(A sermon based on 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 & Matthew 5:21-37 for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany 2011)
We are all about building a life.
Individuals build a life by developing a family, by advancing in a career, and by growing in our humanity.
Christian individuals build a life by growing in the image of Christ, by developing attitudes and lifestyles that are characterized by grace, love, and respect, and by becoming ever more aware of the presence and influence of God in our lives.
Churches build a life, too; we do so by finding our identity, by developing our ministry, and by becoming ever more aware of the presence and influence of God in our lives.
As we move forward we need and want to see signs of increasing maturity; we need and want to see signs that we are making progress.
Sometimes we don’t see the signs of progress that we’d like to see in our life as Christians or in our life as a church, though.
Sometimes a church—this church, for example—can look at the church at Corinth as Paul describes it and it’s like looking in a mirror; we too find ourselves beset by signs of rampant humanity, by indications of blatant immaturity, and by evidence of stunted fellowship.
Sometimes a Christian individual—you and I, for example—can look at the person that Jesus describes as the kind of person that a citizen of the kingdom of heaven ought not be and it’s like looking in a mirror; we too find ourselves beset by and even controlled by our anger, our lust, and our dishonesty.
And so we find ourselves saying things like this: “Well, we’re only human, after all, and we can’t change the way we are, so we’ll just have to live with and in our anger, lust, and dishonesty” or “Well, the church is made up of human beings, after all, so we’ll just have to live with and in our immaturity and our broken fellowship.”
The other day I asked my wife, “Do you believe that we put a man on the moon?” “Of course I do,” she replied. “Well, then,” I responded, “wouldn’t you think that you and I could figure out a way to go out of town for a couple of days?” The questions I posed are illustrative of a flaw in our thinking. We say “We put a man on the moon” as if that sort of thing happens every day but when it comes to something like “Let’s get out of a town for a couple of days” we treat it as an impossibility. We are not amazed when human beings accomplish something amazing and spectacular but we do not believe that amazing and spectacular—and even simple and down-to-earth—things can be accomplished in our everyday lives.
So if I ask you, “Do you believe that God created the heavens and the earth?” you will respond “Of course we do!” If I ask you, “Do you believe that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead?” you will respond “Of course we do!” If I ask you, “Do you believe that God has a home waiting for you in heaven?” you will respond “Of course we do!”
But if I ask, “Do you believe that God can overcome the rampant humanity, the blatant immaturity, and the stunted fellowship that we so often find in the church?” you are likely to respond with something like, “Well, I’m sure that God wants to but, after all, we’re only human.” And if I ask, “Do you believe that God can overcome the anger, lust, and dishonesty that so often dominate our lives?” you are likely to respond, “Well, I’m sure that God wants to but, after all, we’re only human.”
Indeed—we’re only human. That’s our reality.
But even more indeed—God is God and God is present in God’s church and God is present in God’s people and that, brothers and sisters, is our greater—our greatest—reality!
If the only kind of church life we can build is the kind of church life we can build, then we just have to admit that we will always be less than we should be and that we will have to live with the frustrations of our spiritual, mental, and emotional limitations. If the only kind of Christian life you and I can build is the kind of life you and I can build, then we just have to admit that we will always be less than we should be and that we will have to live with the frustrations of our spiritual, mental, and emotional limitations.
But what if—
What if the coming of Jesus Christ into this world really did inaugurate the reign of God in the world?
What if the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ really do mean that God is present in our lives and in our churches and that God really is working to form and shape us into who we could and should be?
What if the Holy Spirit of God really is in our lives and in our churches?
What if we are not “only human” but human beings whom Almighty God is for and with and beside and within?
If we are only human—if the only lives we can have are lives that we build—then we will keep on being angry and taking revenge and holding grudges and living with broken relationships and treating people as objects and judging our speech by its advantage to us rather than its truthfulness.
But if God is God and if God is working in and on and through us to build our lives, then we really can become—because God can cause us to become—people who more and more live for sound relationships, people who more and more treat people with love, respect, and grace, and people who more and more can be depended on to be honest and trustworthy.
If we are only human—if the only church life we can have is the one that we build—then we will keep on being fractious and contentious and selfish and short-sighted and hemmed in and walled in.
But if God is God and if God is working in and on and through us to build the church, then we really can become—because God can cause us to become—a church made up people knitted together by grace and love and hope into a true community that glows with the presence of God.
It is God who builds the life of a Christian; it is God who builds the life of the Church.
So picture God standing there beside you, there within you, here within us, tools in hand…