Lectionary Reflection for the Third Sunday after Epiphany, Year A
January 26, 2014
Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Christians behaving badly? Surely not! We know differently, however much we wish the life of discipleship in community would more resemble a cake walk than a food fight. Schism and division amongst God’s people is not new. Whether that should comfort or afflict I’ll leave to each person to decide. It seems pretty clear how apostle, evangelist, and church-planter Paul felt about unity and division. I sense behind his words a hint of weariness, tinged by frustration, yet tempered by his love for and devotion to this particular quarrelsome and querulous community.
Those who lead and serve in faith communities know that the sinful side of human nature will invariably rise to the surface given enough time. The brokenness of our human condition causes all manner of meddling, miscommunication, and mischief within the flock. An otherwise healthy congregation can descend into bitter dispute and division when a leader behaves unethically and inappropriately. Otherwise perfectly well-behaved parishioners can turn into a pack of church-going coyotes attacking the weak and vulnerable in their midst, tearing the body of Christ limb from limb over issues of varying levels of theological and spiritual importance.
As leaders, both professional and volunteer, this reality can be disheartening. Pastors burn out and leave ministry. Vestry or church council members become disillusioned by the dark underbelly of the church world and stop attending. Children of church workers, seeing the behind-the-scenes machinizations and the effects such goings-on have on their parents, decide that organized religion is hypocritical and vile. We’ve all seen the effects and the fallout of trying to follow the call of Christ into the wounding and difficult fields of ministry.
“Follow me,” Jesus says to the unsuspecting fisherman by the Sea of Galilee, “and I will make you fish for people.” Surely these seasoned professionals knew that fishing is a dangerous business and really hard work. Did they think fishing for people would be less rigorous? And yet we’re told that IMMEDIATELY they dropped everything and followed Jesus into the work of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven near. Yes, we too, have been called. We all have our story of how Jesus called us out of the life we were living into this upside-down inside-out vocation called ministry, into a life of discipleship. Whether we are called to be pastors, teachers, prophets (now there’s a tough call), evangelists, deacons or deaconesses, musicians, youth leaders, Stephen Ministers, chaplains, council members, sextons, greeters, liturgists, lectors, acolytes (you get the picture) whatever expression our call takes and however it morphs, it is most assuredly NOT going to be a smooth, straight, easy journey.
Still, we are called. And we answer that call. And if we know what’s good for us and for the healing of the nations, we will hang on and work at keeping the Body of Christ fit and together in our given context. We are so much stronger together than we are apart. Together, by listening, hearing, valuing, and believing that God is working in, among, and with us, we will find strength to do the work to which we are called.
My wish for you and the people with whom you serve is that you will heed Paul’s words to that fractious Corinthian church and cling to the message and call of Jesus, no matter what. It may sound like foolishness, and it may present itself as a whole lot of work, but it is the power of God that surrounds us, keeps us, holds us, and saves us. The world may go to pieces around us, but Jesus never really does. Believe that. Live it. Be that message of hope and grace to this beautiful, broken world.
We are Called
Consider using the Latin word “vocare” (to call, to name, to invoke) to talk about our call to serve God. If you have not shared your call story with the congregation, consider doing so today. If you have a seminarian serving in your congregation, ask him or her to consider sharing the story of how he or she came to answer God’s call. The Galilean fishermen followed Jesus immediately. Why are we so hesitant and uncertain? What would it mean if every member of the worshiping community where you lead and serve decided to answer God’s call to serve somehow, some way, according to their gifts and talents? Perhaps include a bulletin insert with the word “Vocare” at the top of the page. Perhaps include part of the gospel story on the sheet, too. Invite each person to ponder how God is calling them this week and to use the bulletin insert to record their thoughts. Invite them to consider one small action or one small way they can serve God and follow God’s call to discipleship. Remind them that following the call to discipleship is not a one-time deal but a lifetime adventure.
Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Churches in the first century had trouble getting along, too. Paul’s pastoral response to the troubles within the Corinthian church speaks just as effectively to church dissent and dispute today. Consider a Bible study on this passage with an emphasis on verse 18 and the need to pay attention to what’s really important. What appears to be foolishness to the world is powerful and life-saving to us. Because this is the case, we need to strive for unity and on living out the gospel. Invite the youth to share what they find frustrating about the Body of Christ today. What matters to them? What are their joys? Their fears? Their hopes and dreams? Consider inviting them to write an open letter to your congregation and/or church council sharing what matters to them and what doesn’t. Remind them that they are important to the Body of Christ, and that their involvement in the life of the community is also of vital importance.
This week’s psalm (27:1, 4-9) is a good one to act out with the children. Consider using the Easy-to-Read Version found here. Particularly stress how God is our strength and helps keep us from being fearful. Talk about what it means to dwell in God’s house all the time. Share with the children that their faith community is a place where they can “dwell” and have as a centering point for their lives. Remind them that God doesn’t stay in the church building all week; God goes home with us, into the world with us; God goes everywhere.