Saturday, January 21, 2017

Year A 3rd Sunday of Epiphany 2017 "That We May Be One"

Year A 3rd Sunday after Epiphany 22 January 2017
“That We May Be One”
St. David’s Episcopal Church, Aylett, VA

The Collect
Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

There is conflict in our land. There is conflict in our churches. It has happened before and it will happen again. Talking about conflict is not fun, and some people tune out any dissension. Some people have already tuned me out, and I urge you not to do so. If we shut down when there is conflict, we become subject to bullies and villains. The old phrase is all the more true, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” [attributed to Edmund Burke, and there is quite a dialogue online about this often used quote and its history]

Do not worry, today I am not going to talk about sides, about what has been happening this week in the news or in the church. But I am going to talk about conflict, how easy it is to devolve, and how we can find a way home.

In First Corinthians One, verse ten and following, Paul speaks to a conflict in the Church at Corinth.
1 Corinthians 1:10ff.
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. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What 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.” Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)

Let’s pick this apart.
  • “I appeal to you… by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement” We, the Church, are the Called Out Ones. That is what the word for Church in the Greek, ekklesia, means. We have been called out of the society. We have been called out of the status quo. We have been called out of the Standard Operating Procedures. We are in Agreement that Christ is the head of the Body, his Church. He is our agreement. He is what brings us together. We believe in him and what he taught, or at minimum say that we do.

  • “I appeal to you… by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,  ...that there be no divisions among you” And here is the rub. When you have three people, you probably have 4 opinions. People are messy. People have conflict. People disagree. When things start breaking apart, though is when the discussion becomes division. In seminary I had a professor who often invoked this line, “Whenever there is change there is conflict, whenever there is conflict there is change.” When we can no longer turn to one another, and work out our differences, when we make sides that becomes our understanding and our identity first, then our problems and differences are the issue and not the matter at hand. And that is what Paul gets to next...

  • “I appeal to you… by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you be united in the same mind and same purpose” When we focus on the differences and not on the commonality that we share we begin missing the point. This is both true in our Church and in our country. When Washington left the Presidency, those left squabbled over the power. He urged them in his Farewell Address to not break into factions. [, paragraphs 17-18]
They did not listen. And that was the rise of the Two Party system here in America. They did not listen, and neither do we. This week the names I have been called by people I love hurt. I will admit it. We have forgotten to keep the main thing the main thing. And our political differences have moved into the Church. The people in our Church, here meaning the Episcopal Church, who have attacked the National Cathedral, which is an Episcopal Cathedral, for holding the Prayer service yesterday and for letting the choir sing at the inauguration have been disturbing. Not because of politics, but when politics begin to dictate to the Church and its members things have gotten out of whack. And here I am speaking to both sides. As Paul said, “I appeal to you… by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you be united in the same mind and same purpose.” Maybe we have lost sight of our purpose.
  • The meat of the argument was who was baptized by whom, and there was a “greater than” perspective, or a “holier than thou” point of view.
    • “I belong to Paul”
    • “I belong to Apollos”
    • “I belong to Cephas” a.k.a. Peter
I absolutely LOVE Paul here. This is how I know the truth and reality of the Scripture. This obviously happened, and this obviously was a real argument. It is so petty and so human it has to be real. No one would advertise this silliness! I think this was probably written in all CAPS when Paul wrote it, or its koine Greek equivalent. “Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” You see, Paul’s “fans” were going against somebody else’s “fans.” Ridiculous.

When I taught Middle School, I cannot tell you how many inane conversations I have heard, and have been asked to weigh in on. “Rev. Rock, if Luke Skywalker and Spiderman had a fight, who would win?” “Rev. Rock, if the Hulk and Superman hit a golfball, which one would go further?” My response, “Why do you care?” Paul is saying the same thing. What seems so important that people are about to come to blows is moot. We are called to be of one mind and of one purpose, EVERYTHING else is secondary.

  • Has Christ been divided?” We were not made to be in parts. We were not made to be in opposition. If you think about it, go through and look at all the prayers Jesus prayed. I have only found one that remains unanswered. In John’s account of the night before his crucifixion, at the last supper, he prayed to God speaking of his Church. In John 17:21, Jesus prays for us, “21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” You see, our divisions declare to the world that Jesus is not who he says he is, who we say he is, and who we say we are. God help us. God forgive us.

  • “Was Paul crucified for you?”  Paul knew where he stood and who he was. Christ was the Savior and Redeemer. He was not.

  • “Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?As Paul declares in Ephesians (4:5),  “There is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism.” This is what brings us together, what binds us and holds us, and I have to believe that that is greater than any of these earthly distractions that separate, divide, and seem unconquerable in these dark days. I refuse to see the darkness, and like I said on Christmas Eve, I see the light. We have been given the light. Even when we do not perceive it.

In our passages today we have that theme. That theme of light is one I need today, when all the world seems so much at odds with the idea of light.

From Isaiah 9 today:
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness--
on them light has shined.

From Psalm 27:
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom then shall I fear? *
the Lord is the strength of my life;
of whom then shall I be afraid?

From Matthew, in the calling stories of Peter & Andrew, as well as James & John, Isaiah is quoted to emphasize the fulfillment of the light being shared in Galilee, and from there to the entire world.
We have talked today about our situation, and why we need to work our way out of it. But how do we do it?

And when a preacher gets in trouble, often, is when we get into details. So here goes. Let’s start with what Jesus says about conflict. In Matthew 18:15-17, he is very clear that there are things to do when another member of his Church has sinned against you. So I do not get in the way, let me read it verbatim:

15 ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’

I have only had a few people ever truly practice this. It takes time. It takes trust. It takes maturity and vulnerability, things that are often lacking in the midst of conflict.
  1. Go and be direct with the brother or sister in conflict.

  1. If that does not work, take 2 or 3 with you so that you have witnesses. Now be careful when you go to this step, they might witness that you are being a jerk. But they might witness that you have been wronged.

  1. If it still is irreconcilable, take it to the community of the Church.

  1. Then if they still do not repair the mend in the relationship or situation, treat them as a Gentile or a tax collector.

Too often people see this as kicking them out. STOP. How did Jesus treat Gentiles and tax collectors? He loved them and invited them into relationship. They do not need removal, they need more grace, patience and love. Jesus’ mission and purpose was to seek and save the Lost. That includes you, me, and everybody.

  1. Then Jesus goes to pray, agreeing and binding it to God and God’s Will. We pray in Jesus name, and seek his working on us, in us, and through us.

When we gather in his name he is there. I believe that. It is what makes the Church the Church. We are not a club, we are not a ministry, and we are not social service. We are the Body of Christ, and we are the Bride of Christ. In that sacred mystery, as Paul calls it, we are united with the one in whose name we are called.

Brothers and sisters, in the days ahead, remember whose you are. Remember what you are called to do and who you are called to be. If you claim Christ, that is our highest priority and the reason we live, move and have our being.

We prayed this morning a moving prayer that aims toward reconciliation.
Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works...

As we lovingly engage conflict both inside and outside the Church, there are simple things we can do to start these long and hard conversations so that all may “perceive his Glory” both in us, and maybe through us.

  1. Show up
  2. Listen
  3. Be humble
  4. Be resolute
  5. Be gracious
  6. Be firm
  7. Be willing to admit when you are or have been wrong
  8. Be willing to take the hit
  9. Be secure enough to not hit back
  10. Work toward and believe in the redemption of the World, and all God’s Children in it

So easy to say, so hard to do. I find it fascinating that the only unanswered prayer of Jesus, was so simple, yet where we spend too much of our time. Remember Jesus’ prayer, “That they all might be one,” [John 17:21] is still waiting to be fulfilled. May he continue to work in us so that it may be so.

The Lord be with you. Let us pray.

Lord, you have called us and we are your own. Help us be your people, a people of light, salt in a tasteless world. Forgive us when we squabble, and help us to catch a vision of your hope and prayer, that we may all be one. Amen.

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Blessings, Rock