Preached FCCW, June 3, 2018
2 Corinthians 4:5-12 and Mark 2:23-3:6
Whenever we gather at the table of Communion, as we do this morning, we pause to be reminded of a few things. You could say that this is when we “set the table” for the meal we are about to share together.
We begin with an acknowledgement of whose table it is. It is not ours. It is the table of our Lord. Next, we are reminded of why we are invited to this table. Not because we are fulfilled, but because we are empty and in need of being refilled with God’s grace. Thirdly, we hear again how we are to approach this meal. That this is not an occasion for expressing our opinions, but a time to seek God’s Presence and to pray that we might come away from this table with a renewed spirit of service to others in Christ’s name.
The Apostle Paul seems to have been saying something very similar to the Christian church in Corinth when he wrote these words. “We do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as servants for Jesus’ sake.”
It is not for nothing that Paul offered this bit of advice to the Corinthian Christians. You see, the Corinthian church was one where self-proclaiming was getting in the way of Jesus-proclaiming and where divisions were forming along the lines of some who considered themselves more Holy Spirit filled than others.
Substituting self-proclaiming for Jesus-proclaiming has never ceased to be a problem for the Church to this very day. More often it happens whenever quoting the Bible becomes a megaphone to proclaim one’s own opinions and prejudices, instead of proclaiming what it really means. Whenever that happens we have exchanged proclaiming ourselves “as servants for Jesus’ sake”; for proclaiming Jesus as a servant to our narrow thinking.
The divine authority of the Bible has been used to justify evils like slavery, anti-Semitism, misogyny, homophobia, and other un-Christlike ideas. If you look hard enough you can find an isolated verse or Bible passage taken out of context and distort it to proclaim almost any prejudice under the sun as though it was sanctioned by God. But, the big picture of the Bible is always of God’s unconditional love, justice and amazing grace. That is the picture Jesus presents to us at this table.
Paul reminded the Corinthian Christians that to see clearly the glory of God they need only look to Jesus. In Jesus, God’s Word was given a living voice with which to speak for itself in order to set straight the ways it had been twisted to harm instead of heal. In Jesus, God’s Word was given hands to reach out in compassion to foreigners, women, the poor, and others who were, and still are, denied justice.
Mark’s Gospel tells just such a story. It is just one of many stories that portray an adversarial relationship between Jesus and the religious leaders known as Pharisees over the correct interpretation and application of scripture. One sabbath day Jesus entered a synagogue where there was a disabled man with a withered hand. The Pharisees, who considered themselves to be interpreters and proclaimers of the scriptures, watched Jesus carefully to see whether Jesus would heal the man. Not because they were concerned for the man’s well-being, but because they hoped that if Jesus healed the man they could use the commandment about keeping the sabbath holy by refraining from work to condemn Jesus as a sabbath breaker. Jesus called the man to come forward. Then he turned to the Pharisees and asked them a question that cut right to the heart of God’s intended purpose for keeping the sabbath. “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath? To save life or to kill?”
This shifted the focus from whether Jesus was doing wrong by not obeying God’s commandment concerning sabbath keeping to whether their interpretation and enforcement of the sabbath was obstructing God’s intended purpose for the commandment. If they said it was not unlawful to do something that was good and life enhancing on the sabbath, then they would have no grounds to accuse Jesus of breaking the sabbath if he healed the man. If they said it was unlawful to heal the man on the sabbath it would be clear to everyone that they were not proclaiming God’s will for the sabbath but misusing the Law to enforce their own judgment against Jesus. So, they said nothing. And, we are told that Jesus grieved at their hardness of heart.
I wonder what hardness of the heart Jesus grieves today at those times when his followers are silent about suffering, because the victims look or love or believe differently than we do? I wonder what hardness of heart Jesus grieves when his followers are silent about injustice against others because we have judged and condemned them already in our minds. What do we proclaim or defend in his name, that is irreconcilable with what Jesus has revealed to us about the nature of the Kingdom of God.
Paul’s words to the Corinthians contains a humbling reminder for us today, that the treasure of the Gospel is entrusted to us who in our humanity are as fragile and insecure as vessels of God’s Word, as brittle clay jars. And we remind ourselves of that truth whenever we pause before sharing the treasure of this holy meal to join in a prayer of confession for whatever ways we of Christ’s Church in the world, have allowed our proclaiming of ourselves to get in the way of our proclamation of Jesus as Lord. And ourselves as servants to others for his sake.
Copyright 2018 Raymond Medeiros