Finishing up our glance at 1 Corinthians, we came off a wonderful evening of show tunes at RCC and then gathered for worship on Sunday morning. It was a great weekend to finish up this sermon series, think about what local churches are capable of doing (because y’all we have done a lot over the past couple of weeks) and then settle down and start thinking about the Lenten season.
Mardi Gras Sunday is this week! I decided to jump back into the Revised Common Lectionary (I know, I know) for Lent, so I will be following the Gospel texts until Easter Sunday.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
February 16, 2020
1 Corinthians 15:1-11, 16:13-24
What The Local Church Can Do
When the Apostle Paul proclaimed the Good News of Jesus Christ and called churches to go out into the world and do the same, I wonder if he ever could have imagined that, in 2,000 years, halfway around the world, a small church in the village of a small town called Rehoboth, Massachusetts would share Christ’s message of love and hospitality with showtunes and appetizers.
I really do love my job. I mean – I love Jesus. I love the Gospel. I love that God came into this world in human flesh and promises to always be with us. I love that knowing that love triumphs over evil and that I do not have to be perfect to be transformed by God’s grace.
But I also just love the local church. I love what we can do. I love who we can be. I love the fact that we are able to exist within this 300-year-old institution and yet still proclaim a message that is meaningful, relevant and accessible to people in our world, today. I love that we are able to change lives and proclaim the Gospel, using the rituals and traditions that have shaped us, as a church, but also put our own twist on things, even if sometimes that twist involves chocolate fountains and Les Mis medleys.
The really cool thing about the local church is that, by being here, we are living into God’s call for us. Because I do believe that into each generation God calls Christians to do something new, to be authentic to who we are, as Christians living in this world today, as we proclaim the Gospel and share Christ’s message of love.
We have come to the end of our glance at 1 Corinthians. I think, in many ways, Paul is addressing some of the same things in this letter that we, as a church, do as we seek to be authentic to who we are, as Christians living in this world today. He is trying to help the Corinthians overcome differences and seek unity in Christ so they can, not only strengthen their own church, but also extend the reach of the Gospel within their community and throughout the world. He is trying to help them be authentic to who they are, as a mostly-Gentile Christian community living in Corith exploring this new faith.
Paul covers a lot of ground in this letter to the church in Corinth. This letter – his first letter to this church – is the second-longest in the New Testament. The letters – called epistles – are arranged in the bible by length from longest to shortest; 1 Corinthians is the second letter, after Romans. We have looked at bits and pieces of it, enough to at least understand what was going on. We know the Corinthian community was in conflict prior to Paul writing this letter. We know that Paul’s focus is unity; he talks about the fact that differences do not make us weaker; that they, in fact, make us stronger, as a church, as the Body of Christ. As he begins to close out his letter, Paul assures the church that love will bind them together.
We have now reached the end of the letter – Paul’s offers his final words on the resurrection and what this means for the church as they seek to be authentic to who they are, as Christians living in their world.
In other words – what’s next? What does this mean for us? What does it mean to believe in God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining love through Jesus Christ and then how do we live that out, as a community? How can we be authentic to who we are, as Christians?
These are the same questions that we ask ourselves, today. The same questions that sometimes lead to chocolate festivals and cabarets, but also that lead to intriguing sermon series, new missions projects, compassionate meal trains and fun educational opportunities.
I believe Paul’s words at the end of this letter speak as poignantly to us, today, as I am sure they did to the Corinthians 2,000 years ago. He says in chapter 15, verses one and three, “Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news … that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.” Today, I remind us all of this same good news – that Christ came not because we are strong, but because we are weak; not because we have all the answers, but because we still have a lot of questions; not because we are perfect, but because we need grace; not because we are whole, but because we are broken.
This is not something that we have to earn – this is something that is guaranteed to us. This is why we gather in the first place. It is the hope that we hold onto when it seems like the world is a really scary place to live in; the hope that love is real and that God is always with us; the hope that we remind one another of when we are walking with each other through the deep valleys of life; the hope that sustains us as we do church together.
Paul says in verse 10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am.” Today we have to remember this same sentiment – that we are who God says that we are, that we are who God created us to be, that we are who God is calling us to be. We need to remember this as individuals, but also as the church. Who we are is enough because it is by the grace of God that we are who we are.
Paul says in chapter 16, verse 13, “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.” These words continue to speak to us because they remind us that we, too, have to remain strong as we do this work God is calling us to do. It is not always easy to share the Gospel in the world we are living in today. It is not always easy to be part of the church – on a practical level of finding time in the week to participate or on a theological level of proclaiming this message of love in a world that so often seems divisive and filled with hatred. But Paul reminds us that we should not waver from our convictions.
“Let all that you do be done in love,” Paul says in verse 14. Remember what Jesus said – love God, love people. Paul knows this is not always easy – he knows that sometimes you have to dig deep to find that kind of love.
But Paul also knows that this is where the real work begins.
And that is when transformation happens.
That is when the Gospel comes alive and starts to change lives.
And this is what happens in the local church.
The cool part about the local church is that we are not only the ones that are on the ground and sharing the Gospel in a grassroots and real way, but we are able to decide who we are; we are able to listen to God’s speaking to us, calling us to be the most authentic version of ourselves and our church in this generation. And so, like Paul reminds the Corinthians at the end of this letter, we need to remember, both as individuals and as a church, of the hope of the promise of our faith. We need to trust that we are who God says that we are. We need to stand firm in our faith and be courageous on our journey.
We have had a wonderful couple of weeks here, at our local church. In many ways, it feels like we were just suspending stars from the ceiling after the new year and now here we are, halfway through February. Yet, in still a relatively short amount of time, we have done a tremendous amount of work. We have received star words and remembered our baptisms. We gathered around the font of living waters and baptized three children; we then lived out the promises we make in baptism a few weeks later by supporting the Youth Group’s fundraising efforts to offset the cost of their winter retreat through Super Bowl Subs. We enthusiastically participated in Chocolate Festivals and Cabarets and were ambassadors for our church in the community. We tested out a new mission project that we hope to launch more regularly in the spring and allocated funds from our mission and discretionary accounts to help people in need in our community.
And next week the work continues – we will shift our focus to Lent with our Mardi Gras Sunday celebration; Lent begins the following week.
In other words – we just keep going.
But, to be quite honest, I think that is what Paul is saying here – just keep going. Keep proclaiming the Gospel. Keep believing in the promises. Keep strengthening your faith and finding the courage to remain steadfast. Keeping sharing Christ’s love. Keep working together and building one another up. Keep believing in yourself and your church; that you are who God says that you and that you have the capacity to change someone’s life for the better. Keep being authentic to who you are, as Christians living in this world today.
This is the charge to the church in Corinth 2,000 years ago. And this is the charge to us, the church in the village, today.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My life be with all of you in Christ Jesus.”
Thanks be to God!