[In the audio podcast of this service, the sermon begins at 35 min 40 secs.]
I Cor. 3:1-9
Maybe it’s family. In Sussex County I lived next to a gruff guy who had a relatively good family life except for his relationship with his sister. And no wonder when you hear that he began one family picnic conversation with her by saying, Fran, you look like hell today. Then, I understand, they were off to the races. Got any relatives like that?
Maybe it’s the church. The historical era from which I believe God wants us to learn today began with the last doozy of a fight in NBRC history over whether or not to give the parsonage to Bob Henninges after he had been here for 25 years. More on that later.
Maybe it’s work politics. Like Obama, do you invite the person that you bypassed for the promotion to help you lead the department? Is V.P. Hillary a good thing, and what do you do with Bill? How do you heal the wounds of win-lose to become win-win?
Maybe it’s the Bible. The Corinthian church had a problem. It was as if people were coming to church with Hillary and Obama pins, and not speaking to the other. Actually, they would have been Apollos for Apostle, or Paul for Apostle. It was as if Apollos’ supporters and Paul’s supporters were passing out literature on the way out of church!
How do you get well-meaning, fighting folk to work together?
That’s what my mentor, your pastor from 1982-1986, Bert Van Soest walked into here 25 years ago. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of what you’ve told me was going on. On the one side were well-meaning folk who wanted to honor Bob Henninges’ 26 years of service by giving him the parsonage. While Mark and I get housing allowances so that we can build equity and the church doesn’t have to be in the parsonage repair business, that was a new idea back then. On the other side were well-meaning folk who may have wanted to honor Bob, but felt giving a house was too much. Most folk were probably in the middle hoping that something agreeable could be worked out. In the heat of this donneybrook Bob left, and so did a significant amount of folk in the congregation. So then a Search Committee was formed which recommended a new pastor that the consistory proceeded to turn down. So the Search Committee decided to say: Well consistory, I guess it’s best for you to search for a pastor. Mary Florence Cadden was our first-ever female consistory Vice-President at the time. Around the same time the financially-strapped RCA engaged in what was called something like the Friday After-noon Massacre. Bert Van Soest limped away from his denominational position to seek God’s next chapter. Bert and Mary Florence connected. Mary Florence, a flower arran-ger, told Bert that if he became NBRC’s pastor, he was getting into a “thorny” mess.
Paul had walked into the same problem. The Paul for Apostle pins and Apollos for Apostle pins were just the beginning of his problem. The Corinthians were fighting as families (a problem with incest), suing each other as church members, they were even divided along gender and economic lines so that Communion was fiasco. Whoa!
So I repeat: how do you get well-meaning fighting folk to work together?
Since Bert undoubtedly based his approach on Paul, I’ll start with Paul’s approach. Paul sought God’s help to move from fighting to fruitfulness. Particularly he challenged the rich Corinthians to take up an offering for the poor saints in Jerusalem.
Here’s what God directed Bert and NBRC to do, based on Paul’s example of getting Corinth beyond itself to focus on others. Bert replied to Mary Florence’s “thorny” church comment in his booming voice, I grew up on a farm in North Dakota where I learned that thorns don’t hurt if you grab them firmly. So Mary Florence made an arrangement of thistles for his Installation Service. Bert didn’t waste much time helping everyone talk through their sides on the parsonage issue, rather he grabbed things firmly wherein they noticed the house next door for sale. You tell me it looked rather dumpy. Bert inspired our rather depleted congregation to dig deep into their faith and pockets to buy the house by floating bonds, and to roll up their sleeves and renovate it. And what a great time they had! You’ve talked about that with a sparkle in your eyes. Now for 24 years it’s been God’s shelter of affordable housing for seniors who want to live together!
So just how does God’s spirit move good folk who happen to be fighting to fruitfulness? Three lessons that Paul through Bert teach us:
- Respond truthfully and positively. Verse 21-23 summarize Paul’s advice. Thru it the Spirit confronts the problem but puts it in a larger, more positive context. Bert would have said, That’s enough about the pastor’s house, let’s house others!
- Redefine yourself. By saying verses 5,6 Paul steps away from the campaign. Bert didn’t use the conflict to get you to think him better than Bob Henninges. He just wanted to serve God by helping you do Christ’s mission. The rest is history.
- Roll up your sleeves. Verses 8 and 9 talk about Paul’s campaign–not to be lead apostle but to win the lost for Christ. Bert got in there to install a new toilet alongside you because providing seniors affordable housing became the mission.
How can you help those fine, fighting folk around you to focus on a fruitful mission? What do you need to do or say? How do you need to lead by example so that they move from stuckness to service? Seek Paul’s example, maybe through Bert, and God will bless. Just look at Kirkside. Amen.
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