To Whom Do You Belong?

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Preached at the Ecumenical Lenten Lunch Series – Tifton, Georgia

1 Corinthians 1:10-18

 

“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.” [1]

For our reflection today
I want to focus on what, for many of us,
will seem like an elementary question.

It’s a single question,
a simple question.
But as we just heard
in what Paul wrote to the Corinthians,
it’s a crucial question:

To whom do you belong?

As we who are from many churches
gather for lunch in one another’s company and care,
the question “to whom do you belong?”
bears far reaching implications.

*   *   *

I love reading the Apostle Paul
because despite the fact
that two-thousand years have passed
between us and him,
the problems he had back then
are the same problems we have today.
Some things just don’t change,
and it’s nice to be able
to turn to an old pro
for wisdom and advice.

He starts off this letter to the Corinthians
with all the best greetings and niceties, [2]
but before you know it
he takes a sudden turn and says,
“Alright y’all. Come on.
Chloe’s been calling me—
and you know how Chloe can be—
and she says you’ve been
fussin’, fightin’, and bickerin’
about who’s best and who’s not,
who’s in and who’s out,
and who was baptized by whom . . .
and dadgumit, we don’t have time for that!” [3]
(This, of course, is from the FLPT:
Father Lonnie’s Paraphrased Translation.)

But in all seriousness,
he says, “Look.
I beseech you.
I implore you.
I appeal to you.
Give up your divisions
and . . . be . . . one.” [4]

The thing about
beseeching, imploring, and appealing:
they’re always more than a recommendation,
but they’re never quite a demand.

That’s because
as much as Paul desires Christian unity,
he knows it’s not something
he can “demand” into being.
Christian unity is about love,
and love is always a choice.

The problem here is that the Christians in Corinth
have forgotten to choose
to love one another,
and thus they have fallen
into factions and cliques.

“I belong to Paul,”
“I belong to Apollos”
“I belong to Peter,” they say. [5]

They’re finding their identity
not in the Savior of their souls,
but in the pastors they prefer.

The good news for us
is that as I’ve lived here in Tifton
and conversed with folks like you
for nearly ten years,
I’ve never heard anyone say,
“I belong to Wayne,” or
“I belong to Benjy,” or
“I belong to Chris,” or
“I belong to Lonnie.”
(Thanks be to God.)

But oh how frequently we do say,
“I belong to First Baptist” or
“I belong to First Methodist,” or
“I belong to Beulah Hill,” or
“I belong to St. Anne’s.”

To be clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong
with finding joy in those connections.
Later in 1 Corinthians Paul will lift up
the diversity of gifts and ministries
as a blessing from God. [6]

But when we forget the source—
when our joy in these relationships turns
to pride, or hubris, or any sense of competition—
that’s the moment when we
have forgotten to choose
to love one another.
That’s when we’ve forgotten
the point of the Cross.
That’s when we’ve forgotten
to whom we belong.

*   *   *

This Easter at our church,
we’re going to baptize a number of people
who have found the Christian faith
through our little part of the Body of Christ,
and of course, we’re excited about that.

You might not know this,
but on Easter morning at St. Anne’s,
we do our baptisms by immersion.

(Yep. Episcopalians and immersion. It does happen.
Normally we sprinkle, but on the day of our Lord’s resurrection,
we at St. Anne’s just sort of figure, “Go big or go home.”)

Because we don’t have a baptistery in our church,
we set up what amounts to a glorified water trough
outside on the sidewalk
just in front of the church doors.

A couple years ago, I thought,
“I wonder what this is like
for those who get baptized this way,”
so late on Holy Saturday
before we filled it with water,
I climbed into the trough
and imagined what it would be like.

As I sat there, I looked around
and saw the beauty of our grounds,
our old historic chapel,
our towering sanctuary,
and envisioned the faces of all those
who would be gathered around.

But when I laid down,
you know what happened?
As I went lower and lower,
the horizon of that trough
went higher and higher,
and all the things of this world
fell out of view.

As I laid down in that grave-like basin,
I looked up, and the only thing I could see—
towering high atop our steeple—
was the Cross of Christ.

It was there as if to say on our Lord’s behalf,
“This is all that matters.
You who die to self in this watery grave,
I am your salvation.
Be raised up, and live life anew.
From this day forward,
you belong to me.”

*   *   *

Not too long ago,
someone preparing to be baptized at St. Anne’s said,
“I’m so excited to be baptized an Episcopalian.”

I threw the breaks on that real quick
and said, “Oh honey, no no no no no!
Yes, you’re being baptized
at an Episcopal church
by an Episcopal priest
using the time-tested prayers
of the Episcopal prayer book.
But you better believe that
when you go down into that water,
when you are buried with Christ in his death,
when you are raised up in newness of life,
you are not being born again into St. Anne’s Episcopal Church.
You are not being born again into First Baptist, First Methodist, or Beulah Hill.
You are not being born again into any single congregation.
You are being born again into the
life-changing,
all-embracing,
never-failing,
irrevocable love
of the Lord Jesus Christ . . .
and don’t you ever forget that.”

As the old spiritual goes, it’s not,
“I have decided to be an Episcopalian.
I have decided to be a Lutheran.
I have decided to be a Baptist.
No turning back. No turning back.”

It’s simpler and better:
“I have decided to follow Jesus.
I have decided to follow Jesus.
I have decided to follow Jesus.
No turning back. No turning back.”

And the best part of all?
Before we ever decided on him,
he decided on us.

*   *   *

So as we rejoice on this day
in both our friendships and our differences,
let’s face it:
the world is in a heap of disagreement,
the worst many of us have ever seen in our lifetime.
But like Paul and the Corinthians,
we don’t have time for that.

While there’s so much that can divide us—
our politics, our doctrinal beliefs,
our preferred patterns for worship and prayer—
the one thing we can all agree on in this room
is that we belong to Jesus . . .
he who made the love of God real for us
in the glory of the Cross.

And if we belong to Jesus,
then, by God, we belong to each other.
Let us never forget, then,
to choose to love one another.

Then maybe, just maybe
the love we share in Christ
will be so contagious
that others in our waiting, hungry, hurting world,
will look upon us and say,
“See how they love one another.
Lord God, give me that.”

“For the message about the cross
[and the glorious love it has given us]
is foolishness to those who are perishing,
but to us who are being saved
it is the power of God.” [7]

Amen.

[1] 1 Corinthians 1:18
[2] 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
[3] 1 Corinthians 1:11-17
[4] 1 Corinthians 1:10
[5] 1 Corinthians 1:12
[6] 1 Corinthians 12
[7] 1 Corinthians 1:18

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