by John Roy Pelham Road Church, Greenville, SC.
“Corpus Christi” is Latin for the Body of Christ. This year we are going to explore the width and depth of what it means to be Christ body in our world.
The messages during the month of September address the over-arching purpose of the life, witness, death, and resurrection of Christ.
The Brief Message of Jesus
He Went around doing Good
The Best News
The Mystical Body of Christ
Of all the identified religions Christianity is the most widespread. Being the largest also means it is the most diverse. There are three major divisions: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants. Within Protestants, which is our side of the family tree, we have charismatics to Calvinist, Amish to United Methodist, Mainliners to Outsiders. Yet this is Christ Body on earth, those who wear robes and swing incense to those who get baptized in the spirit this is our family and Christ Body. What a family.
Christianity, in whatever form you encounter it centers on the life of Jesus from Nazareth. Jesus was born around 4 B.C., he was baptized by a prophet named John, he gathered followers and began a teaching and healing ministry at 30. In time he encountered the hostility of those who disagreed with his teaching and the suspicion of Rome. This led to him being sentenced to death by the authorities of his day. He was crucified, and later the tomb where he was laid was found to be empty. In time his disciples saw him alive and others reported experiencing the living Jesus.
At a minimum, Jesus was a charismatic worker of miracles. He stood in a proud Jewish tradition of a spiritual man uncorrupted by the world. He was the man spoken of in Psalm 1.
Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law, they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
He was a man who mediated the world seen and the world unseen, Jesus provided the bridge to take people from brokenness to wholeness, from life bound by the flesh to a life quickened by the Spirit.
It would appear from an investigation of Jesus’ words that the Spirit is where he found the wisdom and strength to be this bridge, to bind up the brokenness. This morning we will consider the Spirit and how Jesus drew upon the spirit to create healing and a new social arrangement.
- The Spirit of the Lord is upon me
According to Luke Jesus opened his ministry by quoting from the prophet Isaiah. Where he announces that the Spirit is upon him.
Now we don’t live in an age where the spirit, any spirit, is taken seriously. In fact, when people use such language they end up on the edge of respectability.
The doctor does not refer to the spirit. The pharmacist does not speak of spirit. The lawyer does not speak of spirit. Spirit language is almost dead. We live in the world of procedures, drugs, and legislation. About the only place, we use the word spirit is in regards to sports or country. In these situations, it is really a synonym for enthusiasm. “Team Spirit” the “American Spirit.” Never defined and never holy the spirit is a way of explaining why people spend money they don’t have to follow a team or why people get tattoos of their team’s logo on their arm or paint their face in team colors.
Oddly enough we once used spirit to describe liquor. Technically speaking “spirits” is reserved for liquor (gin, rum, etc), not wine or beer. The reason these liquors were also called “spirits” was in the distilling process the mash would begin by being cloudy and then the vapor would be released into the air, thus clearing up the remaining alcohol. When the monks (who often were running the distillery—at least in Europe) witnessed this process they named what was left behind the spirit.
So spirits, at least as the distillers saw it, was the true essence of the beverage. When Jesus says the spirit is upon him he is saying—the essence of God is with him.
What happens when you live in a world where we exercise the spirit from medicine, education, family, or the church. Well, you end up with very efficient organizations that perform best practices, the most up to date methods, but without understanding the essence of who we are or what God has created us to be.
The spirit was Jesus specialty. The religion of his day and the politics of his day had forgotten the “Spirit.” What remained was law and order.
At his baptism, it is reported that the heavens opened and the spirit descended on Jesus like a dove. The spirit (the essence of God) went with Jesus into the wilderness. What followed were 40 days of impractical living, out of date rituals, and certainly not what our world would label best practices. Yet it was these 40 days where the spirit went from entering Jesus to controlling Jesus. Once he was owned by the spirit Jesus entered again the world, empowered.
- By the spirit of God, I cast out demons
Unlike modern man, the ancient Hebrews believed in the superiority of the spirit to nature. In this world, the world Jesus was sent to, illness, erratic behavior, and all other forms of maladies were blamed on the spirits.
Shamans, medicine men, and healers were the answer in this pre-scientific era. Albert Schweitzer was a man of science. A modern man. An accomplished theologian, a world class musician, and a physician. As a Christian and physician, he answered the call and left his beloved France and went to Africa to serve as a missionary.
Of course in Africa, he often encountered Medicine Men and so Albert recognized that the spirit world was very much a real world. His education taught him about the natural world, which of course is real, but like Jesus, Albert recognized that there were problems beyond not being able to walk or speak.
Jesus, if he were only a healer would not have developed much of a reputation beyond the Sea of Galilee. What made Jesus more was that the spirit was not simply an instrument, but the spirit was his guide. So following the spirit Jesus turns to changing the kingdom of the earth to the kingdom of God.
- Thy Kingdom come on Earth
Politically speaking the Jews during the life of Jesus were desperate. For over a century they had lost their freedom to the Romans. There were four typical responses to this crisis.
First, the Sadducees preached let’s make the best of a bad situation. Accommodate the Greek culture and Roman authority. Don’t rock the boat you might tip it over.
Second, the Essene considered the world too corrupt to continue so they removed themselves from the world. Withdrawing and practicing piety in obscure villages and mountain caves.
Third, the Pharisees wanted to stay engaged in the world, not retreat. But instead of accommodating and living like a Roman, they said to live like a Jew. Follow the law, especially the holiness code.
Fourth, the final group believed the only way to change things was with armed rebellion. They did revolt and they lost.
Jesus comes with a fifth option. Unlike the Sadducees Jesus wanted social change, not accommodation. Unlike the Essene, Jesus went into the world , not into a cave. Unlike the revolutionaries who carried swords, Jesus preached and practiced peacemaking. It was the Pharisees Jesus stood closest to. The difference between the two was what they emphasized in the Torah. The Pharisees rallied around the holiness code, while Jesus stressed the compassion of God. This seems like a modest difference, but in the end, it would turn out to be too large of a gulf to span.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
The Pharisees believed if the law was practiced Judaism would be revived. Jesus, agreed, holiness was to be practiced, with one exception, he did not believe in the lines of us and them the Pharisees so cleverly created. The Pharisees, from food to people, believed there were unclean things to be avoided. Jesus believed you could practice holiness with compassion.
The system erected by the Pharisees created clean and unclean people. This was a social structure Jesus could not endorse. The man made barriers had to be broken down and Jesus would invest his three years teaching, healing, loving, and modeling to tear them down.
In the wrong hands, the church becomes something it was not meant to be. Without the guidance of Christ, we can veer off the path and become a social club, a political action committee, or a relic. We are not the Center for Biblical Studies or the Institute for the Study of Religion, we are not even the Society for Christian Studies we are the BODY OF CHRIST. If we are anything, it is the Institute for Practicing Christianity or the Center for Living Christian Values. There are other places for research; this is a place for action. Christ Body has hands, feet, mouth, and ears, we are about being His body and doing His work. The universities and seminaries can keep the institutes and centers; we have enough to do being the Body of the Living Lord.