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Christian Community: A Sermon on 1 Corinthians 1: 10-18
January 26, 2014, 5:53 pm
Filed under: Sermons | Tags: , , ,

Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ!

What is your vision of church? What kind of community do you expect to find here?

In the paperwork you sent me, you described yourselves as a family. In many different ways, you told this stranger, “we are a family” – “a family of singers.”

Most of the time, when churches call themselves a family, they don’t mean a real family- not the kind of family most of us have- the kind that has struggles and tensions and estrangements. They mean an idyllic family, in which everyone is overflowing with love for the other, always getting along, always working together for the good of the other, always remaining faithful and loyal.

For some reason, when we enter this building, we expect that we have all been transformed at the door. We expect that somehow we have left all of our emotional triggers, our issues, our personalities, and our wants locked up in the car. The reality is that we can’t do that. If we’re a family, we’re a real family, complete with the secrets of a hushed up addiction or the pain of a brother who doesn’t even know how much work it’s been to take care of Mom.

We bring into this place, into this community, all the junk that weighs down our relationships and our lives outside. We also bring a hope and expectation that things here will be different. And when the relationships inside the church as just as messy as they are outside, we can be overwhelmed with disappointment and even a sense of betrayal. We can feel like the others in the community aren’t living up to how they’re supposed to be. We can feel like God hasn’t been present, or isn’t powerful enough, to make the church reflect the joy and peace of heaven.

It can be bad enough that people leave. They might leave their own community in search of a more perfect one. Or, they might simply leave the church and give up on Christian community.

Struggles within the church aren’t anything new. Paul writes to the church in Corinth to help them learn to live together. In today’s reading from First Corinthians, we hear of one conflict in their community. As you read First and Second Corinthians, you’ll find there are many other struggles.

In this first chapter, we learn that the Corinthians are aligning themselves with different teachers. They are proclaiming allegiance to one leader or another, as if they were claiming to be in a different school of thought. If we were to bring this problem into today’s world, it might sound like one person declaring I’m in the ELCA, and another I’m WELS, or I’m American Baptist, or I’m PCUSA. If we were to bring it into our congregation, it might sound like one person saying I support Judy and another I support Kurt or I support the pastor or I think we should call all new leadership.

Paul tries to distance himself from any who would place their loyalty on him. It’s not his wisdom or power that should matter. All that matters is their connection to Jesus. The connection Jesus has made with each person is a connection that is made to the whole community. They have been baptized into the one Lord Jesus and filled with the one Holy Spirit and made into one community as children of God. As Paul writes, in another letter, to the Galatians: There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (3:28).

The tendency to divide and set up ranks against each other has no place in the Christian community. All people are loved, all people are celebrated, all people are claimed by God. Christian community ought to reflect God’s deep valuing of each person, with no room for divisions that value one person over the other.
Our world today has become quite polarized and segregated. People stand on one end of the political spectrum or another, and don’t mix with those opposite them. Rich and poor don’t often share the same community. We tend to seek out people who are like us. Because of that, we haven’t learned how to live in community with those who are different. We haven’t learned how to listen with compassion to other views. Instead, we are taught to shout our own opinions ever louder when we encounter a different one.

When the Corinthians began to align themselves behind different leaders, they lost sight of the one God and the one Jesus Christ who called them into faith. Today, we see this type of division reflected in the way the Christian church is divided into many denominations. Some groups work together better than others. This past week has been the “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.” The point of this celebration is to recognize the great diversity of the Christian church, while celebrating the unity we share in Jesus Christ.

At the end of our reading from First Corinthians, Paul begins to talk about the foolishness of the message of the cross. Next week’s reading will pick up with these last verses and focus more deeply on the cross, the work of God that seems to take a fool to believe, or a foolish God to do. That almighty God chose to die on a humiliating cross in God’s greatest act of salvation and self-disclosure goes against all our expectations of how a God ought to act.

Our God acts in strange ways. That God would choose to entrust the gospel and the carrying out of God’s mission to a community that won’t always get along seems to be a great foolishness. Why place something so important in the hands of those who so often prove themselves unworthy?

Some days, it seems like God would have been better off reaching out to individuals, and calling us personally to work alone. Many of us live with the axiom, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” There are many in our world who live as God’s plan is to entrust God’s work only to the individuals who have it all together, only to ones who have achieved a certain rank of holiness. They might think God only needs the good workers, the ones who won’t let him down. This is where we get the idea that God wants us to have a personal relationship with Jesus. It’s how we can justify a life of doing good on our own, but not value being a part of a worshipping and serving community. I was reading Rob Bell’s book Love Wins for a pastor’s retreat this week. At the beginning of the book was this quote: “”the problem, however, is that the phrase ‘personal relationship’ is found nowhere in the Bible.” (10).

God doesn’t just want a bunch of personal, individualistic relationship, God wants a relationship with the whole community. God’s vision is for us to be in community both in this life and in the life to come. God comes with healing salvation for all people. We experience God’s presence in community.

Paul prays for the people of Corinth and appeals to them, “that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose” (1:10b). I don’t think Paul is asking us to become mindless zombies who no longer think or have opinions. I think Paul is inviting us into a new way of being together in community- a way that is shaped and sustained by Jesus Christ.

The question that emerges for Christian communities becomes— “Is Jesus powerful enough to hold us all together?” “Can Jesus give us a purpose around which we can rally?”

The message of the cross, of God’s great love for all people, is meant to trump the importance of any other message that would divide us. On the cross, Jesus declares that serving others in love is of primary importance. In our own communities, this can look like giving up our own power, listening to the other, and seeking the other’s well-being.

As we enter this place, we are being transformed. Jesus meets us when we gather. Jesus enters our lives through the sacraments. We are being changed, but we haven’t arrived yet. So we live each day, we live in community, in the tension of knowing that God’s promise is for us to live together in joyful relationship and that our reality is that it can be difficult to work and play together. May the hope of God’s promise of unity give you strength and patience to experience the joy of community. May your vision of church be inspired by hope and your heart full of grace for those times the reality disappoints. One day, we will all be gathered into perfect community, until then, we press forward in faith, together.

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Living Wet: A Sermon on John 1, touching on the occasion of the annual meeting

Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ,

 

Last week, we heard from the Gospel of Matthew an account of Jesus’ baptism. Today, we hear the event from John’s perspective. As we reflected together on the Matthew account, we considered what it means that, through our own baptism, we are united with Jesus and his baptism. Through baptism, God grants us many gifts: a new beginning, a life freed from sin and completely forgiven, a new identity as a child of God, a new family with Jesus and all the baptized, and a powerful promise of life that sustains us even after death. In our baptisms, God acts. God comes to us and gifts us abundantly.

 

All of God’s promises and gifts are ours forever. Our standing before God has been made good by Jesus alone. If you think of our liturgy for baptism, or take a look at it, it begins on page 227, you’ll find that we focus on God’s action in baptism. You might hear this declaration:  “God…gives us a new birth into a living hope… delivers us from sin and death and raises us to new life. We are united with all the baptized…anointed with the…Spirit…and joined in God’s mission for the life of the world.”

 

Did you catch that last part? God takes us and brings us into “God’s mission for the life of the world.” God turns us into missionary workers. Don’t feel quite qualified? Think about this: we say these words most often in this church to infants. And we trust that God is using them- and is using us- in carrying out God’s mission to the world.

 

I think it’s fair to say you all trust this— after all, you’ve chosen to reflect this promise as Cross’ mission statement. We are “joyfully doing God’s work.” Today, following worship, we gather for our annual meeting. For some, having meetings or even any type of board meeting this makes them feel like church is a business. The weight of that responsibility can be quite heavy. Driving questions become blurred into the business world, leaving us focused on worries such as: how can we grow and expand and claim more market space and keep our loyal customers happy and become more profitable?

 

 

It can become a challenge to wrestle ourselves away from earthly standards and remember we are here to join in God’s work and all we do is done for the sake of God’s mission in the world. The freedom we gain in this challenge is the peace that comes when we entrust all that might worry us into God’s hands. This is God’s church. It is God’s work that is done here. It is God’s promises that sustain us. While we celebrate the many years this church has served God, we also remember that it is not eternal, it only exists for the time God has use for it, while God and God’s life-giving mission will last forever.

In our annual meeting, we will hear of the ways in which God is using us to further God’s life-giving mission to the whole world. We have experienced the grace of God and learned more about God’s love for us through the work of various committees and through participation in events of this church. We have stepped out of this congregation to serve our neighbors locally and globally. Even our budget speaks of our mission priorities. Our money goes beyond the business needs of keeping lights on and staff paid. Our money goes to the places outside us, where God is working to feed, clothe, and share the good news.

 

It is my hope that our meeting is a celebration of the ways we have “joyfully joined in God’s work” in this past year. Through this congregation and in whatever spaces your daily life takes you, God needs your work as a missionary. I think of this as “living wet.” We’re called to “live wet”- to live fresh from the promises God has made to us and the gifts God has given us in baptism. We also take on promises at baptism. These promises are meant to help us grow in faith, connect with the community of believers, and join in God’s work. The close of those promises asks us to “proclaim Christ through word and deed, care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace.”

 

John’s gospel is an example for us of what it might look like to “live wet” or to be a missionary. Consider the movement we see in the text this morning: first, proclamation- pointing to Jesus, exploring and discovering, then witnessing to what you have seen, then inviting others, and finally entering relationship more deeply or for the first time.

 

John the Baptist is out in the wilderness, waiting for God’s messiah and preparing others to welcome him. John encounters Jesus and recognizes that he is the one God has sent to be the messiah. John proclaims Jesus’ identity: he stands among other who do not know Jesus and points straight to Jesus as the one for whom they are waiting for. 

 

 

Two of those listening to John go to explore and see for themselves who Jesus is. Then they invite others to come to Jesus, declaring what they have already experienced in part for themselves. The example we hear is of one brother inviting another. It’s helpful for us to realize that the disciple’s first witness wasn’t to large crowds or to strangers, but to ones they knew and loved best.

 

Finally is a stage of deepening relationship, where those who first explored the truth of John’s proclamation and those who met Jesus because of their invitation, come to spend more time with Jesus and join in his ministry. 

 

This movement is a pattern you might find or cultivate in your own life as a baptized Christian. It shows an example of what it means to “live wet.” At the core is the continual pointing to Jesus and coming to Jesus. John points to Jesus and says, this is the guy! The first disciples point to Jesus and say, I also think this is the one! The lives of missionary discipleship they begin are going to be all about pointing to Jesus so that others would come to know him as well.

 

This is a movement that God carries. John fades out of focus; his is the initial preparation and pointing. Others take up the work of speaking about Jesus and inviting their friends and family. The growth of the discipleship community, the growth of the church, is not dependent on one person. God uses many different people, from all walks of life, to invite ever-widening circles of people into relationship with Jesus. 

 

This is good news for those of us who know the joy of being in relationship with Jesus, and for those who do not yet know this joy. God needs us to be missionaries, and yet we are not the only ones sent into the world, or into our social groups and families. Those who find themselves more hesitant about developing a connection with God will be invited into relationship. God works in hearts and lives in ways we may never know. 

 

God is blessing your lives with invitations to deeper relationship and greater responsibility as a missionary, joining God’s work. Wherever you find yourself this week, “live wet,” and take up the opportunity to point to Jesus through all you do. God has prepared you for this work by firmly claiming you as God’s own child, marking you with the cross of Christ forever, and filling you with the Holy Spirit.