The following sermon was preached by the Rev. Amanda Currie at St. Andrew’s for the World Day of Prayer worship service on Friday, March 6th, 2009. The service for the downtown churches of Saskatoon was hosted by St. Andrew’s and organized by Adela MacDonald and Helen Foss, in cooperation with women from seven neighbourhood churches. The liturgy was prepared and adapted by the Women’s Inter-Church Council of Canada.
Scripture: Romans 12:4-21; Exodus 2:1-10; Acts 4:32-35
The earliest Christian church, described in the book of Acts, sounds so wonderful, doesn’t it? “Those who believed were of one heart and soul…” Doesn’t that sound lovely when you think about the disagreements and conflicts in our churches today? “With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus…” Doesn’t that kind of preaching sound inspiring? “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned land or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.” Wow! Not a needy person among them — no one left out — because they all committed to share what they had, and it was enough for all.
I think that most often, when we read this text about the early Christian church, we start comparing it to our own congregations and parishes. We notice that our Christian communities are not nearly so unified. We complain that our leaders are not nearly so inspiring. And we are challenged by the example of the first Christian church to share our resources generously so that there will not be a needy person among us.
The Western world that we live in (with its capitalist, consumer-focused, individualistic character) has shaped us into people for whom that communal life and sharing does not come easily. It doesn’t matter if we’ve been church members our whole lives, if we want to love and care for our neighbours, or if we’re committed to the mission and ministry of our churches… still, we have been socialized to think and to live as individuals, to give out of what we don’t need ourselves, and to serve when and if we have extra time and energy left after taking care of ourselves and our families and our interests.
Don’t get me wrong… I know that I’m preaching to a room full of faithful church members today. You’re the kind of people who show up to events like the World Day of Prayer. You’re the people who serve on committees, and come in to your churches mid-week to volunteer in all kinds of ways. You’re the people who give pastoral care to other church members and who pray for the concerns of your own church and the world.
But still, if you’re like me, it’s hard to imagine living the way of the early church — where all you have belongs to the church, where all your own concerns are set aside for the sake of the community, where you give everything away, trusting that you will also be cared for, as you are caring for your neighbours in need.
The theme for today’s World Day of Prayer is “In Christ, there are many members, yet one body.” The metaphor of the church as the body of Christ is featured in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, and he uses the same image of the church as a body here in his letter to the Roman Christians.
All of you church women and men have heard this body metaphor many times over the years. You’ve probably been invited to consider your own gifts and talents, and to think about what part you might be in Christ’s body. But with today’s theme, we are called not to focus on which body parts we might be, but to remember that all the parts are connected to each other in the one body.
Take a moment, and become aware of your own body sitting in your pew. Most of the time, we’re not aware of many of our body parts. We’re focused on the task at hand, and we just trust that our body parts will do what they need to do. So let’s take a moment to become aware of our bodies and all their parts. Think about your feet, and feel them resting on the floor. Wiggle your toes, and notice how they feel. Feel your legs and your knees and your thighs. Now feel your abdomen and your chest. Become aware of your breathing, and your heart beating, and maybe your stomach rumbling. Now feel your back. Feel your shoulders. Take a moment to move your fingers… notice your hands and then your arms. Feel your neck and your head, and the muscles of your face. Take notice of all your individual parts and how they feel.
Now, if your body is healthy and well today, you probably found that to be a simple exercise — thinking through all the members of your body in turn. But do any of you have a sore back today? Or tired feet? Do any of you have painful arthritis in your hands or in your hips? Those parts of your body that are ill or injured may be crying out for your attention. And because all the parts belong to one body, the whole body is affected by the pain. The other parts work to compensate, and the injured part is not easily forgotten.
Imagine if your church worked like that. If one member was suffering in pain or grief or poverty, then all the church members would share in that suffering. All the church members would be aware, and would work to bring relief. We would weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice. We would love one another with mutual affection, and contribute to the needs of all. That is the kind of connectedness that we are called to have within our parishes and congregations. And it is also the kind of connectedness that we are called to have throughout the whole church — the worldwide church.
The World Day of Prayer can help us in developing those connections, as we learn about Christians in another part of the world. We hear their stories and pray for them and their needs. We learn of their suffering in many ways, we begin to feel for them, and we are moved to help in whatever ways we can.
But we North American Christians are not always the healthy and strong members of the body. Though we may have more freedom and more resources at our disposal, sometimes Christians in other parts of the world have much to teach us about being the church — about being a healthy body of Christ in the world.
We heard the story of the conflict and civil war on the island of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea. We heard that more than 20,000 people were killed during a 15 year war, and how the government was unable to find a peaceful solution. But we also heard how the women of the churches came together to look for ways to end the conflict. They travelled from far away to reach the centre of the crisis. They came together despite differences in language, tradition, and church denomination. They risked their own lives to meet with rebel forces in the bush, and with much prayer and work they were able to bring peace.
Most of the time, when our neighbours are suffering, we stay on the side lines. We criticize our governments for not doing something more to help. We are heard saying, “Oh, isn’t it awful!” but we still don’t experience the problems as something that directly affects us, so we rarely do anything to help. The example of the women of Papua New Guinea can give us inspiration. They felt the pain and suffering of their neighbours, and risked their own well-being to find a solution. They were so connected to the larger body, that they felt one another’s pain and worked to alleviate it.
On this World Day of Prayer, we are asking God to bind us together into one body — and that connection will call us both to pray and to act for the well-being of all God’s children. The Christian women of Papua New Guinea understand what it means to be one body in Christ. It means that together, we have the power to do the things that Jesus did — to love, to forgive, to feed the hungry, to bring healing and peace.
The way of Jesus is not an easy way — for it calls us to risk and to sacrifice, and to give our lives for one another. But the way of Jesus is also the way of victory. As Christian women, we know this. In the life, and death, and resurrection of Jesus we have seen and known and believe that the power of God can bring life out of death, and overcome evil with good. May God bind us together today, that we may truly be the body of Christ doing Christ’s work throughout the world. Amen.