Stop Fighting! Preach the Good News!
April 29, 2024

Stop Fighting! Preach the Good News!


Scripture: Acts 18:1-4; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Because of the text from today I’ve been thinking about baptism this week. And it occurred to me that it’s been 30 years this month since my own baptism. I’m pretty sure. It could be 29. I probably should have written it down. In any case, I was poured on. Because I was baptized into the General Conference Mennonite Church. But for some Mennonites, pouring would be an unacceptable means of baptism. One absolutely must be submerged. Meanwhile, as a pastor I have done both, but mostly I kind of scoop and splash.

150 years ago in southern Russia, I am given to understand, Mennonites argued over this and then split because of it. And (I think) that’s why we have Mennonite Brethren. In the course of their history, Mennonites and Anabaptist groups have split many, many times over theological debates like whether you can have a shiny bumper or not, sing music with accompaniment or not, wear modern clothing or not, use electricity or not. I’m sure you could name others. 

But it’s baptismal factions that are getting the Corinthian church in trouble with Paul. Last week, when we read about the Thessalonian church, he reports how he’s heard such good things about their witness. This week, we hear about some messengers that are spilling the Corinthian tea, gossiping about the squabbles within the church. Which aren’t really about baptism but about status and influence.

Maybe that’s what the dunking versus sprinkling debate was really about too. Charismatic leaders who wanted their way. In this case, Paul hears from Chloe’s people (which - quick aside, I once again love the specifics that names bring to Paul’s letters. Who is Chloe? She’s never mentioned again. But she has people! Family? Servants? Messengers? Love it). He hears from Chloe’s people that factions have sprung up around the leaders who have baptized them.

It might not have been uncommon in either Judaism or pagan or secular thought to have a primary rabbi or teacher with whom you’d identify. So maybe it this was a carry-over from the cultural norm. But Paul is over it. It’s not that baptism is the problem. I imagine that it was indeed an important symbolic was of claiming faith and a community of Christ just as it is now. But who does it? Who cares!?

Paul thinks of himself pretty highly - he’s always telling people to copy him, use him as an example. But in this case, he’s very clear: baptism is of such little importance he can’t even remember who he’s baptized. Gaius and Stephanus maybe? Was there someone else? Which is wild, especially if it’s that few, because I have clear memories of the baptisms that I’ve participated in or performed. 

What is important? What should they be unified around: The good news. The good news of the Cross of Christ. Stop arguing. Proclaim the good news! Why are you wasting time navel gazing when you have this amazing story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Reign of God’s triumph over the power of violent imperialism.

When I first started out in youth ministry I had a young person in my Sunday school class who liked to be controversial and stir things up. And she made the argument to me once that it was ridiculous for people to wear crosses. It was stupid for the cross to be the symbol of the church. It’s like wearing an electric chair, she said. 

I don’t remember what I told her at the time. I hope I said what I would say now: yes! In fact it maybe even be more outrageous. It may be more like wearing a noose. The cross was a weapon of state violence and suppression. Most often used against people who were making trouble by challenging the power of Rome. Paul acknowledges that to most people - even youth in 2005 - it is ridiculous. To put the death of a state criminal at the center of our faith.

But in the Cross of Christ there is also the resurrection of Christ. God takes that tool of violence and death and domination and declares that it has no power. Instead of status jockeying over who pours water or dunks people better. Stop making church a cult of personality. Stop fighting! Focus on proclaiming the good news. The Reign of God - of the nonviolent love of Jesus - is the good news the Corinthians should be focusing on.

Since I’ve been using the ministry center as my office, I’ve enjoyed having the bank of windows that faces out onto the parking lot and the street and Kirkland city hall. I’m not sure how Kirkland Congregational feels about me turning it into my personal billboard by putting up the ceasefire posters, but they seem pretty chill.

If you follow Evergreen’s social media you’ll have already seen that I posted a picture of the windows from the outside - showing all the flames made by the Sunday school kids and wondering whether we’re sending the right message. How much do these flames look like being on fire for God and how much do they look like the fires of hell?? That’s not very good news, if that’s the message that’s being received by passersby. 

I started to wonder. What is our good news. What is our when-it-all-comes-down-to-it message to the world. This is who we are! This is what Jesus wants! Mennonites argue over a lot of stuff. And we’ve been dividing into factions since day one. And we still good news to proclaim. And I think Evergreen has good news to proclaim.

Here’s a poster and here are markers. I’m inviting you to think of what your word or phrase would be that, unlike the beautiful but ambiguous flames in the window, would clearly speak good news. It’s okay if someone else wrote it first - you can emphasize theirs or write it again.  If you are on zoom and want to put something in the chat to include on the poster, we can do that too.

May God bless the preaching of this word to the world!



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