Week 2 – Glimpses of the Kin-dom
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, or by clicking here.*
*Note: Sermon audio does not match manuscript…sometimes the Spirit moves.
1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— 6 just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the partnership of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. — 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 NRSV
I have been pondering something recently:
As we have been coming back and reintegrating ministries since COVID my mind keeps fixating on something. This church, Beech Grove, has been through quite a bit the last few years, and it has raised this idea in my mind. An idea that I fear, fully thought out could damage the current practice of the church. However, my mind moves towards it nonetheless.
Do we expect too much from the church?
This is not to say we expect too much of our people, though that could be a topic for a different sermon if and when we ever get to stewardship. No, do we think or expect of the church more than it actually is?
I think you can see how this could be a dangerous line of thinking to begin to go, and diving deeper is almost a further deconstructing of faith and the role of the church in our modern times. Now I know deconstruction is not viewed very positively by more traditionally minded Christians, but I think something it has taught me is that taking faith at face-value causes it to lose its meaning. So therefore, I leave the question hanging again:
Do we expect too much from the church?
The thing about the church is that it is what it is supposed to be. It is a close community of Christians who have not only covenanted with God, but with one another to do this thing called life together. The problem is from this initial line of thinking often come to expect the church to meet needs it cannot meet. In this light we place persons and even the institution on a pedestal because they are either willing or able to meet these needs. Then when needs aren’t met we become angry and cry foul, and demand the church be better.
However, what if the church is just meant to be a community, where all are called to be bonded together in Christian love to use their gifts in their own special ways? What if there was no expectation? What if there was equity in shared responsibility? What if we came to experience the joy of one another’s presence and gather for worship, praise, and deeper relationship with God? What if church was less of a building, less of the physical and action based, and more of a spiritual concept of based off of life together?
You may think this is a semantically based argument, but our faith is built around being particular about the language we use. Language is a flawed part of humanity, it has its limitations in defining the divine, but when we are intentional, it invites a new level of understanding. When it comes to talking about the church we must move our mindset away from the physical. Yes, we are called to work as the church, but the church in its inherent calling is about a sense of spiritual community that strengthens us for our work in creation.
We come to church many times, expecting the pews to be filled, expecting a good “biblical based” sermon, expecting certain things from our presence in a building. However, the kin-dom offers an image of a community that gathers together in the perfect love of God, and lives into the grace of God that continues to sanctify us.
Do we come overburdened trying to be more than we need to be? Or do we come as ourselves, placing our hearts and spirits before God, knowing the work that God can do?
As we approach this series we are seeking to catch glimpses of the kin-dom of God, so that we know it’s presence here and now, and we long for it in the hopeful anticipation of God’s eternal reign. Last week as we observed the baptism of Jesus, we began to understand how this kin-dom is presented to us, and the welcoming nature it has within all of creation. We have felt this yearning and tugging of both repentance and righteousness, in our turning toward and acknowledging of God’s grace in our lives. We are called into this relational living with God and one another, and it places a point on this journey as we seek to fulfill our role in this embodiment of the kin-dom.
We now turn our attention away from the Gospels for a couple of weeks and towards the writings of Paul, and possibly one of his harshest reviews of an early church we have in Paul’s epistles. I have often thought if Paul were around to write a letter to the church in the US, it would look similar to that of the Corinthian church. Why?
Because I think the church in Corinth could best be described as dysfunctional, and yet, they are featured within the canon of scripture to help us gain insight into both how the early church came about, and as an opportunity to learn from the theological mishaps of many early leaders. However, many of the underlying issues in the Corinthian body Paul is writing about continue to be present in our modern day church. Paul has received reports from leaders in this church, and has become concerned with what he has heard.
The lesson for us in the first part of this chapter that we are looking at this week is in first reminding us all of the place we hold in community. The church is more than just a handful of people. It is more than our leadership council, more than our staff, more than a pastor, more than any one person in the pew. The church is a community of broad and diverse ideas, voices, and understandings. Therefore, it is important for us to recognize the plentiful bounty we have in our midst, no matter how big or small. There is a humility in the present and what God has done, and is doing with what we have.
One of the biggest issues seen in the Corinthian church is that of a manner of superiority by some members, thinking for various reasons that this was their church. If we look beyond this passage today, we see specific examples of Paul calling against the actions of this select group, and encouraging them to see the broad reality of the community gathered in this port city of the ancient world.
In a typical moniker of Paul we see summations of his arguments in his opening words. Obviously, because of how letters were read (that being on scrolls being unrolled) the addressee would have introduced themselves at the top, rather than the bottom as we see in modern day letters. Once they see it is Paul writing to the church in Corinth, he then offers grace to the listeners of this letter, and then moves on to begin to address the body of believers.
Now some might consider it somewhat passive-aggressive of Paul, but either way you cut it, he gives thanks for what the church could be, for the potential he knows is within the Corinthian church. Paul’s addressing here of the entire Corinthian community is calling them to recognize the role that Christ plays in the church, and the leadership they are called to bear in his name.
Whether positive or negative Paul knows the potential of the church exists in it’s communal nature, not in the selfish desires of those who claim piousness, false authority, or ambitiousness. Paul speaks of the community as he gives thanks to God saying,
“for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind—just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you—so that you are not lacking in any gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 1:5-8 NRSVUE)
The “you” Paul uses is a corporate you, addressed to the entire body of the church, and is meant to began the understanding that the church, corporately, is a community with a wide variety of understandings, gifts, and talents. We will continue to explore in depth more this next week, but for now we reflect on creating a community that is welcoming, and driven by the community at-large and not controlled by small factions (which was the case in Corinth).
Paul is speaking to the proud and the meek in one sentence when he says, “…so that you are not lacking any gift.” All the gifts we need to fulfill God’s vision are within our midst, and that means recognizing we cannot be shortsighted and look in one area. We also cannot think that our personal manners of gifts are the only way that God will be served in this church, nor can we consider the gifts of others to be the only way church can be served either. Church is a community, where all play a role and all have a part.
Next week we will observe Paul calling the church to “have the same mind,” but before we can get there we must recognize the inherent relationship of community in the church, and the place God holds within the community. This is not trusting God will provide, but trusting that God has provided and giving space for that work to take place.
What is the embodiment of community we are building here at Beech Grove?
I use this worship service as an example of letting the nature of communal relationships drive who we are as a beacon of the kin-dom. When we had conversations around this service, we knew we wanted to come together, and build something that brought us together, that gave us the space to practice community and worship together.
In that understanding we see that God has strengthened us in our living into this revelation. Yes, many of us sacrifice what we “think worship should look like,” but in a manner of worshipping God, we come to the table and offer to God the gifts we receive. Selfishness tells us it has to look a certain way, but have we come to expect something that the church is not? Is the church here to serve us, or does the church serve God and by nature serve God’s creation?
Our expectations of the church should rest in God’s intentions for it. Churches are meant to be embodiments of God’s Kin-dom in creation. It is both a lived reality and promise of a greater future. What role do we play?
We recognize our gifts and find the role we are called to play in this great Kin-dom narrative.