So I realized as I went to upload this morning’s sermon that I never posted last week’s to my blog. I wasn’t feeling great at the beginning of the week and then we had a big fundraiser concert for the church on Friday night that kept us all pretty busy. So I’ll post last week’s sermon now and then follow that up tonight with this morning’s! Here is last week …
Rehoboth Congregational Church
January 15, 2017
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Changing The Story
Did anyone happen to catch Mariah Carey’s performance on New Year’s Eve?
It was something of a debacle (and that is putting it nicely). Mariah did not sing so much as she sauntered around the stage with two of her dancers, said something about not being able to hear, halfheartedly did a lift move down some stairs and then encouraged the audience to sing along with her background vocals, which played the entire time.
As you can imagine, the Internet went ballistic. I saw everything from hilarious memes and GIFs, to awful comparisons to the Ohio State football loss earlier in the day, to proclamations that 2016 had claimed its last victim (Mariah’s career).
I cannot tell you how happy I was to only have to stand up and speak in front of 50 people in church on New Year’s Day.
That being said, this whole thing kind of got me thinking about the power of storytelling in our lives and in the world we are living in. You see, the commentary continued the morning after this memorable performance. Some people claimed Mariah did this as a publicity stunt; her team accused Dick Clark Productions of sabotaging her performance; and several people speculated that Mariah was either drunk or just being a diva. No matter which story you believed, it was something of a media frenzy and no one really came out of it looking particularly good.
Ironically, of all people, Jordan was the one person that actually defended Mariah Carey to me.
(Leave it to the classically trained musician to defend a pop star trying to make a comeback.)
Instead of getting sucked into the overly dramatic stories and rumors that were swirling around in the press (which, by the way, was exactly what I was doing), Jordan simply shrugged his shoulders and said, “Her in-ear monitors were never turned on. All she could hear was people screaming. You can’t perform like that.”
That was a much different story than the one the rest of the country was telling.
Now, I do not know what, exactly, happened in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. But I have to admit that, when I stepped out of the flashy and dramatic world of the news and celebrity gossip, Jordan’s non-anxious explanation about monitors not working made a whole heck of a lot more sense.
But that was a far less exciting story to tell than the ones that were making headlines that weekend.
But therein lies the power of storytelling. The stories that most people hear are the strongest, the most dramatic and the most powerful ones; not necessarily the ones that are true.
I think this is very often the case with the Christian story. For those who are looking in from the outside, the Christian story is one that is often told with as much drama and dysfunction as the story of Mariah Carey’s New Year’s Eve performance.
Have you ever talked with someone who does not regularly attend church about their understanding of church and Christianity? They do not always have the most positive things to say. Many people know the Christian story, not as one that is overflowing with grace and love, but with judgment and hatred. Some people have been hurt by churches in the past. Others think that all Christians believe the Christian story must be taught dichotomously to scientific truths and reason and not in conjunction with.
The truth is, many people believe the Christian story is irrelevant, inaccessible and no longer meaningful in their lives. They do not see the good things that small churches, like ours, are doing; they make judgments based on wider assumptions portrayed by the culture we are living in.
It is no wonder that many churches are seeing worship attendance and membership decline or that sports, activities, parties, showers and athletic races are held on Sunday mornings. Why would Sundays be held as sacred days in our society when this – this story of judgment, hatred and irrelevance – is the story of Christianity that people are hearing? Why would anyone take the church seriously; why would anyone think that their lives might be changed by it?
In a way, the scripture that we just heard is a reaction to the Christian story being told as one of dysfunction, hypocrisy and irrelevance. This scripture is a letter; Paul wrote it to the church in the city of Corinth because he heard there was tension. He heard there were cliques within the community, problems with communal life, people insisting on their own individual freedom and arguments over spiritual gifts. Paul felt the Christian story he was hearing from Corinth was not the story written through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. He was concerned that the senseless bickering and divisiveness was taking away from the real power of the Gospel message. Paul knew he had to make sure a different story was told; one that embodied Christ’s radical message of love, hope, healing, unity and inclusion.
I often feel the same sort of defensiveness when I hear people who do not consider themselves Christian talk about their assumptions of Christianity; when they tell me that the church is full of hate and hypocrisy and that a person’s faith should not influence their community or political decisions. I want to defend my church; I want to defend Christ’s radical message of redemption, hope and love; I want others to hear the Christian story I was raised to believe in and to live out, that we believe and live out here, at the Rehoboth Congregational Church.
I, too, want a different story to be told.
In writing this letter, Paul reminded the Corinthians of who they were and what they were called to do.
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.
2,000 years ago, Paul reminded the people in Corinth that they were sanctified in Christ and called to be saints. That, he said, was more important than the differences among them or the challenges they faced. They were called to tell a story.
And this story was being strengthened every time they told it.
Just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you.
Paul’s words remind us that the power of the Christian story does not simply come from the resurrection itself, but also from the lives that have been transformed by it over and over and over again. Paul told the Corinthians that the Christian story – the “testimony of Christ” – was strengthened among them; that this story was only getting stronger every time it was told.
In reading this letter today, we, too, are reminded of who we are and what we are called to do. Here’s the thing: If people think the Christian story is one of judgment, irrelevance and a whole host of other horrible things, then we need to change it. The church – our church and the greater Christian Church – is only as strong as the story that we are collectively telling.
So we have to tell our story, the one that we want people to hear. We have to tell people that we believe in a Gospel driven by love, acceptance, hope, unity and compassion. We have to tell people that our church is a safe space where all people – regardless of who you are or what you believe – can come together and worship, serve and learn. We have to tell people that we may not be perfect, but that we believe that grace is real.
Church, just as Paul reminded the Corinthians that they were sanctified in Christ and called to be saints, I remind you of the very same thing. You have been blessed in your lives to do the work that God is calling you to do; to live out the Gospel, to tell a story that will change people’s lives and to strengthen that story every time you tell it.
The funny thing is that ever since New Year’s, I have been listening to Mariah Carey pretty much non-stop. There was something about watching her whole performance fall apart that just made me want to help put the pieces back together for her.
Which reminds me of what it means to live on this side of the resurrection. It means that God is always helping us put the pieces back together.
We are all still settling into the New Year. This is such a wonderful time for us to push the reset button and think about how we want to live our lives. I believe in the church – in our church and in the wider Christian Church. I believe in our story, despite some of the myths that are out there. I believe it is a story worth telling and worth strengthening.
So I think it is time for all of us to go out into the world – into our worlds, the lives we are living – and tell our story. And I know we can change some minds, change some hearts and transform some lives along the way.
Thanks be to God!