I have 2
texts to share with you again this morning, as I did last Sunday,
sharing the introduction to Paul's first letter to the Corinthians and
comparing that to Maya Angelou's poem that she gave in 1994 to the
million man march.
And so this
morning I also have 2 texts. And the first continues from Paul's
introduction to that letter in Corinthians, verses 10-18:
Now I appeal to you, brothers and
sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in
agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be
united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11For it has been
reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you,
my brothers and sisters. 12What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I
belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to
Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ 13Has Christ been divided? Was
Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
14 I thank God that I baptized none of
you except Crispus and Gaius, 15so that no one can say that you were
baptized in my name. 16(I did baptize also the household of Stephanas;
beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)
17 For Christ did not send me to
baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so
that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. 18For the
message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but
to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
text I want to share with you this morning was also one that was shared
on the Washington Mall, as was Maya Angelou's poem. This one came
from this past Thursday as part of the President's second inaugural
address. I'm not going to read the whole thing, he took 23
minutes, I just want to share an excerpt:
We are led, by events and common sense,
to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly
depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for
peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.
America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. From
the day of our founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman
on this earth has rights and dignity and matchless value because they
bear the image of the maker of heaven and earth. Across the
generations, we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government,
because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a
Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our nation. It is
the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent
requirement of our nation's security, and the calling of our time. So
it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth
of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture,
with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.
May it be.
again I invite you to reflect with me on the similarities, perhaps
of these two texts, ancient and modern, and how we are called as a
Christian people to respond to them in this time and place.
President's message, much like Paul, acknowledged in his address (if you
heard or read the entire thing) that there are divisions within our
nation. But that those divisions do not define who we are.
So instead, the President made a case for defining who we are by
appealing to a greater ideal that transcends any divisions. An
ideal to which all citizens can agree, regardless of ideology, political
affiliation, race, or creed. Namely, our love for liberty and our
belief in justice for all.
these are principles that are so fundamental to our identity as a
nation, the President made the case for our mission to end tyranny and
oppression in the world as the duty that has now been given to us.
And I have to say while I have had a disagreement or two with the
President in the past (you're surprised by that I know J)
I found his argument compelling. The vision and the ideals that he
set forward for us to be quite stunning.
human freedom and an end to inhumane tyranny is a mission I think we can
embrace as Christians. What I cannot, and will not accept as a
Christian, is the means by which the President has chosen to do that in
the past. Choosing military supremacy and victory as the way that
we achieve liberty and peace, rather than social and economic justice as
the primary battle that must be won first in order to end tyranny and
not so minor difference aside, I was genuinely heartened with how much I
could agree in his address. The President has set a very high
standard by which his administration and future administrations can and
should be held accountable. One more note, as an aside that I just
have to make on that speech before I move on to Paul's text: there
are those that like to claim that we are a Christian nation. That
we are founded by Christians on Christian principles. But I noted
in his address that the President gave equal attribution to Jewish,
Christian, and Muslim scripture, and specifically rejected the notion
that our destiny has been set as a nation, chosen by God. Now,
coming from this President, about who's Christian faith so much has been
made, I find that highly significant and more than just a token gesture
to the non-Christian faith communities in our midst which call this
nation their nation as well. And I think that those were wise
words, well chosen, and precisely right for this time.
So again, my
point in citing the inaugural address of the President is not that I
agreed with everything that he said, but that the speech illustrates so
well the basic message of Paul. Namely, it is only when we are
united in a common purpose that we can transcend any difference.
Or to put it in perhaps a stronger form, the greater our differences,
the more important it becomes to agree on that which unites us. Be
it as citizens of this nation or as members of the church.
And make no
mistake, the differences faced by Paul in the church in Corinth were
just as big or bigger than any that we face today. And Paul cites
just one, here in this opening chapter, the allegiance to different
leaders in the church. Folks would say they belong to Paul, or to
Peter, or to Apollos, or to Christ. But if you read the rest of
the first letter to the Corinthians, you know that that was only the
beginning of their problems. There are those that eat meat
sacrificed to idols, and those who refrain. Those who speak in
tongues and those who do not. Those who choose a life of celibacy
and those who choose one in marriage. Men who are circumcised and
men who are not. Women who keep silent in church (as God intended
it to be J
-- just kidding there!) and women who speak out.
seems to think that their way is the correct way.
That this is the way all Christians should be. Now anyone with
common sense and half a brain will agree with me, that my way is
right! Right? Amen! There we go, now we're
are those who think that all Christians should agree on this issue or
that, the truth is that Christians are both pro-life and
pro-choice. Support gay rights and believe that homosexuality is a
sin. Believe that creationism is sound science and that evolution
is the best theory for the origin of species. Take the bible
literally, and take the bible metaphorically. And all Christians
support regime change -- it's just that some think it should be in Baghdad
and some think it should be in Washington DC. But it's nice to
know there's something we can all agree on J.
Now is there
anyone here who thinks that all Christians gathered here this morning
all agree on one side of any of these issues? I don't think
so. What does that mean about us? Name any issue that
divides our country and you will find that same issue divides our
church. How can we possibly hope to be on the same mind? And
the answer that Paul gives to us is to remind us of who we are or whose
we are. To hold up that higher ideal and mission, in much the same
way that the President did in his address.
So that our
disagreements around means and actions and policies will not deter us
from that larger purpose. So in the event that there might
be any disagreements among us -- let's say, to pick an issue. . .
randomly. . . . perhaps what we do with our personnel budget and how we
staff the church -- you know, should there be any disagreement around
such issues? Hear again what the apostle Paul says to us:
I appeal to
you brothers and sisters by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you
all be in agreement, and that there be no divisions among you.
But that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.
For it has been reported to me by Dan's people that there are quarrels
among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of
you says 'I belong to the first service', or 'I belong
to the second'. "My allegiance is to the youth
ministry", or "mine is to the children", or "mine
is to the seniors". Has Christ been divided? Was
Elaine crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of
Dan? For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to proclaim the
gospel and not with eloquent wisdom so that the cross of Christ might
be emptied of its power. For the message about the cross is
foolishness to those who are perishing but to those of us that are
being saved, it is the power of God.
give you new understanding and perspective? Paul's message to us
-- we are a people united by the cross of Christ. Therefore our
allegiance is to God and God alone. All else is but a question of
means to a greater end. Differences, even disagreements, are
OK. They're welcome, they're to be encouraged. But division
disagree on styles of music or how loud the organ is played -- do we
ever disagree on anything like that? J.
We can disagree on how much to spend on this portion of our budget on
that, or how we should staff the church. We can disagree on where
we should place the flag or what time we should hold the service, or in
what order. Or on what team to root for -- as long as it begins
with 'Ducks'. It's not that we ever disagree on any of these
things, but in fact we can and do have from time to time strong
disagreements on such. Just as there are strong disagreements on
our foreign policies and the war in Iraq. That does not make any
of us any less loyal as citizens to this country or as members of the
church without strong disagreement is probably not doing anything worth
getting excited about. Of course, the corollary of that means that
if you want an exciting church, go and find one with a lot of
disagreements! And I don't think that's where we want to go.
But disagreement should not and cannot cause us to lose our focus on our
identity and mission. For it is only by such
focus that we transcend any differences and we prevent or heal any
So I would
remind you, just in case that we ever do have any disagreements:
of the three components of the vision which guides our mission that we
might be of the same mind and purpose. And you'll find that vision
on the inside cover of your bulletin where it is printed every
week. We are called by God to be a light to the world in the heart
of Eugene. By the way, a very timely vision for the season of
epiphany, the season of God's coming light into the world. And our
three components, then, of that vision:
- First of
all, that we will commit ourselves to live as a spirit-filled,
Christ-like people. Spirit-filled meaning we take seriously
the life and the presence of the divine spirit that is given to all,
baptized in the name of Christ, and we seek to nurture that presence
in our own lives that it might be real and visible to others.
And that we
are open to that presence. To that spirit that occurs outside,
even, of the Christian community. Christ-like: we are
called to do as Jesus did. To be the body of Christ present in
our world today. Making God's love tangible in the flesh
through our actions and deeds as the second verse of our opening
hymn says 'we are the hands of Christ'.
then, we commit to grow in the community of God as envision by
Jesus. In the language of the Lord's prayer, to make God's
kingdom come, and God's will be done on earth as in heaven.
Jesus' frequent use of kingdom of God language (or kingdom of heaven
to use the synonym in Matthew) was his way of contrasting the reigns
and Caesar to the reign of God. Or as Dominic Crossan says,
'it was his short-hand for saying this is what the world would look
like if God were on the throne'. And Paul took that concept
and applied it to the emerging Christian communities in places like
Corinth, and Ephesus, and Philippi, and Antioch, the capitals of the
provinces of the Roman Empire. And even to Rome itself.
To call then to live as alternative models of community where the
reign of God was made a reality -- a microcosm of what God seeks for
our entire world. And this is our challenge -- that even if
God's reign should not be visible anywhere else it should be visible
here in how we live and work together as a community of God's
- Third and
last, that we commit ourselves to strengthen our relationships with
God, with each other, with families, and with our world. Our
faith is a relational faith. There is no Christianity outside
the community of Christian people.
Welsh, the Director of Disciples Council on Christian Unity, was here
this week and met with area clergy. He told me something very
interesting and in conversation we had afterward about the theological
implications of some of the inter-faith work we do. About the
orthodox tradition and their understanding of the doctrine of trinity --
that notion that God has three manifestations. Traditionally
expressed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What he said to me was
that in that tradition, the trinity means there can be no individual
salvation. For God as the model for humanity, is by God's nature
relational. And therefore so also humanity. That we are
saved in and through our relations, not only to God in Christ, but also
to each other in Christ. Thus we are saved as a community or
we are not saved at all.
that tradition -- the orthodox tradition -- is different from our own,
in our tradition we have traditionally have emphasized more personal
salvation and de-emphasized the trinity. But there are some
insights here for us that are well worth pondering, especially given the
fact that that tradition is about 1600 or 1700 years older than
ours! They've been working on these issues longer than we have.
ideas, then, and principles of this vision statement express how we
understand the power of the cross and the meaning of our faith. It
is the purpose to which we are called to be of the same mind even while
we may have differences of opinion. It is who we are. Or at
least who we strive to be as it binds us together in God and calls us
forth by the holy spirit to be a light to the world here in the heart of
Eugene. In Christ. May that be so.