• Steven Marsh

Hope–How is a Christian Gathering Different From Other Gatherings?: a Reflection on 1 Corinthi

Since the first Sunday in Advent, we’ve taken a weekly journey looking at hope. You recall that hope believes that God does what God has promised. God has promised salvation, peace, refuge, and comfort. Human wisdom in these matters is no match to the wisdom of the cross. And therein lays the dilemma. How is a Christian gathering different than other gatherings when it comes to the real needs of real people who live in a real world? Perhaps the dilemma is sharpened in its focus with this assertion: Christians “…are distracted and mired down by misdirected priorities.”[1]

Paul’s letter to the Christians in Corinth speaks to the importance of unity in the Church. Disunity hinders the advancement of God’s mission in that the Church often speaks with mixed messages and the world becomes increasingly cynical. A Christian gathering that is rooted in unity displays quite profoundly God’s promised salvation, peace, refuge, and comfort.

Coming to terms with misdirected priorities and how they stymie us in our witness is important. Getting unstuck is of paramount significance. Perhaps if I raise the issue of how Americans spend incredible amounts of time thinking about and money on the care of our bodies, gaining the upper hand on misdirected priorities is attainable. Health insurance, vitamin supplements, cardio and weight training regimens, as well as monitoring what and how much we eat, we care for our bodies and rightly so. For most people, the care of our bodies is a high priority. Martin Thielen writes, “…when I eat a reasonably healthy diet, get regular exercise, and get adequate rest, I am a better pastor, husband, father, friend, person, and Christian. The key, at least for me, is framing this as a spiritual issue.”[2] When we ignore making our health a priority there are consequences. And Paul confirms the devastating consequences of misdirected priorities when he writes, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.”[3] Maturing in Jesus, a work of the Holy Spirit, leads us to refocus our priorities. Kate Foster Connors, Parish Associate and Youth Director at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland writes, “In the process of creating and sustaining a congregation, Paul reminds us to…build on the foundation of Jesus Christ. A foundation gives the footprint to the building.[4] What footprint did Jesus leave for us to build upon? Loving God and loving others.

The text in 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23 makes three points regarding the process of creating and sustaining a congregation known for demonstrating God’s love and justice as revealed in Jesus Christ. First, the foundation of our Faith has a chief architect. Christianity is built upon the foundation of the activity of God in human history. The Greek word architekton refers to the team leader of any building project. Paul affirms Apollos and other leaders, but the team leader of the Church is Jesus. And Paul reminds us that the foundation of God’s wisdom was revealed through Christ’s cross. The foundation is Jesus. Second, secular behavior by Christians undermines our witness. God resides in the Christian community. One mark of Christ-like behavior is unity. The other is vulnerability. Fidelity to God’s wisdom as revealed in the cross is the measuring stick. When we measure the success of Geneva by worldly standards of “image,” numbers, and entertainment value, we have gone astray. Our witness is no longer distinct. And third, we are to become fools so that we may be wise. To be “a Fool” for Jesus means to live God’s agenda of imitating Jesus Christ. When we imitate Jesus’ compassion, tolerance, love, mercy, and patience, we prove that we are more interested in the praise of God than the praise of humans.[5]

There is an African Christian leader who has spent the last fifteen years helping the vulnerable people of his country. This story is told in Ken Wystma’s book, Pursuing Justice. Wytsma writes:

He was born and raised in what is one of the most war-torn regions on the globe today—eastern Congo. His life is regularly threatened, and he faces the seemingly impossible task of trying to restore villages decimated by rape, murder, and plunder. Some visiting executives from a large, well-known global relief organization once toured the region. They noticed what an effective job my friend was doing, and offered him a position as the leader of their Congo operations. He quickly turned them down. On paper, it was the kind of offer you can’t refuse—higher pay, more security, great influence. A dream promotion for most Westerners. But he refused for a simple reason. He said, “God gave me the job I have, he’s helped me build the relationships and the respect that I have. He has opened the door for me all these years and kept me safe on every trip out into the bush. I’m right where God has called me to be, so why would I go anywhere else? I don’t just want to do good. I want to be where God wants me to be.”[6]

How is a Christian gathering distinctly different than other gatherings? A Christian gathering practices the presence of God through hope for the sake of others. A Christian gathering nurtures the priority of being where God wants us to be. Authentic Christian community exists to accomplish God’s purposes that have already been accomplished through Jesus on the cross. God resides in the community of Christian gatherings. God resides in our community of faith known as Geneva Presbyterian Church. And God reveals good things to others through Christians who commit to loving God and loving others. Living in authentic Christian community translates hope to others who are seeking a better way to live.

[1]Kate Foster Connors in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 374.

[2]Martin Thielen, Searching For Happiness (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 118.

[3]1 Corinthians 3:11

[4]Kate Foster Connors in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1, 376.

[5]My thinking in this paragraph has been informed by the writing of Preben Vang, Teach the Text Commentary Series 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2014), 43, 47, 50.

[6]Ken Wytsma, Pursuing Justice (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 161-162.

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