(A sermon based on 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 & John 1:29-42 for the Second Sunday after Epiphany 2011)
“God is faithful,” Paul wrote to the gifted but troubled church at Corinth; “by him,” he said to them, “you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9).
God is still faithful. And just as surely as God called the Corinthian Christians into the fellowship of Jesus Christ our Lord so has God called us into that same fellowship.
That is the way it is. We are the fellowship of the Son. We are the body of Christ. We are the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are the family of faith.
So, you might well ask, why does the church—this church or any church—seem so often to fall so short of the ideal? Why does an individual follower of Jesus Christ—you and me or any other follower—seem so often to fall so short of the ideal?
And make no mistake about it…we do fall short.
But to fall short of our goal means that we have started somewhere—and we should not minimize our starting point. What Paul wrote to the church at Corinth is true also of the church at Fitzgerald: “I give my thanks to God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind—just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you…” (1 Corinthians 1:4-6). We too have received the grace of God in Christ Jesus; we too have been given all manner of spiritual gifts; we too have seen and shown what Jesus has done in our midst.
God has given all these marvelous things to and through the church.
To be a Christian is to be part of the Church and it is as a church that we must live and serve together. Being a family of faith, though—even a gifted family of faith—is not always easy. Eugene Peterson puts it well:
So the question is not “Am I going to be a part of the community of faith?” but “How am I going to live in this community of faith?” God’s children do different things. Some run away from it and pretend that the family doesn’t exist. Some move out and get an apartment on their own from which they return to make occasional visits, nearly always showing up for the parties and bringing a gift to show that they really do hold the others in fond regard. And some would never dream of leaving but cause others to dream it for them, for they are always criticizing what is served at the meals, quarreling with the way the housekeeping is done and complaining that the others in the family are either ignoring or taking advantage of them. And some determine to find out what God has in mind by placing them in this community called a church, learn how to function in it harmoniously and joyously, and develop the maturity that is able to share and exchange God’s grace with those who might otherwise be viewed as nuisances [Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove: IVP, 2000), p. 176].
We need to be aware of all that God has already done through us, even in and through our corporate imperfections.
But we also need be aware of all that God is doing in and through us right now; hear what else Paul said to the church at Corinth: “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 7). That was the case in their right then; it is the case in our right now. Despite the ways that we fall short and fail, God still gives us tremendous gifts for life and for ministry.
Again hear Paul: “He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 8). God started the Church; God continues to bless and to maintain the Church; and God will bring the Church to its full maturity when Jesus returns and makes all as it should be.
We can and should apply the same kind of thinking to ourselves and to each other as individual followers of Christ. According to John’s narrative, the first time that Jesus saw Simon he told him he was to be called “Cephas” (Aramaic) or “Peter” (Greek), meaning that he would be called the Rock. Lots of time had to pass and lots of struggle had to happen before Simon was really the Rock. Oh, there were times when he was rock-headed and there were times when the path got real rocky, but Simon had to live a lot and fail a lot and fall a lot and be picked back up by Jesus a lot before he really became the Rock.
And so it is with us. We have been followers of Jesus; we are followers of Jesus; we will be followers of Jesus. One day we will be absolutely everything that God intends for us to be. That time is not yet—but it is coming.
Meanwhile, we can be and can do better than we think we can be and do or than we allow ourselves to be and do. We can’t be more than we are and we can’t be as much as we will one day be; but, because of who God is and because of what Christ is doing, we can be more than we were and we can be moving toward what we will one day, by the grace of God, be.
The tragic killing on January 8 of six people and the wounding of fourteen others, including Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, has appropriately led to much soul-searching in our nation. I was struck by these words that President Obama spoke at the memorial service held in Tucson on January 12: “The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better. To be better in our private lives, to be better friends and neighbors and coworkers and parents.” The President went on to say, “They believed -- they believed, and I believe that we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved life here -- they help me believe.”
Paul was saying to the Corinthian Christians: “Because God has called you by God’s grace into the fellowship of the Son, you are already magnificent—but because of that same grace, you will one day be all you can be, and you can be better even now.” I want First Baptist Church of Fitzgerald to hear those same words.
Jesus was saying to Simon: “Because I have called you by my grace into my fellowship, you are already who I have called you to be—but because of that same grace, you will one day really be all you can be, and you can be better even now.” I want every individual Christian in this sanctuary to hear those same words.
What would it mean for us and for you to be better than we are and to do better than we’re doing?