Summary: A special sermon preached for an outdoor worship service, based on Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians.
Special Outdoor Worship, September 7, 2008
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for your living Word, Jesus the Christ, who through his life, death and resurrection revealed your will for our lives. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to receive your Word and sacraments as the means of grace for all generations. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
Paul’s First Letter to the church in Corinth reveals, as do all of his letters, his deep theological insight that has contributed greatly to the foundation of Christ’s Church. I would like you to think for a moment, and consider the fact that this letter was written by Paul only about 20 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Therefore, it is one of the earliest writings of the New Testament, penned long before the Gospels.
To be sure, Paul was a great evangelist, who went throughout the Greek and Roman Empire proclaiming the kingdom of God, inaugurated by Christ’s death and resurrection. As a result of his missionary journeys, and those of others in his day, congregations of Christ’s church were established at an enormous rate. The problem was, however, that once a congregation was formed, Paul left those fledgling congregations to carry his message of Christ’s victory over sin and death to other towns and villages.
At that time, there were no quote, “Pastors” to provide continued direction and understanding to those congregations, about what it means to follow Christ as one of his disciples. And I’m sure, that at this point in the life of Christ’s Church, there were no “constitutions” to guide their life together. As a result, not long after Paul left those congregations, problems soon started to develop. The congregations in Corinth were certainly no exception.
So, when Paul heard about the problems that developed among the congregations in Corinth, he wrote them this theological letter, in the hope that it would help them understand the significance of what it meant to be a disciple of Christ.
For example, Paul chastised the congregations in Corinth for their sexual immorality, which stemmed from their independent arrogance in thinking, that if Christ had freed them from sin and death, they could indulge in whatever activity they pleased. Paul spoke against incest, in responding to the report that a man had married his stepmother. Paul upheld the sanctity of marriage, and spoke against the Greek custom of frequenting brothels.
And Paul did so, not by lifting up Roman and Jewish law, but by making the theological point about the sanctity of the human body. For according to Paul, through our baptism, “we were washed, we were sanctified, we were justified in the name of Jesus the Christ and in the Spirit of God the Father.” As a result, we should not join our bodies, which have been so blessed, in sinful activity.
I don’t want to dwell this morning on all of the immoral social issues that sprang up in the fledgling congregation of the Corinthian Church. But I would like to focus on Paul’s theological understanding of the sacraments. For Paul not only gave clear direction to enable these congregations to understand the significance of these rites of the church in Corinth, but to the church throughout history.
First, from my understanding of Paul’s letter, there must have been some mythical perception on the part of the Corinthians, that when one was baptized, the person who performed the sacrament, somehow imparted wisdom to the person baptized. Since there were several persons who performed baptisms in these congregations, factions developed. It is almost as if, within 20 years of Christ’s death and resurrection, different denominations of Christ’s Church began to form.
Paul had heard that, and I quote, “Each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” To this Paul states, “What! Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” End quote. Paul then goes on to extol the Corinthian Church to seek the wisdom of God in Jesus the Christ, that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power to redeem us from sin and death.
Can you imagine how this statement of Paul, helped the Church throughout the ages to focus on the true significance of the sacrament of baptism? The person who performs the sacrament is of no importance. God forbid, that I, who have presided over many baptisms in my ministry, would claim any responsibility for the grace of God bestowed upon those who receive this sacrament.