Sermon for Lent 3 (15 March 2009)
1 Corinthians 1.18-25
It’s that time again. The Annual General Meeting of the congregation. Are you all set? Read the reports?
Frankly, I’m excited about this meeting. We have two very important proposals, which set the direction of our life and mission together in Christ.
The first proposal will ask us to adopt our new Vision Statement:
Living God’s mission
as disciples of Jesus
united in the Spirit.
The second proposal asks us to adopt our overarching Strategic Goals, as a summary of what we want to achieve over the next few years:
1 Nurture within our church a sense of community.
2 Develop a congregation focussed on discipleship.
3 Share with others our faith in God.
4 Connect newcomers with our church community.
5 Assist others to experience God’s justice.
6 Model to others our respect for God’s creation.
7 Enhance our capacity to live God’s mission.
If we adopt these goals, what we’re saying is this is the kind of congregation we want to be, and that we will work towards being that kind of congregation. That’s our aim.
I don’t want to spend the time of this sermon going through these things one by one; but I do want to ask what today’s lectionary readings say about how we are to go about being this kind of congregation. In particular, just how are we to live God’s mission as disciples of Jesus united in the Spirit, and in this way achieve our goals?
There are some false ways we could take.
Number one: we could decide that living God’s mission means obeying the rules. After all, God gave the law to Moses. It’s pretty clear. Don’t make for yourself an idol; remember the sabbath day; honour your father and your mother; don’t commit murder, adultery, don’t steal, and the rest.
What’s more—it’s possible to obey the rules! The Apostle Paul said that he had been blameless as far as the law was concerned. He hadn’t overstepped the mark, he hadn’t fallen short of its legal requirements.
We’d know where we are, then! We’d know who was in or out, who was naughty or nice. And if someone failed to live up to the standards of the law, well… Perhaps they wouldn’t belong here, right? We could show them the door!
If the first false way of living God’s mission is obeying the rules, what’s the second? It’s using religion for our own ends, for our own personal agenda. We see that in our Gospel story—the Temple courts had become a place of trade, and this was deeply offensive to Jews like Jesus. We often hear of people using religion for their own ends, or as a cloak for selfish gain. It might be the big things, like paedophilia or diverting the church’s money for your own use; it may be trying to make others think and act the way we think they should. For their own good, of course.
So we might say that following God’s mission means that we do things a certain way. Whatever we want, we’re sure that living God’s mission means everyone should follow our program for the church.
The third false way to live God’s mission is there in Paul’s first letter to the Christians in Corinth. The Jews, he said, seek signs. Many Christians today want signs and wonders. Miracles. Impressive shows of power. Is that the way to live God’s mission? Paul says not.
Well, what about the Gentiles? Paul says they want wisdom. Will we live God’s mission by impressive shows of wisdom, winning all arguments against our opponents? Again, Paul says not.
How do we live God’s mission as disciples of Jesus united in the Spirit? Paul says one way—the way he calls the foolishness of the cross.
No one in the ancient world would have proclaimed a message with a cross, a place of horrible and degrading execution, at the centre. Unless they had to. The Christians had to, because Jesus had been raised from the dead after dying on the cross. And through the gift of the Spirit, they had been made alive with him. They had to try to make sense of it.
How do we live God’s mission?
Not by obeying rules. Not by getting our way in church. Not by signs and wonders, and not through our cleverness.
We live God’s mission by walking through life with Jesus on a path that may take us to a place that feels very much like a cross. We might walk through life with Jesus by connecting with people beyond the church’s walls. By getting to know our neighbours. Saying ‘hi’ to people at the gym or the shops. Visiting the sick.
As we walk with Jesus, he will show us those who are in need. He’ll show us a man whose life is like a slow crucifixion, and he’ll ask us to stop there awhile. He’ll show us a mother who is crushed by the burdens she bears, and he’ll ask us to help her, like Simon of Cyrene helped him to carry his cross. He’ll show us how to improvise, how to seize opportunities and take risks.
Living the mission of God as disciples of Jesus united in the Spirit often looks ordinary. It’s lives lived in service, seeking the peace of those we meet. It’s looking for those who have been prepared by the Spirit to hear the good news, and telling it. In many ways, it seems so everyday. Because it is. Everyday, we’re met by people who are suffering, and whose suffering we can share in the name of Jesus.
Don’t look for rules to follow. Don’t try to make everyone follow one agenda. Don’t look for cleverness or whizz bang stuff. Look for Jesus and walk with him daily. That’s living the mission of God. That’s being a disciple of Jesus. And it’s the only basis we have to be united in the Spirit.