Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Ramsgate Churches are holding their Week of Prayer for Christian Unity at Hardres Street United Church from January 30th to February 3rd. There are prayer meetings each weekday morning 9:00-9:30am and a Prayer Breakfast on Saturday 3rd from 9:00-10:00am. These will replace the St. Luke’s and St. George’s Daily Prayer for this week, apart from the Daily Prayer on Thursday before Cafe4All.

The theme for years Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is ‘Be-Longing, praying for unity amidst injustice.’

YI travels to The Event

This Sunday YI (our youth provision) will not be meeting in St. Luke’s church hall. Instead, we’ll be travelling to Queen’s Road Baptist church to join other youth groups in Thant from 6-8pm.

Our leaders from YI go with our young people. We can meet you there or do contact Claire if you would like a lift.

United in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:10-18)

The church in Corinth was split with divisions over which leaders people claimed to follow. What were the underlying causes and how does the cross of Christ deeply challenge those issues?

Sermon preached at St. Luke’s on 22nd January 2023

Baptism – A naming ceremony?

In the last week, Lisa probably felt a bit harassed as I think at least two people from church checked with her that Alice didn’t have a middle name! Of course it is fine not to have a middle name – it’ll save Alice time filling out forms when she’s older!

But we needed to double check we had the right name, because baptism service is partly about giving someone their Christian names. After all we use their name during the actual baptism and it is important we get it right.

But actually, Alice’s name is not the most important name used in Baptism. Because when someone is baptised, we say,

“I baptise you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

It is God’s name that is important, because baptism is a symbol of becoming one of God’s followers and in particular of joining the family of the God of Jesus Christ. it is the name of the Christian God that really matters. It is the good news of Jesus Christ that has real power, as it says at the end of the reading.

Why is the Good News about Jesus so powerful?

So, what is the good news and what is its power? Well it is all about Jesus Christ. He performed amazing miracles and taught amazing truths. So much so that his followers began to realise that he was the one God had promised he would send to rescue his people.

Then he was arrested, condemned by the authorities for claiming to be a king and brutally nailed to a cross and left to die. Yet, God saw this death not as a tragedy, but a sacrifice. Jesus was taking the punishment for our sins on himself. He received what we deserved. Why did he have to die? Because he our sin our turning away from God is far more wicked than we realised and because he loved us more than we can imagine.

But that was not the end of the story. He died on the cross, was buried, but on the third day rose again. Cephas and Paul and hundreds of others all saw him alive afterwards. God had resurrected him and eventually took him to rule at his right hand. This proved his death was not a tragedy, but a sacrifice and that death is ultimately defeated.

So, the good news invites us to turn away from our sins and put our trust in Jesus, receive the forgiveness won for us on the cross and the gift of eternal life made possible by his resurrection.

If you’ve really understood that message and responded to it, then you’ve experienced the power of God and become part of God’s people the church! You’ve called on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ as your saviour.

Be United in Christ

It also means that you have become part of God’s family on earth. The church. That can be wonderful in many ways, but because we often bring with us many of our old attitudes and ways of thinking into the church community, churches do not always behave or act as they should!

In fact a big section of the Bible is made up of letters written to churches, which are often written to try and correct ways in which the churches are failing. That is most true of the letter to the Corinthians. In our reading, Paul who is writing to the church in Corinth, is challenging them about a lack of unity in the church.

He has heard that they seem to be split into different groups, each group claiming to have some kind of allegiance or connection with one of the well-known preachers of the day. Some say, “I follow Paul”, others, “I follow Apollos” and others, “I follow Cephas.” The result is that there are quarrels and divisions which are tearing the church apart.

It doesn’t seem that the disunity was based on differences over Christian teaching. Elsewhere, both in this letter and elsewhere, Paul will challenge false teaching in the church. Disagreeing with someone in order to persuade them to follow Jesus more closely is not the kind of argument or disunity that is being condemned here. Rather it was the focus on personalities that was the problem.

But why was there this focus on personalities and how does Paul challenge their wrong attitudes that were leading to disunity in the church? I think there are two key reasons Paul is addressing, both to do with attitudes that are common amongst non-Christians, but should not be a part of the church.

Why the focus on personalities?

  1. Status Seeking – 1:13-16; cf. 3:1-4

The first issue was that this focus on personalities was really to do with status seeking. That is wanting to feel superior or more important than others. Probably the idea was that they thought that by aligning themselves with who they thought was the more important preacher, they could think of themselves as better than the rest.

Sadly, we see the same kind of attitudes among Christians today. When you take pride in the church you belong to as being better or superior in one way or another with other churches in a local area, you are aligning yourself with one group of Christians against another in order to feel superior or more correct. It is a subtle but destructive form of status seeking.

Later in the letter Paul challenges other kinds of status seeking. For example, He condemns the wealthy that treat the poor as second class at their church gatherings and he challenges those who try to use their spiritual gifts as a reason to see themselves as more important than others.

Such a status seeking attitude naturally leads to jealousy and division in groups. In fact if you find yourself feeling jealous of others good looks, position, popularity, talents or whatever, then you are probably worrying too much about status!

I think it is Paul’s concern to challenge status seeking, that explains his rather  rambling comments in verses 14-16. Why does he waffle for a couple of verses about who he has baptised? He even comes across as rather forgetful and befuddled!

I think that is deliberate. Probably some people were trying to claim that they had a higher status in the church, because they were baptised by one of the great preachers: Paul or Apollos of Cephas. By suggesting that he is not that sure about who he has baptised, Paul is showing that it is unimportant who he baptised. In fact, the person taking the baptism is the most unimportant person involved!

Today when Alice was baptised, it didn’t really matter if it was me baptising Alice or Claire or some other minister whose been trained to do so. The two most important people that mattered in the baptism are Jesus and God. They are the ones who are named!! Alice gains no special status because she was baptised by me. She would have gained no special status if she was baptised by the Archbishop of Canterbury! And if you are worried about that kind of status, then you are missing the point. Baptism is about becoming Christ’s, not about who does it!!

And that is the point. As Christians, our human status should not worry us, rather we should be delighting in our new status won for us by Jesus.

  1. Skill Glorifying – 1:17

The second issue that was causing this focus on personalities, was an emphasis on the skills of the people involved. Corinth was used to having different philosophical speakers coming along and talking about all kinds of different ideas. People loved to come and listen and enjoy quality speaking skills, a bit like people love to go and hear stand-up comedians today!

Now, in our entertainment culture, where we naturally switch between TV channels or YouTube videos, or Tik Tok shorts or podcasts to find the most talented speakers, musicians or entertainers, it is easy to have an attitude that focuses on the skill of the artists and not worry about the message being  given.

That can also be true for Christians, perhaps valuing preachers or vicars because we enjoy their style of preaching as compared with others. Such attitudes sadly often divide churches over issues of style and not substance, over the ability and styles of the church leaders and musicians, rather than uniting around the great truths of  the good news about Jesus.

In fact these things can sometimes get in the way of the good news that matters. They can empty the message of the cross of Jesus of its power.

It’s a bit like buying a really good book, because you like its cover, but never bothering to read the book, because you just keep gazing on the wonderful cover, you miss out on the great contents.

Paul says he came to Corinth, not with great preaching skills, because he didn’t want to empty the cross of its power. He didn’t want to wow people with his preaching ability, or persuade them with his force of personality or speaking skills. He wanted their hearts to be transformed by the power of the good news itself.

Sadly, when people give up on church because they do not like a new vicar or don’t manage to settle in a church when they move to a new area it is often because they’re faith is rooted in the style of the church they attend rather than the power of the good news about Jesus. They’ve only really stared at the cover, they’ve never grasped the contents – it’s a tragic loss.

The Good News and Unity

In fact the reason Paul brings us back to the power of the cross, is because it deeply challenges these wrong attitudes that are the cause of the disunity in the church.

On the cross Jesus did not seek status in human terms, quite the opposite, crucifixion was designed to be not just cruel but utterly humiliating and dehumanising. It took away all dignity, by displaying you naked and in pain before crowds of onlookers. On the cross, Jesus was stripped of all human status. Yet, he did so for us. How then can we continue with status seeking.

Also, the cross is not attractive in human terms, it is deeply horrific and ugly. Romans would not even speak about crucifixion as too horrific a topic to contemplate. Yet, it was by the cross that Jesus won our salvation. How then can we allow a focus on what is attractive, entertaining and impressive to detract us from this truth that really matters?

When we grasp the good news of the cross, we find something amazing and transforming. Let’s allow it to transform our attitudes as well, so that we may find true unity in the church.

22nd January Youth Initiative

Youth Initiative provides a safe place for young people in Year 6 at primary school up to Sixth form, to grow in relationship with other young people and volunteers and to take more initiative in exploring and growing in their own faith in Jesus. This week’s question for discussion and study is, ‘Isn’t Christianity against diversity?’ Following this study time, if games and activities are more you thing, do join us at St. Luke’s church hall from 18:30-19:30.

What is Church? ( 1 Corinthians 1:1-9)

What is the Church? In writing to the Church in Corinth, Paul wants them to have a clearer understanding of what the church is in order to correct the problems that the church there is facing.

Sermon given on same day at St. Luke’s Ramsgate.

What the Church is not!

The word, ‘Church’ is used in modern speech to refer to all kinds of things, which we are often keen to point out is not really ‘the Church’ in the sense the Bible talks about it.

So, people talk about church buildings, but the church is not the building it is the people. The building is there to serve the church, but it is not the church.

People talk about the church as the institution, with bishops and clergy  and all that goes with that. Yet, the church is not an institution, it is the people. The institution is there to serve the church, but it is not the church.

People talk about ‘going to church.’ As though church is the service or event at which we gather. But church is not our gathering it is the people that gather. The meeting is there to serve the church, but it is not the church.

If those are not the church, we need to ask what is the Church! Simply,  it’s the people that follow Jesus Christ, but shouldn’t we be able to say more about what it actually is, rather than what it is not?

Well let’s look at 1 Corinthians for some help.

Introduction to 1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians, is a letter and it starts with the same pattern as most letters written in that part of the world at that time.

It tells us who it is from: Paul and his mate Sosthenes

It tells us who it is written to: The church in Corinth

There is a greeting

Then there is a thanksgiving, where Paul gives thanks to God for the church in Corinth.

Then the letter starts properly. As you read through the rest of the letter to Corinthians you discover that Paul is addressing lots of problems and issues in the church one by one, these include:

  • Lack of unity or factions in the church
  • Sexual immorality and marriage
  • Whether or not to eat meat sacrificed to idols
  • How to conduct services, including issues around Holy Communion, use of Spiritual gifts and so on
  • Holding on to the reality of the resurrection from the dead.

As Paul writes about all of these topics, he is clearly challenging many dysfunctional and wrong attitudes within the church, but he is careful to frame his instructions with careful arguments and by pushing fundamental attitudes that are important.

In a sense the letter as a whole is about how we should be church. This is reflected in the introduction. Notice that the section about who the letter is written to is quite a long section. In fact when you compare it with the other letters Paul wrote this section is much larger, three times as long as most other letters and nearly twice as long as the second longest. Paul’s focus in the letter is to help the Corinthians more fully understand what the church is.

So, let’s focus on this introduction and particularly verse 2 and ask ourselves, what the church is?

What the Church is:

Holy – It belongs to God

First of all verse 2 tells us that the church belongs to God, then it tells us that it is holy. This is a common theme in the introduction to Paul’s letters. In 6 out of the 9 letter written to churches by Paul, he starts off by calling his readers holy ones or saints. But here it is stressed by adding in that they were sanctified, that means made holy!

To be made holy means to be set aside or set apart for God’s purposes. In the Old Testament, the items that were used in the temple were holy, because they were set aside to be used by God. In fact the whole nation of Israel was called, ‘Holy’, because it was set apart from the other nations to be God’s special people.

To get a grasp of this idea consider this. If you were to buy a used upright Steinway piano, then the best will cost you a lot of money. Possibly up to £100,000. But there is one used Steinway Piano that is going to be sold at an auction in March and is expected to go for nearer £1million. Why would someone pay ten times the expected price for a piano? Because this piano was owned by John Lennon. In fact it is the piano he composed Imagine on. Because of the person who had owned it, this particular piano is set apart, it is special and so it is massively more valuable and no doubt will be treated with a great deal more care than other similar pianos.

Paul writes to the church that they belong to God, and so they are set apart for God. If you are a Christian, you belong to God and have been set apart for him. Now, God is so much greater than John Lennon. John Lennon may have written a few great tunes, but God created the universe! If you are set apart for him, then you are special and valuable in unimaginable ways! This is an incredible privilege, but it also brings great responsibility.

  • But will we be distinctive from the world?

If we are set apart for God, then it also means we are distinct and different from the world and we are called to live in a distinct and different way to the world around us. That is what Paul means when he says we are called to be holy.

As we go through the letter, Paul will challenge the Corinthian Christians not to act like the people in the world around, but to act differently, because they have been set apart for God.

In chapter 3, he will challenge them to stop being jealous and quarrelsome and in chapter 6 he will challenge them to stop engaging in sexual immorality. Why? In both cases because they are called to live lives distinctive from the world, but in line with God’s calling.

The church is holy and so it needs to start being holy.

United

The second thing that Paul stresses is the unity of the church. Next week we will see that one of the pressing problems with the church was a lack of unity. People focussed on different church leaders that they liked and split from those who liked different leaders.

But Paul in verse 2, emphasises the togetherness of the church, not just within Corinth, but the church everywhere. They are all one, because they all call on the same Lord, Jesus Christ. In fact, in these opening verses, Paul stresses again and again a focus on Jesus Christ, because he is the one who unites us, he is what we have in common.

More than that, though as he says in verse 9, we are called into the fellowship of the Son. As Christians when we talk about fellowship today, we often think of a friendly meeting together of Christians.

Yet the Greek word, koinonia, is much stronger than that. It sort of means that we are ‘shareholders’ in Christ. Now shareholders of a company all get to share in the profits of the company and in Christ we all get to share in what he has achieved for us in his death and resurrection.

But you can be a shareholder in a company without being involved in it and the word means more than just sharing in the benefits of Christ. It means participating with him, in his mission for the world. So, in becoming a shareholder of Christ, we become one in vision and purpose with others who are also shareholders of Christ. So the church is one and united.

  • But will we see ourselves as part of the wider church?

The challenge to us is this. Do we see ourselves as part of  something bigger.

We are not to see ourselves as individual Christians choosing our own way to live the Christian life. Sadly, many today who reject the church as ‘too institutional’ are often doing so because they don’t want to conform the way they live their faith to a wider community or group. Yet, Paul in Corinthians, will constantly stress that we are to live out our faith for the sake of others – especially others in the church in a way which will not mean always living as we would choose, but living in a way that helps others, works for unity and glorifies God.

He will also keep challenging the church of Corinth not to think that they can live their life as a church in a way that is different to the way the rest of the church spread at that time around the Mediterranean lives. They as a community in Corinth are part of something bigger.

The church is holy – so we need to live lives distinctive from the world.

The church is united – so we need to live lives conforming to the fundamental vision, purpose and needs of the wider church.

Gifted – Grace

Thirdly, the church is also gifted. Paul gives thanks for the way that God has gifted the church in the thanksgiving section.

He focuses in on gifts of words, or speech and knowledge. Both of these are important and useful for the church and the people.

So, people can be gifted in forms of speech that might include, singing, praying, encouraging, speaking in tongues, preaching or prophecy. All of these are good and to be celebrated and to be given thanks for.

Knowledge too is good and important. The right knowledge can help us to see things in the right way, to understand God and what he has done in Christ more fully.

The Corinthians were somehow blessed with both people who could speak well and a good understanding, that enabled them to flourish as a church and showed that the witness of Christ Jesus was working amongst them.

  • So, the gifts were good, but as we go through the letter, we will see that Paul is concerned about how the gifts are used. He wants them to use their gifts not for themselves, but for others.

Two points about the introduction show this. Firstly, the fact that Paul calls these ‘gifts’ rather than talents is important. He wants to emphasise that they are from God and therefore not something to boast about.

Secondly, it is what he doesn’t say in the thanksgiving that is important. If you compare other letters when Paul starts of with a thanksgiving for the church, the three things he gives thanks for are their faith, hope and love. None of these are mentioned here.

In the rest of the letter Paul will challenge the Corinthians about these two facts. One of my favourite phrases is in 8:1, where Paul says:

“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”

The idea is also picked up at the start of one of the most famous chapters in the letter:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

God gifts people in the church with all kinds of skills, but what matters more is how we use those gifts.

God may have given me the gift of preaching. The question I need to ask myself is, do I preach in order that people think better of me – that is to puff myself up, or do I preach to help people come to and grow in faith and living for God – that is love that builds up.

What hope is there for the church?

When we read the letter to the Corinthians, we may wonder whether this church has any hope. When we look at our churches today we may wonder whether there is any hope.

We often fail to live lives that are holy, in many ways we are no different to the non-Christians in the world around us.

We often resist conforming our lives for the good of the wider church community, choosing instead to do things in our own way.

We often take the gifts God has given us as a way of making ourselves look better rather than having a concern to act in love to build others up.

Is there any hope for the church? Paul says yes!! Why? Not because the church is good in itself, but because God is faithful and he will keep us firm to the end.

Youth Initiative – 2023 Start Up

This year in YI we are going to get inspiration for our bible studies from a book by Rebecca McLaughlin called: 10 questions every teen should ask (and answer) about Chrisitanity. Questions include – ‘How can I live my best life now?’, ‘Can’t we just be good without God?’, ‘Hasn’t science disproved Christianity’, ‘Why can’t we just agree that love is love?’ and 6 more.

These sessions this term are on the 15th and 22nd January and the 5th February at St. Luke’s church hall from 5-6:30, followed by games and activities from 6:30-7:30 that might appeal to other friends. Sunday 29th we will be going to Queens Road Baptist church for The Event – a joint churches in Thanet youth gathering that happens monthly.

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