The theme of today's service was unity, with the readings from Psalm 27 and 1 Corinthians 1: 10-18. The congregation was about 30 people, within a relatively small chapel, slightly larger than Hartlip but smaller than my home church in Gillingham. Music was supported by an organist/pianist.
I prayed extemporaneously for the offering, for the prayer prior to the message and the final blessing. I received a number of compliments after the service which was encouraging, and helps me in my development towards final completion of the local preaching course.
I was comfortable preaching today, I feel that I am improving in my delivery both in the presentation and also I was confident in the material which I delivered. I feel that I am being challenging whilst at the same time being able to offer reassurance based on the love of God.
Sermon: Bearsted 26.1.14
My theme for today’s service is Unity. I wonder what we all understand by “ being United”. And I am not talking about United against City. For certain it is a word that we will find used and no doubt abused a lot by politicians from all parties in the next year or so as the country prepares for a General Election. Leaders will talk about unifying the party or the country. Personally I think that’s always a bit of a tall order, when getting agreement on dinner or what to watch on TV can be quite elusive.
We have heard today what the psalmist and Paul make of the theme of being United. Paul, is in Ephesus; tent making by day, preaching by night, when he becomes aware of a problem within the Church at Corinth, and thus writes the first of his letters to Corinth sometime between 53-56 AD. The first point worth considering is how Paul supports himself by finding work on his travels. His Preaching is done at the end of a hard days labour. The other piece of information worth noting is that this is only 20 years or so after Jesus’ resurrection. This is the early Church, the part of Christian History that so many people yearn to get back to, when things were better.
But hold on a minute, Corinth we soon see is a Church that is suffering with cliques, arrogance and envy. It has divisions between groups. Sound familiar?
There are groups with some following Peter’s teaching, others profess loyalty to Apollos, others Paul, and still others reject all the above and follow only Jesus. This is only 20 years after Jesus’ resurrection.
Paul believes passionately in equality within the Church, where there is no Gentile, no Jew, no freedman or slave, and he was very concerned at what he had heard, that some groups in the Church at Corinth felt they were better than others and that they had become fans of one or other preacher that he felt the need to remind the Church that the only unity that could be found was unity in Christ. It was Jesus who had died. It was Jesus who was raised from the dead. It was on Jesus’ authority that the Holy Spirit was being made available to all in fulfillment of the prophecy made in Jeremiah 31: 31-34 that God’s Spirit would be written in peoples hearts “ for everyone, from the least to the greatest will know the Lord”. It is therefore only in Jesus that we can find any real sense of being whole or United.
With the cult of personality and celebrity that is very strong at the moment, this word from Paul is as relevant to the Church today as it was in Corinth in the early 50s AD.
The pressure to follow Christian celebrities is as great a problem today as it was in the 1st Century. Anyone who has social media such as Facebook or Twitter will be aware of this. We see the current Pope chosen by Time Magazine as Person of the Year 2013, we see an Archbishop of Canterbury willing to make a stand against the politics of global capitalism and hold the Government to account on issues of debt and poverty. Both men appear to be well suited to their positions and are doing really good work. However, the world can’t help turning them into celebrities. It then becomes easy for us to follow the people, rather than the source of their message.
With all the various denominations and fellowships within Christianity, it is all too easy for us to limit our perspective the the viewpoint of our own chosen group or Church. Christians then fall out on issues such as robes or candles instead of justice and righteousness. We must not forget that we are merely messengers of Jesus’ truth, proclaimers of Jesus’ way, demonstrators of Jesus’ life.
Whatever particular style of worship we hail from, we are all united in our live of Jesus. And this is the unity that Paul is reminding the Church in Corinth that they seem to have forgotten.
This is the unity that the psalmist spoke of in the Psalm we heard from earlier. This unity we speak of and yearn for is “ to live in the house of the Lord, all the days of my life”. Being in the house of the Lord means having a close relationship with him. So the unity we need is to stay close to God, to love our neighbour, and to love our enemy. (Because in the end our neighbour is anyone; which is why Jesus cautions us to love our enemy).
This unity, is the unity that Jesus himself spoke of in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before is death when he prayed in John 17:20, “ I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one – as you are in me, Father, and I am in you” Jesus is talking of course about the very unity that exists within the Holy Trinity. And it is this unity that God invites us into. Nothing less than for us to be part of His Unity. A unity that he has enjoyed since before the creation of the world, and yet our response more often than not is to reject God’s offer.
It may seem unbelievable that people would reject such an offer, but consider the history of humankind. We don’t even need to look outside the Old Testament to see a history steeped in bloodshed and division. In our lifetimes we have experienced a 20th Century replete with warfare, the heights of evil seen in the holocaust. An event that is remembered up and down the country in services today. The 21st Century continues in a similar vein with increasing radicalism in some of the world religions and an increasing antagonism towards Christianity from groups such as the radical atheist movement.
It seems then that in the 21st Century, we don’t appear to be so very different from our forebears in the 1st Century.
God, however continues to wait for us to respond to his invitation. He stands, yet, knocking at the door of your life, of our lives. How will you respond this morning? Jesus comes bearing gifts of life, of healing and of resurrection.
Come close to God today, accept his invitation to enter the door of heaven, to enter the door to paradise. Let him rule in your hearts today and every day, making a difference in your lives and in the lives of those around you.
For this we pray, In Jesus’ name