1/15/2017 Second Sunday after Epiphany The text is 1 Corinthians 1:1-9.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
In many ways, Paul is a diplomat par excellence. He knows just how to get people to listen to him. That is, he knows just what to say to open people’s ears to hear what he has to tell them, even if it’s not particularly pleasing. For in the beginning of Paul’s letter to the people of Corinth, he tells them what they want to hear and need to hear in order to be open to future criticism. He addresses the people as those sanctified in Christ, called to be saints – which means he is proclaiming them to be a holy people. Of course, later on in his letter, the people are going to be yelled at for the stupid things that they have been doing. But, for now, in order to open their ears, he calls them holy.
Can people be holy, that is, be sanctified, and still mess up? I sure hope so…for we are oh, so human. I guess it all depends upon what it means to be holy and how we can be sanctified.
When we think of holy people, we think of people who do no wrong, people who don’t mess up. We think of a person who is Christ-like…gentle and kind, faithful and loving, without a bad word about anyone or anything. We think of people who will die for their faith, and people whose love for all people and all of creation stands head and shoulders above average. We think of people who continue to love and do the best for others, even if it means getting the shaft or wasting time and money – the type of people who always stop at red lights and let the other guys go first; people without hate, without guile, without complaint; servants who do what needs to be done without reminder or pay. It goes without saying that these are people of limitless energy who always find time in busy schedules for the work of the church. They are moral people who would never be caught in compromising situations; volunteers who work unselfishly for the less fortunate; good givers and faithful stewards of all of God’s gifts. These are holy people…people who could earn God’s favor by being the embodiment of a living Christ. These are not people who mess up. They never need forgiveness. And they simply do not exist.
We may not think that holy and oh, so human fit together. But holy and human describe the people of Corinth, the people who mess up, the people whom Paul addresses in his letter. They are a holy people, not because they do no wrong. They do plenty of things wrong, and like all of us, they have limits. No, they are holy because God declares them so. They are holy because of God’s initiative, God’s actions through Christ, not because of anything they have done. God chooses them as God choose us…they have not earned God’s favor and neither can we. Yet, God chooses them through Christ to be his people. They are made acceptable through Christ our Lord. Yet, holy as they may be, they are also a people plagued by some very human problems. They are jealous and self-righteous. They are a divided people as they see some people as being more “holy,” more gifted, more special than others. They are a people puffed-up by their knowledge and a people who like their “special status.” They are a people who have forgotten that what God gives and offers are for all people, not just them. They are a people who have forgotten that being made holy, being sanctified, means that they are set apart by God for God’s purposes, in service to God’s creation. They are a people sanctified by God, set apart for others. And they are a people gifted by God for their work, a people gifted as a community, for as a community they lack no spiritual gift.
Holy…but oh, so human! Set apart for a task and sustained by Christ, but still messing up and needing God’s forgiveness and grace. This describes the people of Corinth, a people who have forgotten that all Christians share a common holiness, because all share a common Lord.
Holy…but oh, so human! This not only describes the people of Corinth – it also describes us. For, no matter how perfect we may try to be, we mess up. We need Christ and we need each other. Like the people of Corinth, we have been made holy, sanctified in Christ, and we share this common holiness with all Christians as we share the common Lord who has called us saints. We are called to live out our lives in faith, as though what Christ has done makes a difference to us. We are set apart and endowed by the spirit with special gifts to be used for the benefit of others. None of us has all the gifts unto ourselves. We need each other for together we lack no spiritual gift. We are a people called to be saints. We are called to be servants, using the gifts which God has given to us for the benefit of others. Like the people of Corinth, we are called to witness to God’s love and grace in words and actions.
Yet, like the people of Corinth, we are still human – sometimes, all too human. We sometimes fall into the traps of self-righteousness and complacency. We sometimes get caught up in ourselves and how we measure up against others, and we forget that we all are gifted and loved by the same God, for the same purpose, and for the benefit of all people, including ourselves. We are often hurried and lack time and energy to volunteer – and we need reminders of what we are to do. And boy, do we complain. We complain about all sorts of things. We complain about our lives, about what we don’t have and about our neighbors. We have prejudices and hatreds, and there are those who we speak ill of. We lack patience and our love is preciously guarded and doled out to a chosen few as we protect ourselves from being hurt.
And for this, my friends, we have Christ’s forgiveness and sustained presence…God’s gifts to us. For, although we are holy, we are still oh, so human! We mess up and are limited. We are not God. Yet, we have been made holy by God. We have been set apart to take the risk of loving and caring, of being gentle and of using our time and gifts which God has given to us for God’s purposes. We can take the adventure of faith for God is there to catch us when we fail, to forgive us and to send us out again.
My friends, know that we are set apart and are sustained by an ever-present Christ, so that we can be saints we are meant to be. We are holy, but oh, so human! We are holy even though we remain frail, limited and sinful human beings. We are holy, but still human; forgiven when we mess up; sustained by Christ; loved by God; and declared guiltless through Christ who died and rose again.
May we be so blessed by God and graced by his presence that we strive to live in perfect faith, knowing that we have God’s forgiveness when we mess up. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.