Category Archives: community

Older People’s Ministry: A Church or an Act of Service

Community was at the heart of NYNO’s original vision. That which is true spiritually should also be found, falteringly, in our daily human relationships. Our understanding was that the reality of our spiritual union with Christ, and therefore our union with each other, meant that the Church should seek to be a community of mutual service and dependence.

This general ideal for church community had particular consequences when we applied it to our work amongst older people. We had observed that ministry amongst older people followed the patterns of traditional ministry. While such ministry was widely accepted and appreciated, it presented a problem for a future where professional ministry resources will be scarce. In its place, NYNO wanted to encourage the agency and participation of older people in the life of their churches. We wanted to see church communities grow, located in places that were accessible to older people (practically speaking, this meant meeting in communal areas of sheltered accommodation) and whose participants had a diverse age range. At the outset of our project we were anxious to develop relationships between the generations where members of each generation would bring blessings and be served by all the other generations. Each individual would bring different giftings; each individual would have different needs.

We were therefore very aware whenever we heard a member of the younger generations speak about wanting to be involved with a NYNO group and ‘serve’ the older members. On the face of it, this was a noble request. For NYNO this was precisely what we didn’t want. We didn’t want older members to be viewed as primarily the recipients of the ministry of younger people. We wanted younger folk to recognize what they could receive from friendship with older folk before they began to serve. The alternative, it seemed to us, would be the patronization of older people as passive recipients of the good works of younger people. We were also very aware that people who came to us would generally be coming from another church community to which they would already have a loyalty and personal relationships. It is only natural for a NYNO group to have difficulty commanding such loyalty from people. Instead, it becomes a place for service. This is, its way, admirable, but is a genuine hurdle to be overcome if the aim is to develop a new worshipping community.

The result of all of this was that we asked folks wanting to join us to come and be part of the community first, before thinking about what they could do. In doing this, the intention was that folks would appreciate the position of our less physically able members and would develop the real peer relationships that would prevent any future service – which would be needed and natural – becoming one-sided. I’m not sure this worked.

I don’t think we understood how difficult it would be for folks to simply come and develop friendships. Nor, at the moment, do I know what that difficulty was. But, as it has turned out, folks who have come and been encouraged to not immediately serve, have not stuck with the group.

There could be any number of reasons for this happening, including the personal and the clarity with which this vision of church has been consistently explained. There may also be issues with the form of worship we offer not meeting people’s expectations. Even so, the question at least has to be asked whether we have to be more tolerant and patient of people’s expectations that they are engaging with NYNO in order to serve. What this means practically is inviting new folk to come and in offering them a role as a means of finding a foothold in the community.

When NYNO started, when we were a young and vulnerable project only just finding our feet and trying to insist on our alternative approach in the face of the universal expectations surrounding older people’s ministry, perhaps then we were justified on insisting on community first and service second. Perhaps now we can afford to let people find their way in their own time.

Without eschatology …

… we are left with only a baffling residue of strange commands, which seem utterly impractical and ominous. We ignore the commands on divorce and lash out at our people on peace. The ethic of Jesus thus appears to be either utterly impractical or utterly burdensome unless it is set within its proper context – an eschatological, messianic community, which knows something the world does not and structures its life accordingly.

Hauerwas and Willimon, Resident Aliens (Nashville, Abingdon: 1989), p. 90.

There is much to be enthused about in chapter four, which is entitled ‘Life in the Colony: The Church as Basis for Christian Ethics’. The idea of a church as primarily a community whose worships and witnesses through their corporate Christian identity and character, offers both political relevance and an escape from party tribalism. Being faithful to Christ cannot effectively be reduced to a left or right position, but has its greatest significance to the world in its uniqueness.

At the same time, the treatment of the Sermon of the Mount is still not quite satisfying here. I agree with the eschatological context for the sermon that is emphasized. The kingdom is coming, and for this we still pray. Perhaps my frustration lies in the question of where and how that kingdom is being realized – made real – in the present. H & M seem to argue that an individualist approach to ethics and to the commands in the sermon is doomed to failure, but that a Church communitarian approach is actually what is being proposed in the text and, further, is able to (much as in yesterday’s quote) help us to live this kingdom life. Again, I think there are some really quite important things being expressed here. But, I don’t think this proposal manages to escape the accusations of being absurd and naive that they acknowledge can be levelled at the sermon when applied to individuals. On the one hand, I want to agree that the church is essential to our discipleship, worship and witness. On the other hand, we have to acknowledge that Christ’s words defeat the best efforts of Christians living in community, just as easily as individualist Christians. This is acknowledged in the concluding remarks in the chapter about forgiveness. Perhaps my frustration might have been calmed if these concluding remarks were rather more central to the chapter. The quotation from Barth on p. 83 hints at a way forward as it speaks of the Church setting up a sign for the world but how this sign might come to be, how it might differ from the reality to which it points, is not spelt out.

From an exegetical point of view, it is not obvious from the text that the Church is able to or commanded to play this positive role in perfecting our discipleship. That Christ is commanding us is obvious. That life in Christian community enables us to obey and ‘be perfect’ is less clear. This last comment is perhaps a strange point to make, given that I do think that the Christian life is a churchly life at every point, given that I do think that life lived in the Church and can make a difference to how we live. I suppose my thoughts are that unless we have a realistic sense of the Church’s limitations and frailties, at the same time as a belief that God is working in us and in our dependence on his work, we will find ourselves disillusioned and doubting. The Church – of which am I part of course – is so bad at keeping these words, to propose that by being in community we could keep Christ’s words just isn’t plausible. This isn’t because I lack faith (!) but rather because central to the sermon is the demand for perfection. This demand allows us to imagine the impossible and unexpected but it also completely crushes us and our expectations of moral adequacy … if we are honest.

I suppose what needs to be fleshed out here is a discussion of the realization of the kingdom – its primary presence in the life of Christ – and so our individual and communal connection to him in life of the Spirit. This allows us to speak of the kingdom in absolute terms – not molding it into something ‘possible’ that we can imagine keeping – and allows us to expect and to try the humanly speaking absurd or impossible. It allows us to imagine that older people might be placed first in the kingdom, that the diversity of the church might make the sacrifice of moving to the most vulnerable and excluded. It does this while recognizing the difficulties involved, our fears and doubts – our need for faith.

Short Sermon: Serving and Being Served

The following sermon was given in February before the meal liturgy.

Reading: Philippians 2:1-11

The notion of service, of servant hood, is very important in Scripture and and also as a metaphor that directs the Christian life.

The Israelites were held as slaves – or servants, the terms are often interchangeable – in Egypt and redeemed by God to live as his free people. As Christians, as we have read, we find a model for our attitudes and actions in the life of Christ who did not strive after equality with God but rather took the form of a servant.

We are to be like servants. We are made free by God, from slavery to sin, that we might use our freedom the service of God and others.

On this basis, you might be forgiven for assuming that self-sacrificial service is in every case an unalloyed good. Curiously enough, I have come to the conclusion of late that it is not.

It is possible to serve, to be a servant of others, out of a sense of duty, and yet not love.

It is possible to serve for the sake of pride and ego, because in the context of a church service can be much admired.

The notion of servant-hood and service is not enough. There is something that must precede it.

Let me point you again to our celebration of communion. It is in this act, given to us by Christ, that so much of who we are and how we are to live is laid out for us to see. If we think about servant-hood in the context of communion it appears differently to us, as if in a new light. It does so in two ways.

Firstly, here we are taught that before we ever serve, Christ must serve us. The matter is made so clear by Christ’s words recorded in John 13, where Christ washes the feet of the disciples. Simon Peter exclaimed:

John 13:6-9 “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” 9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

Christians must receive from Christ before ever they serve him or serve others. Without this we will speak without love, like a clanging cymbal. We will act without love and we will be and gain nothing.

Before ever we serve, Christ must serve us.

Secondly, Christ also teaches us here in communion that as we receive from him so do others. To participate in Christ is to be made one with others. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians. (10:17) 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.

Before ever we strike out to serve others, we must recognise that others are called to the same task, called to serve others and called to serve us.

Our community in Christ lies underneath and behind our servant-hood. We are members of this community, we belong, we participate in Christ and one another before we ever strike out to offer our gifts to others.

All must give, but all must also receive.

There is a blessing, not often recognized, that we can offer to others. It is to allow other people to serve us. There is a sin, not often recognized. It is to be so proud of our service, that we refuse to allow others to give to us.

Let us remember, that in Christ we are made a community where all must give and all must receive. The Church is therefore more important than service.

Bosch on Missio Dei

Bosch, Witness to the World (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1980)

Missio Dei is an oft used phrase in popular missiology. It can be hard, though, to pin down its significance. The ‘mission of God’ is definitely repeatedly as an introductory justification that missiology should be an essential topic of conversation for the Church and that the practice of mission should be an essential action of the Church. Used in this manner, it is treated as a form of theological shorthand. The actual workings that lay out why these things are so are left unexplained. Such has been my experience, anyway.

Bosch offers a fairly compact ten pages, the conclusion to the book, on this topic. The context of his thoughts is a two pronged correction to both evangelical and ecumenical missiology. He argues first (Ch. 19) that evangelical missiology has risked using an unhelpful dualism where salvation history is divorced from world history. This has led to a passivity in the face of injustice meted out to others. In contrast, the Church must realize that Christ is the head of the Church and the cosmos, and following the example of her saviour must take up her cross in identification with the outcast. Against ‘ecumenical’ theology, he insists on the distinctiveness of the Church from the world (Ch. 20). The Church can only be apostolic if she is different in her being from the world. She must maintain that God’s judgement is not ours, that the cross remains at the heart of our life together and our proclamation, that our political actions will be fallible and that the kingdom will be made present to the world in signs and not in fullness until Christ returns. Mission is therefore an eschatological event (Ch. 21), seeking to see the kingdom come on earth now, aware that our actions can only provide signs of that kingdom. Communal church life in the present is a life filled by God’s presence (Ch. 22), waiting and witnessing, identifying with the hopeless while yet never losing hope.

Bosch’s explanation of missio dei is set out as an alternative to these two limited approaches. It is worth reflecting on this. Although Bosch’s presentation of missio dei ostensibly comes from first principles, so to speak, he is still offering his alternative to two failed approaches to missio dei. Given this, simply importing missio dei as presented here should be done with caution, until we’re convinced that we are not, in doing so, responding to a problem (evangelicals and ecumenical missiologies at loggerheads thirty-five years ago) that is not our pressing concern.

In outline then, Bosch offers missio Dei (God’s mission) because mission begins with God. The Word and Spirit are ‘missionaries’ of God in creation and redemption, being sent to the world.

Although Aquinas (?) may have used missio with respect to the sending of the Son by the Father and the Holy Spirit by the Father and the Son, this is not obviously the basis for the modern use of the term. Only in the early to mid- twentieth century did mission become explicitly linked to trinitarian theology. Having said this, I should add, the precise link is rarely explicated.

Barth’s connection to all of this is important. He is frequently argued to be an advocate for this form of theology but, again, rarely with a description of what he said. Bosch here is not guilty of that. There is to be no ‘speculative interpretation of a foundation of mission on the Trinity’. Instead, Incarnation, Cross and Resurrection are events of particular historical involvement. It is in these events that we learn of the nature of the Trinity, and indeed that God is ‘a missionary God’. [A curious phrase, monotheistically speaking.]

In Christ’s actions we discover a new dimension to God’s concern for the world, and his actions are therefore to be definitive for ours. Here our saviour is revealed, and we are not to look elsewhere for alternative revelations of God’s will. The role of the Spirit does not diversify our missiology, providing an alternative mode of God’s concern for the world, but rather further specifies that the Church’s life, in the Spirit of Christ, is to be shaped by Christ: “As the Father sent me…” (Jn 20:21). The Spirit’s role is two-fold, inward and outward, setting us apart that we might then be witnesses to the world.

Bosch complains of a diluting of missio Dei. Mission does not now become a human responsibility to the degree that it ceases to be God’s work. The kingdom remains God’s work, wrought by him. Missionary ‘success’ is therefore never to be the criterion by which we judge mission. To the extent that we view the world as perfectible through our actions, we lose sight of the missio Dei. But equally, we cannot be passive. Because God’s kingdom has dawned, we cannot be resigned to the way things are. We are to pray, ‘thy kingdom come’, and therefore we are to act, believing we can make difference, knowing we must wait for the final day.

Bosch concludes by claiming that the Church owes the world faith, hope and love. She is to be herself, faithful to her head, and so she will worship, live and serve as Christ did for her.

As a brief postscript, I can see nothing dramatically wrong with Bosch’s presentation. At the same time, the basing of missiology in the Trinity and therefore in the revealed acts of God in Christ leads us directly to considering ecclesiology in direct connection with missiology. We are not at liberty to speculate about the life of the Trinity and to see analogy in political action, nor are we justified by this bare statement to claim to see God in the world and to pursue these things with scant regard to the Church. Instead we are directed to the ascending Christ, and the sending of the Spirit upon the Church. Missiology and ecclesiology can not, responsibly, be considered apart from one another. Both are to be derived from Christology and Pneumatology and therefore (and only therefore) from the Trinity. This is not presuppose a particular ecclesiology.  It is not to advocate for a reactionary attitude towards our institutions. What it is is many things, not the least of which is that the life of the kingdom in the Spirit of Christ is communal.

The Church Inside Out

I discovered the following in Bosch, Witness to the World (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1980), pp. 176-78.

The theology of the apostolate soon underwent a certain radicalisation due to Hoekendijk’s contribution. He polemicised against the church-centric mission that had been especially in vogue since Tambaran 1939. The Church was an illegitimate centre. Not the Church but the world, the oikoumene, stood in the centre of God’s concern. Van Ruler’s thesis that mission was a function of the Church, was inverted by Hoekendijk: the Church was a function of mission. There was no room for a ‘doctrine of the Church’. We should refer to the Church only in passing and without any emphasis. Ecclesiology should not be more than a single paragraph in Christology (the messianic involvement with the world) and a few sentences in eschatology (the messianic involvement with the world) … 

From the outset Hoekendijk could not accept a ‘theology of mission’. If he did so it would imply that mission would once again be an extra. There would then also conceivably be other ‘theologies of …’. He therefore pleaded not for ‘theology of mission’, but for ‘missionary theology’ as expression of all authentic theology. …

In this way Hoekendijk’s theology of the apostolate became a theology of the world. Theology is God inviting us to share the world with him. For precisely this reason it was a theology of the Kingdom. Mission was not the road from church to church: mission or Church was the interaction between Kingdom and world, involved in both … The form which this involvement took he called shalom, Hebrew for ‘peace’, which he described as a ‘social happening’, and which was an ethical rather than a soteriological concept. Reconciliation became a universal humanisation process. In his earlier writings he did characterise the task of the Church as kerygma, koinonia and diakonia – proclamation, community, and service. In the course of time, however, he increasingly moved towards the last of the three.

I find it curious that the following theology derives from the 1960. Theological language along these lines is, I find, being used with plenty of enthusiasm today. Not having read Hoekendijk’s theology at first hand I should be cautious speaking directly about him. An English translation of some of his shorter works was published in 1966 with the title ‘The Church Inside Out’ (SCM). It’s another one to add to the list …

I am all the more interested having just read Barth on the Church as witness (CD IV.3), and also John Flett’s head spinning The Witness of God. When I hear this language used today, it is in my experience without reflection on Bosch’s concluding analysis (from 1980!): you get rid of the Church  and something essential is lost.

It’s not as though I don’t have sympathy for Hoekendijk’s frustration with the Church. It is only because of faith that I stay loyal to the church structures and institutions. Yes, I have enough self-knowledge to know that I am no less fallen than the next church member, but that doesn’t make identifying with and living with and in the Church any more comfortable.

As an attempt to flesh out something more positive, here follows a brief summary of something I was going to provide more detail of later … some Barth inspired thoughts.

The move from missio dei to church-less service (identified by Bosch above) seems to stem from an absence of Christology. The language of mission and kingdom seems to have been abstracted from Christ himself. One often hears today this language used in connection with discipleship. On the face of it, this sounds quite Christocentric! With it, though is a closely connected assumption that the discipleship of the gospels has no direct relationship with the Church. As Barth points out, this is a case of not seeing the wood for the trees. The ‘absence’ of Church from the gospels is because it is everywhere assumed! Of course it is, the gospels themselves were written from within ecclesial community, often addressing the concerns of that community (the assumptions of form and canonical criticism spring to mind).

This being so, the Church’s existence is determined (skirting over a discussion of actualistic ontology) by her saviour, by whom the covenant between God and humanity is concluded. Christ is about his Father’s work. Humanity is called to witness to that, to echo Christ’s words and actions as the covenant partner and so point others to him. The Church follows the attitude of Christ, who is about his Father’s business. God’s concern firstly is for the world and in Christ the world is justified. We come to faith and join the Church as members of the world. The Church is composed of those brought to the knowledge of this salvation found in Christ and so are called to participate in their own proper way in the loving work of God. The Church therefore cannot be and must not be firstly concerned with its own life, or see itself as an end in itself. To do so would be to be radically incoherent. The Church is called, and therefore the Church must follow Christ and do the Father’s work. But because it is called it is the Church and it is as a community that the Church can witness in a manner no individual can (Stringfellow springs to mind for the ability of the Church to witness politically today). Think of the roles of forgiveness and accountability. The Church here is not somehow establishing a perfect society on earth, it is pointing in a faltering manner to the one who has already forgiven them. Of course, I can forgive people outside of the Church and this can be a witness, but in the Church I don’t just forgive. In the Church I can be forgiven too.

The future of popular missionary theology is not the removal of ecclesiology. It is rather having a good ecclesiology by which the Church can understand her very nature is to be outward focussed, in which even her most private worship in word and form, can be a witness to the world of the coming kingdom.

Reflections on Mission-Shaped Church (1)

The following is the first of a series of posts, consisting of our thoughts and reflections as we read Mission-Shaped Church (Mission-Shaped Church (London: Church House Publishing, 2004)). This isn’t an attempt to offer a thorough-going review, but rather a chance for us to order our own thoughts for NYNO.

A question about our changing society and culture (pp. 6-7)

The report suggests that our society has changed, so that whereas we formerly found our community within a geographically defined area, now we look for our community to a greater extent within ‘networks’ – relationships found with others who share aspects of our lifestyle (leisure, work, friendships). Is it possible that these networks have always to some extent existed? Is what we are experiencing not a transference of our community allegiance from the local to the lifestyle, but instead a reduction of it?

Further, are these networks the basis of lifelong commitments, or rather temporary arrangements? What happens if our we attempt to build churches in a community that is inherently unstable?

The report advocates that the church prioritise the poor (p. 7). The report also notes that the poor are more likely to retain relationships that are locally geographically bounded. This is because of the influence of tertiary education and the cost of transport (pp. 2-3). If so, is it the case the fresh-expressions based on ‘networks’ are predominantly middle-class. Further, is this a reason to question whether ‘networks’ are a good place to look to build church? The report advocates ‘engagement’ with networks as ‘a change in the structure of community’ (p. 7). Could this be just as ‘corrosive’ to the church as the lack of commitment in society that it also diagnoses?

In the questions for discussion, the report speaks about people being “‘consumers’ of faith and religion” and urges that the church challenge such attitudes. Is it not possible that churches built upon or within ‘network’ communities based on shared aspects of our lifestyles will be inherently consumerist?

Concluding Thought

Basing a church on any pre-existing community risks building on shifting sands. ‘Networks’ may be ephemeral, but local familial relationships do not necessarily provide a solid basis for a church community. Christ calls us to leave father and mother, and so the church will have to call people to – and falteringly be a model of – Christ’s commitment to us. This looks more incongruous in a community based essentially on the similar consumerist choices of its members, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing so long as that commitment to Christ and each other transcends our ‘natural’ preferences.

Julie & Matthew

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.

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.

Thoughts for NYNO on ‘Reformed, Reforming, Emerging, and Experimenting’ (3)

The previous post hinted at one of the limitations (or liberations!) of emerging church work in the Church of Scotland: there are currently some finances available for salaried pioneering work, but this is not available for the long term. From what I understand, no one could really hope for more than three years.

In the previous posts we were still dwelling on the task of being a creative, participatory church (whatever that means) and the probable need for a curating leadership in that. At the same time, NYNO can’t be dependent on paid ministry in the long term.

There’s lots to be said about the status of emerging ministries with respect to the wider church (it’s an ongoing conversation, which needs to keep going), but as things stand, financially, any model of emerging church can’t sensibly be dependent on paid employment. NYNO is therefore working on the basis that the current paid project workers can’t make themselves indispensable as paid employees to any church they found. Our reasoning is that we want a NYNO congregation to be something that any church could set up. Therefore we can’t establish a model based on having paid employees.

All congregations will need leaders, it can hardly be avoided, but we need to be facilitators, resource givers rather than a primary source of spiritual care. We can lead NYNO congregations but in not in a way that they depend on our personal genius(!) or charisma. If someone else tries to create a NYNO congregation but concludes, ‘We couldn’t do it because we’re just not you’, then we will have failed.