Stay Centered on the Foundation

Pastor Rachel B. Livingston 


 I. Beginning

Our Scripture this morning comes out of the many letters from Paul, one of the father’s of the early church, a self-proclaimed apostle who had a transformational moment, a come to Jesus moment, if you will, that set him on a new path, a path that led him from a murderer of Christians to a follower of Jesus Christ.  Paul is the one responsible for helping us to develop some of our foundational points in our theology.  Some of our understanding of the significance of who Christ is and how it theologically affects our lives, how we live out our lives, and our after-life have been crafted for us in the theology that Paul shares within his letters with the churches he connected with throughout his ministry. Our scripture this morning comes from his second letter to the church in Corinth, a continuation, a point of further instruction for a congregation that he had continual contact with during his ministry.  His connection to them was rooted in the church’s origins and his role played out as a teacher and leader that gave instruction in order to direct them toward and focus them on the foundation of theirs and our theology in Jesus Christ.  His letters and leadership within this church was his way of making sure that this early church would not stray too far away from this relatively new iteration of faith focused on the foundation that is Jesus Christ, a faith that profess reconciliation and new life in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  This specific letter was furthering Paul’s instruction of the Corinthian congregation by addressing some of their congregation tensions, including the tension that seemed to develop between him this congregation.  The rifts that the congregation at Corinth had in the first letter Paul sent, seemed to widen and even become redirected, as now their animosity was geared toward Paul. Paul the one who had been their teacher, the one who had dedicated his life to making sure they were formed and functioned in the foundation of the faith that is centered in Jesus Christ, the faith that shows us God’s grace and its transformational power.  Paul’s credibility had plummeted in the church of Corinth. The people were not so enamored with Paul, which means that they were susceptible to hear the words of a “false prophet” to pollute the gospel.  He had to reply to their disinterest in him, because it threatened the church’s ability to stay rooted in the foundations of theology, because if they discarded what he was saying, they could easily be swindled into faith that is not rooted in Christ.  He had to act now because they must understand that the foundations of what we know of Christ are important to hold on to because they define us and they shape our connection to God and our expectations of eternity.

 II. Wrestling With Paul

And while Paul has helped to shaped the foundations of our faith, I must admit that even as a pastor, a preacher, a theological scholar, sometimes I have my own wrestling points of distrust of Paul. I can say that I can completely identify with the Christians in the church of Corinth, because I value the work that Paul has done, but also struggle with some of his statement.   Paul was not one of the disciples, yet he was one who insisted on being an apostle of the Lord, almost as if he was trying to prove how valid his authority was.  And even though he gives us pieces of our foundational theology, we have to admit, that he has written some problematic things that have had us question our faith and wrestle with what God is really teaching us.  Paul famously stated that women should not speak in church, which as a woman pastor who believes that we cannot limit God’s call on anyone, you can imagine, this is a significant point of struggle for me.  And some scholars believe that it may have been a later addition or piece of his writings that was widely taken out of context because of Paul’s connection to women leadership within the early church.  We also see in Paul’s writings that he says a man should not lay with another man the way he lays with a woman, which many scholars have said that this is likely a critique of a predatory relationship in which one used their power over another to sexually manipulate someone, rather than a critique of same gender loving consensual relationships. And whether you believe in these or question these we have to admit that this has been a point of wrestling with Paul’s writing and many of us have had difficulty digesting these specific pieces of information from Paul.  In some cases, making some of us want to reject at least struggle with Paul.  Theologian, Howard Thurman, who credits much of his theological shaping to his grandmother, admits that reading Paul was complicated for his grandmother, because Paul stated, “slaves obey your masters.” As a woman who had experienced enslavement within the American slave trade, she felt that these words from Paul approved and encouraged the horror of her enslavement, so she rejected Paul.  All of these things, make Paul hard to digest, so we wrestle with Paul. However, in many of these instances it is more likely that a current audience has misappropriately used these texts to seek out their own agenda while ignoring the exploration of proper context. But needless to say, we as the church might understand what it means to be less enamored with Paul. But if we focus on his writing here we must see that we must focus on the foundations of our faith that say Jesus has raised us in new life and brought us in the presence of God.  It is Christ that centers us and, we look to Christ as the example for our faith.  It is because of Christ that we are extended God’s grace, and because of Christ that grace is extended to all.  This is our focus, not the oppressive things that allow us to struggle, but our faith in Jesus Christ.  The disillusionment with Paul should not distract from their focus on the theology that is our foundation.  That faith that says we have a Christ who suffered death on a cross, that faith that says we have a Christ that died for our sins, that faith that says we have a Christ who remain in the grave for three days, that faith that says we have a Christ who connected us back to God in his death, that faith that says we have a Christ who was resurrected on the third day that we might find new life and liberation, that faith that says we have a Christ who extends grace to all, that faith that says we have a Christ who makes us holy as we receive that grace, that faith that says we have a Christ that renews us daily, that faith that says we have a Christ that ushers us into the eternal presence of God.  We must be rooted in this faith.
As Paul reaches out in the letter, he assures the people that we are of the same faith, and the foundations of our faith are rooted in Christ. Paul is saying that the minute details that you have focused on are of no substance, because they are not the foundations of our faith, because the foundations of our faith are what bring us together.  The place that you have lost faith in Paul cannot misdirect you off the foundational part our faith, because our faith is not in Paul, but Christ and Christ alone.  We are connected on the foundation that is Jesus Christ.  And because he was beaten and bruised for our sin and iniquities, because he was placed on a cross, we have been reconciled back to God and we have been granted new life in God.  And because of that new life we will be raised with Christ and be brought into the presence of God.  On this we have commonality, on this we believe, on this is the foundation of our faith.  We must never forget this because this is what we are connected under.  This is what makes us the people of God, connected in community, connected in God’s grace.

 III. Learnings From Paul

So, we can learn a few things from Paul, we can learn about the foundations of our faith.  In this specific scripture we learn from our theologian Paul.  A couple of weeks ago, we discussed the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the people, and how the people were transformed and the gospel of Jesus Christ was then spread to the world.  And the barriers that divide us were torn down because of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  So, as we remember the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we are thankful, because that is the point that God’s grace is made available to the world. So as more and more people are able to receive God’s grace, the earth is filled with God’s glory, because we are connected to each other in God’s glory, as the people of God.  As grace is spread throughout the world, we are united with one another and pulled into the family of God.  And we are thankful for the spread of God’s grace to others, because it spreads God’s glory into the world, proclaiming the Kingdom of God in the world.  So, we are tasked with spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to the world, because it strengthens us as the body of Christ, it strengthens our connection, when more have access to God’s grace. But spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, so that all can access grace spreads God’s glory, then creates the Beloved Community. A Beloved Community that exists where an integrated community with people of all races and creeds, from all walks of life to live together in harmony as sisters, brothers, and siblings in peace.  So, we spread the gospel by telling people about the new life found in Jesus Christ, but we also share the love that Christ taught us that loves the outcast, feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, visits the imprisoned, heals the sick, and puts one’s life on the line for the sake of others.

And we see that something is changed within us when we receive God’s grace.  When we receive God’s grace we are being transformed within. Our outside physical shell, this skin, this body, this heart, these lungs, these knees, these shoulders, they may begin to deteriorate as we age, but God’s grace makes us new each day.  God’s grace makes us holy, transforms us.  It transforms us that we become more like Christ. We die to ourselves that we can become more like Christ on the inside.  So that we can love God, so that we can love others, so that we can meet people with tenderness, so we can speak life to those in turmoil, so we can encourage those impoverished, and that we can care for others.  So with the wisdom of Paul, we know that we must accept God’s grace and allow God to transform us daily.

So, we recognize that we need God’s grace, because without God we aren’t anything.  We recognize that God reached out and extended grace before we even knew we needed it.  But we recognize we need God’s grace, and then we allow God’s grace to make us new daily, to make us holy.  And because of God’s grace in our lives, we can’t keep it to ourselves. We share the good news with all we meet, building the Beloved Community. God’s grace connects us together and prepares for future glory with God together. Amen.