Passage: John 1:29–1:42a
†††In the Name of Jesus†††
Pastor Murray Keith
Text: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Date: January 15th, 2017; Epiphany 2; Series A
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
What is the Church? What is St. Paul’s Lutheran Church?
How would you answer if someone asked you this question?
Maybe we would answer that St. Paul’s Lutheran Church is the building on Taylor street with the cool roof.
Or maybe we would say that it’s the place where Christians gather on Sunday mornings, and for meetings, and potlucks, and yard sales - it’s kind of like a social club.
We confess in the Apostles’ Creed that we believe in the “Holy Christian Church”. What is that?
I think it is helpful to consider this question.
It’s helpful because answering it gives us clarity on who we are and it reminds us of what we are to be about - both individually and collectively as Christ’s body of believers.
We heard the introduction to St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in our Epistle lesson.
At the time of St. Paul’s writing, the church in Corinth was struggling deeply.
They were divided, and they were fighting, and there was anger, hatred, and jealousy among them.
They were taking each other to court. Sexual immorality was rampant. There was false teaching and confusion on doctrinal matters.
Their worship services were deplorable and they were misusing and abusing the Lord’s Supper.
In a nutshell, the church in Corinth was a complete chaotic mess when St. Paul wrote to them.
In our Epistle lesson, we heard in the introduction of St. Paul’s letter, “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:2).
With these words, St. Paul reminds the church in Corinth of who they are.
And he also provides us with a clear answer to the question, “What is the Church?” He also reminds us of who we are.
We, God’s people, are the Church.
We, God’s people, who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together, are the Church.
You are the Church. At least an important part of it.
The Church is made up of all of God’s holy people, those who have been called to be saints. Those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus. Those who are set-apart to be the people of God.
I think it’s fair to ask the question, then, how could St. Paul call that group in Corinth “the church of God?”
They sure didn’t sound like they were saints. They sure didn't sound like they were sanctified and holy.
In fact, it sounds like they were a bunch of miserable sinners!
And I think it’s fair to ask that same question of ourselves.
How can we, at St. Paul’s, call ourselves a church of God?
Do we always act like the sanctified, holy, saints that St. Paul describes?
Aren’t we just a bunch of miserable sinners like the Corinthians too?
Dear friends, the Good News is that the holiness of the Church doesn’t depend on the people who walk in the door.
We do not earn a spot in the Church by doing a bunch of good and holy things.
We are holy, we are sanctified, we are saints - because God has declared us to be, and has made us so, through Christ Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
Yes, it is true that we are miserable sinners.
Our sinful flesh will remain with us until the life that is to come.
We still do things that we know we shouldn’t. St. Paul recognized this of himself when he said, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).
In this life we continue to struggle with our sinful nature and we will fail.
But it is also true that we have been cleansed of all of our sin through the blood of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
We were washed clean of all of our sin in the waters of our Baptism and we were called to be saints together with all of God’s people of all times and places.
And we have God’s promise that we will be sustained to the end as his holy people -and he sustains us through his Word and Sacraments.
God claimed us through our Baptism.
He stirs up and strengthens our faith through his Word read, preached, and meditated upon.
He nourishes us with his true body and blood through which we receive his forgiveness, strength, and life.
These are the marks of the Church - where these things are happening, and God’s people are receiving them, there is the Church!
We, God’s people, receive the forgiveness, salvation, and gift of eternal life that God promises through his Word and Sacraments and we respond with thanksgiving.
The Church’s holiness is God’s holiness, not ours.
It comes to us from heaven, just as Christ came to us from heaven.
This means the Church’s holiness does not depend on the holiness of its members, but on Christ’s - and he makes his holiness yours by grace through faith.
And then, as God’s holy people, we go out into the world and serve him by loving and serving our neighbour in the many and various ways that we have been called.
As a son or daughter, sibling, mother, father, employee, employer, student, farmer, and many other ways - living according to God’s will.
We do this not to become holy, not to become part of the church - but because we are holy, and because we are part of the church.
It’s simply who we are and what we do!
What is the Church?
Martin Luther answered this question by saying, “Thank God, today a seven-year-old child knows what the church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd” (SA III XII).
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we are the Church. You are the Church.
In Christ, you are holy. You are sanctified. You are a saint.
God is faithful, and you have been called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, for eternity! Thanks be to God! Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.