All in the Family

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 12:12-27

Can you imagine a world in which everyone believed the same thing? Where there were no divisions in the world or our nation or our church? Where there were no Democrats or Republicans… no Occupy Wall Street or Tea Party? Where everyone agreed with you? Can you imagine a church where we all agreed on everything all the time? No conservatives or liberals… we were really “one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord?”

I think there are many people who dream of such a world (Utopia!) … if… and this is a big if (and this is the catch)… it is a world made up of people who think, act and believe the way I do!

I was thinking of that when I attended the second of three church conferences this year. For many reasons, I went on a sort of road trip this summer—on a journey to three church conferences as an observer. (I know what some of you are thinking—Maybe he needs to get a life!)

One sponsored by middle of the road Presbyterians who are trying to figure out how we overcome our divisions in the church, concerned about the future of the church… Another sponsored by Conservative Presbyterians who are concerned for the future of the church  our purity and some of the directions we are taking… and a third by the liberal or progressive Presbyterians also concerned about inclusiveness and for the future of the church.

At one of the conferences (and it doesn’t matter which one because the attitude seemed to be the same) one of the leaders said, “We are so glad to gather together as a group of like minded Christians.” And they quoted Philippians 2:2 where Paul says, “be of the same mind”. And the conference went on to discuss the issues of like minded people. They sounded so glad to be together among people who thought and believed the same thing.

I thought it was kind of sad. Another  group did the same thing in their own way. It was a conference of like minded people.

I was just an observer, but something within me wanted to shout out… “No… we have never been like minded in the way that you talk about it. The church has never been like minded and it would be a very sad thing if it become so.”

I would offer as a counter text the passages I read today from I Corinthians.

Yes, Paul urges them to be united of the same mind and the same purpose… but the last thing on his mind is that we divide the church into tribes of people who believe and think the same things. In fact, he sees this happening in the church in Corinth… he sees these divisions among like minded people—some say, “I belong to Paul’s group in the church” others say, “I am a member of the Apollos tribe…” others say, “I belong to Peter’s group”… all very likeminded groups, I’m sure.

To which I hear Paul almost explode in anger: “has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you?’ And then he goes on to almost disown them all.

For the same mind Paul is talking about… the likeness, Paul is talking about… is to be one in Jesus Christ… to have the same mind among us that was in Jesus Christ… that we find our unity in Christ. No where else and no one else.

We seem to have a very hard time hearing this. In some ways what Paul is trying to say is this: everyone belongs to this family of faith. All belong!I don’t care what positions you take on circumcision… or eating food to idols… or your stance on speaking in tongues… (those were the heated issues dividing them in their day)… we all belong in this family.

Somehow the church has never embraced this message very well. Back in 1922, Harry Emerson Fosdick—great preacher of his time, preaches a sermon called, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” 

And what are they fighting about?… the right interpretation and authority of scripture, differing views of the second coming and the virgin birth…the same old fights we are having today. Nothing has changed. Same old tribes: we just called fundamentalists and modernists back then.  1922.Back then, fundamentalists were attempting to throw people like Fosdick out of the church… they said, “We don’t have room in our church for people with your views. You don’t belong in our family.”

At the time, he was a Presbyterian… and he was brought up on charges so they could kick him out of the church. Believe it or not, he (a modernist)  resigned and became a Baptist minister- the founding pastor of one of the most prestigious churches in New York City—the Riverside Church.

Presbyterians said, “We don’t have room for you in our family.” It is very sad. We lost Fosdick… the one who wrote extensively on prayer… the one who wrote hymns…Funny thing about that.  Today…I’m glad to tell you that we are glad to re-claim him– we lift him up… today both liberals and conservatives sing his hymn: “God of Grace and God of Glory”…  Maybe time does heal.

But how sad. He felt he was being forced out of our Presbyterian family.

This year at one of the conferences I listened as some of my conservative brothers and sisters struggle with the question, “Shall we stay in the Presbyterian Church (USA) family?”

I believe many, if not most who struggle want to stay and are trying to find a way to do so with integrity. Others, a smaller group are ready to bolt and to be among a more like minded group of Presbyterians. They are ready to leave our family for another family.

Which I think would make Paul said… if not mad… “Is Christ divided?” he might ask us…

But then, after he calmed down, he might offer us a beautiful image that he shared with those divided Christians in Corinth… this image of the Body of Christ…He would want to remind us that if you really want to understand what it means to be a Christian, to love God and to belong to a member of the family of faith… you first need to understand this:

First, God is going to throw you in with a pile of people. Some you will like, some you won’t. Some will believe what you do and some won’t.[1]

And that is hard to accept for some people. For some, it is easier to worship God alone—to go to Starbucks and read your paper… but that is too easy, there is no one there to aggravate you except yourself! Or maybe you want to find that church where everyone believes what you do.

Never does Paul suggest removing yourself from the body of Christ as an answer to conflict. Instead he suggests that God will throw you in with a bucket of people who aren’t going to be like you … and in that bucket you will discover something amazing: you will discover the incarnational graced of Jesus Christ.

What Paul is trying to do is to get us to see beyond our ideologies… our tribes of like minded people… to see what matters most: our relationships. The church is about relationships… The church is about belonging to one another… about remembering that Christ has called us to live with one another.

Which was no easy thing for that Corinthian church. My friend Steve Eason points out that the church was a mess. There were the divisions… leaders arguing… sexual immorality (man living with father’s wife)… lawsuits… pride and arrogance over whose spiritual gifts were the real ones…  Wouldn’t you love to attend their congregational meetings?! These people were riff – raff. Have you heard how Paul describes them:  “Fornicators, idolaters, drunkards, and revelers… will not inherit the kingdom of God…”This is what some of YOU used to be… That’s who made up the early church. They came into the church from the streets… they weren’t raised in Sunday school… and Paul is trying to make a church out of them… a family of faith… and what does Paul talk about? Relationships.

It is interesting what Paul doesn’t say: we need an operational budget or manual … we need a good building… we need a staff model and mission and a long range plan… we need these programs…No when Paul talks about forming a church… he says, it is like a body… Everyone needs everyone else… (You don’t lose your individuality)… but we need everyone else. You don’t have to be alike… in fact it would be a bad thing if we were all alike…we need diversity… we need each other…

Which is why some of our best moments of church come when we worship together or are in ministry together… in baptisms… confirmations… weddings… funerals… when we pray for each other in the hospital… when we share our passion for nurturing youth and children… when we join together in mission. Have you ever noticed that mission is one of those ministries that seems to bring people together?— Habitat for Humanity… At Stop Hunger Now yesterday we didn’t stop and ask what you believe… we just were all in it together!

Why are those some of our best moments? Because in the end, the church is about relationships… It is about realizing that being of one mind is about being of one mind in Christ…being one body of Christ.

Maybe the church needs to be reminded of this every once in a while. Maybe we need to hear Paul say to us, “You are connected! Stop dividing yourselves along the old lines of liberal and conservative… or based on what side you take on this issue or that… Stop chewing each other up—who wants to join the church that looks like that—nobody! Clean up your act… Act like a body. Act like you care about each other… “

It’s about tolerance, mutual forbearance and flexibility… it is about being together and being different and being united. It is about celebrating the fact that it is good that everyone is not like you or me… it is a good thing we don’t all think in the same way or have the same mind (except when it comes to Christ)… It is about celebrating unity among the diversity in our midst.

You know, as I think about those three conferences I attended, I came back sad, but also hopeful. For do you know what I also discovered?

We actually agree on far more than we realize in the church. At every conference, we lifted up Christ as the source of our life and our hope… At every conference the leaders spoke about needing to start new churches and grow in mission…

At every conference we worshipped and praised God… At every conference we studied the scriptures.

And what I would want to say to leaders in all three conferences is something like this:  “We really are not as far apart as you think. It is your fear… maybe it is even the devil that is creating that perception in you. Truth is… there is so much more we share than you realize. We need each other. We are family to each other … and the head of the family is Christ.”

The Kirk, is a family like that to me. I hope it is for you. I’m so grateful for you- especially in a divided and polarized world.  You manage the diversity so well. Often when I talk about the Kirk—I talk about our diversity ( like a bell curve)… and I tell people we have our liberals and our conservatives and everyone in between. I love that about us.

I love even more the fact that we care about each other beyond those labels… that somewhere deep in our spiritual DNA—we know… we really know what is important: that Christ has gathered us here… that together we are his body— all in the family… a family rooted in love for God and for one another. I think that as long as we can remember that, we will be blessed… and we will be wonderful witness for Jesus Christ. Amen.  

[1] Thanks to Steve Eason, Myers Park Presbyterian, for these insights  in this section regarding the Body of Christ – about relationships and being thrown in with a pile of people!


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