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Duration:14 mins 40 secs

Growing out of Jill Duffield’s visit with us two weeks ago and her theme “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” this month I am encouraging us to think about our neighbors. We know that Christ commanded us to love our neighbors, but who are the people in our neighborhood that we are to love?

Let me begin with a bit of inspiration for you. I shared with you last Sunday that this series was personal for me as I could not call by name three of my four immediate neighbors at home. So, this week I walked across the street and met Sharon and Kenny. I had waved to them almost every day for nearly 6 years, but now I can call them by name.

As we as a church seek to do the same thing, to get to know our neighbors so that we can be good neighbors, last Sunday I encouraged us to begin by getting to know the children in our church and neighborhood. I am heartened by the ways many of you are trying to do just that and look forward to finding ways for us to connect with our local schools, children, and youth in the days to come. Watch for more information on that.

Today I want to invite us to take another step and think about the churches in our neighborhood. Our scripture text comes from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, chapter1, verses 12-20. While so much of 1 Corinthians is Paul responding to various questions and controversies in Corinth, here in Chapter 15 Paul really gets to the heart of the matter. Let us hear this Word of God.

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. 19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Some of you watch my “Sunday’s Coming” videos each week that we send out by email, Facebook, Instagram, and the church website. If you are not familiar, in these videos I give a quick 1-minute quick introduction to Sunday’s scripture and sermon, ask a few questions to get you thinking, and share anything unique or special about worship for the coming week. I record almost all of them in my office here at the church. However, every now and then I get inspired and venture beyond my office to the sanctuary or even outside to the lawn of the Alan Fuqua Center.

This series of sermons, thinking about our neighborhood, led me outside the office once again. Last week I did not go very far - all the way to the church nursery. This week, I recorded two segments for the video in my office and then drove around to take pictures of the churches in our neighborhood. It did not take me long to get all the photos I needed because there are dozens of churches in our neighborhood.

If you did not see the video, you can probably imagine the pictures I took of the churches in our neighborhood. … That’s right - I took pictures of buildings. I went looking for the churches in our neighborhood … and I took pictures of buildings. That might have been your first inclination as well, but now that I have raised the question, perhaps you are beginning to see the problem.

At the time of the Reformation, there was a huge debate about how to recognize a “church.” The Reformers claimed that what people had known and experienced as the church for generations upon generations was fatally flawed and therefore reformation was in order. But their critique had nothing to do with architecture, steeples, crosses, organs, video screens, or pews. Instead our Presbyterian ancestors, like John Calvin and John Knox, suggested one could recognize a “true church” by three “marks” or characteristics.

First, the Word of God is purely preached and heard. In a true church the preacher proclaims the good news of the Gospel, what the apostle Paul summarizes as “Christ crucified and resurrected.” This Gospel is proclaimed with truth and integrity according to the scriptures and it is proclaimed in such a way as the congregation could hear this Word, understand it, and profit from it. So, you had to preach from the scriptures in a language the people could understand.

Second, the sacraments were rightly administered. Much of the pomp and circumstance surrounding the sacraments is eliminated so the congregation can experience the grace of God through the waters of baptism and the bread and wine of communion. Through these sacraments the church witnesses to Christ’s death and resurrection in a visible and tangible way.

Third, there is the proper exercise of church discipline. This sounds harsh, but initially it was not intended to be. The Reformers recognized the common linguistic root of the words discipline and disciple. A true church is one in which we can see evidence of the transforming power of the gospel in the lives of its members. In a true church we see people living as disciples of a crucified and yet risen Lord.

The Word is purely preached and heard.

The Sacraments are rightly administered.

People are living as disciples of a crucified and yet risen Lord.

Nothing about buildings or steeples or crosses or organs or video screens or pews. Everything to do with people experiencing and bearing witness to Christ's death and resurrection.

So, it occurred to me, after I posted that Sunday’s Coming video, that if I really wanted to take pictures of the churches in our neighborhood, I should not have gone looking for buildings. No, I should have found people proclaiming and practicing resurrection. I should have found people participating in the in-breaking of God’s power in the midst of a world focused on death, division, and decay. I should have found people living with hope for they know the end of the story is that Christ is coming and coming soon. That is where I would find the churches in our neighborhood.

And that is the kind of church that Paul is talking about in our text this morning; a church that proclaims Christ's resurrection. Paul has spent a lot of time in 1st Corinthians talking about the cross and all that God accomplished for us there. But in the end, he says that Christ’s dying for us is insufficient. For, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”

So, as the church we must proclaim not just judgement upon the sin,
not just acknowledge the seductive power of violence,
not just decry a culture of division and exclusion,
not just condemn death,
and not just scare people into belief through the threat of eternal punishment.

No, as the church we must proclaim that Christ has been raised,
the first fruits of a new age,
the in breaking of the kingdom of God,
the beginning of eternal and abundant life here and now,
a community of faith, peace, love, hope, and joy.

Yes, we have been rescued and thus we are invited not to mirror the old world of our bondage, but to live with Christ as a witness to the new world inaugurated on Easter morning.

My friends, do you see that we have gathered here today not just for an hour of pretty music, ancient words, and a nice speech. No, we are here to enlist in a revolution of hope in the face of despair, of love in the face of hate, and of life in the midst of death. Young Allston might not recognize it yet but through her baptism she too has joined this revolutionary, resurrection-shaped community called “the church.”

Now I must tell you that this will not be easy work. The powers of this world will not give up without a fight. The powers of this world tell us to focus on buildings instead of people. The powers of this world tell us to focus on survival instead of flourishing. The powers of the world tell us to focus on what divides us instead of what unites us.

But we know something that the powers of this world do not understand and cannot suppress. We are the church! In fact, Christ has been raised from the dead and we are witnesses to resurrection! Wherever we see others doing that, whether they are Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Baptist, Catholic, Pentecostal, or none of the above, we recognize “the church.” We are not in this alone.

My friends, this week be on the lookout for “the church” in our neighborhood. Where do you see new life springing up? Where do you see neighbors working together in surprising ways? Where do you see truth claimed and falsehood abandoned? Where do you see love and mercy? Where do you see hope? For the church in our neighborhood is alive and well if we have eyes to see it. Let’s join in and do our part.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

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