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What comes to your mind when you hear the word missionary?
Maybe it is a couple like this [ADVANCE].
When I was growing up and our church would have a huge annual missions conference, it seemed like every missionary couple that had been serving in the jungle was frozen in the 1950s with beehive hairdos and plaid sport coats.
Or, maybe you have a picture of a couple like this [ADVANCE].
Perfect Mormons heading off two-by-two for their two years of obligatory mission before they begin their adult lives.
Today I’m going to be very direct and tell you one simple thing::
[ADVANCE] You are a missionary.
This begs the question: How are we missionaries? What does that look like?
This message emerged because the Narrative Lectionary has brought us to a crossroads in our journey through the story of Acts and the Life of the church during the post-resurrection Easter season.
Today marks the end of our four-week mini series in the book of Acts. We will look at the first part of Acts 18 as the Apostle Paul moves into a Greek city named Corinth.
This also marks the beginning of a new adventure as we will spend the next 10 weeks, from now until the end of June, studying Paul’s letters to this church in Corinth.
This is our last week in Acts. You’ll remember that Jesus told the disciples that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth.
We saw how Peter healed the crippled man in Jerusalem two weeks ago.
Then we skipped a bunch of the story and picked it up last week with the Apostle Paul in chapter 17 as he moved into Greece. You can see in this drawing that Paul entered Greece in the north at Troas, then went to Phiippi.
Last week we focused in on the story of Paul and Silas in Thessalonica.
[ADVANCE] Here are the notes I took while Pastor Mark was preaching last week. Yes, it is OK to doodle while we preach.
Pastor Mark told us that the Gospel turns the world upside down because we look at people through a different set of lenses than the world typically does.
The Thessalonians didn’t like their world to be turned upside down, so they chased Paul out of town.
Today, we skip to the beginning of chapter 18 and focus on the story of how Paul entered into the city of Corinth and settled in for 18 months.
Here’s what I find interesting about this story. It says in verse 3 that Paul met a married coupled named Aquila and Priscilla and
Because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together—by trade they were tentmakers.
How can your trade become your mission base?
Think about what you do for a living. The place you go five or six days out of every week, 8-10 hours every day. It might be school, an office building, a field, your home.
How can that place be your mission base?
In order for us to understand the letter that Paul wrote to the city of Corinth, we need to understand the city and the church there a little bit.
Paul spent 18 months there, so he got to know the culture and the people pretty well. Then he left, sailed across the Aegean Sea and set up shop in Ephesus.
The city of Corinth is an interesting place. It was situated on a thin land bridge between the Northern and Southern part of Greece. That made it a cross roads of culture with a wide spectrum of people living there.
On one end of the spectrum there were the Jewish people. They followed the Laws of Moses and adhered to strict rules of conduct: including what to eat, who to marry, how to dress, etc. The Jews who followed Jesus acknowledged that he was the Jewish Messiah and continued to follow the Jewish Law.
On the other end of the spectrum are the Greeks. They worshiped many gods and goddesses. Many of their religious practices were very sexual in nature. I like to think of Corinth as the Las Vegas of the Roman Empire. What happens in Corinth, stays in Corinth.
When Greeks followed Jesus, it was often a very confusing transition. How did this Jewish Messiah relate to their Greek upbringing. Did they have to become Jewish?
This merging of cultures led to chaos and a group of people rushed over to Ephesus to get Paul’s help. He wrote this letter in response to a list of very specific issues. You can see in the word balloons that they were dealing with sexual immorality, questions about marriage roles, sexuality, dietary practices, how to behave in worship, and theological issues.
We’ll look at some of these over the next few weeks.
Today’s text focuses on one issue. The church was divided. Imagine that, a church that is divided into factions. Hmmm…
Some of the people said, “We follow Paul”
Others said, “We follow Apollos, we like his sermons better.”
Others said, “Oh yeah, we follow Cephas (that’s Peter) because he was a real disciple.”
Then others said, “You’re all missing the point. We follow Jesus.” Can’t you just hear the smug nose turning up as they say that?
Can you imagine a group divided into factions? We follow Trump. We follow Cruz. We follow Clinton. We follow Sanders.
The church is still like that today, isn’t it?
We follow the Pope. We follow the Lutheran Confessions, We follow the Episcopal book of Common Prayer. We’re Non-Denominational. We don’t believe in denominations. We’re just “Christians.”
Paul’s response to these factions is critical if we are to understand what our message is today.
Look at what he says in verse 10
Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.
My imagination was capture by the word united.
Look at all the ways that the Greek word katartizo is translated in the Bible.
Prepared, restore, mending, qualified, to be made complete.
It has this image of taking a torn apart fishing net and bringing the broken pieces and tying them back together. It is a process of reconciliation.
Then he goes on to say in verse 17,
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.
Notice what is the center of this message. The cross of Christ.
This week I am teaching about this in our OMG! Can We talk about God class. We’re asking the question, “How can Jesus’ death on the cross save us?”
We’re using this wonderful book titled Making Sense of the Christian Faith by David Lose. His chapter title Life Wins tells the story so well.
Look at this drawing. Lose says that the fact that God would become flesh in Jesus, die on the cross, and come back to life, is God standing in front of you and saying “I know you, and I love you”
The power of the cross is not found in a doctrinal statement. The Gospel is not a theory.
It is an ACTION. It is the crazy act of God who became flesh in the person of Jesus and lived in our space. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is God saying to you, “I know you. I know all the sin that eats you up inside. I know all the stuff that makes you ashamed and you are trying to hide…
And I forgive you. I love you. You are mine…
Deal with it, and live like you are forgiven.”
That is the power of Christ crucified.
The church today is not that much different than it was in Corinth. So often we let the things that we disagree about define who we are and we place hard boundaries around ourselves. So, when the world looks at the church, what do they see?
A bunch of people fighting.
Paul urges the church to be united in the cross of Christ. That doesn’t mean we won’t disagree about things, but the power of the cross is that it can people who disagree together in their disagreement. When we are centered on the radical love of God in Jesus, then we can let the other issues move out to the edges.
So, missionaries, how do we carry out this mission?
We must seek to be the body of Christ, unified in the love of God. Because how we work together is as important as what we say.
I leave you with these famous words from Francis of Assisi.
Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.