April 11, 2021

The Body of Christ

Passage: Acts 4:32–5:11, 1 John 1:1–2:2, John 20:19–31

The Moderator-Elect of the Presbyterian Church in Canada was announced on April 1st, 2021. There is a nationwide ballot preceding the announcement of the winner. All the members of the 50 presbyteries vote. This year there were three nominees. To be a nominee one has to be nominated by at least two presbyteries.
The winner, whose name will be presented as the sole nominee for Moderator of the General Assembly of 2021 was the Rev. Daniel D, Scott, minister of St. John’s Presbyterian Church, Bradford, Ontario.
That prompted a Facebook post by one of the few Indigenous, woman, ministers in our denomination, in which she grieves the fact that in light of the fact, Systemic Racism is active in our Canadian Institutions, we corporately chose a white male over the two other candidates, one a Black woman minister, and the other an Indigenous woman minister.

This prompted a host of replies, from people some agreeing, some disagreeing, with varying arguments, some saying that this proves we are racist, and other posts arguing strenuously that we followed the processes of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, and obviously the choice wasn’t racist.

My immediate gut reaction was defensive. It felt like I was being accused of racism, even though to be honest my first choice was not the person chosen.
But there is that ordination vow about accepting the government of this church by sessions, presbyteries, synods and general assemblies.

To be fair, the person who first posted, did not accuse the church of racism, just said that we missed an opportunity, and she grieved that opportunity.

And to be fair, even if we had of elected a black woman, or an indigenous woman, it would not necessarily erase the inequities the system has had for a long time and is still dealing with.

This year there is an overture to General Assembly pointing out the inequities in stipends paid to women in the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The Acts and Proceedings of the Presbyterian Church in Canada lists the stipends of the ministers in each congregation, and the Overture points out that women average much less than men. It further raises concerns about discriminatory hiring practices in congregations. It says that in the richest and best paying churches very few women are the senior minister.

And this year at Assembly, the General Assembly will be voting on something that was passed at the previous General Assembly in 2019, that also passed through our Barrier Act, and that is legislation that would allow same-sex marriage and the ordination of LBGTQI individuals.

I think that all these issues connect in a very real way to our scripture lessons today which are all about the body of Christ.

Our first text talks about the disciples holding things in common and that nobody was in need, and then right into a troubling story about Ananias and Sapphira who sold land and gave some of the money to the disciples, but kept by some of the proceeds.

Our second text is about God being light and in God there is no darkness, but it is not the same in us. If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves. If we confess our sins we are forgiven.

And our third text is about Jesus appearing to the disciples for the first time. He offers them peace and commissions them. As the Father has sent me, so send I you.
Actually, Thomas isn’t there and doesn’t believe that Jesus is alive, and wants to touch Jesus, and touch those wounds, before he will believe that Jesus is alive. But strangely enough, he is the first disciple to make the confession after the resurrection, that Jesus is Lord.

And what ties these scriptures together is the Body of Christ.
Jesus appears in the body to the disciples. Thomas wants to touch the broken and scarred body.
The believers who gather together hold all things in common because they understand themselves as one body. Ananias and Sapphira hurt the body of believers, which we understand also as the body of Christ.
And while Christ is all light and no darkness, we the body of Christ have sin, and need to confess our brokenness to Christ.

Let me read some selected verses from Corinthians chapter 12
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 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.
14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body….  18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. … God has so arranged the body… that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

I believe that Jesus was raised from the dead and that the primary way he works in this world is through his body, what some call the church. We are the body of Christ. We are his hands, his feet, his mouth, to care, to love, to forgive, to heal, to include, to share, to tell good news, and Jesus’s story.
Jesus is alive and Jesus is alive in us.

And this body is diverse. We are not all the same.

And some of my reading and interest lately is to look at the fact, that though the body of Christ is diverse, my theological education was not all that diverse.

There is a book coming out this September entitled If God can breathe, why can’t I? with the subtitle Black Lives Matter and Biblical Authority.
It is written by Dr. Angela Parker who is assistant professor of New Testament and Greek at McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University, which is a Baptist University located in Macon, Georgia, about two hours drive south of Atlanta.

In the book she says she was educated by white male theologians to be a white male theologian. She goes on to say that white male theology has taken up residency in most of our minds, and the doctrines of white male theologians come with the baggage of white supremacist authoritarianism.
In particular she sees the doctrines of biblical inerrancy and infallibility as white male Christian lies, which have been foisted on the world not because they are biblical, but because it has justified white males in positions of power in using scripture to control marginalized groups.
She argues that the bible has been used oppressively and that we the body of Christ have to learn to breathe again, and let God breathe in us. We do that by taking the bible seriously and let it be authoritative, but not authoritarian.
And in order to breathe as the body of Christ we have to be aware of our identities and the identities of the biblical authors.

I find this very refreshing. What would it be like to read the bible from the position of a black person whose history is that of slavery? What would it be like to read the bible from the position of an aboriginal who went to residential school, or a Chinese Christian who grew up in Communist China, or a woman who was sexually assaulted, or a poor person living in Central America, where multinational corporations are in league with the government, to the detriment of the average poor person.

I have a friend who is studying Queer Theology. That is theology from the perspective of the LGBTQI community and he is one of the more interesting and engaging preachers I have heard.

And I think this is all relevant to this guy Thomas who wants to touch Jesus’ body and touch the wounds and the scars, because what it says to me is that not only Jesus’ body has wounds and scars, but the body of Christ is still wounded and scarred and fractured and hurting.

The Christian wars over just about any issue you can think of, are some of the worst. Fighting over doctrine, biblical authority, slavery, the inclusion of women, over pacifism, over abortion, over medically assisted dying, over the inclusion of the LGBTQI community, over contemporary vs traditional worship….etc…etc..etc,..

And yet the original church was very much about commonality, sharing, making sure that each had their needs met. It sounds idyllic, but here seems to be a big deep truth, than in order to have unity, we must recognize and accept diversity. And not only recognize and accept diversity say to ourselves every day: If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves.
If we Presbyterians in Canada say we are not racist we deceive ourselves.
Racism is built into the system. I was educated by white male theologians to be a white male theologian, and while I acknowledge I had a good education with good people, there was something lacking… Diversity. The whole body of Christ wasn’t part of my education.
The body is made up of many diverse parts and each part is part of the body.

And so today I want you to touch that body, to reach out to other parts of the body, black theology, feminist theology, liberation theology, Asian theology, queer theology….
And hear their stories of pain, and brokenness and exclusion and separation and yet how they found in Christ hope and love and acceptance.

Many years ago, in seminary, At Knox College, someone came to talk about Liberation Theology. It was theology primarily from the perspective of the poor in Latin America.
It starts with this premise. God has a preferential option for the poor. There are some scriptures that would back that up.
I was one of the few who voiced my humble opinion that God loved rich people as well as poor people. And he does, but I think I missed the point.
It is the same as the Black Lives Matter Movement when someone writes “Black Lives Matter” and someone retorts that “all lives matter.”
Of course, all lives matter, but the point it that there are some lives who have not been treated as they matter and we all need to do something about it.

And so, to say all lives matter in response to Black Lives Matter is like calling in to 911 and saying that your house is on fire and that your house matters to you; and then having the 911 operator tell you that all houses matter and doing nothing.

And so, imagine what it is like to be a poor person, or a marginalized person, or an indigenous person, or a black person, or a queer person, or some other culture or group that has been historically mistreated or even hated, as you come to the story of commonality in our Acts passage and then the story of Ananias and Sapphira.

Imagine living as a total equal, with no prejudice, not hierarchy, no class system, no betters to put you in your place.
That in the community you were valued and loved and listened to…and your say mattered and your vote counted and you participated equally in the wealth and the resources and you lacked nothing.

How refreshing would that be….?
And along come some people who hold back, who don’t share, who have more than everybody else, who lie, and cheat and think they deserve it…
That is Ananias and Sapphira.
They don’t feel that there are really part of the body, but better than others, more deserved than others.
They hurt the body of Christ.

The sad part is that I have been Ananias and Sapphira.

As a teenager and a young man, the things I said about gays, the terrible words I used, the jokes I told, the attitude I had. I could cry and have cried. I grew up in a culture that was incredibly cruel to gays and lesbians and other queer folk, even though at the time I didn’t think it was bad.
The racial jokes I told, which I just thought were jokes, and didn’t mean anything by it. Attitudes towards women. Thinking that I was right, and everybody except me and my little group were going to burn in hell for all eternity. Relishing in the fact that the people I didn’t like would go to hell.
I could go on and on about my sin and the ways I hurt the body of Christ.
And believe me, I don’t stand here as some White Messiah with all the answers. I stand here in confession, believing that Jesus can forgive sin.
Believing that if I hurt because of my sin, then the body hurts because of my sin.
Believing that if I confess my sin, it brings health to the body of Christ.

If we say we are not racist and misogynist and homophobic and xenophobic we deceive ourselves.

We have hurt the body and the body of Christ is scarred and wounded and broken and hurting.

Ananias and Sapphira are not two bad people whom God killed for being bad.
They represent part of the body of Christ that hurts the body of Christ.
Nothing kills the body of Christ, like the body of Christ does to each other.

It is one of the reasons Jesus died on the cross. To show us another way to be human. Love for all, even those who are enemies, even those who are different, even those who don’t fit in. Even those you were brought up to hate.
To show us how to be one body.

The other night I was watching the hospital drama television show “New Amsterdam” and in this episode the director Max is becoming aware of racism in his hospital.
Black doctors and doctors of colour don’t make as much as the other doctors.
At one point he decides to step down as Medical Director and give the job to a Black Woman doctor so she can fix the problem and eradicate racism.
She tells him no and says to him in effect. I am not quoting but kind of summarizing: Do you not see the problem, Max. You and white people have created the problem and victimized people of colour and blacks and now you want me, one of the victims to step in and fix it.

And Max tries different things like painting Black Lives Matter in the front entryway of the hospital, and trying to get white doctors to take a pay cut so he can give more to black doctors and taking down all the pictures in the entryway of white people who were the former leaders and greats of the hospital but were but of the racist system.
Finally, the same black woman doctor, Helen stops him and tries to tell him to stop being a white Messiah and think that he can fix racism with a policy change or painting, or removing all the white people off the wall who were the former CEOs and leaders of the hospital.
She suggests instead of trying to fix things first he should just listen to the stories of people of colour.

And that’s what Max does.

He listens. He listens to stories of racism and prejudice and abuse, and inequality.

That is the first step to really being the body of Christ. It is to touch the body where it hurts and listen to each other. Listen to those you don’t normally listen too, listen to stories of pain, of prejudice, or hurt, or the body hurting the body. Listen to people of colour and difference without judgement. Understand, hear, feel and have your mind blown.
And maybe even tell your own story of being Ananias and Sapphira. Find a counsellor, a listener, a minister, a spiritual director who knows non-judgement, and confess to them how you have hurt the body.

For if you confess your sin, Jesus is faithful and just to forgive your sin and cleanse you.
For you are a part of the body of Christ, and whether you are victim or victimizer, or as I suspect both, you are important to God, and important to the health of the body;
for this wounded and broken Christ, wants to send the wounded and broken body of Christ into the world to tell them there is good news, that everyone is loved, everyone is valued, everyone is part of God’s big body…
and Jesus is the balm that can heal us.