Sunday, January 22, 2017

Love Wins!

This message was originally preached on January 22, 2017, at the Mount Pleasant Reformed United Church of Christ at the 11:00 a.m service. The audio can be heard here.

The longer I live, the more I realize that when it comes to people, they always want to be right.

If you don’t believe, me, from September until January, there are some homes that are split in half over football games, and that is very apparent in this area. One person in the house is a Washington Redskins fan, and the other is a Dallas Cowboys fan. A personal note here, the Cowboys fan is right. In other households, one spouse is a Pittsburgh Steelers fan and the other is a Baltimore Ravens fan, and these divisions cause much consternation in the home, and a friendly rivalry exists, but there is still some love there.

 The longer I live, the more I realize that people always want to be right. If you don’t believe me, look at the political situation in our country this very day. Two days ago, many people descended on Washington, DC to inaugurate a new president in the United States, and a day later, many people descended on Washington, DC to protest the inauguration of the new president in the United States. In many neighborhoods in this country, these divisions over the new president’s positions, policies, and practices are causing people to look at each other with suspicion and if we are honest, leading some to reconsider their relationships with people they have lived next door to, played golf with, shared recipes with, and in some instances, actually lived with.

 And I would be remiss in my duties as your pastor if I did not mention that, even in our churches this morning, there is a great division over this same event. There are people who are reconsidering their relationships with people they’ve sat next to, played golf with, shared recipes with, and in some instances, actually lived with, over the election. There is a great division in this country, and if we are honest, rightly so, because of some beliefs about rights and positions on social issues.

And if we are going to really honest thins morning, these divisions  will remain for the foreseeable future, as many of them are based on how people see other people, in their humanity. The longer I live, I tell you, the more I realize that people want to be right, and this is made very evident in this morning’s text from Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. If we look at the city of Corinth, we will find that it looks suspiciously like our country this morning, according to Fordham University’s Laurence Welborn, professor of Biblical Studies and Pauline Epistles.

He says it this way: “Paul’s Corinth was a Roman city, was diverse, and included Syrians and Egyptians, along with Greeks who had immigrated from the surrounding cities. Philo speaks of a sizeable Jewish community in Corinth, and the city regained it’s ancient prosperity based on its favorable location. Sharp contrasts between rich and poor were apparent in this flourishing commercial center, but opportunities for social advancement also existed; even freedmen held civic office, something uncommon elsewhere.” Corinth sounds like our country today, and, in the midst of all of those social divisions, there were divisions in, all of places, the Corinthian church.

Paul describes the situation in the church in terms like those used by political orators to characterize conflicts within city-states of the day, and if we examine the text closely, Paul appeals for the church to be in agreement and to be united in the same mind and the same purpose echoes the language of speeches on accord. Paul talks to the people in language they understand in an effort to get the people to get rid of their divisions.

Look at the text: Paul tells the people that he has received reports that there are quarrels – divisions – among the people: “Chloe’s people have reported this, and you are dividing yourselves into factions. Each one of you are are trying to show that you are right. “I belong to Paul. I belong to Apollos. I belong to Cephas. I belong to Christ!” These divisions are splitting the church. And a note – “I belong to Christ” was not indictive of a “Christ Party” as it were, but to be used as satire.

But there are these divisions. Paul asks “Has Christ been divided? Did Paul die for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” And then he drops this nutritional nugget – “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to proclaim the Gospel. And, not only did he send me to proclaim the gospel, but to do it simply, so that the cross of Christ might not lose its power.” And that right there, was divisive within Paul himself. Remember that Paul was an orator – he was a lawyer, he was a Pharisee. He was used to speaking with power and his words had impact. I am sure that as a public speaker, he knew how to move the people with his rhetoric.

Sounds like today. We have public speakers who know how to make wonderful speeches, saying a whole lot of nothing, which excites the people and keeps divisions going, but say nothing. But back to Paul. Paul then ends this portion of the letter with this theological explosion: “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” What? Glad you are as confused as me, and I am sure, the listeners of the day. So, let me help you out a bit. This “foolishness”, as it were, is not the right word to use – these folks look at the gospel as “folly” or “a vulgar joke”.

I still maintain that if one if going to talk about Christ and the message He proclaimed, one must talk about things HE talked about. Jesus talked about the poor, and the sick, and the downtrodden. However, let’s be honest – we don’t want to talk about those things, especially today. We see these things, but don’t want to talk about them. Let’s not talk about the poor, because if they work harder, they would not be poor. Let’s not talk about healthcare, because if people took better care of themselves, they wouldn’t be sick. Let’s not talk about global warming, because we all know it’s a hoax, despite what we actually see and record. We don’t want to talk about that stuff, because it does not impact us. It does not make us feel good, It would actually mean we have to think about someone outside of our own immediate circle of family and friends.

 Yes, to the educated, the learned, the rich and the powerful, Paul’s preaching the cross of Christ is foolishness, for to those being saved, it is the power of God. How can that be? It just is. What do you mean Guy? I am glad you asked. The message of the cross, for me, is that love wins. In spite of the things that divide us, and some of those things are deep and foundational, the cross shows us that love wins. That’s foolishness – a dead messiah? How is that possible? It is. Love wins. I know that we are divided among race, gender, socioecomic, and political lines. Yes. Love wins. That’s foolishness, even to some of us who call ourselves preachers of the Gospel.

I know that “love wins” seems to be simplistic and na├»ve. But for me, THAT is the message of the Cross. I know that the execution of Jesus was a political act, mean to scare the people into submission, but in the midst of it, Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice shows that true love is to lay down one’s life for a friend. That’s foolishness. But that’s love. Love wins, in spite of everything else going on in the world, in spite of all of the foolishness and competitions and distractions, love wins.

50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King said the following in his annual report to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear. And I'm not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I'm talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate. I've seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South. I've seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens Councilors in the South to want to hate, myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities, and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love.”

So my friends, love wins. Despite divisions and distractions, love wins. Despite evidence to the contrary, love wins. And in order for love to truly win in the face of hate, WE must be the one to show that love wins. I can’t control other people’s actions, but I can show love.

YOU can’t control other people’s reactions, but you can show love. I know that sounds foolish and simplistic, but it’s true. Love wins.

Amen.

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