Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Distance between Ideal and Actual

1 Corinthians 1:1-9 This sermon from January 16th marks the start of a new series on the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians, which we'll be studying through to the end of February. The governing idea for this series is this: there is always a distance between the ideal things and what actually is. There are always the ideal expectations that we have for all kinds of things, there are always ideal demands on behavior and on systems and governments. Think about campaign time in politics. We vote leaders in primarily based on the ideal platform that they present, and then spend the next few years frustrated at them because what actually happens is not what was promised. Think about relationships, especially marriage. When I counsel couples who are preparing to get married, the number one issue that we have to address is expectations. All married couples enter into the covenant of wedlock with very different and sometimes extremely high expectations about what their marriage will be like and what their spouse will be like. Sometimes the distance between the ideal adn the actual is huge, sometimes it is small. But is is always there. What about Christians. Why is it that some of the rudest, most difficult people you will meet are Christians? Ideally, Christians are to be loving, joyful, faithful, generous, kind, gentle, and excellent. In actuallity, Christians are rarely anywhere close to this (here's an interesting trailer for a documentary called, "Lord, Save Us From Your Followers.") If ever there was a Church that had a huge distance between the ideal and the actual, it was Corinth. According to St. Paul, they did stuff that even the pagans didn't do! Corinth sat on a major overland trade route that connected the Aegean and Adriatic seas. It was weathy, ecclectic, big, and debauched. It had, to use a therapeutic term, "issues". Like, issues with a capital "I". Like George Costanza type issues. And yet, when Paul writes to them he begins his letter by calling them, "the saints in Corinth...who are sanctified in Christ." What's going on with that?! How can such aweful people be addressed in such a way. Was Paul delusional adn pollyanna-ish, or was he ignoring or downplaying their issues? Certainly not, because he lets them have it for 15 chapters. The Gospel of Jesus Christ speaks to this distance between the ideal, that is our justified/righteous status through faith in Christ, and the actual, that is our struggle against sin and the very subjective state of our day to day holiness. Luther referred to this reality in the phrase: simul iustus et peccator - 'at the same time righteous and sinner.' So what fills the gap between the ideal and the actual? What fills the void between what we ought to do and what we don't do. Certainly, if we try to fill that gap on our own we will destroy ourselves. There are people who are driven to perfection: they see the ideal and they want it. And they will step on or push aside anyone to get it. Sometimes this pursuit of perfection is all about money. Sometimes power. Sometimes sex. And the list goes on. And the first thing that will be damaged if you try to pursue the ideal on your own is your family, because they will always fall short of your ideal. And so you will get frustrated and angry and squash them. No, it's not ourselves that fills the gap. It is only the grace of God which fills that gap between the ideal and the actual. Paul says that he gives "thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus." God's love of the unworthy, the people who are trapped in actual, comes through his gracious gifts and his power to sustain them through their lives and be presented to God in the end as blameless.

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