01/26/14 Sermon (January 26, 2014) “Where Do I Belong?”

posted Mar 11, 2014, 10:39 AM by David Hawkins

01/26/14 Sermon (January 26, 2014)

“Where Do I Belong?”

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:10-18  (Liturgist)

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 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.”

Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For 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.

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.

Sermon: "Where Do I Belong?"    Rev. David Hawkins

I remember growing up, one of my worst experiences was when people were being chosen for teams. You know what I mean, for kickball, or dodgeball, or whatever kind of playground game was going on. Two captains would call out the names of those they wanted on their team.

And I don’t know about you, but there were times when I was the last person called. And it really hurt. You got the feeling that neither team really wanted you, but they had to choose you because there was nobody else. It was embarrassing. It’s really hard to be picked last.

We all like to be a part of a team. We like the idea of contributing to something greater than ourselves. We like the fellowship of doing things with other people. We like the idea that ‘we’ are accomplishing something big, whether it’s just a playground game, or maybe a state championship, or a marching show, or a theater play, or a concert, or a mission project in another country, or building a house, or even just assembling sub sandwiches, like the youth are going to do next week. We all like the feeling of belonging, of being needed, of being wanted.

And when we don’t feel wanted, bad things happen. Rejection leads to loneliness, loneliness leads to despair, and desperate people do desperate things. Alcoholism, drug abuse, or sexually dangerous behavior are some of the ways that lonely people use to self medicate against the pain of being excluded. Suicide is the ultimate refuge for those who have been told they are not welcome.

And a culture of exclusion takes a toll on the community as well. How often have heard about shooters in our schools or public places being described as ‘loners’, as ‘not fitting in’, as ‘they kept to themselves’. It’s almost become a cliche. The pain of rejection festers, and it grows to a cancer of bitterness, anger, and hate, and after this cancer explodes into yet another horrifying tragedy, we are left again to wonder, ‘how could this have happened?’ ‘What could we have done to prevent it?” ‘Why didn’t we see it coming?”

We all need community. We need to feel like we belong to something. We need to feel accepted, welcomed, a part of those around us. It’s part of our nature.

Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t need space to be ourselves, of course. We also need time alone, we need time for reflection, for self-examination. But there is a difference between choosing to be alone, and being forced to be alone. There is a difference between needing some time to think, and being excluded from the fellowship of those around you.

All of us, young and old, need connections, we need relationships. Without them, we become isolated, and we lose perspective. We have no support system, and we grow paranoid and fearful. Community builds up our confidence. We draw strength from being surrounded by people who accept us.

And so it’s only natural to look for ways to form groups within which we can feel welcomed. On a small scale, this might look like book clubs, or bridge clubs, or chess clubs. It might look like band, or choir, or sports. It might look like math, or theater, or Rotary, or Lions, or Soroptimist clubs. It might even look like church. On a larger scale, it might look like being a fan of a collegiate or professional sports team, or being a part of a political party, or religious denomination.

We all want to feel like we belong to something bigger than us, and we will naturally gravitate toward those with which we can find some sort of common ground. This is our human nature, and really, it’s not a bad thing. There is security in groups. There is support and a sense of place in groups. Groups can get big things done. And when groups get things done, we feel good about it.

For instance, when I first came to Plainview, I was asked by Bill Weeks to think about joining Rotary. I really had no idea about what Rotary did, but I thought it might be a good way to get to know folks in the community outside the church, and so I said, sure.

And since then, I’ve come to appreciate the fact that Rotary has partnered with the Bill Gates Foundation and other philanthropists to find a way to eradicate polio, and they’ve come pretty close to getting the job done. For those of you that remember the leg braces and the crutches and the iron lungs that polio used to mean, I’m sure that you agree with me that that’s a big deal.

And I was amazed by the way the community turned out for the Lion’s Club pancake supper this last week. Man, it seemed like everybody was there, enjoying great food, and contributing to a wonderful organization that does so much good in service projects here in town, and around the world. It was great to see so much support.

And I could go on and on, talking about other service clubs and ways that we, as a community, find ways to work together for the betterment of everyone. It’s a good thing, this tendency that we we have to clump together, and find ways to support and work with each other.

But it also has a downside.

And today’s scripture is all about the ways that we take this gift of community, and use it as a weapon against those whom we decide are outside the circle.

Paul is not happy with the Corinthians. He has heard from different sources that the church in Corinth has fractured into cliques, and is in conflict with itself. They have formed themselves into holy huddles of people who claim that their spiritual authority and identity come from particular leaders in the Church.

Some of them have identified with Cephas, with Peter. Now, this doesn’t seem like such a bad thing, does it? I mean, Peter, he was the rock upon which Jesus built the church. How is it wrong to want to draw one’s sense of who one is from him? He’s a great role model.

But others like Apollos better. And he’s not such a bad choice either. Apollos was perhaps the best preacher and teacher of his time. In fact, Paul himself says that his job was to plant, and Apollos’ job was to water. And, Apollos was baptized by John the Baptist! Martin Luther thought that maybe Apollos was the one who wrote the book of Hebrews. Apollos has a great pedigree. Who wouldn’t want to associate themselves with him?

And then there’s Paul himself. Some of the folks in Corinth have formed a Paul fan club, and have clothed themselves in his identity. And I can see the attraction. I mean, really, all of the Church’s theology flows from this one man, through his letters and his influence on the early church. If it weren’t for Paul, and his insistence on sharing the Gospel with Gentiles, none of us would be here. So you would think that Paul would be a little more tolerant of a group that took his name as their own.

But, no.

Paul has had it with all of them. With the Paulines, with the Apollonians, with the Peterites. He has had it with their petty rivalries and conflicts. He has had it with all the fighting that’s going on in the church, and he wants them to stop it. Just stop it. You can tell he’s had it by the way he doesn’t even want to admit that he might have accidentally baptized some of them. He wants to have nothing to do with their destructive arguments about who has the greater authority, about who occupies the higher moral ground.

Because, that what’s really going on here. They’re arguing about power, aren’t they? Paul knows, we know it. It’s the same fight that the disciples James and John had, fighting about who was going to be seated at the right hand of Jesus. They needed to know, who was the greatest? Who was right? Who was wrong? In fact, it seems like the disciples of Jesus are always trying to figure out who was the greatest among them.

And Jesus keeps trying to deflect their questions. Instead of answering directly, he would ask them, “Which one of you is going to drink the cup with with me? Which one is going to die on the cross with me?” Or, he would point to a child, and say, “You want to be great? Anyone who comes to me like this child will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Or he would show them, by washing their feet, that if you want to be great, you have to be a servant of all.

But his disciples never really got it, and their disciples never really got it, and we, as disciples of those disciples, are still struggling to get it. We are still trying to figure out what spiritual identity and authority really mean, who has it, who gets to decide who has it, and especially who is going to be great in the kingdom.

This is where we find ourselves splitting into denominational factions, of literally fighting wars about doctrine, and excommunicating and disfellowshipping each other right and left. We’ve got Baptists versus Lutherans, Presbyterians versus Methodists, Catholics versus Protestants. We’ve got Western versus Orthodox, Pentecostal versus mainline, evangelical versus social justice, traditional versus contemporary, boomer versus millennials.

Dee Rice, Karen, and I just spent the weekend at Presbytery talking about churches who have decided to leave the PC(USA). If there is a way to create schism, we will find it.  

There are a million different ways to approach scripture and faith, and yet each of us is convinced that our way is the right way. And any other way is the wrong way. And then we try to force that belief onto others, using our own peculiar standards of spiritual authority to back up our arguments.

And while we don’t name these standards in the same way that are named in our scripture today, they boil down to the same thing that Paul is trying to address in Corinthians. I belong to Cephas. Well, I belong to Apollos. Well, I belong to Paul.

And none of is willing to submit. And none of us is willing to compromise. And none of is willing to give up that seat at the right hand of Jesus. And all of us have forgotten how to come to Christ as a little child; to become humble, full of wonder and gratitude, vulnerable, and completely dependant on the grace and love that only he can give us.  

This is what Paul is trying to get across to the Corinthians. It’s not about who is right, or wrong. It’s not about who has the best spiritual bloodlines, or the most direct access to the baptismal waters of the Jordan. It’s not about claiming your own moral authority.

Paul is reminding the church in Corinth that they are not, and never will be in a position to decide who is in or out of the circle of Christ. That decision has already been made, and it was made by someone above their pay grade.

The reason we are in no position to form ourselves into independent and morally superior groups, is because we have already been chosen to be a part of a team that simply doesn’t recognize the authority of Paul, or Cephas, or Apollos.  

And that team was put together a long time ago. We did not choose to be on it. We were chosen, and that means we don’t get to pick apart the team that God has already put together. That means we don’t get to decide who belongs, and who doesn't. We don’t get to claim a moral authority based on our own religious piety, our denomination, our date of salvation, our political affiliation, or our education. These distinctions mean absolutely nothing to Jesus.

And so, as hard as it is for me to admit, I don’t derive my spiritual authority from my ordination, or my education. My authority as a pastor comes from you, the congregation. I serve at your invitation, not because I was appointed over you.

I don’t derive my identity from my hobbies or my affiliations. As much as I am a fan, I certainly don’t get my identity from the Denver Broncos. Whether they win or lose next week against Seattle in the Super Bowl, my sense of who I am doesn’t change. Of course, we’ll test that theory next Sunday.

The same goes for the success of our favorite political groups. Our authority and understanding of who we are does not change with the results of elections. Our true identity is not in our confessions of particular creeds, or hanging on to certain traditions. It is not in our likes and dislikes, or our choice of friends.

Our identity is found in the one who chose us first to be on his team, each of us, not to play on the JV team, not as the last one picked, but as a starter. In Jesus Christ, God has chosen us before the foundation of the world to play varsity for him, to live our lives as a testament to his glory.

Not because we were good enough, or because we had possessed some special skill that he needed. Jesus Christ went to the cross for no other reason than to show the world that God loves it so much that he would do anything, even die, in order to save it.

We have been chosen to play on a team that has been called out of every time and place by a team captain who has given his life for everybody on it. And this means our allegiance is not to the temporary captains of this world, or to the teams that try to claim Jesus for their side. Our allegiance is to the one who first chose us. And he is a captain worth giving everything that we have to give.

Thanks be to God. Amen.