Sermon January 27, 2019 Rev. Ginny Smith
I Corinthians 13:1-13
THE CHALLENGE OF INCLUSION
Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Ginny Smith
Corinth in Paul’s day was much like Chicago, New York City, and Toronto in our day. It was a large urban center teeming with diverse groups of people. There was racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity.
The apostle Paul had gone to this metropolis to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ.
And the result of his missionary activity was a church, a congregation as diverse as Corinth itself. And this presented problems, problems that caused the breakdown of the church community with one faction fighting another.
People of diverse economic, cultural, and religious backgrounds were brought into relationship with one another through their common faith in Jesus Christ. And so the question became how would they relate to one another? How would they live in community?
Diversity can raise tremendous anxiety in any group, but churches can be especially
vulnerable. Our religious beliefs are at the very core of who we are. They form the basis for what we value, how we will live. They define who we are. If someone holds different beliefs or wants to do something that is different from which we are accustomed, we become anxious and fearful that if “the other” is included then we will be excluded.
As a pastor, Paul was worried, Paul was concerned. Here were all these new Christians
hungry to learn about Jesus wanting to grow in the faith and the bickering and pettiness were preventing them from deepening their spiritual lives and serving others. And so they contact Paul and he writes back to them, addressing their anxiety about the situation.
“It’s important that you realize you are the body of Christ. Each one of you has your own special gifts given by the Holy Spirit to be used for the building up of Christ’s body. No one is to deny anyone else the opportunity to use their gifts. Every person’s gift is necessary for the church as Christ’s Body to be complete.”
No one is to be excluded. All are to be included. And in this lies a challenge for all of us who profess to be Christ’s disciples. It is the CHALLENGE OF INCLUSION.
It was the challenge that the Corinthians faced as in their fear and anxiety they argued over people who didn’t speak in tongues. I Corinthians wasn’t written for weddings, although it’s read in just about every wedding I’ve been to. Paul wrote this letter because the church in Corinth was saying that people had to speak in tongues to be a part of the Christian community.
It was the challenge faced by the Jews who in their fear and anxiety were having difficulty accepting the Gentile widow and Gentile Naaman who was healed of leprosy. It was the challenge that the Religious leaders and people in Jesus’ hometown faced as in their fear and anxiety they drove Jesus out of town. It’s a challenge today wherever Christ’s Church is found.
Being inclusive is difficult. It is much easier to be with people whom we perceive are like us, whoever that “us” might be. In the Body of Christ, inclusiveness is essential if the church is to be faithful and move ahead in ministry for the glory of God.
Every human being is a unique creation of God. Paul knew this and Paul knew with so much diversity there were bound to be disagreements. And so he makes it very clear that Christian love is what holds the body of Christ together.
Frederick Buechner is his book Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC defines love this way. “In the Christian sense, love is not primarily and emotion but an act of the will. When Jesus tells us to love our neighbors, he is telling us to love them in the sense of responding to them with a cozy emotional feeling… On the contrary, he is telling us to love our neighbors in the sense of being willing to work for their well-being even if it means sacrificing our own well-being in the end. . . “
A loving relationship is to connect people to one another in any congregation, in any setting where Christians gather. Not the warm cozy type, although that might be a part of it,
but a love that pulls us out of our own ego needs. Remember what “ego” stands for? “Edging God Out.
The agape love that Paul is talking about can bind us together because agape love is powerful. Agape love is powerful because it has its origin in God and because love has its origin in God, it brings a sense of completeness to the various gifts members of Christ’s Body possess.
Love has the power to put aside self-interest so that we can work for the well-being of the person and, ultimately, the well-being of the entire church and God’s reign in the world.
During the 2-1/2 years I served as volunteer chaplain at what was Community General
Hospital, this biblical assertion became clearer and clearer to me. The healing process, whether it is physical or emotional, the healing of a bone fraction, or the acceptance that death is near,
Is not solely dependent on the doctor’s medical knowledge and expertise. It is just as dependent on the physician’s ability to love the patient, to seek the patient’s well-being.
I personally experienced this when I had throat surgery in Chicago. My ear, nose, and throat specialist, Dr. Griffith Hsu, offered me the most wonderful gift. Since he knew that I was a Presbyterian minister, we conversations about Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago. So, the day of my surgery, as I was waiting to be taken into the operating room, he asked if he could pray with me. It was amazing! He prayed that God would use him as God’s instrument of healing and he placed both of us in God’s care.
It is equally true for us as we serve Christ’s Church and use the spiritual gifts God has
given us. It is important to recognize that being intentional in seeking the well-being of others springs from a unique self-awareness – from seeing ourselves as loved deeply by God and seeing others as loved children of God as well.
When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment, he
told the questioner: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your strength and with all your mind . . . You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The church as the Body of Christ cannot be held together until each of us
owns the fact that we ourselves are lavishly loved by God who is always with us. I love a counted cross stitch piece that my mother made for me. “If you feel far from God, who moved?”
Otherwise, new ideas and different ways of doing things cause anxiety and fear rather than being seek as opportunities to extend Christ’s ministry to places and people where it has never gone before.
When we don’t love ourselves, we can’t love others because we have no love to give. Lives lived in continual anxiety, churches that live in continual anxiety, have great difficulty responding in faith and love. We end up being negative, cynical, sarcastic, angry, controlling, resentful, and revengeful people. It happened in churches in Paul’s day. It can happen in churches today, and perhaps even in this one.
So what do we do? In I John 4:18 we read this: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love casts our fear.” And that perfect love is expressed in Jesus Christ himself. When Jesus Christ is Lord of our lives, we can affirm the person God created us to be and God’s love can work in us and through us.
The bottom line is that THE LOVE THAT JESUS MODELS AND THE LOVE OF WHICH PAUL SPEAKS IS A WAY OF ACTING. Love doesn’t insist on its own way. It cooperates with other members of the body. Love is being at peace with God and ourselves and what we value and hold dear. Then we can hear others and what they have to say and then seeing that somehow, some way, through our loving, respectful, conversations we just might come closer to God’s way of being Christ’s Church and giving ourselves for the well-being of others.