|Published by David Penny on Thu, 6 Feb 2020 00:00|
The Church - the body of Christ
Being a pilgrim people
- Last week we thought about the invitation of Jesus to come and see; and today we hear about another encounter of Jesus with his first followers - and again there is an invitation from Jesus, this time to Follow.
- It seems to me that both the Gospel today and the epistle are both about the church: how it works well, and the things that hinder it.
- Firstly Matthew’s account shows Jesus gathering the first members of the church together - his 12 disciples. As we reflect on those early days we get a sense of there being a real buzz around Jesus - he was attracting all sorts of people, ordinary men and women, who were willing to set out in faith and follow Jesus.
- This is our first sighting of Peter in Matthew’s Gospel - Peter a person who would become the focus of so many important moments in the life of Jesus; a person who would become the rock on which the church was built - both metaphorically and literally in the case of St. Peter’s in Vatican City.
- What do we know of him; what sort of person was he?: He was fallible; he often asked the daft questions, and spoke without thinking things through. He gets the wrong idea about something and has to be gently corrected by Jesus. He has a complete meltdown and crisis of faith at the moment when Jesus is in the most difficult of circumstances - Peter, the rock seems anything but rock like as he crumbles under pressure, denying he knows Jesus because is too frightened and ashamed - not once, but three times.
- This imperfect and very human of men Jesus has great faith in and affection for. It was, after all Peter who Jesus calls the rock, it is to Peter that Jesus entrusts the church as he instructs him to tend, feed and look after the flock that was going to be in his care - Jesus the good shepherd who hands his crook to Peter - this is why it is the role of a bishop to confirm, ordain and license, so that we can all be linked back through the ages, head to hand, hand to head, all the way back to Christ.
- So in the early days we see a church, made up of ordinary men and women, old and young, gathered together with all their faults and imperfections, following Jesus with enthusiasm, expectation and excitement.
- In Contrast in Corinth we see a different church. A church that is suffering from personality clashes and divided loyalties; a church so wrapped up in politics and status that Paul gets tough with them to bring them to their senses. Paul of all people knows how fragile the structure of the church is, so when he hears of infighting and squabbling reminds them of some basics - we are all one in Christ, and we all need each other.
- The church is a unique place for so many different reasons, there is no other institution like it. Its structures can seem cumbersome, its working a mystery, it can be a place of similarity with other churches and completely different at the same time. And that’s because it is made up of individuals, who are all different. It is a collection of individuals who are unique, and so the church is an organic entity - one that changes from year to year, week to week, even day to day. And non of us own it, non of us has special rights, no one is more important than any one else. Each individual, from those that are here every week to the visitor, and the occasional attender has a role to play within the life of the church.
- It is always so easy in a church with a big congregation to think: I’ll leave that for someone else, or I’m sure that someone else will be much better at that than me. But look at Peter, flawed, fallible, imperfect Peter. He along with the others that Jesus Calls to follow are given a job to do - follow me, Jesus says, and I’ll make you fishers of men. Think about Paul’s analogy of the church being a body - every part of our body has a part to play - when one bit of the body is affected by pain, or illness the whole body is affected; the body functions best when all bits are working together.
- Each of us has a part to play, each a role to fulfil. Each working together, enabling and encouraging one another in faith and in ministry. Together we are greater than the sum of our individual parts.
- Coming to church is an important part of our faith, as together we share joys and sorrows; from one another we gain the strength and support we need. In worship we find something of the otherness that feeds that God shaped whole that we long to fill; in worship together we get a clearer understanding of the love of God.
- Coming together as a church we remember the rock on which we are built - just like St. Peter we are not perfect, but just like St. Peter God calls us to follow, and he calls us to follow for a reason - as Peter was given a task to do, collectively and individual God gives us a role, a task. Sometimes the task is an easy fit because we have the gifts already, sometimes it’s to something new, or challenging, something that might stretch us. However and whatever we are called to it is Jesus who guides us, as we follow him.