Tag Archives: fellowship

Awakening to Fellowship – Brief Homily on Luke 24:13-35

April 30, 2017 (Easter 3A)
Watch video here.

Two Sundays ago on Easter Day, we saw the Resurrection from the viewpoint of those women who were the first to arrive at the empty tomb, and last week we heard the same story from the perspective of those disciples who were closest to Jesus, but Thomas was missing that day. He had to come back a week later, to experience the risen Lord. Today, we hear the same day’s story, but it’s from the perspective of those other followers of Jesus who were not part of the inner circle, not among the twelve. But they were close enough followers of Jesus to have been deeply affected by the events of the previous 72 hours.

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?”

They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 

Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”  Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 

That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. – Luke 24:13-35

A few verses later in this chapter, as the disciples are all gathered together, Jesus will stand among them and “open their minds to understand the scriptures” (v. 45), just as he did on the road to Emmaus with these two.

And who are these two disciples? Cleopas is only mentioned in this one story, and only Luke tells it. The disciple walking with Cleopas is never named, but – as I mentioned on Wednesday night – there is nothing in the text that tells us this other disciple had to be a man. It could just as easily have been Mrs. Cleopas.[1] That would make sense, when they invite Jesus into the home they apparently share.

But it doesn’t really matter if the other disciple was friend or spouse. What matters is that Luke tells this story in such a way that we can each put ourselves right there on the road, walking and talking intensely about these things that have just occurred. Things that disturb us. Things that have shaken our world.

These disciples are in the pit of despair. When they tell the stranger who joins them “we had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel,” it’s clear that those hopes have been dashed. We had hoped … In Greek the imperfect tense indicates continuous action that flows from the past, but it doesn’t tell us if that action is still going on.[2] How long had they been hoping? However long it had been, the events of the past few days had brought an end to their hoping. Hope was behind them, in the imperfect past.

We like to think in future tense – things will get better, the sun will come up tomorrow, life will go on, even after deep disappointment and even through grief. But often, life hands us the imperfect tense: we had hoped …

Maybe you have experienced that kind of deep disappointment. Maybe your long held hopes have been dashed. Maybe it is hard for you to recognize that Christ is walking beside you, just as he walked beside two disciples who didn’t recognize him on their way home from Jerusalem. Despair can do that. It can make us blind to the One who walks with us through our deepest hurt.

But resurrection is just as real as dashed hopes. Maybe you can’t bring yourself to hope just yet, but know that Jesus died in order to be raised from death, so that you could experience resurrection, too. So don’t worry if hope seems a thing of the past for now. The risen Christ walks beside you, even if you don’t recognize him. And this church is here to help you see him.

There were two things that Cleopas and (maybe) Mrs. Cleopas described that we should pay attention to. First, their hearts were burning as Jesus opened their minds to the scriptures. Scripture was an integral part of their walk with Jesus. Second, they recognized Jesus when he broke bread, acting as host, even though he was their guest. Fellowship is at the heart of following Jesus – fellowship around the Word and fellowship around the Table.

You can be a believer by yourself, but if you want to be a true follower of Jesus, it has to happen in community, keeping fellowship with other followers of Jesus. Walking together, we teach one another what scripture means, and we remember together Christ’s great sacrifice for us in the sacrament of Holy Communion, that meal we share at Christ’s Table.

Walking together, we also remind one another that our future is filled with hope. This church is here to walk beside you, to help you recognize Jesus and come to believe in resurrection. This church is here to offer hope when you have given up hoping. This church is here to be the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood, so that together we can stay centered on Christ, be sent by Christ to offer Christ, as we follow Christ.

[1] Thanks to Martha Spong (also of revgalblogpals.org) for suggesting the possibility of “Mrs. Cleopas.”

[2] Richard Swanson. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1992

What’s it worth to you? – Sermon on Luke 14:25-33

September 8, 2013
Note: There’s a newer (and I think better) sermon on this text here. 

As we prepared to move to New Ulm, Bruce became an expert at selling things on EBay. Books and other items we had accumulated over the years went out the door each week, and Bruce’s PayPal account grew accordingly. The people who shop on eBay are constantly looking for deals, but they also search for one-of-a-kind items that are simply not available anywhere else. For example, Bruce once sold an out-of-print book to the author who had written it. On eBay, any item is worth exactly what the market for that item will bear. It’s worth what the buyer is willing to pay – no more, and no less. EBay shoppers know how to count the cost.

A high school economics teacher summarized her subject to a group of parents by telling them, “Everything has a cost. Everything has a benefit. In this class, students learn how to weigh the benefit against the cost, with the goal of gaining the greatest benefit at the lowest cost.” Even high school students know how to count the cost.

I am not a “shopper.” I don’t really enjoy strolling through store after store, admiring merchandise and looking for deals. But I have friends who like to shop, and when we get together, we inevitably end up at the mall or in a department store. Once, as we browsed through an exclusive furniture store, I did see a chair that I liked. I looked for a price tag, but couldn’t find one. My friend nudged me and whispered that familiar adage: “If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it.”

In today’s passage, Jesus explains the cost of true discipleship to his followers. Jesus is on the move again. He has left the hospitality of the Pharisee’s table, and is headed once again toward Jerusalem. The crowds are gathering. Can you imagine what it must have been like to work out in the field and see this cloud of dust rising from the road off in the distance, to see the swarm of people moving along that road, and to hear the distant buzz of their conversation? It wouldn’t take much to compel you to run in that direction, just to see what all the commotion was about, would it? The question is, once you got close enough to see and hear Jesus, to realize who this must be, and to listen to his teaching, would you mosey back to work, or leave it all behind to join the crowds that flocked after him? Hear the word of the Lord, from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 14, verses 25-33.

25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?  29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

Wow. It almost sounds as if Jesus is trying to get people to stop following him, doesn’t it? Have we ever heard Jesus be so negative? Ten times in these few verses, he uses the word “not” – three of those are in the phrase “cannot be my disciple.” Jesus has seen the crowds growing behind him, and he knows that some of these followers are only tagging along to see another miracle, especially if that miracle includes getting a free lunch! Some of them are following only because they’ve been caught up in the mob mentality that has begun to develop around Jesus and his disciples. With the noise of this growing rabble rising, I’m sure it was difficult for Jesus to talk with his true disciples along the way. So he turns to the crowd and says, in essence, “Unless you’re serious about following me, go away!”

It reminds me of walking to school with my older sister when we were young. Though our mother had asked her to watch out for me on the way to and from school, she wanted no part of this assignment. As soon as we turned the corner, and were out of my mother’s sight, my sister would make me walk behind her – and the farther behind her I could get, the better! “You’re too close!” she would say. “Stop following me!” To her credit, she would always wait for me at the curb when it was time to cross the street. To her relief, I’m sure, we only lived four blocks from school.

But Jesus is not trying to get rid of followers. He just wants them – and us – to know what is involved in being a true disciple. The cost is high, and we need to know what we’re getting into when we say we want to follow Jesus.

This brings us to another problem with this passage: the word, “hate.” Specifically, Jesus says we must hate our families if we want to follow him. This was pretty strong stuff in a culture where family was everything, and loyalty to one’s family was the highest loyalty expected. So let’s take a look at that word, “hate,” to see what Jesus means.

To quote Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, “ You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” First, we must realize that this kind of “hate” is not an emotion – it’s an attitude of perspective. Keep in mind that the Greek vocabulary Luke used had relatively few words in it. Fewer than 6,000 words or word stems can be found in the New Testament. By comparison,

“the Second Edition of the 20-volume  Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries.”[1]

Rather than creating new words for every nuance as we do in English, first century Greek gave each word a broad range of meaning. So, the Greek word miséo can be translated as “hate” but it also means despise, disregard, be indifferent to, or love less. In this particular instance, Jesus is offering a comparison between the devotion one would normally hold sacred only for family members and the devotion required to become one of his disciples. Jesus is saying, “Love me more than you would even love your family, as important as that is to you.” To us, he says, “Love me more than whatever holds first place in your life, whatever matters most to you.”

Not only must we be willing to put Jesus ahead of all other priorities, he raises the price of discipleship even higher. “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple,” he says. Keep in mind that, at this point in his ministry, his own cross wasn’t even on the horizon yet. His original listeners would not have been aware, as we are twenty-one centuries later, of the connection between this challenge and the suffering Jesus would soon experience at his own crucifixion. To them, taking up one’s cross was a general expression of accepting the burden of great suffering, suffering that would surely end in death. It was the same responsibility a soldier would accept, going into war. If following Jesus meant taking up a cross, it meant staying loyal to him through certain suffering, to the point of death.

Jesus must have seen the joyful faces around him become more somber as his words started to sink in. When Jesus found that his teaching was too hard for people to hear, he often turned to one of his favorite strategies – parables.

“If you were going to build a tower, wouldn’t you first figure out if you could afford it? You wouldn’t want to become a laughingstock because you failed to plan your project well! And if you were a king going into battle, wouldn’t you first figure out if your army had the strength to defeat the enemy?”

But here’s the thing we may miss if we gloss over these little parables too quickly. In both cases, the building and the battle, Jesus indicates that the cost is too high for the resources available. No matter what accounting system you use, no matter what assets you think you have, when it comes to following Jesus, you don’t have enough to pay the cost on your own. Your resources are not sufficient.

This is where God’s economy takes over, and our attempts to balance the books fall woefully short. If we are willing to commit everything we are and everything we hold dear to the purpose of following Jesus, God will be faithful to do what he has promised. God has already offered us his entire Kingdom. God gives us eternal life with him.

Jesus isn’t finished. “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions,” he says. Remember the rich and foolish farmer from a month ago? The one who decided to tear down his barns in the middle of harvest, to build bigger ones? It seems we are back where we started, with Jesus preaching a stewardship sermon. But he isn’t talking about our tithes and offerings. Another way to translate “give up” might be “leave behind” or “bid farewell.” Bidding farewell to all we have, leaving it behind us, might be an appropriate image, given the setting of Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. But here’s another Greek lesson for you. Present tense in Greek doesn’t just mean “now.” It also means that the action has not yet been completed, that it is continuing, in progress. When Jesus says you have to leave behind everything that matters to you, whether it is family, or good standing in the community, or the things you own, he means you have to leave it behind now, and keep leaving it behind.

Our response must be all or nothing. All those lessons Jesus has been teaching us the past few weeks about hypocrisy, letting our fears get the best of us, placing a higher value on material wealth than spiritual wealth – it all boils down to this: go all in, or go home.

The cost is high, but the cost of not following Jesus is even higher. The theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote The Cost of Discipleshipand I recommend it to you if you have never read it. Bonhoeffer practiced what he preached as a member of the Confessing Church in Germany, a group of clergy who resisted Hitler’s regime. Bonhoeffer was executed near the end of World War II for his participation in a plot to assassinate Hitler. Bonhoeffer knew the cost of remaining loyal to Jesus, but theologian Dallas Willard takes it a step further. In his book, The Spirit of the Disciplines,  Willard considers that the cost of NON-discipleship is even higher than the cost of following Jesus. Yes, Jesus asks us to leave everything else behind, to make him our first priority, but what price do we pay if we decide to not follow Jesus? What is the cost of refusing to be a true disciple? Willard writes:

Non-discipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil. In short, it costs exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring.

So what does it mean to be a true disciple? What does it look like? How do we do it? Following Jesus is an ongoing process that begins with doing the things Jesus did, and caring about the things Jesus cares about. Bishop Bruce R. Ough says in his September column on the Minnesota Conference website:

“The scriptural imperatives to cultivate spiritual vitality, reach new people, and heal a broken world are more than a vision for every United Methodist congregation in Minnesota; these imperatives are Jesus’ very methodology for fulfilling his mission.”

Friends, it’s hard to reach new people and heal a broken world if we haven’t already begun to cultivate spiritual vitality first. Let’s start there, and see what God might do among us as we become more and more like Jesus. Here are some possibilities:

Jesus prayed. A lot. To be a true disciple, we need to maintain an ongoing conversation with God through an active prayer life. 

You could join the prayer team. Every endeavor of this church must begin and end in prayer. Otherwise, we are not being faithful disciples who do the things Jesus did. Maybe you think you don’t have any special gift or talent to offer the ministry of this church, but every single person here can pray. For some of you, this is your spiritual gift. We need you to be on the prayer team. I urge you to prayerfully consider being part of an active and vital prayer ministry here at First United Methodist Church. Check the prayer insert in your bulletin, and contact the prayer team coordinators.

Jesus knew the Scriptures, and referred to them often. His true disciples need to be students of the Word.

New Bible Study small groups are forming for October and November. See Dennis J. for more information. Better yet, tell him you’d like to lead a group. During October and November, on the table in the narthex, you will find study questions for the day’s sermon text, and the text for the coming week, so you can go deeper into the Word with other disciples. Our hope is that there will be groups meeting throughout the week, so you can find a time that works for your schedule. If you’re already involved in a Bible Study group, be faithful in your attendance and participate actively in the discussion of Scripture. The Word of God is not just marks on a page – it is God’s living, breathing means of showing us how we can be transformed into the people God created us to be.

Jesus enjoyed fellowship – table fellowship whenever possible! – and true disciples also enjoy spending time with other believers.

You can participate in the Wednesday night Family time. There’s no better way to do that “fellowship” thing than over a meal! Come share food and life together as we grow more and more into the church God calls us to be.

If you are not already a member of First United Methodist Church, think about joining the church. Bruce and I would like to invite you to join us after worship on Sunday, September 22 – that’s two weeks from today – for brunch and an opportunity to learn what it means to belong to this congregation. We’ll talk a little about what it means to be a Methodist, but mostly what it means to follow Jesus in this place with these people. If you are curious and want to know more, just make a note of that on the friendship register – have you signed the friendship register in your pew today? Please do, whether you’re a member or not.

Which brings us to service.

Jesus served others through acts of compassion, mercy, and justice, and he calls us to find ways to serve others. Help cook a Wednesday night meal. Help with one of the many Wednesday night activities. Volunteer in the nursery. Mentor a confirmand. Serve on a committee. Join me next month at Ridgeway on 23rd for a hymn sing with the residents of the memory unit. Carry communion to someone who isn’t able to come to church. Be the hands and feet of Christ.

True disciples do what Jesus did, and care about the things Jesus cares about. Are you willing to commit to a life of following Jesus? Can you leave behind the things that matter most to you, and make the things that matter most to God your highest priority? The cost is great, but the cost of non-discipleship is even greater. The choice is yours. What’s it worth to you, to follow Jesus?

How Will You Build? Sermon on 1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23

Sermon for June 9, 2013
Click here to listen to this sermon.

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve explored the theme of wisdom, found in the opening chapters First Corinthians.  We know that Paul was writing to the church at Corinth to set them straight on a few matters of theology, but he also was writing to guide them, as they figured out what it meant to be the church in first century Corinth.  We know that the Corinthians were proud of their knowledge, or their “wisdom,” and Paul opens his letter to them with strong words of warning against seeking earthly wisdom over God’s wisdom.

We also know that, like any group of humans living together in community, the church at Corinth suffered its share of discord.  Arguments over leadership had divided the church into factions, and these factions were threatening to destroy the church.  Paul’s concern for this congregation is not limited to Corinth alone.  He sees how squabbling in Corinth holds implications for the other churches under his care, and he is eager to resolve issues before they develop into full-blown schism.

In the passage we heard a moment ago, Paul admonishes the believers for acting childishly and foolishly.  He uses two images to describe the church.  One is a field that Paul has planted and Apollos has watered, but a field that depends on God alone for its growth into fruitfulness.  The other image is one we often mistakenly associate with the word “church.”  Paul tells the Corinthians that they are like a building.

Remember the story of the Three Little Pigs?  When it was time for the pigs to head out into the world and build houses of their own, each had a perfect plan for building.  They chose their materials to suit their personalities.  One chose straw, another chose sticks, and the third pig decided to build a house out of bricks.  When the Big Bad Wolf came around, it took no time at all for that wolf to huff and puff and blow down the house of straw.  The pig that had built the straw house went running to the next pig’s house.  Together they huddled in the house of sticks, but the Big Bad Wolf huffed and puffed and blew in that house, too.

When two very frightened pigs showed up at the third pig’s door, it would have been easy to say, “Sorry, you got what you deserved!”  But that didn’t happen.

The third pig let the other two in, and bolted the sturdy door and shutters against the Big Bad Wolf.  Safe at last!  But when the Big Bad Wolf couldn’t blow down the brick house, no matter how hard he tried, he climbed onto the roof, and found the one opening that the pigs had left open: the chimney!

As the wolf came down the chimney, however, he discovered – now here you can insert your favorite ending to the story.  Some folks end it with the wolf falling into a boiling kettle that was hanging over the fire (but in that version, the first two pigs get eaten by the wolf!), while others have the wolf falling into the fire itself.

I learned that second one, thanks to Walt Disney.  –  So the wolf fell right into the flames, where his tail caught fire.  He went running out of the house as fast as he could, straight to the pond, and jumped in the water to cool off his burning tail.  The Big Bad Wolf never bothered those three pigs again, and they lived happily ever after in their strong, brick house.

Great story, right?

But it is a fairy tale.  Literary historians cannot identify the origins of the story, though it first appeared in print in the mid 1800s.  It’s been classified, analyzed, adapted, parodied, and even turned into a children’s opera, using music by Mozart.  Though I’m pretty sure the Apostle Paul never heard the story of the Three Little Pigs, I’m also pretty sure he would have liked the moral of the story: When you build a house, the materials and method you chose matter.  Straw and twigs won’t work, when put to the test.  A building that will last, must not only be made of sterner stuff, it must be built on a solid foundation.  As Paul writes to his friends in Corinth, he has some important construction advice for them.

Let’s turn now to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, 3:10-11, and 16-23.

1 Cor. 3:10   According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder, I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it.  Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.  11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.

1Cor. 3:16   Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person.  For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.  18    Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.  For it is written,

“He catches the wise in their craftiness,”

20 and again,

“The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”

21 So let no one boast about human leaders.  For all things are yours,  22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, 23 and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

At first glance, we might think this passage is really just a summary of Paul’s teaching from chapters one and two.  Back in chapter one, Paul wrote, “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”[1]  And now, we hear the corollary of that statement: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”[2]  Instead of showing off how smart and wise they were, the Christians at Corinth had been demonstrating their spiritual foolishness.  They had done this by identifying themselves with particular leaders, saying “I belong to Paul” or “I belong to Apollos” or “I belong to Peter.”  Paul denounced this rivalry back in chapter one.  The rivalry is apparently not between leaders in the church, so much as it is between groups of followers who claim to belong to particular leaders.  He reminds the Corinthians that he and Apollos are both servants of Christ, working together.  He urges the church to be unified in Christ alone.

But this passage has more to offer than a simple summary of Paul’s argument up to now.  Paul uses this opportunity to explain to the Corinthians – and to us – why it is so important that they seek unity.  Paul is not only telling the early church to “Grow up!”, he is giving it good reason to do so.

First, Paul uses the image of a building to help his readers understand his point.  Like any good builder, Paul starts by laying a firm foundation, and that foundation is Jesus Christ.  Nothing more, nothing less will do.  The only viable foundation for the church is the Lord Jesus Christ.  In the verses we skipped, Paul goes on to explain that whatever material the church uses to build on that strong foundation must be able to withstand the test of fire.  Like the first two pigs in the fairy tale, the Corinthian Christians have settled for flimsy stuff to build their faith.  Paul is urging them to build with materials that will last.

Then, Paul goes on to explain why the materials they choose to build are so important.  “Do you not know,” he asks, “that you are God’s temple?”  The building under construction here is more than a simple hut.  It is the place where God’s spirit resides.  In fact, it isn’t a building at all – that’s just the metaphor Paul has been using.  This temple is the people of God, Christ’s church.

There is an important point of grammar here  in verse 16 that may not be clear in standard English: the “you” is plural, not singular.  It does not refer to an individual, but to the whole community of believers.  If we lived in the South, there would be a distinction between “y’all” and “all y’all.”  So Paul is saying:  “Do all y’all not know that all y’all are God’s temple and that God’s spirit dwells in all y’all?”

This is a radical notion in its original context, where God was believed to reside in the temple at Jerusalem.  Even in the pagan culture of Corinth, a temple was expected to be a building.  Yes, Paul says, God dwells in the temple but it is not a building.  It is a community of faith.  And it is up to you – all y’all – to build that community.

This idea is radical today for a different reason: our society focuses on individual experience, on self-fulfillment that centers attention on personal satisfaction rather than personal piety.  Contemporary culture values individualized spirituality, but our God is not a private God.  “Come, let us worship and bow down, and kneel before the Lord our Maker,” the Psalmist writes.[3]  While personal piety is important to our spiritual growth, worshipping as part of the Body of Christ, in community, is essential to the development of our faith, and to the building up of the Body to which we belong.  It may be possible to be a believer in isolation, but it is impossible to be a true disciple alone.  We need other disciples around us, living out our faith together in unity as the Body of Christ.  The Greek word Ekklesia, which is translated throughout the New Testament as “Church,” refers to a gathering of people, not a building – or even a location.  The church is a group of people, gathered together in Jesus’ Name.

But Paul isn’t finished.  Since you are God’s Temple, he continues, the holy place where God’s spirit lives, does it make any sense to destroy yourselves with petty feuding?  If you try to destroy God’s temple – which is all y’all – you will be destroyed in the process.  Don’t kid yourselves.  Not only is God’s foolishness wiser than your wisdom, your wisdom is foolishness to God.  So stop arguing about which leader you should follow.  You don’t belong to any of us; we belong to you.  And you belong to Christ.  And Christ belongs to God.

This is a new way of thinking for the people of Corinth.  The hierarchy has been turned upside down.  Or, more accurately, right side up.  Isn’t it true for us, too?  How often do we “try to fit God” into our overly busy lives, instead of ordering our lives around God?  How many of us are more likely to follow a celebrity on Twitter than to follow the one who saves us from our sins?  Isn’t it easy to buy into the “me first” culture that surrounds us?  I know my blood pressure rises every time someone cuts in front of me on the highway.  But if we get our priorities straight, God is at the center of everything we think and do.  Christ is not only our faith’s foundation, he also becomes Lord and King over all aspects of our lives.

Paul reminds us to keep God at the center of everything we do together as a church, too.  With Christ as the foundation of the church, “each one should be careful how he builds.”[4] Paul writes.  In other words, we need to be intentional with the process of being church.  How we build is important, if we are to live out faithfully our calling as God’s people.

When you paint a house, proper preparation is everything.  You have to replace the rotten wood, scrape, prime, and do the trim work before you can ever begin to lay on that first coat of paint.  Most of the work that goes into painting a house is the prep work.

When you plant a garden, I was reminded yesterday, you have to prepare the dirt if you want the plants to thrive.  The ground must be broken up, the sticks and weeds removed, and the soil enriched with compost or fertilizer before you put the seeds in the ground.

Right now, our little suburb is rebuilding its streets.  We are not talking about re-surfacing, like the work that is happening  around the church’s neighborhood right now.  These are new streets, with curbs and concrete driveway aprons, and run-off “rain gardens” and the whole works.  It has been a five-year project, and our street is part of the final phase of street rebuilding.  Before they start tearing up the asphalt and digging the new roadbed, however, the prep crews are putting in new sewer connections and new natural gas lines.  I don’t know about you, but I never really thought about sewers and utilities as part of a road-building project.  But the people who have planned it know what they are doing.  How you build matters.

Paul has given us a good “How To” guide for building the church in this passage.  Here are the ways Paul says we should build:

First, Paul writes “According to the grace God has given me, like a master builder.”[5]  We need to depend completely on God’s grace, recognizing that it is God who does a mighty work in us.

Second, We make Christ our foundation.[6]  With the focus of our attention on Jesus, we no longer worry about getting our own way.  When being like Christ becomes the foundation of everything we do and think and say, “our way” simply doesn’t matter any more.

Third, We work together, in unity. [7] There are so many ways we can allow ourselves to be irritated by one another, aren’t there?  But none of these differences of opinion should matter to us as much as being one in Christ Jesus.  We are the church together, the song goes.

Fourth, We remain Spirit-filled [8] – If we are God’s temple, then God’s spirit lives within us.  The Holy Spirit is “at home” among us.

And fifth, we must be Wise by God, but fools by human standards[9]  – When we turn our attention toward the values of the world around us, we get distracted by things that don’t matter to God, and we ignore what burdens God’s heart.  We look to the rich and successful for affirmation, instead of looking to the poor and powerless Christ calls us to serve.

The mission of Bethlehem Covenant Church is to be a welcoming neighborhood church with a heartfelt devotion to God.  Through our strategic planning process, our church has named four areas where we want to see God moving in and among us to carry out that mission.  Reading the Bible; Recognizing the Holy Spirit at work; Small Group ministry; and Demonstrating our Faith through Risk-Taking are those four areas.

These are the materials we use to build the church – our church.  These are our building blocks.  But we could have easily chosen other materials.  We could have decided on a different mission statement that would have been just as valid, and done just as much to further the Kingdom of God.  It is important to choose good materials.  Brick and stone is more durable than straw and sticks, when put to the test.

But how we build is just as important as the materials we use. When we do all these things together, according to the grace given us, filled with the Holy Spirit, fools to the world’s values, but wise by God’s standard, with Jesus Christ as our only foundation, then God’s Kingdom grows.  Then all things become ours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all belong to us, and we belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.  Amen.

[1] 1 Corinthians 1:25

[2] 1 Cor 3:19

[3] Ps  95:6

[4] 1 Cor 3:10

[5] 1 Cor 3:10

[6] 1 Cor 3:11

[7] 1 Cor 3:16

[8] 1 Cor 3:16

[9] 1 Cor 3:18