poor, free and slave. All these social barriers have no place within the new people of God.

 Then he had turned to the issue of the use of Spiritual gifts in public worship. It seemed that some in Corinth has thought that spiritual manifestations, and in particular the gift of tongues was a sign of them having arrived spiritually. It was over used and emphasized in public worship. Paul argued against this by going back to first principles. He started with the nature of God. That unlike the mute idolsthe Corinthians had been used to, that God was able to speak and act, throughand too his people, intelligibly and in a whole raft of different ways.  Just like with creation, God’s new creation should be teeming with a great diversity of life.

He used the metaphor of the human body to show how as God’s people we all had a place to belong anda part to play, that the different gifts were given to build up that body and make it function. He finished each of these two points with a list of some of the spiritual gifts God gives to illustrate that diversity. Then he painted a wonderful picture of the context for using spiritual gifts that of Love. Love for one another; gifts were to be used as a way of expressing that love. Now he turns to bring that all back together to speak of how it should work in public worship.

 Out of Love says Paul, we should desire spiritual gifts so we can serve each other and prophecy, that is making the timeless word of God timely is of great value in public worship.  It is greater because it edifies the whole church.  He is not putting down tongues as a gift, or writing it off. In fact I think Paul surprises the Corinthians by telling them how useful he finds it in his own private devotional life. But Paul points to the act that when we come together what happens should edify and build everyone, and for that to happen it should be intelligible and orderly.  

Paul puts tongues in the personal spirituality basket. When someone speaks in tongues it is communication between them and God. It can be praise and singing, it is our spirit speaking with God.  What is said is a mystery in the sense that the hearer does not know what is being said. Quite rightly, it is seen as one of the ways the Holy Spirit is able to pray for us as it says in Romans 8:26 ‘in groans too deep for our words’. It’s not the only way mind you. So says Paul when it comes to public worship it is not that edifying to others who do not understand it. To be able to build up the community it needs to be interpreted.   Paul does says yes it is a sign, but not of spiritual maturity like some at Corinth thought, it’s a sign says Paul for unbelievers if they come into your midst and your all speaking in a language no one understands that you are all mad. Let me emphasis again, he is not writing it off as a legitimate spiritual gift from God, rather he saying that it has a place which is not the prominent one in Public worship.

Paul’s emphasis is on prophecy. That God is able to communicate his timeless word in a timely manner to and through His people. I read a discussion between a new and Old Testament scholar where the Old Testament scholar talked about the issue in his field was knowing what the Old Testament prophets did when they were not prophesying. To which the New Testament scholar replied... with us it’s the other way round we wish we knew what the New Testament Prophets were doing when they were prophesying.  Maybe that is part of the diversity of Gifts Paul is talks about that God chooses to speak through different ways, Paul lists four in verse 6… Revelation (insight), knowledge, prophecy or words of instruction. These can mean both the classical Pentecostal understanding of a spontaneous word of prophecy and the hope of most mainline preachers that what they preach and teach is prophetic and will bring Christ honoring transformation in the body of Christ. 

In the Greek world people would consult an oracle associated with a temple or deity who in a trance like state would give them a rather cryptic message supposedly from the Idol. But Paul’s emphasis on the Christian understanding of the prophetic is that it is clear and intelligible. Prophecy says Paul leaves people encouraged strengthened and comforted, not perplexed and confused. In fact Gordon Fee comments that 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul speaks about the resurrection and the core problem at Corinth may be an example of what Paul sees Prophecy being like.

 Paul also talks of Christian worship being conducted in good order; again he is contrasting this with the pagan worship the Corinthians would have been used to. Where people would whip themselves up into an ecstatic state and manifest all kinds of things. That does not reflect the God who we worship says Paul, who is a God of peace not of disorder. Therefore people should control themselves the service should be well put together; people should come prepared to contribute. WE don’t know how the early church ran its services. They may have been small house churches, we do know that prayer and teaching and worship and the Lord ’s Supper were part of it. It maybe that it was shaped by the Jewish background of many of its early leaders. In most places Paul went the church grew out of the Jewish population into the wider gentile population.  This may give some insights into dealing with the two very difficult verses dealing with women speaking in church.

which we are going to look at now...

Firstly, can I say that for many Biblical scholars there is a debate over whether verse 34 and 35 were originally part of Paul’s letter or a later interpolation? Added in at an early date. We do not have any copies of the letter without them, but in many older texts they come after verse 40. They don’t need to be where they are for Paul’s argument to flow. In the New Revised Version of the Bible they are in brackets which signify that there is some debate and question over them.

Some conservative groups have seen it as a blanket ban on women speaking in church. However as we saw when we looked at how Paul started talking about public worship this did not reflect Paul’s praise, the only time he really praises the church in Corinth, for keeping the tradition of women praying and prophesying in Church. It seems to go totally contra to this. If it is Pauline and does fit in here, then the context must be about disruptive speaking, that is speaking out of order because we know that Paul has already affirmed women speaking in public worship.  The two best fits seem to be, that women and men were sat separately in Jewish Synagogue worship, and women would talk among themselves trying to understand what was going on, or that they were calling out to their husband to ask questions. It was a new thing for women to be totally incorporated in a worshiping community so it may have taken some getting used to. One of the affirmations that Paul gives is that Women should be theologically trained, that if they didn’t understand anything they should ask their husbands on the way home. We forget how radical that may have been at the time. In our society we are used to women participating fully in worship and women being theologically trained, but we don’t sanction men or women calling out across church or carrying on disruptive conversations in Church. 

How does this all connect to us today in this place?

Firstly, there is the same dualism when it comes to worship today as there was in Corinth. Some have focused on the ‘Spiritual’ and you could say the emotional and spontaneous, other traditions like our own have focused on the cerebral aspects of public worship, well thought out prayers and liturgy and solid teaching. Presbyterians are joking referred to as God’s frozen chosen. But Paul actually talks of both he talks of praying with his spirit, from his heart and with his mind. There is room for both, all of who we are should be involved in the worship of God. All of who we are should encounter the fullness of the love and the presence of God. It’s interesting one of the ways that contemporary worship songs have been criticized is that they are all emotive, Some rightly have been labelled silly love songs to Jesus, and that they lack some of the lyric depth of hymns. Can I say it is a hard job trying to find good worship music, However we also forget that hymn singing was actually part of the romantic movement in response to the austerity of the enlightenment. People found themselves responding to the stirring anthems of the time and wanted that in worship. In our tradition before that we simply sang unaccompanied psalms. My hope in worship is that we will engage at an intellectual and a spirit level.

Secondly, do you come to worship expecting to meet with a God who loves you and wants to see you be strengthened, encouraged and comforted? Yes we come to worship God, yes we come to be part of this community. But do we come with an expectancy that this God who we love is real and wants to meet us where we are at and build us up as a body and as individuals. The flip side of that is do we come with the attitude and openness to the fact that God may want to speak and move through us as well. To impart a revelation (an insight), knowledge, a prophecy a timely word and teaching, helping people round us to live out their Christian life. 

Lastly, the challenge I guess is that it is easy to think that as things should be done in order to get caught up in worshiping the order. As human beings ritual is important to us, it helps us focus on God, but sometimes it is easy simply it can become simply going through the motions and we can order out the God who is here and wanting to move in us and through us. I’m not suggesting that we throw our order of service out the window and have spiritual free for all. I actually like the reformed tradition of a service based round the reading and preaching of the word. Everything we do before prepares us to hear God’s word and everything we do after is a response to that. But I am also aware that we need to allow time for the spirit to speak through God’s people. For more people to use the gifts that God is giving them to edify the whole church. That is not the end in itself, One of criticisms of the charismatic movement in the 1980's is that it became almost all about self actualization because God calls us to be his people in the world, to share our faith, to seek justice, care for the poor.

Let me finish by just sharing a little bit about my recent experience of what we've been talking about… At the Presbytery prayer and healing meeting that I went to a few weeks ago, which was done in very good Presbyterian order but also where the spirit was able to move through his people. Colin Prentiss spoke at the service and as an ex school principle and elder st St Columba gave a very dispassionate and well put together message on the healing of Nahum in 2 Kings. It was solid, precise teaching about God healing. When Roy Christian got up after that to invite people for prayer people came forward for prayer. In the prayer meeting before the service I had felt the spirit ask me to pray for people in the service who were going through a desert time in their lives. Another minister who was there said that while I was praying that she had a vision of a person lost in the desert who couldn't find  their way out from where they were. She was happy to admit is may simply have been that she has an overactive imagination, however as we talked about it we discerned that it was the spirit wanting to minister to people there. At the end of the service Roy invited that person to share what she had seen and about four or five people came up for prayer. I ended up praying for a young guy who was involved at University and in youth ministry who was wrestling with a real dry patch in his spiritual walk. I can’t tell you what the long range outcome was in people’s lives. But I know that as I prayed this young man experienced God in a new way. That is my prayer for us all that as we allow God to speak and move through all of us that each of us would be strengthened, encouraged and comforted. That the church would be built up.