6th Sunday after Epiphany – Year A  – 1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Τhe Word This Week:

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Well good morning again everyone.  Today we are going to be continuing our focus on Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth.  Today we are focussing on verses 1-9 of chapter 3 and Paul’s call to the church in Corinth to turn back to Jesus, rather than caving into the call of the world.  Before we begin looking too closely at this chapter though I think it is important that we recap what we learnt in our readings from the last few weeks exploration of chapter one. 

To recap Paul wrote this letter to the church in Corinth in around the year 54AD while he was in Ephesus on his third missionary journey.  Corinth was the capital of the Roman province of Achaea.  You will remember that the letter was written to this church because Paul had received reports that the church in Corinth was suffering under factionalism and placing great emphasis on the gifts certain members had over others. Others claimed superior knowledge and wisdom. While others were living immoral lives while still claiming membership of the church.

You will recall we read in our first week about Paul setting out who the Corinthians were in the eyes of God, and emphasising that though their knowledge and gifts are wonderful things they are all from God.   They enable us to see that we are called into a whole body of believers, that we are set apart – sanctified by God, that the spiritual gifts we have are from God, that our knowledge and abilities in the faith are from God.  Paul wanted them to understand the great truth that it is God at work in us that redeems us – that it is God’s grace – his unmerited, or unearned favour towards us that is what saves us. 

Having set the scene for his letter to the Corinthian Church by letting them know that it is God who is at work in them, and their salvation, their knowledge and their gifts are all from God, that they are all one body – Paul moved into discussing factionalism and division in the church.

Paul called the church to unity, to be of one mind. Now remember Paul  when he says that we as the church should all be of one mind wasn’t calling us to blind faith or conformity – rather he was calling the church to focus on the core thing – the Gospel. He was also emphasising that what we do and how we behave matters and effects how we are able to promote that Gospel.
Remember he also gave us that model of evangelism – that being straight forward and honest about the Gospel without embellishment and without compromise.

Then we focussed heavily on how the cross of Christ is foolishness to the world.  We focussed on how it is through that cross we are reconciled to God.  That it is at the cross where the consequences for our sins are dealt with.  It is at the cross where God incarnate says – even though you may think it is foolish, here I show you my love, here I do what I must to bring us back together.  It is at the cross that the bill we owe is paid.

Last week in chapter 2 Paul continued talking to the church in Corinth about how the Gospel does not conform to the wisdom of the world.  In the opening five verses of our reading today Paul continued to explain to the them how he didn’t come to them trying to appear wise and distinguished – he didn’t come to them trying to look and sound like someone who would be deemed respectable by the standards of the world – rather he came to them from a place of weakness – with a story that would seem implausible to them. 

Then he explained to us that it is through the spirit that we begin to fully understand what God has done for us.  It is through God’s Spirit working through us and guiding us that we begin to comprehend the magnificence of what God has achieved. 
Through opening ourselves up – being willing to hear God’s call, we begin to understand that what seems like foolishness to the powers of this world – is actually the very thing that will overthrow them.  When we are willing focus on what God’s spirit leads us to – we find ourselves drawn into an understanding of God that is astonishing. 

Then we also learnt that God never stops calling us.  He never gives up– it is not to late, for anyone – He is there waiting for us – all we need do is turn back to him. 

That’s what Paul is really asking the Church to do in our reading from today – to turn back to God.  We begin by Paul continuing where he left off at the end of chapter 2.  He had just finished talking about how those who are spiritual are able to comprehend the true wisdom of God – and receive the gifts of God (including salvation).  Those who are not spiritual can’t.  We focussed on this last week and how Paul was trying to help them understand that the Spirit is there ready to guide them – but they must be open to the Spirit’s guiding.

So it is pretty powerful that he started the reading today by saying: And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.  I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?
Wow.  So after having explained to them that Christians are ones who are spiritual, and open to the wisdom of God. Paul moves to saying – so that’s why I had to speak to you guys not as spiritual people – (here he is referring to when he evangelised them and introduced them to the Gospel) but then he hits them where it hurts and says- guess what – nothing has changed – you are still mere infants in the faith – you don’t appear to have grown at all. Look at you fighting amongst yourselves – you are getting caught up in the trivialities – you are getting caught up in what the wider world tells you is important rather than actually allowing yourselves to be lead by the spirit to growth, and understanding.

Paul is giving them a good wake up call here – and it is a strong contrast to how he opened the letter – where he was saying how good it was that the church had gifts, and knowledge and wisdom – all of which are from God.  Here though he gfives them a reality check and says – well guys actually, whilst you have been bragging and arguing amongst each other about who is the superior one with the most oif these gifts and wisdom – the truth is you are merely infants, you haven’t even progressed past milk to getting into the solid food of God’s knowledge and wisdom.

Then he explains what the greatest example of this is: For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul’, and another, ‘I belong to Apollos’, are you not merely human?  What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.  The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labour of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

You see the greatest example that the Corinthian Church is still in its infancy in terms of its understanding of God is that its members are elevating Paul and Apollos and arguing over who is greater through association with each of them.  Paul responds by saying what are doing?

You see the Corinthians have made Paul and Apollos idols – they have forgotten that they are merely servants in God’s Kingdom, who preach and teach – but it is not preachers and priests and bishops who save you, it is not the preachers greatness which redeems you! The preacher is just a servant in the kingdom – merely a messenger – it is God who saves us!

It is God who came to earth as a human being and showed us how to live a life of love, care and compassion.

It is God who came and died on the cross and took the consequence of our sin.

It is God who rose from death and destroyed its hold on us.

Brothers and sisters, just like the church in Corinth 2000 years ago – we need to identify the idols in our lives that get in the way of our relationship with God.  For us it may not be arguing about who we are associated with – it may well be thst we are instead putting money as our idol above God, or perhaps it is our sports team, or our reputation or popularity.  There are many many things that we are tempted to put at the forefront of our lives – that we are willing to push God to the side for. 
What we are called to do is to examine our relationship with God, to examine our priorities in life and ask ourselves the question – If St Paul was writing to us would he be telling us that like the church in Corinth we are still mere infants – still so focussed on human desires that we have pushed God to the side? 

Or would he write to us and commend us for how we model our lives after Jesus? Would he commend our love and compassion for each other and those around us? Would he speak of our willingness to share with others the Gospel of salvation?
These are the things we are called to brothers and sisters – and like the Corinthian church was 2000 years ago, we are being called to renew our faith and renew our commitment, so that we truly are ambassadors of the incredible love and hope that comes through Jesus.  Lets walk bravely forward not as infants, but as men and women in the faith, boldly living out the Gospel message through our actions and our words.
The Lord be with you.

Sunday 24 January 2016 – Jesus goes home



The Word This Week:

Thoughts on the Word:

Today as we gather in 21st century Australia in an Anglican church with our own particular customs and practices and where most of us have had little to no experience of Jewish customs and practices it can be difficult to understand the context of much of what we read in the scriptures – especially in the case of todays Gospel narrative of Jesus reading and preaching in the synagogue.   So lets set the scene.
In first century Jewish synagogues the service generally consisted of prayers, readings from the law, and prophets and then a sermon – the leader of the service would stand whilst praying and reading, but would be seated to preach.  Any competent person present could be asked to take part.  The first reading from the law was a set reading, but the reader of the second reading ad much more leeway in what they chose to read.
Jesus chose to read from the prophet Isaiah quoting from Chapter 61 verses 1 and 2.  Then he says something really significant – “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”[1]  Now we must understand that this account given of Jesus sermon or address is a summary – Jesus no doubt would have said much more than this – But Luke wants us to understand something important here – Jesus is not some upstart pretend messiah  – of which there were many. 
Jesus claimed for himself the promises of the Jewish canon of scripture – he claimed the title of the promised messiah and redeemer of Israel.    Now if we were to read on a little further we would find that what Jesus had to say to the people of Nazareth wasn’t well received and they tried to kill him by throwing him off a cliff side.
They do this because Jesus points out to them that he, just like the profits of old will be rejected – but this won’t stop him fulfilling the purpose that God has for him.  He points them to Elijah and Elisha you see, ‘Elijah was sent to help a widow—but not a Jewish one. Elisha healed one solitary leper—and the leper was the commander of the enemy army.’[2]
You see what Jesus did was point out to them that God will work to rescue people whether they were Jews or gentiles  – God wouldn’t be held back from his work of salvation by the failures or unbelief of the Jews and neither would Jesus.
Jesus was being clear that whether they accepted him or not he is the promised one – he is the Messiah who has come to redeem the world. He truly has come to bring good news to the poor… to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free.[3]
We in this country who enjoy incredible wealth, and freedom relative to the majority of the world often think only of those ‘others’ when we think of Jesus coming to proclaim release to captives, good news to the poor… but the truth is that we, each and every one of us are captives to sin, if we have not placed our faith in Christ. 
The truth is that each and every one of us is blinded by the temptations of this world, that each and every one of us suffers under the oppression of separation from God through sin.  You see that is truly the message of Jesus – that all of us, each and every one of us needs this Messiah.  Each of us is broken, each of us struggles with our own temptations and failings – and yet Jesus comes to offer us hope.
The Good News that Jesus came to bring to the poor is for us, the Good News is that though we are weak, he is strong; though we fail, he succeeds.  Though we are worthy to suffer the wages of sin – though we deserve the consequences of our own actions, which offend against the very one who give us life – The Good news is that he came to earth as one of us, and took the consequence of sin upon himself – Jesus bore our sin, our offences in his own body on the cross – he conquered death through his resurrection so that we might live. 
So then… we know that Jesus sermon in the synagogue was more than just a regular word of encouragement; we know that it points us to the truth of who he is and what he has done for us.  But what are we to do with it?  How does it apply to us now – a group of people living in 21st century West Wyalong…  
Well the first thing we need to do is give thanks to God.  We need to give thanks that we live in freedom, we need to give thanks that when we are sick we have free high quality medical care in hospital, we need to give thanks that, if we can’t find work we can get support.  We have much to be thankful for as we live in this country.
Above all these material things however, we need to give thanks that we have been welcomed into Gods family through the redeeming work of Christ.  Above all else we need to give thanks that even though we are all sinners, God so loves us that he was willing to save us through sacrificing himself.  We need to give thanks that he conquered death so that we might live.  
We who have been called into a communion of believers, into the body of Christ as his church on earth are called to do more than give thanks though.  We are called each one of us to serve each other and those around us using the gifts which the Holy Spirit has given us.  St Paul in our reading from 1st Corinthians tells us that we are one body with many gifts – and these all come from the spirit. 
We are called as Christ’s body to utilise our God given gifts and talents to help share the good news which we have heard.  To bring love hope and comfort to the poor, the captives and the blind.
We are called to take on the mission that Jesus laid down for us, we are called as his body to show the world, to bring others to know this good news.  
So my brothers and sisters as we commence a new year, as we give thanks for the freedoms and privilege we enjoy in our country, lets commit to remembering that the greatest freedom we have has been granted to us by Christ, lets commit to being a body of believers that helps others to come to know of their need for salvation – and gives them the good news that forgiveness and redemption is available. 
Lets be a church that brings good news to the poor. that brings sight to the blind, proclaims release to the captives and lets the oppressed go free.
The Lord be with you.

[1] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Lk 4:21). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[2] Wright, T. (2004). Luke for Everyone (p. 47). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

[3] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Lk 4:18). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.