lunes, 28 de noviembre de 2011

An Old Prayer for a New Context



"Gracious Father, we, Thy children, so often confused, live at cross-purposes in our central aims, and hence we are at cross-purposes with each other. Take us by the hand and help us to see things from Thy viewpoint, that we may see them as they really are. We come to choices and decisions with a prayer upon our lips, for our wisdom fails us. Give us Thine, that we may do Thy will. In Jesus' name. Amen."

Peter Marshall, 1947

(quoted by James H. Smylie, in A Brief History of The Presbyterians, 1996, Louisville KY: Geneva Press, p.119)

lunes, 21 de noviembre de 2011

A Healthy Body

1st Corinthians 12.11-31 NIV

Some Christians idealize the life of the primitive church. Some even say that the contemporary church should be more like the Christian churches of the first century. I believe that we should study the life of the first congregations, but this should be done with a careful and critical approach. We should consider the strengths of the first century church in order to follow its virtues and we should consider its weaknesses to avoid them. The New Testament epistles provide an excellent witness of the life of the first century churches. Today's reading invites us to reflect on the life of the Corinthian congregation founded by the Apostle Paul.
 
It should be noted that the Corinthian church was abundant in spiritual gifts – manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the life of its members. However, their abundance of spiritual gifts was matched only by an equal abundance of problems. A brief overview of the letter, may help us understand the condition of the church. The Corinthian congregation had serious divisions, and so it is stated in chapters 1 through 4 (1.10-4.21). Church members aligned in clans, according to their favorite leaders. It seems that some of them had developed prideful and boastful attitudes (4.6-21). Some members were also practicing adultery and the church opted to ignore this (5.1-13), and a number of disputes between church members ended in civil courts (6.1-11). There was confusion about sexual ethics-- chapters 6 and 7 present examples of inappropriate sexual conduct-- and there was also confusion and conflicts regarding the types of food allowed to be consumed or to be avoided (8.1-11.1). To make matters worse, there was debauchery during the Lord's Supper (11.17-34), where some people rushed to eat first, rich members received preferential treatment, poor members were undervalued, and some members fell in drunkenness and gluttony. Last, the letter shows that there was significant confusion about spiritual gifts: some members felt spiritually superior to others because of their charismatic manifestations (12.1-14.40).
 
In light of all this confusion and spiritual immaturity, the Apostle Paul wrote the letter as a resource to help the church understand its nature and its challenges. Paul focused chapter 12 on unity, making a comparison between the church and the human body. This kind of comparison is common in other New Testament writings (Romans and Ephesians), where the church is portrayed as the body of Christ: many parts, but only ONE body (12.20).
 
Now, when we look carefully at this description, we can point out that Paul essentially aims his teaching to two type of members: those with low self-esteem and those with an extremely high self-esteem. The apostle devotes verses 15-17 to those members with a low self-esteem. These are the members that think they are not an important part of the body. Even more, these are the members that wish they were something else: “Let me be a hand, not a foot”. These are the members that miss out on the joy and the blessing of living their true calling because they are dreaming of or seeking to do something else. And they do poorly, trying do something for what God has NOT called them to do, while NOT doing what they should.
 
The verses that follow (verses 21-24), refer to those members that think of themselves as superior to others to the point of believing they have no need of anyone else. These are the members whose self-esteem is so high, they experience delusions of greatness and power, failing to appreciate the genuine worth and the need of other members.
 
Dear sisters and brothers, the presbytery's theme for today focuses on the second “Great End of The Church” as stated on The Book of Order (F-1.0304): “the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God”. In order to fulfill this “end”, we need to be a healthy body. Having reviewed the situation of the Corinthian church, we can identify some of the factors that the Church today needs in order to be healthy; not sick and dying.
 
To be healthy, the body needs to recognize and accept the particular characteristics of each member. The Scriptures teach us that, even though each member has its own characteristics and functions, there is only one body. To be a healthy body, no member can reject another because he or she is different. To be a healthy body, no member can try to impose on others his or her own functions. The nose can't expect the hand to breathe, because the act of “breathing” is something that the nose, in combination with the lungs, does. Each member has its own particularities and are all part of the body (12.27). To be a healthy body there is need for integration. All the parts need each other and can't function separated. We would end up with a dismembered body otherwise. Every member needs to be connected to each other and connected to the Head, Jesus Christ.
 
Isn't this Scriptural passage clear? The metaphor of the body doesn't have complex theological or philosophical concepts. We don't need to have graduate degrees in theology to understand this biblical text. Paul wrote plain and simple for everyone's sake. Now, if this passage is so easy to understand... Why is it so difficult to put it into practice? What are we, the contemporary Christians, turning the body of Christ into? Why, after so many centuries, are members still underestimating others? Why are some body parts seeking the spotlight and devaluing others in a “without-me-there-is-no-church” attitude? Why do we live thinking, “it's my way or the highway”? Aren't we understanding what the Scripture is teaching? God's will, as it is witnessed in the Scriptures, is the integration of Christ's body, not its dismemberment. We are called to community life, where each part of the body connects with others in order to fulfill God's mission, summarized in what we call “The Great Ends of The Church”. We are called to unity, where joys and sorrows are shared by the whole. We are not cloned body parts, but a united body that embraces the gifts and characteristics of each other for the sake of the Gospel. Verse 18 declares that «in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be»... «Every one of them»: including you and me. Let us pray that every one of us may play our part with dedication and commitment. Let us pray that every one of us may contribute to “the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God” with our own features and gifts...
 
As an after-word, I would like to draw our attention to the end of chapter 12 and the beginning of chapter 13: «Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love...» I think that we all remember the rest...

Soli Deo Gloria.

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**This sermon was preached to the Presbytery of Tropical Florida meeting at Pinecrest Presbyterian Church on Saturday, November 19, 2011.

Iglesia eres tú...


Me resulta curioso observar una y otra vez la generalización del concepto iglesia = templo.  Durante mis años de obra pastoral he enseñado que la iglesia no es el edificio, sino la comunidad creyente.  Ahora bien, he observado que quienes han entendido que iglesia es la comunidad y no el edificio, no se perciben a sí mismos como parte de esa comunidad.  Es decir, aunque participan semanalmente de los servicios de adoración a Dios y otros eventos eclesiales, no se ven a sí mismos como iglesia, iglesia es "la otra gente", el liderato, quienes participan en comités y grupos de trabajo.  Lo cierto es que iglesia somos todos(as).  Por eso es importante que al referirnos a "la misión de la iglesia", entendamos que no es la misión de otras personas, sino nuestra.  Donde quiera que estemos, hablemos y obremos, allí está, habla y obra la iglesia.  Con eso en mente te invito a reflexionar sobre las siguientes porciones del Libro de Confesiones (Primera parte de la Constitución de la Iglesia Presbiteriana EUA) con un sentido de pertenencia, es decir, con la conciencia de que iglesia eres tú, iglesia soy yo...
«La Iglesia Cristiana es la congregación de los hermanos en la cual Jesucristo actúa al presente como el Señor en la Palabra y el sacramento por medio del Espíritu Santo. Como la Iglesia de pecadores perdonados, tiene que testificar en medio de un mundo pecaminoso, con su fe así como con su obediencia, con su mensaje como con su orden; que la iglesia es solamente propiedad de él, y que ella vive y desea vivir sólo por su consolación y dirección, en la expectativa de su aparición.» (Declaración Teológica de Barmen, 8.17)

«La vida, la muerte, la resurrección y el retorno prometido de Jesucristo han establecido el modelo para la misión de la iglesia. Su vida como ser humano envuelve a la iglesia en la vida ordinaria de la humanidad. Su servicio a los seres humanos compromete a la iglesia a trabajar en pro del bienestar humano en todas sus formas. Su sufrimiento hace a la iglesia sensible a todos los sufrimientos humanos, de manera que contempla la faz de Cristo en el rostro de los seres humanos que sufren toda clase de privaciones. Su crucifixión revela a la iglesia el juicio de Dios sobre la crueldad del ser humano hacia sus semejantes, y las consecuencias terribles de su propia complicidad en la injusticia.» (Confesión de 1967, 9.32)

«En el poder del Cristo resucitado y en la esperanza de su retorno, la iglesia contempla la promesa de la renovación de la vida del ser humano en la sociedad y de la victoria de Dios sobre toda maldad. La iglesia sigue este modelo en su forma de vida y en su método de trabajo. Vivir y servir de esta manera es confesar a Cristo como Señor.» (Confesión de 1967, 9.33)