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Edward F. Markquart

Series C
Division, Diversity, and Oneness in the Parish: A Conflict Drama

Epiphany 2 or 3      I Corinthians  12
Also Epiphany 2, Series A,  I Corinthians 1:18-25

Prologue:  The sermon for today is based on the epistle lesson from I Corinthians 12. To briefly remind you, there were many divisions in the church in Corinth … between more conservative Jewish Christians and more liberal Greek Christians, between the politically enslaved and the politically free, between those who emphasize speaking in tongues and those who emphasized speaking boldly about Christ, between the followers loyal to the teachings of Paul or Peter or Apollos. There were many feisty factions in this church and they wrote to the Apostle Paul for guidance, asking him, “What shall we do with all these divisions in the church?” Chapters 12-14 of the book of I Corinthians are a cohesive unit in which Paul addresses the issue of diversity and division with the church. This sermon and conflict drama grows out of chapters 12, 13 and 14. I have taken the situations and conflicts of the church in Corinth and transformed them to conflicts found in the church today in our time and place. You will soon see what I am talking about.

It was about ten years ago that Pastor Paul-son arrived in Des Moines. Des Moines was a quiet town, located in Northwestern Washington. He stayed there a couple of years and established a congregation. Pastor Paul-son was a great teacher and brilliant theologian. His theology was erudite and profound, as he taught about grace. But to be honest, he was not much of a preacher. Nor was he eloquent. Nor was he especially good at pastoral care. He tended to bristle and be argumentative when people disagreed with him. But he was a great theologian and knew the Gospel well. And like all founding pastors, Pastor Paul-son left town.

The second pastor at Des Moines was a woman by the name of Pastor Apollos-son. Now, she was a charismatic preacher. She was eloquent. There was a passion to her preaching, and the church really grew under her leadership. But, to be honest, she wasn’t the theologian and teacher that the founding pastor was, and like all second pastors, she too left town.

Now, there was another pastor, a Pastor Peter-sen who also influenced the congregation. Pastor Peter-sen was a real traditionalist. He said, “You have to do it the old way, the way it back done back in the old country, the Midwest, back in the Holy City, as in the past, when truth was truth.”  His motto was, “The Gospel and tradition.”

Now, for sometime this congregation at Des Moines was without a pastor, and there were several deep divisions in this church. Some people liked the way that Pastor Paul-son did it; others liked the way that Pastor Apollos-son did it; and still others like Pastor Peter-sen’s traditional style. The divisions became deeper and deeper, and so they finally called a congregational meeting, and all the Christians from this congregation in Des Moines came. They came to share their convictions and “tell it like it is!”

At this congregational meeting, one person stood up and spoke quite righteously. (Ten people are sitting up front, each to make a vigorous speech into the microphone as if at a congregational meeting.)

1. (Person 1 stands and comes to microphone and speaks into the microphone.) I am a Christian. I love the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I love the Bible. The Bible is a guide for my daily life. It is clear in the book of Genesis that God designed the world so that there is male and female, that marriage is to be between a man and a woman. It is clear in the Old Testament that God condemns same sex relationships and same sex marriages. Leviticus 18:2 clearly states: “You shall not lie with a male as a woman. It is an abomination.” The New Testament clearly states that God condemns same sex relationships and same sex marriages.  Romans 1:26-27 says, “Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men also gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another.” The overwhelming evidence of both nature and the Bible clearly embrace heterosexual relationships and both nature and the Bible clearly condemn homosexual relationships.  Yes, we Christians are called to love the sinner but hate the sin.

2. (Person 2) But not to me. You and I think differently about these things. I too am a Christian and love the Gospel and the Bible. When the Bible was written, its authors believed many things that we no longer believe today. For them, the earth was flat, slavery was endorsed, women were inferior,  and homosexuality was automatically condemned. But the world has changed from those ancient days. We now know that the earth is no longer flat, that slavery is wrong, that women are different than men but equal. And homosexuality? Well, for my brother and many like him, homosexuality is like being born left-handed. He was born with it. My brother didn’t choose his sexual orientation. His sexual orientation is as deep within him as your sexual orientation is deep within you. Jesus invites us to love all people, including loving those people whom society often condemns such as gays and lesbians. Don’t ask me not to love my brother. Don’t ask me to condemn him as a sinner.

You could feel the tension in the air and between the people. Here were good, loving Christian people who felt so deeply but differently about issues and situations. The divisions began to mount:

3. Person 3 stands and speaks into the microphone like at a congregational  eeting.) I am a Christian. I love the Gospel. The Spirit of Christ lives in me, and I know for sure that nuclear weapons are an abomination of God. The stockpiling  of nuclear weapons is the greatest sin of our century and violates every principle of Jesus. These weapons destroy innocent civilians, unborn babies, and the land for generations to come. Christ and his followers would never sanction the use of nuclear weapons.

4.  (Person 4 stands and speaks to the microphone.) I too am a Christian. The Spirit of Christ lives in me. I love the freedom of the Gospel. God made us human beings to long for human freedom and hate slavery. The Bible lays the foundational principles for freedom…for both religious and political freedom. For political freedom to survive in our generation, it takes a strong defense.  (slowly) In today’s real world, the threat of nuclear weapons helps to preserve peace and freedom. Attempts to abolish nuclear weapons increases the possibility of their use.  YOU!!! (pointing to speaker I), in your religious self righteousness, contribute to nuclear madness.

(Person 3 stands and speaks to the microphone.) Clever arguments but you are wrong. (Person 3 is seated.)

And so immediately, there was division at this congregational meeting in Des Moines. The feelings ran deep and the convictions passionately held. There were other polarizations that day.

5. (Person 5 stands, approaches microphone.) I am a Christian. I love the Gospel. The Spirit of Christ lives in me, and I know for sure that abortion is an abomination in the sight of God. Do you realize that hundreds of thousands of fetuses are being murdered, and we the church are doing very little about it? The Bible is so clear. God in the Old Testament says, “I put you together in your mother’s womb. When your bones were being formed and carefully put together, when you were growing secretly and silently within her, I knew that you were there. I saw you even before you were born.” God is aware of our humanity before our birth. That the church is safely silent about abortion is evidence that we have given in to the power of our satanic culture. (Person III is seated.)

6. (Person 6 stands, approaches the microphone.) I can’t justify it too easily, but I know that abortions are sometimes necessary. My daughter got pregnant. She was way too young. She had been on drugs. The fetus could have been severely retarded. My daughter couldn’t handle the pregnancy. We weren’t ready to rear  the child for her. I am a Christian. I love the Gospel.  The Spirit of Christ lives in me, and I advised my teenage daughter to get an abortion. I didn’t sense it was right, but necessary. I am glad that we had the legal right to do it and didn’t have to have the abortion illegally which we would have done. There is forgiveness with God. YOU!!! (pointing to person III) need to be more understanding and forgiving of people like me and my daughter who are caught in this nasty situation. Don’t throw stones until you have had a daughter in a similar situation.

(Person 5 stands, goes to microphone) God would have given your daughter the strength and wisdom to handle what the world calls “an imperfect child.” And YOU arranged for a premie baby to be murdered in order to protect your  middle-class happiness. (Person 5 is seated.)

(Person 6) YOU don’t get it, do you?

And so there were many Christians at the congregational meeting in Des Moines who knew and loved the Gospel, but didn’t know and like each other very much. These Christians felt their own point of view was the right one, the one that God agreed with.

(Person 7 stands, goes to the microphone.) Nobody is mentioning the important issue here, the authority of the Bible. The Bible is the inspired and inerrant Wordof God. I know that some of you want to get rid of the word, “inerrant.” You want to be able to twist the Bible so that the Bible will endorse your prejudices:  abortion on demand, divorce on demand, pro homosexuality, pro evolution, no concern for world evangelization. You don’t take the Bible seriously and you don’t read it devotionally. Pretty soon, you will say that the resurrection of Jesus is a parable or some figure of speech. For you and your group, the Bible is  ‘manipulated to endorse the latest cultural trend.

8. (Person 8 stands, goes to the microphone.) That’s not fair, you literalist. The Bible is the inspired and authoritative Word of God for us. Our lives are nourished by the Gospel. The Bible is our source of salvation, our guide for living, food for the Spirit of Christ in us. But you…you use the Bible to condemn homosexuals as modern lepers, force couples to remain married in violent marriages, and push an outmoded view of creation as science, all in the name of religion. You snap people that you don’t like with passages in the Bible, as if the Bible were a whip to whip them with.

And so the divisions at Des Moines became worse and worse. There were many other divisions. Some wanted their members to excel in a spirit filled prayer life; others wanted their members to excel in speaking boldly for Christ.

8. (Person 9 stands, goes to the microphone.) I would like to say something. Please, I need to speak. Some people don’t realize it but the area around Des Moines is very unchurched. About 65% of our neighbors don’t have a church home. The Pacific Northwest is more unchurched than Tanzania, Madagascar and Namibia. We are argue all day about nuclear wars; we can fight all night about abortions and the Bible, but the primary mission of the church, the mission above all other missions, is to go and make disciples. The first thing that Jesus said to the twelve was, “Come and follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” and the last thing Jesus said before he ascended to heaven was, “Make disciples of all people.” Let’s stop arguing about nuclear war. Let’s stop arguing about abortion, homosexuality and the Bible. The real mission of the church is evangelism of our neighborhood and the whole world. We know what the great commission is!!! Go and make disciples!!!

8. (Person 10 stands, goes to the microphone.) That man there wants to save the souls of billions but he doesn’t say anything about their bodies and bellies. The great commission? How about the great commandment?  Love God with all your heart, mind and soul, and your neighbor as yourself. We need to be concerned about justice in the world. Do you realize the average Lutheran gives only 2% of household income to charity?  Of that 2%, only a fraction is given to the truly poor. What do we give to the poor? 2% of a mere 2%. What a joke. That is crumbs from the rich man’s table. … Ours is a God of justice. God wants all nations, ours included, to stop spending billions of dollars for weapons and armament and redirect government economic power to care for the poor of the world.  Did you read about it in the papers last week? More than 900 billion dollars for weapons? Our God wants justice for the poor. YOU may believe in the great commission. I believe in the great commandment!!!

And so, the tensions got worse at Des Moines. A problem was this.  Deep down inside, everyone thought that the Spirit inside of them was the correct one. These Christians had a private disdain for those who didn’t think, believe, and feel as they did. What to do? Well, finally, at the conclusion of this tense and lengthy congregational meeting, they decided to write a letter to their founding pastor, Pastor Paul-son, this great theologian and teacher. Pastor Paul-son wrote back to the congregation at Des Moines. Believe it or not, I have a copy of his letter here with me. I would like to read a portion of it to you. Form I Des Moines, chapters 12-14.

There is one Spirit, but a variety of gifts.
There is one Lord, but a variety of ways that people serve.
There is one God and Father, but a variety of ways that people work for the kingdom.

God gives different gifts to different people.
Some, a passion for peace;
Others,  a passion for political freedom.
Some,  a passion for life and its sacredness,
Others, a passion for forgiveness and mercy.
Some, a passion for a more closed interpretation of the Bible,
Others, a passion for a more open interpretation of the Bible.
Some, a passion for evangelism,
Others, a passion for justice.
All of these people who spoke to you this morning are working for the common good.
Each and every one of these people this morning are inspired by the one and same Spirit, the Spirit who gives to each person their unique and different perspective.

For just as the human body is a unified whole, composed of millions of different parts, so is Christ and his body.

The human body is miraculously complex,
With 60 million cells,
With 36 million heart beats every year,
With 300 billion red cells produced every day,
With 60,000 miles of blood vessels in each body.

Just as the human mind cannot begin to fathom the complexity of its own body, so it is with us, with the body of Christ. Our minds cannot comprehend the complexity of the body of Christ. 

Christ is a living body, composed of billions of parts, miraculously complex, with billions of members, located in millions of different settings, with thousands of different languages, with thousands of unique cultures and billions of expressions of the true faith…throughout all the centuries of recorded time.

The human mind cannot begin to fathom the complexity of the body of Christ, anymore than the human mind can imagine the 60,000 miles of blood vessels in one’s own physical body.

If you have these gifts, if you have these passions in your heart, these workings, these ways of serving God’s kingdom; but if you don’t have love inside of you for your brothers and sisters who think and feel differently than you, you are nothing. The greatest gift that God has for you is love. Love for people who don’t think like you. Love for people who do not share your point of view on specific issues. You are to make love, your goal, your aim, your greatest purpose for life.

And so, the words from Pastor Paul-son were read to the church in Des Moines, on that special day when all the diverse members of the church were together. On that day, the church members at Des Moines realized that they were part of this mysteriously complex, living organism, the body of Christ. They all drank from the same Spirit, and were joyful and glad, that they were one, one in the Spirit of the Living Christ who unified them in love.


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