Monday, April 18, 2016
While Paul’s writing includes philosophical and poetic passages, it’s not esoteric. Paul’s teaching is incarnational. He sees that the Gospel message must have concrete embodiment. Concrete embodiment is Jesus’ idea of church, too. Jesus’ first vision of church is “two or three gathered in my name” (Matthew 18:20). This is why he insists that the message be communicated not by the lone evangelist but sent the Twelve out “two by two” (Mark 6:7). The individual is not a fitting communicator of the core message, and I am not either. (A lovely little team makes these daily meditations possible at several levels!)
During Paul’s lifetime, the church was not yet an institution or structural grouping of common practices and beliefs. The church was a living organism that communicated the Gospel through relationships. This fits with Paul’s understanding of Christ as what we might call an energy field, something in which you live inside and participate organically.
Paul’s brilliant metaphor for this living, organic, concrete embodiment is the body of Christ: “For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them” (Romans 12:4-6). At the heart of this body, providing the energy that enlivens the community is “the love of God that has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5).
This Spirit is itself the foundational energy of the universe, the ground of all being. As Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “At this point in my thinking, it is not enough for me to proclaim that God is responsible for all this unity. Instead, I want to proclaim that God is the unity—the very energy, the very intelligence, the very elegance and passion that make it all go.”  In fact, modern physics and molecular biology are making this quintessentially clear. Union is not just pious rambling or pretty poetry, but the concrete work of God in love-making. Paul writes, “Now you in your togetherness are Christ’s Body” (see 1 Corinthians 12:27). In our connectedness with this luminous web, this vibrational state of love, we are participating in the embodiment of God. We witness this every time we see a flower bloom, a horse nuzzle, a dog come to be petted, a research scientist care, or the sun again agree to shine (for no payment or return!).
Paul’s communities are the audiovisual aids he can point to, giving credibility to his statements about new life. To people who ask, “Why should we believe there’s a new life?” Paul can say, “Look at these people. They’re different. They’ve been changed.” As Jesus said, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
For Jesus, such teachings as forgiveness, healing, and justice are the clear evidence of a shared life. When we do not see this happening, religion is “all in the head.” Peacemaking, forgiveness, and reconciliation are not some kind of ticket to heaven later. They are the price of peoplehood—the signature of heaven—now.
Gateway to Silence:
We are one in the Spirit.
 Barbara Brown Taylor, The Luminous Web: Essays on Science and Religion (Cowley Publications: 2000), 55.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Great Themes of Paul: Life as Participation (Franciscan Media: 2002), disc 9 (CD); and
Near Occasions of Grace (Orbis Books: 1993), 51.