Belonging to Christ Alone
A Homily for Lent 3
March 24, 2019
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: 1 Corinthians 3
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
One of the modern critiques of the church, which does in fact seem legitimate, is that altogether too often we are divided over the most ridiculous things. We have probably all seen it in our lives, if not at our own church at friend’s churches. The community decided to change the carpet, or remodel a part of the building, or make some adjustment. Or perhaps the pastor or priest offended the wrong person. Suddenly we see teams forming. We see the body of Christ divided.
My dad’s favorite Baptist joke, told by a comedian named Emo Philips, could just as easily be an Anglican joke and goes something like this – there was a man walking across the bridge when he saw someone about to jump off to commit suicide. “friend! What’s the matter?” Asks the passer by. “Oh, I’ve just been feeling morose, and it seems like life would be better if I was dead.” “I’m sorry to hear that,” responds the man, “tell me are you a Christian?” “why yes,” responds the depressed man, “I am.” “well what kind of Christian are you?” says the passerby. “Oh, I’m Baptist.” “me too!” said the man “northern or southern Baptist?” “Norther Baptist” “Me too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”
“Norther Conservative Baptist” said the morose man. “Me too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region or Eastern Region?” “Northern Conservative Baptist Great lakes region.” “Me too!” said the passerby. “Northern Conservative Baptist Great lakes Religion Council of 1879 or 1912?” “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”
The man yelled “heretic!” and pushed him off the bridge.
Too often we get lost in the little things – focusing on things, that while they matter, should not divide us and create enemies of brothers and sisters. Yet, we see this too often in Anglicanism as well, and numerous other Christian denominations. Yes, there is a time to leave a church or a denomination – but it should be the last choice not the first. And Yes, there are theological stances that can and should divide us, but where orthodoxy is maintained we should strive for fellowship, if not communion. So, I do think there is a blessing in there being different denominations because there are places that scripture is vague and two different theologians may come to two different conclusions, but this should not make us enemies. The churches in Prescott where the gospel is faithfully proclaimed are not our competitors, but our co-laborers in the garden, where Christ said “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”
The response of dividing into teams when strife occurs within the church has always made me sad. Within the church there is only one side – either you are on the side of Christ, or you are not. We may disagree on minor things from time to time, but if we are pursuing Christ, pursuing repentance, forgiveness, and a life given in Him – we are pursuing the same goal. We are seeking to glorify God, we are seeking to become more Christlike, we are seeking His glory and not our own. This is ultimately what all Christians are called to.
Now, if you think this division, this angst is new to the church, we need only look at St. Paul’s First letter to the Corinthians to have confirmation that as long as the church existed, as long as the church was made up of men and women like you and me who are sinful, who have pride, who too often miss the point – there has been division. Some legitimate – like those who said that Greek Christians had to follow the Jewish ritual laws – or that Christ was not a man, but rather spiritual – these were rightly put down by the church. But others illegitimate – like which teacher they were loyal to.
St. Paul sees this latter example in the Corinthian church and is horrified, he writes “For when one says ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’” And what is St. Paul’s reaction to this? “Are you not being merely human?”
It takes him four verses to point out what the problem is, but he is disappointed in the behavior the of the Corinthians for many reasons, but this one upsets him because he “could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.” You notice he is not saying that this separates them from Christ? Later he will charge someone with other sins, and this he says is an excommunicable offense, until the man repents – but for the offense of dividing off into teams, he is sad because he sees them as behaving as children.
The difference here is of particular interest, I think for Anglicanism. I want to be careful how I say this, because many I respect have held out much longer than perhaps you or I would be comfortable with – however, it is odd to me – that unity is being held in higher regards than a Biblical standard of living within some areas of Anglicanism. I think if we were to appeal to St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians as our guiding standard – the opposite would be true. We are to live in a biblical manner, we are to follow Christ no matter the cost, we are to seek how God calls men and women to live and if that divides us from those who do not value that, then so be it. I think, as good as unity with our brothers and sisters is – we want to be sure that it is Biblical unity – that it is unity that puts Christ first and that He is at the center of it and that unity is used to call each other into a deep union with Him through following His word.
But still, when in the church, we put ourselves on one team or another team we divide the body of Christ, we create what St. Paul notices in the Corinthian church – we create a climate of jealousy and strife and jealousy and strife are not a fruits of the spirit. For there are some who thrive on conflict – who always love having controversy around them, but we want to guard ourselves against this. We do not want to strive to tear ourselves from our brothers and sisters in Christ, but pray for them, and unite in the effort of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world.
Now, the next principle we need to understand is the calling of Christian leaders. Each leader within the church is called to be a servant of Christ. Our chief goal is not to glorify ourselves, it is not to make our ministry all about us. If I were to make my about Fr. Ian, not Christ, then it would be for nought. If our bishops were to make it about them, they would be betraying their calling. No – we must be pointing towards Christ for our ministry is not centered on us – but centered on Christ.
So, the Christian minister – and by extension all Christians – are called to live a life that glorifies our Lord. We are called not to glorify ourselves, we are not to desire a legacy for ourselves, but a legacy that points towards our savior.
This is how it was with St. Paul, and Apollos. We learn from the saint that he planted – he brought the message to to the Corinthians, but Apollos watered, so it must be that Apollos came and ministered to the faithful as Paul was leaving or after he had departed. Yet – who does St. Paul say deserves the credit?
God – for we do not grow in Christ by our own will, but by submission to the Lord, and allowing ourselves to be watered, tended to, pruned, and nurtured by our Lord. Growth in Christ is not an act of will, but an act of submission and dependence upon Christ our savior.
St. Paul pushes this concept a little further – he goes so far as to say that in this process God’s servants, his ministers are not counted as anything – it is God and God alone who causes the growth.
For those of us who have been walking with Christ for many years know that God can use numerous people in our lives. To this day, I remember the people who introduced me to Christ and the Christian life, I remember pastors who walked with me, who tended for my soul, I remember good bishops who have loved me well, and friends who have prayed with me and for me. I am so fortunate that today I am blessed with several friends, and an amazing bishop who care that I grow in Christ, care that I glorify him in my life, who call me out when I am struggling, and who love me well. For all these people I am so grateful – but it is God who has gifted me with them. It is God who is growing my soul and drawing me nearer to Him and it is God who is drawing you nearer to Him.
And now St. Paul shifts His focus – from the builders to the building. He says he laid a foundation and perhaps you remember who laid your foundation, your parents, a loving priest or pastor, a friend, or perhaps Christ Himself. Then, you, like me can recall numerous people throughout the span of your life who helped build you up, who created the building in you that is the temple of the living God. Yet – we are responsible for the building which we created. We are responsible for discerning – this is wise, or this is foolish and while each builder will have to give an account for how he or she built – so too, will you have to give an account for what you invested your energy in.
If we dwell in Christ was have security – if we put upon ourselves His righteousness we can rest in His righteousness. This is the good news of the Gospel, but what we do with our time will be judged as well. Did we use the gifts that we were given to glorify Christ with our lives? Or did we live selfishly. Did we live in the same self-sacrifice that Christ modeled for us on the cross or did we desire to look out for number one?
The one who built with the the pearls of the gospel, they will pass through that fire but those who did not joyfully suffer the loss, counting it as gain for the glory of God will suffer a loss as they enter into eternity.
Surely this sounds hard – but we are called to take the whole witness of scripture seriously and I think this is what St. Paul is telling us here. That we are to use our gifts wisely to seek Christ day in and day out with our lives. Not so that we can have our best lives now, or something goofy like that – but so that we can enjoy an eternity with Him, so that when we reach the end of the race that we are running we hear His voice proclaiming “well done, good and faithful servant.”
I will not pretend that this is an easy thing – or that every day will be a joy – but by God’s grace, we are drawing closer to Him, by God’s grace we are called closer that we may dwell more richly in Him. It is God who gives us the growth, and so let us pray that we would rejoice in the growth, even if the growth requires pruning. Even if the growth requires sacrifice. Let us grow!
Now – why is this important? Because God’s Spirit dwells in the believer! When we become Christian God gives us His Spirit – the Holy Spirit for us writes upon our hearts His law, it is His Spirit that guides us, that directs us, and draws us nearer and nearer to Him.
So, with that in mind – verses 16 and 17 are not verses about getting buff because God’s spirit dwells within you – though physical wellness is not a bad thing – it is about maintaining spiritual wellness, it is about fleeing sin, fleeing those things that tear us away from God and fleeing to those things that are good for us. It is about honoring God with our life and making living for Christ our priority.
The Christian faith is not about outward appearances. Too often we get obsessed with how things appear, and forgive that coming to Christ causes an internal change. The prophets of old spoke of a law that would be written on the flesh of the heart and this is what God is doing for us. A band that I’ve enjoyed and found helpful in my walk puts this constant desire for an internal change this way: “Replace our stone hearts with flesh again.” We are called to desire hearts of flesh, leaving behind our stony hearts – called to experience an internal change.
For this reason we participate in the Church, for this reason we read scripture and take it seriously, read it as the word of God, for this reason we participate in fellowship, and partake in the sacrament. We take these things seriously because God has called us to, and in doing so we are seeking his growth, we are seeking the things that will water us so that we may dwell more richly in Him.
But most importantly – we place Christ as our chief object – we place following Him as our top desire – that He would be glorified and we would dwell richly in Him for the Holy Spirit dwells in us.
It is easy for us to come puffed up with pride – whether it be pride wisdom, pride of skill, pride of ability, or even spiritual pride. We tell ourselves – well I am smarter than all of these people, or I am better than those people, or anything he can do, I know that I can do it better, or perhaps worst of all – because of my place in the church, or my upbringing – I am closer to Christ than those. We become the Pharisee in the temple and think “thank God I am not like that other person.” In that our pride kills us.
No – if you fancy yourself as better – humble yourself, repent and turn back to God, become foolish for the sake of Christ and thank God you are just like the publican, the fallen, the struggling, for when we recognize our own sickness – we recognize our need for Christ.
This is the amazing thing about the Christian faith – that Christ does not demand that we come before Him in perfection, ready for him to accept us with open arms – but rather that we come before him in our imperfection and cry out that we are sick and in need of a physician. Cry out Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner, and in our sin – he welcomes us with open arms.
This in the eyes of the world is foolishness! This in the eyes of others is ridiculous! How can God love imperfect people like us! And yet he does, and so he calls us, come unto me, come unto me and I will refresh you.
So, let us be foolish, and let us dwell richly in that love of Christ that defies odds, let us dwell richly in how kind he is to broken men and women like you and me and let us give thanks to God and finally, when the time comes let us say that we are of Christ – not of Fr. Ian, or your former priest or pastor, or your friend – but let us belong to only one – let us belong wholly to Christ.
For no man nor woman can do for you what Christ has done, St. Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Fr. Ian, the best bishop in the world, nor life, nor death, nor present nor future – none of these can save and bring us to life, but only Christ does this and that is to His glory.
So, let us proclaim with Saint Paul – that we are of Christ and Christ is God’s and so it is that we are God. When controversy hits, when heartache comes, when frustration with your brothers and sisters in Christ arise – let us remember that very truth – that we belong to Christ – that there is only one team, and one side and that is the side of Christ.
Let us have the humility to recognize that our pride can get in the way, let us have the humility to recognize that we can find ourselves distracted and run after false gods, let us have the humility the recognize that in the minor things we may very well be wrong – and extend to those in our Christian family and the fellowship of believers around the world the grace which we so enjoy. Let us pray that “all who call themselves Christian may be led in the way of truth, hold the faith in unity of spirit, and in the bond of peace, and righteousness of life.”
So, dear friends – let us be on the side of Christ, no mater the cost, for this is the only side that counts.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen