Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 25:25 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Around the time of the 2000 presidential election, George W. Bush said that he would be a “uniter, not a divider.” I’m not sure how history will judge his success in that area, but I have a hard time imagining any politician, from any party, at any level bringing unity rather than division. I cannot even conceive of what that would look like. Our entire civic discourse right now seems to be centered around divisions. And of course, it’s not just in the political realm that division is the default position. We find divisions in our families, in our congregations, among our friends and relatives.
Paul found it among the Corinthians. He says that those who belong to Chloe—perhaps the church that met in her house?—have told him about strife and contention, and he begs them not to let it metastasize into open division. The word is schism, a division that implies a tearing or ripping open. Be of one mind and one judgment, he says. The Corinthians have started to divide themselves according to which teacher in the church they follow: I am with Paul, or I am with Apollos, or I am with Cephas (Peter), or, some have pulled the trump card: I am with Christ! But it cannot be in the church. There is only one Body, only one Jesus, therefore, only one Church. Christ is not divided, is He? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? You were not baptized in his name, were you?
Perhaps we feel this a bit more because our church is called after a man. Luther, as many people know, did not want any church called by his name. We are evangelicals, or “of the Gospel.” But the Roman Catholics marked those who believed the Gospel by faith alone as “Lutherans,” and the slur stuck. What most people don’t know is that while Luther did not want anyone called by his name, he also said that if people rejected his teaching as a result of wanting to deny his name, they would answer to God for rejecting the Gospel. Unfortunately, in this world, even if we claim simply to be Christians, we follow some doctrine, whether Roman Catholic or Baptist or Lutheran. But Paul makes it clear that we aren’t going to get away from this difficulty by claiming only Christ. In Corinth, that was part of the problem, not the solution! So here we are.
In Corinth, their division shows up at the very last place it should be. In chapter 10, Paul tells the Corinthians that if they share together the Body of Christ in the bread and the Blood of Christ in the cup, then they are one Body, because they eat the one bread. And yet, in chapter 11, when they come together, Paul says it is for the worse, not for the better. Where the one Body of Christ gathers to confess its unity as it receives together the Body and Blood, there are divisions. They celebrated the Lord’s Supper in the context of a larger meal, and the richer people could bring more and better food and more and better wine, and they were eating and drinking and even getting drunk. The poorer people could not bring much, or nothing at all, so the members of the one Body of Christ are separated from each other by how wealthy they are. If you sinfully divide yourselves at the altar, Paul says, beware that you do not tempt the wrath of God. Some are sick and some have died.
All of these divisions, and all the divisions that we see in our own lives and in our own families and our own congregations go straight back to the Garden. There was no schism between God and Adam and Eve in the Garden. They were united to God and Adam and Eve were “one flesh,” both literally and by God’s institution. And then they tore apart that unity by listening to their own desires, making their own choices, and listening to the word of the serpent instead of to the word of their Creator. They separated themselves and created a gulf between them and God, and they hid from Him. But the division was not only opened between themselves and God, but between the man and the woman. Before, they were naked and unashamed. Indeed, what did they have to be ashamed of? They were both God’s good creation, made exactly for the other. But now they hide from each other in shame. From there every single division, every single separation, every single wall we build between people comes.
And it was not only between them and God, or between the two of them, but in the creation itself. There was a tearing apart of body and soul in death. There was a tearing apart of health and sickness, suffering, affliction. There was a tearing apart of the human relationship with the rest of God’s creation. And we haven’t been able to do anything about that rupture since. We’ve just kept finding reasons to divide from each other. But unless that division is because of believing or not believing Jesus, every single other division is sin. Every schism, every separation, every tearing apart of human relationships is sin. And there’s more than enough blame to go around. Part of our defaulting to division is that we want to blame the other person for the division, while pretending we are blameless. Even if the initial cause was from the other person, we can’t keep ourselves out of it. We take sides, make things worse, refuse to forgive, and refuse to exercise love. There is no one blameless.
Except the Blameless One who descends right into the heart of the schism, into the wilderness we have made of the Garden, into the darkness we have made of the light. He descends into the darkness, but He is the Light who shines on those who are sitting in the darkness of division. He is the one who shines on you and me. And He alone is the one who can and will heal the divisions we have made. He comes as the one mediator between God and man to heal the schism we created and still feed with our sin. He brings man and God together in His own person, healing the division in His own flesh. And on the cross He tears down the dividing walls of hostility, not only between God and people, but between and among people. There it was Jews and Gentiles, but here it is any of the divisions we make and even treasure. There is only one Body of Christ, and that means there is only one Church in which all our divisions are healed.
And it is not only between people and God, or among people, but He has appeared to heal the schism that runs through the entire creation. What does He do when He preaches the same Gospel that He entrusted to Paul and brings the Rule of God into this world? He heals the sick and the afflicted. He heals the demon possessed, the paralytics, the epileptics, all those with various and many diseases and pains. He heals the people whose bodies and souls are torn apart in death. He heals the bodies torn apart in sickness and every affliction. He heals and restores you, feeding you with His own life and health and healing. He has brought us all together in Himself, whatever our own choice might have been. We who share the one bread which is His body and the one cup which holds His blood do not have a choice in the matter: one bread, therefore one Body of Christ in this place.
So do not let the strife and contention of your flesh expand and explode into division. Love actively works to cover over a multitude of sins. Forgiveness is not an option among those who have been forgiven by Christ. Does it sound impossible? Impossible to love that person, or impossible to forgive? That’s because it is. There is nothing in us naturally that would lead us to love and forgive, except where it benefits us in some way. But you have the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit brought you to Jesus. His overwhelming, unconditional, unlimited Love by the foolishness of His death on the cross is yours. And it is that love, that forgiveness, that flows from Him through us to others. It is not of us, but it is through us. But it will not be otherwise in the Body of Christ. We would naturally wait for the other people to get their lives in order, or to prove that they deserve our forgiveness. But thank God Jesus didn’t do that! He’d still be waiting. But while we were still sinners, while we were still His enemies, Christ died for us.We forgive, because we have been forgiven. Jesus is clear that if His forgiveness is not enough to cover that other person’s sins, then it is not enough to cover ours either. But thank God that we have no sin that Jesus did not take and did not bear and did not remove from us in His mercy. And thank God that the same applies to every single person sitting here, as well as every other person in the entire world. It seems like foolishness to simply forgive, to simply love, but it is the power of God. Lord, have mercy on us! And have mercy on them!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 1/13/23