Sermon for February 15, 2023 Second after Epiphany “We have found the Messiah”
I can remember learning to downhill ski. The hill was steep, even the bunny hill, the snow was slippery and the timber attached to my feet were always in the way. And walking is ski boots is clumsy. Slowly I learned and then the steeper the hill the better. I would get to thinking ‘I am pretty good at this’, at which point I would find myself careening down the hill on my face or butt or both, to the cheers of ‘great yard sale fall’. (Which meant that skis and poles were all heading in different directions.)
In the text from 1 Corinthians we hear the teaching from one of Paul’s journeys to Corinth. The introduction seems straight forward enough “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” But on further study this greeting is to let the people know in no uncertain terms that Paul is called by God and Jesus to teach and preach.
You see the people, once they heard the message of Jesus and accepted Jesus as Messiah quickly came to the conclusion that they had the only real route to God. That to be a true Christian and real follower you had to do it the Corinth way. It is an apparent construct of human nature that Jesus teaches and warns us about consistently throughout his ministry. And it is why Paul begins with his credentials so that there will be no disputing the words he speaks carry authority.
Paul then reminds them of their call, which is twofold. First, they were “called to be saints.” You would think that this is the kind of talk that would only add to their arrogance. How many of us look forward to having St. in front of our names someday? Not many, I would suspect.
Yet for Paul, the word Saint meant someone who recognizes the need for a saviour. A saint is one who has said yes to Jesus Christ. It carried no honour except the honour of the one who called. It made no guarantee that the behaviour of this person is exemplary. A saint was someone beholden to God through Jesus Christ.
Beholden is a wonderful word we don’t use any more. But it conveys images of being wrapped up as well as belonging. If we are beholden to God, then it is God who shows through more than us because we are wrapped up in that presence, that light. The good things that we do, the bright face that we show is the face of God shining through us, not our own visage, which might not be so holy.
Paul was reminding the Corinthians that they belonged to God and was asking them to examine their behavior to see if they still fit that description. It is a fitting practice in this Epiphany season and as we discern who our Herod’s are, and a good review at any time.
The second thing that Paul wanted to remind the Corinthians is that they were a part of something larger than themselves. He called them saints “together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” Jesus isn’t the exclusive property of those who seek to define him in specific ways. The Corinthians had remade Christ in their image, and Paul was trying to help them take a larger view. You are a part of something bigger than your eyes and bigger than your imagination. All those who in every place – who can comprehend something on that scale? It was a way of putting things in perspective and reminding us that by times we do behave like saints and by times we fall short.
It is, for me like skiing, there is always something I can learn and something I can teach. That when I get arrogant there just might be a fall. But there are times when I am in the zone and it is pure bliss.
Our journey is faith can be like that, we learn, we teach, we fall and every now and again we are completely wrapped in the countenance of God.