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Building the House of God


Passage: 1 Corinthians 3:5-15

Speaker: Rev. Dr. Jaime Clark-Soles

I teach New Testament to folx training for ministry. We are now deeply immersed in Paul. The first day of class I asked, “What’s your take on Paul before we dig into the details of each letter.” The answers range about as widely as they would if I asked y’all: “He’s arrogant; he’s inspiring. // He’s a bull-in-a-china shop; He’s passionate // “He’s sexist; no, it’s his later interpreters who are sexist.” I ask, “How would you characterize his vocation? Is he a pastor? A theologian? A teacher? A church-planter? A preacher? A missionary?” They weigh in. Then they spend months engaging every one of Paul’s words directly and see if their assumptions still hold or need to be modified in any way by the end of the semester.

We trace a few themes and one of those is pastoral leadership. I ask, “What’s Paul’s relationship like with each congregation and why? How does this help you think about how YOU will lead in a church?” They’ve seen Paul with his exceptionally mature, cooperative Philippians. The day he penned these words no doubt he’d call a great day at the office: “Phil. 4:1 Therefore, my siblings, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.”

The day he had to write the Galatians was a much tougher day at the office: “3:1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” 4:5 What has become of the good will you felt? For I testify that, had it been possible, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. “4:19 My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20 I wish I were present with you now and could change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.” 16 Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?” I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!” Wow.

We Royal Laners may not be as idyllic as the Philippians, but let’s NOT make Victoria have to go all Galatians on us! I know we’ll have our transcendent Philippian days, and I hope very few Galatians days, but I’m guessing we’ll live mostly in Corinthians space. What do I mean by that? Paul wrote the Corinthians a lot of letters; remember that our 1 Corinthians isn’t his first letter to them and 2 Corinthians contains multiple letters. The Corinthians are church as I know it—saints trying to be faithful day in and day out, sometimes veering too far this way or too far that way, but most days finding themselves in the messy middle. They are trying something truly new—being a community of radically diverse folks in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, primary languages spoken, and socio-economic classes--from the poor and enslaved to the wealthy. So problems arose. Factions, money issues, unwillingness to compromise, selfishness in sexual relations, and leadership problems.

They were really doing a new and challenging thing-- this following Jesus with a bunch of other people week in and week out. No wonder it took a few times for the Corinthians to grasp why the wealthy shouldn’t chow down the choicest bits at the Lord’s Supper and leave the scraps for the poorer members as had been done since time immemorial. He has to tell them plainly: “When you sin against your siblings, and wound their conscience…you sin against Christ.” Dang. Yet, Paul loves them and sticks with them letter after letter, speaking of breastfeeding them until they are ready for solid food and declaring one of the most moving sentences in all of Scripture: “I will gladly spend and be spent for you.” He reminds them of the spiritual gifts that they each bring to the community. He insists that their body is the temple of God; and so is everyone else’s. He emphasizes that it takes everyone to build the House of God, whose foundation is the Jesus who unifies us among our beautiful diversity.

I’d love to put Victoria and Paul at a table and hear them compare notes on effective pastoral leadership. You might think of today as the beginning of our semester. Victoria and Royal Lane don’t know each other exceedingly well yet. Each has ideas about the other and some may be right, some wrong; some based on evidence and some based on intuition. We’ll have to immerse ourselves in one another’s words, convictions, gifts, and eccentricities and, after the semester, see if we modify our assumptions.

I happen to know both Victoria and Royal Lane, though of course I have much still to learn about each. My family and I have been members at Royal Lane for 10 years and for the 12 years before that we were members of a church plant of Royal Lane called CityChurch. So, we’ve been Royal Laners in some capacity for 22 years. I am also the Director of the Baptist House of Studies at Perkins and my colleague George Mason is the Lead Advisor. We asked Victoria to be our Board Chair, because we KNEW she’d help take the BHS to the next level. And she has.

Victoria, like Paul you are a builder. You assemble the team and invite them to plant, water, and build so that the good news spreads far and wide and brings life and nourishment and shelter for all. And by all, you mean ALL. So do we at Royal Lane. No apologizing, no exceptions.

You and Paul both work energetically, strategically, and cooperatively: In our passage he tells the Corinthians: “For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building,” he tells the Corinthians in our passage. I have no doubt that when you behold us, you see us as God’s field and God’s building, worth spending your time, energy, and love on. I know you will gladly spend and be spent for us. But not without boundaries, since your vocation includes a family whereas Paul’s did not. Together we will set and keep those boundaries as part of our mutual love and care for you and your precious family.

Paul has passion and conviction and the courage to preach with both. So does Victoria. From the day she preached here in view of a call until now, I’ve watched members and visitors alike weep, think deeply, yell out Amen, and share the sermons with others. She will never be afraid to exhort us if necessary, though I doubt she’ll hurl curses or threaten us with a rod. Victoria is passion with poise. Royal Laners are JUST as full of passion, conviction, and courage. No doubt, there are days Victoria will capitalize on this powerful synergy and days it will cause conflict and send her speeding to her Spiritual Director to talk about us at length, (confidentially of course). And then we will work through it maturely and be reconciled as Jesus taught us.

And some days the conflict or stress will come from the outside. We build and our work will be “tested by fire” as Paul says in our passage. The world is on fire, but has it not always been so? God has always been and always will be in the fire—just ask Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. We are built on the firmest of foundations, Jesus Christ. Any fire that comes can do nothing but burn away the dross so that our work shines all the brighter.

So, at the start of this metaphorical semester, we could ask “How would you characterize Victoria’s vocation? Is she a pastor? A teacher? A writer?” When I asked Victoria how she would answer this herself, she replied: “I see my call as a series of verbs, not nouns. I pastor, I teach, I write children’s books.” Victoria’s resistance to being imprisoned by nouns is refreshing and frees the imaginations of the rest of us. She is not one thing and we at Royal Lane celebrate that, because we aren’t one thing either. We count Victoria’s ministry beyond Royal Lane as an EXTENSION of Royal Lane’s ministry to the broader world. The Bible says “God so loved the world,” not “God so loved the church,” so we are EXCITED by Victoria’s vocational scope and the part we get to play in it!

Today may seem like it’s just about Victoria and Royal Lane. But it’s not. Both have always expressed a strong ecumenical commitment. Just look at the mix of folks here today. Victoria is Baptist, but almost as soon as you ask her about her journey, she’ll tell you how essential the Methodist church has been in her pastoral formation. And look at us here at Royal Lane—we’re Baptists who are robed, wearing the correct color of stoles, and celebrating Lent!

I wanted to close with a catchy phrase to capture the beautiful partnership we are formalizing today, so I texted Victoria: “Hey, does the phrase “Two great tastes that taste great together” mean anything to you?” She texted back. “No. Should it?” So, I’ll just leave that there for the older folx in the crowd.

It’s always a good bet to choose Scripture over a 70's TV commercial anyway. Therefore, my siblings in Christ, let us answer Paul’s call to plant and water and build together. Christ is our foundation. Generations before us have labored to build a community where in Paul’s OTHER words to the Galatians, “We are one in Christ and there is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female.” Let us praise God that Rev. Victoria Robb Powers will lead us as we continue to build together this house of God. Amen.