This post is this week’s sermon. I decided not to abridge it but post it here in its entirety, including the Communion liturgy which I posted last week.
The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: one died for the sake of all; therefore, all died. He died for the sake of all so that those who are alive should live not for themselves but for the one who died for them and was raised. So then, from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards. Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know him now. So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived! All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation. – 2 Corinthians 5:14-19 (CEB)
This week, the Brief Statement of Faith moves to vocation and call (lines 64-71). The same Spirit
calls women and men to all ministries of the Church. In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.
I was looking forward to this week. As disciples of Jesus Christ, I believe we are all called to Christian vocation. Our Presbyterian polity is a big fan of vocation and call. We take the priesthood of all believers very seriously. This is why almost every decision with respect to congregational life and worship is made by the Session.
The congregation only votes on buying and selling real estate, pastor terms of call, and election of the nominating committee, Ruling Elders and Deacons. As a pastor, the only decision I make is what I will preach and whom I will marry or baptize. I moderate Session, and it is my prerogative to cast a vote or not, but I don’t hold veto or super voting power. The Book of Order does suggest that the Session consult the pastor on some things – especially in areas of worship – but, by and large, decisions are made by your Session.
But Christian vocation – the priesthood of all believers – is about more than the decisions we make in our congregations. Christian vocation is the integration of our beliefs and our response to God’s gift of grace in all aspects of our life. It is the integration of faith and works.
In preparing for this week, I looked at all the Scriptures the Brief Statement of Faith used to write this section. There are so many good ones about our vocation and faith. But then, I realized that by the time we got today, it would be 5 A.E. – 5 days After Election. This country may not agree on much, but I think almost everyone agrees we’re glad the election is over. But the most difficult work is still to come – and it doesn’t just include governing, it includes our Christian vocation and call.
Division and factions are nothing new. Paul addresses it in almost every letter he writes in the New Testament. And one of the places it is most prominent is 1 and 2 Corinthians.
The Corinthian correspondence is one of correction and reconciliation to a community that has chosen to pursue individual rights rather than the community’s well being. It’s division and disregard for one another was even manifested in their worship. Paul has been away from Corinth for a little while, and it seems people are not getting along. Paul gets wind of it and sends the first letter.
Now I encourage you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Agree with each other and don’t be divided into rival groups. Instead, be restored with the same mind and the same purpose. My brothers and sisters, Chloe’s people gave me some information about you, that you’re fighting with each other. What I mean is this: that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” “I belong to Apollos,” “I belong to Cephas,” “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you, or were you baptized in Paul’s name? – 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 (CEB)
First, we need to understand who all these people are. Paul, of course, is the writer of the letter and an apostle to the Gentiles. He founded the church in Corinth. While in Corinth, Paul made tents with a Jewish couple named Aquila and Priscilla. They became believers and co-workers with Paul in the Gospel. When Paul leaves Corinth to go to Ephesus, they go with him.
Apollos has been in Ephesus. He is named after the Greek god Apollo – an unfortunate name for a Christian evangelist but it does remind us that Jesus is available to all who want to believe. Apollos had been preaching about John the Baptist and Jesus but he didn’t know the whole story – that is, the death and resurrection. While Paul is at the synagogue, Aquila and Priscilla teach Apollos the rest of the story. Apollos is a gifted public speaker and goes throughout the region preaching the Gospel. One of the places he goes is Corinth.
Cephas is Peter. Anyone who has heard the Gospel has heard about Peter. After the resurrection, he was a leader in Jerusalem and was known to have performed miracles. We have evidence in Galatians that Paul and Peter didn’t always see eye-to-eye. Although we have the great revelation of Peter in Acts 10 that Gentiles can be followers of Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit and in Acts 15 the leaders of the Church agreed that you did not need to become Jewish (that is, circumcised) to be a Christian, there continued to be tension in the first century between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Whether Peter was ever in Corinth or not, those claiming to belong to Peter may have been more conservative Jewish Christians supporting this viewpoint.
So the word that Paul gets is that his beloved church in Corinth is being divided by these various factions. Some are for Paul; some are for Apollos, and some are for Peter. If we were to read all of 1 Corinthians we would see they are divided by theological views, ethnicity, and socio-economic class.
Does this sound familiar at all?
Can we find any relevance in our lives today?
Can we find any answers for our life today?
Paul continues his teaching:
Brothers and sisters, I couldn’t talk to you like spiritual people but like unspiritual people, like babies in Christ. I gave you milk to drink instead of solid food, because you weren’t up to it yet. Now you are still not up to it because you are still unspiritual. When jealousy and fighting exist between you, aren’t you unspiritual and living by human standards? When someone says, “I belong to Paul,” and someone else says, “I belong to Apollos,” aren’t you acting like people without the Spirit? After all, what is Apollos? What is Paul?
They are servants who helped you to believe. Each one had a role given to them by the Lord: I planted, Apollos watered, but God made it grow. Because of this, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but the only one who is anything is God who makes it grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together, but each one will receive their own reward for their own labor. We are God’s coworkers, and you are God’s field, God’s building.
So then, no one should brag about human beings. Everything belongs to you—Paul, Apollos, Cephas, the world, life, death, things in the present, things in the future—everything belongs to you, but you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. – 1 Corinthians 3:1-9, 21-23 (CEB)
Paul responds to what he hears with a clear reminder to this community: God, in Christ, founded the church in Corinth. It is on this basis that Paul makes his appeal: by the name of Christ in whom they are united, there should be no divisions.
In the name of Christ in whom we are united, there should be no divisions. But that doesn’t mean that we won’t have differences.
The Corinthian church IS NOT a metaphor for the United States. I am not speaking today for how everyone should respond to this election. In an election, we vote on how we think the economy should be managed (or not) and the size of government. We vote about matters of foreign policy, the right to free speech and religious freedom, and the right to bear arms.
These are secular decisions.
Now, we might also vote on matters of morality – abortion, same gender marriage, whether healthcare is a right or privilege. As a Christian, moral issues inform my secular voting. But we are still voting in a secular election. No political party represents Jesus.
As a citizen, I drove people to the polls on Tuesday because I believe voting is our right and responsibility. I did this without any party affiliation because anyone could call the hotline. I removed the magnet from car, and I didn’t tell people how I voted nor did I ask them whom they voted for.
As a citizen, on Tuesday night – before the election results – I removed my yard sign. Elections are about making choices. Democracy is about living into them together. I choose not to continue litigating the election after we have voted. I choose not to argue about the popular vote versus the electoral college.
As a citizen, I decided that I will not post or share anything on Facebook and Twitter that does not respect the office of President. We’ve all lived through several administrations. I may not agree with the President, but I do choose not to demean or disrespect our electoral process. This doesn’t mean I stay silent in the face of injustice – I can have integrity without judging someone else’s.
These are decisions I made as a citizen. But my vote is not my Christian vocation. As a Christian, I am called to something more. As a Christian, I have been entrusted with God’s ministry of reconciliation.
The question was asked in pastor’s Bible study this week, “What do it mean that God reconciled God’s self to us through Christ?”
Throughout the Old Testament, we see how God continues to call humanity back into covenant relationship. The first week of this series, we looked at Psalm 23. David testified that goodness and mercy shall follow [him] all the days of [his] life. This is God’s active work of reconciliation.
But we play hard to get.
God leads us to green pastures and still waters, God comforts us, God anoints our heads – but we continue to wander away looking for greener grass. God sent judges and prophets to lead us as they spoke words of repentance and reconciliation, but we chose our own ways.
When we’re going to work with someone we have differences with, we say they need to meet us halfway. That’s not God’s example. God has met us halfway – and more than halfway – for millennia.
And so finally God just came.
God’s ministry of reconciliation through Christ was Christ himself. In the incarnation, God stood in solidarity with us. Jesus didn’t just heal the holy or feed the faithful. Jesus didn’t just minister with people who looked like him or agreed with him on every issue. Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation was a ministry of presence. This is the ministry we are called to.
Within the Church, we may find ourselves more aligned with Paul, Apollos, Cephas – or even Clinton or Trump – but we all belong to Christ. We reject God’s reconciliation through Christ when we cling to our divisions more than we cling to Jesus. It’s not our differences and diversity but our divisions that proclaim Christ isn’t enough to bind us together as one Body. As citizens of this country, I believe we are called to work together. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to begin our ministry of reconciliation. And we begin within the Church. We start with ourselves.
In this room, we interpret Scriptures differently, and we voted differently. But in this room, we have also professed that together we are one congregation in the Body of Christ and individually, we belong to one another – despite our lack of uniformity. So I encourage you to talk politics with one another.
Find a time to sit down and listen. Understand what is important to the other. Learn why they vote the way they do. And then repeat it back to them to make sure you understand correctly. But don’t try to correct or persuade. You don’t need to agree – we are simply seeking understanding.
We should listen to one another whether we are Christian or not. But (especially within the Church) we have a particular call and vocation as Christians to do more than just listen. When we baptize at the font and commune at the table, we proclaim that these truths extend beyond our congregation to the whole Body of Christ. However you cast your ballot on Tuesday, we have a responsibility to both stand in solidarity with and listen to all voices within the Church.
Regardless of how one feels about the poor, immigration or gay marriage, we are not allowed to ignore or demean our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Our shared Christian vocation and call demand that we welcome them as Christ welcomed us.
Regardless of how one feels about those who live in rural areas, support gun rights, or believe Obamacare should be repealed, we are not allowed to demonize or disregard our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Our shared Christian vocation and call demand that we recognize the image of God in them.
Christ does not demand that we vote one way or the other, or that our government’s laws fall one way or the other. Christ’s command is that we love as we have been loved.
What will your ministry of reconciliation look like?
Whom will you listen to?
With whom will you stand in solidarity?
These are not the questions of a secular election or a political party. These are the questions that define our call as disciples of Jesus Christ and beloved children of God. I won’t tell you how to vote, but God and Church have ordained me to proclaim our responsibilities as the people of God.
- Regardless of race, sexual identity, geographical location, or political party, we are called to outdo one another in showing honor to each of our Christian brothers and sisters.
- We are called not to seek our own advantage but that of the other.
- We are called to consider everyone as equal and associate with those who have no status.
How and to whom is God calling you to be a minister of reconciliation?
[time of silent reflection]
When I discerned a call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament, I really struggled with whether or not to pursue ordination. I didn’t struggle with my call as a disciple, but I did struggle with being a “professional.” My struggle wasn’t with the occupation itself, but with my witness. It’s easy to say that pastors or other professional religious have Christian vocation and call – but that’s for the “professionals.” I thought I might be a better witness by living out my vocation as a “regular person.”
What do I mean?
We all know we should read the Bible, but it’s hard to find time. Of course, your pastor has time because that’s their job – they’re a pastor. I may read my Bible in my work of being a pastor, but that comes second to my call as disciple. You don’t outsource your discipleship to me because I’m a professional. If you believe yourself reconciled to God through Jesus, then you are called to this ministry of reconciliation.
Let us offer our thanksgiving to God.
Prayer of Thanksgiving
God of goodness and mercy, you pursue us without rest. You called to us in the Garden after we chose knowledge rather than you. You brought us through the wilderness when we complained and preferred captivity. You led us with leaders like Deborah and Samuel even though we failed to trust in you. For your faithful and sovereign love, we give you thanks.
Jesus, you stood in solidarity with us in your humanity. You chose to come to us so that we could be reconciled to you. You trusted us with your human frailty in the form of an infant. You chose death so that we could understand life. For your compassion and grace, we give you thanks.
Holy Spirit, you continue to form us into disciples and Christ’s Body, the Church. When we build barriers between one another, you work to tear them down. Through your truth, you remind us that regardless of political party or country, we belong to a Kingdom. You reassure us in our fear and teach us to trust in you despite the uncertainties of this world. For your truth and communion, we give you thanks.
Holy Spirit, we come to this Table looking for the communion with Christ that sustains us and the communion with one another that seems so easily to escape us. We ask that you would once again heal us by making the loaf and cup we share the communion of the body and blood of Christ. As we eat and drink together, may Christ’s communion be our communion so that we may share it with the world. To you be the glory, forever and ever.
As a sign of our fellowship and communion with Christ and one another, we now join our voices to pray, using the words most familiar to each of us: Our Father…
The Sacrament of Communion is the ultimate act of reconciliation. What does God’s act of reconciliation through Christ look like? It looks like sharing in the broken body and the spilled blood of Jesus. In our sharing, we proclaim that we stand on level ground with one another with Christ as our head.
Despite our differences, this Table declares our reconciliation in Jesus Christ and reminds us with our communion with one another. It is here that we affirm that we all belong to Christ. We once again turn to the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians (10:16-17):
Because there is one loaf, we, many as we are, are one body; for it is one loaf of which we all partake.
When we break the bread, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?
When we give thanks over the cup, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ?
Before his death, Jesus was anointed with nard. This sweet scent went with him as he completed God’s act of reconciliation by accepting death at the hands of the world and responding with life at the hands of God.
In your bulletin is a prayer attributed to Teresa of Avila.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people. —Teresa of Ávila (attributed)
After you receive the elements, you are invited to be anointed as the body, hands, feet, and eyes of Christ in the world.
The Lord’s Table is prepared for all those who desire to be fed by Jesus. Come and be nourished so that you may share in Christ’s ministry of reconciliation.
Prayer After Communion from 2 Corinthians 5:14-19
The love of Christ controls us, because we believe that one died for the sake of all; therefore, all died. Jesus, you died for the sake of all so that those who are alive should live not for themselves but for you, the one who died for us and was raised.
We pray, then that from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards but through your eyes. Because we are in Christ, we are part of the new creation. The old things have gone away: and look, new things have arrived!
We give thanks for this meal we have shared, proclaiming that all of these new things are from you, God, who reconciled us to yourself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. With fear and trembling and trust in you, and the ministry of reconciliation to which we are called. Amen.
 1 Corinthians 12; 2 Peter 2:9, 3:15
 James 1:19-27
 J. Paul Sampley, The First Letter to the Corinthians, Vol. 10, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, ed. Leander E. Keck, 771-1003 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 786.
 Psalm 23:6 (NRSV)
 Romans 12:5
 Romans 15:7
 Romans 12:10
 1 Corinthians 10:24
 Romans 12:16