|| "Who do you say
that I am?" Jesus asked. Simon Peter answered, "You
are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus
answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are
Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra)
I will build my church..." Jesus then began to speak of
the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get
behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling
May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
Message preached January 18,
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Order of Worship
My Dad and I had an interesting little ritual we went through every time I returned home from college. You see, like many fathers and sons, we went through our strained periods when it was very hard to find common ground. Coming home from school was like a transition period between the tensions of high school and the friendship of later years.
Our little ritual revolved around the noon meal. After spending a morning working on the latest project around the house, weíd make a lunch Ďof sorts,í together. A can of baked beans. Some cheese cut up and tossed in, along with whatever else could be found in the fridge. Going to the spice cabinet weíd shake in anything that struck our fancy. And voilaí, a "manly" meal.
The real seasoning of the affair, however, was the talking weíd do as we ate. My mother preferred to be away at these times. Perhaps it was the beans. I think it was probably the fact that our talk sounded to her a lot like an argument. It was really more like debate. I tended to be a bit more radical in those days, and Dad more conservative. We usually hit upon something we disagreed about, and weíd go at it. Wrestling with words. Today weíd call it Ďmale bonding.í
I really miss those times. Dadís been gone now for twenty years. Maybe me and my kids will Ďbondí like that. You know, though, I really donít like baked beans all that much. It was the "seasoning" which made that ritual something to treasure. And I am not referring to what haphazardly was added from the spice cabinet or the fridge. Our differences at that time helped shape me into the person I am today.
Such diversity, such seasoning is important. Certainly it was important for that young man and his father in my family. But it is also important for the church of Jesus Christ. If we are to be the salt of the earth, as Jesus challenged us to be, it seems to me that our "saltiness" as Christians, derives not so much from the fact that we are all alike, but that we are all so very different. The church of Jesus Christ is a place in which Godís seasoning, Godís flavoring becomes evident.
Now, understand, first of all, that God is a much better cook than me and my Dad. God doesnít just search through the refrigerator of life, and toss in whatever is relatively fresh and without mold. God knows what spices are just right. Itís in the church that this wonderful seasoning is experienced. I like the image I once heard Bill Hayes use. Anyone remember him? He was pastor of the Baltimore First congregation when I started pastoring here. The church, he preached in an Annual Conference sermon, is not so much like a soup, where all the ingredients and spices simmer together in an indistinguishable whole. Rather, he said, the church of Jesus Christ is like a salad, where all the separate parts are seen and tasted.
Yes, together we are more like a tossed salad, than like Ďdoctored upí baked beans. Itís the master chef who created us. Itís this seasoning which allows us to be the salt of the earth. Our diversity, rather than being something to frighten us, is really a gift from God. Our different-ness from one another is how God seasons us. If we were all the same, thought the same thoughts, behaved in the same ways, we would be boring. But God knows how to season this salad.
One of the big criticisms of Christians by secular folks, is that we often seem to take the spice out of life. We donít know how to have fun, so they say. We are boring to be around. And there is some truth to all this. Us Christians can spend so much energy in trying to be all alike, seeking unity in same-ness, that we can be boring. But our true unity is not found in us all being the same, in us all expressing our calling in Jesus Christ exactly alike.
When people nearly 2,000 years ago saw the early Christian church, the most impressive feature that stood out was not the fact that these folks were all alike. Far from it! The differences back then were just as real as they are today. Instead, what impressed people on the outside looking in, many of whom were later attracted to become themselves disciples of this Jesus of Nazareth, was that, in spite of their differences, these people actually loved one another.
This unifying love was not found in everybody being the same. This love was found in the middle of their differences. In fact, this diversity was itself experienced as a gift from God. It was Godís seasoning. And you know what? Things havenít changed all that much. Itís this love which still attracts people. Such love is dependent upon our God who shares with us different gifts, who seasons us in an assortment of ways, rather than in a uniform pattern. Thatís how we become the salt of the earth.
Later on weíll sing out that "there are many gifts, but the same Spirit. There are many works, but the same God. And the Spirit gives each as it chooses. Praise the Lord. Praise God." Our differences are not something to be feared. Of course, we donít praise our "diversity." Rather, we praise the giver who gives to us in a diversity of ways. Mature, perfect love, casts out the fear we may have over these differences, such that we can come to appreciate the many ways in which God seasons us as a church.
Itís no mistake that immediately after what the apostle Paul wrote in this morningís scripture lesson about how there are a variety of gifts, an abundance of special abilities in the body of Christ, he then wrote those memorable words in chapter 13: "Faith, hope, love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love," (13:13) this love being the "more excellent way" (12:31), the greatest gift. It was love - you know - that helped a young college student to buck horns with his father, so to speak, in that long-ago ritual between two different men of the same blood. From that meal, I and my Dad both grew.
Love is also the glue that holds us together as God seasons this tossed salad of a church with a lot of very different persons, with various abilities. Godís love helps us to grow, as we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, to be one in Christ even when we are very different from one another. Indeed, there are many gifts, many ways in which God seasons us for ministry, for being the salt of the earth, for being the church. The apostle Paul listed several such gifts in the twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians, and believe me, much has been written about what exactly these gifts are. There is also a great deal of disagreement on the subject. Praise God!
My tendency is not to interpret these matters in the same manner as someone of a Pentecostal or a Charismatic persuasion. Still, I need the seasoning of God found in persons who approach the scriptures in ways that I donít, just as they need Godís flavoring expressed in me. Our unity is not found in us all being the same. Instead, our unity is discovered as we focus upon the same giver, not the same gift. When I read this passage of scripture, I find Paul writing not so much about the particular gifts, the peculiar ways in which God seasons each of us. Rather, I see that the stress of this text is upon the unity we find amid the numerous ways God is at work in us. Our unity is discovered in the same giver, not the same gift - the same seasoner, not the same seasoning.
Now, the hard part is finding the common ground upon which we can stand together when we are different. Once a month in your worship bulletin there is an insert which encourages us to reach out to non-believers through discovering the "common ground" between us and them. But what about the common ground we need to seek out within the church? Itís one thing to say that we are united in Christ. This is, after all, the "week of prayer for Christian unity." Emphasis is on the prayer, folks, because actually and authentically living out our unity is tough.
Sometimes the people closest to you are the hardest ones with whom to find common ground. Witness me and my father. It took doctored-up baked beans shared around a workday table, a loving space where we could spar as man to man with respect for one another. Looking back, those moments were the greatest gift my Dad ever gave me. But they didnít come easy. It took work.
The same is true in the church. Our strength is not found in the fact that we are all alike. Sometimes we try to make it that way, however. We disagree because we donít see things from the same perspective. We donít approach church life in the same way. What seems wise to one, doesnít seem logical to another. Gee, is there a difference between the gifts of speaking wisdom and speaking knowledge? Yes. Is one better than the other? No way! One of us may share, for instance, a child-raising philosophy that is different from how another of us sees that it ought to be done. Does this mean we cannot work together in Christian love? If the answer to that question is "yes," then are we truly the church of Jesus Christ?
Our strength, as Iíve said, is not in us all being the same. The church in Corinth was very definitely not a fellowship full of carbon-copy Christians. They were so diverse, they struggled to find their common ground. Interestingly enough, they were a very gifted group of individuals. A lot like our own congregation, in many ways. God blessed them with all sorts of gifts. Only problem was, those Corinthian believers couldnít work together. Paul encouraged them to move beyond this problem, by respecting the gifts that each were given - different as they were. Respecting each otherís gifts is still important. To "respect" means to treat one another as equally gifted, even those gifts in other persons that appear not to be "as good as" our own. That lesser gift may actually be the most important one in Godís eyes (1 Corinthians 12:22-25). It might be the very seasoning God uses to truly make a bunch of individuals into a church.
In my next message, I will continue with this chapter from Paulís first letter to the Corinthians. Along our journey together in the Word, we may discover some new (or should I say "old") patterns for working together as the body of Christ. You know, sometimes we get stuck in a rut in church life because "weíve always done it this way." What might Paul have to say about that? Interested?
Our closing hymn this morning is based on this very chapter from the Bible. A favorite of mine, it speaks to the seasoning of God who provides us with many gifts. Amid all this abundant diversity, though, we find our common ground in having the same Spirit, the same Lord, the same God. So, letís sing our praise.
|online resources for this scripture text||
For commentaries consulted, see 1 Corinthians.
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)
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