This is a short, non-lectionary sermon based on 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 A minister from The Methodist Church in Ghana (his Christian name is 'Moses') came to our worship service to tell us about the work of The Methodist Church in Ghana. This was a short reflection in that service.
1 Corinthians 12:13 reads: ‘For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit’.
Paul wrote this letter to the Christian Church in Corinth about 53 or 54 AD and it wasn’t exactly a letter of congratulations. The problem was that the Corinthians really didn’t live out any kind of understanding that they were all members of one body because of their baptism in Christ. From what Paul writes, it seems that there were a number of divisions amongst Corinthian believers and there seems to have been a good deal of competition as well. We understand from the letter that the Corinthians seemed to be arguing amongst each other about which teacher was the greatest, which followers were the most preferred by God, and which of these factions had received a greater portion of the Holy Spirit.
The Corinthians had been baptised into one body – the body of Christ. And they had been baptised into one Spirit, but they weren’t acting like it at all. They weren’t living in the fullness of Christian love but were still living as if they were of the world: competing with each other of spiritual honours, looking down on each other and even celebrating Holy Communion in a way that created factions in the church rather than unity.
Challenged by Different Gifts
This evening, we have heard the Moses tell us about the Methodist Church in Ghana. I’m as certain as I can be that each one of us here tonight wholeheartedly affirms that we have all been baptised into one body in Christ: Ghanaian Methodists and British Methodists. I’m also certain that each one of us here tonight would agree with Paul’s analogy of the body having many parts, all of which are necessary to the good working of the body, none of which are superior.
As Westerners, I think we have to acknowledge that it is the world outside of Europe and America that is now most receptive to the Gospel of Christ and to the movement of the Spirit. Where we once saw ourselves as missionaries to the rest of the world, it’s we who can now benefit as African and Asian Christian brothers and sisters bring the joy and vitality of the Gospel back into our society. But Christians all over the world have their own function and their own part to play in building the Kingdom of God.
I think that there is a challenge to us in this reading from the Corinthians, though. And the challenge will be different for every individual and for every congregation – it is something for you to discern prayerfully with God. Here is the challenge: Although we might not be like the Corinthians in thinking our own brand of Christianity superior to that of others because of ethnic or cultural differences – at least I hope not! – do we nonetheless have feelings of superiority over other Christians?
Do we secretly think that our own congregation is somehow more favoured by God than a congregation down the road? Than another congregation in the circuit? Or do we think that we have superior spiritual gifts or understanding than other sorts of Christians? Do we secretly think that our form of worship is better than that of others? Do we even idolise – just a little bit – our buildings or ‘the way we always do things’?
I’m going to leave these questions for you to ponder for yourself as only you can answer for yourself. I will say that I think that no-one is exempt from this phenomenon – we all have our prejudices, including me. And I also want to sound a note of caution you if you think this is a trivial question. My challenge would be – ‘Wouldn’t be a shame to allow trivial differences to come between us?’ I’m sure there are big places where we need to draw a line in the sand and say with Martin Luther ‘Here I stand, I can do no other’, but very often in the life of the Christian church it is actually the trivial differences that become barriers to working together.
The Good News
So where is the Good News in this evening’s reading? If there ever was a motley crew of Christians, it was the Corinthians. If ever there was an assembly that was really struggling with failure to be charitable to their Christian brothers and sisters, it was the Corinthians.
But the Good News is that Paul does not tell the Church in Corinth that God has cast them out of the Body of Christ. Paul tells them, in the opening of this letter, that they are sanctified in Christ Jesus and that they are called to be Saints! Granted, this letter is a strong challenge to the Corinthians to be better disciples, but the sanctification that Paul recognises for the Corinthians is something that is completed in the past; it’s done and dusted. Their salvation is not dependant on their good discipleship but rather on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and their baptism into that life.
The Good News is that God’s love is sure. God is faithful to his promises and our salvation rests on his promise to us in Christ. The Good News is that, whatever our gifts and whether we perceive them to be small or great, God uses them for his purposes. The Good News is that we were all baptized into one body and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
My prayer this evening is that, as a Christian community, we nurture each other in our growth in the Spirit and that we recognise all spiritual gifts and different ways of being Christians as necessary to the health of the church. But most of all, I pray that we may recognise and celebrate the greatest gift of all: the saving grace of God brought into creation by the death and resurrection of Jesus, our brother and our Saviour. Amen