Body(building) of Christ

off the couch

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 99; 147:1-11, Isaiah 4:2-6, Ephesians 4:1-16, Matthew 8:28-34

One of Paul’s favorite descriptions of the Church is a body with Christ at its head. In his letter to the Ephesians, he explains how all the gifts of the community work together, just as all the parts of the body work together. He also says the Body of Christ needs to grow into maturity and unity. This growth requires exercise.

Why do we exercise our bodies? Is it just to look good, or is it to keep ourselves fit to accomplish more important tasks? Smart bodybuilders never sacrifice fitness for appearance. Lazy bodybuilders – and churches – do. It’s nice to show off our muscles – be they big biceps or beautiful buildings – but we should never prize them above the overall health of the body. Like healthy bodybuilders, healthy churches achieve results through hard work and good choices; shortcuts result in unsustainable outcomes and dangerous consequences. A body that serves no purpose but to promote itself is not a healthy one.

Bodybuilders are acutely aware of proper proportion. It is easy to focus efforts on areas that respond quickly, don’t tire us, or attract attention. Doing so exclusively, however, leaves key areas neglected. The boring parts are just as important. A church can have a dynamic and popular worship experience, but if it sucks away the energy that could go into mission, the body is out of balance. For bodybuilders such imbalance doesn’t just lose them tournaments, it increases their risk of injury. If the efforts of our Christian body are imbalanced, in the long run we hurt ourselves.

Prevention is the best way to manage injury and illness, but even the most diligent of us may get sick. When that happens, the worst thing to do is ignore it. Far too many people avoid the doctor because of embarrassment or fear. The body of Christ has the same tendencies. We often choose to protect our reputation rather than admit to real problems. Such behavior can be fatal. But it doesn’t have to be. Let’s be sure to take care of the Body in all the right ways!

Comfort: Flex the spiritual muscle you’ve been given – it’s important to the health of the body!

Challenge: Sometimes we think the things that are important to us need to be important to everyone. Try to understand what other people bring to the table that you can’t.What gifts might you undervalue or belittle?

Prayer: God of all good gifts, teach me to make choices to promote the health of the Body. Amen.

Discussion: What gifts – whether yours or someone else’s – might you undervalue or belittle?

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The Seat of Mercy

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 92; 149, Exodus 25:1-22, Colossians 3:1-17, Matthew 4:18-25

The LORD said to Moses: Tell the Israelites to take for me an offering; from all whose hearts prompt them to give you shall receive the offering for me.
– Exodus 25:1-2

The Ark of the Covenant was a container built to hold the tablets of the Ten Commandments, God’s first laws for Israel. Its golden cover, with grand cherubim sculpted into either end, was called the Mercy Seat. The Mercy Seat was where God was present in the center of his people, and where sacrifices were offered for atonement of the sins of the people. All the gold for the Ark, as well as materials for the tabernacle (portable temple) which housed it – other precious metals, fine fabrics, gems, leather, spices, etc. – were collected voluntarily from people whose hearts were moved to give. This was a special kind of generosity since the people of the nation of Israel had only the possessions they had taken with them when they fled Egypt, and were a wandering, exiled people without other resources or trading partners. Each contribution was a meaningful sacrifice. What a wonderful metaphor: God’s dwelling place is created by the generosity of the community.

The Ark was secured in the innermost part of the tabernacle, and later in the temple at Jersualem, called the Holy of Holies. Only high priests were permitted to be in the presence of the Ark, and each year on the Day of Atonement they would sprinkle sacrificial blood on the Mercy Seat. Flash Forward a few centuries and in the outermost part of the temple we would find the money-changers whose presence offended Jesus so much that he drove them out with a whip. What started with the generosity of the people had become a place for the powerful to exploit the poor.

Offering himself as the ultimate sacrifice, Christ fulfilled the law and made the Mercy Seat obsolete. His was the blood of the new covenant, shed for all. We are no longer separated from God by law, but redeemed to him by love. As Paul taught the Colossians, in Christ there is no male or female, Greek or Jew, slave or free … inside the Holy of Holies or outside; all are equal members of the Body of Christ. Together, through our generosity and love, we are tasked with building a holy place, more precious than gold, with this new covenant at its center.

Comfort: God dwells among us.

Challenge:  When you can, work toward reconciliation.

Prayer: Loving God, I thank you for the sacrifice of Jesus the Christ. Make me a worthy bearer of his covenant. Amen.

Discussion: What divisions do you observe among the body of Christ? Conservative or liberal? Catholic or Protestant? Others?

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24/7 Church

calendar-1192688-1599x1227Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 34; 146, Genesis 49:29-50:14, 1 Corinthians 11:2-34, Mark 8:1-10

First century Christians had a different experience of church than altars, organs, choirs, and pews. For safety and other reasons, they gathered in private homes and spaces. Before celebrating The Lord’s Supper, they often had a full meal called a love (agape) feast. Everyone brought food and wine according to their means, and the bread for the Lord’s Supper was taken from the remnants of the earlier meal. The potluck may be one of the earliest Christian traditions.

Paul was disturbed by what he heard was happening at these gatherings in Corinth. Some wealthier members brought a lot of food, but didn’t share it with those who could bring little or nothing. Others were drunk by the time the real purpose of the gathering – celebrating the Lord’s Supper as a community in Christ – could begin. Paul told them whatever these people were celebrating, it certainly wasn’t the Lord’s Supper, because they were in no way honoring the Lord with their mindset or behavior.

Today the agape meal is a far less common form of church gathering, but we are vulnerable to the same types of problems. Participating in communion and worship while we are indifferent to the needs of our neighbors undermines the message of Christ. We may not be drinking wine during Sunday services, but if while we are gathered we indulge our excesses of gossip, vanity, and judgment we are no more focused on Christ than the drunk Corinthians were.

Church is the body we live in constantly. We can’t neglect or abuse the body and expect it to remain healthy. The Sabbath is meant to be a day of rest and worship. Waiting to exercise our faith one day a week is doing exactly the reverse – like sitting on the couch all day Monday through Saturday then trying to run sprints on Sundays – not only aren’t we prepared, we’re doing the body more harm than good. Our week should prepare us for Sunday as much as Sunday prepares us for the week.

Comfort: Jesus is with you all week long.

Challenge: Try to approach every person and situation as if it is a test of your faithfulness. It is.

Prayer: Merciful God, make me ever-mindful of your presence, grace, and will. May my every act be one of worship and gratitude. Amen.

Discussion: When are you on your “best behavior?” When are you not? Why not?

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