Immersed

I preached this sermon at our Easter Sunday Baptism Celebration with folks ranging in age from 0 to 60′s/70′s, so I tried to find an analogy that would keep the diverse group engaged. Turns out the pickle analogy got the best reaction :-)

 

John 3
Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night so that they can have un-interrupted conversation. He was an expert teacher who was supposed to know a lot about God. But he comes to Jesus to learn and says, “Jesus, me and my friends know that you are a teacher from God because of the things that we’ve seen you doing.” And Jesus says to Him, “If you want to be a part of what God is doing in the world through me, you will have to be born from above.”

 

Nicodemus didn’t understand Jesus’ answer, and so he asks, “Well, how can I be born a second time? I’m old and I don’t think I’ll fit inside my mom again.”

 

And Jesus’ answer is this: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is Spirit.” So, now Jesus is answering Nicodemus’ question about how He lives all of life in the power and presence of God. He says, “You have to be born from the Holy Spirit…born from heaven.”And Nicodemus asks, “How is that possible?”

 

And Jesus tells him the whole story of how that is possible. He says, “All you have to do is believe in me because God loved the world so much that He sent me to give the gift of salvation that leads to eternal life. If you want it, the gift is available. If you don’t, you can reject it and continue to live in darkness.”

 

As I sat down with our baptism candidates to talk to them about all that baptism means, I found myself continually remembering yet another dimension of baptism and all that it means to the person being baptized…reborn. As I reached for a good analogy, the best one I could come up with is that baptism is like a gift that we continue to open for the rest of our lives. In one season, we may understand one part of the gift, but in another season of life it means something else to us and so we unwrap that part. Can you imagine a gift that never runs out, but gets better the more you use it?

 

That’s what the gift of salvation from Jesus is like. It is an invitation to live all of life in and for God’s Kingdom. And the more I thought about it, I realized that God’s Kingdom is a lot like a swimming pool and learning how to swim. It is a place where a lot of things we didn’t think were possible can happen.

 

In a little bit, we’re going to “baptize” a few of our friends. Do you know what “baptize” means? It means to “immerse” someone. It means to saturate them in something. Like, have you ever eaten a pickle? Do you know what the pickle started out as? It wasn’t a pickle. It was just a plain old cucumber. But after it was pickled in the juices that make it a pickle, it became something totally new and different and better. That’s what happens when we baptize. We pickle someone in God’s new reality. We immerse them in God’s Kingdom and say, “You are made new, different, better!!!” They might not look different on the outside, but on the inside God begins a new work. It is an outward sign of an inward grace.

 

So, here’s a few thoughts I have about God’s Kingdom and swimming and swimming pools and why I think we should all want to be born from the Holy Spirit into God’s Kingdom. That’s what today is all about! We celebrate that Jesus has forever made it possible for us to be born a second time. Not from our mom, but from the Holy Spirit. When Jesus died, He took death with Him. He killed the power of death. And when He rose from the dead, He showed us that His promise of eternal life is true. Because death is not the final word…we can live forever!!!
So, here’s how being immersed in God’s Kingdom is like swimming a swimming pool:
1. First of all, the pool is there whether we get in or not. That’s what God’s Kingdom is like. Even if we don’t see it or admit that it’s there, it exists because of what Jesus has done by dying and rising from the dead. That’s the celebration of Easter! The message of King Jesus is this: “The Kingdom of God is at hand. It is near. In fact, it is inside of you.” You may not see it, but it’s there and it will reveal itself in all kinds of ways through love, and hope, and joy, and peace, and kindness, and humility, and healing and miracles, and salvation and justice and the list goes on and on…until it sort of ends with eternal life…but then goes on forever!!!

 

2. Second, you have to get in the pool. We do this by repentance and faith. This is how we say, “Jesus, I know that I need to be washed clean from my sin, and to put my full trust in you as Lord of my life.” In order to enjoy all that the pool has to offer us – swimming, splashing, diving, etc. – we eventually have to get over our fears and trust enough to get in the pool. We can gain this trust by looking to Jesus, listening to the Bible, and by looking at the lives of others who have gotten in the pool. Jesus calls us into the water and says, “You can trust me.” The Scriptures, the Bible, tell us about why we can trust Jesus because of what He did for us – they are like a floatation device – helping us to stay afloat when we begin to doubt or worry. And lastly, we look around and see other people splashing and diving and having fun in the pool and that tells us that we can trust that someday we’ll be able to enjoy the water like them. We just have to trust the process, and it starts by getting wet…which for us today means being baptized.
3. Next, we have to learn how to swim – to go under and come back up. If you don’t come back up, that’s bad news! Baptism immerses us in God’s reality through dying and rising with Christ. Like Jesus said we have to be born of water and Spirit. The water represents being made clean from sin and its effects. Colossians 2:13-15 says it like this: “And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.” That’s what Easter is all about. Jesus died our death for us, and in rising from the dead, defeated death and those who wield the power of death. The water also represents the gift of the renewing and refreshing power of the Holy Spirit. That’s the gift we get. It means that we can live resurrection life now. In fact, that’s the life Jesus calls us to live now – to do things we never thought were possible! Like someone doing flips and handstand in the pool. Holy Spirit empowers us to live for God and see miracles and transformed lives. Jesus establishes a pattern for the life of discipleship – dying and rising. Jesus even describes his death and resurrection as his baptism. In Romans 6:3-11, Paul says it like this. [Doug read]

4. Next, you become a certified swimmer. The more you practice the better you get. Maybe some of you have taken swim lessons before and at the end of the class you got a certificate that said something like, “So and so is now a certified swimmer.” That’s how it is with baptism. God says, “This is my certified son or my certified daughter.” Baptism is our adoption certificate into God’s family. God gives us His Holy Spirit who acts as the seal that makes our adoption complete and full into God’s family. God says, “These are my kids.” Galatians 4:4-7 says it like this, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Once you are a swimmer, it’s hard to forget how to do it. It’s the same way, no one can take that certificate away from you.

 

5. Lastly, you eventually get good enough that you can teach others how to swim. Once we learn how to swim, we actually have to do it. What if you learned how to swim, but never actually did? What if you just stood in the water with your hands at your side and said, “I’m swimming!!!” No way!!! I love when one of my kids learns how to swim and guess what? They can’t wait to tell other people. Once you get it, you go and tell others about the pool and the joy of swimming. And why? Because there’s room for others. Have you ever been in a pool and they said, “Sorry, there’s only room for a few people so you can’t swim today”? That would stink. But that’s not God’s Kingdom! There’s room for everyone, so we will want to tell others about it and invite them to join us. Baptism commissions us for God’s work in the world. Eventually, we have to get out of the pool and go on with life. But we take that pool with us wherever we go. It’s the same with God’s Kingdom life. Because we were pickled/immersed in God’s reality, it’s inside of us now. And the longer we’re in it, the deeper we can go.

 

Once my kids learn how to swim, one of the first things I say is “Awesome! Let’s go deeper!!!”

 

So, that’s my invitation today. Do you want to go deeper? If so, then I invite you to renew your baptism covenant with God along with those who are being baptized today. And if you’ve never been baptized before because you’ve never jumped in the pool through trusting Jesus, but you want to…then you can say these words along with us too because these words are really expressing what has already happened in Chris and Sean and Zeke’s hearts…and they can happen in your heart too! Let’s go deeper!

Unearthed

Unearthed:

 

Context is king! For our gospel reading today, context is absolutely essential. In a general context, Jesus has made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and is on a teaching circuit that leads Him to a final clash with the powers that be. In the immediate context, Jesus is talking about the very near reality that He will be departing for a time, but that He will return. In the interim, the call is to be watchful = faithful and wise. Jesus is preparing His followers for what to do after He ascends into heaven. You’d think He’d be giving them a book of rules or lists of things to do. Instead, He teaches them the appropriate way to wait – what to do while He’s away so that they’re ready when He returns. In 25:1, Jesus says, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this…” So, with what is about to be read, you have to think about it in the context of Jesus telling us what the Kingdom of heaven/God will be like as it grows and expands during his seeming absence…while we watch and we wait. And it’s worth noting that He uses a lot of analogies between servants and masters, or managers and owners.

 

Matthew 25:14-30

 

Have you ever seen a problem or situation and wondered why no one was doing something about it? On a regular basis, Christy and the kids tell me stories about the things that are happening in their school: abuse, children barely eating on the weekend, an elementary aged boy who goes home from school and is responsible for bathing and feeding and taking care of his younger siblings. And the thought occurs to me: “Who buried something?” Who got so overwhelmed with life or burdened by the daily grind or pushed down by the abuse of power from others that he or she just buried life? And who has the resources to possibly help with the situation, but instead they’ve buried life too? I guess this reveals what I believe at my core about God. He is a God of abundance, not a God of scarcity so that we need to bury things…or stockpile them for that matter. I believe that if, instead of burying, we would steward we would see lives and communities changed.

 

There’s an Easter paradigm here. Out of what has been buried there is the possibility of resurrection life. Jesus takes all of our burials to the grave with him, and He emerges victorious over them!!!

 

Truth is…We’re good at burying things

First of all, we have to have something to bury – we all have gifts and talents to share; the talents were “entrusted,” not given.

We all have what I have recently heard described as “original glory.” No one is excluded because of status or contribution.

 

If we can agree that we bury, then the question becomes “why do we bury?”.

We bury, first and foremost, because of an incorrect view of the Master – harsh and greedy, or he doesn’t exist in the first place (vv.24-25)

1. As a result, we bury out of fear – “I was afraid, so I went and hid”

2. We bury out of shame – “I’m only a one talent person” – I wonder if the one talent guy looked around and saw what the other two had and thought, “I don’t have what they have, so I’m just going to bury this.” We so easily fall into the comparison trap: “If only I had this job or that wife or those kids or that house, then I’d make a real Kingdom impact!” As Andy Stanley says, “There’s no win in comparison!”; or maybe we have shame and think “I don’t want others to discover these things about me or else they’ll reject me.”

3. We bury out of guilt – “I’m disqualified bc of what I’ve done”

4. We get buried by the actions of others – abuse, manipulation, etc.

5. We get buried by life – things beyond our control (loss of a job, a difficult child, an unexpected death or illness, the immensity of problems around the world – war, poverty, disease, violence, etc)

 

So, that’s why we bury things. But what do we do about it? How do we unearth those things that have been buried? Leslie Newbigin challenges us to look for signs amid the rubble. I love this! Isn’t that our role? To see the rubble/messes/brokenness that’s around us, and to look intentionally for the signs of where God is at work. Here’s what Newbigin says, “…Every faithful act of service, every honest labor to make the world a better place, which seemed to have been forever lost and forgotten in the rubble of history, will be seen on that day to have contributed to the perfect fellowship of God’s Kingdom.” (“Signs Amid the Rubble”). Our Kingdom investments will be revealed when the Master returns.

 

That’s what stewardship is all about. While we’re great at burying things, we’re not always great at intentionally investing things. It takes a lot more work. You can imagine the story being filled in a bit more. The 1 talent servant digs a hole and buries the money. A one-time decision: “I’m just going to burry this and sit back and watch life pass me by.” Do you know anyone like this? On the other hand, the 5 and 2 talent servants had to go out and work with what they had been given. They had to face rejection and the fear of loss. They had to enter into the messiness of exchange and interaction with others. At the same time, they also experienced the joys of seeing multiplication and growth. This is what stewardship is all about…entering into the  buried things and unearthing the signs and realities of God’s Kingdom.

 

“But what does that look like?” you might be wondering. Here’s a few thoughts about what stewardship is:

 

1. Stewardship involves taking an honest evaluation of what you’ve been given – 5, 2, 1…a talent equaled about 15 years of a laborers wages. So, even 1 talent was a substantial amount of money. The 1 talent servant hadn’t been left out. Guess what? You haven’t either!

2. Stewardship involves taking a risk – our level of risk is directly proportional to our understanding of the master. Vv.20 – “Master, you handed over to me – you gave me a gift” He’s a good master!

3. Stewardship is about faithfulness – well done good and faithful servant (v.21)…not “great and successful” Life is a marathon, not a sprint. God’s measure is not fruitfulness, but faithfulness. It’s what Eugene Peterson refers to as “A long obedience in the same direction.”

4. And just like burying things, Stewardship is ultimately about our view of the master

Is he a harsh master? Frankly, I am weary of “harsh master” theology or what I like to call “POS Christianity” which has as its main goal to constantly remind me what a terrible, worthless wretch me and others are. As if that’s God’s primary goal is to constantly nag us about how much we fail and screw up. I really believe that’s what happened with the 1 talent servant. His unfounded fear incapacitated him and so he went and buried what he had been entrusted with. You even hear it in his final words, “Here you have what is yours.” He didn’t want to take any responsibility or ownership. Can you relate to that? How have you disqualified yourself out of fear or shame or guilt? I can’t tell  you how often I hear people say something along the lines of, “I would love to serve or lead or step up or whatever, but I’ve done too much in my life that disqualifies me,” or “I don’t have all my stuff together so I can’t step out.”

But what if the master is a loving father? What if he sows and scatters his love and mercy and grace generously? You hear it in the master’s response: “You knew did you…” In other words, “You thought you knew what I was like…but you were wrong.” We have to start here with stewardship. We have to start with a correct view of the master as a generous, loving father. Truth is, most of us can’t get over this hurdle. We’ve had sometimes horrific and sometimes not so great experiences with parents. So, the idea of a loving parent…a loving and generous father who wants abundance for us… is a fanciful illusion.

But what if it’s true? What if God can’t wait to say to us, “Well done! Because of what you did with what I gave you, I am going to give you even more. Now, enter into the joy of my kingdom!”

 

In the end, the message is clear: “You should have done something!” Stewards hunger and thirst for more of the Kingdom of God. They evaluate and take risks with what they’ve been called to be faithful to. They have an “all of life” mentality which believes that the truest truth is that God is good and He’s Lord of all of life. That’s why the story ends as it does. “To those who have…or more like…those who realize what they have and do something with it, they will be given to the point of abundance. But to those who don’t realize what they have and who they have it from and therefore don’t do anything with it, even that will be taken away from them and they will be thrown out into “outer darkness.”

 

We have a calling at City Hope to elevate the significance and intentionality around the stewardship conversation. It is going to direct a lot of why and what and how we do things moving forward. So, as a further step today, I would like us to take the first step of stewardship which begins with an evaluation of what we have.

 

Hand out papers: Life of Discipleship Chart

What fits into these categories?

What has God given you to steward?

Keep this paper and ask, “Where is God calling me to be faithful?” and “Where is God calling me to take a risk?”

Servants, Stewards, and Spectacles

Servants, Stewards and Spectacles

Scripture Readings:

Psalm 121; John 3:1-17

1 Corinthians 4

Who am I? It’s one of those questions we must ask, but sometimes looking in the mirror or looking around us…we don’t really want to answer it or let the answer come to us. Because when we let the question linger, we’re faced with the reality that we’re often not who we desire to be or even believe we were made to be. There are many things that are true about us…not all of which are easy to accept.

Last time we gathered, Paul reminded us of the deepest reality about who we are. If we have the Spirit, we are Spiritual people…with a capital S.

At the end of 1 Corinthians 3, Paul reminds them that everything belongs to them bc they are Spirit-filled people. Everything belongs to Jesus, and Jesus belongs to God, so if they belong to Jesus through the Spirit…everything of God is theirs! We live from abundance…not scarcity. An especially great reminder during the Lenten journey.

But the truth is that even at our best, we are still not whole. We still come up short. We are still in need of a Savior. If people look to us to see Jesus, they might see some not so Jesus-y things. Gahndi is famously quoted for saying something to the effect of, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” And I think our best response to that statement is “Yep! That’s why we need a Christ.” But as Paul reminded us two weeks ago there’s always more than meets the eye…we have the Spirit!

That’s what Paul is getting at in our passage for today. He’s saying, “If you want to base your faith on and in the pattern of us apostles, let me peel back the facade a bit and give you a glimpse into our lives…and then you can tell me if you still want to boast in which one of us you most closely align with.”

He’s also got a bit of a personal issue to set straight with them because clearly the Corinthians were calling into question his own apostolic authority…perhaps based on some of the things he highlights in the following verses.

In verse 1 of ch 4, he says,  “So, here’s how I want you to think about us apostles: as servants of the crucified Messiah and stewards of the things God has revealed to us through Holy Spirit.”

Servants and Stewards! What a beautiful description! If at the end of my days people said nothing more about me than that I was a servant in the pattern of Jesus and a steward who held loosely and gave generously of all that had been given to me…I would die a content man. Can I get that on my gravestone? Jeremy Lile: a servant of Jesus and a steward of God’s mysteries. Brilliant!

City Hope that’s my prayer for us. That we would serve Jesus with our whole hearts and that we would take seriously the task of stewarding our vocational calling from God. Let’s first of all look at this idea of servant. It simply means “one who assists or helps.” The main point is that we have a responsibility to serve regardless of our status and situation. You don’t get much lower than foot washing and crucifixion, so there’s not really much below us :-) So where and how are you serving? Are you creating margin in the story of your life to serve and be available to help others?

Next is stewardship. It’s a word we use when we talk about the values of City Hope Mission – specifically vocational stewardship with “vocation” meaning “all that God has called us to be and do.” I think stewardship is one of the best ways for us to view discipleship. You see, the beauty about a steward is that he isn’t ultimately in charge. The word for steward used here is the Greek word “oikonomos” which means “household manager, administrator.” A steward realizes that she isn’t in control, but that she has been entrusted with responsibility to manage what is in her care as a representative of the owner. I envision it as hovering over all that we’ve been entrusted with – home, family, work, friendships, community responsibility, creation, etc and asking God how He would have us make sense of it all for His glory.

I cannot tell you how much comfort I find in this description. As I have lost more and more of the illusion of control over the last year and a half as we welcomed two new girls into our home and started this new mission called City Hope, I have been strengthened by the realization that I don’t really have that much control anyhow. I have found myself letting go of pretention and facade much easier. It is all God’s anyhow, so why not hold it open handed and say, “do what you want with my life.” We have a responsibility to intentionally seek the Lord about stewardship and calling. A good question to ask is, “What have I been given to steward and how am I doing at it?” If you’re feeling especially bold, you might even ask someone you trust to give you an objective opinion…maybe even on a regular basis. That’s what we call a discipleship huddle at City Hope. Meeting with a group of people on a regular basis to ask the questions “What is God saying to me?” and “What am I doing about it?” – essentially, “How am I doing at stewarding all that God has put in my trust?”

In v 2, Paul says that the only requirement for being a servant and steward is trustworthiness. It’s faithfulness to all that God has called us to be and do. God isn’t concerned with how we look or how much success we’ve had. He’s concerned about how we’re handling what he’s entrusted to us – which will be different for every person.

I would like to invite Eric up to share about how he is living as a servant and steward. In fact, this is the first of what I hope to be a series of “Stories of Servants and Stewards.”

Here are some things I know to be true about Eric – he is trustworthy and intentional steward, hard-working, integrity, etc

Eric, you are much more than just what you do because you’ve been given a lot to steward; however, we’re going to focus in on your job to start and then go from there.

1.What do you do for a living?

2. Where do you see God’s character most reflected in what you do?

3. Where do you most experience/see  fallenness through your work?

4. Where do you see God at work through your work?

5. In what other ways are you serving through your life and vocation?

6. How can we pray for you and others in a similar line of work?

Thanks Eric. Okay, let’s get back to 1 Corinthians for a bit.

Paul was clearly being judged on some issues, so he adds in, ” Only God can judge me.” Wait! That was Tupac. But his point is the same. We shouldn’t judge anything before it’s time. We’re servants and stewards, not judges and critics.

Next, Paul really peels back the facade that the Corinthians had erected about their spiritual leaders.

First of all, in v 6, he tells them that anything he is calling them to he has applied to himself. That’s my gauge for someone I want to follow. Is he or she actually living what is being preached? I would encourage you to do the same with leaders…except for me of course :-)  Then, in verse 7, he reminds them of the reality of stewardship again…everything you’ve received through the crucified Messiah…especially the Holy Spirit…is a gift, so stop acting like you deserve it!

In his ironic tone, he continues on in v. 8 to say, “You’ve already got it all! You’re rich! You’re kings! Okay, you’re not really kings, but I wish you were so that we apostles…we servants and stewards…could join you in that kingship and rule instead of be servants.”

In verse 9, Paul fills in the picture of what a servant and steward is called to be…a Spectacle…last of all, sentenced to death, a spectacle to the world, to angels and mortals. He uses very descriptive wording and the image he highlights is that of those who, at the end of Coliseum events, were condemned to die as gladiators or those simply thrown to the beasts. Another way of seeing it is as those who had been captured in war and were at the end of the victorious army’s parade and were condemned to die. In either case, the point is that servants and stewards become spectacles for the whole universe to see…condemned to die. Whether it’s an actual death or merely thousands of deaths as they die to themselves daily.  He continues on in v.10 – we are fools for Jesus, but you are wise. We are weak, but you are strong. You are in a place of honor, but we have a poor reputation. In case you’re not already feeling it, he goes on in v.v11-12 -  we are hungry, thirsty, poorly clothed, beaten, homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our hands.

And in the middle of v.12, he makes a transition. Even though all these things are true, these servants and stewards who have been made spectacles bless those who revile them, and speak kindly to those who slander them. Sounds a lot like Jesus! As if Paul hasn’t taken us low enough, he finishes v.13 with these words, “We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.”

Anyone depressed yet? :-) Sorry, if you’re looking for happy clappy prosperity preaching you came to the wrong church today.

Here’s my final thought. We don’t suffer or sacrifice well. Well, at least, I don’t. I’d like to be made a spectacle, but more in a rockstar kind of way. Not so much in a rubbish and dregs kind of way. We don’t even like to accept that suffering and sacrifice is a reality for many of our brothers and sisters around the world. It’s like we can only take so much, and then we get squirmy and try to push it aside or slough it off as something Paul was a bit infatuated with because he thought the end was coming soon. But the reality is, Paul’s vision of the crucified Messiah, Jesus, and his vision of the future…of the final consummation and renewal of all things…is what allowed him to face suffering and sacrifice well. It’s what allowed him to face all of these things and not just face them, but actually boast in them.

I don’t have a lot of application for this point, but I think it’s worth saying because too often we only celebrate the joys and successes. The reality is that many of us live in the sorrows and failures too. Life is hard. Work is hard. Relationships are hard. The world is hard.

Probably the best place to end is where Paul does in vv.14-16  – “I am not writing this to make you ashamed (and I would add feel depressed or guilty or even more heavily burdened), but to admonish you as my beloved children…as a loving father who has lead the way and is saying “Imitate me as I imitate Jesus.” That’s our final calling that we must keep in mind. We are Servants. Yes! We are Stewards. Yes! We are Spectacles. Yes! And most importantly, we are Sons & Daughters. Yes and Amen!

So, what’s God saying to you?

1. How has He called you to serve?

2. What gifts and position and relationships and talents and responsibility has He given you to steward? 3. Where are you experiencing sacrifice during this Lenten season and what is God saying to you in the midst of it? 

What’s in a name?

A lot, actually. Names are significant and often how we categorize, understand and identify.

So, why the change…at least on social media and in conversation…to City Hope Mission?

We believe it more accurately reflects what we’re all about, and can hopefully help folks get their heads around what it is that we’ve been up to over the past year or so, and where we’re headed in the future.

The word “mission” conveys a lot. It suggests that we have a sense of purpose and focus that gives clarity to why we exist. Our stated mission is “To join God in the renewal of all things.” We fundamentally believe that God is on a mission of renewal in our world, and we have the privilege of joining Him in that work in every facet of our lives. The missio dei (mission of God) is our fuel.

The name also informs one that our scope is broad. We envision a Mission Hub where lots of people can come to discover who they are and what they’re to be about in the world. While a “church” gathering is part of our life together, it is certainly not the sum total of all that we are and do. For example, our average attendance on a Sunday is around 10 to 12 family units. However, the scope of City Hope Mission touches, on average, at least 20 family units throughout the course of any given week…and sometimes way more than that!

Moreover, the word “mission” should compel you to join in with what’s happening. There are lots of different ways to get connected in relationship and to serve the community. You may only feel compelled to join in when we serve at the food pantry or hold events in the community. You may be compelled to join a Hope Community. Or, you may be compelled to come to Celebration on a Sunday. And for some of us, we’re compelled to be a part of all that is City Hope (find out more here: www.cityhopeakron.com).

Hope to see you at a gathering soon!

Jeremy

 

Spiritual

Spiritual:

What does it mean to be spiritual? The term has kind of become a throw away word for any and every kind of belief in something more than just what can be seen and observed.

But at it’s core, the true meaning is “of the wind or breath.” The same word used to describe Holy Spirit in the New Testament – pneuma. So, the true meaning is “of the Spirit”…with a capital “S”!

So, as we hear Paul’s words today, we must always remember that we come with lenses whose vision has been blurred by 2,000 years of history, and especially our own western history which desires so greatly to compartmentalize and categorize things so that we can master and control them. But we must always remember that this dichotomy is not so nice and neat in most of the rest of the world where the divide between “spiritual” and “physical” often gets blurred. This would have been the environment into which Paul was writing. The gods abounded and sprinkled bits of spiritual into every day life. In fact, one of the greatest threats to the Corinthian Christian community was a belief that taught that the “higher things” belonged to the spiritual life and the “base things” belonged to the physical life. We’ll look at this more when we get to chapter 6, but they were essentially saying, “I can do whatever I want with my body because it’s physical and will pass away. What really matters is my spirit and soul.” They created a dichotomy that didn’t exist in the Jewish understanding of God. To the Jew, everything is Spiritual. All of life is filled with God’s Spirit – that’s why you pray continuously throughout the day whether you’re celebrating a profound revelation or simply thanking God that you’re able to go to the bathroom. So, when we hear “spiritual,” we should hear “Spirit-filled.”

 So, what does it mean for us to continue to be Spiritual people with a capital “S”?

 Let’s look at 1 Cor 2:6-3:4 to find out. You can open your Bible there if you’d like.

Can I just be real honest with you all? This has been a real discipline for me. I am much more at home studying the gospels or the prophets or even Revelation…believe it or not. I don’t particularly like Paul. Or maybe it would be better to say that I don’t particularly like how many interpret Paul and use what he wrote to build bad theology, which is usually judgmental and divisive. In fact, I have seen this passage that we’re going to look at today used in just that way – to build up a sort of spiritual elitism in which your answer to everything is a self-fulfilling, “Well, we have the Spirit and they don’t.” or “We don’t need to be taught by anyone else because we have the Spirit.” or one of my personal favorites, “Well, I don’t need to think about what you’re asking me to think about because I prayed about it and God told me that I’m right.” Aw snap!!!

This is why Richard Hays says, “The most insidiously divisive forms of elitism will be precisely those that are most ‘spiritual’ in motivation and manifestation” (p.50).

 But the more I’ve been studying Paul and his letters and this one in particular, the more I am coming to appreciate him and what he wrote. There’s something really helpful for me about tethering myself to a particular chunk of Scripture because what I’m finding is that I can’t just pick and choose passages to fit what I want to say. Instead, I’m forced to engage them on their own terms and in their own flow. Then again, maybe I just like Paul because he uses a lot of sarcasm and irony like he does in our passage for today.

 Okay, so remember that Paul has just finished saying, “I made it a direct point not to stand on any cleverly devised arguments, but to preach one foolish message – Jesus Christ and Him crucified..the crucified Messiah.” But now, in verse 6 he makes an abrupt shift to talk about “a secret wisdom for the mature.” What is he doing? Isn’t he discrediting everything he just wrote? No, he’s using irony and adopting the Corinthians’ language of “wisdom”, and “maturity”, and “spiritual” to beat them at their own game and at the same time to show them how ridiculous the game of jockeying for elite status within the Christian community is. He’s basically saying, “You want wisdom? I got your wisdom right here!” [point to the cross]

 Paul begins in vv.6-8 by saying “We do speak wisdom…a secret wisdom of a different age that the rulers (the wise power wielders) of this age didn’t get: that’s why they crucified wisdom. But, to the spiritually mature, the people the Corinthians should be, the message isn’t so secret. It’s the gospel message and plan that God had in mind all along for those who love Him.

 Ultimately, in verses 9-13, Paul highlights how foolish it is to boast in one’s own wisdom and understanding about “spiritual” things because any “wisdom” we have comes directly from God’s self-revealing initiative…not our own knowledge. In fact, v.9 makes it clear that it was always God’s intent to reveal Himself in this way to those who love Him. The God who came down. The holy God who loves to reveal Himself in humility, grace, and weakness. That’s worth celebrating friends. That’s worth a “hallelujah!” That’s true Spirituality.

 And how does that foolish wisdom come to us? God reveals it to us by His Spirit…Holy Spirit. And we learn several things about Holy Spirit in the following verses.

 First of all, Holy Spirit is POWER (v.4) to transform lives. As Gordon Fee says, “The purpose of the Spirit’s coming was not to transport one above the present age, but to empower one to live within it.” (p.96)

 I guess that’s why I have a hard time giving alter calls that get you worked up emotionally so that you come sprinting to the front in a heap of tears and moans and lament. I trust God and I trust His goodness. I trust that if we have received His Spirit, He will guide us and convict us and correct us and direct us. I don’t want to soft pedal Jesus, but I don’t want to hard sell Him either. I trust Him and that He will work in His way and in His time. I hope that’s not a cop out. I think it’s a buy in to say, “I’m here for the duration to love you and walk alongside you and let God use me in your life and you in mine.”

 In v.10, Paul continues his emphasis by basically saying, “The Spirit, Holy Spirit, is the key. He is the One who searches everything, even the unfathomable depths of God and makes known His thoughts and heart to us.” That’s why Jesus could say that it was better that He went away so that He could send Holy Spirit to perpetually reveal God to us in every time and every place.

 Holy Spirit is revelator

 Paul goes on in v.11 to point out, using the Greek philosophic principle of “like is known by like,” that only God can know God. Just as only an individual knows his or her true thoughts, so only Holy Spirit comprehends the things of God. Holy Spirit is the perpetual link between God and humanity. So, once again, we shouldn’t expect those without God’s Spirit to understand God. Now, this often gets misused to help us determine who has the gift of God’s Spirit and who does not. Is it only those who have been baptized a certain way? Is it only those who speak in tongues? You can hear it: “What special gift do I need to have to show that I have God’s Spirit?” But Paul’s concern here was not with who in the Christian community had the Spirit and who did not…he assumed that they all did. His concern is with those who have received the Spirit through the gospel message proclaimed, and with those who do not in any way claim to be a part of this new community of Jesus followers.

 Holy Spirit is the link to knowing God and God’s ways

 Let me get on my soapbox one more time here because this is massive! Very often, especially in our own country, we want to impose “Spiritual” – with a capital S – things on people who do not claim to have anything to do with Holy Spirit. And when they don’t conform to our desires or wishes, we get all up in arms and ticked off and throw a big hissy fit…usually to the utter joy of the national media who has a field day making Christians out to be a bunch of judgmental, losers who whine when they don’t get what they want. Now don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do our best to effect structural change through the political process. That we shouldn’t vote our conscience and use the right to vote. What I am saying is that I think we need to let go of the pipe dream of a “Christian Nation” and instead embrace the reality that we are forever going to be at odds with those who do not claim to or desire to have the Spirit of God. And, we need to let go of the expectation that a secular, non-Spiritual nation is going to conform its laws and ways to our ways. It’s such a trick of the enemy and proof of our own arrogance that gets us to misuse a passage like this to cause further division and fighting within our own Christian community about who truly has the Spirit and who does not. Maybe, just maybe, if we could get past that argument and see that proof of the Spirit in our lives is humility and grace, we would see how much we need each other…and maybe just maybe…others would see our unity and want the Spirit!!! Come on church!

 In v.12, Paul highlights this unity by reminding them, “We have received not the spirit of this world, but the Spirit that is from God. The Spirit whose purpose is to constantly remind and reveal to us the gift that God has bestowed upon us through unmerited grace in Jesus.” I love even the word “bestowed” because it shows yet again that it’s nothing I can boast in. It means to give graciously, to cancel a debt that is owed, to pardon. It is God’s loving and good and gracious act – the gift of deliverance from the age that is passing away and into the new age that is gaining momentum and expanding and multiplying. Yes!!!

 Holy Spirit is gift and gifts giver

 Paul continues in vv.13-16 by pointing out that the Spirit is their teacher and the One who helps them make sense of the gift of God. Once again, Paul speaks in pretty stark language here…God’s gift of grace cannot be discerned without God’s Spirit. And spiritual things cannot be discerned by those who are natural. Richard Hays says, “the truth about God is revealed not through philosophy but through prophecy, not through rhetoric but by revelation.” One way of thinking about this is to say that we will understand what is going on in this age, but this age will not understand us.

 Holy Spirit is Teacher/Guide into all truth

 In verse 16, Paul quotes Isaiah 40:13 which rhetorically asks, “For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” And Paul’s conclusion is: “But we have the mind of Christ.” For Paul the “mind of Christ” is synonymous with the “Spirit of Christ.” So, if we have the Spirit, we can know the “secret,” “hidden,” “depths of God.”

 Friends, this is a beautiful thing! I don’t want us to lose the power of this statement, “But we have the mind of Christ,” in oversimplification. This is what Paul has been driving at. As part of the new age, “Welcome to the new age…radioactive!”, we participate in God’s continual revelation of Himself through Holy Spirit. At the end of the day, we can actually pray and seek the Lord together and ask for His wisdom and discernment about specific issues in our lives and in our world. When all else fails us, we can say, “But we have the Holy Spirit!!!”

 Paul finishes up his point in 3:1-4 by basically saying, “You wanted wisdom, but you weren’t ‘spiritually mature’ enough to discern true wisdom. You didn’t have the Spirit, so I gave you the basics. And guess what? You’re still acting infantile…of the flesh.” He uses a different term here than he did in earlier verses to describe those who are “unspiritual.” He’s not saying that they are unspiritual, he’s saying that they are acting fleshly…acting like those who are of the age that is passing away. And the evidence of their “fleshiness” is that there is still jealousy and quarreling among them about who belongs to Paul or Apollos. He’s saying, “If you were spiritually mature, you would act in love and humility…not in jealousy and quarreling.”

 This one is personal. The realization that we have the Spirit of Christ to empower us for change, to reveal God’s heart, to make known God’s gift of grace, and to guide us into truth has made all the difference in my life. I had an experience early on in my marriage with Christy where I was really struggling. My father had just died from cancer and I was trying to make sense of life with the huge void that he left in my heart. I was indecisive, riddled with anxiety and depression, and pretty much wanting to know what my role and place was in the world…if I had one at all. Fortunately, I have a wife who knows what I need more than I do, and she encouraged me to get prayer. I asked two people, Gretsie who I introduced to you last week, and a retired priest Chuck Irish to pray for me. As we prayed, they discerned that I had a split head. In one sense, I was living in fear, despair, and under the control of how others thought I should be living. On the other hand, I was desiring to pursue the things of God: Faith,  Hope and Love. As we prayed, I saw in my mind 3 paths behind me and 3 paths in front of me. The 3 behind led to fear, despair and control, while the three in front led to the mind of Christ exemplified by faith, hope and love. The Lord asked me which of those paths I wanted to take, and I told Him I wanted to pursue His mind. It’s hard to explain, but as I prayed into this and declared it to the Lord I experienced a real breakthrough that has shaped my life to this day. I’m not saying I’m perfect, but I am much more decisive, hopeful, and joy-filled. My mind continues to be the place where the enemy attacks, and I have had to continue to seek prayer and deliverance from some of these things. But this verse reminds me over and over again, “We have the mind of Christ.” We, not just I, and that’s why we need each other – to help us discern the mind of Christ. This is a scandalously bold claim. But if it’s not true, why does the church exist?

 This is a great reminder as we prepare for Lent. We must remember that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. If we go to the wilderness of Lent in our own strength, it will be a miserable time. If we go in the Spirit, we will find life there.

So, where do you need to see evidence of your own Spirituality (Spirit-filled life) today? Do you need to pray for the gift of God’s Spirit in your life? We need filled up…because we’re leaky vessels.

The Gospel: Foolish God

The Gospel: Foolish God

 

We were in Corinth last weekend. Okay, not really, but figuratively. The more I read and study this ancient city, the more I realize that it is in many ways and on many levels antiquity’s version of New York City. It was re-populated by ex-slaves, immigrants seeking a better life (that’s why Paul reminds them in our reading today: “Not many of you were wise…powerful…or of noble birth). It quickly grew and became one of the premier centers of commerce, religion, and popular ideas. The general ethos of Corinth was one of independence, self-sufficiency, and self-promotion. The proverb went: “Not for everyone is the voyage to Corinth,” meaning that if you could make it there you could make it anywhere :-)

So, we were in New York last weekend, and we had this surreal experience. We had to hop a cab and a couple minutes into the ride the driver begins to speak to us. Over the next few minutes, we learn that he is a cinematographer from Egypt who moved to the big Apple in pursuit of a better life. He then went on to tell us that it was fashion week in the city and that just the night before he had been driving an intoxicated, possibly drugged up, fashion model. To which he exclaimed: “I would never want that life.”

 

So, we have a highly educated and trained Egyptian cinematographer, driving taxi for two mid-western nobodies, judging his prior evening’s clientele who outwardly was the symbol of success (which in our culture is sexiness), but inwardly was broken and dying…and all the while, there’s a little white cross hanging from his rearview mirror. And it dawned on me, “We’re in Corinth!” This is exactly the atmosphere into which Paul has boldly attempted and successfully planted a new Christian community. Right in the midst of this center of self-promotion and self-sufficiency and pride-inducing success…Paul drops the gospel message of the cross and resurrection!!! And it actually takes root and begins to change lives. This resonates so deeply with me and what we are all about here at City Hope. When I tell people that we’ve started a new mission in Highland Square…they usually ask why we would want to do that here. And my only answer is: Because God called us to it. Because if we can make it here…we can make it anywhere! J

 

So far we have seen that it’s into this environment that Paul reminds them that they have been called and set apart by God to live in a way that represents who God is on the earth. And the primary way they show who God is is by living together in unity – unity that comes only through Jesus.

 

As further evidence of God’s power at work in the Corinthians, Paul highlights three things about the gospel in 1:18-2:5 – The Message; The Members, and The Messenger.

 

Paul begins in v.18 with the message of the cross. Now, I must be transparent with you at this point. The cross makes me uneasy. In my early days as a Christian, I clung to the cross. I sought God’s forgiveness and deliverance and healing with vigor. I readily shared with anyone who would listen about what God was doing in my life and heart.

But as I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve noticed a drift away from the cross. I’ve noticed a diminishing of its power in my own life as I’ve moved on to “more important things.” Often, I long for the simplicity of those earlier days when the cross of Christ and its implications were everything to me.

 

But the truth is…the message of the cross is offensive to my selfish ways. It strips me of any entitlement or self-sufficiency. It confronts me with my sin. It continually calls me to see things differently and to live dependently upon God. The cross of Jesus Christ does not bend to my wishes or conform to my preferences. So, as much as I may want to dress the cross up with fancy words or theological discussion about why I am or am not doing something, when all those things are stripped away the message of the cross is still there. As much as I may want it to make complete sense to me and my way of understanding things, which is idolatry – conforming God to my image – the cross won’t conform. And when I want to write someone off or judge them…the cross reminds me that no one is beyond God’s relentless love.

 

The cross stands alone through time and trial as “The Lord’s sign” – the symbol of a foolish God. In this center of wisdom and wealth, Paul relies entirely on the gospel message of a God who came down…a crucified messiah. We must understand that in their “wisdom” and understanding you couldn’t have both of these. Messiah and crucifixion don’t go together. Messiah means power, splendor, majesty, triumph. Crucifixion means weak, humiliating, loser. This was scandalous. As Gordon Fee writes, “Only God is so wise as to be so foolish.” That’s our paradigm friends. A crucified Messiah.

 

Paul continues to explain the paradigm of the gospel message. “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.” We must keep in mind that for Paul “the cross” is an all encompassing term that he describes later in chapter 15: “That Christ died for our sins…and that he was buried…and that he was raised on the third day…and that he appeared…” The cross divides the ages. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, God has set into motion a new reality…a new age. That’s why Jesus’ Gospel message was: “The Kingdom of God is at hand! God’s new reality…God’s way of setting things right…is here…in me!” To those who are still trying to live according to the former age’s standards of success and pride… the gospel is utter foolishness and stupidity.

 

We lose some of this because we’re so familiar with the cross as a symbol of Christianity. However, to the original audience of Greeks and Jews, the cross was stupid. It was a symbol of shame and scorn and humiliation. Much like an execution chair or lethal injection needle would be to us today. It was a symbol of what was deserving of the most vile criminals. And that’s where Paul starts because that’s where God starts. In an act of divine humiliation, God comes down in the person of Jesus and not only lives as a peasant, but is subjected to a humiliating death on a cross.

 

But to those who are part of the new age…who have been justified in Christ and are in the sanctification process…being saved…it is the power to receive what Jesus has done and is doing in us and for us. This word “power” is repeated again in v.24 and in 2:4-5. It is the word used to describe the animating force which makes us truly alive. The message of a crucified messiah may be a stumbling block to those who seek a sign of power, and it may be foolishness to those who desire wisdom, but it is both power and wisdom to those who have received God’s grace. If at the end of the day you cannot say that your belief in Jesus rests solely on what God has done for you…if you can take credit for doing it in your own strength…then it’s not the gospel. It’s not the good news that in Jesus, God did and does what only God could do and does.

 

That’s why Paul’s next act is to quote from Isaiah 29:14 – “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” In Jesus, God is turning things upside down…or right side up. Paul then launches into full sarcasm by asking, “Where is the one who is wise? scribe? debater? Hasn’t God made those things foolish?” He goes on, “God is so wise that He chose not to use human wisdom to save people, but He chose to use seeming foolishness (a crucified messiah) to make salvation available to all who would believe…even Jews and Greeks. As v.25 says, “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” Praise God!

 

So, God’s power is demonstrated through the gospel message of grace.

 

Now, Paul turns the attention from the message to the recipients of the message…the Corinthians themselves. He asks them to consider their own call from God. Can we take a moment and do that? Let’s take a moment to consider our own calling from God. We may not have made a decision to answer that call yet, but let’s at least consider that if you’re sitting here…He has called you.

 

And in considering that calling, Paul reminds them of this: not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were powerful; not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.” Hallelujah! Does anyone else find comfort in that message? It’s like a checklist for me: foolish…check! weak…check! low and despised…check! That’s the gospel message my friends. God uses the things that by appearance or social status or bank account or education or whatever we think is weak and foolish and despised…and He accomplishes His purposes.

 

The gospel is for everyone! You can’t disqualify yourself or someone else because God didn’t do that. In fact, the more disqualified you feel…the more qualified you probably are.

Ultimately, verse 30 reminds us that God is the source of our life. He is the fountainhead from which life flows to us through Jesus. And then Paul simply begins to gush in his description of Jesus. There’s no pattern or organization to this list. Paul just can’t contain himself when he begins to talk about all who Jesus is to us. He is…wisdom…righteousness…sanctification…and redemption. In other words, He is everything! He is true understanding. He is the one who sets everything right. He is the one who sets us apart. He is the one who has ransomed us. So, if you’re going to boast…make boast of Jesus. Gush with what God has done in and through Jesus.

The Corinthians themselves are the greatest evidence of the power of the gospel.

Gordon Fee again writes, “God, it turns out, deliberately chose the foolish things of the world, the cross and the Corinthian believers, so that he could remove forever, from every human creature, any possible grounds on their part of standing in the divine presence with something in their hands. The ground is level at the foot of the cross.” (p.84)

 

God’s power is made evident through transformed communities.

 

Finally, Paul turns attention to himself. He points out that he did not proclaim the testimony/mystery of God with fancy rhetoric or sophisticated wisdom. Instead, he made an intentional decision “to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” The interesting thing is that Paul could have used techniques and tricks of rhetoric in which he was trained. But he intentionally set those things aside so that the pure gospel message could be received and believed.

In fact, Paul came in weakness and fear and in much trembling. Instead of a well organized and persuasive argument, Paul demonstrated Holy Spirit’s power so that the Corinthians wouldn’t depend upon a message or messenger, but upon God and His power.

 

You may not know this about me because I’m pretty good at keeping up appearances, but I am a worrier and doubter. I have had several seasons in my life where I have gone through times of significant doubt and despair – wondering what this whole life thing is about and if I’m wasting my time doing what I’m doing. So thank God your salvation isn’t dependent upon the messenger :-)

 

But you know what has kept me from going over the edge or walking away when all the rhetoric and persuasive arguments were stripped away? It’s not so much of a “what” as it is a “who.” It’s God…Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The problem is that once you’ve experienced something for yourself…you can’t deny it. In the end, with all my struggles and doubts, I find that God continues to show up. It’s Him that draws me. Not a specific belief or a good feeling. It’s Him! I think that’s what Paul was getting at here. He had a personal encounter with Jesus that changed everything for him, and everything else…as he says in Philippians…is a pile of crap compared to knowing Jesus.

 

God’s power is made evident through changed lives.

 

So, like Paul, my prayer today is for a demonstration of God’s power through Holy Spirit. My prayer is that we would simply come to the cross of Jesus where the ground is level, where we have nothing in our hands. That we would consider the evidence of The Message of a God who expresses Himself through a crucified Messiah, The Members of a transformed community, and our own personal encounters with God as His Messengers. And that we would simply ask God to meet us in a powerful way.

So, let’s take a few minutes and come to the cross of Jesus Christ where true life is found…redemption…healing…renewal.

Gospel Unity

Gospel Unity

 

Our world is full of division. People choosing sides and being unwilling to negotiate, forgive and reconcile. Just turn on the news or check the news app on your phone and you’ll see reports of what’s happening in Syria, Sudan, Egypt, the US, Ukraine, etc. And yet, when you step back and think about it, it kind of makes sense.  If there isn’t a higher purpose and value to actively pursuing unity, why make the effort?

 

Some of you may have seen this image this week. (showed image of Ukranian clergy standing between sides). This is a beautiful image of what we are called to be in our world. Standing in the midst of the division, the brokenness, the violence, the injustice and holding high the symbol of forgiveness and reconciliation and unity. And not just the symbol, but more importantly the One to whom the symbol points. So, today, I want us to continue our journey in Paul’s letter to the Christians in Corinth with the theme of Gospel Unity.

 

In all truthiness, we don’t usually make a quick mental association between the words “unity” and “church.” And that’s where this letter continues to speak to us today. A couple weeks ago, we spent some time looking at Paul’s opening words to the church in Corinth. What was so amazing was that even though this church was causing Paul headaches, he opened by thanking God for them. We talked about this new Gospel Community that was being re-shaped according to the rhythms of the gospel – Creation; Fall; Redemption and Renewal

 

In our reading for today, Paul now turns to the main issue at hand. There is quarreling and jealousy that is leading to division in the community. We have to keep in mind that his main concern throughout this letter is the integrity of this newly formed community who is re-orienting their lives around the gospel – this Gospel Community. And we must remember that this new community was as diverse as they come – made up of people from all walks of life, education, status, socioeconomic positions, religious beliefs, etc. So, this was no small task. Imagine a scenario where the person leading worship on Sunday goes home as a slave on Monday. Or the preacher is homeless. Or a former prostitute  helps serve communion. Come on! Now that’s church!!!

 

So, let’s pick up in v.10 of chapter 1…verse 10 is the filter through which we should read the rest of the letter, so let’s really dive into this one.

 

“I appeal (beg, urge) to you brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

He is appealing to them with the full weight of his position as an apostle, but he is not demanding because unity cannot be commanded or forced. It must be cultivated.

So, he urges them as brothers and sisters by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. His appeal is based on Jesus and the grace and gifts they have as a family because of Him.

So, the first point is that Gospel unity begins with Jesus – we cannot find unity anywhere else.

 

Paul continues “…that all of you be in agreement (say the same thing) and that there be no divisions among you…”

Paul is saying, “Be in agreement about the fundamentals of the gospel message!” Like the famous quote: “In Essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity.” In a moment, he will go on to point out the foolishness of the things that they are divided over, but for now he’s concerned about what unites them.

His appeal continues with “And that you not be divided” the term for divided is one used  to describe tearing a garment or plowing up a field. Does it ever feel like that when there’s division? Like everything just got torn and turned up and is now exposed? The good news is that now there’s the potential for mending and sowing new seeds of healing and forgiveness.

The second point is that Gospel unity majors on the majors

 

This is what we at City Hope describe as Commission, Commandment, Covenant and Creed. The majors are the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations, which we obey as we fulfill the Great Commandment to love God, ourselves, and others. And all along the way, we’re guided by the creedal confession of our historic faith in the context of a covenantal relationship with God.

 

Paul finishes v.10 with “…but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose”

The word Paul chooses in his appeal for unity means “to be knit together” as in the mending or restoring of a net in Mark 1:19 = perfect unity. His desire is that they not just learn to get along, but that they actually be mended and restored to their original purpose. Do you see the gospel rhythms of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration here? There was a new creation of this Gospel community, they quickly fell into disunity through quarreling and jealousy, Paul points them back to the redeemer, and he ultimately holds out before them the hope of full restoration.

Paul is saying I want you to be unified in your understanding of the gospel and its power, and I want you to be unified in the purpose to which God has called you as a Gospel community.

This is unity, not uniformity. He is not calling them to be automotons that think, and eat, and dress, and act exactly the same. This is important because I think what gets promoted as unity often times really means, “As long as you think and act and believe and live just like me and don’t disagree with me in any way…then we can be unified.” That’s not what Paul is saying. He’s calling them to focus on the One who called them together in the first place and to pattern their lives after Him. As we come to the cross together, we find true unity while still maintaining our uniqueness.

The third point is that Gospel unity keeps the end in mind – restoration is the goal

 

So, what was the nature of the problem?

verses 11- 16 spell it out:

Paul got a report from Chloe’s people, Chloe the head of a household…just saying…that there was quarrelling among them. And the quarrel was about which “group” or “party” each of them belonged to.

This might seem silly to us, but then again, how many of our petty divisions would someone look back on and wonder why it was a fight in the first place?

And so, they said “I belong to Paul,” and “I belong to Apollos,” and “I belong to Cephas (Peter),” and “I belong to Jesus.” They were wearing these around as badges declaring who was most “spiritual.” You can imagine it right? “I was baptized by Paul.” Well, “I’m subscribed to Apollos’ podcast.” Oh yeah, “Well, I get a prayer cloth from Peter once a month.” “Oh really, well, I have some special revelation from Jesus and that’s all I need.”

Once again, these might not strike home. But what does cause division? Is it propping yourself up on outward appearances? Is it drawing hard and fast lines about who’s in and who’s out based on non-essentials? Is it finding your identity in who you’re not rather than who you are?

Paul’s answer to the problem is a series of rhetorical questions in v.13.

“Is Jesus a commodity to be divided up and parceled out? Was I, Paul, crucified for your salvation? Were you baptized into new life in my name?” His point here is to get at the absurdity of the things that are causing division. And he does so by reminding them of this: Jesus is Lord. He is not something to be possessed. And not only is He Lord, but He is crucified Lord in whose name they have now been baptized into a whole new way of life. It is in and through the cross their new community is to be shaped. The cross confronts me with my sin. I envision it like this. In our fallenness, and brokeness, we journey to the cross. At the cross, we find redemption. And through  the power of the cross we find restoration and renewal.

This is Paul’s final point in verse 17: “Jesus sent me to proclaim the gospel…the good news that in Jesus, God is reconciling all things back to Himself. And I’m not doing it with any fancy rhetoric or “secret knowledge.” I am simply holding up the cross of Christ and letting it’s power do the work.” Paul does not want to “empty” the cross of its power by getting into debates and quarrels with fancy rhetoric…which he could have done quite well, mind you.

 

Okay, so what does this mean for us today? Lots of things actually! The most promising is that through the work and person of Jesus true reconciliation, renewal and unity are possible. They’re not just nice things to sing about or put on our bumper stickers. True Gospel Unity is attainable and I can say that because I’ve seen it in my marriage and in other relationships.

 

City Hope, my prayer is that we would be a cruciform community. That as we share life together (one of our highest values) we would be shaped by the cross and resurrection so that we actually have permission to bring each other into Jesus’ presence to hear His voice and find unity. That we would together journey toward the cross to recognize our sin and brokenness, find redemption, and that we would journey together from there in renewal power.  Do we believe this? Are we committed to community even when we find division, and quarreling and jealousy? Dr. Chris Green says, “The sign of true Christian maturity is your capacity to live with people who are not like you.” Are we up for the challenge?

 

So, how do we find Gospel Unity (wholeness, integrity, soundness)…remember it’s unity not uniformity. I’m borrowing these from concepts found in the Freedom Class Manual.

First, we identify the problem – We Recognize – which usually begins by asking God “What did I do?”

Second, we confess the problem – We Repent – which usually begins by saying “God I did…”

Third, we go to the cross – We Receive – we say “God forgive me for…”

Fourth, we look for habits, patterns or strongholds – We Rebuke the enemy – we say “God protect us and open our eyes to blind spots and footholds in our lives.” The Corinthians primary stronghold was pride (they were jockeying for position) which leads to being independent and self-sufficient and argumentative…not things that typically lay the ground for unity :-)

And lastly, we cling to God’s Truth – We Restore what was broken – we say “Jesus thank you for mending and making new. Help me to continue to walk in unity or wholeness in this area.”

 

So, just to repeat…We Recognize; Repent; Receive; Rebuke and Restore.

These steps have been so helpful to me…especially that one time I messed up as a husband :-)

Seriously though, the truth is that I need to walk through these quite often in relationships. With Christy just a couple weeks ago, I had to do this. I did something really stupid and was causing division between us. At first, I dug in my heals and said “I follow Jeremy…and I’m pretty sure Jesus is with me too!” But after some time, I asked God to help me recognize what I had done…which He was happy to do. Then, the really fun part, I had to go confess to Christy what I had done to cause the problem. I received her  forgiveness and together we agreed that this wouldn’t be an ongoing issue in our marriage…no strongholds…and then the relationship was restored because we were in agreement.

I had it happen in another relationship this week too: a friend helped me recognize something wrong I had done…I asked for forgiveness…received it…and things were mended.

It’s like what Jesus commands us to do in the sermon on the mount actually works. What do ya know?

This also happens on a personal level between me and the Lord.

 

Gospel unity lays the ground for Gospel Community Maturity – that’s why this matters! We’ll talk about this in a couple of weeks. Paul’s goal for the Corinthians was that they would grow up in their faith.

 

So, here’s what I’d like us to do as we prepare our hearts to come to the Lord’s Table. Let’s walk through these steps in prayer asking the Lord to prepare our hearts, minds, souls and bodies to receive His perfect sacrifice.

 

 

Communion:

This is the table -

Not of the church, but of the Lord

It is made ready for those who love him

And for those who want to love him more

So come -

You who have much faith

And you who have little

You who have been here often

And you who have not been here long

You who have tried to follow

And you who have failed

Come

Because it is the Lord who invites you

It is his will that those who want him

Should meet him here