Preached by Lesley McCormack on the 24th of January 2016 at St Michael and All Angels
“Now you are the body of Christ”
It was a cosmopolitan city, a lively seaport and trading centre exposed to multiple influences. People and cultures from east and west jostled together bring their own understandings of the world, bringing their own questions and problems, joys and excitements. It was a place where people would sit and openly debate issues of importance and concern
The city was Corinth, not far from Athens, and it is believed, Paul spent longer here than anywhere else. Corinth prided itself on being a Roman colony on Greek soil; it celebrated its Roman style of buildings and culture, and prided itself on its intellectual life heavily influenced by Greek philosophical thought. It was here that Paul established the Christian community, people who were a mixture of Jews and Gentiles, all of whom were baptised in the name of Christ, just as Abigail and William will be in a few moments. They would meet for meals and worship. And Paul spent time teaching them about practical matters of living as members of a Christian community, and what faith in Christ means.
But in time Paul leaves Corinth to continue his work elsewhere, and it wasn’t long before problems arose – people of education of high social standing unwilling to integrate with people they felt were beneath them; reluctant to accept Paul’s sectarian social practices and teaching. And factions arose – people siding with this or that particular teacher. The upshot of all of this was that the concerns of the people were brought to Pauls attention resulting in this letter that Paul writes to the young church community, but a letter that leaves us with much to ponder in our own lives today.
Paul sets out the vision that he believes enables the people of Corinth – and us – to fulfil Jesus challenge, and underpins the common life of the Body of Christ – the community that Christ called into being, the church, the community of the baptised. And it is into this community that in a few minutes, Abigail and William will be baptised.
From what we can glean from Paul’s letters, the Corinthians are a very attractive lot in many ways – enthusiastic, clever, gifted and determined. But, they are utterly hopeless in their ability to live together in love. And so we hear Paul’s impassioned encouragement to think in a completely new way. Instead of always thinking about themselves and their individual needs and rights, instead of battling to be the most important, gifted person in any gathering, the Corinthians have to learn to think of themselves as one entity, one body – whose health and very life depends upon co-operation and connection. Oh boy! How we need to hear that message today in a world that is every bit as divided and suspicious of those who are unlike ourselves as it was when Paul was writing.
The inescapable conclusion of Paul’s writing, and indeed it is a central thread through the whole of scripture, is that life in community is basic to any attempt to understanding God, and his love for his people. It is about how we interact with others, how we understand the needs of others and how we respond to those needs. For as Jesus makes clear in the Temple with his declaration of intent, it is about working always to bring about God’s justice and creating God’s community.
In other words, the Christian body, then and now, will be recognized by the way it treats others. As we look around us, as we listen to the stories of people in our own country, to the stories of peoples across the world fleeing war, persecution and deprived of the basics that sustain life and hope, we have so much work to do.
For Abigail and William, revelling in the daily delights of fun and exploration with the occasional squabbles of childhood, the full force of these words and the challenge they present will pass them by. But I hope that challenge will be only too clear to all of us who have left our childhood years far behind, and must take our part in nurturing these two little children in their journey of faith.
Through Baptism, our lives are bound to the life of Christ and we commit to a way of life that gives life – that shines like a light in the dark corners of our lives, our communities, our nation and our world.
We commit to a life that will be costly for we will find ourselves standing against the tide of popular opinion which all too often seeks to marginalise the poor, is suspicious of the foreigner and prefers to feather the nest of the individual rather than work for the wellbeing of the community.
Throughout life’s journey, Abigail and William will listen to and be a part of shared stories, stories of the family and community life; stories of faith and hope, strength, courage and love. They will hear stories about God’s relationship with his children, as they endeavour to make sense of their lives and the circumstances in which they find themselves; a narrative that speaks of God’s constancy and love for all his children; a narrative that speaks of light and hope; a narrative that I hope, with encouragement, Abigail and William will continue to return to throughout their lives.
But we begin with water, the stuff of life itself, without which nothing can survive. Yet water can also drown and destroy. Baptism is about both these – symbolising the movement from death to life – from being self-centred to God-centred. This morning, the water flowing over the heads of Abigail and William will symbolise that movement to new life; and in that action is brought together all the mixed stuff of life – joy and sadness, life and death, human frailty and God’s transforming love which says to both these little children and to each of us – “You are my child, my beloved, – Go an build my kingdom of justice, peace and joy.” Amen