Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
The church is a community of people who (along with the community of Israel!) are called out of the world to be God's people. The purpose of their coming together is twofold. First, it is to receive God's judging, forgiving, renewing grace. Second, it is to be sent out again to be agents of God's judgment, forgiveness, reconciliation, and renewal in the world.
S. Guthrie, Christian Doctrine Rev. Ed.
We’ve Got What It Takes!
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Paul starts this letter in his usual way. After introducing himself he identifies the people he is writing to; the church in Corinth. He uses three phrases to describe the church. First, the church is made up of people who are “sanctified in Christ Jesus.” In Greek, the word sanctified is agios (hagios), which is the basic word for holy. Through the work of Jesus Christ, Christians are holy. Second, Paul tells us that members of the church are “called to be saints.” The word saint is also the word agios (hagios), holy. Through Jesus Christians are already holy, but we are also called to live out that holiness in our everyday lives. Third, the church is made up of people who “call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We are people who pray to the one who is the center of the Christian life and our only hope. This is Paul’s glorious image of the Church.
I wonder how Paul’s image of the church matches our own. Dorothy Sayers wrote about the third humiliation of Christ. The first humiliation was the incarnation. Jesus was fully God, yet he let go of his divinity, his eternal glory, and took on all the limitations and struggles of human life. The second humiliation was the cross. Jesus never sinned, yet he died on the cross, paying the penalty for the sins of the world. The third humiliation is the church. Jesus entrusted his reputation and his message to ordinary, sinful people.
For most of us that is an idea that is hard to grasp. Sharon Church is celebrating its 200th anniversary. Obviously, no one has been here the whole time, but many of you have been here for a long time, 30, 40, even 50+ years. Many of you were part of this church in its glory days – 1400 members, two worship services on Sunday and several pastors, Youth Club with hundreds of children. Most of us grew up with the idea of the church as the glory of Christ. The church was the center of our culture and one of the most important institutions of our communities. Everybody belonged to the church. It was respected and honored.
In the past forty years or so that has started to change. In today’s world the church is irrelevant. That is where the phrase “spiritual but not religious” comes from. People believe that they can be Christians without belonging to a church. Presbyterians used to be called a mainline church. Today we are a sideline church. Our culture doesn’t care what we say or think, or do, unless there is a scandal of some sort. I imagine that if you did a random survey of people in Moon Twp. and asked them about Sharon Church, most of them wouldn’t even be able to tell you where it was, much less anything about our church. That would be even more true down in Coraopolis or Imperial or Aliquippa. Being the church in the 21st century is so much harder than it was fifty years ago.
Add to that the struggles that Sharon went through a few years ago, the conflict and the loss of staff and members, and my guess is that deep down many people here question the future of the church. I still remember the scared look people had my first few weeks here, wondering if Sharon Church was going to survive. And if it survives, wondering if it can really do significant ministry. Can Sharon Church thrive and have a healthy and exciting future? Do we believe that we have everything we need to be effective in ministry?
The church in Corinth probably had similar questions and struggles. It was a small group of people and they were not the elite members of the community. They were at the bottom end of the social order. They had a variety of struggles in the church that must have made them wonder if they were of any value. There were divisions in the church. They were fighting each other over a variety of issues, everything from what they thought about Paul to worship to theological questions about the resurrection. There was sexual immorality and idolatry. Some of the people thought that they were more spiritual than others. The Corinthian church was a mess.
Yet Paul’s first words to them are words of thanksgiving for all that they have and all that they are. “Every time I think of you, and I think of you all the time, I am thankful because you have what it takes to be a wonderful and healthy church.” That is Paul’s message to the Corinthians. That is Paul’s message to Sharon Church.
Look at verse 5. “In every way you have been enriched. In all your words and in all your knowledge you have what it takes.” In this short sentence Paul uses the word “all” three times. He also uses the word “enriched,” which means to be filled up. This church is overflowing with everything it needs to be a healthy and vital place.
In verse 7 Paul tells that Corinthians that they don’t lack any spiritual gift. The word “you” is in the plural. It isn’t that one individual has all the gifts. The church as a whole, including all the members, have the gifts that they need. In good Pittsburgh language, “Yinz got everything ya need. If everybody works together and uses their gifts, you’ll be just fine.”
The word Paul uses for spiritual gifts is charismata. It is a word that comes up again later in the letter, as one of the problems in the church. Sometimes charismata is used in a general sense of the gift of God’s love. The root word behind charismata is grace, God’s free gift of love. Sometimes charismata refers to specific gifts or abilities that people have for ministry. Paul tells the Corinthians, and he tells us, that God has given everyone a spiritual gift, or several gifts. If we all use them for ministry, we have all the gifts that we need to do the ministry that God wants us to do.
It’s important to note that Paul’s hope is not that the Corinthians are such wonderful people or super talented. His hope is in God. The gifts that they have are from God. Verse 8 reminds us that it is God who will strengthen them so that they can carry out their ministry. “He will strengthen you to the end” (1 Corinthians 1:8a). Verse 9 tells us that God is faithful in keeping his promises. Our hope is in God, who has called us, who has given us gifts for ministry, who gives us the strength we need to carry out our ministry and whose love never fails. We can be the church that God wants us to be because our God is a god who can turn the greatest tragedy into a future of hope. Our God can turn conflict into compassion, the cross into resurrection, death into life.
I’ve been a pastor in six different churches and around a number of others. All of them used to be bigger and now are smaller, or they’ve always been small. In the communities around those churches there are other churches that seem to be “successful.” They have more people and incredible programs, bigger staffs and more exciting things happening. The people in the churches that are struggling often make comments something like this: “If only we had more people here; if only we could get a charismatic pastor who was a great preacher; if only we had a praise band that could play contemporary Christian music; if only we had more money; if only we had a bigger building in a better location; if only we had more young people, or more children; if only… then we could be a successful church.”
Friends, Paul’s message to us is a word of hope. We don’t need “if only.” Sharon Church can look to the future with hope and excitement, for God has given us everything we need to be a healthy church!