Which is a real shame, because like many pastors, I am in the habit of leaving for any meeting pretty darn close to the time I should be arriving at the meeting. Pro tip: driving anywhere takes time, especially if you’re taking the Beltline.
I suspect that I share this dilemma with more than a few of you. Despite our attempts to fit an increased number of tasks into our week, the clock stubbornly remains limited to one hundred and sixty eight hours. We have to pick and choose how to spend our time - and energy. Like everyone else on this planet, we are finite human beings, with a finite ability to keep going. When the unexpected happens, something always has to give. Sometimes it’s our health. Sometimes it’s our intended priorities. When we juggle too many projects, we forget things, or experience frustrating delays in getting back to things we know are important.
True confessions: pastors are humans too. Sometimes we never get to the personal visit we intend to make. Sometimes we compose a carefully worded email instead of making a phone call, or fire off a less-carefully worded email at odd hours.
This being a long way of saying, although I have never been a passionate fan of the Apostle Paul, as a pastor, I find myself inclined to offer him more grace than I once was. He was the Energizer Bunny of pastors, with thousands of miles traveled by foot and more by sea.
Since he couldn’t be in all these places at once, he had to be creative about staying in touch. Not having email or telephone available to him, he would have to rely on updates carried by travelers – sometimes personal conversations, and sometimes letters. There would be a substantial delay in receiving the news.
In the way of grapevine conversations everywhere, what he learned may not have been good or accurate news. Is it any wonder that Paul’s most common type of writing was the cranky pastor letter?
“Did you hear that they let half the people who came for the church dinner go hungry?”
“I hope Chloe mentioned this when the two of you met last…we’ve been having an issue with cliques. People are lining up behind one leader or another; the church seems to be divided; and it’s all quite troubling.”
So The Apostle Writes Back: “Chloe’s people gave me some information about these fights, and you need to cut it out.”
It seems the cult of personality was a problem in Corinth. People were so enamored of the person who had baptized them, or been their first faith teacher, that they didn’t want to follow anyone else. So, if Apollos, that handsome, well-spoken teacher from Alexandria, was preaching, well then, it was worth coming to church that day. Or if Peter was the one who convinced you of Christ’s ways, then clearly anyone else was an inferior leader, and didn’t know what they were talking about.
The reality is that any human organization is going to fall into these patterns at some point or another…people gravitate to one messenger or another, one style of message or another, based on learning styles and personal connections. But the concerned pastor, watching this from a bit of a distance, has a stern message for the church:
“I hear you’re taking sides. Let me be clear: you are not on team Paul or team Apollos or team Peter. Last time I checked, the Messiah hadn’t been chopped up into little bits for your benefit. For the Love of God – “
What Paul thunders in this passage is: the church is not a cult of personality. Don’t get hung up on personal preferences of messenger or style. Focus on the message.
Pastors change, times change, ministry details may change, but the church is still the Church. This is important for us to remember together, as I’m getting ready to be away from you for sixteen weeks while I’m on sabbatical. I know there’s some anxiety among us. I've heard many concerns, expressed directly and indirectly:
What will happen while PK’s away? What if my life falls apart and I need someone to talk to? Will people take the summer off? What if they check out some other church and never come back? What if our church falls apart? What if my favorite ministry falls apart, or this thing I love about worship here changes? Will it still be my church? Will it be different when Pastor Kerri returns? What if she doesn’t come back?
Sometimes you just need to name the elephant in the middle of the room. First, I have every intention of coming back. The Holy Spirit, I am confident, has wild plans for us yet. There is more confetti to be thrown.
Second, this is one of those rare occasions when I find myself agreeing with the Apostle Paul. What we have been building together these past 6 years, is not the First Church of Pastor Kerri. God forbid. We have been working to strengthen our beloved – God’s beloved – McFarland United Church of Christ.
What we have been building – when we get it the most right - is compiled from a quirky patchwork of Christianity old and new. It’s not all me. Our ministry is generated from both pastor and congregation, with a healthy proportion of Holy Spirit in the mix. What you love about this church need not go away because I’m away for a bit. Anything that is essential to the expression of faith in this place? You will ensure that it continues.
Wherever the church is truly the Church, wherever we remember to focus on the story that unites us, short-term worries become less important. We are the church. We are here to love God, and neighbor, and ourselves, too. We are called to bring healing to the world, in the name and manner of Jesus. We are called to remember a holy story in diverse ways, and tell it until it is our heart-language.
Christ cannot be divided. Wherever the church is the Church, we are united by the cross. We are united by the death-to-life story whether we are fans of the great old hymns on the organ or Irish tunes we can pair with a drum, big band or barbershop, U2 or what you’ll hear on 102.5. We are one in Christ, whether you came to this church since I was the pastor, or with one of my predecessors -- or you were in the living room where this congregation started 40-ish years ago. We are one in Christ, whether you appreciate the glitter in the carpet, whether it gets your goat or you just want the dang ancient carpet finally out of here. We are one in Christ whether you think Sundaes on Thursdays is just ice cream and lots of hard work…or, if you think it’s ice cream, hard work, and something more.
We are one, whether you come here on any given Sunday for comfort or challenge. We will be one church for these next few weeks before I leave, one church wherever we are this summer, one church when we come back together this fall with fresh insights to explore where our shared ministry goes next. We are Resurrection People: one church belonging to God in Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, with a mission and ministry that goes far beyond any one of us. Thanks be to God.