Epiphany 3C                                          January 23, 2022,                         St. John, New Orleans

Many of you know about my love for college football, particularly my alma mater, University of Nebraska. 

In recent years they haven't won many games, yet the blame could not be easily assigned. 

Despite great talent, famous coaches, and the most supportive (and possibly delusional) fans in all of college football, they can't seem to win. 

Despite having the 14th or 15th toughest schedule in football last year 

all of the games they lost were decided by eight points or less, 

many by just a field goal. 

And even though our kicker had a horrible year, he wasn't to fault for all the losses. 

Sometimes it was an interception thrown by our talented quarterback. 

Sometimes it was missed tackles by our defense. 

Sometimes it was an offsides call on our offensive line but. 

Sometimes it was bad play calling by the coaching staff that caused the loss. 

In fact, at the end of the season, despite having only three wins, Nebraska was ranked 29th of 132 teams by the ESPN power rankings. 

That means, they were, statistically one of the best teams in the country with only three wins!

Only 25 of those 132 teams had a record that was matching or worse than ours. 

It was a classic example 

of what happens when a team fails to come together as it should 

and as it has been gifted, to have potential success. 

Despite all of the talent and all of the great statistics the team didn't work well to accomplish their goals. 

So, at the end of the season, something had to be done about it 

and four coaches were removed and replaced., 

so that the team could, hopefully, become better at playing together next year.

But this type of thing doesn't just happen in sports. 

We can see it in the workplace, families, and even in our churches and other groups. 

When we aren't able to combine and connect our various gifts and abilities toward achieving shared goals, we flounder and fail. 

Or, worse yet, these groups or communities of families, begin to disintegrate and sometimes even disband. 

Whether it's divorce, corporate bankruptcy of our employers, or declining membership in our organizations, 

each of us knows, or can imagine, how disruptive dissolving these relationships can be. 

And, if we are aware they are threatened, 

we do all we can to repair the damaged relationship 

and work toward reestablishing and attaining those shared goals once more.

Today's readings from the Bible are all about our association as God's people. 

In Nehemiah Israel is taught what they had forgotten about their relationship as God's chosen people. 

In the Gospel Jesus tells his home congregation that they misused and manipulated that relationship to their own self-serving benefit. 

And in the epistle Paul tells this church in Corinth just how important each of them is in their relationship to Jesus and his body the church.

And it is this last message we will really focus on today. 

While the Old Testament and Gospel lessons are important for the context of today's message, 

the epistle speaks to another group of New Testament believers gathering after the ascension of Jesus into heaven. 

The Corinthians are one of the prototype congregations that paved the way for congregations such as ours. 

And we would be wise to pay close attention to their situation 

as well as their challenges and the prescribed course that Paul challenges them to follow 

as they seek to be disciples of Jesus.

I think many of us could well identify with the Corinthian Christians. 

Their way of life ran counter to the lifestyles and morals of their neighbors. 

As a transport hub, Corinth was a diverse city with global influences all vying for a foothold of success in Corinthian society. 

There was also lots of money to be made. 

Whether by working in the shipping industry, 

supporting that industry, 

or by offering all sorts of goods, services, and even vices, for those in town with money to spend.

Moreover, the popular religion of the day 

promised success to those who practiced ritual prostitution 

at the local temple to the city’s patron idol. 

In other words, the natural inclination for people to fit in with their new neighbors 

brought great temptation to the Corinthian church.

 from greed and avarice to lustful unfaithfulness

 the Corinthian Christians were constantly under pressure 

to blur the lines between St and Sinner. 

They struggled not only to remain faithful to their belief in God, 

but because of all the temptations around them 

they also struggled with their faithfulness to each other as members of Christ’s body, the church.

Now, very quickly, I could put us all on the defensive 

by pointing out the ways we have fallen into the Corinthian trap. 

Whether it's the unwholesome TV programs or videos we watch, 

or the vices and unhealthy compulsions we are tempted by and to which we succumb, 

or the selfish ways in which we ignore the plight of others while we go on with our own comfortable lives, 

there is certainly no one here who would be spared from lecture 

and be answerable to God where our behaviors are concerned. 

The law speaks to each of us and surely condemns us all.

However, the real message today moves beyond the law to the gospel. 

And that gospel is simply this: 

because of his love for you, God wants you to receive his forgiveness. 

And this forgiveness is total and complete, no matter who asks to receive it. 

And that reception starts with the knowledge of our sin which the law reveals. 

When the Israelites in Jerusalem first heard the law read to them in our Old Testament lesson today, they were ashamed and saddened. 

But then they were told to feast and rejoice! 

Because they now knew who God was,

and the nature of his loving relationship with him.

 order was now restored, and they could work together rebuilding the Kingdom he had in mind for them. 

That's why we begin each of our worship services with the confession of sins, followed immediately by the absolution. 

So, each person gathered here can be reconnected into that loving, forgiving, relationship with Jesus, 

Before we even start talking about how we will interact with each other, or the world around us.

When Jesus arrived on the scene, he found a world where the Israelites turned that relationship upside down. 

Rather than receiving God's mercy and grace 

they expected his favor and assistance. 

Instead of marveling at Jesus teaching and examples of mercy 

they expected his intercession and active participation in their worldly pursuits. 

Instead of resting in his love and forgiveness, 

they strove and worked towards fashioning him into some earthly king, 

if only in their own minds, 

so that they could lift up themselves out of their personal trials and tribulations.

Perhaps you and I have been like that congregation that Capernaum?

Maybe we too have expected Jesus to work for us and be on our side. 

Maybe we have been incredulous when he wouldn't perform miracles for us like he did others. 

Maybe we have been sore or cross that he didn't seem to care very much for our lives and our situations, 

even though we have known him for so long. 

Even though we worked on his behalf all these years. 

Even though we have given our tithes and our offerings year in and year out. 

So that, when we hear him say he longs to save others who are not here among us, 

it makes us just a little bit angry. 

We get upset because you and I are what he desires! We already believe! 

He knows what he has in us and maybe he should show us some love once in a while? 

Those folks next door or down the street or under the bridge, 

who knows if they would ever believe in him, 

and besides, what have they got that's better than us?

Well, the answer to that is nothing, and everything! 

In the fact that we are all sinners in need of grace, those others are certainly no greater prospect for heaven than you or I. 

And for that reason alone, we need to humble ourselves 

and remember that faith in Jesus is all about him, and not about us. 

Out of his love he died to save sinners as his gift to those who would receive it. 

We are merely the object of his affection and contribute nothing. 

And it is only out of that humility that we can genuinely welcome anyone and everyone into his fellowship. 

But, getting back to Paul's letter, it is also important that we realize that the body is not yet complete 

and as new members join the body, they are put to work for a specific purpose. 

And each of us should be about fulfilling that purpose for which we were united into this fellowship. 

This also means that those of us who have been around the longest are no more important than those who just arrived. 

In our physical bodies the old is constantly being replaced by the new. 

Whether it's our skin, hair, bones, or blood cells, 

every cell has a lifespan that is terminal. 

And yet, no matter the age of the part, 

they are still expected to do their part 

as the head instructs them to do so.

In the Church Christ is the head, controlling the body and all its parts. 

He is responsible for the body's health and well-being. 

He decides what work it will do today and when it is time to rest.

he decides when extra effort is required,

and he decides how his body will interact with the world around it.

So where is he going and leading us? What would he have us do? Who will be leaving and who has yet to become part of his body? 

While only he knows the specifics, he has shared with us the basic outline in scripture: 

that he wants all to join his body as one of its members

and that no Christian can survive outside his body, the church. 

And the more we know his word, the more we are assured of our place in the body, 

and of his purpose for us in that body, 

and the direction and work he is moving us toward. 

And This is why our fellowship and focus on his word is so important. 

What I share with you in 10 to 20 minutes a week is really just keeping the Body on life support. 

But when we add together what we learn from our own reading and study, while praying to him for understanding, 

and when we gather to do this study together, 

we go from serve merely surviving to thriving as his body. 

And This is why, when making a list of goals for any congregation I am leading, 

I place the study and understanding of God's word at the very top.

And make it a priority to increase worship attendance, frequency, and Bible Study participation

Last year I introduced our Bible study to a short booklet called ‚ÄúThe Discipleship journey.‚Ä̬†

at its core is the belief that the only way God grows his church is via his word in scripture. 

And, secondarily, that anyone: young or old, smart, or not so smart, 

can know the love and forgiveness of Jesus in scripture and follow Jesus 

and that each disciple who follows Jesus is called by him to help others follow Jesus as well.

This year I will be asking you if you would engage in that process with us. 

Whether you need to become a better disciple yourself, or are ready to disciple another, 

I am hoping that each person in our church would take part in one eight week study with six to ten others. 

And that out of each group, two to three would feel the call to lead their own eight week study. 

To the point where, not only are all those on the books as members of Saint John Lutheran Church becoming better disciples of Jesus, 

but that we would start branching out into our community and world, 

finding the other members of the body that Christ already knows and has a purpose for as well.

I hope that you would pray about this, 

so that when you have the opportunity to do so, 

you would find the time to be a fully functioning part of the body of Christ 

as we strive to obey his commands, 

and go where he leads us, 

and fulfill our purpose where his body and his Kingdom is concerned. 

I pray all this in the name of Jesus. Amen.