the Presentation of Our Lord

1st Corinthians 1. 18-31
Church begins and ends at the Cross!

I guess I’d been here, for five or six years, when I wrote an opinion piece for the Reporter Telegram. Not a letter-to-the-editor, but a guest column for Friday’s religion section. And I’d reflected on a church I’d pass, driving Lanie to and from church, each day. It was a small church. On a back street in east Midland. Concrete block. Old white paint. A patched roof whose shingles didn’t match. Hand painted sign. Parking lot cracked; weeds growing in the gaps. I’d go by that building, sometimes, four times a day. And it made an impression on me.

Anyway, that commentary was a study in contrasts – in contrasts and contradictions – between that little church building and our own. I ended it by asking a question … At which church would we find god, any given Sunday morning? In that struggling, little church in east Midland … of in our own? The point I wanted to make was that god just doesn’t think like us! We’re drawn to the big and the beautiful! To the lucrative and the successful. But truth is, god is with the complete opposite. Sunday mornings, god’s more likely to be found in the congregations that need god. In the congregations that depend on god, that can’t live without god. Not in the churches that think god needs them. In the churches that think god can’t do it without them. Churches with long rows of pews filled with bright, smiling faces. Churches with central air and central heating. Churches with fresh paint and clean carpets.

Needless to say, I had a lot of explaining to do after that article came out. A few people – only a few – were offended. Most were just confused. Most simply didn’t understand. This past week, I got to thinking of that submission, again. And I got to wondering … how those words might be accepted, if I wrote them, today. I imagine, they wouldn’t be as strange, as foreign, as they had been, back then. You see, so much has changed for us, over the years. Here we are, this morning, a couple dozen people, sitting in a fellowship hall that used to be ours. The pastor and his family living for nothing in a house no one else, at the moment, is using. The status, for us, today, is anything but quo!

We’ve become that small church … along the back street … on the other side of town … And because of that, for the first time – at least, for the first time in a long time – we’re able to hear the gospel. Able to hear it and receive it and understand it …

“Consider your call, sisters and brothers …” That’s how Paul begins this morning’s secondReading, or rather, what the secondReading would have been if it wasn’t the Presentation of Our Lord. “Consider your call. Not many of you were wise by human standards. Not many of you were powerful or of noble birth. But god chose you! And god chose everyone like you! God chose – chooses – those who are low and despised! God chose – chooses – those who have nothing! Those who are no one! God chooses the insignificant and the unimportant and the inconsequential. God does it so the world can see it’s all god! From start to finish! From beginning to end! It’s all god! God chooses us as god does, to flip the world upside-down! God chooses like god does to turn creation inside-out! A decade ago, we didn’t understand. We couldn’t understand. Even for me, what I just said was nothing more than a thought, an idea. But today? Today, we have become the passage!

Since WW2, we’ve been raised on a Madison Avenue faith. Everything bright and shiny. Everything big and flashy. We hawk the church like we peddle underwear. “Jesus Christ! Don’t leave home without him!” The gospel has become one more piece of merchandise to buy and sell. One more commodity to market and hype. But most of the world on the other side of these walls … most of the people outside these doors … can’t pay the price we’re asking. Don’t get me wrong. They need church. They want it just like anyone. Ache for it, in fact. Church is just as necessary, just as essential, to them as it is to us. But they want more than just a slogan. And they need more than a luxury they can’t afford. But, unfortunately, the church – the popular church – doesn’t understand.

That’s what Paul is trying to get through to the church in Corinth. We’re not here for the rich and famous. We’re not here for the high and mighty. We’re not here for the superstars and idols, so often speaking for Christ. The ones who point to heaven after a score. Who make the sign of the cross before stepping up to bat. We’re not here for those for whom faith is nothing more than a distraction, an amusement, from the ordinary and the everyday. We’re here for those who need more than entertaining. We’re here for those who have no one, for those who have nothing. We’re here for the people who need god! We’re here for the people who need us! For the people who have no one else! The overlooked and the ignored! The abandoned and forgotten! We’re here for those who don’t have the price of admission! The needy and poor! The impoverished and underprivileged! We’re here for all those that our world – in the name of progress and prosperity – have left behind and pushed aside.

If you haven’t noticed, over the years, the world doesn’t feel it owes us anything. In their eyes, we’re nothing more than a sinking ship. Their eyes, not mine! But we’re the ones Paul was writing to! The no ones! The nothings! The foolish! The weak! It’s begins here! With us! This is where the church is born! This is where it thrives! Where it flourishes! Here at the margins! Here on the fringes! Faith isn’t, first and foremost, about dying and going to heaven. And faith’s not tossing a few dollars at suffering, then turning and walking away. Never giving it a second thought. Faith is seeing what no one else sees! Faith is embracing what no one else dares to touch! Faith is claiming as our very own what no one else wants! Not because that’s what Jesus would do. But because that’s what Jesus has, already, done! That’s what Jesus is, still, doing! For you and me! For this congregation! For everyone and everything like us!

Consider your call! Look in the mirror! According to the world, we’re not all that! But if you look closely … if you look closely … you’ll see we are god’s! We are god’s! “Love to the loveless!” That’s how the song puts it! “Love to the loveless that they might lovely be!” That’s what god has done! Done for us! But back then, we just didn’t understand. We couldn’t understand. Not until god brought us to the foot of the cross. Not until god led us to the mouth of the grave. Not until we saw the misery and heard the groaning of those – those just like us – who ached to be loved! To be someone! To be something!

Like the blessing [a là Brennan Manning] proclaims … “May all our expectations be frustrated … May all our plans be thwarted … Mall all our desires wither into nothingness … that we, my friends … that we may experience the powerlessness and the poverty of a child … and experiencing that, sing and dance in the love of god! May sing and dance in the love of god!”