Sermon By Rev Joel Crouse
History documents that during the Reformation many people were killed over the difference of opinion about God and the nature and divinity of Jesus Christ. Many Christians were being killed by other Christians. In the Upper Ottawa Valley, local stories say that up to only 60 years ago the people of Eganville who were divided by the Bonechere River—Protestants on one side and Roman Catholics on the other—would actually have fist-fights on the bridge that connected them. Christians were hurting Christians. In this day and age the religious strife around the world needs no retelling. The tension that exists in our own country over increasing polarization, the division between progressive and conservative theologies, and other issues that increase the blood pressure of many people, sustain the underlying discomfort and in some cases even hatred. Christians are in conflict with other Christians. What do you say when a person asks you what religion you are? If you’re like me you are probably in the habit of declaring your denominational status. And here-in lies the problem. You see, the option of choosing a particular congregation to be a part of wasn’t available for the Apostle Paul when he wrote his letter to the Corinthians. But as he addresses the divisions in the Corinthian congregation, he does give us direction for how we should perceive ourselves as modern-day Christians, and how we should move ahead as Christ’s church into the future. First of all Paul would point out that it is wrong, if not bordering on heresy, to say we were baptized Lutheran, Pentecostal, R.C., or any other denominational label including non-denominational. He asks those who in the Corinthian congregation said, “I belong to Paul”, “were you baptized in the name of Paul?” So I ask you, were you baptized in the name of the Luther, Calvin, Zwingly or the Pope? Let’s remember that it wasn’t denominational water that was poured over us in baptism. It was common ordinary water - the same water that comes out of every church tap in this city. And it was the same Word of God, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” It was grace, God’s doing that claimed and named us as God’s children. Whether we like it or not, want it or not, we are bound together to God and each other by our baptism in Christ. Secondly, we are bound together by the gospel, the good news of God’s grace and love in the life, death and resurrection to redeem and make us whole. I think if the Apostle Paul were writing his letter to the modern day Canadian Church, he wouldn’t be too happy about the different denominations that have grown up out of the same root. Paul was very sensitive to different congregations leaning to one side of the gospel or another. Paul really wanted that first group of Christians to remain as close to their roots and as true to the gospel as possible. Once a year, Christians around the world celebrate “The week of prayer for Christian unity”. Online and down the street at St Andrews Presbyterian church, Christians from different denominations will join together to celebrate the unity we all share - the gospel. 352 member churches that make up the World Council of Churches have declared “the mutual recognition of each other as churches where the gospel is preached and taught.” Like Paul we say, “we are not ashamed of the gospel. It grants freedom to EVERYONE who has faith. Like Paul, we are called to live and preach the gospel. Like Paul in our lesson, we center that gospel in the cross of Christ. I ask you, is there such a thing as a denominational cross? Is the cross in our church, a Lutheran Cross? No! It is the cross of Christ. Marked by that cross in baptism, saved by that cross, taking up that cross by following Jesus in faithful discipleship, by seeing that cross before our closing eyes in death - in life and in death, we are all united in the gospel, through the cross of Christ. But now the hard part in our lesson. Because of our baptism and our faith in the gospel, the Apostle Paul says, “I appeal to you, sisters and brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree that there be no dissension among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” Isn’t he asking for too much? He and the Apostle Peter didn’t always have the same mind and there was certainly dissension between Paul and John Mark. As long as you have two people, you’ll always have some difference of opinion. Collect more in a congregation and collect congregations into a church and the differences will multiply. I don’t think Paul is asking, nor am I suggesting, that we leave our denominational heritage behind for some generic no-name brand of religion. I love my Lutheran heritage and will always stand up for Article IV of the Augsburg Confession. And I am known in this City to have thrown the gloves off while debating with new line Christians about their beliefs. But I always depart in peace knowing that the roots of our faith are not so different. These words of Paul hold, “Let there be no dissension among you.” We are not enemies fighting the “I’m right and your wrong” battles, or playing the “I’m better than you are” games. And while Paul’s appeal, “to be united in the same mind and same judgment” might seem to be asking for too much, it is not too much if he means the same mind about Christ, about our baptism, about the gospel. To be of the same mind should mean to see ourselves as brother’s and sister’s with each other -- to see ourselves as partners in the gospel supporting each other in our common mission to the world. If not, if our churches see ourselves in competition with each other, then as the apostle Paul ends the lesson, “the cross of Christ will be emptied of its power”. So what does it mean for you and I to call ourselves Christian? Hopefully it means we take our calling seriously enough to nurture our individual lives, the lives of others within our churches, and the Holy Christian church throughout our community and around the world. Our church, which is Christ’s church, will be richer if we as individual Christians learn to honor the differences and celebrate the similarities of each other. In this way, we indeed fulfill the calling to which we have been called - to be the church - to be Christians in every way - to everyone. Amen.