St John's Church Victoria
Anyone who reads the letters of St Paul must quickly become aware that his ministry was far from being that smooth-running affair which some people like to suppose their own and Christian life will be.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul catalogues some of the things he suffered for the sake of Jesus Christ. He was imprisoned, he was flogged, stoned, shipwrecked. He endured hunger, thirst, cold and heat; he was subjected to the lies of fellow Christians and the broken promises of those whom he had trusted.
Then, almost as an afterthought, he adds "and besides all these things which are outside me, I suffer within myself every day from worrying about all the churches under my care".
In drawing this distinction between "external" and "internal" anxieties Saint Paul is saying that his relationship with the churches he had helped to found was much more like that of a mother towards the children she has born and nurtured than, say, the attitude of the founder or manager of a chain of grocery stores towards individual branches.
Yes, of course, it's a tragedy if the manager of one of the branches goes off the rails, or if the branch is so badly managed as to become unprofitable. But how much more tragic and wounding is it for the mother who sees her son being imprisoned for fraud, or her daughter being hooked on heroin. Yet that is how St Paul saw the consequences of the "unruly wills and affections of sinful men" upon the churches to which his labours had given birth.
This confusion between the view of the Church as being like a chain of grocery stores, and the view of the Church as the Body of Christ is very widespread today.
It gives rise to the equally serious mistake of believing that what happens in one Church is no concern of any of the others -- like the shortcomings of one branch of Safeway's has little so do with any of the other branches providing they are doing reasonably well; whereas the fact is that, like the human body, when one member of the Church or one Church in a Communion falls sick, the health of the whole body is put at risk.
Now it needs to be said that the health of Christ's body on earth, the Church into which you and I a were baptised and thereby became "members of Christ" is worse today than for at least 150 years. It doesn't matter which way you look, there is enough falsehood being taught and practised and preached to render the whole body thoroughly unsound and sick.
Of course there are bits of it which are working well – your Church and mine are a perhaps relatively healthy. But what's the use of a hand that perfectly well if it's part of the body with advanced lung cancer, or an ear that can hear connected to a heart which is about to pack up?
But that's the state we're in as members of Christ. If you doubt this it can only mean that you're not well-acquainted "with the whole state of Christ's Church militant here upon earth". Now it needs to be said that the health of Christ's body on earth, the Church into which you when I a were baptised and thereby became "members of Christ" is worse today than for at least 150 years. It doesn't matter which way you look, there is enough falsehood being taught and practised and in preached to render the whole body thoroughly unsound and sick.
Of course there are bits of it which are working well – your Church and mine are nine perhaps relatively healthy. But what's the use of a hand that perfectly well if it's part of the body with advanced lung cancer, or only idea that can here connected to one heart which is about to pack up?
But that's the state we're in as members of Christ. If you doubt this it can only mean that you're not well-acquainted "with the whole state of Christ's Church militant here upon earth"
If any body is to be healed it's essential to have a proper diagnosis of what's wrong with it. We all need to become better informed about each other's well-being.
Saint Paul you remember was always sending his colleagues like Timothy and Titus and Lucius Jason and Epaphras back to the churches he had begotten to see how they were getting on; and when they had come back with their report he wrote them his epistles or letters to address the specific problems that they found there. Read any one of his letters and you will see that so far from his letters saying "having a good time, wish you were here, and love to all" he is addressing the most serious problems which have arisen and on causing havoc to his handiwork.
"But," you may say, "how can we possibly know what is happening in other churches than our own?" Well it's pretty clear that if St Paul had had access to the Internet he would have made the fullest possible use of it, both to keep himself informed about what is going on, and to keep in communication with his spiritual children for whom he cared so deeply.
Every parish worth its salt should have a website, perhaps with just one page giving details of how to get there and the times of services; or perhaps with much more information. If, in addition, each such website were linked to two or three larger ones which shared its beliefs and purposes, that would open up a an enormous resource. My own site for instance has over 3000 pages of doctrine, sermons, questions, answers, reviews -- and it's just one among many. And if in addition to this people used the Internet to write letters to each other about their churches in the manner of St Paul we should find the grocery-chain one model quickly disappearing and being replaced by the parent-and-child model which is so much closer to the truth.
Today's collect prays that "among the sundry and manifold to changes of the world our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joy is hard to be found."
The final consummation of that prayer, of course, must wait till we have departed this life. nevertheless whilst we are still on earth we can and should experience the joy of knowing that we are part of the mystical body of Christ "for", to quote son Paul again this time to the Ephesians:
"the whole body physically joined together and compacted by that which each joint supplieth, according to the efficient working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body into the building up of itself in love".
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