Grace Presbyterian Church
January 15, 2017, Epiphany 2A (Elder Ordination)
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
On the surface it doesn’t seem much of a text from which to preach. It is the opening of a letter from Paul, directed at the church in the city of Corinth. It’s a fairly typical greeting at that, both in the context of Middle Eastern or Mediterranean formal practice of the time and among Paul’s letters. Nonetheless it speaks greatly to Paul’s way of working with and communicating with the churches in which he was involved, and might just be instructive to us as well on a day when we are commission some of our number for a particular role in the life of this church.
Even the very first verse of this greeting has something to tell us. If you’ve looked at all at the New Testament, or heard any sermons on it, you have some idea who Paul is. The great missionary, set apart by his experience on the Damascus Road, high-powered preacher and church planter and frequently persecuted Christian leader, author of a large chunk of the New Testament. Paul, we know.
But who is Sosthenes?
This does help make a worthwhile point about Paul: he doesn’t work alone. Of the letters we can confidently attribute to Paul, only Romans does not include some kind of co-author indicated in the greeting – and Romans is a rather different book in Paul’s output; but we’ll get to it later this year. Anyway, sometimes the co-correspondent is a more familiar name, like Timothy (in 2 Corinthians), or sometimes it’s a more collective general reference (as in Galatians, referring to “all the members of God’s family who are with me”.
Sosthenes, on the other hand, only seems to appear one other time in the New Testament, but the context in which he appears does seem to fit with his appearance here. In Acts 18:17, a synagogue official named Sosthenes was seized and beaten by a mob after a local tribunal had refused to hear their accusations against Paul. This occurred in the city of Corinth, while Paul was staying there. The idea that Sosthenes was a local Jewish official who converted and later became one of Paul’s co-workers isn’t hard to get to from there.
At any rate, such a greeting does make a useful point for us to remember, that even Paul didn’t “go it alone.” This constant presence of ministry partners, in Paul’s travels in Acts as well as Paul’s letters, should serve as a reminder to us that the church, this church or any church, is not a playground for superheroes. We need each other to help get things done around here. The fact that we’re going to have a fancy liturgy in a few minutes and lay hands on Annette McGee is not going to turn her into any kind of super-saint who is going to singlehandedly save Christianity (or even singlehandedly save Grace Presbyterian Church, for that matter). That’s not how it works. Whatever number of elders any church chooses are not that church’s “saviors” – only Jesus gets to be that. What they are, in Presbyterian practice, are the folks who are set aside to do, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, what it takes to keep the church going and working and ministering in the way that Christ calls us to do. And they need each other to do that, and they need all of the church to do that.
So Paul’s greeting goes on, and verse 2 makes another good point; no one church is in it alone. Paul addresses the church in Corinth, but also takes in “all those who in every place call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” Not only do we not go it alone in this individual congregation, we as a church are not cast off by ourselves in this world or even in this community. We work together, or at least we should be working together, with other congregations or communities of faith to accomplish what God calls us to do and to become the world God calls us to be.
Maybe the larger key is in verses 5-6.
For in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind – just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you – so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Did you hear that? Not lacking in any gift.
Now the reasons Paul goes into this start to become clear in verse 10, after today’s reading, when Paul starts to work over the Corinthians about how they’ve used those gifts, and that’s a good reminder that when we get into behaviors of spiritual pride about our own gifts and abilities, or pride that dismisses the gifts and contributions of others, we are not in God’s will, pure and simple.
But here the point is made that God gives us what we need, both as individuals and as the church, to live into God’s will as we await being reunited with Christ. Every gift.
But that does mean all of us together, not just a select few who get ordained. What we do in a few minutes, ordaining Annette and installing her along with Karen and Lois, is by no means any kind of sign that you are off the hook for the next three years. We are a church that truly needs everybody’s gifts and abilities all pulling together if we’re to be anything like what we are called to be. Nobody gets to ride the bench.
I know what you’re already saying under your breath or in your head. I can’t do it anymore. I’m not physically up to it. I am on the road a lot. I have trouble getting here. None of those things mean that you have nothing to contribute. It isn’t necessary to serve as an elder in order to serve. Do what you are able to do.
You haven’t been on a committee before? Find one and join. You haven’t been on one in a while? Same thing, find one and join. Find what God has given you that you can do and find the way to use it so that this church can be the witness it is called to be. And there is one thing that anybody can do. Anybody can pray.
Elders, this has a message for you, too; your role isn’t about going it alone, or being a hero, or anything like that. Find partners in the work. Delegate. Find what help others are able to give, and receive it gratefully.
If you are here, you have something to contribute. And there are plenty of people who aren’t here today who also have something to contribute. In whatever understated, mild-mannered way, you have something. Find that thing and do it.
That sounds like a goal, doesn’t it? Maybe even a New Year resolution.
In a few moments, as we are ordaining Annette and installing Karen and Lois, I invite you to hear the questions they are asked and the responsibilities with which they are charged, and take them to heart yourself. We all have a vocation in this congregation, whether we are ordained or not. And we are partners in that vocation, all of our gifts and abilities and talents and passions working together to be Christ’s church, Christ’s body, in God’s world. Let us all know and believe that we are, all of us, called today.
For partners in ministry, Thanks be to God. Amen.
Hymns (from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal):
#298 Lord, You Give the Great Commission
#651 I Waited Patiently For God (Psalm 40)
#417 How Clear Is Our Vocation, Lord
#837 What a Fellowship, What a Joy Divine