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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

1 Corinthians 11:17-26
51-Ord27-G-Year B
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
October 5, 2003

It’s good to be back. I know you always have a good time when Parson Larson’s here. And I understand the kids had a really great time with Susie during the Children’s Sermon. I also hear the choir did a really awesome spiritual number. Being gone makes you appreciate what you’ve missed.

But it’s good to get a vacation. One of our church members once told me he can always tell when I’ve been on vacation. Actually, that’s not what I heard him say. What I heard him say was that he can always tell when I NEED to take a vacation. He swears that’s not what he said, but I have a feeling both are probably true.

Someone asked me if we had a nice, relaxing time. We’ve got a four year-old and a 15 month-old. Relaxing isn’t part of the picture. But it was nice to get to the beach.

But our first reason for going wasn’t vacation. We went back to Dothan, Alabama – Peanut Capital of the World – and I got to preach, and Kristen played flute, and the kids just played, as part of the church’s 50th anniversary Jubilee Year. Having been gone for nine years, it was amazing how much had changed. The kids I remember as being Emily’s age are now taller than I am (which in itself is no big deal), but they’re all driving, and dating. Yet another sign that it’ll be a long time before we relax on a family vacation. The church has done some remodeling, both structurally and spiritually, and things are going really well. It’s a great church, with good reason to celebrate. And so, it was good to be back, and to see God so at work.

On the other hand…. The Apostle Paul has been away from the church in Corinth for a while, and things are not going so well there. The church is splitting into factions. People are getting drunk at the Lord’s Supper. Some are coming early and eating until they’re stuffed. Others are getting to the Supper so late that they don’t even get a bite. Any time a church starts to feeling all sorry for itself because it has “problems,” they ought to read First Corinthians. In the time that he’s been away, the church in Corinth that Paul himself helped begin has turned into a royal mess.

So what’s the difference? What keeps one or two churches on track, while another one, founded by the great Disciple himself, turns into a mess?

First is the confession that the church isn’t just another human organization. Sure, the people of Corinth are getting together on Sundays. Sure, they’re eating a meal they call the Lord’s Supper. They’re probably having committee meetings and wondering when to start a capital campaign for a Family Life Center. They’re a human organization, but a church they are not. They’re going through the motions of being a church, but a church is more than motions.

In order for any church to be more than a human organization, in order for the Lord’s Supper to be more than bread and grape juice, the Holy Spirit has to be at work. The Holy Spirit has to CHOOSE to be at work among a group of people, and that’s the hard part for humans to accept. We have to train ourselves to wait, and to pray that we’ll receive something that we can’t make for ourselves.

And if that lesson was hard for the Corinthians, imagine how much harder it has to be for us. We’re Americans – Ameri-Cans, not Ameri-Can’ts as the cliché goes. If we want something, we go out and earn it… or charge it. We get what we want… and sometimes we want what we get. “How long, O Lord, how long?” asks the Psalm. To be a church means putting our trust in the Holy Spirit, which like the wind blows this way and that, whenever and wherever it chooses. One of the youth of the church asked me to explain the Holy Spirit and before I said anything else, I said, “I can’t. I can try, but I really can’t.” The Holy Spirit is that invisible, mysterious force that makes churches work, and work toward God’s purpose. The catch there is that God’s purpose may not always be in the best interest of the organization, which makes things even more mysterious.

A church that’s on track is one that, for lack of a better word, SENSES that something beyond themselves is what gives them life. From youth groups, to choirs, to serving food at the mission – the best gauge of “church-ness” is whether you SENSE the Holy Spirit leading you. The hungry stomach was leading the church in Corinth.

The second thing that keeps a church on track is the knowledge that four walls and a steeple aren’t the church. The sanctuary isn’t the church. The parking lot isn’t the church. The classrooms aren’t the church. And the office and administrative area CERTAINLY isn’t the church. The copier machine is actually of the devil. And so are several of the computers. YOU are the church. You don’t GO to church on Sunday, because the church is already IN you. We come to worship, but we ARE the church.

In fairness to the church in Corinth, they didn’t have the luxury of 46 years of time together (as does Lake Hills), or a two-thousand year history to draw upon. They were figuring out this church stuff as they went along. We have the luxuries of tradition and history that teach us how to be church. But every generation has to figure out for itself how to implant the knowledge of church in the hearts and minds of its members, so when we exit the doors on Sunday morning, church doesn’t exit us. Church has to be portable. Church has to be part of us, before we can truly be part of it.

In Jeremiah, we hear God’s plan: “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”

Church has to be imprinted on who we are and what we do every day of the week, or else Sunday is just going through the motions.

The third thing that keeps a church on track is the recognition that the church IS the body of Christ, as Paul says. But which body? His earthly body or his heavenly body? Here’s where another one of those mysterious God-things happens again. The church is BOTH Christ’s body broken, and Christ’s body resurrected.

We’re Christ’s body broken. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul acknowledges that there are factions in the church, that there are always going to be factions – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s a youth group, listening to youth group music, and growing their youth group hair – which by the way is kind of reminding me of the 60’s on a couple of you guys. Youth groups don’t want old people like me invading your territory and preaching about how good Milli Vanilli used to be.

We’re Christ’s body broken because we’re sinful people, coming from different places, carrying different baggage. We’re Christ’s body broken as a church because we’re each of us broken in our own ways. Broken but beloved by God, we get together. We’re not always an example of how to do church right. We mess up. We make bad decisions. But we try, we do our best, we forgive, and learn and move on. No, we’re not always a stellar example of how to do church right; but if we’re faithful, God can take our brokenness, and make it right enough.

We’re Christ’s body broken, but we’re also Christ’s body resurrected. The risen Christ appeared to his church, gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit, and told them, “Go,” do this, do these things in remembrance of me. We are on track as a church when we humbly do the work of Jesus Christ. We are Christ’s hands and feet in this world. We are responsible not only for saying his name, but for going and doing what he would do if he were here today. In Communion, the you and I take Christ’s body and blood into ourselves. We do it symbolically, but it’s also real in ways we can’t explain. All over the world today, when the minister says the words and the people share the bread and cup, it’s as if we’re disciples, it’s as if Christ is here among us, resurrected, alive, going and doing. Christ keeps us on track; we’re just following his lead. And so we say the words, we share the meal, and by the grace of God we’re doing something right. We’re one body, working together in all its parts.

We believe that we’re not just another human organization. We believe that we’re more than a building that people go to once a week. And we believe the scripture that tells us we’re now supposed to be the body of Christ for the world – a body broken, yes, but a body also resurrected and alive.

When you take Communion today, really take it. Don’t be like the Corinthians who were thinking of themselves. Think instead about Jesus Christ. Think instead about his church. Think instead of how you are his church. And think of the day when World Communion will be Everlasting Communion, and we gather at his heavenly table, with no more factions, no more messes, no more anything, but Jesus.