Howard Carter is a Presbyterian minister and church planter in Auckland New Zealand. In this blog he reflects on God, life, the scriptures, family, Church and church planting, film and media and other stuff. Join him as he reflects on the Journey.
Sunday, May 26, 2013
One Big Mess??? Living with the Tension Of The Church As Grace Fiilled Spiritual Creation and Fault Filled Human Institution (1 Coritnhians 1:1-17) ... One: the road to Christian Unity in 1 Corinthinas (part 1)
We are starting a new series today looking at the book of 1
Corinthians, and I always find it hard to know how to start a new sermon
1 Corinthians is known as a hot potato book it deals with
some challenging issues that are just as hot for us today. Issues that cause
division and derision amongst Christians: Sexual ethics, thought I throw that
in first and catch your attention; how do we deal with different understanding
of what is and isn’t right in the church… financial ethics, how can rich and
poor get along in the kingdom of God, social ethics, just how do we interact
with the secular society around us; do we simply conform to our culture or how are
we to differentiate ourselves, what constitutes spiritual maturity? Is it about
spiritual gifts and wisdom or how we treat each other and how we act?Have we made it or are we just on the journey
with a long way to go.
At its core for
us in our multi-cultural pluralistic society is the question of how can a group
of people gathered from across a diverse range of cultures, socio-economic
groupings, theological understandings and backgrounds come together and be one
body in Christ? How can we live together with different understandings of life
and faith and different ethical standards, different styles and ways of doing
things, different living standards and expectations? How can we do this without
resorting to simply adhering to the lowest common denominator, or a strict
enforced uniformity, a cookie cutter Christianity.Because when we come to Christ we are called
to be the new people of God, we are called to be an expression of God’s love
and hope for all humanity by loving one another. We live in a city that is wrestling with some of these issues as well. WE are split between million dollar suburbs, and places where those who can't afford to live In Auckland struggle to keep going. We have white suburbs and brown suburbs and in the midst of that we need to be a Church where we can live together with justice and peace.
At its heart we
as the church are a spiritual creation, a spiritual being, but we are also a
human institution with all the faults and foibles. What makes the book of 1
Corinthians so useful to us today is that it is written to a church that is
wrestling with those same kinds of issues.
I may have
trouble starting sermon series, but the good thing is that Paul has no trouble
in starting his letter to the church at Corinth. So as a way of introduction to
this series we are going to look at Paul’s introduction to his letter. We had
it read out to us this morning, and in doing that we will start to explore what
was happening at the Church at Corinth and in Paul’s response to that what this
book has to say to us.
Paul has no
problem introducing his letter because he follows the basic formula of a letter
in his culture and time. It starts with five basic conventions; you may
recognise some of them because we still use them today.
Sender… who is the letter from
Recipient… who is the letter for
Thanksgiving… a kind word about the
person you are writing to
The body of the letter… getting down to
what you are writing about, what is the issue.
In the first four parts of this letter
Paul focuses on the Church as a spiritual being.
Paul identifies himself as the sender,
along with a member of the church in Corinth Sosthenes, and that he writing to
the church in Corinth. But in both instances he crafts those identities in
relationship to Christ.
The book of Acts tells us much of Paul's story. His conversion to being a follower of Christ, his call to take the
gospel to the gentiles, which is amazing as before his conversion Paul in his
own words is a Jew amongst the Jews a Pharisee among the Pharisees, but Christ
changes all that. We read of his mission trips, where he established churches
throughout Asia Minor and into Europe. In Acts 18 it tells us the story of Paul
coming to the city of Corinth and starting the church there.Paul will have to defend his apostleship to
the church later in this letter, he is writing as one who is called to proclaim
the gospel and establish communities of believers, a role that he has been
called to by Christ. Apostle means ‘One who is sent’.
The recipient is the church in Corinth.
Corinth is a very interesting city, it
sits on the isthmus in Greece. It was an important Greek city which had been
destroyed and then rebuilt by the Romans and was important for trade as it was accessible
by sea from both the east and the west. It was a cosmopolitan city, with people
from all over the Roman Empire. As a trade centre it was a place where people
came to make money, as a port city it had a reputation for promiscuity, which
was exacerbated by the temple there dedicated to Aphrodite and the temple
prostitution that went with it.It was
famous for its games which were second only to the Olympic Games in Athens, and
for its entertainments. Craig Bloomberg says it was like the New York, Los
Angeles and Los Vegas of the roman world all rolled into one. And as we look
further into the book we will see all these thing contribute to the troubles
that this church was having.
But for Paul the focus was the church of
God in Corinth. The word for Church Paul uses here is ekklesia which has the
meaning of being the body politic, a new people a new community. Paul’s
addressing of the Church in Corinth points to the fact that it’s the church
because of what Christ has done. We have been made right with God because of
Jesus Christ, Jesus is calling us to be holy, which the NIV translates as
saints, a people set aside for God. The church you and I as well as those
believers in Corinth are a people set aside for the glory of God. There were
problems in the church at Corinth, much of it stemming from a false sense of
pride in who they were as a church, they thought they had made it, and Paul
reminds them and us that we are who we are by the grace of God. He reminds them
and us that also that we are one with all those in every place who call on the
name of Jesus. There is no room for division and thinking ourselves better than
any other grouping of Believers.
to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” incorporates
the greeting from the two dominant cultures Paul is from the roman greeting of
grace and the Hebrew one of Peace, but he does not stop there he shows us that
for the new people of God, those two things grace, undeserved benevolence and
peace, shalom, wholeness and right relationships come from God through the
person of Jesus Christ and what he has done for us.
Paul then goes on to give thanks for the
church at Corinth. It’s interesting as he is going to be dealing with some dire
issues within the church which seem to stem from a spiritual pride and sense
within the community that they have made it and are full of wisdom that Paul
would thank God for those very things.
But Paul gives thanks for the fact that
all those things come from Christ. It is Christ who has called the church in
the past. It is Christ who has given the church every spiritual gift to enable
them to live and witness to him in the present and it is Christ who can be
trusted to bring that work to completion in the future. They and we cannot take
credit for any of that because it is Christ who has done it. It is Christ who
is doing it in our midst and it is Christ who will finish the work he has
started within us. The Corinthians thought they had made it but Paul points out
no it’s Christ.
I shared on what this passage has to say
for Christian leaders at the parish council on Wednesday.I pointed out the key role that prayer has
for Christian leaders, to pray for the Church. To give thanks for what God is
doing in our midst. I also pointed out it is good to remember that when we come
into conflict with people, and Paul is about to butt heads with the church at
Corinth, thatthe person or people we
are in conflict with are loved by Christ and called by Christ to be his people
with us, and that Christ is at work in them, and us, to bring us to maturity. Also
that giving thanks for the positives we see is a good place to start as it
focuses us on Christ’s work in those people. These apply to all Christian
relationships not just leadership.
So now as Paul moves to the body of his
letter, we see that he moves to deal with the brokenness and faults and foibles
in the church. He had received a report from Chloe’s people about the
squabbling in the church and about divisions that were based on the various
Christian leaders. Paul, Apollo, who had come to Corinth after Paul and was
known as a great orator, and Cephas or Peter, and while we have no record him visiting
Corinth he has a lot of influence mainly amongst the more Jewish Christian
circles., Corinth valued wisdom and as a trade centre would be a place where many
people would come with new ideas and philosophies and share them in the market
place, and people would become disciples of these various people and argue
between themselves which one was best. Paul sees this happening in the Church…
it’s almost like Christian Idol.
There are those that don’t want to get
involved in this and simply say I’m of Jesus, and while I would want to say
Amen to that. There is a sense here that they are doing that not out of a
humble admission of being one in Christ, but as an assertion of their spiritual
pride. Paul’s answer is well is Christ divided is there a Christ faction within
the body of Christ?
In our own time and place there are many
things that cause division and derision in the body of Christ. We all have come
to Christ through different me and God has used different people to bring his
word to us. We come from different traditions, denominations. People often ask
me well why the Presbyterian Church and my short answer is well it’s a matter
of European history and geography.Over
the past few decades the church has been going through what has been called
culture wars and worship styles and music has been a source of division and
derision. Formal religion verses informal worship. How we interpret the
scriptures is a huge one, a rift between liberal and conservative
understandings. The influence of this leader and that movement, and I could go
on.Underlying that just maybe the same
need for maturity that Corinth had, the same human tendency to have pride in
the way we do things and how we’ve got there.
Paul then begins to teach the church at
Corinth about unity in Christ, and we are going to look at that over the next
few weeks. But at the end of our reading today Paul begins to focus us back on
what is the centre of our faith, the core of our unity. The cross of Jesus
Christ, Christ crucified. It is easy to get caught up in all these other things
but at the heart of who we are and how we are called to live is Christ and the
cross. It is God’s loving sacrifice and servant hood. It is grace and invitation.
It is mercy and forgiveness.
Howard Carter is a Presbyterian Minister in his early fifties. He is the minister at St Peter's Presbyterian Church Ellerslie Mt Wellington. A congregaion that is wanting to face the challange of being Christ's body in a twenty first century, multi-cultural, multi-generational, suburban environment. "it's challanging", says Howard, "I feel totally inadiquate, but rely on Jesus, who is able to be strong in my weakness".
Yes he's married to Kris and has four children. So he'sboth blessed and busy.
Howard posts the messages he preaches on Sundays (the long posts with heaps of images), the occasional reflection, prayers he writes for services (when he's in a liturgical mood) and movie review.