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Friday, August 24, 2012

Life Together (1 Corinthians 11)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

            Are you excited about the return of students to campus?  Amped up about the start of football?  We are excited with you because we’re all in this together.

            Are you hurting from the recent death of someone you dearly loved?  We are here to hold your hold your hand and patiently walk alongside you as you begin to navigate your way through life with that person now gone. 

Maybe the questions are not for you but for the one a few rows back.  He’s afraid his job will be canceled.  He doesn’t know what he’ll do.  We – his church -wait anxiously with him, praying, encouraging, and staying with him no matter happens.  We’re all in this together. 

Maybe the questions are not for him or you, maybe not for the freshman away from home for the first time, maybe not for the divorcee who a year later cannot make sense of it; maybe the questions are for me, the nervous parent of a Kindergartner about to ride the school bus for the first time.  We’re all in this together – the family, the body of Christ.

            By “this” I mean life.  We live life together.  Too many people are lonely, disconnected from others who can share burdens and walk in faith with them.  The explosive popularity of Facebook shows just how desperate for connection people are.  I know many unchurched people would think church is the last place to go for a solution to the loneliness they feel.  Though they are adrift, they would never look to church as a safe landing spot and a place of welcome and home.  Why?  Church has become a caricature and an institution.  This cannot be.

Church is not somewhere to go on Sundays and somewhere to leave behind if the music didn’t include my favorite songs or the preaching wasn’t very good.  Church is not the building where I had my wedding.  Church is not the voice from some unforeseen place sending forth moral edicts that chasten some public acts, commend others, and condemn others.  Church is family – the family of people who put complete trust in God and give themselves fully to following Jesus through all arenas of life.  We are in this – this life – together.

            Heather last week introduced the idea of the church as a sacrament or a sign, a visual depiction of the unseen eternal spiritual reality of the Kingdom of God.  The church is the sign of intimate union with God and the unity of humankind.  Church is where we meet Jesus and get into friendships – lifelong friendships – with others who love Jesus and follow him.  The church is the instrument by which the Holy Spirit will bring about this intimacy and unity. 

            But as we turn to 1 Corinthians 11, we see that while the church has a high calling, the church doesn’t always answer that call well. 

Imagine the day of worship in the Corinthian church.  It’s happened on Sunday evening.  There was singing, preaching, and like today, the Lord’s Supper, along with a full meal just like today.  Only that meal wasn’t served after the worship but during.  Unlike today in that worship service, not everyone came at the same time.  Wealthier church members had their servants prepare food and wine for both the celebration of the Lord’s Supper and also for the feast.  When the wealthy were ready, they came to church and got started.  They weren’t “in it together,” with everybody, but only with other wealthy people.

            The more impoverished church members rose at sunrise and were quickly on the job: cutting and laying stone; digging ditches and building roads and bridges; working endlessly in the kitchen of some wealthy person; sweating in the fields, harvesting crops that were owned by someone else.  They would only get a small percentage of the sale at the market.  The day consisted of exhaustion, bloodied hands and feet, sweat, and indignities for the poor.

            By the time they cleaned up and came to church, the feast was consumed.  They were lucky if enough bread and wine remained so they could take the Lord’s Supper before and join in the final hymn.  These poor church members would have scoffed at the “we’re all in this together” mantra.  The rich controlled the church like they controlled everything else in life.  The community was divided and in the Corinthian Church, the divisions were painful and hostile.  Is our church a place where people find backbiting, fighting, pettiness, bickering and division?  If it is, we’ll never be that “we’re in this together” place that so many unchurched people all around us desperately need us to be.

Paul wrote in 1st Corinthians 1, “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” (v.10).  Then in chapter 11, he acknowledges that his appeal to unity has fallen on deaf ears.  “When you come together as a church, I hear there are divisions among you” (v.18).  Paul wrote to reinforce the unity of God’s church, but in writing He finds he has to address again the very problem he hoped to cut off. 

            Paul was the pre-eminent church planter in the first century Greek-speaking world.  A former Pharisee, highly educated, passionately driven by his love for and gratitude to Jesus, Paul wanted the church to be the institution by which human beings came to know God and came to salvation and a life of following Jesus.  Christianity is not a solitary endeavor.  Christianity is personal, yes, but never private.  It’s never “me and God.”  Christianity is God among us in Jesus Christ.  Part of Jesus’ claim on our lives is seen in the way we love, forgive, and walk with each other.  We are God’s church when we are a community of grace.

            In Corinth, some members had their own suppers and they are in plenty, while others were literally going hungry.  Their poverty was rubbed in their faces.  Paul says this brazenly elitist approach to worship brought contempt on the church of God. 

            Here, we bring the food to the kitchen, then sit and have the worship service.  No one knows who brought which dish.  No one knows if you brought seven plates of food or zero plates.  Everyone is invited to the meal. 


We’re all in this together.  All of us are sinners who mess up big-time, and by Jesus, all of us are forgiven.  In the bread and the cup on Jesus’ table we know that nothing comes between us as people because Jesus has suffered for our sins and removed our sins.  In Him we are new creations. 

We aren’t the same as the Corinthians Church, but we share the same call, to be a sign of the Kingdom and to be a place all can come to meet Jesus and receive the grace of God.  We exist to draw people to God.  Are we doing that or are we a broken community?

The question we face is, are we doing anything in the way we live as a community of Christ-followers to bring division the way the Corinthians did?  We might not corporately sin as they did, but do we sin in other ways?  Does our sin bring contempt on the Kingdom of God?

            When sin runs along, unchecked, Paul shows where it leads.  Verse 32, “When we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.”  The problem – inequalities in worship – leads to contempt brought on the church.

Unchecked this sin, ironically perpetuated in the practice of the Lord’s Supper, leads to discipline from God.  Punishment.  He’s not happy with us and we feel the heat of His anger. 

What does the church do when community is overcome by infighting, jealousy, greed, and meanness of spirit?  The solution is ridiculously simple but immeasurably important when we consider how brutal life can be.  People come to church broken.  They need healing and love here, not an environment that tramples them more.  Paul says in verse 33, “So then my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.”

            Thus Paul gives us two metaphors.  In one, we live life on our own, seek our own advancement at the cost of those around us (even at the cost of our friends in Church), and in this we have an unpleasant date with God’s discipline.  In the other, where we wait for each other, we have “Life Together” – a true community built on Jesus. 

The first metaphor is contempt for the church.  Self-seeking neglect of neighbor, prejudice and elitism, and lack of compassion and welcome and concern bring contempt on God’s church. 

The second metaphor is the picture of waiting, patiently, for everyone to catch up and be together.  When we consider the weakest among us – and at some point each one of us will without planning to step right into that role of weakest – we are waiting for each other. 

“Contempt” v. “wait for one another.”  In one, the church fails and is judged.  In the other, the church shows what God’s kingdom is like.

            Which metaphor is lived out in the HillSong family? Are we a sign of intimacy with God and unity with God and human beings?  Do hurting people find comfort here?  Do seekers meet God?  Are the lonely loved?  Do lonely people come and find they are no longer lonely?  What about those with a strong sense of God’s call.  Here are they equipped to follow God, and to they find people that will come with them as they follow God.  Are we living life together?

            I don’t know. 

Are we waiting for one another?  Are we upholding the weakest, receiving grace, sharing generously, and making sure that everyone realizes his or her potential and realizes that he or she has a seat and belongs here among us?  Are we living out life for our own appetites or for the glory of God and for the sake of love of God’s children?

            In Galatians 6:2, Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens.”  Help each other.  Eating the bread and drinking the cup, we are reminded that our greatest burden is sin.  Sin drags us down to death, but Jesus lifts it off us.  And He does this in the church, through the church, and with the church.  Jesus will accomplish His goals of salvation in spite of the churches that are places of division and contempt.  We would rather be a church in His service, working toward His ends. 

At this table, we come together, sinners, people from far and wide.  We come in our wounding.  We come in our confusion.  We come as people in desperate need.  All of us come that way and we can because Jesus invites us.  We have a place because He sets it for us. 

As the time for taking Communion comes, let a few images come to mind.  First, think about what you need most from Jesus – hope, forgiveness, comfort.  Think about your greatest need that only Jesus can meet.  Next, consider that you are surrounded by people who need Him as desperately as you do. 

Finally, as you chew the bread and drink the cup, ask Jesus to show you your role in filling the needs of the people around you.  Begin by thinking of your need, continue remembering that you are forgiven in Christ and that you are surrounded by needy people.  And finally pray for God to help you meet the needs of the friends around you. 

If we all do that, all our needs will be met by God working through the church.  We will truly have life together.


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