A sermon delivered February 12, 2023, by Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Making choices. You and I are faced with making choices the moment we wake up in the morning. Do I stay in bed, or do I get up? What shall I have for breakfast? What am I going to wear today? Who am I going to root for in the Super Bowl? Actually, do I really care about the Super Bowl? Those, in fact, are pretty benign choices we are faced with each day. But there are other types of choices we are faced with, too.
Do I fudge the numbers so the boss thinks things aren’t as bad as they are? Do I quit my job? Should I report to the authorities my company is exploiting non-documented workers? Do I turn a blind eye when I witness disparity and discrimination in the workplace?
Our Hebrew text this morning is from Deuteronomy 30 and records the words of God addressed to Moses and the wandering masses, “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life” (30:19-20). God wanted to make sure that before the wandering Hebrews crossed the Jordan River to claim the land of promise they would keep their focus on what is important. All they had to do was to remember that the Lord was their life and that every choice and decision they made thereafter would be one where they chose life. Sadly, we know how that all turned out.
Our preaching text today offers a similar call to the people of God. The indefatigable Apostle Paul is trying to convey the critical message of the power of the crucified Christ and the life-saving power of the Holy Spirit but the people in the church are not choosing life; they’re choosing sides. For the second time within 46 verses at the opening of his letter to the Corinthians, Paul is calling out the Church for making poor choices and for losing sight of who is the source of their life. 1 Corinthians verse 12 Paul writes, “One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; and still another, “I follow Christ.” Let’s see what he says in our scripture in 1 Corinthians 3:1-10. Listen to the Word of the Lord!
1 Corinthians 3:1-10
3.1 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?
5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. NIV
In case you missed it, that last verse is the key that unlocks this passage’s point. “For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.” The Corinthians are wrapped up around church leadership and programming and Paul is telling them, “You’re missing the point! It’s not about me or Apollos, it’s all about God working in and through you, members of the Church!”
Paul and Apollos are mere agents, catalysts, in helping the people in the pews get to working in God’s fields and in God’s house. The word Paul uses for a co-worker is the same word we get our word ‘synergy.’ Co-workers create synergy, mutually beneficial movement, change, and opportunities for growth. In a synergistic relationship, one person is not more important than another; one’s person’s gifts complement the gifts of another for the sole purpose of spurring the growth of the fruit of ministry and grace on God’s behalf.
Over my years in ministry, I’ve been privy to parking lot conversations where whispers are made from members, “You know, I don’t like that pastor. He is hard to understand.” I’ve heard, “I don’t come to worship if she’s preaching; I don’t like her style.” I’ve heard, “You know the pastor is divorced, don’t you?” I’ve heard, “He shouldn’t be a minister because he has a beard, and tattoos and rides a motorcycle!” When I hear things like this, I look heavenward and feel the tears of God washing over my face! They are comments that are a lesson in missing the point.
Patrick plants, Pam fertilizes, and Nic waters but it’s God who is producing the growth in the recalcitrant soil and is transforming barren space into a vibrant, fruitful field and household community. The Lord is our mutual life together. The focus is not on Paul, Peter, Apollos, Nic, Pam, or Patrick; it’s on our Lord Jesus Christ. When that focus is taken away from the Lord Christ, the field we call First Presbyterian grows weeds and the house we call First Presbyterian becomes uninhabitable.
1 Corinthians 3 talks about our choices as a community of faith and about the way the community conducts itself. Paul is reminding us that the Church of God operates vastly differently from the way the world works. The Spirit of God does things differently from the spirit of our flesh. The challenge with churches today is that we overlay the way the world conducts its business and expresses its ways, values, and behaviors onto the way the church conducts the way it does business and expresses its values within the community of Jesus.
The world tells us to live with an attitude of scarcity so we better horde all we can whereas the Church encourages us to live lightly and in the confidence of God’s abundance.
The world says the best leaders are outgoing, extroverted, smooth talkers, and charismatic whereas the Church insists that church leaders are to be unique and use the individual gifts God provides each of them to create synergistic energy between Paul, Apollos, Peter, Patrick, Nic, and Pam.
The world says it’s the survival of the fittest and as such we either set up sides or manufacture layers of hierarchy; my side, my point of view, my theological point is better and is clearly more superior than yours! Church members and churches then take up sides on who is right and who is wrong causing divisions and jealousy because our worldly pride and hubris get in the way. The church that chooses life and lives for God operates where members live in humility on a level playing field where love and egalitarianism are the keys.
The world says we each can choose what to eat on the all-you-can-eat spiritual buffet that makes us feel all good, fat, and happy whereas the church says we are not to overload and fill up on feel-good spiritual carbohydrates but instead eat a healthy, protein-enriched faith of intentional worship, spiritual education, and service to others.
Professor James K.A. Smith writes, “The church – the body of Christ – is the place where God invites us to renew our loves, reorient our desires, and retrain our appetites.”
The Lord is our life. Isn’t it reasonable that our choices and how we make them reflect that reality? Shouldn’t the way we do things in the Church, the way we act in the Church, be a dramatic contrast to the way people treat each other, relate with others, disagree with one another, and solve problems together in the world? Your pastors and church leaders of First Pres are trying to live this reality out. We are a diverse group of people in this body, and we are not all going to agree all the time; but this is what we are committed to doing: Work synergistically with our particular gifts to create an environment where the Spirit can move among us, form us, and send us out into the larger community helping others to learn and participate in the Lord of Life. If the Church of Jesus Christ cannot figure out how to live and relate with other Christians regarding religious, political, and cultural inclusiveness, then the world will never get it either.
Beloved, it doesn’t matter if you’re for the Chiefs or the Eagles. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican, Democrat, or Independent. It doesn’t matter if you’re white, Hispanic, black, or Asian. It doesn’t matter if you are gay or if you’re straight. When any of us become a follower of Jesus Christ, we put away those things of the world and put on a new identity of Jesus and in Jesus.
Today, a man made a choice and was baptized and took on a new identity. He immigrated from being of and in the world to become a man of and in the Kingdom of God. He has, as one scholar says, been “Given a heavenly passport; in his body (the Church) we learn to live like “locals” of Jesus’ kingdom. Such immigration to a new kingdom isn’t just a matter of being teleported to a different realm; we need to be acclimated to a new way of life, learn a new language, acquire new habits – and unlearn the habits of that rival dominion (that we call the world). Christian worship is our enculturation as citizens of heaven, subjects of the kingdom come.”
And so, beloved, that requires each of us to make choices. As you leave today, reflect on how you make choices in your life – a life that’s based and grounded in Jesus Christ and as members of the Church, his holy Bride.
© 2023 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and may not be altered, re-purposed, published, or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love. The Spiritual Power of Habit, (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016), 65.
 Ibid., 66. Words in parentheses are mine and are added for rhetorical clarity.