St. Marks Presbyterian Church

7922 State Road 52, Hudson FL 34667

Phone (727) 863-5646     FAX (727) 869-9529 


St. Mark's Presbyterian Church                                                                          Pastor Laurie Palmer    

January 26, 2014

Lectionary reading. I Corinthians 1:10-18

Today’s passage from I Corinthians is from the lectionary. I preach the lectionary so that scripture chooses me and I am challenged to respond and to articulate something about what God has to say to us this day, and for such a time as this. And so hear the Word of God for us today.

“By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ I appeal to all of you, my friends, to agree in what you say, so that there will be no divisions among you. Be completely united, with only one thought and one purpose. For some people from Chloe's family have told me quite plainly, my friends, that there are quarrels among you.  Let me put it this way: each one of you says something different. One says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Peter"; and another, "I follow Christ."  Christ has been divided into groups! Was it Paul who died on the cross for you? Were you baptized as Paul's disciples?  I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius.  No one can say, then, that you were baptized as my disciples  (Oh yes, I also baptized Stephanas and his family; but I can't remember whether I baptized anyone else.)  Christ did not send me to baptize. He sent me to tell the Good News, and to tell it without using the language of human wisdom, in order to make sure that Christ's death on the cross is not robbed of its power.  For the message about Christ's death on the cross is nonsense to those who are being lost; but for us who are being saved it is God's power.”

 And how fitting that here we are in one worship service today. And for those who choose to participate, you, this is a beautiful thing. You might have even sat in each other’s pew. Who knows? The truth is, St. Mark’s is a segregated congregation by which worship service we attend, there are issues around that, so to have a worship service and congregational meeting at this time is a compromise for everyone. There are elements of the today’s worship from contemporary and traditional worship. There are elements common to both.  Working together to eliminate “we and they” is crucial to the life of this church. You are not alone in those things that cause division.

            Fifteen years or so ago I co-pastored St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, San Antonio, TX. Every Wednesday night I cooked for 50-70 folks for our weekly children’s gathering. We did not have 50-70 children. To encourage their participation, we offered a good meal for the whole family to get them there. Children, their parents, teachers, crafts people, the woman who volunteered to single-handedly to wash dishes every week, and finally a  burgeoning cadre outside of the children’s group who saw what I was doing and said, “I like to cook too, I’m going to cook with you every week.” They were all there.

            That program was started four years into our ministry there. One afternoon, I stood in the kitchen having gone grocery shopping and dropping the bags on the floor I yelled in a loud whine, I was by myself,  “How long do you have to be the pastor of this church before you get keys to unlock the kitchen cabinets so I can do this???”  I was always at the mercy of and having to track down Val, the sexton of the church, to unlock. To this day, I don’t know who else had keys to those locks.

            Exasperated, I took an ice pick that I found and I went to work on all the locks and latches and took them all down.  I pried the latches off of every cabinet. I pulled locks off. There was a Presbyterian Women’s section, an Alcoholics Anonymous section, a Presbyterian Men’s section, a Fellowship section, and others. I poked around inside those cabinets and as I did Jim Moore walked in, a young father and ER doctor at the veterans’ hospital, and I heard him laugh.  I turned around and he said, “umumumumum, I cannot wait to see what’s going to happen next!” as if a younger sibling caught me with a hand in the cookie jar.

            As it turns out the AA section had all the up-to-date stuff, used with regularity. Fresh coffee, clean coffee pots, new napkins. In other cabinets I found boxes of sugar cubes that had turned brown with age, I pulled mice-eaten containers of who-knows-what, kool-aid and lemonade hardened in their plastic containers, paper products that were disintegrating, and provisions that, if shared, could have benefitted all. But I know how these things go. I’d been in the church since the day of my birth.

            Other than Jim Moore, no-one ever said a word to me about my breaking and entering.

            Eventually, that 40-year-old temporary building was torn down for a new building with a new kitchen that did not have locks on the cabinets.  We did label them, but we did not lock them.

            Those dear saints had become so territorial that they locked their cabinet doors so someone else wouldn’t use their stuff then most of whatever was locked up inside went to waste. I wonder what Paul would say--- if we cannot agree on the kitchen, what can we agree on?

            Paul’s mission to throw out far and wide the Gospel of Jesus Christ to anyone and everyone resulted in something not often seen:  disparate groups of people coming together for one reason—the saving mercy of Jesus Christ, who died on the cross. But they got lost in their own causes and interests, in their own way of interpreting what Jesus was about and what He’d do or not do, in the right way to be the church and they all had their ideas about church-- they forgot the cross.  The self-emptying, self-sacrificial cross; they forgot about  concern for the other, of bearing the burden of the other even if the other was so different, of the privilege to minister one to the other, of joy and thanksgiving that in life and in death they belonged to God and that their lives had been saved.

            Paul says, back to basics.

We resemble that church, and when I say we I mean St. Mark’s and every church since the time Paul wrote this letter.   We continue to disagree about secondary issues, the ones that have no bearing on our salvation, and we mar unity in Jesus Christ. We disagree what it means to serve God and what worship looks like. We disagree on what causes to support. Disagreement turns to sides, into lines drawn in the sand and we mar the unity we can have in Jesus Christ.  History teaches us all this, as does living in the Body of Christ.

In my life, it has been during times of disagreement and conflict, the most hurtful times, that I learned the most. I wouldn’t want to repeat any of it, but it was during those times that I learned something about other people, about me, about God’s mercy.

Do not let disagreement get protracted because it will fester and the body will get sick. Or as Paul says, it will rob the cross of its power.

 How will we avoid robbing the cross of its power? Especially now during this tender time of transition in the life of this congregation?  There are disagreements in this congregation particularly over Contemporary and Traditional worship, and over how we serve the growing homeless population around us. We can do a few things.

  1. Celebrate our differences—some of you love children and youth and not everyone is gifted to reach out to them; some of you like the challenge of learning, and so gather to learn; some of you have skill in discerning the financial well-being of the church, while others enjoy music; some want to reach out to the least of these in the community in the food pantry and showers for the homeless, while others cook meals and serve. Thank God, literally, that the Holy Spirit has drawn you here just as you are to serve just as you do. If we all were great at buildings and grounds, there would be no worship on Sunday morning. Celebrate your differences and thank God for them.

With whom are you in an intractably difficult moment? Pray for them. Then try to learn something about that person that you do not know. This requires effort in reaching out and building relationship. What assumptions do we have about someone that are probably way off the mark, and yet we’ve built our vision of them based on it? We all have stories, we are all broken in some way, we are all fragile and strong, we are all saved by the grace of God and not by our own effort. We are worth knowing, each of us.

  1. There is a difference between an issue and a person. You can disagree about an issue, and you are still a beloved child of God and so is the one with whom you disagree. Debate an issue, not the integrity of another person. Disagreement that leads to attacking character is deadly to the Body of Christ.
  2. Trust. Trust God that for some reason He has called us here to this place to do His will. And if that’s so then practice trusting each other as we seek to do God’s will.
  3. Love. This isn’t a suggestion. This is the commandment by our Savior. Love God. Love neighbor. That’s it. Let us crack our hearts open even if it feels uncomfortable. We belong to Jesus Christ. With it comes deep and abiding responsibility to love as He loves.
  4. Forgive. Isn’t this what our baptisms are all about, that we have been bought at a price and we are free. What is our motivation from holding that back from another person? Jesus taught us to pray. “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” He meant it. And so if forgiveness is a slow process, as it can be, when are we going to start. Today? Tomorrow? We don’t know? If not now, then when? And if we decide not to forgive, what is the pay off? To be right? At what cost? It has been said that not forgiving is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

Sometimes we are ambushed by the human condition. We fall. We fail. We say something, not out of Christ’s love, but out of self-interest. We struggle. We make mistakes. We forget. We are human. We need God’s forgiveness, each other’s forgiveness, and we must forgive others.

 We are human and we are shown how to be authentically human in Jesus Christ. We have potential because we are made in the image of God, being shaped moment by moment by the Holy Spirit that won’t let us go. We are at different stages of this faith journey, all of us. So we treat each other with kindness, and with accountability.

What an awesome God we serve to bring us together now, as we are, to guide St. Mark’s into the next chapter. What a privilege. God knows what He’s doing even when we wonder.

The message about Christ's death on the cross is nonsense to those who are being lost. We are not lost. For us who are being saved the cross is God's power. The cross of Jesus Christ is how we live, it’s our way of life. It’s everything. It is God’s power, God’s entrusting us with His ministry in this place, it is fellowship with each other even when we are so different one from another, that we journey on in hope, in anticipation, in expectation that God’s up to something good. God may be up to something that’s not easy. But God is always up to something good. May it be so as we join together in the congregational meeting after worship.

Pray with me. Oh God, Your cross, Your self-giving in Jesus Christ, gives us life. Help us to appreciate each other as we are. Help us to love, to trust, to forgive, to pray, to know that You never leave us alone but that You, in fact, are leading us to the next thing. May it be so, Lord. Come, Lord Jesus, and we pray in His name. Amen.

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