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Epiphany 3A Sermon
1 Corinthians 1: 10-16,
Matthew 4: 12-23

January 22, 2017


Sermon Archives


May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

“Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” Really, Paul? Is this really possible? I mean, let’s consider the Christian church over these past 2,000 years. We started as a handful of fearful yet faithful outcasts. Somewhere about 300 years later, we became the accepted religion of the most powerful rulers of the world. This continued for a thousand or more years until the authority of our leaders was questioned, and the one, “Holy Catholic Church” has split into more and more denominations. Today, we have battles and fights over the meaning of Jesus and the Bible for our lives and even though some of us denominations have entered into, “full communion agreements,” more churches are splitting off every year. From the fights that Peter and Paul had over the inclusion of Gentiles in the faith to our current arguments over the interpretation of scripture in regards to the definition of marriage and the worship and music styles we adopt, it seems that there have always been disagreements and divisions among Christians in the world.

Speaking of Peter and Paul, they are important figures in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – a weeklong emphasis that Christians have been participating in for many years, which began last Wednesday and goes through this coming Wednesday. It always begins on January 18th when we commemorate a day called, “The Confession of Peter.” It is a day to read and remember the passage where Jesus asks his disciples who people say that he is, and then who do they say that he is, and Peter confesses, “You are the messiah, the son of the living God!” It always ends of the day entitled, “The Conversion of Paul,” when we consider his Damascus Road experience of being knocked off the horse, blinded, and called by Jesus to stop persecuting him and start witnessing to his love.
Bookending this week of unity with these two very different Christian leaders is intentional – they did not come from similar backgrounds. Peter was a fisherman from Galilee who Jesus told would fish for people in today’s Gospel lesson; Paul was a Pharisee who was overseer for the stoning of the first Christian martyr, Stephen, and carried the authority of the Jewish leaders to do the same to others who confessed Jesus as the messiah! Even after Paul’s conversion and welcome into the church they did not agree on everything. But, in Paul’s own words, they were unified in the same mind and the same purpose, and that was to proclaim the crucified Christ to the ends of the earth. Their passion for doing that might have occasionally brought them to words, but that same passion was what also guided the growth of the followers of Jesus in those years immediately following his earthly life, death, resurrection and ascension. And as we remember their ministries, we celebrate the unity that we share with our Christian brothers and sisters who are passionate about being disciples today, even if it is lived out in very different ways than we live out our passionate discipleship.

In this year of the 500th anniversary, the ELCA is seeking to live out this same mind and purpose that we have with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. To that end, I hope that we and the other ELCA congregations in Clintonville can put aside differences and resentments that have lingered for many years, and get together with our neighbors at Immaculate Conception and/or Our Lady of Peace for fellowship, prayer, Bible study and/or serving our community together in Jesus’ name. We may not yet be officially allowed to commune together, but we can do all sorts of other things which will lead us to focus more on our sameness than on our differences!

In this way I hope that the Christian church – especially the ELCA and Roman Catholic Churches – can lead the way for our entire nation. On Friday I had the television on as I FINALLY took down Christmas decorations in the house, and I witnessed what can only be described as amazing. Our nation is one of, if not the most powerful in the world. On Friday, the highest office in our land was handed over from one person to another whose style and vision of governing is vastly different, and it happened with no military actions or bloodshed. Even though the Obamas and Bidens will not be having dinner with the Trumps or Pences any time soon, they were of the same mind and recognize that for our country to survive, it is imperative that we stick with the blueprint of our constitution, and allow the next leaders an opportunity to lead.

Now, that doesn’t mean that there won’t be battles, much like Paul and Peter and other passionate people have had battles. Yesterday millions of people had peaceful marches in cities all over the nation to try to make their voices heard about the future of our country. To be sure, there were some demonstrations this last week which got violent, and we cannot condone those actions, but for the most part those who marched did so in peaceful, non-violent ways.

What are we to do, then, as we live in the tension of being of the same mind – whether as Christians or American citizens -and the fact that we can and do disagree with each other over the best way to live out our passions? I think it begins with prayer. We are to name in prayer our leaders, including President Trump, Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Bernie Sanders, and ask that God will direct them in their callings. We are to give thanks for the leadership that Barack Obama and Joe Biden gave to our country these last 8 years, and pray that God will guide and direct Donald Trump and Mike Pence to seek to govern with the whole nation in mind, seeking unity in the midst of increased fracturing of our nation.

And then, we are to lead by example. We are to seek out those people with whom we have historically disagreed – like Roman Catholics – and model the reconciliation that Paul encourages in his letter to the Corinthians. We are to allow the spirit to rekindle a passion in us for spreading the message of the cross so that our whole lives are one-long fishing trip … fishing for people, as Jesus promised that we would do when we follow him. We won’t always be able to do this – we are, after all, simultaneously saints and sinners; we fall short in this purpose every day. But when we acknowledge that the people with whom I agree and I are not as great or perfect as I would think, and the people with whom I disagree are not as bad as I would think – and that we are all children of God – then the Holy Spirit can get a foothold in to affect our church leaders and our government leaders into the ways that God wants us to live. Today we pray that God will bless the whole Christian church; and that God will bless all who lead and govern in our nation, so that we can live in peace and joy as God intends us to. May it be so, in the name of Christ our Lord; Amen.