Sermon Ideas For 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 Part 2
Living daily as a Christian is not an easy task. There are temptations and seductions galore out in the world. These verses set the problem within a "calling" and a "strengthening." The Christians at Corinth are "called" to be saints. The Christians at Corinth have been given the "strength" to accomplish the task. This is what could be called a "combination fact" in that the calling and the strengthening co-exist as a combined fact. Both are true, but neither is true apart from the other.
What does it mean to be called to be a saint? It means to live life as if Christ died for you, and your life is now to be lived for Him. All Christians are saints. Christ died for each and every person. Thus, every Christian is a saint—whether he/she knows it or not. Paul is trying to remind them of this fact. He writes to refresh their minds.
Living as a saint is a tall order. It is no mean task. It is hard work. However, it is not an option just because it requires strenuous effort. It is an obligation and a mandate. Yet, Christians should not be discouraged because those whom God calls to be saints, God gives the power to become saints. This is the strength that God gives to those who He calls to be saints. It is as if Paul is stating that what looks impossible on the surface, is not only possible but probable, because the strength is provided by God.
Christians can't beat a deal like that! It's as sure as having to take a test but being given the answer beforehand. It's like getting into a prestigious university and being given a full scholarship at the same time. It's like wanting to swim the English channel and having a resting boat right along side one all the way. It's like being asked to make a dress and sitting down before a magic sewing machine that does the whole thing for you.
Paul describes the ways in which God has strengthened Christians. He says they have been given "grace" (v. 4); they have been enriched in words and in knowledge (v. 5): and, they have been empowered to testify to Christ (v. 6). In fact, Paul says they do not lack for any spiritual gift (v.7).
These ideas need to be made practical if people are to understand what this calling and strengthening means for the way they live their daily lives. Sainthood for the average Christian means sanctification of the everyday, not flying away to India to assist Mother Theresa.
I remember a letter to the editor of the newspaper of the Los Angeles Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church. It was from a housewife. She directed her letter to the priests who, with every good intention, regularly announced week-end retreats for parishioners in the diocese. The letter said that what the writer needed was not to attend a week-end retreat away from the demands of her household duties. She said it was next to impossible for her to leave her family and retreat from her duties for that length of time. What she needed, she wrote, was for her priest to give her some instruction on how to be spiritual in the midst of changing diapers, loving her husband, making the beds, getting her children off to school, and participating in the local Republican ward organization. She spoke of the stress she experienced in trying to keep her saintly calling in the events of every day.
I think this passage from 1 Corinthians was meant for her. Although the words are the well-known jargon of the faith (sanctification, spiritual gifts, grace, etc.), these words and the strength God provides for her calling can be expressed in a way that can help her just where she is. And what is true for her is true for men as well.
Almost 100 percent of lay persons are "caught" in life situations over which they have little power to alter or change. I do not mean to say they have little power to control them. I think they can control them, even if !-- Generation of PM publication page 3 --> they cannot change them. The control they can exercise is the control of sainthood. They can fulfill the call to sanctification, i.e., become saintly, wherever they may be because God gives them the strength to do it. This is a fact. This is the truth. It needs to be proclaimed again and again and again.
The first step in this process is to assert that Christians have strength they do not know they have. We have emphasized so much the presence of the consoling God in times of pain and hurt that we have forgotten to proclaim the presence of the empowering God who stands with us in the stressful routine of every day.
The second step is to clarify what sainthood entails. As someone said "Sainthood is a combination of doing right work and the work right." For Christians this means doing something for others—i.e. servanthood. For women it is often a self-chosen role of caring for others. It can also mean an outside-of-the home career. The critical variable is whether what one does has the eventual goal of serving others.
Of course, what is true for women is also true for men. They should work, both in and outside the home, for others. No other role will suffice for sainthood. Note that this work is not necessarily "church work." Most often it is not. Usually, it is family and vocation work—the stuff of every day. God intends saints to be saints where they are. This needs to be strongly emphasized. Christian saints are to "Bloom where they are planted."
Finally, and paradoxically, the ultimate test of sainthood is not what one does but how one does it. Style will always dominate over substance. They way in which one lives one's life will be acknowledged as "saintly" far more often than whether one is a barber, truck driver, nurse or housewife. It is here that the fruit of the spirit, more than the gifts, should be emphasized. As Paul says in Galatians 5:22ff, saints evidence love, joy, peace, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. So may it be.
H. Newton Malony