1/20/13 “The Oneness of God’s Family” (1 Cor 12) 1-20-13
We live in a sharply divided culture. NPR had a nice piece on the president’s inauguration today indicating that President Obama is presiding over a sharply divided nation in which republican voters and democrat voters do not rub elbows with each other much; so also republican politicians and democrat politicians do not rub elbows much. We are divided sharply over abortion, gun control, the extent of gay rights, taxing, spending and the deficit. I am reminded of another inauguration on March 4, 1865 when the nation had been sharply divided over many crises to the point of war. Obama will have two Bibles at the inauguration today- one will be Lincoln’s. Abraham Lincoln said in his second inaugural address- “with malice toward none and charity toward all, let us strive to finish the work- to bind up the wounds… to achieve a just and lasting peace for us and for all nations.” Too many are malicious, critical, uncaring and skeptical. I hope we can replace such things with love, grace, and peace, and faith.
Paul too was writing to a church that had different opinions. One was following one minister and others were following another. So Paul said at the beginning of 1 Corinthians that one follows Apollos, another Paul, another Peter, and some purists said they weren’t listening to any of those guys- just to Jesus. They were divided over sexuality and morality. They were divided over gifts and who were the leaders- power struggles. The church has always had to overcome tastes, morality, and differences. But this is true of the secular world too- this is a human problem. It sounds to me like a lot of families over the Christmas holiday. One person is jealous of another person’s gift; one person wants to tell everyone else the agenda; Paul was telling them that God has given them tools and gifts to help them become one family and to be people of love instead of people who are divisive. In fact, I would say our natural tendency is to be jealous, to be divisive, to not get along with each other, to fall into immorality- rationalizing it away, and to label and demonize each other. I do not see Paul encouraging us to take political sides, nor do I see Jesus doing this. Paul, instead of grasping for power and authority reminded the people of the church why they have reason to love and be united. These were not organizational or institutional laws, but spiritual principles. The unity of the church does not depend on human laws or even on human will- but ultimately on God and His Spirit. We have one Lord, one Spirit, and one common good.
I. THE SAME LORD TO FOLLOW- Paul was addressing the diversity of the church and the different gifts. He said there are different kinds of gifts and service but the same Lord whom we serve with our gifts. In fact, Paul would say that we cannot even say the simple statement “Jesus is Lord” without the Holy Spirit. Implied in this is that if we are serving the same Lord, we should be using our diversity not to pull against one another, but to pull in the same direction. The NFL playoffs are this weekend, and if the players on the team are fighting amongst each other instead of working together against the opposing team, then the game is lost for them.
Our church has been divided. We are divided not just by disagreements and splits in the church- we are divided when people leave us and go nowhere else. This is the phenomenon across our country. When we stop following God- when we stop going to worship Him- we are dividing the church and going our own way. As we follow God- as we stay on the path- as we give ourselves to Him, we are united together. Jesus holds up the cross and bids us follow Him into the way of eternal life.
You can go around the world- to any country in the world and find a brother or sister. You do not just find someone who believes in the same ideals as you, or someone who has the same philosophy as you, but you find someone who follows on the same path you follow. Someone who prays the Lord’s Prayer. Someone who believes in loving God and neighbor. Someone who believes that denying self and picking up the cross and following the same Lord is important.
I want to encourage you that even though in the west the church is declining, in the world overall the church is growing by leaps and bounds. Do not be dismayed by the skepticism or immorality of the world
II. THE SAME SPIRIT TO FILL- There are different kinds of gifts but the same Spirit. The originator of the various gifts we have is the same. The gifts we have in the church are a blessing from God. So we should use our blessings to further the cause of the blesser- not to go our own way.
Yet, church is ironically about the people. It is about people joining together to say prayers, to sing hymns- sometimes even off key. It is about learning from one another. The Bible says “As iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another.” It says, “three strands of rope are stronger than one.” The church is about people joining together to do things that they could not do alone- like build a Good Works house, or go on a mission trip, or support full time missionaries with other churches, or even support things like Thornwell Home for children, or the Presbyterian Home for the elderly. Jesus said when two or more of you on earth agree it shall be done by my Father in heaven. How important is it that we learn to do what Paul said… agree with each other? Can you be a Christian alone? Yes, in a very small way. But you can’t love alone. It takes more than one to love, and loving God and neighbor are part of our great commandments. Love does not mean saying okay when you both agree. The real test of love comes when something happens with which you disagree. We live in a culture where we have failed at loving each other. Too often when we disagree we head out the door. It shows in the divisions in the family, in the sharp divisions in government in politics, and unfortunately it also shows up in church.
I have sat next to total strangers before and have had the sense, the feeling, the experience that there is a spiritual bond between me and them- and then discovered that is right. There is as the song says, “A tie that binds.”
Someone who speaks of uniting others may say “we breathe the same air and the same blood flows through our veins.” The Spirit is the air we breathe. The Spirit of God lives inside all of those who believe. The church is not a physical organization or institution as the secular world may think. We were created, blessed and filled by the Spirit. When we are filled with the Spirit and not quenched we are one.
III. THE SAME GOOD TO FIND- passage says that different kinds of gifts are given for the common good.
The truth is that we have variety in order to have overall betterment. The notes on the piano are different not to make noise and clash- but to be played together to make a melody and harmony- if they are played by the Great Master pianist. We do not have varieties of points of view to be used selfishly but we should purposefully and willfully seek to love each other and work together for a common good. In reality- God places us in different positions, with different gifts and challenges us to overcome our selfish point of view for the common good.
When I think about the Children’s Ministry Building which we are hoping to build, I know it takes everyone working together for the common good, or we will not accomplish this great challenge. The church is one when we work toward a common good and a common goal. A couple of weeks ago I put pictures on Facebook of Jim Dunbar and Jan Overstreet putting up basketball backboards and goals in the church gym. Now Jan and Jim don’t play basketball anymore- at least I haven’t seen them play. Their children and grandchildren will not play- but they were doing this work not for themselves but for others who were different for them- for the common good. If we have that kind of spirit about the Children’s Ministry Building, we will not have a problem achieving this.
Today is Inauguration Day and President Obama will place his hand on the Bible that Martin Luther King used in his pulpit to swear loyalty to the country and constitution. Martin Luther King, a Christian minister, would warn us against artificial divisions based on race or gender or wealth. The world always struggles with this. Next Sunday I will be preaching at Providence AME Church, and you are invited to come. In fact, every fourth Sunday there is an inter-racial service that does much to promote trust and plays down prejudice. I have found when I go to Peru or Mexico or Scotland, or Israel, or Cuba, or Australia, or Taiwan, or South Korea, or wherever I have been- including to some of the poorer parts of Columbia or Little Mountain, there is a bond of Christian unity- a tie that binds. Today, I want us to celebrate that oneness, and to not let hate, prejudice, sin, selfishness, destroy what is a precious gift of God.