Reflection verses for the month: “For I decided to know nothing among you, except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” — 1 Corinthians 2:2
Because I’m a child of the first Saturday Night Live generation, memorable quotes from SNL sometimes flit through my mind when stuff – good, bad, or in between — happens in real life. So in the midst of working through the aftermath of discovering the error in the vote on January 22 [see the articles in this newsletter], the words of Gilda Radner’s character Roseanne Roseannadanna, came back to me: “It just goes to show you, it’s always something.” In other words, who could have predicted the weird train of events that would lead to a reversed outcome? Despite our best intentions to run a good voting process that led to an undisputed outcome, it didn’t happen that way. It’s always something.
Judging from your responses after the news was announced at worship on February 5, many of you also were shocked by this turn of events. Your leaders, including me, can’t say often enough how much we regret the confusion that has arisen because of a flawed voting process. Just because “stuff happens,” to use another cliché, doesn’t mean that it’s OK. We are truly sorry. We hope you will forgive us.
But at the same time, I hope we all will gather around much more powerful and life-giving words than Roseanne Roseannadanna’s. I hope we’ll gather around the words of our Lord Jesus. I was deeply grateful for the words of Scripture while we were unpacking what had happened and determining what steps were now possible. Lines from SNL may have flitted through my mind, but the Scriptures’ words gave me comfort, strength and hope to move forward.
So in this time of reconsideration, and in my absence, I urge you to gather around St. Paul’s word to the Corinthian church, when they were in turmoil. When that congregation didn’t know which end was up, Paul directed them to the crucified Christ: “For I decided to know nothing among you, except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)
What did Paul want them to heed in the crucified Christ? First, he wanted them to remember that they all, equally, and without exception, were sinners in need of God’s grace, given through the crucified Christ. Therefore, humility before God and gratitude to God should pattern their responses to each other. The Corinthian church was beset by factions who wanted to one-up each other by citing their own superior knowledge or skills. Paul put a stop to their divisions by destroying the basis for superiority. “You are on level ground, he says – at the foot of the cross.”
Second, Paul’s reference to the crucified Jesus tells the Corinthian church how to use power with one another. When one group elevates themselves over another, they often use violence to do it, and violence to keep themselves on top. That is not how Jesus’ followers use power, Paul says. Even and especially, when we have differences, we treat each other with gentleness, kindness and mercy. Manipulation, deceit, trash talk and vengefulness have no place in the church.
Finally, Paul’s counsel to know nothing but the crucified Christ directs the Church to place their hope, not in a particular set of circumstances, not in any outcome, and not even in the Church itself, but in God alone. Only the God who is present even in loss and death, is the sure foundation of our hope for life. Any lesser foundation will crumble.
Paul’s advice is good counsel for Good Shepherd Trinity, as you face the turmoil of the next few weeks. Some of you want the revised outcome to stand. Some of you are considering gathering signatures to present to the Council to call a special meeting to have a second “first vote.” As I write this, I do not know how things will work out.
But as your pastor and your sister in Christ, I urge you to take St. Paul’s words to heart. While you work through whatever steps come next, be grateful to God for the salvation given to you in Christ, and humble about your own place in the world and in the church. You are important, but no more important than anyone else. Second, treat each other with gentleness, kindness and mercy. Most importantly, place your hope in God alone.
While I am traveling, I will be praying for you. May you trust that the God of the crucified Jesus will be with you.