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Work In Progress (Video/Text) by Rev. Natalie Kline

Work in Progress
I Corinthians 3:1-9 – Epiphany 6, Year A
Patterson Avenue Baptist Church, February 16, 2014
The Reverend Natalie Kline

The manuscript follows this video (which includes an introduction by my wife and her leading the congregational prayer – I would have edited down just to Natalie’s sermon, BUT I have to live with Jeana.  LOL)

 

 

In the late spring last year, we had some construction take place on the road we live on.  Our street is one of the main roads locals use to get to the hospital for appointments or work.  It was inconvenient and some days downright annoying, not knowing whether or not I would be able to turn into my driveway when I arrived home from work or if my daughter’s bus would be permitted to pass thru as a two-lane road became a one-lane road for days on end. We whined and complained, and wondered aloud why they didn’t inform the residents on the street of this plan for lane closures and improvements.  But now many months later, we are enjoying a smooth ride from one end of the road to the other–a road that was filled with cracked pavement and numerous potholes now is completely redone and worth the headaches and annoyances.   Although we and our neighbors had complained about how terrible the road had become over the years of increased use as our local hospital and medical facilities have continued to grow, when the time came for the work to be done to make the necessary improvements that inconvenienced us for several weeks, rather than be excited and happy for the work in progress, we were whiney, thinking only of ourselves and not how this eventually affects the greater good of not only those who have addresses on Goose Creek Rd., but for the community as a whole to have a safer road to drive on to access their jobs or medical appointments.

Sadly we too often can see this same attitude prevalent within the walls of our churches and it’s not an attitude that has just begun to surface–this is the same attitude we see the Apostle Paul addressing in his letter to the Corinthian church, our focal passage this morning.  Hear these words from I Corinthians 3:1-9 written to the church in Corinth:

“Brothers and sisters, I couldn’t talk to you like spiritual people but like unspiritual people, like babies in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink instead of solid food, because you weren’t up to it yet. 3 Now you are still not up to it because you are still unspiritual. When jealousy and fighting exist between you, aren’t you unspiritual and living by human standards? 4 When someone says, “I belong to Paul,” and someone else says, “I belong to Apollos,” aren’t you acting like people without the Spirit? 5 After all, what is Apollos? What is Paul? They are servants who helped you to believe. Each one had a role given to them by the Lord:6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God made it grow. 7 Because of this, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but the only one who is anything is God who makes it grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters work together, but each one will receive their own reward for their own labor. 9 We are God’s co-workers, and you are God’s field, God’s building. (Common English Bible)

We want to believe that this passage was written just for that church, for those people a long time ago, these words certainly don’t apply to us today, right?  Oh, but they do! Often the teachings in the Bible that are difficult to apply to our own lives and in our own communities of faith are the ones we need to listen to and take to heart more deeply.

The word most often translated from the Greek in this passage as “flesh”–has been updated in the Common English Bible translation as “unspiritual,” which assists us in today’s culture to have a better understanding of what Paul was saying and how it translates to our lives.

Despite knowing that the work of God through Jesus Christ on the cross and resurrection had brought about a whole new way of life and living, the Corinthian believers, still failed to embrace this new life completely.  They were still acting as though pursuing the goals that the world promoted were the defining factors for the church. They were choosing sides, they were fighting over which leader was better, Paul or Apollos, promoting jealousy and whining about who was right. They were, as Paul says, acting like little children.

Although we and our neighbors knew when we saw those bright orange diamond shaped signs posted each day along our road proclaiming “Work in Progress,” that a new surface was being created, that it was for our best, for our safety, for the betterment of our community at large–our complaining demonstrated our lack of trust in those who were guiding the improvements.  It was easier to be comfortable with the “old road”–knowing where to dodge the potholes and longing for the day the road would be repaired. But then the day came when the work began, the repairs were made and achieved and we noticed for a few days how wonderful it was, but looking back just a few short months later–and we don’t even seem to acknowledge or recall the bumpy broken path–we find new reasons to choose sides and to complain. Are the snow plows EVER going to come down our street, why didn’t they use more salt to prevent the slick spots, why do they ALWAYS pile the biggest pile of snow at the end of our driveway? We, like the church in Corinth, were acting like children.

We can recognize and translate these childish ways of living out life as followers of Christ today from the example of the believers in Corinth to the example of the residents of Goose Creek Road.  Churches become divided and distracted by old allegiances to former leaders and to former ways of doing things, and by old hurts and old fights. We so easily think that those things need to define us. It seems so much easier to complain about the way things were or how much better it was when so and so was leading the way.  Like the church in Corinth–we often choose sides–oh “that pastor from back in the day” was so great while the other side is lauding the achievements and vision of the current pastor–when ultimately–both leaders have hopefully had the same goal in mind as Paul and Apollos–to magnify work of God in a world that needs the hope and love only found through Jesus.  It’s so much easier to cling to someone or something from the past or that is right here or that has had an personal impact on our life. It’s comfortable–we know where the potholes are and have become experts in avoiding the them–while allowing new believers to blindly hit treacherous places on the road of faith–simply because we are too busy choosing sides or enjoying our comfortable knowledge of the past.   Much too often we identify so closely with what the popular culture espouses as truth, that we as individuals and our faith communities become completely immersed in who we are as citizens not of the Kingdom of God, led by the Holy Spirit, but rather we wrap ourselves in the flag of a particular nation, we find safety in positions of power in our schools, neighborhoods or workplaces, and we find security and personal value in how much money we have in our savings, IRAs, 401ks.

We must not be shaped by these things that will, as Jesus told us, will be eaten by moths, become rust and be destroyed–rather we must cling to Christ as the one Whom with we most closely identify.  We must find our safety not in positions of power and prestige where we live, and work–but instead we must become less in order for Christ to become more.  We must be willing to be servant leaders, to kneel at the feet of those who need it most, and seem to deserve it the least so that our Servant Leader can be seen and followed by all those we come in contact with.  Our value and security cannot rest in our checkbooks or bank accounts–we have seen in recent years how well that works out.  We must seek out our value and security at the foot of the cross–where God demonstrated how incredibly loved and valued each and everyone of us is.  Thankfully our Creator does not care what borders we reside in, what our resume looks like or what our credit score is–God sees each of us as beloved beautiful creations and longs for relationship with us.

Paul continually longed for the believers in Corinth to have a deep mature faith, continually growing, continually being built stronger together.  Paul recognized that the believers were a work in progress and pointed out that no one earthly leader was the one to follow, rather, he and Apollos worked together as co-laborers, co-workers, co-creators to spread the good news of Christ.   Like Paul and Apollos and so many other faithful servant leaders, we are called to co-labor and co-create alongside God–always pointing to God as the One who brings the finishing touches that we cannot accomplish in our own strength.  We cannot cause growth in a body of believers or in an individuals life–only God can do that through the work of the Spirit–our job is simply to be a part of the work already in progress.  Where the journey is rough and uncertain–our job is to point to God who promises to come alongside us, to never leave us. Where the road of faith is gutted with potholes that shake us to our very core, our role on the journey is to trust in the Lord with all our hearts and to lean not on our own understanding–but to acknowledge God in everything we do and God will make the crooked path straight.

(Prov. 3:5-6)

5 Place your trust in the Eternal; rely on Him completely;  never depend upon your own ideas and inventions. 6 Give Him the credit for everything you accomplish,  and He will smooth out and straighten the road that lies ahead. (The Voice Translation)

Isaiah 40:3-5 The Voice (VOICE)

Our role is to be like the prophet Isaiah:

3 A voice is wailing, “In the wilderness, get it ready! Prepare the way;  make it a straight shot. The Eternal would have it so. Straighten the way in the wandering desert  to make the crooked road wide and straight for our God.

4 Where there are steep valleys, treacherous descents,  raise the highway; lift it up;  bring down the dizzying heights. Fill in the potholes and gullies, the rough places.  Iron out the shoulders flat and wide.

5 The Lord will be, really be, among us. The radiant glory of the Lord will be revealed. All flesh together will take it in. Believe it.   None other than God, the Eternal, has spoken.”
The Voice Bible, Personal Size: Step Into the Story of Scripture
by: Ecclesia Bible Society
publisher: Thomas Nelson, published: 2013-02-19
ASIN: 1401678491
EAN: 9781401678494
sales rank: 12728
price: $10.40 (new), $8.89 (used)

The Voice™ is a faithful dynamic equivalent translation that reads like a story with all the truth and wisdom of God’s Word. Through compelling narratives, poetry, and teaching, The Voice invites readers to enter into the whole story of God, enabling them to hear God speaking and to experience His presence in their lives. Through a collaboration of nearly 120 biblical scholars, pastors, writers, musicians, poets, and artists, The Voice recaptures the passion, grit, humor, and beauty that is often lost in the translation process. The result is a retelling of the story of the Bible in a form as fluid as modern literary works yet painstakingly true to the original manuscripts.

Features include:

  • Two-color text
  • Italicized information added to help contemporary readers understand what original readers would have known intuitively
  • In-text commentary notes that include cultural, historical, theological, or devotional thoughts
  • Screenplay format, ideal for public readings and group studies
  • Book introductions
  • Presentation page for personalization
  • Reading plans for Lent, Easter, Advent, and more
  • Topical Guide to the Notes
  • Topical Guide to the Scripture

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