Being SJLC 2014: Invite
Topic: Biblical Verse: 1 Corinthians 1:18–1:31
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
It’s a good weekend for a celebration! Let’s say that you’re going to have a party. You’ll probably have your friends over. You enjoy being around them. When you celebrate, you want to have people around that mean something to you. But if available space and budget weren’t the limitations that they usually are, think about who else you’d invite. You can invite anyone, so why shouldn’t you aim high? Maybe have some attractive celebrities over and add some buzz to your party. Be sure to include some folks who’d bring good food – everybody loves a good cheese dip and delicious appetizers, right? That’s the smart thing to do: invite people who are worth inviting, those who can contribute something to your experience and make things even better. It’s not like you’d invite strangers or undesirable people, who’d just as likely bring things down or be awkward. Why would they even be worth your time and energy?
What if you weren’t the one having the party, though? Say that there’s some big shindig going down this weekend; what do you have to offer that would make someone want to invite you? Not many of you are celebrities or high-profile players on the local scene. Not many of you are great cooks who could wow the people there with your culinary creations – though you probably know where you could buy something that people would enjoy. Not many of you are entertainers or adventurers who could engage the host or other guests with your stories. Looks like you’re out of luck.
What if God acted like we did when it comes to inviting others?
In our Epistle text today from 1 Corinthians, Paul gives you and me an ego-check. Not many of us are all that worthy in the eyes of the world. Not many strong, not many wise. And even if you are, that’s not why God calls people into a restored relationship with Him. From His perspective, you and I have been strangers. You can’t offer anything that would make you worthy of His invitation. In our sin and self-centeredness, you and I are downright undesirable people! We’re the people Jesus speaks of in those Beatitudes we heard in Matthew 5: But God takes people of lowly status, people such as you and me, and makes them new. That’s what Paul’s putting front and center. God didn’t choose you because you were worthy; He chose you to give you a new status: blessed. Jesus lifts up the status people had – poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness – and when he’s calling them “blessed,” he’s saying something to the effect that those people are saved, redeemed. Jesus makes you worthwhile. In verses 7-12, the focus shifts to those people who are being discipled by Jesus: the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers. They are transformed.
In Jesus, you are transformed people. Made to be worthwhile, you have gifts to share with others. The greatest of these is the ability to invite someone else to share in what you have. And what you have is life under the cross of Christ. That’s what our fourth vision element at St. John’s, “Invite,” is about. The cross is key to understanding reality, for there God turns the wisdom of the world upside down.
As Paul says, we preach a crucified Messiah – foolishness to the world – a Savior who offered up his own life. “Crucified” is who Jesus is and who he will always be, even as he is also resurrected and alive: it is part of his identity. But his identity is the source of your new identity: you are who you are because of whose you are. That’s where Paul’s pointing us. You are who you are because of whose you are. This side of heaven, you’re not perfect. Take a look at the image of the ideal disciple that Psalm 15 puts forward for another ego check; but know, too, that you are blessed. You are continually and daily being saved and reshaped into that ideal disciple through God’s grace. You can celebrate and live in new life with God because you can understand and know God through Jesus. Each week as we come together for the feast that God has prepared, we celebrate that fact. Holy Communion gives us a taste of the celebration around the throne of God – we can even call it the heavenly party – that is the experience of a completely restored relationship with our loving Father. By the Holy Spirit’s work, your life is transformed to point towards Jesus and his cross, where the world can see God’s love. Your identity in Christ as his people is an invitation for others to know him, too.
Back in November 2011, we began asking everyone who goes through St. John’s Discipleship 101 course to sign a membership covenant on the day which they’re received into the membership of the congregation. This weekend as we finish out our Being SJLC 2014 focus, we’re asking every confirmed member of the congregation to do the same – whether you joined St. John’s decades ago by transfer or were just confirmed last year. The words of this covenant have become a part of our rite of reception of new members, where the congregation and new members have read aloud passages of Scripture and how we live out the identity that God has given us as the body of Christ at St. John’s.
Take a moment to understand what a covenant is. Unlike a contract, a covenant isn’t about a business transaction, where parties agree to terms and make some kind of exchange. A covenant is about relationship. Even if one party were to stray outside the relationship, that doesn’t mean that the covenant is terminated; rather, the other party (or parties) call the one back into life together. This is what God does with and for us. Inviting us to be His own, calling us to faith and life with Him, God establishes the covenant relationship – and He keeps it going! Our congregation’s membership covenant speaks both to the identity that God gives each of us as a Christian in this time and place, and to how we live that out with each other.
In signing the covenant, you affirm that you a part of this community which is gathered together and sustained by the Holy Spirit. You recognize that you are meant to have a place here, serving with your fellow believers as we are discipled together under the cross of Christ. As a member of St. John’s Lutheran Church, you confess that you are a participant – not a spectator – in God’s grace-filled plan for our world.
This weekend is the conclusion of our Being SJLC 2014 focus, but that doesn’t mean you and I stop Being SJLC. Serving Jesus and living in community, we continue on, gathering around the cross of our Savior. There, God’s grace forms and fuels us as He disciples us as His own people. Coming from the cross and this fellowship of our Lord’s disciples, we are sent out into the world to proclaim our crucified and risen Savior. Doing this through our words and actions, we invite all people to a life transformed in that same Jesus, the Christ. And then we get to gather with them back at the foot of his cross, that key to understanding God’s love where you can find meaning and purpose in life. Gather. Disciple. Manage. Invite. One element flows into the next, then loops back towards the first in an ever-expanding scope. God is continually saving and redeeming us, shaping us to be more and more like Jesus, both as individuals and as a congregation. Being SJLC: we are who we are because of whose we are.
God has invited you to enjoy life with Him, regardless of your status or circumstances. He wants you to join in the feast that He’s done all the work to prepare. In this broken world, the identity that your Father gives you in His Son won’t always seem like a party. But God’s folly is wiser than people, God’s weakness is stronger than people. And He has made you His people in Christ Jesus.
It’s a good weekend for a celebration!