Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Rumors, Quarrels, Factions, and Divisions

Sermon preached on Epiphany 3A, on Sunday, January 23, 2011.

    Nothing good starts with a rumor.  When somebody comes to me and says "Rumor has it that..." or “I heard it on the grapevine...” I instinctively know that it is bad news.  Rumors are easy to start but almost impossible to stop.  They offer the anonymity that allows people to whisper what they were never be caught dead saying out loud, to say in private what they would never say in public.  Rumors are hard to track down.  Who started them is about as impossible to define as how to stop them.  Rumors are lies that become the truth we expect or want to hear.
    Today St. Paul confronts rumors.  Rumors of quarreling... of factions... of divisions... of people choosing sides against each other and choose leaders as a way of publicly choosing sides.  Imagine that rumors and quarreling and factions – in a Church, for God's sake!  But not here.  Does anybody here admit to starting, hearing or passing on rumors?  Does anyone here admit to quarreling or conflict?  Does anyone here admit to factions or divisions?  See, I told you.  We don't have any of that here, now, do we... Well, if we don't, wait until the rumor mill grinds up on Monday morning something after this sermon... and people begin wondering why did Pastor preach about that?
    St. Paul confronts what no one wants to admit – that we are often influenced more by the unfounded suppositions of rumors than by the clear, unvarnished truth.  It happens in Church because we are sinful people.  We may be forgiven but we are still sinners.  The old Adam in us delights in things whispered, in unsubstantiated allegations, in conflict and division.  St. Paul confronts rumors, quarreling, divisions and factionalism but not with the latest and greatest tools of the psychologist or motivational speaker or church conflict consultant.  No, he confronts rumors, divisions, quarrels and conflicts with the Gospel.  The only power to overcome what divides is the Gospel of the blood of Jesus Christ.
    God calls us to unity of mind.  But this unity of mind is not forged in consensus or debate.  It flows from the mind of Christ which was placed within you in your baptism.  The mind of Christ is not lies or deceptions but the truth that is forever the same.  This truth we call doctrine.  It is not the fruit of our reason or understanding but the revelation of things long hidden and made plain in Jesus Christ.
    God calls us to unity in the Word of Christ.  It is not the skill of the preacher or the efforts of men that bear the fruit of unity but when the hearts and minds of God's people are thoroughly rooted in Scripture.  When that Word of the Cross is their public testimony and confession before the world and when it forms and shapes their witness to those not yet of the kingdom of God, the fruit of that Word at work is unity of faith and witness.
    God calls us to unity in the work of the kingdom. Part of the reason why we have time for rumors and quarreling and division and conflict is that we are not busy enough about the work of the Kingdom.  When we are not focused upon the works of mercy that show forth Christ's compassion nor the works of service that display the cross shaped pattern of His life, then we have time to turn the attention to us and to the things that divide us.
    God calls us to unity of doctrine and truth, to unity of confession and witness, and to unity in works of mercy and service.  This is the very call of our Synod in the new emphasis of witness, mercy, and life together.  We won't end the reign of rumor or the tyrrany of division by talking it out but we will overcome them by being one in doctrine and faith, one in witness and mercy, and one in our life together at the Table of the Lord.  Here the Spirit works to accomplish what we cannot and to bring us all together in the mind and heart of Christ our Lord.
    God's call springs forth from the place where His Word and His Table are the central pillars that hold up His Church and support His people in their baptismal identity and faith and in their work as His people.  God's call to unity is the result of Christ at work in us and among us, the power of forgiveness to erase the hurts and bitterness of past divisions and wounds and the power of grace to turn our attention away from ourselves and on to Jesus Christ, whose gifts make us His people and whose work is our goal.
    God's call to unity results in a passion not for ourselves or our place or earthly honor or recognition but the passion for Christ, for His work, and for the eternal future He has prepared for us.  In the face of passion for Christ and His Work, and the passionate pursuit of the goal of eternal life, there is no crack for rumor to exploit, no opening for quarreling or division to take hold of, and no opportunity for us to focus on our selves instead of Christ.
    How do you end rumors?  Even the truth cannot still our quest for words that wound and hurt.  Only by making something else more important or urgent, can we still the voice of rumor.  Only when there is greater allegiance to the heavenly goal than to earthly individuals and divisions can we bind together the diverse company that is the Christian Church and all her members.  How do you end factions except when we identity and seek first the kingdom of God and all its righteousness over the human voices and causes that would divide us and create competitive causes among us.
    The truth is we do have rumors here at Grace Lutheran Church. We do have quarreling.  We do have factions and divisions.  Every church made up of sinners will have them.  Now you can either focus all your attention upon them or take the wind out of their sails by turning your attention upon Jesus Christ, whose doctrine, witness, and mercy service are our goal and purpose.

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