January 20, 2013

Sermon, Second Sunday after Epiphany

Psalm 99, Zechariah 8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31
Second Sunday after Trinity
January 20, 2013

Most of the Bible's teachings oppose what people would naturally expect of God.  For example, we naturally expect to make peace with God through our own efforts.  We think we can make ourselves good enough for God and atone for our sins by countering them with good deeds, like charitable giving, going to church, receiving communion, or doing acts of penance.  There are other ways people attempt to blot out their own sins, but the point is that all these are human efforts, and man naturally tends to believe he can accomplish his own peace with God through his own efforts.

The Bible presents a different view.  the Bible says peace with God is a gift.  It is something God accomplishes for us, and gives to us free of charge.  It has to be a gift because none of our good works could ever atone for our sins.  Let me use a financial example.  You owe God complete obedience.  Failure to pay Him 100% obedience is to default on your debt, and any banker will tell you you cannot make up for missing this month's mortgage payment simply by paying next month's.  Likewise, you can't make up for not paying God all of what you owe, simply by paying Him part of what you owe.  That won't make up for your sins.  Only God can atone for your sins.  You can only receive atonement as His gift.  That's why it is called, "forgiveness."

The Church is a similar example.  People naturally assume church membership and attendance is a personal choice and voluntary action.  In our minds, our relationship to God is entirely personal and private.  Every other person's is too.  It is nice for people to form associations in which to worship, or pray, or attempt to persuade others to become Christians, but such associations, often called churches, are purely a matter of personal choice, convenience, and preference, and every Christian is free to join and attend, or not, as he or she sees fit.

Once again, the Bible gives a different view.  The Old Testament Church, Israel, did not consist of individuals who happened to believe in the God of Abraham.  Israel was a nation, a people, a family.  Israel was the family of God.  The same is true of the New Testament Israel, the Church.  In Matthew 16:18 Christ Himself said, "I will build My church."  In Matthew 28:19 the Apostles were commissioned to teach the Gospel to all nations, and to baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Baptized converts were not just baptized and left to be their own individual faith.  They were baptized into the Church, for Acts 2:47 tells us "the Lord added to the church daily such as were being saved."  Colossians 1:18 says Christ is the head of the Church.  Titus was placed in Crete by the Apostle Paul for the purpose of ordaining pastors of local congregations, and bishops to oversee them (Titus 1:5-9).  Unto whom did Paul write the letters we now treasure as Scripture?  "Unto the church of God which is at Corinth" (1 Cor. 1:2); "unto the churches of Galatia (Gal. 1:2); to the saints, bishops and deacons in Philippi (Phil 1:1); and "unto the church of the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 1:1).  Even when he doesn't use the word, "church" as in his letter to the Romans, it is clear throughout the book that he is addressing a particular congregation of believers, as part of the larger body and Church of Christ.  And the New Testament assumes throughout that every Christian believer is baptized into Christ through the Church, and carries out his faith and worship within the context of the Church through its local manifestation in the local, particular churches.

The reading from Zechariah 8 tells of God bringing people together into the holy mountain of God.  Jews will come, so will Gentiles. Strong nations, and men of other languages will be made one with faithful Israel.

1 Corinthians 12 teaches the unity that is to be of the essence of the Church of Jesus Christ.  The Corinthians weren't very good at keeping the unity.  In fact they are a sad example of how not to be a church.  They had adopted heretical views and practices, and had made ecstatic experiences  the essence of being a Christian.  Thus, for many, worship was all about having, and being known, to have an experience.  Speaking in tongues or prophesying, singing a song or anything to be seen by the rest of the congregation to make them think you were filled with the Holy Spirit became the objective.  It needs to be noted that ecstatic experiences did happen in Apostolic times.  It also needs to be noted that they were not the norm.  In fact they were very rare.  Divine healings were much more frequent than tongues, for example, and even healings seem to have become rare just a few years after Pentecost.  So the Bible does not talk about healing services and tongues as the normal way of worship.  It talks about preaching and hearing the word, prayer, the sacraments, loving one another, and holiness.

1 Corinthians 12 talks about valuing one another as part of the body of Christ, rather than attempting to impress others with your spirituality. It uses the illustration of the body, making the point that the feet are just as important as any other part of the body.  I have often heard people compliment someones beautiful eyes, but I have never heard anyone compliment another person's feet.  Yet no one would say the feet are not important.  We take care of our feet.  I've heard people say they're going to sit down and put their feet up, but I've never hear anyone say they're going to sit down and put their tongue up.

Here is the point, and this is what I am trying to say in this sermon.  First you are a part of the Church.  It is not an option.  Your only choice is to be a good member or a bad member, and if you choose to be a bad member you have reason to doubt the validity of your faith in Christ.  You are a member of His Church, so act like one.  Conduct yourself with the humble dignity, obedience and love you would expect of people of such a high calling in life.  Attend, support, and love a Biblical church.  Take it seriously, God does.  Second, every other Christian is just as much a part of the Church, and just as valuable to it as you.  You need to treat them as though they are.  You need to treat one another with a sense of reverence, and address one another with respect and humility.  We would treat the actual, physical body of Christ with great respect, and we would conduct ourselves with great care and discretion in His presence.  We should have a similar attitude toward the spiritual body of Christ, and every member of it.  God grant that it may be so.

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