Jan. 24 brings us to the tail-end of eight days in a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – starting with the Feast day for St. Peter and ending with the one for St. Paul. The Scripture for the Sundays that begin and end this annual observance are just right for the intent:that Christians of all varieties can come together, united by Scripture and prayer and songs. The material that is prepared is very careful NOT to suggest that all Christians should work to be united…all Christians, that would be the different groups totaling 30,000 to 40,000 around the world, with the range affected by deciding who to count.
We know how we help to preserve the range of names. We usually identify ourselves by a specific title: Roman Catholics by their ethnic origin, as does a friend of ours who became a priest. His mother was raised in the Italian one, his father in the German one, theirs was a “mixed” marriage until his Dad, quote “came over.” And, those who identify themselves as “Roman Catholic” have the additional designation as they ask one another, “What’s your parish?” and when hearing the answer, they may go on to reminisce about that parish’s priest or monsignor or bishop.
Protestants usually make their distinction with denominational names, which, like Roman Catholics, may get tied
to a building, and even a pew. My grandmother, Nana Bean, fussed through the whole service one Sunday because “someone is sitting in OUR pew!” Later she realized she had walked in and sat down in the pew
behind the one she claimed for the Bean family.
This habit of naming and claiming goes back to the beginning of the first Christian communities, especially in the City of Corinth. We know because Paul started off his letter to them with some strong words about the divisions among them, which they were claiming by naming.
By the time Paul got toward the end of what we read as his first letter of two (which those who have delved into the correspondence say was really a part of three or four letters, now lost), he has turned his appeal into healing the divisions among them with a practical, easily visualized example: the human body, many parts, many members, which to function, are joined together to work together.
It’s the call of Paul, echoing through the centuries to come to us to read: But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
Ever so often I find myself among Christians who do not accept me as being Christian, because, as they say, “You know what Paul said about women!” A question that is really a condemning statement, that can be addressed with a close look at what Paul REALLY said, especially in the salutations at the end of his letter to the church in Rome where a number of those named were women serving as pastors of the church in their home. (But that’s another subject, for another time.)
It’s when a divisive issue like that one is raised among a mixed group of Christians, that I now ask a question credited to Paul: “What part of the body of Christ do you see me as being, because, as Paul said, “We are one body in Christ.”?
The question that pulls us away from separating titles and personally claimed pews to people, who, following Paul’s appeal, look at another in a way that there may be no dissension within the body, with the “way” being members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
It’s the “look” that looks beyond names and buildings and pews, to seeing one another as members (as parts) of Christ’s body, the church,.with Paul’s “how” becoming even more specific in Jesus’ sermon to His hometown folks, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” fulfilled in Jesus, to be carried on in His people, His church, His Body, with each member, each part, functioning in caring ways described in His sermon.
A different way to see ourselves as being Christians, as being “Church”: body parts with a specific indentify and function, meant to be linked like bones with tendons and muscles, blood vessels and nerves, organs and limbs, all stimulated by impulses from the brain – which Paul named as “the mind of Christ.”
Christians untied, YES, but united through the answer each gives when each asks of the other, “What part of the Body of Christ do you see me as being?” and then work at being whatever part functions in ways that pulsate with the ministry Jesus announced in His hometown…which responded by running Him out of town! An unsettling note to unsettle us from dismissing the way we are called to pull away from being Christians defined by names attached to buildings and pews, to PEOPLE united like parts of the human body, whose individuality is a function in ministry that pulsated to the beat of Jesus’ sermon.
Just when I went looking for a story that proves there are Christians who do not react as His hometown people did, an email was an alert to read a new posting Caringbridge. It was a report that Paige, our member in care at Parkhouse after a debilitating auto accident, had a rough week when her parents were getting a much-need vacation, but they were blessed with daily email notes from a therapist who has is like a family member, staying by Paige’s side.
The friend also reported a prayer-entry in a book that may be used as a journal in which an anonymous staff member wrote this prayer: "God I want to thank you for the Cook Family. Their endless love, courage, and hope is admirable. Every day Paige is my gift and reminder of how precious life is. I pray you continue to watch over them and keep them strong. I pray all this in Jesus name. Amen." (“Caringbrdge” entry on Jan. 20, 2016 for Paige Cook)
There was the perfect illustration! The sermon of Jesus pulsating though an anonymous person, who – anonymously – is a member, a part, of Christ’s Body, the Church,
Christian unity through being united in ministry!