Monday, January 23, 2017
Has Christ been divided?
Has Christ been divided? from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.
12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 ‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.’
17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’
18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
I Corinthians 1:10-18
10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’ 13Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16(I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.
18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."
When in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus begins to preach, he begins with a call to repentance. Jesus calls the people in Galilee to change their hearts and lives, because the kingdom of God has come near.
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."
Now when I step into this pulpit, Sunday after Sunday, my assumption is that none of us are hearing this story for the first time. We knew where Jesus is heading. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." We know that kingdom of heaven doesn't meet our expectations. We know that changing our hearts and lives is easier said than done. We know that we shouted "Crucify him!" before the end.
And we know that the promise of Emmanuel, God-With-Us, is stronger than death, and that the cross leads to the empty tomb. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."
Perhaps more importantly, God knew. God knew that sin had become so ingrained in us that repentance was beyond our grasp. God knew that he would have to change us, we would not change ourselves. God knew that bringing the kingdom of God near meant sending his son to the cross. God knew that we sinners had gotten so obsessed with "winning" that in order to change the game, the LORD, ruler of heaven and earth, would have to choose to lose.
Growing up, I used to wrestle with my Dad. It was exactly the kind of playful tumbling you'd picture, and I can't wait to pass that tradition on to William. By the time I got to Middle School, I decided to join the wrestling team.
They trained us to stay off our backs. We did drills to ensure we had both the strength and speed to get back on our bellies and avoid being pinned. Now I finished the season third string in my weight class, I was tall and lanky and got consistently out-muscled. But I never once got pinned. I always remembered my time on that team fondly.
Once I got to college, one of the clubs there practiced a martial art called Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which has some crossover with wrestling. I joined, and my background gave me some advantages, I already knew many of the takedowns, for instance. The difference is that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu doesn't end with a pin, it ends when someone gives up.
So the first time we sparred with one another, I went out and thought I could handle myself, and as soon as my back hit the ground, my wrestling training kicked in and I flipped over just like my old coaches had taught me.
Which put me a perfect position to get choked from behind. I tapped out quickly.
I was still playing the old game, but those strategies didn't help anymore. In fact, they worked against me.
The cross changed the game. It was no longer about our ability to surround surround ourselves with influence and power. It was no longer about our goodness or status or even our own righteousness and faithfulness. The cross changed the game. It's about the power of God, which changes our hearts and lives and transforms all of creation as the kingdom of heaven comes near.
And yet, like a wrestler who gives his opponent his back, we still play by the same old rules.
We play by the tribal rules that have followed us since the stone age. “My tribe first.” We build ourselves up and drop names so folks will know who our tribe is, and that we are influential and important. The “my tribe first.” game leads to division. Our divisions are so far-reaching at this moment that talking about the weather has become a political issue. Was it raining in DC on Friday, or did it let up at some point?
We’re not the first to get caught in those old tribalist habits. The church in Corinth is remembered across the world due to their divisions. “For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’”
You’ve got to be part of this tribe or that so folks know where you stand and if you belong. “‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’” Once we’ve drawn the lines, it becomes so easy to see the others as our enemy. We assume the worst about “other” tribes, just because they do or see things differently. We accuse them of terrible things just because their actions don’t meet our standards.
Those people belong to Paul, they are just a bunch of sinners trying to find an easy way out. And those people belong to Apollos, they worship all those old laws and prophets and don’t even follow Jesus! Those people belong to Cephas, they don’t even think Jesus should have died. I bet they even deny knowing him!
It’s a good thing we belong to Jesus.
Obviously, Paul thinks this approach is pretty ridiculous. “Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” The Corinthians are still playing by the old “my tribe first” rules.
Paul reminds the Corinthians, and us, that the cross changed the game. “My tribe first” doesn’t work anymore. Jesus told us that the first shall be last, and the last shall be first. The cross changed the game so that the old moves don’t work anymore. Our outcome is solely in the hands of God, who lovingly chose to bridge the divide between us even though it meant death on the cross. The rules have changed. "I Corinthians offer[s] the opportunity to focus on the nature of the Christian faith as a way of life grounded in the theology of the cross. This leads to a theology of the church as a new covenant, a new people, a new society." The old ways have passed away, and to continue to trust in them instead of the grace of God leads us to judgment.
This is a new way of being, and the influence and ability that benefitted us in days gone by don’t work now that the kingdom of heave has come near. It’s not a matter of size or of human wisdom, but of the power of God. “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Only one man could be placed on the cross, but what happened on that small wooden frame redeemed the whole of creation.
The church is called to show the redemption of creation through the unity that is both a gift and an obligation. The Church, by definition, lives in the shadow of the cross and the light of the empty tomb. We are not identified by our tribe, or by our geography, or by our skin color. We are not even identified by our theology or our actions. We are identified by our Lord, Jesus Christ, whom alone we must worship and serve.
And I cannot think of a more important message to send to a society that is so divided that we cannot even approach those who disagree with us. We are united in the same mind and purpose, that we follow our Lord Jesus Christ. Just as he called those fishermen casting their nets, Jesus calls us to set aside our old tribal nets and follow him.
Drop your nets and follow your Lord, not because it’ll win you glory and power, but because it leads to the Cross, which is the power of God. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” These divisions that surround us threaten to trap us in our old nets, which is why God has to change the rules, God has to go to the cross, so that we might see the power of God to break down barriers, and to be Emmanuel, God-with-us, in spite of our stubbornness.