First United Methodist Church
January 15, 2023
Rev. Lauren Hall
Connecting in Right Relationship: You are not Lacking
Good morning. There is so much hidden in the words that we use when saying hello that we often overlook their complexity. We can tell, for example, when someone is genuinely glad to see us or when our appearance is a burden. We know whether we can continue from where we left off the last time together – whether that was a day ago, or a week, or ten years – or whether we have to start all over and repair what was broken. When we are summoned into a superior’s office, we know whether we are in trouble or in line for a promotion. When we greet our children, we know whether they are just happy to see us or anxious or afraid or angry. A greeting is often laden with meaning beyond the words.
The introduction to the first letter to the Corinthians is no less laden with meaning. On the one hand, this salutation is typical Paul. From me and maybe someone else, to you, grace and peace!
But, this greeting is a little different than the others. Paul uses the labels as a way of setting the tone. “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes.” This may sound like small talk before he really gets to the point, but he’s already making one.
The church in Corinth is a divided church. We can debate what is actually going on, and probably not all agree, but if we read on in this letter, we see that there is division, factionalism, and an air of elitism that Paul believes should be addressed.
Paul wades in by establishing his credentials. He’s an apostle, not just a traveling preacher off the street. At the same time, he doesn’t want to play the elitist game with them. He’s an apostle, yes, but called by God. This isn’t something he’s done; it is a call. It is by the will of God. So, he is both flexing his authority and giving an example of humility in action. It is a lesson he hopes to return to more than once in this letter.
After this humbling introduction, Paul addresses his audience. “To the church of God that is in Corinth,” he says. Sanctified, called and together. Those are the words he uses to describe his readers and hearers. Sanctified, not by their own efforts, not by their own hand, but by Christ Jesus. Called, as he is called, to be saints, to a way of living, a way of being. Together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both
their Lord and ours. A part of something much bigger than themselves, bigger than their church, bigger than their collection of churches in Corinth, bigger than their egos and their divisions and their attitudes. Paul is gently and pastorally putting them in their place as he greets them. Grace and peace, he says.
“I give thanks.” That’s how he begins his conversation with them. Having identified everyone, having reminded everyone of their place, he expresses gratitude. This isn’t avoidance; he isn’t softening them up for the blows to come. This is a strategy, an approach; this is what is expected of the follower of Jesus. Begin with gratitude.
In this brief salutation, Paul attempts to show a different way of living. He is grateful for the life they live in Christ. He gives thanks for the faithfulness of God at work in them. And this is evidenced by the reality that they are not lacking in any spiritual gift. What an incredible statement!
We could argue that Paul is writing this whole letter because of a lack of spiritual gifting. Humility seems in short supply. Peace doesn’t seem to reign in their hearts. Paul seems to avoid many problems here in such a statement --not the least of which is that gratitude doesn’t seem to be shaping how they live together!
But look a little closer. Paul says, “YOU…are not lacking in any spiritual gift.” It’s a plural you. Paul is writing to the body, not to individuals. And it is as a body that they will fulfill their calling. It is as a body that they will find their strength and the ability to be blameless. It is as a body that they will respond to the faithfulness of God. That is the only way they can respond to God’s faithfulness. I may be lacking in all sorts of spiritual gifts, you may be lacking in all sorts of spiritual gifts, but we are not lacking in them. And, Paul argues, it is time to reclaim those gifts in the life and mission of the church.
In many ways our parable this morning reminds us that the church’s mission is about the plural “you” as well. The rich man, in his agony, wants to warn his five brothers to change their ways so that they can be saved. Abraham reminds him that they already have all the prophets, Moses and the Scriptures. Everything they need for salvation is already available to them. But the missing link, or the connection they need, is being in right relationship with their neighbors.
One of the things we need to remember when we hear a parable like this is that Jesus has concerns about us too. We see a person like Lazarus and we immediately mourn about all the ways he or she is separated from God. We see their sin. But Jesus sees our sin – our inability to recognize or accept the spiritual gifts that they have to offer.
Abraham does not grant the rich man’s wish. But Jesus does. Jesus gives each one of us a second chance, and his authority, given to us through his loving sacrifice, points us to right relationship with God, with our neighbors, and with all the Lazaruses of the world.
Assume for the moment that we are the siblings of the rich man. We are the ones who are given the second chance. Amid all that is challenging and ugly in our lives, we can work in partnership with each other and with God to be the change we want to see in the world. We can model with integrity the embodiment of love, peace and hope through Jesus Christ.
We are all family. If we walk past our neighbor who is hiding in plain sight like Lazarus, we are not only as guilty as the rich man, but we also limit the gifts and graces that our sisters and brothers in Christ bring to the table. We limit the experiences, the voices and the beloved community that might take place through mutual sharing of gifts. We are not lacking, and neither are they.
In his letter, Paul was reminding the Corinthians that they belonged to God and was asking them to examine their behavior to see if they still fit that description. He was also reminding them that they were a part of something larger than themselves.
He called them saints “together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” Jesus isn’t the exclusive property of those who seek to define him in specific ways. The Corinthians had remade Christ in their image, and Paul was trying to help them take a larger view. You are a part of something bigger than your eyes and bigger than your imagination.
The problem that both Paul and Jesus were addressing was the idea of superiority. Many of the Corinthians believed themselves to be better than everybody else. So did the rich man. So part of their message was to tone
down their arrogance. For us, however, this timeless message addresses something else.
It is a reminder, first of all, that we are called to not by our own wisdom, not by our own preferences and prejudices, but by the call of God, the vision of the kin-dom that defines our hopes and prayers and service. And also that we are in this together. It is not just me or my church, my circle, the ones like me, the ones I get along with. No, our vision is always bigger, always for inclusion, always for beloved community. That is how we honor the memory of the saints, or the servants of God who came before us.
The second reminder is the fact that we are not lacking. Our inclination is to want to step to the background or to sit on the sidelines. But Paul reminds us that we too are saints; we are part of something bigger than ourselves. This passage is designed to build us up and encourage us, particularly when we think we don’t measure up.
Paul tells us that we have been enriched. Not that we will be or we could be or we might be, but that we have been. Not only that, he goes on to say that we are not lacking in any spiritual gift. We have everything we need to be the church that we are called to be. We don’t need to wait for anything to be complete.
Paul looked ahead to the time when the saints would be "blameless" (v. 8) in the end time. He believed that we are all called, and that we are all gifted, in ways that Christ will use to make disciples. Paul had hope. He saw the Christians as they were and also as they would be. You are not lacking, and for that we give thanks.
Let us pray…
Great and mighty God, show us how wondrously and mysteriously you have created us. We yearn to shine as brightly for you, as you shine for us. We long to see ourselves as the amazing creations you intend us to be. Inspire us with your mercy and your grace, that we might know how deeply enriched we are in your love. For you have given us the spiritual gifts we need to answer your call and live into our purpose. In Christ’s nname we pray. Amen.