Second Sunday of Epiphany/Lectionary 2
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
January 17, 2010
Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, and who was, and who is to come. Amen.
The early Christian church at Corinth was a divided church,
a community of faith that had a hard time getting along.
There were quarrels among the faithful,
lawsuits between believers and accusations of false teaching.
The community was split over which preacher, which teacher to whom they pledged allegiance –
some followed Apollus, some Cephas, some Paul …
They had a hard time agreeing about much of anything –
There were disagreements and divisions about what constituted a proper Christian morality,
particularly in regards to sexuality.
They debated whether Christians should marry at all,
how they should interact with the broader pagan culture,
and the proper role and dress of women in the church.
The social and economic differences among them were on full and sad display at the Lord's Supper,
as some gathered for the sacred meal and ate much and got drunk,
while others went away hungry.
They debated the relative value of spiritual gifts,
and at least on one occasion within their worship someone proclaimed, "Let Jesus be cursed!"
Some of them questioned the resurrection itself.
In short, the Christian church at Corinth –
two letters to which are found in our Bible –
was a complete and utter mess ….
a fact that should give us some comfort as we evaluate the state of the church today.
And so it is into this mess that St Paul steps.
In his broad-reaching first letter to the Corinthians,
Paul addresses these disparate issues
and seeks to give this divided community a way to see itself as a unified body,
rather than as a fractured family.
At times in this letter he sets them straight where they have gone wrong,
forcefully providing them with a clear and concise teaching to which they should adhere.
Yet at other times in this letter he simply suggests that what unites them –
faith in our Lord Jesus Christ –
is much bigger and better than what divides them.
The section of 1 Corinthians from which we read today,
and from which we will continue to read for the next few weeks,
addresses the divisions felt by the Corinthian church regarding spiritual gifts.
Paul names some of these gifts,
including gifts of knowledge and wisdom,
gifts of speaking in tongues, prophesy, healing, discernment of spirits, among others.
It seems that the Corinthian church was ranking these gifts,
emphasizing some over others, especially the gifts of speaking in tongues and prophesy.
Before Paul gets into the spiritual gifts themselves –
some of which would seem quite exotic to us today –
Paul makes this much clear:
nobody speaking by the Spirit of God ever says, "Jesus be cursed,"
and nobody can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit.
That is, before wading into the waters of which spiritual gifts are better than the others,
or how the gifts rank or whether some gifts are indeed not of the Spirit,
Paul subordinates the question of spiritual gifts altogether
to the central and unifying issue in any Christian community –
their common profession of Jesus as Lord,
which, Paul says, is itself a gift of the Spirit.
Nobody confesses Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit, he writes.
Notwithstanding all their divisions on important matters,
Paul urges their unity, reminding them that any who calls Jesus "Lord"
is moved to do so by the Holy Spirit.
Surely these words gave pause to any in the Corinthian church
who would belittle a sister or brother in Christ or divide the Christian community,
for the same Spirit moves among and motivates all who confess Jesus as Lord.
These words give me pause, I'll admit.
Like the Corinthians, I have my moments when I want to divide the church,
when I want to rank believers – particularly fellow pastors –
according to their gifts, their theology, their wisdom (or lack thereof).
There are some Christians who do things that really get me riled up
and make me question their faith, their sanity, their compassion …
But Paul's words ring loud and clear … No one says Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.
Even Pat Roberson? Even Pat Robertson.
You may have heard that a day after the earthquake in Haiti,
Pat Robertson, host of the 700 Club Christian television program
and founder of Regent University and the Christian Broadcasting Network,
suggested that Haiti is cursed because of a pact that its people supposedly made
with the Devil some 200 years ago,
and that this curse explains Haiti's history of misery and suffering …
including, by implication, the horrible earthquake.
In another segment, he wondered if the earthquake – which has killed thousands of people –
could be seen as a "blessing in disguise" for the people of Haiti. A blessing in disguise?
I joined millions of people in shaking my head and rejecting his words,
repulsed that he proclaims a god who sends death and destruction to teach people a lesson.
I can't begin to fathom what causes someone to say such stupid things
when our Scripture is filled with passages about God's love and compassion,
God's presence with the poor and sick and suffering,
with a story about God's own Son who suffered and died
and who promised to be with the least of these.
I could go on, as have countless cable television and internet commentators …
But no one, Paul writes, can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.
Darn it. It would be so much easier to paint Robertson as a monster,
a boogeyman, a theological creep … all of which he does his best to be, from time to time.
That man, that man who says such vile things at times,
that man, Paul reminds and challenges me in this passage,
is led and inspired by the Holy Spirit when he says "Jesus is Lord."
I can't just call him names and be done with it.
I can't just dismiss him. Not completely, anyway,
for when Pat Robertson says "Jesus is Lord," he does so by the work of the Spirit,
and I am, we are, compelled to look for that Spirit within him.
When we say "Jesus is Lord," it is that same Spirit which moves among us.
Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot also said, "Jesus is Lord," by the movement of God's Spirit.
Shepherd of the Roman Catholic Church in Haiti,
he died this week in his residence alongside the Roman Catholic cathedral
that collapsed in Port-au-Prince.
Archbishop Miot, friends and colleagues say,
lived a life in solidarity with the poor and needy,
founding a mission to help the poor of Port-au-Prince,
and teaching and mentoring priests to serve in his impoverished nation.
In his years of teaching and preaching,
administering the sacraments and offering comfort to God's people,
God's Spirit moved in and through him,
enabling him to bear witness to God's grace in Jesus Christ,
and compelling him to proclaim, "Jesus is Lord."
Joining him in service to and faithful partnership with the poor of Haiti was Ben Larson,
a 25 year-old senior year seminarian at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa,
one of the seminaries of our Lutheran Church.
Since his childhood Ben was a gifted singer
and in seminary he wrote and performed beautiful Christian songs of praise.
Ben traveled to Haiti with his wife, also a student, and two other seminarians from Wartburg,
to teach and learn at a conference for pastors and lay leaders in the Haitian Lutheran Church,
and I'm sure while he was down there he did some singing.
The four were in their guest house at the time of the earthquake,
and Ben was killed as the building collapsed over and around him.
His classmates, his wife, made it out alive, grief-stricken and terrified at the horror of the tragedy.
Ben's parents, both pastors, had this to say about their son's death:
Most of the people who died in this deadly earthquake in Haiti
are the poorest of the poor in this hemisphere.
Ben went to Haiti to teach theology and scripture in the new Lutheran Church of Haiti;
but more deeply to learn from these people loved by God.
In his young death his life joins the bodies of the poor.
In the Haitian rubble Ben’s life joins these dear beloved people of God:
all those parents crying for their children;
young widows calling out for their husbands;
new orphans searching for their parents.
Ben received God's Spirit,
and continues to proclaim "Jesus is Lord" with the angels in glory,
and in beautiful songs now preserved and shared online.
It is in times like this that the Spirit compels us to proclaim, "Jesus is Lord."
In the face of such tragedy,
or in the face of such division as the church finds itself in times ancient and modern,
we can rely on the confession that Jesus is Lord …
for if Jesus is Lord it means that Ceasar, that death,
that the world in all its shameful sin and inequality … is not Lord.
That is, when moved by the Holy Spirit to confess that Jesus is Lord,
we join with the faithful of all time and all place
in describing a different reality, a vision of the world to come,
a hope and an expectation that what happened in Christ Jesus
will happen in our world and in our own lives –
that flesh and blood resurrection,
that new life will come to Haiti,
that unity and new life will come to the church,
and that a new creation will come to the earth …
The Spirit moves among us,
among all Christians, uniting us in this common confession: Jesus is Lord.
Will we have divisions? Will we fail our calling and live divided rather than united?
You bet we will.
But in our better moments, in our more faithful moments,
and in spite of our worst moments and our times of faithlessness,
God's Spirit moves us, compels us not just to say "Jesus is Lord"
but to live our lives according to his Lordship,
to live as if we believed those words,
to live lives of love, faith, and reconciliation,
lives of compassion and service,
lives of sin and forgiveness,
lives of death and resurrection.
Dear friends, the Spirit of God moves here today.
Led by that Spirit we say Jesus is Lord and we live according to his Lordship,
and in so doing the Spirit joins us to each other and to the faithful of all time and place –
including our brothers Pat, Serge, and Ben,
and all the faithful who cry out from the rubble of this word, "Jesus is Lord."
May God receive into his eternal grace all who have died,
grant comfort to all who suffer,
and compel all who are able to give,
following the example of his Son, our Lord Jesus,
who gave his life so that we all may live.
Jesus is Lord. Amen.