Grace to you and peace…
Have you ever had a favorite pastor? Maybe it’s a pastor when you grew up, or a pastor during your college years, or a pastor that served your church for many, many seasons and the “truth” is, you just couldn’t imagine church without that pastor in the leadership role. That pastor was so good, that it just wouldn’t even be church without her or him. And when that pastor moves on, you never really do/did…and when your children or grandchildren need to get baptized, or married, or someone in the family dies, it’s that long-loved pastor that you really want to reach out to (whether you do or not)...
That one pastor will always be your real pastor, and no other pastors will ever really count. And so, in a way, you really belong to that pastor, you’re part of that pastor’s tribe. And sometimes that pastor might just welcome and encourage that admiration and need of yours quite heartily…(As one who’s been on that side of this dynamic, once in a while, it feels amazing, to be honest).
I know this is kind of a question for only long-time church people. If you’re new to the church and church culture, you might not have had this experience, so please bear with us -- you often have to put up with our nostalgic stories and longings for the good old days. But to those of us who have been part of the church for years and years, I’d venture to say we all have a favorite pastor, and maybe are still in some kind of grief if that favorite pastor’s no longer with you. This is a pretty normal and hard part of church life, I believe...
I’m dealing with this a little bit right now: Murray Finck, our bishop, is really my pastor, since I’ve been a pastor. He came to San Diego this week for a final visit with our clergy here in his role, and I got choked up, as we went around the table offering our thanksgivings and well-wishes. He retires in a month, and a new bishop (a new pastor, for me) comes to office. I’ve only had one bishop, and it’s always been Murray...
Paul was dealing with these kinds of struggles, this kind of normal behavior, this kind of loyalty to one leader, one pastor...this kind of church tribalism in Corinth: “It has been reported to me that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided?”
See? We’ve been picking favorites in the church since the earliest days of the church!
But we are called back to the truth today: That, even as we all have that human tendency to pick and choose our favorites -- and we can expand this conversation from just favorite pastors (we pick and choose all kinds of favs) -- even as we pick and chose our favorites and “tribe up” -- you know, form affinity groups… “Who’s with me, isn’t [this one] the greatest preacher you’ve ever heard? The way she teaches and illuminates the scriptures, ooh, it’s like butter! Who’s with me?” Even as we gravitate to one pastor or another, Paul is quick to point us to the ultimate truth, and, I think, to shatter our little fences: We are all one in Christ! This pastor or that, this church or that, this party or that, this nation or that...does not bind us ultimately. Christ is the one who binds us together, people of God!
And then Paul makes this fascinating move -- just as we’re jumping on board with how great and mighty and powerful and eloquent our God is, Jesus is. Just as we’re starting to think, “You know, that’s true: Christ is much greater than even the greatest pastor I’ve ever had. I loved that pastor, but yeah, of course, how much greater is God?!! Thank you, Paul. Thanks for the reminder…” Just as we’re appreciating that little lesson, Paul drives home the uniqueness of our God:
Let’s not forget the cross, even and especially in the Easter season. Paul brings us, just as he brought those early Corinthians, back to the cross. Our God died, remember? Ooh, that’s problematic! That great and powerful God, that mighty king and victor…that amazing, greatest pastor of a God, who binds and loves and heals and fills all in all -- was humiliated, crucified and died. That’s the great leader that we follow. Isn’t that an offensive move for Paul to make? It’s a stumbling block, it’s foolishness to those who don’t get it, but to us who are being saved -- to us who are being made whole by the richness, the complexity, the depth of the Story, and the Meal, and the Bath of God -- to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. God’s power -- that is, the cross, the self-giving, self-emptying mystery of the ages -- is what unites us.
Paul goes right to the heart of the Christian witness, and it’s still got teeth even today: To be bound together, to be one in Christ, is to sit at the feet of the one who gave himself up on an ugly cross, for the sake of the world, the one whose love is so incarnated into our reality that we can’t even take a breath (even a dying breath) without being in the God’s presence and abiding mercy and peace.
That’s the one who holds us together! Not some human pastor, not some razor sharp theology or doctrine or preaching style. Not some king wearing banners of medals and backed by the world greatest army. We belong to Christ Jesus, whose name is love, who holds the whole cosmos in grace, who shows us how to bend to our knees and offer our neighbors humble service and welcome, rather than dominance. destruction and brutal force.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, we are members of a different tribe, we are members of a peaceful tribe, that extends far beyond the walls of this or any sanctuary, that extends to the far corners of this earth.
We. Belong. To Christ. ..who seals and marks us with the cross [pause], promises never to leave us, and sends us to share that welcome with everyone we meet along the way.
You belong to Christ. AMEN.