Third Sunday After The Epiphany
January 26, 2020
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Let me tell you of a great moment that I had in church. This event happened many years ago when my kids were involved in a dinner theatre at Peace Lutheran Church in Arvada. I watched as my kids, and dozens of others, spoke with conviction and clarity and some humor about their faith. They did this with joy and a godly purpose. As they concluded the evening the folks applauded, asking for an encore!! There was a peace that I had that evening, and a pride in being connected with that church and with that youth program. At that moment it seemed that we were all together, doing something good.
I hope that you have had that moment. Maybe it has been something right here at this church. Maybe it was a moment at a former church, or when you were a child or a youth. The best moment comes when you realize that together, with fellow believers, your faith is strong, your love is pure and your work through that place is truly important.
But that, regrettably, is not the only memories that people have of church. There are times instead of being together and unified, a church can be divided and fractured. The only part of being “together” is that everyone has chosen different sides.
That is what we read about in this book of Corinthians, “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (I Corinthians 1:10) They weren’t getting along. There were divisions among them. The word used for divisions is the one for schisms – like having a tear in a garment. When he talks about the quarrels that they had, the word used is very close to Eris, the Greek goddess of discord, and who was the sister of Ares, the god of war. Quarrels – discord, war.
The single Corinthian congregation had become 4 groups. “My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’ (Peter); still another, ‘I follow Christ.’” (I Corinthians 1:11-12)
Together? Unified? One church? Forget it. There are times when the problems for the Christian church and the local congregation come from the outside. We live in a world whose values are different than ours. We live in a world that sees Christianity as an enemy to the individual and society. But the problems for the church, including this one, come not from the outside but from the inside. Division. Bitterness. Disunity.
This concern that schisms and quarrels would come into the church of God was voiced by many throughout the Scriptures. Paul spoke to the church in Ephesus, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.” (Acts 20:29) He also wrote to the Philippians, “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness or compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” (Philippians 2:1-2) In John 17, the High Priestly Prayer, Jesus prays, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” (John 17:20-21)
Divisions are an awful curse. We see it in families and among friends. It is the killer of marriages and that which causes discord at work. We see it every day on TV or on the Internet. One person speaking of what was going on in the church said, “Everyone held his own opinion as the only right one and detested the views of others.” (What’s wrong with that, right?)
In Christianity we are fractured. There are thousands of different denominations. Lutherans, Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, even the “Non-Denominational” Denomination. I ran across a quote from Luther about all of this, “In the first place, I ask that men make no reference to my name: let them call themselves Christians, not Lutherans. What is Luther? After all the teaching is not mine…Neither was I crucified for anyone…How should I – poor stinking maggot-fodder that I am – come to have men call the children of Christ by my wretched name? Not so, my dear friends; let us abolish all party names and call ourselves Christians.” (Luther’s Works, 45:70)
When this church back in 55 A.D. was taking on names, “I follow Paul, I follow Peter, I follow Apollos, I follow Christ”, Paul reminded them who brings them together, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” (I Corinthians 1:13)
There can be so many things that work on us to divide us and sometimes we just think there can never be a true unity. But I don’t agree with that. Christ unifies us. He tells us to repent of our self-centered, selfish way of living and thinking, and see Christ as the one who makes us one. In the third chapter of this same book he revisits the fracture that existed, but then he comes up with a remedy. “Brothers, I do not address you as spiritual but as worldly – mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere men? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” (I Corinthians 3:1-7)
The unity that we experience is much more than getting along with one another or tolerating one another or liking one another. There is something much greater than that – we have been connected to one another through Jesus Christ. We have a common name – Christian – because of the Holy Spirit who made this faith grow in us. Paul writes of this unity, this being together, in this way, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:3-6)
What brings us together? Christ does. Christ made us His. We are washed in His blood. We are restored and forgiven by His work. We are saved by His death and resurrection. We didn’t create this unity with God, Jesus brought it to us. We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have hope. We are together in unity with God and we are given a unity with each other.
Who brings us together? Jesus does. To drive home the unity Paul gives a picture of the church, that congregation, as a human body. Each part is different, but each part needs one another. “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (I Corinthians 12:12-13)
You know how blessed we are to receive the body and blood of Jesus at the Table. The whole gift of being together, sharing this meal is spoken of in this way, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” (I Corinthians 10:16-17)
“Let there be no divisions among you, that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” That is the heart of God for His Church and for this church. That is who we are. We are sinners looking at the fullness of God’s sacrifice in Jesus, we are forgiven believers asking God to fill us with His Holy Spirit. Together we will live our one faith. Amen!!