I presented this homily at University Lutheran Church in Seattle, WA on January 26, 2014. The texts were for the Third Sunday after Epiphany in Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary. This homily is centered on the Epistle, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18.
“I’m with Apollos”
“I’m with Cephas”
“I’m with Paul”
That was a long time ago right? How about these?
“I’m with Luther”
“I’m with Wesley”
“I’m with Calvin”
“I’m with Francis”
“I’m with Driscoll”
“I’m with Christ, but not with those Christians”
Today is Reconciling in Christ Sunday and we are celebrating the strides that have been made and praying for further strides in repairing relationships within the church and within the world with persons of all sexualities. In the little more than 4 years since the ELCA Churchwide Assembly passed the Social Statement on Human Sexuality and modified the rules for clergy to include clergy in same-gender relationships, our church has gone through many transitions. In this congregation, we have had our first same-sex wedding, and one of the men in that wedding is now in seminary and a candidate for ordination in the ELCA, neither of which could have happened 5 years ago.
I often find myself at the counter of a bar or tavern with my bible and a notebook. The first time I recall doing this was in a downtown Seattle Irish bar about 6 years ago. As I sat there reading scripture and thinking about the Sunday school lesson I was planning, a man about twenty years my senior sat down next to me and a conversation started. Eventually, he asked how I could believe in this book and be a Christian.
“How can you believe in the 7-day story of Creation and not in evolution?” he asked.
“Oh, I’m not one of those Christians” I responded.
How often have you said or thought something similar, be it in conversation, watching television, reading the news, or walking down the street?
Who are those Christians for you?
How do the non-Christians look upon us? Are we all those Christians? Is part of the Word for some, and part of the Word for others?
Perhaps we aren’t so different from the people of Corinth. After all, not all of the effects of that 2009 Assembly are joyous. Many congregations have left the ELCA in protest, feeling that the church has moved too far. Some of the Lutheran Churches in other parts of the world have cut ties, especially the Ethiopian church. Many of our Ecumenical partners, including some with whom we have Full Communion agreements, do not support marriage equality. Are they those Christians?
When Paul writes to the people of Corinth, the church there was in great discord, with people claiming allegiance to different human leaders, including Paul himself. They had lost sight of the Good News, just as it is so easy for us to lose sight of the Good News when aligning to our Christians versus those Christians.
Paul reminds us that who baptized whom, who said what, and even what they said do not matter as much as the proclamation of the Good News of Christ. Paul even says that the “clever words empty the cross of its meaning.”
I think Paul is a little near sighted there though. Paul is so focused on the coming of Christ and salvific work on the cross that he misses out on Christ’s Birth and Life. I assert that losing the Good News not only empties the Cross, but also the Birth and Life of Jesus. While we may talk about being “baptized into the death of Christ,” we are really baptized into the continuing life of Christ in the World and made part of all of the sisters and brothers in Christ throughout eternity. And in that unity, the Word does get proclaimed.
Many of you have probably seen the photographs of the Russian Orthodox priests in the Ukraine praying for peace in between the lines of protesters and police in Kiev this week. While there are doctrinal differences between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Russian Orthodox Church, and we do not share table fellowship with one another because of these differences, clearly those Christians are proclaiming the Word by simply being there.
As we continue to pray for the complete inclusion of all people in the body of Christ, we must be careful to continue to focus on the Gospel. We must be careful not to allow the people that oppose inclusion to become those Christians, just as we can be those Christians to them and the Body is fractured.
If we forget the promise of our baptism, that covenant that joins us to the complete body of Christ, not to Luther or Wesley or Calvin, but to all of the Body of Christ through the ages then we allow division in the body of Christ we make it all the harder for the light of Christ to be reflected into the world.
However, if we have the courage to proclaim the good news of love and peace and inclusion, then just imagine what could be. If we meet those Christians with love and grace, recognizing that we are not baptized into this Christianity or that Christianity, but into the disparate and divergent single family of Christ, then it could be possible to no longer be able to talk of those Christians and to truly reflect the light of Christ unto the world.
I’ve had many more conversations in bars since that first encounter, including one while I was studying the texts for today, and they still often include some variation of “I’m not one of those Christians.”
To stop clarifying that “I’m not one of those Christians” and to simply and earnestly proclaim “I’m with Christ” would be a beautiful thing. I pray that I may have the strength to do so, and I hope that you do too.
Amen and Amen