Glimpses of the Kin-Dom – Week 3
I pray you enjoy this message and God speaks to you through it. To listen to this message you can hear it on the Beech Grove United Methodist Church Podcast (podcast releases Monday mornings), or by clicking here.*
*Note: Sermon audio does not match the manuscript…sometimes the Spirit moves.
10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you but that you be knit together in the same mind and the same purpose. 11 For it has been made clear to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12 What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else. 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel—and not with eloquent wisdom so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. 18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.
— 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
As a pastor who is on the younger side, I often wonder what the church may look like in the future…I mean I am sure we all do, but for me, it is more of a vested interest considering the church is my livelihood. It provides for my family, and in doing so means that my vocation often feels and seems fairly precarious.
With at least 30 years until I am able to retire, I wonder what the church will be. What will it look like? Who will be a part of it? What will be the practices and rituals?
The problem we often get into is a here-and-now temptation. We see the church providing for our current needs and desires and fail to consider the implications it may have on the future. Our lives are built around the immediate meeting of needs and we often don’t put in the long-term work of building something up so that it can have a future. In much the same way we view the climate we are often willing to nearer satisfaction that helps us instead of creating a better world for those who come after us.
The church could be charged with the same negligence, as it wrestles with what it means to truly embody what it means to be the kin-dom of God. We often get lost in the desires of the community that is in our midst, those seated in this sanctuary, those who have been here the longest, those who give the most money, and we often forget the one who truly guides the church. We forget the church as an institution, let alone a spiritual embodiment of the kin-dom that transcends our own personal ideologies and understandings.
There are so many perspectives and ideas being brought into play, and as we discovered last week we very often neglect the ones that we deem “less important” or we think don’t align with how we want to do church. We hear phrases like “we have always done it this way” or we place sacred connotations on short-sighted aspects of the church and lose the true undergirding nature that brings us together. Even sometimes using Christ himself, the great unifier, as a source to sow distrust and division.
In the same way, last week when I dangerously asked if we expect too much of the church, I ask another faith-shaking question,
Why do we use Christ to divide?
Paul is laying forth a similar line of thinking in this second part of the beginning of his letter to the Corinthian people. Paul has moved on from the cordial, passive-aggressive, greeting and signs of grace in the first 9 verses. Now it is time to get down to business, and Paul does so with an “appeal.”
“Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you but that you be knit together in the same mind and the same purpose.” (1 Corinthians 1:10 NRSV)
However, if we are to truly think in a kin-dom Spirit, what do we make to this plea of “agreement” and “sameness”? Well to move away from cherry-picking a passage of scripture, let’s observe where else Paul goes in the verses we heard this morning as well as a larger context of this letter at large.
When we hear Paul talk about agreement, no divisions, the same mind, and the same purpose, we do not (and really should not) interpret this as a wholehearted uniformity of all things. Paul knows this is not truly possible, and yet it is encouraged in a communal sense of unity as opposed to uniformity. There may be contested votes or even disagreements, but at the end of the day, there is an understanding of unity that brings together those with differing perspectives and honors the commitment to Christ’s body. This is the same commitment found in our understanding of baptism and covenant, as well as in our message last week about the nature of Community.
How often do our divisions prevent us from truly living into the nature of the kin-dom that Jesus calls us towards? If Christ is the ultimate source of grace and feeds our understanding of it, then why do we often seem to lack the understanding necessary to even build a community around it? We seek to build a community around a specific set of ideals, often even feigning an understanding of divine providence while doing so.
It is in how we are united that is the cause for celebration. It is in how we come together, and not what separates us. This is not to say we ignore those differences we have, but we seek to come to a consensus on how we can live together in the unity of Christ.
It is that last call, “same purpose,” that stands out to me. We all have the same calling, the same mission, and most importantly the same Lord, so why do we allow divisions to create animosity towards one another? Why do we see fit to divide the church and sow mistrust because we cannot see that it is the nature of kin-dom that calls us together in unity and equity?
Paul reports of the quarrels he has heard, and says, “What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’” This message is meant for us within the church community. It is a call to take a long hard look at ourselves. Do we look towards specific avenues, laying claim to why we think we are better than the others who claim the moniker of Christian? Are we better because we follow the teachings of John Wesley? Do Lutherans have a claim because they were birthed from Martin Luther’s theology? Or Calvinists from John Calvin? Anglicans from Thomas Martins? Catholics from…well Peter or I guess Christ?
However, even Christ seems to be a callout for the people Paul is writing to. It is not used in the way that persons would prop up Christ as the crucified Savior but seems more in line with the same way we use Christ as a meaning of superiority over others. Persons laying claim to teachers, some learn from Paul and think he had great things to say, some from Apollo or Cephas, or the ultimate “trump” card, “well I get my teachings from Christ…”
Didn’t Jesus have something to say about the overly pious?
The name of Christ is invoked in a very different way in verses 12 and 13 than it is used in verses 17-18. Members of the community even use Christ to divide, and I can imagine in the same way some in the modern/contemporary church conflate or cherry-pick Christ’s teachings to fulfill their own agenda, sometimes even making up teachings that are not really even present.
Unfortunately, this has laid siege on our communities and has tainted the embodiment of the kin-dom that is the local church community, and the greater ecclesial understanding of the church.
Unity is not uniformity, and to expect it is to negate the image of God that each one of us is created in. People are like snowflakes, each one of us is unique. We each have our own gifts, our own personalities, and our motivators. This, as we discussed last week, does not make us any less than others in the community, or the kin-dom for that matter. It should be less about who we claim as our “authority” and what we are called to by the one who is the ultimate authority.
Paul invokes baptism in the final verses of the section we have heard today, and does so because he notes, as I did that baptism begins this journey with Christ. It is in proclamation and living of the Gospel that the nature of Christ is shared, and less in our divisions.
We are a denomination that is in the midst of a nasty “divorce” for the lack of a better word, and many persons may desire for me to stay away from such topics. However, even more so than the inherent lack of depth and understanding, it breaks my heart that there is such a lack of communal desire by persons that they think they need to leave the community that has fostered them for the last many many years.
While it may seem superficial and people may think I am ignorant about the true nature of this split, know that I am not speaking from ignorance, I am speaking from a place that knows and understands we don’t have all the answers as United Methodists, nor are we the ultimate authority, but to break relationship with fellow sisters and brothers in Christ in the way this split is happening is the kind of harm that will have long-lasting implications on the kin-dom. Every division the kin-dom experiences is something to be mourned. Mourned both for those who are departing, but also mourning for those who have stayed in the midst of what is left—mourning that we could not remain in community together. Mourning that we have lost part of the body that has made us up, and mounting the pain this division causes.
Paul’s warning for the Corinthians seems almost apocalyptic in the fact that the church has experienced divisions more times than are imaginable. Teachers lay claim to ultimate authority and often demonize those who don’t submit to their authority, further fracturing the kin-dom nature.
However, to begin to hear these words of Paul, and to begin to live more fully in them we must rest in what unites us.
JESUS CHRIST IS LORD
…that is at the heart of what truly matters. In that rests the entirety of our faith, and in that the kin-dom is formed. When the kin-dom rests on that understanding I truly see a body that transcends division and arguments. Yes, there will continue to be differences of opinion, but in seeing those there will be an understanding of how we can move forward, together, as one body, united by Christ.
My fear is the church will not recognize this call and we may lose the thing many of us cherish, that is the kin-dom as it is meant to be embodied here on earth. We may lose the church, not just the building or the institution, but the Spirit that brings us together to serve as the church.
What we are left with is to wrestle with how we move together, and what those aspects unite us together. We don’t ignore the differences, but instead, find how our strengths help us to overcome our differences and work together. There is unity in the kin-dom if only we would put aside our egos and desires, and allow Christ to lead us to the saving power of God.
Have your own thoughts comment below