Girdwood Chapel Sermon, 22 January 2017
Isaiah 9: 1-4
Psalm 27: 1, 4-9
1 Corinthians 1: 10-18
Matthew 4: 12-23
Sometimes my girls will fight over the silliest things. I am not casting any special aspersions on my kids, for I think this is something that all kids do. I can give you a good example of what I mean. If we are making cookies, we’ll say chocolate chip cookies. The girls will gather together all of the ingredients and mix them just as the recipe states. They will take the time to roll out each individual cookie to be placed on the pan with great care. Each mound of dough is identical in shape and size as it rests on the pan. I bet if we took the time to do an ultrasound on each mound it would reveal the exact same number of chocolate chips in each. The dough is spaced perfectly apart and the edges of the cookies, as a result, will likely not touch, thus making each cookie a perfectly round shape of ooey-gooey goodness. But, as the oven door opens and as the pan is being slid into place, something happens to ruin the perfect balance of the cookies which have been created so equally. One of the girls “calls one”. “I get the one in the middle!” Then as the other two girls stand with mouth agape, she smiles, “yep, I called it.” So, now, in this pan of cookies, all made with care and with wonderful ingredients, there is one perceived to be better, because someone else “called it”. For the next 12 minutes there is a great debate over who should receive that cookie and, yes, you guessed it; somewhere in the midst of the argument a second cookie is called. As the cookies are pulled from the oven and placed on the cooling rack, they are seen as no longer equal. There is the prime cookie, the “it will do” cookie, and the rest of the cookies. As the great debate wages on between the girls as to who will eat what cookie, I will often sweep the cookies up and put them into a bowl, eating one or two in the process. Six eyes focus on me and three mouths sit open in shock. I smile because I am the wise father and I know that all the cookies are good.
Some Statistics to Begin With:
The Hartsford Insititute for Religious Research estimates there are roughly 350,000 Christian congregations in the United States. That means there are 349,999 congregations meeting this week, just as we are meeting here today. The same research indicates that these congregations are divided up into 217 denominations (officially declared denominations). One of the categories of denomination, is non-denominational which accounts for roughly 12,200,000 members. If we think the the average church meeting holds a congregation of between 100-500 people, we can make the conservative estimate that there are over 2400 churches that could possibly be considered their own denomination. So, out of the over 118 million people meeting in Christian places of worship today, there is possibly greater than 2617 different forms of Church doctrine, and over 600,000 different people in leadership roles instructing on the different doctrines. These numbers are staggering if we consider that the doctrinal elements for each of these entities is derived from the same book, comprised of the same teachings, and pointing to the same salvation. Why then so many differences? Because it is human instinct to find something of perceived difference and “call it”.
Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians
In our reading from Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians we see that he is concerned with the feuding that is going on. From what we can ascertain a minister of Paul’s training, Chloe, is reporting to Paul that there is an argument between different groups of new Christians. The argument is over the validity of their baptisms. There are some folks who claim to be truly baptized because they were baptized by Apollos, others by Cephas, some by Paul, and then there are those who state they belong to Christ. The report would be akin to one of us claiming our baptism was better and more official because of the minister who accomplished the sacrament.
Paul responds with a bit of disbelief and a lot of displeasure. For, it is a reminder that in the newness of the Gospel of Christ and the diversity of the population in Jew and Gentile the true message, the joyful meaning, and the principles of Divine salvation can be lost. The importance is placed on what people find most relatable and most easily definable. There has to be a degree of separation and a continued measuring stick. For those in Corinth, it is more about the one who baptized, rather than the one who was baptized. Paul states, “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.” (1 Cor 1:18) To be blunt, it is not a status symbol, it is not a measure of who’s who in the Christian circles, this is a matter of life and death. If you don’t see it as that matter of life and death and you are taking it lightly as a fad then death will come to you, while others will grasp the power and glory of life eternal wrapped in the salvation God provided in Christ.
Differences vs. Similarities
There are so many ways for us to be different. There are so many ways for us to separate ourselves from one another. Each one of us comes in here today unique in some special and delightful way. We should rejoice in those differences, and yes, those differences should be celebrated. They are part of who we are in our divine image. Each one of us looks at the world a little bit differently. Each one of us knows God a little bit differently. Each one of us prays a little bit differently. Each one of us has experienced life a little bit differently.
But listen to me carefully, all of those differences work together to create one perfect and unblemished body. If one part of the body rejects another part of the body, then the body as a whole cannot work. If one part of the body considers itself to be better than another part of the body, then it will cause that needed part of the body to wither from neglect and underuse. That is not how we are to treat the body. We are to work out each part equally to build strength and stamina, while only ingesting those things that are good for all organs and systems. The body is to be cared for in its entirety. This body we are discussing, however, is no human body, it is the body of Christ.
Each one of us in this room is different than everyone else in this room. We simply cannot be the same for just as you are your own person, so am I. There is no desire for you to become me or for me to become you. There is, however, this tension. There is this sentiment that darkness places between us that in order for me to not feel less than you, I have to feel as if I am better than you. We look at one another with eyes of comparison and competition. If we are not careful, robust competition can turn us into enemies. Our common goals will be forfeited for the grievances over our differences.
Paul noted this to the new believers in Corinth. There is no competition as to who belongs to the church led by who, for there is only one who can baptize with the Holy Spirit, and that is Christ. There is only one who died for our sins, and that is Christ. There is only one who conquered death and rose on third day, and that is Christ. Regardless of your church, regardless of your political affiliation, regardless of your skin color, regardless of your financial status, regardless of your gender, regardless of the countless other differences between you, when you were saved by Christ, you became a part of the larger body of Christ.
Paul tells us to move passed these differences and to sit in the wisdom gained through the sacrifice of Christ, for in this sacrifice we gained access to the wisdom and the power of God. We cannot sit in our human form and think we can judge one another, “for God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (v.25) We cannot spend our lives contrasting and comparing ourselves to one another and trying to set ourselves so far apart that we are ineffective in our true form as the body of Christ.
It is amazing to think there are so many different ways that the Word is broken down into official doctrine. It is hard to fathom there can be that many differences in a Book with a single message of Salvation and comprised of Good News. But, we do it to ourselves to create a separation, we see something shiny or perceived to be different and we call it as ours and only ours. Thus, setting us apart and making us different, giving us a status different from other groups and individuals.
How silly are we to think we know something above what Christ has revealed. How arrogant are we to believe that we are better than another. What a detriment it is for us to use our differences to alienate us from one another. You see, there is no denying that all of the ingredients are the same and as we fight over perceived desirable traits. God has chosen all of us for he knows that each of God’s children is good.