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  Sermon of the Week

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  Freedom and Worship -
by Guerin Tueno
1 Cor 11


  How do you stop your body falling apart? Believe it or not that's that topic that we're addressing today. I know it sounds like a visit to the gym, or an article in Men's Health magazine, but that what Paul's addressing in this chapter of his letter to the Corinthian Church.
  How to stop your body falling apart.
  At the start of the year, Emma had gone to visit her family in Canberra, leaving me home alone. Sounding like a disaster already... I was up late at night, making scenery for the wargame I play. I was cutting cardboard with a scalpel to make some bunkers. I had a metal ruler that I was using to guide the blade, and keep me intact. Guess what?
  I slipped.
  I gazed at my finger as blood poured out of the cut. I tried to stop the bleeding by wrapping it up, and putting pressure on the cut. But the tissue got stuck, and when I took it away the cut reopened, and more it poured blood again.
  I rang Em at midnight for help, but she'd already gone to bed – and my mother-in-law had been too, until I woke her up. I ended up driving myself to St. Vincent's hospital for help.
  So there I sat, feeling sorry for myself, and a little foolish to boot. Then there was the agony of having stitches put into the end of my finger. Having your body fall apart is not fun. Even less so when its self-inflicted.
  Paul is addressing two self-inflicted wounds in this passage. He's telling the Corinthians how to stop their body, the church falling apart.
  The Women's Problem
  After saying he commends them for holding onto the traditions, that means the teachings, that he gave them. He adds a corrective, for the first of two issues that are leading the body, the church in Corinth, to fall apart.
  There are some women in Corinth who are doing something unhelpful in their times of worship together that is distracting or disrupting proceedings.
  Sometimes Paul is portrayed as a misogynist – a woman hater.
  Women should be silent and submissive. But that's not the Paul we meet here. In verse 5 the problem is not that women are praying or prophesying in the church meetings. Its the way they're doing it, that is the issue. A lot of ink has been spilled about this. What was so wrong with what they were doing?
  It seems likely that for a woman to have her head uncovered was a sign of something. Mourning for a death. Being the mistress of a well-to-do man. Being one of the sacred Temple Prostitutes who worked in the famous temples in Corinth. And having your hair shaved off was to be marked as a slave.
  What ever reason it was, its disrupting the church's worship. The church is starting to fall apart.
  This is not a major operation that Paul's engaged in. This is more like my run in with a scalpel. It hurts. It bleeds. I've damaged my body. But it isn't life threatening. This is a minor procedure.
  What Dr Paul does is give the Corinthians arguments that they already knew to act as band aids. To hold the body together, and stop it bleeding out. So what is Paul's prescription?
  First he brings them to the Bible, back to Genesis. In vs 7-8 he takes us back to Genesis 1 and 2. He's saying from Genesis 1 that humankind are made in the image of God. In Genesis the Word Man is used to communicate both the Gender Man, and the whole of humanity. And Paul's saying that Man gender is the reflection of God. And from Genesis 2 he's saying that Woman is the reflection of man.
  Actually the word reflection is unhelpful, the word is better translated as glory, like the NIV does. Man is the glory of God. Woman is the glory of Man.
  Paul isn't denigrating women. It's like we have the expression "How's your better half?" Woman in Genesis 2 was made from, and for man. To be his companion, friend and helper. I think Paul's thinking especially of marriage. If some of the wives in the church were thinking of the freedom that we've heard the church had been abusing, they might have thought, "Great! I'm free. I don't need to observe the accepted norms. I can dress as I like!"
  If that's the case, Paul's not denying that they're free, but that they're not at liberty to turn the church on its head and confuse it.
  I recognise that this is an emotive passage, on a emotive topic. And there could be people here of differing views on what the Bible says about men and women. I want to affirm that Paul's issue isn't women leading worship, or even teaching through their prophecy, but the way in which they do it.
  And even if you want to make more of the authority of men, the sort of authority Paul writes about in Ephesians is the absolutely loving and self-giving servant authority that Jesus expresses for the church.
  Paul's reasons for women to be covered also include "For the sake of Angels in v10." And no – I don't know what that means. I doubt if anyone does. And in v14 he says that nature teaches that men have short hair, and women long. Maybe that means that the problem was women in the church looking like men?
  Whatever the problem is, it was damaging the Christian body. Paul's appeal is for them to not to distract the church. Not to abuse their freedom if it hurts other believers when they gather together.
  Paul seems to be appealing to the Corinthian women on the basis of things well known to them, and the wider culture around them.
  What does this mean for us? A literalist approach would have women wearing scarves, like in the Brethren church.
  But I think there's a better way of understanding and obeying the Bible on this.
  It's not about "women being put in their place". Its about our attitude to meeting together. Doing things that don't throw the church into disarray. Clothing and appearance are part of it. In just the last chapter Paul says he tries to not put barriers in front of them coming to Jesus. The way we look and behave can help or hinder others in the church, and outside.
  Anyone who's seen me outside of here knows I'm usually in jeans and an old t-shirt. But I make an effort when I come here to lead, because I don't want you to think I'm being disrespectful. When I speak at a Youth Service, or at the Deakin Christian Union I'll wear what's appropriate there. I'll try to match my speaking style to the people I'm with. I'll try to make my appearance, and presence the one that will do the most good.
  That's all I want to say on this first section. Maybe you disagree with me. What I'd ask you to observe, is that Paul ranks issues differently. He says this is an issue. Deal with it.
  But about their abuse of the Lord's supper he says in v30, that's a matter of life and death. The whole chapter is about how to stop the Body falling apart. This first one is a papercut. A grazed knee. The next is a malignant cancer. A severe road trauma. This is Paul's real concern.
  When you go to a hospital you get triaged according to how urgently you need help. With my cut finger I was waiting for hours. But a serious case gets rushed through. That's what we're looking at now.
  The Lord's Supper
  So what's the issue? What makes how the Corinthians remember and celebrate Jesus' death in their worship together so important?
  The problem is that there is a divide happening in the church. The Body is in deadly peril of tearing itself apart. This is no band aid situation – they need major surgery!
  The problem is along class lines. When they come together in their homes churches, inequality is being practised. Apparently they'd meet together for a common meal in which they remember Jesus' death. In Corinth, each person brought food to share for the meal. Like us having a potluck lunch.
  You see the problem in verses 20-22. They aren't really celebrating the Lord's Supper. Some are getting drunk and eating too much. Some are going without – left hungry. The rich are showing contempt for the poor. Humiliating those who have nothing. The rich are coming with all their lavish food, and starting without the poor. The rich could come as they pleased, but a slave would have to wait until their Master would let them go. The rich are making pigs of themselves and leaving the poor with nothing.
  Does this sound like a good communion service to you? Does this demonstrate love among the Corinthian church, the kind of love Jesus showed in his death?
  So Paul explains what we hear so regularly – the story of the Last Supper. That the broken bread reminds us of Jesus' body broken for us. The wine reminds us of Jesus' blood shed for us, blood that seals the new relationship, new covenant God has established with us. To eat and drink as the Corinthians were doing denigrates what Jesus did. Their lack of love eclipses Jesus' act of love in his death. Eating and drinking in an unworthy manner is NOT about the physical process, whether you slurp from the cup, or chew too loudly. Its about your attitude to the rest of the Christian body around you.
  Paul's employing a play on words. He's talking about the Jesus' body remembered in the meal and saying that therefore we need to be mindful of his body around us. His body – the church.
  This is Dr Paul's medicine to stop the body falling apart.
  Consider the body of Christ you belong to. Worship together in ways that build that body up, rather than dividing it. Letting the style of the meal, match the substance of Jesus' death.
  Paul's remedy, is to wait for everyone before beginning. This isn't an ordinary meal to fill your stomach – its a special meal to reflect on Jesus' death for all of us. Those who're hungry are to eat before them come – getting your fill isn't the aim. It's to reflect on the fullness of God's unmerited love towards us.
  The reason we celebrate communion as just bread and wine, rather than a meal is because of the lack of love the Corinthians showed. The point of communion for us too, isn't to eat your full, but to reflect upon Jesus' death and wait for his return.
  The reason we "pass the peace" with each other (peace be with you, etc...) isn't a chance to say hi to friends we haven't seen all week. Its time for us to express our unity, our oneness as a body. So when we remember Jesus' body broken for us, we do it as one body.
  It's a chance to mend fences, to seek reconciliation with each other, before we celebrate our reconciliation with God.
  It's about us coming collectively to remember Jesus' death. I don't take communion without taking it alongside of you, and Chris, or Emma, or Di, or Robin. This is Jesus' body given for us. Not me.
  So – how do you stop your body falling apart?
  Paul has given us two examples – and a very important principle underlying them both. Although here coverings and the Lord's Supper seem to be miles apart, in both situations what the Corinthians lacked, was love for other member of the Church.
  In the next chapter Paul will write about how we are indeed members of one body. We belong to each other. We need each other. Here in chapter 11, we've seen two real life examples of how the Christian body can start to self-destruct.
  The issue of women covering their hair may seem strange and quaint today. But for the Corinthians it was a serious issue. It was damaging the church. For whatever reason it was a problem, some of the Corinthians women were inflicting damage on the body. They might not have meant to, but it was contentious nonetheless.
  In the case of the Lord's supper, it was much more serious. Even life and death serious. And why? Because people were acting without love for other Christians. Their spiritual brothers and sisters. People for whom Christ died. It's no wonder that Paul comes down so heavily on them.
  And from these two examples comes our golden principle. Christians are called by God to build up and not abuse the church.
  To act with love towards other Christians. This is sounding a lot like Jesus saying to do to others as you would have them treat you. (Matt 7:12) Or, to love your neighbour as you love yourself (Matt 22:39) Or John in his first letter (1 John 4:20) – you can't say you love God is you don't love your brother and sister Christians! This isn't some minor issue for Corinth. It's alive and well for us today!
  That careless word about somebody. The insisting of our own way. Holding a grudge against someone, letting it fester in our hearts when we go forward for communion or when we sing songs about loving God. Because there's a person behind the principle of building up the church. God has a high view of the church. When we talk about high views of the church we often mean bells and smells. Long elaborate hand gestures. Candles everywhere. God's high view of the church is that he loves it. God treasures the church. Not the buildings or institution. The Church God loves, the Church the Bible speaks of is the people. The church is people.
  In Revelation 21 the church is the Bride of Christ, dressed beautifully for her husband. God loves the church with all his heart. Mess with the church and you mess with God. For Christians to distance themselves from the life of the church breaks God's heart. Our society thinks in terms of the individual. And it is true that God loves each one of us, but he also loves us collectively. Together. As one unit. The church matters to God.
  And he is working passionately for that day that John saw in Revelation, when God and his church will be face to face. Embraced for all eternity. Perfect relationship between God and his people. If that matter to God, it should matter to us. That's why Paul treats these issues so seriously. God loves the church. And he calls his people to love it , to build up, and not abuse it.

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