Epiphany 3A, Sunday January 22, 2017, St Petri
1 Corinthians 1:10-18 An appeal to avoid factions
10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,[a] in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: one of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas[b]’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’
13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptised in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptise any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptised in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptised the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptised anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the gospel – not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
One of the things you get plenty of when you drive 6500km’s on a holiday is time to think! Because I am part of this congregation’s journey, and committed to the mission of Jesus with you in this place, I of course, thought a lot about you.
I believe that the Lord called me to take up his call five years ago to serve you as pastor as we work together in the mission he has given us. I love St Petri; its people, its mission, its possibilities and its mission; “To share the love and hope of Jesus with everyone” we can – friend, family or stranger. To me, that sums up my own life’s calling and the calling of the Jesus for any local Christian church.
I believe that St Petri is God’s community. We are people made holy and pleasing to God by God’s magnificent grace in the cross of Jesus. His grace and peace is indeed with us.
As Paul thanks the Lord for the Corinthians Christians, I thank the Lord for the St Petri Christians. I thank him for being with us and working among us. I thank him for making us a local church who truly serve friend and stranger alike in Jesus’ name in multiple ways with a generous and glad spirit. I thank Jesus for the old, the young, the in-between, and for the 150 year story of this congregation, as well as now – the present challenges we face together with his words in our hearts.
As Paul assures the Corinthians, we lack no spiritual gift or opportunity to learn and grow in our relationship with Jesus, because his cross is the power of God at work among us to change us. As Paul says, Jesus Christ our Lord is faithful.
This year we will be called upon to work together to make significant decisions regarding our mission, and specifically the shape of this great church building. This will be a test of our unity, our mission heart, our commitment to live together in Jesus’ love, especially when or if we disagree.
You might be wandering about our ability to make those decisions in a harmonious, unified, loving manner. I am.
For some, talk about how to make this church facility more effective and useful for our mission in this current day is raising a painful story of the recent past.
For others, who were not here then (like me and quite a few others now), or even for those who were here, talking about making changes to this space for the sake of the gospel mission in this community raises no such fears or hurt. So, we all come at this current conversation from different places. This makes thing complex. This is nothing out of the ordinary. Welcome to the local church!
The Corinthians had trouble making decisions in a loving, healthy, gospel way. They seem to have had the weakness of taking the easy option that strokes the human ego, which always makes things harder.
They turned the issues they faced into an “us and them” thing. Paul names it as “not speaking the same things together”. They had trouble being unified in their words and actions and aspirations. This was a failure to be who the Lord created them to be – his body living together in respect, kindness and love, no matter what they faced or how they disagreed.
People grouped together into factions to sure up their own view. We might call it the problem of “party spirit” – as in cliques, factions; “us” and “those people” of a different view.
Unity disintegrates as each group makes wild and mostly wrong assumptions about “those other people” in the congregation. This hurts people and it destroys our gospel witness to the stranger, as Pastor Robert said last Sunday. As the Corinthians did this nobody won and everybody lost, including the Lord of the Church. Why? Because somewhere He got lost in it all.
They lost Jesus. They lost his cross and his vision for them as a holy and loved community of grace. They lost his call to be his witnesses of grace where they lived. Their prime directive when it came to being church was no longer to share the love and hope of Jesus with everyone but to get my way at all costs, or keep things the way I want, or don’t take any risks because we are not sure if we will be able to do it, or……. (name your fear).
In their focus on their own needs and aspirations above the call of Jesus and his grand vision for them, they were losing the very power of God for the freeing of the captive, the new sight for the blind, the healing of the troubled and the new legs to carry his words of truth and love to their city. Paul tells them their party spirit puts them in danger of losing the Jesus of the wondrous cross – which is their only reason, basis and foundation for being church, and their only power for growth in faith, hope and love and witness.
I have to tell you that there has been a little bit of this “party spirit’ on display at St Petri these last months.
I don’t think our issue is exactly like the one the Corinthian church had. It is not as if people at St Petri are saying “I follow Pr Adrian”, or “I follow Greg Schubert”, “I follow Pastor Robert”, or “I follow……”. I think our besetting weakness is letting the both the stories of “the good old days” (as we remember them) and/or the difficulties and struggles of the past be the thing we rely on more than Jesus’s story for us now.
Somehow we can so easily default to the old stories of either huge Sunday Schools and one church service, and gospel concerts with a packed church and etc…., or we drag out hurtful words or disappointment or fear in the past rather than default to the promises of the Lord of the church for us now.
Jesus story for us now says that we are still all his holy and loved people baptised into his name and made one body. He says that he took that party spirit, that hurt, that woundedness and fear as he hung on that cross in all that vulnerability and human pain so that we do not need to anymore. He says that our best days are never behind us because he is with us now. He says that he is faithful to us and will always be with us whatever we do with our buildings.
Friends, I nor any other person here has been crucified for you. Only Jesus has. He says that none of you were baptised into Pastor Held’s, Pastor Dennis’, Pastor Andy’s, Pastor Robert’s or my name. You were all baptised into Jesus’ name. We belong to him, no matter what. So do all our buildings. They are not ours. No one owns this church building, not even those who help put it in place. I don’t either. Jesus owns this space and us who gather here in his glorious presence.
Friends, the Lord of this church is calling us to let his cross – which is very mighty power of God for the saving of all people, be our guiding light in everything.
This my friends means saying no to relying on other stories, other people or ourselves more than him. It definitely means ceasing any move to form factions and make wrong and hurtful assumptions about each other. We need to let go of those old stories – the good and the bad, that only some of our congregation now hold. They were then and this is now.
And this is not only for our sake, although it is much better when we love each other anyway. This openness to each other and more importantly, the Lord speaking now, is for the world’s sake – for this community’s sake. Nuriootpa needs a St Petri who truly love and speak of Jesus as the light he is – how he loves sinners and raises them from darkness and death.
So, like Paul, I thank the Lord for you and for what he is doing among us daily. We are indeed his loved and holy people with a mission, a plan, a purpose and a future filled with his light and love.
This is not the time for “them and us” or any party spirit – this is a time for “us and us” to bind together as his body and seek his will and ways and see where he leads this church in its 150th year.
This Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord
We are is his new creation by water and the word.
One holy name we bless
Partakes one holy food and to one hope we press
With every grace endowed.
Paul writes to the Corinthian Christians as a result of becoming aware of some difficulties they are facing with less than healthy behaviour.
Many would say that the Corinthian church was Paul’s “Problem Child” in the sense that they always had tough issues going on and seemed to struggle to learn from their mistakes and get better at being together!
They were living in a very sexually promiscuous city and inherited a pretty “loose” view of relationships as a result. They were forming factions and interest groups and fighting with each other. They had this fascination with being “super knowledgeable” or “super-spiritual” which creates a two tier class system – the “knowledgeable, spiritual and wise” and everyone else who were not able to display great knowledge or spiritual/miraculous power. Some in the congregation were very harsh on Paul and openly discredited him as not being “wise” or “spiritually powerful” enough, even though he was the very one through whom God formed them into being his church in Corinth in the first place!
You would think that Paul would simply “get stuck into them” as he writes to respond to their many issues.
Read 1:1-4 and share your findings…..
- Note how Paul names himself (and Sosthenes). (v1)
- Note how Paul names these troubled Corinthians! (v2)
- Note the greeting he gives them as he begins and from whom (v3).
- Note how he begins with thanksgiving for them. (v5-6)
This is pastoral Paul not chastising people but bring the gospel to them as the only motivation and power for real change in the human heart.
What is the basis of Paul’s own identity and the congregation’s identity? What is the basis of his confidence despite all the problems the Corinthian’s have: The basis for his own identity, the congregation’s identity and Paul’s authority and confidence to get into the issues in a pastoral caring manner it is expressed in v8-9.
Share your findings…..
Verse 10 names the fist problem Paul tackled – the problem of lack of agreement or disunity. The word means “not saying the same things”. The Corinthian’s are not able to speak the same things together about who they are and who Christ is and what their mission is.
No one knows who Chloe is. Whoever she is, she has not spread mere rumours to Paul about the congregation but real facts. There are factions and fighting over many things beginning to occur in the congregation.
Share your experience (if any) or being in a congregation where this kind of thing has happened. What was bad about it for you?
Why do you think we do this sometimes? I said it was partly because we either long for “the good old days” in the congregation and want them back so we find others who shared that experience to sure up support for our views on an issue, or, we just want to re-tell the hurt and disappointment we felt and find support for that.
What other reason do we group together – when we feel threatened or something precious is threatened or ???? Chat about how this works for you.
Paul asks the people some question all of which have the answer “no”. See verses 13
What is he saying? Share your views….
Paul says he is glad that he really did not baptise many of the Corinthian Christians because that removes the tendency to form a group that ‘follow’ him or use his name as an front to really just get what they want among all the other little groups in conflict.
Then comes the heading or centre of the whole basis upon which Paul is speaking to the people about all this.
See verse 18.
Everything is always about the cross of Jesus. What God has done in the giving of his Son on that cross is our only basis for being church, for being wise, for being spiritually aware, for living together as a local church body.
The cross of Jesus is God’s grace given and revealed to all people. So, with the focus on ourselves, our own wants, our own human wisdom and the divisions that we can sometimes make we lose Jesus and his cross which is the very power of God that makes us church and makes us Christians! I believe that is what he is saying in this beginning passage. What do you think?
I asked if we as a congregation in our discussions about possibly adding to our church building have lost the cross of Jesus a little bit lately? Do you think we have?
Even if we have he has not lost us! Paul says it. “Christ Jesus is faithful” (v9)
- Say thanks God for some thing about our church.
- Ask the Spirit to help us speak the same things together as we move into 2017 and beyond.
- Pray for the Governance Council as they are charged with leading our congregation wisely and faithfully in Christ.
- Pray for those who may be feeling uncomfortable or fearful.
- pray for those who have erred into “party spirit” that the Lord would challenge them and conform them as his own dearly loved people.