Is Christ Divided?

Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on October 11, 2009, the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost.  The text is I Corinthians 1:10-17.


Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.


In yesterday’s edition of the Free-Lance Star, there is a wonderful article on the 150th anniversary of Little Mine Road Baptist Church.  They quoted Martha Rollins who joined the church in 1926 and will be 88 next week.  She has been an usher since the mid 1970’s and doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon.  “When I took this job, I told God I wouldn’t take my hand off the plow,” she said.  “And I’m not going to sit down until God tells me to sit down.”  She added, “It makes me feel good to know that I have been in the house of the Lord so long.”  I like her spirit!


We have only been a congregation for 20 years, but many of us have this same kind of love for Resurrection.  We love the people and feel the presence of Christ.  We have experienced life’s sorrows and joys together.  We have no doubt that many in this surrounding community are being reached with the love of Jesus through the Resurrection Family.    We would hate to think that anything would bring harm to this congregation of people that we love so much. 


Folks, we are in an anxious time in our denomination and in our congregation.  Some of our members are really hurting over decisions made at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in August.  When you are in pain, you want relief as quickly as possible.  My fear is that in seeking the solution to easing the pain, some of our members may bring great harm to this congregation which we love so much.  How do we get folks to aim at the real target (in this case I think it is those who voted at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly) and not hurt Resurrection?



Let me tell you about the great Congregation Council we have here at Resurrection.  You elected these 9 men and women who really love this congregation.  Their personal feelings for the Churchwide Decisions are mixed.  Some like them, some do not.  But acting in their role as our responsible leadership, they put together a plan for helping the members of our congregation understand all the issues involved in the ELCA Churchwide Decisions.  In good Lutheran fashion, they asked God for direction.  They put together a plan that involves additional Bible Study and Prayer, and they scheduled Table Talks to listen to members’ concerns. They decided purposely to not make rush decisions about our congregation’s response.  And (here is a really wonderful part of the Council’s thinking), they decided that we move forward vigorously with the vital outreach ministries for Jesus we have and not let any anxiousness deter us.  These ministries include feeding the homeless, providing the Health Faire, continuing our daily preschool for three and four year olds.  In other words, our leaders really believe in the mission of Resurrection and want it to continue in vital ways.



What about Pastor Carol and me?  What are we doing?  We are trying to fulfill our call as your pastors to the best of our ability.  We know that there are no guarantees that we will continue to occupy this pulpit – that will be up to you if there is a vote to leave our denomination and to the Lord as he sees fit to guide that vote.  Our sense is that many of you love this congregation, want us all to be here, do not appreciate divisions, would like us to get on with being the loving group of people we have been for so many years.  So, what we are doing is preaching  the good news, leading  Bible Studies, conducting new member classes, visiting the sick, baptizing, marrying  and burying.  And trying to love all of you. 


Jesus and the apostle Paul give advice in scripture about divisions in the Body of Christ.  It would do us good to hear there words this morning.  I begin with Paul, writing to the Church at Corinth (I Corinthians 1:10-17):


I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.  My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.  What I mean is this:  One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”  Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Were you baptized into the name of Paul?  I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name.  (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.)  For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.


Paul is pretty straightforward in his words: Do not empty the cross of Christ of its power by having divisions in the Body of Christ!  Don’t divide Christ!  Be united in mind and thought.


Why is Paul so insistent that the Church be united and not divided?  Because the world knows of Jesus Christ through us.  We are his witnesses.  Why in the world would someone want to believe in Jesus and be a part of his Church if the witness of the church is division and fighting?  You can be so right in your words and so wrong in your actions…


Please notice that Paul does not talk about uniformity of thought, meaning everyone has to think exactly alike.  He is speaking here of unity, and unity is nearly always held in the midst of diversity.  In the Church we bring together many people out of many backgrounds with many likes and dislikes.  People bring a variety of gifts, something Paul commends as a positive ting for the Church.  We may emphasize different things, but when we put these all together, we are the richer for it. 


Bad can come out of diversity when some say their gift or emphasis or interest is more important than others.  What Paul does say is to keep before us the one center of our life together, Jesus Christ. 


Jesus was criticized often by the Pharisees and the teachers of the law while he was conducting his earthly ministry.  Luke tells us in 15:2, “But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  Some have said that they can only be in a denomination where everyone is in full agreement with how they interpret the Bible.  That to be sitting with someone who doesn’t agree with them would be displeasing to Jesus.  Luke’s reminder is that Jesus never considered it to be beneath him or sinful to be with others who may not be in total agreement on various Jewish laws.  This should set an example for us.  If I know what I believe and I know that I have a good  relationship with Jesus Christ, then I can worship and study and pray with people who may have a bit different interpretation of how to be a Christian. My relationship with Jesus and faith in him are not threatened.   That is a hallmark of our denomination.  That is why we can have altar and pulpit fellowship agreements with other denominations, such as the Presbyterians and United Methodists and Episcopalians. 


Resurrection People, we have a mission given to us by Jesus himself.  We are to do his will in this part of his kingdom.  When we are divided by divisions and strife, the task of serving Christ is hindered.


Jesus himself had something to say about unity.  In the Gospel of John we hear his “High Priestly Prayer” in the 17th chapter.  This is just before Jesus is arrested and the day before his crucifixion.  After praying for his disciples, Jesus prays for all of us:


My prayer is not for them alone.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.  I in them and you in me.  May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”


Back in October of the year 2000, Pastor Carol and I preached a trial sermon here at Resurrection.  Some of you were here.  One of the stories we told was about a Sunday School Class of 4 year-olds.  The teacher wanted them to learn about the Church by saying “Here is the church and here is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people.”  She was showing them the hand gestures when she realized that one of her little girls had a deformity and did not have a hand.  She sort of panicked but a little child did the most wonderful thing.  She put up her hand to the little girl’s hand and they together made the church.


That’s  what I believe about Resurrection.  What makes us strong for Christ is having all of us here.  We support each other.  What weakens Resurrection is when we do not work together, and what will really weaken Resurrection is having some say to others, “I cannot worship with you here because of how you think.”


Please, let’s not divide Christ.