Monthly Archives: April 2014

A Sermon on 1 Corinthians 11:17 – 12:1 (Meeting Posts 4)

A Sermon Given in 2014

You may have noticed we’ve included thought forms with your notice sheets this morning, and we hope to always have these available when we meet. The purpose of these is to encourage a conversation amongst us all about our life and worship together. You can use to them to note down anything you feel is of particular significance that strikes you as we worship. Occasionally, if Julie or myself have introduced some innovation in the form of our service, as we did last time with the chair layout, then we’re likely to invite you to comment on your responses to these things: is it helpful, thought-provoking, how?

I don’t have a specific question for you to reflect on this morning, although you’d be more than welcome to reflect on the chair arrangement, but just wanted to explain again what the forms were for and to invite your contributions.

1 Corinthians 11:17 – 12:1 17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not! 23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgement on himself. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgement. 32 When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. 33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. 34 If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgement. And when I come I will give further directions.

The church is the body of Christ. That is, in the words of the apostle Paul, ‘a profound mystery’ (Eph. 5:32).

The force of that word, ‘mystery’, is of something long hidden, now made known. What has been hidden and is now revealed is, of course, the great work of God in Jesus Christ, in which humanity is redeemed from its slavery to the worship of any- and everything except God.

In Jesus, humanity is invited to participate in new life, eternal life. We realise that we cannot escape our broken selves and see that that which we cannot achieve, God has done for us.

But again, what is the significance of this phrase, the body of Christ, and how does it relate to this mystery now made known? Well, of course, the term draws us back to the Lord’s Supper, bread and wine set before us this morning and the passage that we read earlier that describes the supper’s institution.

Followers of Christ are invited to take the bread and wine, called Christ’s body and blood, and consume them. We may be inclined to shy away from the unpalatable aspects of this act: it was not without reason – even if it was mistaken – that the early Christians were accused of cannibalism. And yet the body and the blood are significant. This act signals to us that a change in who we are has taken place. No matter who we were before, no matter what we have done, now we are identified with Jesus Christ. All that has gone before finds its redemption and fulfilment in him. We lack the everyday language to describe this, and that perhaps is why we are left this sacrament, this physical act to perform, rather than mere words. But even so, by taking Christ’s body into us, we are declaring – proclaiming – that we belong to him and he to us.

But more than this, as the context of the Last Supper implies – which is that of the the passover feast and the consumption of the slaughtered animal by which the Israelites escaped slavery in Egypt, and more importantly, Christ’s crucifixion – as all this implies, we are consuming a body that has died. We are finding ourselves identified with Christ and particularly with his death: “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

And this death is for us: “This is my body, which is for you.”

In this supper we identify with and participate in the death of Christ, so that it becomes our death. So that what we were, is laid to rest in the grave, and what we are is now to be bound up with the life our Lord, the risen Christ. Paul’s words about Baptism point us to the same thing: this from Rom. 6:4, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

And so there we have it. The promise of God of physical resurrection, of sharing in Christ’s eternal life, is given to us in physical elements. A bodily promise – of flesh and blood – that indicates to us that our old bodies that we still carry around with us and in which we are contribute to the brokenness of the world, is laid to rest with Christ, and a new hope of bodily redemption, of resurrection is set before us. This promise is no mere aspiration: the Son of God did not taken on flesh, die and be resurrected merely to offer hope, but to achieve it. This promise is a commitment from God, sealed in the blood of the divine Son. We are to take it and eat it, to drink, with enthusiasm, awe and gratitude.

But there is more, one further aspect not yet explained that I want to conclude with. In our reading, Paul expresses frustration at the manner in which some in the Corinthian church are conducting themselves at their celebration of the Supper.

The Supper is taking place within the context of a wider shared community meal: something I would be eager to try here incidentally. However, some bring their own choice food and wine and share and consume it among their friends. Others, likely poorer and not able to arrive earlier or to bring much food, come to the gathering and find themselves ostracised, humiliated and hungry. And then note what Paul says: “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgement on himself.”

I don’t have time to address the question of the judgement falling on that Church this morning, but the force of Paul’s words remains enlightening. The Corinthians are excluding their fellow Christians, and Paul accuses them of eating and drinking the bread and wine without recognising the body of the Lord.

Body here refers to the community of the church, but not only so. There is a logical connection of course: we eat the bread and wine, given to us as the body and blood of Christ and we ourselves join the body of Christ: we become the Church, we become the body of Christ in which no human accolade or achievement or privilege can have significance or value before one another: because all must die with Christ, because all are dependent on him to know eternal life now and at the resurrection.

And so the church is the body of Christ. It is so in a global sense: Christ creates within himself a new humanity. The scope of Christ’s work is not to contribute to human life and culture, to be one aspect of many, but, universally to found once again who and what humanity is as God’s creation, to direct and inspire us to live in humility and compassion now, with the hope of the renewal of all things at his return.

But this term, the body of Christ, has significance on a local level as well, it has significance for us. Remember what Paul says about the rich and the poor, the privileged and the dispossessed. This applies to us. We often describe gatherings like ours, this morning, as a service. We come, we listen (or speak), we sing and we depart. Our religious duty is performed, we return to life. But perhaps our language could be different. We are part of the body of Christ. In this place, we are the body of Christ. God’s Spirit resides in us no less than in others. Have we not died in Christ, like all other Christians? Is our hope any different?

Therefore, without arrogance or rancour, we have justification to think more of ourselves as a group, as a church in this place. As we gather in this place around the table we are reminded again of all that Christ has done and all that that means for us: that we have died with him and that now we live in the Spirit, as his body, in the hope of everlasting life: and that as we do so we proclaim to the world that there is hope and meaning and peace.

1 Corinthians 10:14-22 – Symbolic Seating (Meeting Posts 3)


The following sermon was given at a Sunday service, at which we had changed our changed our seating arrangements. Before we had a familiar arrangement of speaker and lectern at the front and congregation facing the speaker. Our new format had us gathering in a circle, around a table laid with the communion elements. We wanted to emphasise that in the church there is no position of power; nobody is higher or lower than anyone else. On our little table we laid a loaf of bread, a cup of wine, a cross and the open Bible. All of us sit facing each other across these symbols. The changes in our meeting space were a physical representation of the symbolism which is at our core – that we gather around the communion table, Christ is at the centre, and we are united one with another.

1 Corinthians 10:14-22

We read 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 together in both the ESV and The Message.

Therefore my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

15-18 I assume I’m addressing believers now who are mature. Draw your own conclusions: When we drink the cup of blessing, aren’t we taking into ourselves the blood, the very life, of Christ? And isn’t it the same with the loaf of bread we break and eat? Don’t we take into ourselves the body, the very life, of Christ? Because there is one loaf, our many-ness becomes one-ness—Christ doesn’t become fragmented in us. Rather, we become unified in him. We don’t reduce Christ to what we are; he raises us to what he is. That’s basically what happened even in old Israel—those who ate the sacrifices offered on God’s altar entered into God’s action at the altar.

Why Chairs Matter

Firstly, we feel it was important to mention what the sacraments are for in order to give some context. They are all signs of covenant, that is, of God’s promises and his will for humanity. Augustine called the sacraments ‘visible words’. They are visible and tangible signs which bolster our weak faith. God imparts spiritual things through visible ones. We want to emphasise two things in particular – our participation in Christ when we take communion, and how we are joined with one another as we partake.

The signs – the cup and the bread – are symbolic, but they are also, mysteriously, far more than just symbols. A symbol that is nothing more than a symbol is dead. But when the symbol points us to something larger than ourselves, something eternal, the symbol has life.

We don’t know how, but by the holy spirit, we feed on Christ when we participate in the cup and loaf. Our minds can’t grasp how, but by faith we believe that something profound and beautiful and significant takes place when we take the cup. This seems to me so characteristic of biblical spirituality- the ordinary, the humdrum and the miraculous, supernatural are on a single continuum.

We want to emphasise that it is, of course, possible to participate in Christ without the sacrament, but that it is impoverished. The sacrament is central to all of our gatherings even when we don’t partake because the act makes Christ central. Communion is a moment of personal encounter with Jesus. John 6:56 say this: ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in Him.’ Our participation in the cup and loaf, our communion, is an intimate moment when each of us meets with Jesus and is wholly centred on Him. The reference to idolatry in first verse is a warning to keep God at the centre of our worship – at the centre of our individual lives, and common life.

When we participate in the cup, we are not only participating in Christ in the here and now, but we are on the cusp of eternity as ‘we proclaim Christ’s death until he comes’ as it says in 1 Corinthians 11:26. Communion is a taster of the redemption to come. It helps us to see what lies ahead and helps us to already participate in it in a limited way. As it was a Sunday in advent, we began our service by singing O come, O come Emmanuel. We expressed our longing for Jesus to come. We talked about being ‘hallelujah people’, living after Christ’s resurrection, but that we are also ‘advent people’, waiting and longing for Christ’s return in glory and victory. We live in that sure hope.

Having talked about what it means to participate in Christ, we move on to talk about what it means to participate with one another. Again, our new way of sitting together has symbolic significance. We want to emphasise that our participation in Christ is a communal activity. The various meanings of the key word, koinonia, are communion, fellowship, participation, sharing in, contribution/gift, and presence. All these facets of that one word express our joining with one another as we participate in Christ together.

Some traditions end their Eucharist service with these words: ‘Grant that we who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his holy spirit and become one body, one spirit in Christ.’ There we touch the heart of the mystery of community.

In some mysterious way, when we participate in Christ’s cup, and have communion with Him, we are joined together as brothers and sisters. We participate in the feast together. It is joint participation. Thus, as Jean Vanier would say, community and family become closely intertwined, because aiming at a common unity strives to overcome brokenness, divisiveness, and, ultimately gaining wholeness with each of the members, with their environment, and with God.

So, as we are participating in Christ, communally, being somehow joined with one another, we are being built by the Holy Spirit into community, into the body.

Practically Participating (Meeting Posts 2)


Participation is a key idea for NYNO, something that we feel is essential in any church. In using the word ‘participation’ we understand the church to be a spiritual entity, one that finds its meaning and identity in relation to God: a church is not primarily a club or a voluntary organisation; it is God’s community. We take our place in the Church as God’s children alongside Christ, called by our creator and saviour.

All this means that people matter. All of us come into church needing to receive from God. But the gift of God to us is such that as we receive salvation we are brought into a freedom to live differently. This does not mean living perfectly, but rather life in relation to our Father in heaven through Christ and so with one another.

In short, this is not a small thing. The consequence of this is that we matter. We matter as individuals and our participation in the life of the church matters.

From the start of NYNO, Julie and Matthew have felt it essential for new church communities to hear the honest opinions of its members. The heart of the Christian message militates against authoritarian leadership. We can’t simply dictate ‘from the front.’ The Church lives as it loves all of its members.

Historically, the majority of people who turn up to church week after week, decade upon decade, are rarely asked for their opinions, preferences or ideas. Indeed, this is a pretty frightening idea from the perspective of a leadership that is strategically planning a future. Such conversations could be fraught with tension, disagreement and misunderstanding. And yet, however threatening, maybe this is the only way forward if the majority of a congregation are to be actively engaged and involved – participating – in the communal life of a church.

So, one Sunday morning, we invited our gathering to dream about their idea of the ‘perfect church’. What would it look like? We invited people to remember back to a time when they felt happiest in church, and to reflect on why that was the case.

Luke 15

New International Version (NIV)

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

The Perfect Church?

What would your perfect church look like?

Perhaps ‘perfect’ is asking too much. If so, try approaching this from a different angle: what is your fondest memory of being in church? What made that experience so good? Were you at peace in church, conscious of the closeness of God or perhaps inspired to live and serve?

In so many ways in life, we find we can’t go back. Things have changed: we have, others have. And yet why shouldn’t we indulge in a little daydreaming. And who is to say that we won’t find keys in the past that might unlock the future? We don’t need to be worry about the practicalities of how such a church could come into being, just reflect on times when church has surprised and delighted us.

So, would the perfect church meet in a cathedral, an awe-inspiring space, such as St. Paul’s London, or King’s College Chapel, Cambridge?

Would there be music? Quiet chanting, soaring choirs, orchestral accompaniment, electric guitars or bare voices in unison?

A minister who gives compelling sermons? Who seemed to bring the very words of God to your heart?

Is church to be full of energy and activity, or quiet and reflective?

Would it be full of children, or empty of them?

Would it be the church you grew up in, or in which you brought your children up?

Would be full of friendly people, or people who didn’t bother you?

What would be the perfect church? When has church been a joy to you?

Why the Question Matters

I ask this question aware that to my knowledge it’s not something about which most of us have been invited to give of their opinion. And that troubles me, because your opinions, your thoughts and preferences about church, matter.
In our reading we heard Jesus speak of the lost sheep.

The Pharisees had taken offence at Jesus’ habit of surrounding himself with disreputable tax collectors and sinners. A teacher should live in a manner consistent with his or her words. What kind of teacher offers implicit affirmation to such people by sitting with them at table?

In response, Jesus tells the Pharisees a parable.’Suppose one of you,’ he begins, ‘has a hundred sheep and loses one. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open and go after the lost one. And on finding it, would he not celebrate?’

The whole matter resides on a question of identity and belonging. The Pharisees considered these disreputables as traitors, misleading themselves and others, diluting the purity of God’s people, perhaps dissuading God from blessing and liberating his people. They were to be ostracised in punishment and as a warning to others.

But Jesus looks on these people as lost sheep. The shepherd looks on each animal as precious, valuable. Just so, Jesus has not ceased to care for his people. They may have strayed, but that is all the more reason to chase after them and bring them to safety.

This parable speaks to something that should be at the very heart of any ‘perfect’ church. It reminds us that in the Kingdom of God, we gain our citizenship, our membership and significance, our identity, because it is given us from the depths of the love of Jesus Christ. The waters of baptism do not merely wash the skin but declare to us that with Jesus we now have new life, and those waters operate with no record for our abilities, our competencies, our moral performance. All such things are secondary to this wonderful truth: God views us with love. We may have wandered, but we remain his sheep.

And if Christ cares for us, then we must care for one another. As Jesus said elsewhere:

He who has been forgiven little loves little. (Luke 7:47)

These words must of course be reversed: he who has been forgiven much, loves much. Or consider these words of Jesus to the unforgiving servant:

Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you? (Matthew 18:33)

Think of it another way. If Christ loves you and I love Christ, how can I treat you with indifference?

The upshot of all of this is that a church, as it knows that love of Christ, must seek to be a place where such love is shown between its members. At the very least, I would suggest, that this means listening to one another. At the very least, I would suggest, that this means paying attention to each other’s hopes, dreams, memories and experience.
In our self-appointed task of being a great church, of raising money, of tidying up, or organising music, it is so easy not to consider the person before you. A wonderful being created by God. Broken, as we all are, and yet loved by Christ and a recipient of the hope of eternal life, now called to serve Christ with all that he has given them. A lost sheep, for whom Christ gave his all, and over whom he now rejoices.

Let me summarise. I am concerned that our church are forever in danger of not respecting their members as those loved by Christ, and rarely really listening to their voices, there thoughts and concerns. If the members are so treated will they not become dull, muted, quiet, finding that church does not engage them as a whole person but merely as a means to an end and will the church itself then fester as a community, ceasing to be a place that nurtures and affirms, unattractive to those outside.

Thought Forms

All of what I’ve said this morning has been said in all seriousness. Julie and I would like to find ways in which your thoughts, reflections, hopes and fears can contribute to our life together. That can take place entirely informally, as we talk to each other. But we also recognise that talking about faith can be difficult for many reasons and such conversations mustn’t be forced. In your notice sheets, you should have what we’ve called a ‘Thought Form’. This is simply a piece of paper which you can use to tell us things, if there isn’t the opportunity to do so directly, or if you’d prefer to do so through writing.

We will include this form with the notice sheets each time we meet.

What could you use this for? You could say, I really liked that hymn or tune. You could say, I enjoyed that sermon, but I didn’t understand xyz. You could say, I’d like us to have a church outing. You could say, I miss my old church, the people and the building. It probably wouldn’t be a good use of the form to write personal attacks.

When you write something on one of these forms, be aware that it’s something that could be shared with for everyone. We are not seeking to be the sole point through which all conversation must take place. Of course, if you’d prefer it not to be shared, you can indicate that. You’ll see that there’s the opportunity to write your name or to leave it anonymous.

As we began, so shall we conclude. Let me ask you again: What makes the perfect church? Or, what are your fondest, or most profound, memories of church? I’d like to invite you to jot a few things down on your thought forms in answer to the question.

We are all lost sheep. But that means we are all important. Your voice matters.

NYNO Church Meetings and Body Theology (Meeting Posts 1)

NYNO has been operational since July 2013. Much of our time has been spent building relationships within the sheltered housing complex in which we are based. Getting to know the residents, their families and the staff who work there is an important part of building a community which is diverse, strong, warm, all-embracing, welcoming – in short, Christ-like.

In the background, we have been studying the theology which underpins all of this – namely, the theology of the ‘body’. Our studies have taken us to 1 Corinthians, where Paul makes plain the nature of church as one body, many parts, comprising diverse ages, nationalities, gifts, interests and denominations. We have spent four consecutive meetings talking about this body theology – why it is important; how it shapes our meetings; how it has significance for us as part of the wider church in Aberdeen, the world, and our church history.

We have emphasised the centrality of celebrating communion together. When a minister is available to take communion, it is part of our meeting. When that is not possible, we seat ourselves around a table with the elements visible, and reiterate their significance to us as the body. We have talked at length about what it means to participate in Christ and with one another, and have grappled with the mystery in it all.

The following posts are an attempt to condense our thoughts and teachings. Check out our updated book list to see what we’ve been reading.