Friday, December 2, 2011

Strength for the Journey

1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Grace to you and peace from God the Creator and the Lord Jesus Christ!

The church in Corinth that the Apostle Paul had planted earlier in time was in deep trouble. There were several issues that caused great strife among its members.  They struggled to identify themselves as Christians in the middle of well established diasporic Jewish communities in Greece.  In the world of the first century this was a difficult task because of the pervading Hellenistic culture and thought.   

Then there were issues.  Many issues, some religious and some political that plagued them, among them sexual and religious promiscuity and pluralism.  It was hard to maintain their exclusive claims to Christ as Lord and one God without being victims of syncretism with the pervasive Greek gods and temples all around them.

This was Paul’s fear when he receives word of this chaos in the community that he planted and writes to them from afar.  He recognizes that Christians must live in a world in which there is suffering and pain, this is his theology of the cross; that the light of God is manifest through and in Christ’s suffering.  It is this understanding that sheds light on and informs one’s suffering and gives hope.    

From Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians….

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Sometimes it’s difficult to unpack Paul’s literary style.  It’s thick and cumbersome compared to the way in which we speak.  With a slow read however we see that he thanks God above all else for the gathered community of believers at Corinth and for all that God has done for them.  He brings them back to their original purpose of following Jesus Christ even when they begin to lose heart and lose their way.

In today’s text he reminds them that their testimony to Christ, that is how Jesus Christ has changed their lives, is strengthened because of the spiritual gifts that they have been given and that they must use. They have received all that they need and God is with them.   

On Monday night, several hundred people stood on the grand front lawn of Saugatuck Congregational Church, one of our sister churches in the Fairfield West Association of the Connecticut Conference. We were reminded of God’s enduring strength in times of adversity.    

Just the night before there was a major fire at Saugatuck destroying the fellowship rooms, offices, and the nursery school.  The Sanctuary was not destroyed by fire literally, but it was damaged severally by water and smoke.  It is now just a shell of a church with the steeple still standing.  The front doors are boarded up denying access to anyone who might try to enter. 

Many area clergy, Christian and Jewish, were on hand to pray and to stand in solidarity with the congregants of Saugatuck in a prayer vigil Monday evening.  It was said over and over again in many different ways and from different voices that God is good, first and foremost.  That the church, not the physical edifice but the people are the church.  We do love our buildings yes, but we are so much more when crisis strikes.  We really do understand that relationship in Christ and in Christ’s body matters mostly.

The people of Saugatuck were saddened by this tragic event and now a part of their history.  Yet they are determined to build up their Church and worship God and God’s enduring grace through Jesus Christ.  Deacon Chair Doug Johnston said, referring to the clinging odor of smoke, "You can smell change in the air tonight, and we hope to make that a far sweeter smell in the future."  God is in their midst - last Monday night, this morning as they conduct worship at Temple Israel on Coleytown Road and into their future whatever it may hold.   

Strength in adversity comes from God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  This is our hope for all things to come.    

We find this passage in First Corinthians at the beginning of Advent to prepare us and to remind us that hope finds its home in the most unfamiliar and discordant places.  The setting for the birth of Jesus was the gritty little village of Bethlehem in a country that was occupied by the Romans.  Herodian, one of King Herod’s palaces towers over Bethlehem as a reminder of oppressive authority back in the day.   

And yet, God showed up.  God appeared to the world in this village, in that time, when Christ ventured into this world as a tiny baby.  God was there in Corinth with the lonely Christian community to speak strength and hope when they were the minority struggling to stand firm.  God was present to Saugatuck Congregation while the smell of their charred sanctuary filled the air.  God is there.  Always, God is there.

God shows up when your eyes are wide open and when they are blinded by despair.
You may feel as if you are held captive by the outside authorities whoever they may be in your life.   You may be tempted by the exterior culture who worships everything but the One who makes us whole.  You might be suffocating from the ruins of what used to be in your life.  But believe me, God is there, to bolster you, to lift you, to wipe away your tears and get you going once again.  God has a fine track record and there is no reason to believe that it will be broken.

Advent beckons us into the deep mystery of God revealed.  We wait in hope built upon the immeasurable consequences of that night in Bethlehem when Christ’s light, the star shone so brightly.  We wait in expectation that God will reveal yet again Godself into our lives and into this topsey-turvy world. 

May this season of Advent bring great meaning to your life.  Watch and wait with me that we may bless and be blessed, that we may be filled with the peace of believing, that we may abound in hope.


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