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Those Unruly Christians

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Whether it is something as fleeting as a football game or as life-and-death as someone seeking to devour your flesh as war rises up against you, the common thread here is figuring out how to respond.

Psalm 27: 1, 4-9 and 1 Corinthians 1: 10-18

Pastor Phil

If you want to know what the writer of Psalm 27 that we heard this morning was experiencing, you might want to think a bit about Aaron Rodgers.

Yes, I know, the star quarterback of the Green Bay Packers was only facing the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants and the Detroit Lions and the Minnesota Vikings and so on. He was not facing what the Psalm writer described in a few verses we did not hear today – “evildoers assail me to devour my flesh…and army encamps against me…war rises up against me.”

That describes life today in Syria or Gambia or Iraq, not in a football stadium.


What we heard from the Psalm writer is incredible confidence in the midst of what must have seemed to him like insurmountable odds. That’s why this is known as a “Psalm of confidence.”

So back to Aaron Rodgers. Those of you who pay attention to football know that the Packers had a pretty wretched stretch mid-season. They had a mixed-record of wins and losses as the season began, then they lost four in a row. This did not do much for their confidence.

Then they won eight in a row and this afternoon will be playing against the Atlanta Falcons for a conference championship and a chance to go to the Super Bowl in two weeks.

What happened?

Here’s what Aaron Rodgers said this past Wednesday: “Confidence probably is the biggest thing. The confidence and then the energy flow…When you go through rough stretches where you’re not playing great, that confidence can waver with some of the players and as a collective maybe. When you get to this point where you’ve reeled off a lot in the row, the expectations change from, ‘We’re going to be competitive’ to ‘We’re going to win.’”


Whether it is something as fleeting as a football game or as life-and-death as someone seeking to devour your flesh as war rises up against you, the common thread here is figuring out how to respond.

I don’t want to make any kind of case here that God saved the Packers. But the Psalmist makes the case that his trust in God is what gave him strength in the midst of hardship.

“The Lord is my light and salvation. Should I fear anyone?”

And when his confidence falters?

“Come, my heart says, seek God’s face.”

I don’t hear this as God doing magic to save one person or even an emerging nation. I hear it as sensing God’s love giving strength in the midst of hardship, letting the Psalmist push on even when things are stacked against him – or us.

There’s another image in that Psalm I want to come back to in a while, but let me just mention it now so it stays in your consciousness:

“I seek to live in the Lord’s house all the days of my life…because he will shelter me in his own dwelling during troubling times; he will hide me in a secret place in his own tent.”

Sounds pretty comforting, doesn’t it?

There was not so much confidence or comfort for Paul as he was receiving messages about the early Christian community in Corinth. Things were not going well there.

Paul had managed to pull together a really diverse group of folks in Corinth, located on the land bridge that connects northern and southern Greece. This was really unusual. He had Jews and Gentiles, slaves and freed persons, laborers and people from the upper classes. This mixture of social classes, gender, religious and ethnic identities, places of origin, levels of knowledge, and spiritual giftedness became a combustible mix.

Scripture scholar Bart Ehrman calls the Christians in Corinth “one of the most disturbed bunch of Christians that Paul had to deal with.”

They were taking each other to court over their differences. Some Christian men were bragging in church about their visits to prostitutes. Some people are coming together for the weekly communion meal and getting drunk and gorged. Those who had to work and arrived late found nothing left for them. At worship, some are speaking in tongues and others have no idea what is going on.

As life would have it, they are also choosing to follow different leaders, putting their trust in them instead of in the message of Jesus.

One of those Corinthians, a woman named Chloe, had written to Paul to let him know about the chaos in Corinth. Could the folks over there be Chloe and shout out a warning – “There’s chaos in Corinth!”

Folks over here – could you shout out, “I belong to Apollos.”
Over here, shout out, “I belong to Cephas.”
Over here, shout out, “I belong to Paul.”

You can see the challenge facing Paul. The message of Jesus was getting lost in all these disputes. You can imagine he felt more than a little discouraged. This was not how it was supposed to go.

Now hold that thought for a moment. (Yes, I know, I’m crowding up the waiting zone in your brains.)

At President Trump’s inauguration on Friday, there were six different people offering sacred readings or prayers – the most ever at an inauguration. One was a rabbi, Marvin Heir, the founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization.

The other five were Christians but they only represented one slice of Christianity in America in the 21st century.

There were preachers of the prosperity gospel – if you have faith, you will get rich. There was Franklin Graham, who has tarnished his father Billy Graham’s legacy with his ill-informed views of Islam and his rejection of those who do not share his view of Jesus.

And at the prayer service Friday morning before the inauguration, Southern Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress from Dallas preached to President Trump that the Jewish leader Nehemiah battled the mainstream media of his time and built a wall to protect his city.

“You see, God is not against building walls,” Jeffress told the man about to become president

Today, you might hear crowds chanting “I belong to Robert Jeffress” or “I belong “Franklin Graham.” And we might be in a different crowd shouting out the name of some religious leader more to our liking. I know some of the people I would be shouting for.

I think Chloe might be wanting to write to Paul again. Let’s hear from Chloe: “There’s chaos in Corinth.”

A Biblical scholar named Katrina Poetker says that in his letter to the unruly Christians of Corinth, Paul uses a series of metaphors to sketch out a different vision – metaphors of family and of the human body, of building on a common foundation and of sowing seeds and helping them grow in a field.

Poetker writes that Paul offered an “organic vision of connectedness and mutual dependence within the Christian community. Paul frames his relationship with them, their inter-relationships, their spiritual condition, and their connectedness to the church around the world within these metaphors.”

She says that then, “In the context of their diversity and division, Paul urges the Corinthians to the highest calling—love as described in 1 Corinthians 13. They are to respond to his love and to love each other in the midst of their differences.”

Globally, we are in the midst of what is known as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This goes back over a century and had its origins among Catholics and Protestants seeking to heal some of the fractures of the Reformation centuries earlier. It tends to play out among mainstream Protestants and Catholics these days.

But as we know from our own experiences in families and in the nation, the fractures in Christianity today are multi-dimensional and the harder work at unity is probably between sharply divergent theological visions, not traditional denominational structures.

Joy J. Moore is associate dean for African American Church Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary in California. She wrote about Paul’s comments to the people of Corinth: “They call for uncommon practices of reconciliation, radical acts that cannot be confused with sanctimonious language of acceptance, but rather are genuine practices of justice extended to all.”

Here we are then, in the midst of an era that can feel a lot like it was in Corinth. Maybe all of you could take the part of Chloe this time with a little variation:
“There’s chaos in our world.”

Let me take those two things I asked you to park in your brains a while back, because maybe they will give us a glimpse of how we might handle all this chaos. And there are images right in this space in our church that could help us with that.

From the Psalm: “I seek to live in the Lord’s house all the days of my life…because he will shelter me in his own dwelling during troubling times; he will hide me in a secret place in his own tent.”

We call this space a sanctuary. A sanctuary is a place of refuge or safety. It’s a retreat from the chaos of the world, and, in a religious context, a place where we can encounter God.

And remember, in our scripture stories, sometimes God appears as a burning bush or a voice from on high or a roaring wind, but sometimes, God is in the sheer silence.

We look to God to shelter us in God’s own dwelling during troubling times. It may be in a room like this. It may be in a chair in our homes. It may be walking under a starlit sky. Wherever you can find sanctuary, don’t forget that is an important part of regaining confidence when everything seems lined up against you.

Here’s another thing about sanctuary, though. It’s not just for us.

If you have been following some of the fears of the vulnerable among us – Latinos, Muslims, immigrants, blacks – you may have heard the word “sanctuary” in their context as well.

More than 800 congregations across the nation have now declared themselves to be sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants facing deportation.

But sanctuary is broader than just that physical protection. It is looking at the many ways we who are in positions of strength can stand with those who are threatened, where we extend God’s work of sheltering people in troubled times.

Sanctuary, then, is one image.

The other thought I asked you to hold earlier had to do with Paul’s frustration that the message of Jesus was getting lost in all the disputes going on in Corinth.

And for Paul, at the heart of Jesus’ message was the cross and the resurrection. In this passage, Paul consistently uses the term “Christ” for Jesus, the anointed one of God, the resurrected one.

“Christ didn’t send me to preach the good news with clever words so that Christ’s cross won’t be emptied of its meaning,” he wrote.

And what is the meaning of the cross? There’s not one simple answer, of course, but one is that the good news of the cross is about giving oneself for others, bearing the burdens of others.

And the cross is only part of the story. It is linked to Jesus going beyond death, overcoming death, winning out over evil, radiating with a life that cannot be stopped.

Think, then, about this moment.

We are gathered in a sanctuary, where we can renew our strength of spirit. We are committed as a congregation to reach out in ever-widening circles from this sacred space that we inhabit.

And we gather in front of a cross that reminds us to bear the burdens of others and points towards the windows that let us see both the beauty and the needs of our world.

Even when we find that we differ on many things with other followers of Jesus, we can go out this day and in the days ahead with all the confidence of an Aaron Rodgers, all the confidence of a beleaguered Psalm writer, all the confidence of Paul because we are nourished here and are bearers of the cross and proclaimers of abundant life.

God is our light and salvation. God will not leave us alone.

We can go out into a world that seems filled with chaotic change and still find God’s glory. We can seek God’s face and reflect God’s love.

In that spirit, let us sing. The hymn is #177 – “God of Change and Glory.”