Sermon: January 22, 2023

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January 22, 2023 Sermon – 1 Corinthians 1:10-18

“Perfectly United”

10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. — 1 Corinthians 1:10-18

In his book Chili Dawgs Always Bark at Night humorist Lewis Grizzard, a “Great American” and a man who died well before his time wrote about a dispute in a church in his hometown of Moreland, GA. The church decided to install chimes that would play hymns over the loudspeaker for the townspeople to enjoy at suppertime. One of the members happened to be a turkey farmer, and he claimed the chimes bothered his turkeys during their evening meal, and they weren’t eating and getting fat so he could sell them at the market.

Ugliness ensued. The turkey farmer began shooting at the loudspeaker on the church steeple in order to silence the chimes. Other members of the church, meanwhile, crept into the turkey pens at night, carrying hatchets, which spooked the birds, giving them yet another reason not to eat. “Only after the church steeple had been riddled with bullet holes and most of the turkey farmer’s flock had suffered complete nervous breakdowns was the matter settled,” Grizzard wrote. A solution was reached. The church agreed to play the chimes at an hour that would not interfere with the turkeys’ eating habits, and the turkey farmer called off his artillery.

Like a frustrated coach watching his team bicker on the court, Paul has called for a time-out in this morning’s text. He saw the danger of divisions and arguments. The Corinthian believer’s lack of unity was obvious. They may have been playing in the same “uniform,” but they were doing as much as the opposition to bring about their own defeat.

Could you imagine what Paul might be writing to the churches today if he were still around? It almost pains me to say “The United Methodist Church” because we are about as un-united as we’ve ever been, and we don’t have the benefit of knowing what the future holds for us. And it’s not just the Methodist Church that’s experiencing problems that Paul could address.

When folks say to me, “The Bible is the inerrant word of God” my response is usually, “Yes, I believe God is inerrant but unfortunately man has become a part of that process and man is capable of being mistaken.” There are errors, or confusion in the Bible because mankind has been involved in its interpretation and those errors and confusion seem to be ten-fold in society today.

We aren’t talking about divisions in picking out the color of the carpet for the sanctuary or the curtains for the Sunday school rooms. The interpretation of Scripture is first and foremost of importance in the life of the Church.

If you know anything about the teachings of John Wesley, you know that as Wesleyans, we rely on what is called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (coined by Albert Outler) which includes: Scripture—tradition—reason—and experience. But all of it is seen through the lens of Scripture. Scripture must always be our fallback position.

The Jewish school, Yeshiva University, decided to field a crew team. Unfortunately, they lost race after race. They practiced for hours every day, but never managed to come in any better than dead last.
The head of the university finally decided to send someone to spy on the Harvard team. So, off to Cambridge the spy went and hid in the bulrushes off the Charles River, from where he carefully watched the Harvard team as they practiced.

The spy returned to Yeshiva. “I have figured out their secret,” he announced. “They have eight guys rowing and only one guy shouting.”

The problems in the Corinthian Church weren’t so much differences of opinion as divided allegiances. They were arguing over which position on the team was most important in a way that made them ineffective as a unit. It would seem that they had one guy rowing the boat while everyone else was yelling instructions with all of them being different.

To me and many others, the Apostle Paul was one of the leading figures in the early church. His missionary journeys took place before the Gospels were even written. His influence has lived throughout the centuries through the great theologians like Martin Luther and John Wesley. He was perhaps the greatest evangelist the church has ever seen, and he planted churches wherever he went—and continued to nurture them from a distance, even while in prison. But he may also be known for perhaps his greatest accomplishment, as the “fireman.” I’m not talking about the fireman you might be thinking of—the one that rides in the big red truck—the one who fight fires of flames—no, the fireman I’m thinking of is the one who puts out the fire of conflicts. Paul was very adept at putting out the fires within the church and our scripture for today is one of those attempts to do just that

There were surely some who wondered about God’s choice of Saul of Tarsus, or Paul, who’s responsible for our text this morning. He had a shady past as a persecutor of Christians, he assisted and approved of the stoning of Stephan, mildly put he simply seemed to be no good. After his transforming experience on the road to Damascus God told Ananias that he was to anoint Paul as his chosen instrument—Ananias said in effect, “Lord, you must be mistaken.” To Ananias and I’m sure many others this plan seemed to be foolish. There were some who probably thought it foolish that I and quite possibly many others were called to the ministry. We are reminded that God can call the ordinary and make them extraordinary. That God can and will use any that he chooses—that He doesn’t call the equipped—He equips those He calls.

Paul founded the church in Corinth on his second missionary journey. Eighteen months after he left arguments and divisions arose, and some of the members slipped back into an immoral lifestyle. Paul wrote this letter to address the problems and to clear up confusion about right and wrong so that the believer’s would remove the immorality from among them. The Corinthian people had a reputation for jumping from fad to fad; Paul wanted to keep Christianity from degenerating into just another fad.
There also seemed to be a conflict between the congregants as to who, or whom it was they were supposed to be following. Some claimed to be followers of Paul—some claimed Apollos—some Cephas—and a few claimed to be following Jesus.

Since entering the ministry, I have preferred to call committee’s teams. I think in the church—just like business—or sports teams—everyone must be on the same page for success. Everyone must work together using all of our individual gifts and graces; that we, as a team must strive to move forward and to do so it takes a team effort. The Apostle Paul is trying to instill a team attitude at First Church Corinth.

Paul asks the question: “Has Christ been divided? Have these others been crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of these others?” Paul wants to know what we need to know—what we need to remember. Who, or what is first in your life? Did it—or they die for us?

This is a graphic picture of what happens when the church (the body of Christ) divides into factions. With the many churches and styles of worship available today, we could get caught up in the game of, “My church, or my preacher, or our style of worship is better than yours!” To do so would be like trying to divide Christ yet again. But Christ can’t be divided, and His true followers should not allow anything to divide them. We can’t let our appreciation for any teacher, preacher, or author lead us into false pride or misplaced devotion. We must maintain our allegiance to Christ and to the unity He desires. In Matthews Gospel, Jesus is warning folks about the Pharisees and the importance they desire for themselves: “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).

Paul puts it all in perspective when he says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” None of us wants to be called a fool—but if those who don’t follow Jesus—those who don’t understand the cross and what it stands for to us who do—if they think we are foolish—then I can’t think of a better reason to be called a fool.
The cross, an emblem of Christianity was something that Paul put a great amount of emphasis in his writing and teaching, and it holds a special meaning for every friend of Christ. We wear crosses around our necks—they are found in churches—and in some of our homes. Whenever we see a cross, it speaks to us of Christ’s determination to do His Father’s will by dying for us on Calvary.

Jesus is our friend and when we see the cross this is what we should remember. The crucified Christ is the power that saves and the wisdom that transforms! To put it mathematically: The cross = the power of God, which = the Gospel.

If you were to look at Rembrandt’s painting of “The Three Crosses,” your attention would be drawn first to the center cross on which Jesus died. Then as you look at the crowd gathered around the foot of the cross, you’d be impressed by the various facial expressions and actions of the people involved in the awful crime of crucifying the Son of God. Finally, your eyes would drift to the edge of the painting and catch a sight of another figure, almost hidden in the shadows. Art critics say this is a representation of Rembrandt himself, for he recognized that by his sins he helped nail Jesus to the cross.

I believe we are all still there. I believe every day we still drive the nails into His hands and feet. But I also believe that the message of scripture is clear: God chooses the scandalous—God chooses those involved in conflict—God uses the weak and the meek—God redeems the sinful. It is in God’s glory that the foolish and the weak are used to achieve a grand purpose.

Most of the characters of the Bible—the Christian martyrs—and the reformers of the church could be members of “The Fools for Christ Club.” People like Saint Francis of Assisi, a self-proclaimed “fool for Christ”; to the troublemaking Martin Luther; or the shunned John Wesley who once preached while standing on his father’s tombstone because no church would allow him into their pulpit. Nobody wants to be called a fool—but if following the Cross makes me a fool for Christ than I want to join this club—I need to join this club—I want to be a charter member of this club. If you’ve been called a fool because you believe in the Cross then say Glory—say glory halleluiah—say Amen, because you’ve been called a fool for the right reason!

Thanks be to God!

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