Sunday, October 11, 2015

Transformed by the Cross: Washing Away My Rights

I’ve seen more than one person lose their religion in the school carpool line! I spend the first part of every day driving my children to school. I’m actually only a few months away from having some of them share in that responsibility. I can’t decide yet whether or not that is a blessing or a curse! But, you know, in those carpool lines, you learn a lot about people. I have commented on more than one occasion that whoever came up with the guidelines for student drop off at Cumberland Academy is not an engineer. The elementary and middle schools sit next to each other. And many of us have students at both campuses. So, someone designed on paper the path we are to take when we drop kids off at one campus and drive to the next. Oftentimes, wonderful plans on paper do not result in wonderful plans on the pavement! I’ve been following this plan for more than two years now, and I still don’t completely understand it. Some days cones are present. Other days they are not there. Some days we are permitted to drive counter clockwise in front of the school. Other days, the path suddenly and without warning shifts to clockwise. In this plan, ordinary people like soccer moms, football dads, and preachers are expected to navigate this ever-changing labyrinth. This maze offers not only directional challenges, but also the ever-problematic merging challenges! I tell you, the rules of merging in traffic are gray at best and I’ve seen ordinary people turn into raging maniacs!

I snapped a picture last week of this transformation. This was before the carpool merger.

This was after:

Last week, I saw a really interesting incident. Actually, this time, it was two men. As per the rules for merging, one car would go from one line and the one car would go from the other. Everyone was taking their turn. Then, apparently one of these guys wasn’t paying attention (or he didn’t care). He went out of turn. He broke the cardinal rule of traffic mergers! Well, the other guy knew it was his turn, so he pulled out too. Neither driver would give an inch. They drove side by side all the way through the line—neither driver giving in, yelling the entire time. Because of their feud, they blocked traffic both ways for about 5-10 minutes! But neither was going to give in, because both men thought they were right and if they were right, they deserved that spot in line! You’ve seen these two guys! What really gets me is when those cars have a Jesus fish on them! Well, maybe they bought that car and the Jesus fish was already on it, or, maybe those folks simply have forgotten who they really are.

That seems to have been the problem in Corinth.
When someone in your assembly has a legal case against another member, do they dare to take it to court to be judged by people who aren’t just, instead of by God’s people? Or don’t you know that God’s people will judge the world? If the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to judge trivial cases? Don’t you know that we will judge angels? Why not ordinary things? So then if you have ordinary lawsuits, do you appoint people as judges who aren’t respected by the church? I’m saying this because you should be ashamed of yourselves! Isn’t there one person among you who is wise enough to pass judgment between believers? But instead, does a brother or sister have a lawsuit against another brother or sister, and do they do this in front of unbelievers? The fact that you have lawsuits against each other means that you’ve already lost your case. Why not be wronged instead? Why not be cheated? But instead you are doing wrong and cheating—and you’re doing it to your own brothers and sisters.
Don’t you know that people who are unjust won’t inherit God’s kingdom? Don’t be deceived. Those who are sexually immoral, those who worship false gods, adulterers, both participants in same-sex intercourse, thieves, the greedy, drunks, abusive people, and swindlers won’t inherit God’s kingdom. That is what some of you used to be! But you were washed clean, you were made holy to God, and you were made right with God in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (I Corinthians 6:1–11 CEB)
Much like people demanding their way in traffic, the Corinthian Christians were demanding their way in life. Specifically, they were taking each other to court, because they couldn’t agree with each other. We don’t know the specifics of their cases. We think it was probably a civil matter, Paul names it: “ordinary lawsuits.” But, his main point was pretty clear. Brothers and sisters are disagreeing with each other. And they can’t settle their disputes. So, instead of working it out, they are taking each other to court, and in Paul’s eyes, this is absolutely disgraceful, or, in his words, “shameful.” Could Paul be any more clear here:

The fact that you have lawsuits against each other means that you’ve already lost your case. Why not be wronged instead? Why not be cheated?

Now this line of thought will not win you many friends where we come from! In our world, individual rights matter! If someone owes you something, they better pay up! If someone wrongs you, they deserve to be punished! If it is your turn to merge into traffic, they better let you in! But Paul is adamant. If you have to decide between two options, taking a brother or sister to court, or being wrong, choose to be wronged! Because the unity of the church is that important!

How many of us take the unity of the family of God that seriously? Paul is really playing on the metaphor of family here. And some of our modern translations miss it. The NRSV, in an attempt to be a bit more inclusive in its language, uses the word “believer” in verse 6.

“…but a believer goes to court against a believer…”

The word literally is “brother.” I think that designation is important here. If you want to be gender inclusive, just say brother and sister, but don’t leave out the family metaphor. Because for Paul, it is important here. This is an insider text. Paul is not talking to those outside our walls. This passage is not evangelistic. He is speaking to brothers and sisters…to family. And he is telling us something very important: Family members do not treat each other like that! Because when family members demand their rights, nobody wins.

When my family moved back to Lubbock several years ago, I walked into a firestorm at Broadway Church of Christ. They were in the process of moving from two worship services into one. My experience has always been that when worship is involved, people treat each other with love and respect. Has that been your experience? We are in Corinthians, so I felt sarcasm was appropriate! In reality, those conversations sometimes end in bloodshed! In previous years, there had been two different worship services. One smaller, more contemporary service in a large fellowship room and another larger, more traditional service in the auditorium. The idea was to bring the two back together and bring elements from both services into that newly combined gathering. It took about a week after the new service began for someone to get upset. But not just one person, a large contingent of people. They were upset because they were not getting their way. So, they scheduled a meeting with the elders. They read a letter to them. They said, “We have been here a long time. We deserve to have our church back. And if things do not change, we are leaving and taking our checkbooks with us!” That is a direct quote folks! In reflecting on that moment, I’ve often wondered how Paul would have responded. You know, the specific issues do not really matter. The fact is: you don’t treat family like that. Because disaster is always the result. They did leave. They caused a big ruckus on their way out.
And that family was the worse for it. If you follow Paul’s argument closely in this text, you can almost see his temperature rising. First, he says, “You shouldn’t be taking brothers and sisters to court over ordinary matters.” Then, he says, “You really shouldn’t take them to court over ANY matters. In fact, the very fact that you are taking them to court at all indicates that you’ve already lost.” And finally he gets to the heart of the matter. Look down in verse 9.
Don’t you know that people who are unjust will not inherit God’s kingdom? Don't be deceived. Those who are sexually immoral, those who worship false gods, adulterers, both participants in same-sex intercourse, thieves, the greedy, the drunks, abusive people, and swindlers won't inherit God’s kingdom. That is what some of you USED TO BE! But you were washed clean, you were made right with God in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of God.
The reason Paul is so upset with this lawsuit, the reason he is so upset with their desire to have their own way, is because they were supposed to have put those things behind them. When they were baptized into Christ, they changed into new people. But their selfishness was an indication to Paul that they didn't fully understand was their baptism really meant. They became something new! But they sure weren't living like it.

Church, that is really the heart of it, isn’t it? When we accepted Jesus as our Lord, when we went into the water with Jesus, when we came up out of the water, we became something (someone) new. But so many of us live as if that never happened. Because members of the church should treat brothers and sisters like family. Baptized believers in Christ do not have to have their way all of the time. In fact, baptized believers in Christ would rather be wronged than to start a fight. Wow! That’ll preach! We are a movement that has stressed baptism a lot! But sometimes we stress baptism like its just another item on our checklist!
  • Hear
  • Believe
  • Repent
  • Confess
  • Be baptized!
And ironically, for a people who have put so much emphasis on baptism, we've actually sold it short. Baptism does much more than simply wash away our sins. Even in this one verse, Paul talks about three things our baptism does:
  • It washes us—it forgives our sins.
  • It sanctifies us—that is, it sets us apart for service to God.
  • It justifies us—it places us in right relationship to God within the community of God’s people.
One aspect of baptism is that it ushers us into a new family with a new identity. We have new brothers and sisters! I love the story that was told by the late Fred Craddock about baptism. He was speaking at a church retreat up in the mountains. After his class, they had a baptism down in the river.
He said, he went down in the water with the person being baptized. The water was cold, he was ready to go get a hot shower! But on his way up to the cabin, a gentlemen caught him by the collar and said:
“Fred, you should stay, you’ll want to see this.” He said they all spontaneously joined into a large circle. They joined hands and it was quiet for a few moments. Finally, a woman stepped into the circle and made eye contact with her new brother in Christ. “My name is Mary. I’ve been told I have the ‘gift’ of cooking. If you ever need food, please call on me.” She stepped back into the circle and another person stepped forward. Making eye contact with the new brother, “My name is Carl. I’m an auto mechanic. If you ever have car trouble, you know who to call, ” It went on and on.

“My name is Susan…if you ever need…”

“My name is Richard…if you ever need…”

Craddock said they went on like this for about half an hour. He leaned over to the gentleman who compelled him to stay. “This is great. What do you call this?” He said, “We call this church.”

God called you to be the church! God called us to be the church! When we fight and demand our way, we quit being the church and we settle for being plain ole’ ordinary fallen people. But God called us to be so much more. We are the church of Jesus Christ. We are the hope of this world! May we remember that high calling. May we remember the commitment we made on the day of our baptism. And may the world around us be better because God’s church, God’s family, God’s “united” family, is here.

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