License to Brag

1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Joyce MacKichan Walker
April 8, 2018
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Maybe I’m your biggest fan. I brag about you all the time. Shamelessly.

When I’m invited to Inquirers’ Classes to say something about the church, I brag about you. I start by telling them, “If I didn’t work here, I’d worship here. If we’d moved to Princeton for any other reason than my call here, my family would’ve found you. My children spent about six hours a week here.

And that’s not counting the hours they spent in the daycare the staff who had little ones set up in the church nursery when I came. For those of you who go way back, Maureen, Sue Ellen, and I all had children under school age. And since Rebekah was already in kindergarten, I made an arrangement with the school bus to drop her off at the corner of Mercer and Nassau Streets after school. Every school day an alarm went off — no cell phones then — the alarm was Marge Weaver or Maureen Franzen — “Joyce, it’s time to go meet Rebekah at the bus!” and I was off running down Nassau Street. If I recall correctly, I wasn’t supposed to tell people about that little private bus stop, but, hey, that was thirty years ago. What can they say to me now.

When Rebekah and Andrew were teenagers it was about 10 hours a week. Church School (once they hit seventh grade mine choose to teach instead of attend — any surprise there?), choir, bell choir trip, “special” choir — Bach Choir for Rebekah, Covenant Singers for Andrew, — youth fellowship, and every Sunday worship. And every Vacation Bible School, bell trip, Montreat conference, and mission trip. If they hadn’t come here with me, they’d have found you. Kids in school, they talk.

And in those early years, Michael knew where to go to church the 40-50% of the time he wasn’t traveling. If I didn’t work here, he’d have found you.

I brag about you at educator conferences and Presbyterian Church governing body meetings. “At my church… My staff… those people… their gifts…their work in the community… their ideas …their mission partnerships…” Do you know what I say about why I’ve stayed at Nassau for 30 years? “It never gets easy. It’s always challenging. There’s always something more to do. Something new to do. And they can do it! And I get to help.”

In fairness, although I still think I might be your biggest fan, others brag about you too. In March, the Adult Education and Mission Committees co-sponsored a series of four Sunday morning classes — four panels of three adults, moderated each Sunday by Darrell Guder, a member of the Mission Committee. Twelve members of Nassau were interviewed about how they live out their Christian faith in their daily lives — as teachers, doctors, at-home parents, retirees, administrators, business people.

And they offered witness. In this multi-faith, no-faith, spiritual-but-not-religious-faith world — they offered witness to how their Christian faith shows up in daily life. In what they can say and what they can’t, in what they can do and what they can’t, in what’s respectful and what might be intrusive. And, as we hoped, they talked about their conviction that how they interact with others shows Jesus to the world. About how their ethical decisions represent Christ. About how they treat employees or employers reflects what they believe. About how what they do in the community shows who they ultimately trust, in life and in death.

But what I didn’t expect? What they said that I hadn’t anticipated? They bragged about you. They bragged about how worshiping with you sends them out for the rest of the week. They talked about how sermons and prayers give them strength and purpose. They talked about bringing their children and youth here and watching how that is shaping them for life, teaching them to love and serve others, showing them how to say simply, I’m a Christian. I’m a Presbyterian. I believe… I think… I trust…

They said — their exact words, not mine, you can find them on our website — that being with you on a Sunday morning refreshes them, recharges them, rejuvenates them, builds bridges to their lives in the coming week — affirming their vocation, their call to the Christian life. They said you prepare them for the challenge of weekdays that are sometimes tiring and exhausting and not exactly representative of the kinds of relationships they hope to enjoy.

They said worshiping God with you helps them struggle, reflect, apply their faith to their actions. They said you restore them. They said it matters that this congregation prays for them; it matters that you call them to be faithful with their financial resources. They said you equip them to live as Christians. That you provide a place to talk about their faith, and to ask hard questions, and to seek answers to those hard questions together. They said you fuel their sense of justice. They said you call them to serve God’s world.

They said you make them witnesses — that you give people eyes to see need. They said you give them hope. And they said, “Thank you.” They said, “Thank you.”

As they talked about you, they called you their “home.” Their “community.” Their “family.” We hear that so often as a description of church. It’s what Poppy said when she and Ron drove from Virginia to Princeton on Easter Sunday because it meant they were coming home. It’s what Carol means to the parents in the Wednesday afternoon in-choir Bible study because she not only teaches them, she knows their children by name, and she stays and eats with them every week.

It’s what Agnes means to Julia and all the others who join her making cards to support Nassau’s mission partners. It’s what Gordon means to countless years of three- and four-year-olds, playing his guitar and collecting food for Arm In Arm, and telling them God loves them just the way they are. It’s what Sue Ellen meant, and Ingrid will come to mean, to youth alumni who come back and sing on Christmas Eve year after year.

It’s what the pastors mean to people they visit in the hospital and at home, the ones they teach, counsel, marry, and bury. And what those people mean to the pastors. It’s what small groups leaders and participants mean to each other once they have gathered to talk about faith and life for seven weeks. It’s what children mean to each other after playing Sardines in this building and making hygiene kits for hurricane victims. It’s what youth mean to one another when they repair houses and walk the Camino and tell each other what hurts and what helps. It’s who Bible study participants are after examining stories and wondering together what those stories say to their lives.

It’s what this baptismal font means to the couple who stands here with their firstborn or their fourth, the gay couple who proudly promises to raise their newly adopted child in this community of faith, the new Christian who looks out at the congregation and hears them say, “We will indeed help you know all that Christ commands and by our fellowship strengthen your family ties with the household of God.”

It’s what this table means to us when we hear the words “This is the Lord’s table. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ invites all who trust him to take part in the feast that he has prepared.” Because families eat together. Because when we share a meal, and hear that we are welcome — no matter who we are, no matter what we have done, no matter how fragile our faith, how big our questions, how far we have wandered, no matter how long we have been absent, we know — we know in our heart of hearts — that it’s still true. That we are welcome here. That this is still our family, our community, our home.

These are all real people. All these things really happen here. But it doesn’t matter if you know them or not — you know the names of the ones who make Nassau home, family, community for you. And I’d wager you brag about them when you get a chance.

After Saul’s startling conversion to following Jesus on the Damascus road (bright light from heaven, friends terrified, Paul struck blind), as the newly named apostle Paul, he started churches. He stayed in touch by getting letters from, and writing letters to, those churches, and he loved them deeply, so you might think he’d talk about them as family, or community, or home. Surely as they gathered together to worship this Jesus as Messiah and Lord, they drew courage and comfort from each other. Surely their bond helped empower their witness, gave them opportunities to study the Jewish scriptures that either were already theirs or became theirs. Surely their church taught and equipped them for their life and work. Surely they were hearing and telling stories about Jesus, and beginning to examine his teaching as they tried to get their heads and hearts around a crucified and risen Savior whom they claimed as Lord.

But it’s not language we find in Paul’s letters. Paul doesn’t use the word “community” to describe all-surrounding support and nurture. Community, for Paul, is simply the word for where you live. Paul doesn’t use the word “family” to describe a church as the people who become our tribe, who remind us who and whose we are. “Family” for Paul is simply your family of origin, the ones with whom you live. And Paul never refers to the churches he founds as their new “home.” That might mean to us church is the place we go when we need to be accepted and loved just as we are. As the place where “place” doesn’t even matter — where what matters is whom we meet there and how quickly and wide they open their arms to us when we arrive.

But Paul does have words, nonetheless. Paul does have a picture for “church,” for this collection of called and chosen people. About whom they are and whom they are called to be for one another. It’s a much higher ideal than my bragging about you. Higher even than what all of you together might say about what this church, this congregation, means to you. It’s a resurrection picture. It’s a picture of the church as resurrection people. It’s an image of, in Paul’s words to the church in Corinth, “your life in Christ Jesus.”

And here’s the rub. It’s not because of their doing, or being, or their faithful response to the gospel, or their goodness or unity or shining example to other congregations. It’s not because they are particularly wise, or powerful, or come with any pedigree. It’s because of God. It’s all because of God. “God,” Paul says to the Corinthians, “is the source of your life in Christ Jesus.” “Your” plural. Your life collectively. Your life as a community.

Paul is reminding them of this early on in his letter. The Corinthian church has been in correspondence, and Paul knows the troubles they’re having, and he’s about to call them out. Sex, of course, lack of self-control, not apparently unique to the Corinthian church but one of their issues. Doing things that in and of themselves are not problematic, but can be a stumbling block to others in the community who have a different interpretation.

Spiritual gifts, of all things — arguments about which ones are higher, more important to the church. Which is really an argument about whose opinion matters most, about who has the most power. And finally, the need for their financial generosity to support other churches who have more needs than their own. Imagine that — a church with some disagreements. A church that has some things to work through, some things to subject to their collective understanding of their life in Christ Jesus.

“Consider your own call, brothers and sisters,” or as we say almost every Sunday in our Assurance of Forgiveness, “Friends in Christ.” “Consider your call, friends in Christ… it is because of God that you are in Christ Jesus… Christ Jesus made us righteous and holy, and he delivered us.”

And so what? The “so what” for Paul? Those who brag should do so not about themselves, but about what the Lord is doing through them. “The one who brags should brag in the Lord.”

It’s always been you I brag about. All of you. But I think it’s OK. Because I’ve always seen Jesus in you. You are resurrection people. You are my Easter people. You are God’s called and chosen Easter people. Look around you. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!

© 2018 Nassau Presbyterian Church
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