January 15, 2017 sermon
Called to be God’s
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be reading snippets from 1 Corinthians. I decided that we could spend some time with that ancient church until Lent.
We are reading a letter from Paul to the church in Corinth. A few years ago, Paul visited Corinth. He began telling the story of Jesus to anyone who would listen. A few folks were intrigued as they listened to Paul teach the gospel. They started meeting together with Paul. They began to form a church, a small community as they learned the heart of the gospel from him.
They would meet in the home of the one of the wealthier members of the group. It started very small; as the young Christians began to tell their friends about the story of Jesus, the group would grow.
Once Paul was satisfied that he had made a good beginning, he left and moved on to another city, where he began the process all over again.
Corinth was a port city. It was a prosperous, bustling manufacturing and trade centre between east and west. It thrived on competitiveness, self–achievement and self–promotion.
It should come as no surprise that the small church in Corinth had the same characteristics. The people in the church reflected their culture, in the same kind of way as we reflect our culture.
As we read Paul’s letter to this church, we will discover a church with all kinds of divisions, a self–indulgent church with different groups promoting their own agenda, a church contaminated by pride and self–interest, a church where there is a moral laxity.
Paul heard about it, and wrote them this letter, which has quite an angry tone. He writes to correct some of their abuses, and accuses them of turning their backs on the gospel. He urges them to lead lives worthy of the gospel.
So it comes as a bit of a surprise that Paul begins his letter giving thanks to God for this church. He calls the people “saints”.
Paul’s strategy is to remind the people of where their strength really comes from. While many of the folks in this small church thought that their spiritual strength came from their own efforts and abilities, Paul reminds them at the very beginning that everything they have comes as a gift from God.
“I give thanks to God because of the grace God has given you in Christ.” It is not a thanksgiving for what this church is up to. Paul gives thanks that God has given them everything they need to live faithfully.
It’s what I said last week. God gives us all that we need to live as God’s holy and beloved people. God strengthens us with holy Spirit. God gives us a community to support and encourage us, to hold us up in prayer and love. God fills us with grace so that we might reach out in grace to love and heal the world.
That’s what Paul tells the church in Corinth. It doesn’t come from you. It comes from God, who has given you everything you need. Therefore, live out your calling to be saints in the world. You have been set apart by God to live out God’s purposes in the world.
It is your calling. It is our calling.
That’s an important word for us. Too often, we think that only priests and ministers are called. But that’s not so. We all have a vocation.
Martin Luther spoke often about the vocation of the Christian. “The Christian shoemaker,” he said, “does his or her duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”
Or again, “God’s people please God even in the least and most trifling matters. For God will be working all things through you; God will milk the cow through you and perform the most servile duties through you, and all the greatest and least duties alike will be pleasing to God.”
We are called to live as God’s people in the world. Some of us are called to be priests. Others are called to be nurses or plumbers or store clerks or teachers or auto mechanics. Some of us live out a new calling as we retire, or move into a different phase of life.
In all of our lives, no matter what we do, we are called to live as God’s people. We honour God with the work we do, and how we do that work. We honour God as we reach out with grace and in love to our neighbor in our work and in our daily lives. That is our vocation.
That’s what it means to be saints, to be holy—we are set apart to serve God by serving the creation around us. In Greek, those two words—“saint” and “holy”— are related. We are saints. We are God’s holy people.
As I’ve said many times before, you can call me St. Yme. And I will call you saints—not because we are especially virtuous, but because we are God’s people. We are called to live lives which honour God. We are called to live lives which show the world and all its people the depth of God’s love for creation and all its creatures.
A final thing to mention from this opening to Paul’s letter. We do all of this in community.
It’s hard to see in our English translation, but all the verbs and pronouns in this passage in the Greek are plural. Y’all are given God’s grace. Y’all are strengthened to be saints. Y’all are called to live out your sainthood in the world. Y’all are holy people.
Christian faith is not individualistic. It is profoundly communal. We are bound together with Christ; we are bound together with one another. We live out our vocation together. We live out our calling together, each one of us contributing the gifts God has given us so that the body of the church is strong and faithful.
Like Paul, I give thanks for the gifts which God has given to y’all. I give thanks for the life which God has given to Christ Church, and for the way we live out our calling in Cranbrook. I give thanks that God has enriched us in every way as we seek to honour God in our common life in this place and this time.
God has given us grace to live out God’s gospel purposes in every moment of our lives.
We are saints.
We are set apart.
We are grace–filled.
We are chosen and beloved.
God says to us, “You are mine. I will never let you go.”
Therefore, we can go out into our daily lives and invite others into this kind of life–giving relationship with God. We live out God’s mission in the world, which leads to life in all its abundance, which leads to healing, which leads to lives of grace and compassion.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
1 Corinthians 1: 1–9
John 1: 29–42
Isaiah 49: 1–7
2nd Sunday after Epiphany