Friday, March 9, 2012

Message from 'Focus' March 9th 2012 on unity from 1 Corinthians 1:10-31

The passage that we chose for our gathering tonight from 1 Corinthians is a plea from Paul that the church in Corinth not be divided but rather that in Christ’s name that they might be perfectly united in mind and thought.  It’s good for us to hear this plea, to hear this call for unity. New Testament scholar Gordon Fee says we all readily relate to the situation in Corinth because none of us have known a united church, a united Christian faith, we live in a time where there is a great raft of different expressions of the Christian faith, History and geography, theological disputes and disagreement, differing understandings, different movements, and yes even different personalities and styles of doing things at different times and places have meant that we are part of a church that t best can be called diverse and at worst guilty of being divided. That reflects itself in landscape of Auckland University. We have different groups at university with differing goals and purposes and understanding of what it means to minister on campus… Even to the extent that  I have heard AUSA officials wonder at why are there so many different Christian groups… don’t they get along?
There may be a different raft of Christian groups and expressions, but Paul’s plea is that there shouldn’t be a rift between Christians and Christian groups.  He argues with the Church at Corinth and us that Christ should not be divided and for that to occur our focus needs to be on Christ…. Christ crucified.
The city of Corinth is very much like our own city and our university. In fact one commentator has noted that our twenty first century home has become more like the first century home of our Christian faith.  It, like our city was full of diverse people with different cultures and ideas.  It was a city along a major trade route in Greece recently built by the Romans, people from all over the Roman Empire had been bought together in this place, with their customs and culture. It like our city and university was a market place for new ideas and philosophies, and different religions and understandings of the world, multiple voices that represented both the heights and breadth of human wisdom. Paul and others had come into that environment and Paul tells us that he had preached the gospel of a crucified Christ and despite his lack of eloquence and ability as a speaker, people had responded and a church had been established.
Now Paul hears that there is a problem that there is division in the church, that people are aligning themselves and disagreeing with each other based on who it was that was chief in them coming to Christ. Be it Paul or Apollo, or Cephas (Peter) and a group who said they were simply of Christ. The problem was not they had come to faith by these different routes and been influenced by these different people, but rather that these differences were causing derision and division.  You and I today are like these first century followers. We all have come to Christ through different means and been nurtured and disciple, and serve through, and in, different expressions of the Christian faith, different movements and groupings with different historical roots. We could say that we are from Bill Bright (the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ), or Pope Benedict, or John Knox and Scottish Presbyterianism, or Wesley or other differing groups, we are reformed or Pentecostal, Baptist or brethren, pedo-Baptists and Ana-baptists, Scripture Union, navigators and YWAM, That we all come from various denomination, main line, what some have called lameline or non-denominational new expressions of church. And one of the understanding of the faction in Corinth that said they are of Christ was that they were a group who didn’t want to identify with any of these human teachers or traditions, but in the end it didn’t help because it meant they were their own group at odds with everyone and behaving in the same way as everyone else. . That’s fine that’s the way it is, the spirit of God has been moving through those, and will continue to move through those things.
Sadly, historically there have been tensions and disagreement, suspicion and competition and even downright enmity between such groups and people. Maybe not on this campus, but you can go to places round the world where here is historical evidence of this disunity and worse.

Diversity is a good thing it’s to be celebrated, but says Paul disunity is not. Can Christ be Divided he asks, it’s supposed to be a rhetorical question by the way, the answer is obvious.
Then Paul invites his readers and us to focus. To focus on what is at the core of our faith to what is the way in which God has shown his grace to us all. He says that it’s not by human wisdom or understanding or this particular method or way of doing thing that we have been saved, it is because of Jesus Christ and Christ crucified.
In fact he says that this is totally beyond the understanding of both Jew or Gentile. That none of the wisdom of human being could do it or even consume it… but it is God’s wisdom that Jesus coming and dying on the cross has enabled you and I to come and have our sins forgiven and live in a new relationship with God. For the Jews who seek signs, it was anathema, they were used to God moving in power to save them in their history, like he had in freeing them from Egypt, but here it was that God would bring his saving in to the world through powerlessness. For the Greek’s who sort wisdom and understanding it did not compute that a all wise God would act like this; become one of us and allow the creatures that God had made reject and kill his son. It is totally folly. But says Paul it may seem made but it is the wisdom and the power of God, to those of us who believe, it’s God power for our salvation. We can boast in our human methods and the people God had used to bring us to Christ, but in the end it is Christ and Christ crucified, it is the grace of God.
Paul goes on to say that it’s not even who we are that has caused our being made Gods people. We are not the wisest or the most powerful or the most righteous and holy, not the most noble born. But it is because of God’s grace shown in Jesus Christ that we have been welcomed back into that relationship with God. In fact Jesus said it was when we know our own spiritual poverty that we are blessed because he kingdom of God is ours. It is Christ not our credentials, it is Christ crucified.

Paul goes on at the beginning of chapter 2 to say, it wasn’t him and his methods and skill that was the reason they had come to Christ either. In fact he says, and I love this as a minister of the gospel and a preacher, that it was despite inadequacy as an orator, it was not his fancy multimedia presentation or his flash, slick gospel presentation that they had believed but it was the spirit of God and the content of his message, Christ crucified that had bought them to faith. So no one can boast except in Christ.

AS we are aware that we are saved by grace, that it is Jesus and his death on the cross that we can find that unity and that we find a common purpose and have a common mind: To glorify and worship Jesus. To love each other as Jesus commands us to do and as we are each objects of Jesus love. To witness to Jesus love in word and deed, in spoken word and through seeking justice and peace.

It’s interesting that word that Paul uses for perfect unity in 1 Corinthians 1:3 is one which has the idea of being woven together like a net.  You get the idea of us all as different strands and threads being woven and tied together. The idea of unity being woven together as a net of course echoes Jesus call to his first disciples of come and follow me and I will make you fishers of men it echoes Jesus commission to his followers after his resurrection, that they would be witnesses to him in Judea Samaria and to the ends of the earth..  We often think with our western world view that these things are spoken to individuals to be done as individuals and we don’t realise the corporate and communal nature of this purpose. That our unity across our diversity witnesses to what Christ has done for us. That from our varied backgrounds, cultures and historical contexts we are one people in Christ, that it makes a difference. If there isn’t that unity, then the net is ripped and broken and while it may catch a few it isn’t able to attract many and hold as many. Remember Jesus saying at the last supper they will know you are my disciples if you have love one for another.  

Let me use another net, a very 21stcentury net, as an illustration of this. The internet… I came across a great video of composer Eric Whitacre. I don’t particularly like the music but I love the way in which he has used the internet to form a choir of 2 5000 videos from 85 countries, all singing in harmony. All tied together as net and you'll note how this music then attracts others to it. So let me leave you with this video to illustrate our unity. Christ as our composer and conductor and us singing together drawn from all our different backgrounds and how that can attract people to Christ.

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