Christ Jesus Unites His Ministry

1 Corinthians 1: 10-17 (Epiphany 3 – 2014)

“Christ Jesus Unites His Ministry”

            A tub of Legos is a permanent fixture in our living room these days. There are all sorts of themes being done and redone: an army of various kinds of vehicles one day; a small village the next; but most days a big mess of little pieces strewn all over. There are certain house rules about Lego building: 1.) If you your going to destroy something to make something new, ask the original builder first; 2.) if I have a few pieces near me “I am going to use them” and 3.) if it is still in the tub it is fair game and will likely require an annoying shuffle of pieces that can only occur during commercials.

            Every once in a while a few of us are invited to a single project … one big plane or truck, or a building that will require all of the Legos. All of the creative minds begin working in together. At that point there needs to be complete unity and sacrifice. All current structures, large and small, need to be completely disassembled. Creative collaboration must be welcomed without negative critique. The projects unites.

            The ministry can be like Legos. One moment it can seem like all the persons involved are steadily working hard but only toward their own interest. A myriad of neat little things are happening but together they seem unfocused and unrelated. When things are left alone completely the ministry can appear like one big mess of little things that have no purpose. But at times, the ministry does appear to be a unified, well-oiled machine of God’s people. All are sharing and seeing the common goal. All are selflessly collaborating with one another toward common goals which build up the whole.

            Solomon said, “There is a time for everything … a time to tear down and a time to build” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1,3). Christ Jesus Unites His Ministry. He knows when it is necessary to tear down the scattered pet projects and selfish ambitions of a well meaning but divided house. The Name of Jesus breaks down division. He also provides the tools necessary for building up ministry. His Word and Sacraments Build Up Souls.

His Name Breaks Down Division

Paul understood that it was time to tear down division in Corinth. What was happening in Corinth? The believers there had received the benefit of several spiritual leaders. They were all gifted in different ways, with different styles and unique roles in the history of the congregation. Paul had done mission work there. Peter had shown apostolic leadership there. Apollos was doing pastor work there. Elected officials and volunteers were carrying out supportive roles for the mission and ministry. New people were being trained there. Paul names a few of the ones he knew personally: Chloe; Crispus; Gaius; Stephanas.

The people had begun to form recognizable camps and cliques. They had become a house divided over favorite spiritual mentors. It led to quarrels and selfishness. It led self promotions and name dropping, perhaps even name calling. It damaged ministry. It stopped ministry. It caused sinful and harmful habits among the congregation. Read the other 12 chapters of Paul’s letters and you will hear about the other rebukes and patients instructions he offered this now divided congregation. To put it in Legos terms: they were a scatter group of small things on the verge of becoming a bunch of little pieces strewn all over in selfish division. Paul was intending, in the Name of Christ, to finish the demolition and rebuild from scratch.

It happens quite easily. All of us are prone to our own pet projects. All of us have been blessed to have had several spiritual leaders in our past. Very of few of you can say that this only congregation you have experienced and I am the only spiritual leader you know. There are certain to be many things about other congregations and pastors that you miss when coming here. You may have already begun to realize that different pastors and spiritual leaders have different styles and abilities. You may have begun to realize that congregations go through many stages as they continue to form and reform, grow or decline.

Sin divides. Sin breeds egos. Sin breeds personal agendas. Sin forms cliques and self promotion. Sin breeds quarrels. Satan breeds the temptation to build banners for our own ministry camp without looking into the whole. Sin divides well-meaning Christian people. Sin stops unified ministry.

The Name of Jesus breaks down division by destroying the power of sin. Paul asks the rhetorical questions? “Is Christ divided? Were you baptized into the name of Paul … a favorite pastor or congregation?”

The answer is “No!” At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow. In the Name of Jesus, “[God, the Father] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins” (Colossian 1:13-14). Paul was putting the ministry, now divided in Corinth, into perspective. He was inviting them to see the entire ministry through the lens of Jesus. The name of Jesus Christ tears down selfishness. The name of Jesus promotes Jesus so that self-promotion is undermined. The name of Jesus forgives sin thought his blood. The name of Jesus heals souls. The name of Jesus empowers gifted people for ministry. The name of Jesus brings unity and focus for ministry.

His Word and Sacraments Build Up Souls

Paul’s marching orders from Christ were clear: “to preach the gospel [to the Gentiles] not with words of human reason, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” God had given Paul the role of being the apostle to the Gentile world. As far as the Lord would allow that mission would take him, Paul was willing to go and preach Christ crucified for souls. He was building the Kingdom of Christ in the Mediterranean one soul at a time, one village at a time. He was explaining that there are many others bringing other elements to that common goal. Later on he would explain that “he planted, Apollos watered, but God made it grow” (3: 6).

Paul was setting out on his Apostolic mission to set up places of ministry that would be “watered” by other who could be trained in various forms of ministry, including the likes of Apollos, Timothy, Silas, Titus and others who became local pastors. They would continue to preach and teach. They would baptize new Christians and new babies. It would not matter who was doing the work, but that the work was being done in name of Christ for the building up of many more souls.

Paul seems to make a few obscure remarks about Baptism and whom he did and didn’t baptize and what was his specific mission. He was not diminishing the importance of Baptism in the ministry of the Gospel; far from it. He was highlighting the fact that he and many others carried out baptisms. There were many other people who would serve in supportive roles once the Gospel was shared, explained, preached and received. As he did the work of an apostle he was inviting others into the common building the Church up in Christ. Paul was taking the focus away from his own self and placing it on Christ.

The main tool in that effort was the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The message of Christ is administered through Baptism; shared in the Lord’s Supper; taught in homes and gatherings; preach in pulpits, and explained to new souls in evangelism calls. All the people using the news of Christ crucified in unison with varied gifts and responsibility work toward the good of the whole. The cross of Jesus and its importance for the saving of souls is not emptied of it power while unified Christians all shared the common goal of pointing to Jesus as the Savior from sin. Word and Sacrament point to the Cross of Jesus! The Cross of Jesus builds up souls after the Name of Jesus and builds the Kingdom of believers.

What about us? Church history teaches us that every Christian congregation goes through ministry changes. “There is a time for everything … a time to tear down and a time to build.” The Lord is presenting opportunities to tear down and build in a rapidly changing time for our congregation. There are a growing number of new faces and new gifts among us. There is a growing need for healthy doses of assimilation and building up of the new and exciting building blocks surrounding us. There are some venues of ministry that have seen their day. It is ok to tear them down. There are some growing new needs that are begging for well-planned ministries which fit into the goals of the entire whole. There are interesting little projects going on that on their own are quite wonderful, but need to be brought more carefully into the whole. There is always in every congregation the existence of egos, pet projects, personal opinions, ambitions, and agendas.

Place the ministry of Christ at Crown of Life into the same perspective as Paul did. Christ is not divided. Christ tears down division by tearing down sin. Christ builds up souls by unifying his people around the power of his life-giving cross. The Gospel of Jesus through Word and Sacrament must run through the veins of every venue of ministry. It is the Tie that binds those pieces of ministry together in hearts of Christian love. The ministry does not rise and fall with a pastor or a congregation. The ministry rests its foundation on Christ and the power of his cross. The Cross forgives sin. The Cross heals souls. The Cross empowers gifted people for ministry. The Cross of Jesus brings unity and focus for ministry. Jesus Christ unites his ministry! Amen.