What Else Would We Do?

 

A Sermon for Covenant
What Else Would We Do?
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
January 26, 2013
Kyndall Rae Rothaus

(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.)

On Friday I was chatting with Will as we waited for volunteers, and while we were talking, he told me about a phone call he received some months ago about me. Someone outside our congregation had heard about my pending divorce and they called him in concern, “What’s the church gonna do?” they anxiously wanted to know. Will calmly replied, “What do you mean, what are we going to do? We’re going to love her and support her. What else would we do?”

I am so very aware and was reminded of it again this week that this is a loving church and that personally, I may not have made it through one of the darkest seasons of my own life if it weren’t for you. This is a church that loves and supports her members.

We may not get it perfectly; in fact, I’m sure we don’t. There is always room to grow a bigger love. But we do get it. And that is significant.

This place never ceases to prove to me what it means to be the church. This is a place where love gets more than lip service; love gets enacted in the concrete ways we show up for one another.

So while there is a lot we still haven’t figured out around here—how to attract more people, for instance, how to attract a new treasurer, more specifically, how to answer life’s perplexing dilemmas, how come there is so much unresolved pain—though we haven’t figured out that, we are never at a loss, not really, about what to do when crisis hits. “What’s this church gonna do?”

What do you mean, what are we going to do? We’re gonna love. What else would we do?

This is our never-ending experiment: how to love well. Whether or not we ever get much else sorted out, theologically, programmatically, or otherwise, we keep faithfully returning to this very basic lesson: how to love our neighbor.

This is the essence of what it means to be church: a love that knows no bounds.

When Paul wrote his letter to the church in Corinth, they had forgotten this. They were setting up boundary markers all over the place. They had forgotten who they were. They were bickering and exalting themselves over one another. They had forgotten the radical gospel that had drawn them into the fold in the first place.

But who can blame them? After all, once you’re in, the Gospel quits sounding like Good News and starts to sound like sheer nonsense that requires a change in the whole way you see the world: What, everybody gets in? What? Being baptized by Paul himself doesn’t earn me special privileges? What? Being a conservative, being a liberal, being a contemplative, being a Baptist—these things don’t mean I’m better? I don’t get to sit in the special seats? Jew or Gentile, we’re all in? It all sounds like insanity to a segregated world. But this is the nonsense Paul is committed to preaching again and again until his dying days.

He says quite bluntly this Gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing but power to those who are being saved. We tend to think he means the Gospel sounds ridiculous to the lost but powerful to the Christians, but I’m not so sure that is what he means. After all, he is writing to the church, not to those outside the church, and this is a church that is getting lost all over again in the confusing territory of comparison. I think he may be giving us a clue here: this is how you know whether your church is dying or whether your church is being saved, whether your faith is dying or whether your faith is being saved: Are you pushing back against the outrageous call of the Gospel to love your neighbor as your self, or is the Gospel empowering you to abandon your sense of supremacy and welcome all God’s family?

It’s not just Corinth who is susceptible to deciding the Gospel is a bit too much and we better reign this extravagance in, before it gets too far. It can happen to anybody, the temptation that once you’re in, to pull the doors closed behind you. It is such an easy slide to slip on: to focus on what makes us better than the rest. We’re all capable of the sneaky vice of comparison. What makes us different, rather than what makes us the same. What makes us superior, rather than what makes us kin.

But there is nothing quite like hardship to remind us we are family.

I know I watched in amazement this week as not just this church but the wider community came together in support of the Beardens. Yes, there are the internet trolls too and the anxiety-ridden busybodies, but mostly, mostly there is the Love that draws people together, eliminating the things that normally keep us separate and uniting us with a single purpose.

This is the Good News right smack in the middle of the horrific. What’s this church gonna do when times are dark and the way forward unclear?

What do you mean, what are we going to do? We are going to love and support the Beardens and anyone else who is hurting. What else would we do?

Always there is this call, this reminder, this pull to come back to love as the essential thing. This very letter Paul is writing to the divided church of Corinth is the very same letter where he will say the now famous lines: “If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship, that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

The Bible says elsewhere that perfect love drives out fear, and let me tell you, it is always fear that drives division and shuts people out. As the church, we know that we are not the gate-keepers. We don’t have time for that. We are the welcome home crew. We’re the party-planners. We bring the potluck pride and we bring the hugs.

See: You can spend energy shutting people out or you can spend energy welcoming people in, but you can’t do both. You can spend your effort building walls or tearing them down, but you can’t do both, not effectively. You can spend time on border-patrol or you can cook meals for every ragged refugee who crosses over out of harm’s way, but you can’t do both. You can fuss about who doesn’t belong or you can rejoice that they let a ragamuffin like you join the party, but you can’t do both. You can live with great love or you can live with great fear, but you must choose one or the other.

I wish there was something I could say to make all our pains go away. I wish there was something we could do to solve our problems tidily and answer our questions definitively, but even in the face of the unanswerable, I do know that we can choose whether adversity makes us stronger, I do know that we can choose the Gospel, every time, I do know that we can dive deeper into love or we can shut the love out. I do know that even in the dark, we have each other.

I, for one, think Will absolutely got it right when he was asked, “What’s your church going to do?” And I hope that until the end of our days, our answer is always, always the same. “What do you mean, what are we going to do? We are going to love. What else would we do?”

May the love of Christ define us, may the love of Christ guide us, may the love of Christ refine us, may the love of Christ surround us, may the love of Christ restore us, may the love of Christ transform us, may the love of Christ unite us, Amen.

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