Grace and Peace
I Corinthians 1:(1-3) 4-9
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Christians hear those words a lot. Like myself, many pastors do begin their sermons—not to mention their newsletter articles and all correspondence with their congregations—with the words, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." After all, if it's good enough for the Apostle Paul, it certainly must be a salutary greeting between Christians, especially when a pastor communicates with the people he has been Called to serve.
There is something a little deeper behind this seemingly innocuous greeting, however. In our text, Paul lauds the church in Corinth for its faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But the church in Corinth is not without its problems. Because of their faithfulness, they have become complacent and even arrogant in their faithfulness. The church itself has divisions and factions. If you read on through the rest of this epistle, Paul takes the congregation in Corinth to task for a number of things: a laxity in church discipline, tolerance of sexual immorality, the tendency of congregation members to bring civil law suits against each other, and—dare I say it?—a tendency to practice open communion, inviting the uncatechized and the unreprentant to receive the body and blood of Christ to their judgment.
With all these problems, you might expect Paul to open his letter with a scathing rebuke of the people. But Paul is their pastor. Yes, it's his job to lead God's people to the truth of the Word, and he would do them no favor by letting them remain in their sin. However, he is also Called to preach the Gospel to them. He is Called as their pastor to love them with Christ's love. And he does precisely that.
Even with all the problems this congregation is struggling with, Paul says, "I thank my God always concerning you." And he does this in quite a few of the Epistles we have recorded in the New Testament. We should always be thankful to God for the brothers and sisters we havein Christ. This is not always the easiest example to follow. We in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod should understand that very well. We are a body divided. We don't agree on what hymns should be in our hymnals, how we should interact with those Christians around us with whom we have doctrinal differences, where our mission money should be focused. And even at the congregational level, the fight is fierce. If you'll forgive me for saying so, look at how deeply the lines are drawn in this congregation between those who want one service on Sunday and those who want two services on Sunday. I'm not your Called pastor, I'm not a member here, and I don't make it a habit of talking to Mt. Olive's membership when I'm not here; and yet even I can see it. But it's not just here, of course. Every congregation has its disagreements. And when we Christians fight, we tend to "lose our religion". Disagreements between Christians often turn ugly. The Eighth Commandment? Throw it out the window! Matthew 18? Why would I speak to my brother who I feel is sinning against me when I can tell fifty of my closest friends? We call each other hypocrites. We assume the very worst about the people with whom we disagree. And then we threaten to stop coming to worship altogether or leave the congregation entirely if our way isn't found to be the "right" way. Even in the most faithful of congregations, we allow disagreements to divide us, distract us, and turn us away from what our Lord Jesus calls "the one thing needful".
Paul calls the congregation at Corinth—and us—back to this one needful thing, reminding us of what unites us. He names us, "those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours." This is creedal language. This brings us back to the Apostles' Creed, where we confess, "I believe in the holy Christian Church, [which is] the Communion of saints." We first confess in the Creed who God is and what He has done, and then we confess what we are through Christ: the communion of saints, the body of Christ, God's holy people.
As we see in how Paul greets the congregation in Corinth, it begins with grace. It begins with God giving us life, with Christ giving us new life, with the Spirit granting us faith as we live that new life. Without these gifts, without this grace, we have nothing and we are nothing. The grace of God is not something we have earned or were born with or have made for ourselves. Our Lord Jesus Christ suffered and died in our place, and He rose again so that we would rise with Him and so that we would receive all the blessings and benefits God has for us.
Once that grace has been applied to us, peace follows it. In Baptism we are made children of God. When we speak of ourselves as brothers and sisters in Christ, this is no hyperbole, no metaphor. We truly are brothers and sisters in Christ. And because we are family, we should treat each other as family. The people in the pews around you and in the Church at large are not enemies to be overcome, no matter how much we may disagree with them. No—they are brothers and sisters in Christ, family to be loved fiercely, forgiven freely, and, yes, sometimes endured patiently. We bring our Christian siblings before the Lord in prayer, thanking God for them, no matter how much we may disagree with them. We thank God that He has loved our brother in Christ, that He has died for our sister in Christ, that He has made our brothers and sisters in Christ His own through Holy Baptism, that He forgives their sins with the Word of Holy Absolution, that He feeds them in the Holy Supper. That grace from God is the source of the peace we share with each other. Because Christ has brought us to reconciliation with the Father, we are now also reconciled to each other—no matter how often we feel worship should be offered each Sunday.
And now, because it begins with grace, let us end the sermon with grace, and see what follows behind. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (+) and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.