Tom's Sermon: January 23, 2011
The Righteous Reign of the Coming King
But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
Psalm 27:1, 4-9
Triumphant Song of Confidence of David.
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.
Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD.
Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! ‘Come,’ my heart says, ‘seek his face!’ Your face, LORD, do I seek. Do not hide your face from me.
Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Divisions in the Church
Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’ 13Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.
Christ the Power and Wisdom of God
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Jesus Begins His Ministry in Galilee
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.’
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’
Jesus Calls the First Disciples
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
Jesus Ministers to Crowds of People
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
LEARNING FROM ANCIENT CORINTH
When we are dealing with things that give meaning and purpose to our lives, our emotions get very close to the surface. Our families and our careers are two areas where, when threatened, we are prepared to fight. Another is our faith, the things that ultimately concern us and determine how we respond to all that life throws at us. Over the years people have struck out at those who hold different concepts about God, about how we should worship, and about how we should live. Just as Jesus wept over Jerusalem who went on killing God’s prophets, God must cry whenever we go to war, or oppress some group who holds different beliefs than we hold whether it is some Islamic fundamentalist declaring a Jihad against western people, or President George Bush declaring a crusade against Islamic extremists in reaction to 9/11.
Because the Church deals with ideals, we don’t expect to see problems in congregations or in the church yet problems have been an integral part of the church since biblical time. In our epistle lesson this morning Paul wrote:
For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.
1 Corinthians 1:11
Divisions within congregations are nothing new. There are always things that people will disagree about, and there is always the temptation to strike out at those who hold different views. A beautiful by-product of the disputes in the Corinthian Church is that – in addressing them -- Paul gave us the wonderful analogy of the church as the body of Christ, with each part as valuable as every other part, and that if one part hurts, the whole body hurts. From there he gives an example of a better way – in what we have come to know as 1 Corinthians 13, an ode to love:
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
In 1875 the various Presbyterians Churches in Canada realized that the differences they brought to North America from the Old World, no longer made sense, so they amalgamated to become the Presbyterian Church of Canada. A few years later all the Canadian Methodists did the same. Then other churches began to see that our unity in Christ is stronger than our theological differences, so they began to talk about coming together that all may be one. This willingness to overcome differences to be one body in Christ led on June 10th, 1925 to the formation of the United Church of Canada.
Over the years some have forgotten that dream of our unity in Christ being stronger than our differences, but that is both what makes our United Church strong, and what leaves us open to attack from those who like to be precise in their own interpretation of faith. When people have different visions of what a congregation should be, we are reminded to go back to our New Testament roots, particularly to the Corinthian congregation that Paul addressed, and to go back to our roots as the United Church of Canada to seek our oneness in Christ.
Today’s Old Testament lesson proclaimed:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.
Grace United is in a period of transition over the next year and a half. We will be working together to shed light on who we are, whose we are, and what God is calling us to do. There have been some problems that have caused some people hurt, that have caused break-downs in pastoral relationships with ministers and between ministers, and that have left people confused about what God wants of us early in the third millennium of our faith. This transition time is not to find blame. We have to do some analysis to see how we got to where we are, but we will assume that all have been trying to serve God, and will continue to try, to do their best.
Some have been surprised to learn that different sized congregations require very different styles of ministerial leadership. Small congregations of under 50 households remain healthy over the years through a constant stream of different ministers if they have some strong matriarchs and patriarchs who keep the church going. Most congregations have between 50 and 150 members which calls for a pastoral style of ministry where the minister is central to all that happens:
• leading worship,
• comforting the bereaved,
• teaching confirmation class, and
• welcoming newcomers.
In such a congregation the minister’s role is to get as close as she or he can to the members, knowing them personally, and caring for what is happening day to day. In such a congregation it can be disruptive to present minsters to have former ministers, or neighbouring ministers responding to crisis situations such as bereavement.
However, once a congregation gets beyond 150, it is impossible for the minister to do all of that. In program sized churches people’s needs are met through smaller groups and activities where each new member ties in with one or more of those groups where they are known and welcomed. The minister in such a church must minister to the leaders of those groups that can be as diverse as:
• Sunday Morning Worship Leadership,
• Sunday School,
• Bell Choir,
• Exhibition Booth Committee,
• Friendship and Visitation Committee,
• Leadership Development,
• Bible Study Groups,
• Worship Leadership in nursing homes,
• Property Maintenance Committee,
• Future Planning Committee,
• Publicity Committee, and the list goes on.
The groups can focus on tasks, or on study and worship. Grace United has many such groups and activities. Some are very strong. Others need support and development. Still others need to be given palliative care and allowed to die. New groups are constantly being born. This is a normal part of a Program Church’s life. Grace has many of the strong characteristics of a full program church.
Most ministers have never had experience in program style ministry and they knock themselves out trying to minister like a pastoral church. The problem is that such a style does not work in a multiple staff, many program and activity congregation. In a program church, ministers must support the front line volunteers who are critical to the life of the congregation, whether those volunteers are:
• leading worship services in church and in community institutions,
• giving bereavement care,
• planning for and leading the Sunday School,
• leading study groups,
• carrying out a ministry of wedding preparation and services,
• working to raise money at the annual Fair booth,
• maintaining the physical facilities,
• examining options for the future,
• getting publicity out to the congregation, the community and newcomers,
• and the list goes on.
There are a variety of types of leadership in a program church. Kennon Callahan talks of two contrasting styles. One style of leadership Callahan calls the marathoner. This is the very capable person who takes on a task, does it very well, and will dedicate her or his life to that task in the church over many years. In 1971 to 1973 I was part of team ministry at Ft. Saskatchewan. We had a visiting choir from Grace United Church, Lloydminster. Its leader then, and still is forty years later, Gladys Jack – a perfect example of a church marathoner.
Today we see fewer marathoners but get a lot of sprinters. These are people who often bring specific skills to a task, who will work very hard and with great dedication for a limited period of time then move on to something else. They might work on:
• a fund raising project,
• a building program,
• a confirmation series of classes,
• a search committee, or
• on upgrading the electronics of a congregation including its computers and going paper-less with projected services rather than printed bulletins.
In a program church, the minister or minsters are not called to do all the tasks. If they try they foul up the front line workers doing the day to day ministry. Ministers might be called with some special skills such as working with youth, or with seniors, but their task is more to train others to do the actual front line work, which involves leadership development and recruiting, rather than feeling they have to do things themselves. That also means things may be done differently than they personally would do it, but that is part of the magic of the Body of Christ. The Program Church needs both marathoners and sprinters, with various perspectives on the faith. It needs reflective thinkers and active doers. It needs:
• human relations people,
It does not need people who are trying blame others for shortcomings, or for not follow a particular style of doing things. It needs people who are team players, even if their own role is very task specific.
Today’s gospel lesson had Jesus, responding to the crisis of John the Baptist’s killing, going by the Galilean Lake where he encountered, and called to their ministry, Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Grace United Church, I believe, has been called to a pivotal role in Christ’s ministry in Lloydminster, and in St. Paul Presbytery. The call to “fish for people” is still being extended to each and every one of us. Our task, over this transition time, is to determine the different ways we are being called -- as individuals, as groups, and as a congregation -- to nourish and develop ways of being faithful in response to that call. We move into the future as a team of disciples, called by Christ, inspired by the Holy Spirit knowing God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.