To Whom Do We Belong?

Heritage Presbyterian Church

November 29, 2020
First Sunday of Advent
Scripture reading – 1st Corinthians 1: 3-17

Let me ask everyone a question:  Define yourself.

When I ask that question, I mean think of all the various groups that you belong to and list them in your head.

  • Think of your family.  You might be a Plunkett or a Silva or a Kissinger or a Vetters or a Kerr or a Smith…and we have two different groups of Smiths.
  • Think of the type of work you do.  You might be a teacher or a lawyer or a salesclerk or a truck driver or an oil industry executive or a librarian – or even…God help us…a minister.
  • Think of the people you hang around, your friends.
  • Think of the hobbies you enjoy and the others who share them.
  • Think of the ex-classmates from your days in school – or the current classmates you enjoy now as friends.

All of those labels define whom you are and whom you choose to belong to and belong with.

Now think of the churches you have belonged to in your lifetime.  Think of them…picture them in your mind for a minute…consider why you stayed there for any length of time.  Perhaps you moved away and couldn’t attend one any longer,  perhaps you were invited to visit another church and you liked it, or perhaps you left for other, more unpleasant reasons.  Even those churches that you belonged to defined you.

The Corinthians that Paul wrote to had some problems with my question of what defined them and to whom they belonged.

Paul’s letter said that he knew that some “belonged” to Peter, and some “belonged” to Apollos, and some “belonged” to Paul  – and some even belonged to Christ – can you imagine that?  Paul’s major problem was that many of the Corinthians didn’t identify themselves as BELONGING to Christ first; this meant that when their human leader died or left or messed up, the believer was then lost.  That divided loyalty was a real problem for Paul because any Christian is merely a “second fiddle” to Christ himself.

The other problem was that the Corinthians tended to follow the latest fad or the hippest trend; many of them were only sampling Christianity because they weren’t sure it was going to last – but it sounded good.  If they only “belonged” to Christ in the same way that they belonged to a group of workmen or a club of singers, then Paul’s concerns were fully justified.  

Belonging to Christ is a little more involved, a little more important than belonging to a guild of craftsmen or a club.

Those Corinthians!  They were SO silly!  It’s a good thing we’re not like that…

…or are we?

Are we putting any church leaders above our worship of Jesus Christ?  Think of the various famous preachers you have heard; I know my favorites.  Think of famous Christian writers that you enjoy; again, I know my favorites.  Think of evangelists on television or on the Internet that you watch – especially those that you see when you are surfing through the channels and you stop when you see them.  We’re not putting them before Jesus Christ, are we?  We don’t BELONG to them, do we?

We belong to Christ…or at least, we’re supposed to.

Think for an uncomfortable moment: consider a group of Christians that believes differently than you, such as another denomination or even another church within our own denomination:  

Do you readily dismiss them because of how they worship or the various details of faith that they hold dear? 

Do you think of different worship styles and consider yourself lucky that at least we don’t do THAT?

Do you, in your heart of hearts, believe that you are a better Christian because of how you worship or the specifics in your faith that we express here?

Or let’s turn it around: does it make you furious when other Christians say to you, “Oh, you’re THAT kind of Christian” or “Oh, you go to THAT church.” As if, in some perfect way, the Jesus Christ you belong to is somehow different from the same Jesus Christ they belong to…

In high school, I treated just like this when a so-called friend found out I was Catholic at the time.  She quickly dismissed me as “that type of Christian” – meaning the type who would go to hell, despite belonging to the same Jesus Christ that she claimed. 

I’ll admit: that really made me angry.  I’ve always thought of it as a type of judging.  Yet, when I consider specifics that other Christians feel and feel strongly, I sometimes become very uncomfortable too and wonder how that odd, wonderful thing called “salvation” works for some very diverse, faithful people.

When you consider yourself as belonging to some second fiddle who represents Christ – instead of Christ himself – it can also lead to some resentments you never anticipated.  When my grandfather died in 1994, the church to which he belonged was in between pastors.  Grandaddy had served that church through generations of pastors, but they didn’t have one when we needed it most.  The interim pastor, who had known my grandparents for only two weeks, came to their house and did all the right things we would have expected from any other pastor.  He and the whole church staff assembled and officiated at the memorial service, which was well done and well attended.  But when it came time for the intimate, family-only graveside service, the associate pastor was the one to be there.  I remember wondering if that was good enough.  What I didn’t know was what a great friend that associate was to my grandparents, how much they loved her and how much she loved them in return.  At funerals, we pastor folk are supposed to be a little sympathetic but a little distant in order to be able to do our job.  But on that very sad day, that associate pastor belonged to us…and she belonged to Christ… and she did a most wonderful, tender, perfect graveside service for all of us – not just for her buddy, my grandfather.  And it was because she belonged first to Christ that she was in the right place at the right time with the right bunch of like-minded believers who were looking to their Savior to be close to them that day.

On that day, the important thing was that all of belonged to Christ and to each other.

Christians…we all belong to Christ.  It shouldn’t matter if we are from Texas or California or New York or Florida.  It shouldn’t matter if we are conservative or liberal or progressive or moderate.  It shouldn’t matter if we are Methodist or Catholic or Baptist or Church of Christ – or even PCUSA.  It shouldn’t matter if we are members at Heritage Presbyterian or Lakewood Church or the 700 Club.  It shouldn’t matter if we are deacons or elders or pastors.  It shouldn’t matter if we are on the property committee or the worship committee or the fellowship & hospitality committee.  It shouldn’t matter if we sing in the choir or serve as liturgist or sit in the back. 

It shouldn’t even matter – just as long as we are in the same family of believers.

As long as we all belong to Christ first and foremost, the rest of it…is just the rest of it.