Here is my sermon text for Sunday, July 30 on 2 Corinthians 8:1-15, as well as audio files from each three churches.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I spent last week in the Twin Cities, attending two continuing education events put on by Luther Seminary. One was focused on the lessons we will use over the next year. The other is one of a series of workshops they put on. The series is called “Rethinking,” and its goal is to look at different things that churches and the Church have done, and, well, rethink them. Is what we are doing working? Is what we are doing the best way to do this? Should we still be doing this?
Over the past 5 years, I have attended Rethinking conferences on Rethinking Evangelism, Rethinking Faith Formation, Rethinking Stewardship, Rethinking Confirmation, and Rethinking Sunday Mornings. Each year I have come back with a lot of questions, a few good ideas, a few bad ideas, and the urge to push and challenge the congregations and churches to rethink what we do.
This year’s topic was Rethinking Church. The basic question was what does it mean to be church. A lot so scripture was shared. My best notes were taken by the camera on my phone. I took pictures of the slides, and re-read them in my hotel room at night. We read scripture that talked about what God told the people of Israel, and what Jesus told his disciples and Apostles. Much of that doesn’t describe what we do.
I don’t have it all thought out, or re-thought out, but I have some things that I want to share, and will continue to share.
There is a difference between having a church, and being a church. Having a church refers to a building. It refers to a structure, both a physical structure and an organizational structure. It puts an emphasis on those two things. Having a church means the important things are worship, education and life within the church. The structure, both the building and the organization, provide a physical space where things can be done. The building provides a form of permanence, a way that our works will live beyond ourselves. The organization provides a way of getting things done. It assigns a priority or hierarchy, which can be another form of permanence.
But there are concerns about that type of structure. It’s permanence does not easy flexibility. It hampers the ability to meet changing needs. I’m referring to both the building and the organization. We’ve always done it this way stifles innovation and adaptation. More churches have been divided over building plans and carpet colors than by ordaining woman and accepting homosexuals.
Structures need to be maintained and operated, and sometimes that becomes the focus of the church, rather than the mission of God. In the Gospels, Jesus never referred to the church, the reign of God, or the kingdom of heaven as a physical structure. The closest he came was in speaking about the Temple in Jerusalem. About that, he said that a temple built of human hands could be destroyed, and rebuilt and restored in just 3 days.
Being a church refers to doing the work Christ calls his followers to do. The ecclesia – the word in Greek we translate as church – has assembly or congregation as its primary meanings. It refers not to the building, but the bodies gathered there in.
I remember when I was a child learning this: This is the church. This is the steeple. Open the doors, and see all the people.
The focus of the church is people, not the building. The building can not do the work of God. It can enable and facilitate it, but it cannot do it. The people can. The people, who are the Body of Christ, are called to do what Jesus commanded us to do.
And that leads to today’s lesson, and the people of Macedonia.
One of the things that Paul was charged with doing by the Council of Leaders in Jerusalem was to have the churches he was leading to take up a collection for the poor Christians in Jerusalem. It is time to take up the offering, and Paul shares with the church in Corinth how their sister congregation in Macedonia has done with the offering.
We want you to know, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.
I’ve never been a parent. I am an only child. I have several cousins and friends who either have siblings, or are parents who have siblings. I have seen the efforts, accomplishments and achievements of one child used to motivate or inspire another child. That is what Paul is doing here. To the large, wealthy congregation of Corinth, Paul is sharing what the small, poor congregation in Macedonia has done.
They voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— and this, not merely as we expected.
Paul is telling the Corinthians that the church in Macedonia; the small, poor church in Macedonia, not like the big, strong, rich church you have, they gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints.
After sharing about how the Macedonians, the small, poor Macedonians have responded, Paul tells the Corinthians: Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others.
If the Macedonians, the small, poor Macedonians have been so generous, image what the Corinthians, the big, strong, rich Corinthians could do. After all, they excel in everything. Paul admits he is doing this to motivate and inspire the Corinthians. but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others.
(Who knew you could use what one congregation did to inspire another to action? I will have to try to remember that.)
What Paul is encouraging and challenging the church in Corinth to do is to BE THE CHURCH. To be the church, to DO CHURCH is to act as the Body of Christ, to do what we have been commanded to do.
So what does it mean to DO CHURCH? Well, what are the things that Christ told his disciples to do? Take care of the sick. Feed the hungry. Tend to the poor. Welcome the stranger. Receive children. Support the widows. Forgive as you have been forgiven.
These and the other responsibilities of the church, the ecclesia, the Body of Christ can be summed up in one command. Not the two commandments he said were the most important, but the one final command he gave his disciples at their last meal, according to John. Love one another, as I have loved you.
Being the church, doing church means loving others with the love the Christ has for us. Loving with an all-encompassing, all-giving, all-forgiving, all-hearing, all-embracing, all-sacrificing love. It means focusing not on the church and its doors, but on the world beyond those doors.
It means giving of yourself and beyond, just as the Macedonians did. It means inviting God in, and inviting God to take of who you are, and what you have, as Paul is asking the Corinthians. It means telling God to take my life, take my hands, take my voice, take my silver and my gold, take my will, and most importantly, take my love and take myself, that I will be, ever, only all for thee.
So, I want you to rethink with me. When you think of church, don’t think of the building, don’t think of the steeple. Throw open the doors, and see all the people.
Then, go and share God’s love with them. Amen.
Pastor Brian's Page
Pastor Brian Robert Campbell has served at Our Savior's and Emmanuel since August 1, 2011, and began serving Nazareth on December 1, 2015.
Pastor Brian is originally from Saginaw, Michigan. He graduated from Alma College with a B.A. in Business Administration, and worked for the Saginaw Public Schools' Community Education Department for 17 years before answering the call to ministry. He graduated with a M. Div. from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in 2011. ONE in Christ Lutheran Parish is his first call.
He is the only child of Robert and Charlotte Campbell, both who have entered the Church Eternal.
He is accompanied in ministry by his faithful bulldogge Ananias, who regularly writes for our newsletter. His articles are archived here.
He is a fan of sports teams from his native Michigan, especially the Tigers and the Lions. But we tolerate him despite that.
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