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Sermon for January 22, 2023 – Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Speaking Of Life 5009 │ Are You Afraid of the Dark?

As kids or even as adults, some of us might have felt scared of being in the dark. Science tells us that we need the dark for good health because light exposure at night can affect our bodies’ internal sleep rhythms and hormones. Comparably, in our Christian journey, experiencing troubles or trials is natural. Don’t let this discourage you. Christ is here with us. Even though we experience darkness in life, we can always be assured that he will bring us back to the light.

Program Transcript

Speaking Of Life 5009 Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Michelle Fleming

As a small child, I was a little afraid of the dark. This is a common fear for most young children, and experts attribute it to a toddler’s growing cognitive abilities—including the development of the imagination. The dark becomes a place where monsters live, and fear creeps into a child’s mind.

As adults, we know we need the dark for good health, and light exposure at night can affect our bodies’ internal sleep rhythms and hormones, like melatonin. Children, though, have to develop trust that darkness can be good for us.

In scripture, God’s presence is sometimes referred to as light and God’s absence as darkness. This can give us a mistaken impression of what the faithful Christian walk looks like. We can mistakenly think that when we experience doubt or difficulties, we are in darkness and God has left us. One biblical passage that shows the wide range of the Christian experience is Psalm 27. It begins like this:

The Lord is my light and my salvation; who shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
Psalm 27: 1 (NRSV)

This is what we think of when we define faith in God. We believe that in this world of great beauty and great suffering, God is with us, and we don’t need to be afraid. But the truth is, we often are afraid or worried. Does that mean our faith is weak?

Let’s consider some other verses in the same Psalm:

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! ‘Come’ my heart says, ‘seek his face!’ Your face, Lord, do I seek. Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!
Psalm 27:7-9 (NRSV)

These verses seem to be a sharp contrast to the over-the-top faith of the first verse. Here, the psalmist speaks of his pain and his fear, but he isn’t worried that his lament will drive God off. Instead, the psalmist helps us understand that part of faith is believing in God’s faithfulness even when that faithfulness doesn’t feel present. Even in the midst of doubt.

Trust in God doesn’t prevent hardship or keep us from experiencing times when God feels distant. We can find examples in the Bible, like this one, or in the lives of the early church fathers that illustrate how we can experience what has been called “the dark night of the soul.” God understands that faith and doubt are not opposites. In fact, questioning our faith can often lead to growth and transformation. Like light and dark, faith and doubt need each other.

When we were small children, we had to learn that the dark would not hurt us. We had to understand that we needed darkness to sleep and to be healthy. Similarly, as Christians, we learn that doubt and questioning can be our means toward growth in our relationship with God.

“Being afraid of the dark” is a normal part of faith. Let us continue to grow in our understanding that the Light of our Salvation, our living Triune God, is always there to lead us from darkness into his light.

I’m Michelle Fleming, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 27:1, 4-9 • Isaiah 9:1-4 • I Corinthians 1:10-18 • Matthew 4:12-23

The theme for this week is not us and them, but all of us. Our call to worship in Psalm 27 presents the inclusive full range of a Christian’s experience, including the high points of faith and the low points of lament and doubt. Isaiah 9 focuses on our release from oppression, whether it comes from within us or without, by our Wonderful Counselor, the Prince of Peace. In Matthew 4, Jesus calls Simon Peter and his brother Andrew to become fishers of people, snagging hurting hearts with the good news of God’s love and acceptance of all people. Our sermon text is 1 Corinthians 1:10-18 which addresses the problem of tribalism and how we can solve it.

The Problem of Me Versus You

1 Corinthians 1:10-18 (NRSV)

You’ve probably heard it said that American culture is the most litigious or eager to sue in the world. According to the February 2022 Electronic Journal of Comparative Law, 40 million lawsuits are filed in the U.S. every year. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that some of the lawsuits are pretty frivolous. Here’s a selection of the best ones:

  • An inmate sues himself: Inmate Robert Brock filed a lawsuit against himself in 1995 for the violation of his own civil rights. Apparently, Brock’s religion didn’t allow the consumption of alcohol, and because he consumed alcohol anyway, Brock committed breaking and entering as well as grand larceny. Brock says that he “caused [himself] to violate [his] religious beliefs,” so he sued himself. Because he was incarcerated, he insisted that the State of Virginia pay the $5 million for him. The case was dismissed.
  • A man sues Michael Jordan for looking like him: In 2006, Allen Heckard filed a lawsuit against Nike founder Phil Knight and Michael Jordan. Half of the $832 million lawsuit was for Jordan having similar facial features and the other half was because Nike made Jordan into an easily recognizable celebrity. Heckard had been mistaken for Jordan for fifteen years and said it had caused him “emotional pain and suffering, defamation, and personal injury.” Ultimately, Heckard dropped the lawsuit.
  • A high school student sues because he was woken up during class: In 2008, a sixteen-year-old high school student in Connecticut fell asleep in class but woke up when his math teacher smacked her hand on his desk. The boy’s parents sued the high school, the board of education, and the city because they said the boy had suffered “severe injuries to his left eardrum.” The case was dismissed.

While there are some legitimate lawsuits, sometimes we find ourselves at odds with others and have a hard time dealing with someone whose views, likes, and lifestyle differ from ours. We feel threatened by a different point of view and want to fight back.

These tendencies are not new as we’ll see in our sermon text in 1 Corinthians 1:10-18. Read More


In this first letter to the Corinthians, Paul notes that he has heard from Chloe’s family that the church is playing the game, “Pick Your Favorite Evangelist.” It’s a game that has no winners, but it does show us that as human beings, we have a tendency toward tribalism. Tribalism happens when we see ourselves and our point of view as the only right way, and then we gather together with blind, group loyalty to those who think like we do. Sometimes our enthusiastic allegiance is harmless and even fun, such as sports team rivalries. But other times, it can make us forget our commitment to live as Jesus did and share the love of God on earth.

What are the symptoms of tribalism based on 1 Corinthians 1:10-18?

  • Being unwilling or unable to get along with others who think differently (v. 10)
  • Quarreling over differences (v. 11)
  • Picking sides on an issue and trying to rally those who have picked your side, excluding those who disagree (v. 12)
  • Seeing individualism and personal opinion as more important than unity in Christ (v. 13-16)

Paul reminds the Corinthians that the gospel was not preached, and people were not baptized to compare the “quality” of their salvation with others. In contrast to some preachers today, Paul was not trying to collect a following for himself, but to share with people what Jesus had done. In Paul’s view, his lack of skill as a speaker was a plus because there was nothing but the beauty of Christ’s self-emptying on the cross to attract believers.

When people are caught up in tribalism, they want to be thought of as “winners,” not losers. They want their team, their candidate, their issue to win, whatever winning might look like in their context. In American culture, being a winner is important, and individualism is a closely held value. Regardless of where we live, however, we must examine the cultural narrative that we have absorbed, often unconsciously, and we must question how it fits within our greater narrative, our identity as a child of God, living on God’s earth with other children of God.

What’s the antidote to unhealthy tribalism in the church?

Paul explains what Christians must do: focus on the self-emptying character of Jesus and place all other issues within that framework, “so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power” (v. 17). Seminary of the Southwest Assistant Professor Jane Lancaster Patterson notes that though many English translations of v. 17 use the wording “to proclaim the gospel,” the Greek uses a simple verb “to gospel” (euangelizomai), meaning “Christ did not send me to baptize but to gospel.” She suggests that Paul’s most effective gospeling may not have been preaching at all, but “the ways he treated people when they gathered for the Lord’s Supper or in his care for his co-workers.”

Later verses in 1 Corinthians 1 talk about how Christ on the cross is viewed as “a stumbling block” by the Jews and “foolishness” by the Greeks (v. 23), and typical human wisdom can’t make sense of God’s “weakness” (v. 25). Because self-emptying (i.e., kenosis) is so contrary to human nature and can seem frightening, as if we might lose ourselves and our identity, we must look to Jesus’ example to understand what it requires.

What does self-emptying look like?

Paul expands on the idea of self-emptying and how Christians might take on the same attitude as Jesus in his letter to the Philippians 2:1-8.

  • Being of one mind and one love by focusing on our connection with others as children of God (Philippians 2:2)
  • Having humility with regard to one’s abilities and opinions (Philippians 2:3)
  • Appreciating others’ interests and concerns, not just our own (Philippians 2:4)
  • Being willing to let go of privilege and power, like Christ Jesus did (Philippians 2:5-8).

Christ cannot be divided, and so Christ’s church also should not be divided. Though we each possess certain markers of identity (i.e., race, gender, age, education, geographical location, lifestyle etc.), these identity markers are secondary to our identity as a new creation in Christ.


  • Recognize our human proclivity to tribalism. Pay attention to our thoughts and notice when they tend to be divisive and unloving.
  • Realize that Jesus showed us a bigger, more expansive way to love. We can offer others the loving acceptance we’ve been given by our triune God, regardless of whether we hold the same opinions and beliefs.
  • Learn to appreciate the opinions of those who view the world differently. By understanding other viewpoints, our perception of reality is made more whole, not diminished. Appreciation does not mean agreement, and it takes practice to develop the skill of holding the paradox of two differing views. Human beings cannot perceive the whole of reality by ourselves; we’re too prone to a variety of biases.

Recognizing our proclivity to tribalism is vital as we reach out to our neighborhoods sharing Jesus’ love and life with others. All need to know their identity in Christ. All need to know the gospel. All need to hear they are loved, forgiven, and reconciled to the Father.

We can laugh at the silly lawsuits discussed at the beginning, but if we think about the issues we often argue about, we can see that they really are not that important when put in the self-emptying context of Jesus Christ and the cross. Our culture may steep us in unhealthy narratives, and we may unwittingly hold values, such as individualism, that spur us toward divisive behavior. Jesus shows that loving ourselves and others requires sacrifice. His love compels us to reach out to those around us and to no longer view others from a worldly point of view, but rather, as beloved children of God. Any discomfort or sacrifice required is nothing compared to the glory of helping others see their true identity in Christ.

For Reference:





Making Everything New w/ Julie Frantz W4

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January 22 – Third Sunday after Epiphany
1 Corinthians 1:10-18, “The Foolishness of Christ”

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Program Transcript

Making Everything New w/ Julie Frantz W4

Anthony: Our next passage is 1 Corinthians 1:10-18. It’s for the third Sunday after the Epiphany in the Revised Common Lectionary, which is on January the 22nd.

Julie, would you read that one for us please?

Julie: Absolutely.

10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Anthony: Hallelujah. Paul appeals to us to have no divisions and to be perfectly united in mind and thoughts. And I go, Whoa, wait a second. We live in a time wrought with division disunity and quarrels and we see it not only in society, but it rears its ugly head in the church.

So, what should we do? Pastor Julie just threw up her hands in despair. Help us understand.

Julie: This message is difficult today for so many, and it was difficult back then. God’s message and his mission does not rely on human approval. The gospel’s not logically sound. Who would do this?

And we have some who are thinking the cross was a shameful death, and it’s a cursed man who died upon that. This is absolute ludicrous that somebody would die upon a cross. You want to follow someone who’s died upon a cross? This is sounds crazy. The great thinkers and the profoundly educated, they couldn’t come up with a way to save themselves.

And yet, Paul presents that God’s love, grace, and mercy does not make sense. And I would say thank goodness for that. Because rejected and denied, God turns toward humanity and lays down his life.

It doesn’t make sense and yet it is. It’s not a place of despair. It’s a place of hope because God did something that no one else would do. God has done something that makes no logical sense, and yet it is. It’s a place to stand in awe and wonder of our God.

Anthony: And you said it, it makes no sense. And that is true. And it tells us that, the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. And maybe you want to talk about that—what this means, this “perishing” word. But to those of us who are being saved, it’s the power of God. Amen. And amen. Tell us a little bit more about this. Help us understand.

Julie: I thought it was interesting that Paul doesn’t use eloquent language, attractive language to entice people to this. The gospel message, centered on Christ, is a powerful, transformative message.

There is no need for added fluff. It is a place where the hopelessness of humanity discovers the love of God and great hope. God uses the gospel message to bring salvation to those who would believe. It is a place where things are not as they should be.

There is gratefulness and thankfulness for that because if things were as they should be, we would all be in a lot of trouble. And yet God presents something really beautiful. It’s like the dawning of a new hope. Years ago, Anthony, I heard you give a message, and you used the Lord of the Rings in your message. And there’s a great battle in the Lord of the Rings, where hope is nowhere to be found.

You know the doom of what is happening. We have these people and they’re in a kingdom that is falling, and their stronghold is crumbling right before them. And all they can see is a sea of army approaching and encroaching upon them.

All of a sudden, when all hope has faded, there’s a light that shows at the top of the hill, and it is the great Gandalf. He’s arrived, and he has arrived with the strength to overcome all that has been against them.

And it is foolishness that we would put so such hope in Christ. To this humanity, it’s like, this is crazy talk! But to us that are saved in the power of God, it is life itself. It’s that abundant life. It’s that place of rest. It’s that place where we can just exhale and be. Be saved. It’s a great place of peace for us. And it does not make sense to humanity. It does not make sense to the brokenness of this world.

Who would do that? Who would do that?

Anthony: I’m drawn as I look back over this passage to verse 13 and Paul says, was Paul crucified for you and were you baptized in the name of Paul? Clearly the answer is no, in Christ, in Christ alone.

My thought goes to the work of ministry, being heralds of the gospel. As pastors in the church of Jesus Christ, it’s really easy to get a savior complex. We’re out saving the world, trying to rescue people. But nobody’s crucified in your name and my name, and that’s good! That’s reassuring because if it’s on me, if it’s on you, woo, we’re in trouble.

Anything you want to say to that? Any affirmation in that? Just any thought that you have about how that shapes your participation in ministry.

Julie: Yeah. I think it’s easy for us—sometimes as pastors you can receive a lot of really good feedback sometimes. And it can make you feel pretty good about things, and you think, oh, I’m doing a pretty good job here, or whatnot.

And what’s funny is those come, and then the criticisms come, and you be tore down a bit. But the reality of joining Jesus in ministry is that it’s not our ministry. This isn’t our ministry. I think this is what Paul’s getting at—this isn’t his ministry.

The proclamation of hope has nothing to do with Paul. The proclamation of hope has to do with who? Jesus. That’s it. That’s it. And any one of us who would declare otherwise or to take credit otherwise, we’re missing the point. And I think in a lot of churches, sometimes those who are very gifted in certain things can present a place where people jump on board with that person. It’s like they’re drawn to that person.

And I think as pastors, we want people to be drawn to Christ. We want people to see Christ. And doesn’t mean that we can’t be gifted, doesn’t mean that we can’t give good sermons, doesn’t mean that we can’t be a good pastor. It’s just it’s not about us. It’s not about us.

And sometimes our congregations—and I don’t know, I haven’t experienced enough of other cultures and stuff, but here in the United States, the culture can be very pastor-centric. It can be very focused on the pastor and the speaker and how well they do things and whatnot. And I think that is detrimental to the church. It’s detrimental to the body of Christ. And I think it’s good for us to be aware of that and to constantly point to Christ.

I don’t want anyone to come to me and think this is in me. It’s not. And I thank God that he reminds me of that. And I think this is a good reminder from Paul of, no, it’s not about us.

Anthony: Yeah. I often think of John the Baptist in this way from that imagery in John 1. He’s teaching his disciples and Jesus walks by, and he points to him, look the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. And the disciples get up and leave him. And if John wanted to make it about himself, he’d be like, hey, where are you guys going? I’m not done with my sermon.

He knew what he was there for, and we are to do the same, to point people to our Lord Jesus Christ. And in participating in pastoral ministry, I’ve discovered that 80% of it is proclaiming and sharing the gospel. And it seems like the other 20% is setting up chairs, right?

It’s just rolling up your sleeves and going to work and in doing so, we are embodying the reality of who Jesus is. But thank God, it’s his ministry and it’s in his power and strength that we act. Hallelujah.

Julie: And let’s not get frustrated if that temptation gets there. If that temptation comes, let’s just be aware of it and continue to point to Christ.

It’s pretty natural for a congregation to love, and they want to be respectful to their pastors and stuff. And we have a bit of a culture of that in some congregations, and that’s not a bad thing, but it is Jesus. It is Jesus that we are here for.

He is the one who gathers. He is the one we worship. He is the one who builds the church. He is the one who grows us. Our spiritual giftings come from him. We couldn’t do any of this without him. And it is his ministry. And I think, as pastors, we can point to that, and just remind in case that temptation does come.

Anthony: Right on.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • How do you think doubt might be a component of faith, not the opposite of faith?
  • Have you experienced “the dark night of the soul” where God felt distant? If so, how does normalizing doubt as part of the Christian experience, as in Psalm 27, make you feel?

From the sermon

  • How can participating in the spiritual disciplines (i.e., prayer, study, meditation, contemplation, etc.) make us more sensitive to tribalistic thoughts?
  • Why do you think human beings struggle with the concept of self-emptying? What are we afraid of?

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