“I Belong To… ?”
1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23

When I was a rookie on my high school basketball team we were at the provincial championships being held in Truro. We won a really hard fought first game and were hanging around the motel the next morning before heading into the semi-final later that evening. As we were getting the day started we could hear the assistant coach running down the hallway calling, “Where’s Nick? Where’s Nick?” He found my room and pushed the newspaper into my hands, “Look at that!”

In the report of the previous night’s game, next to my name the box score was my total of 33 points. I was a star and now everyone knew it! It was clearly a close game, and I was the hero that pulled out the victory for us.

There was only one problem. I actually only scored 2 points. Somehow, in the reporting of the event, my single basket was reported as the total of my jersey number (31) plus 2 points. It was interesting to go back to school the next week and have to clear the air about my ‘superstar’ game. Certainly what was reported was not the actual result. Things aren’t always what they seem to be. Heroes aren’t always who you might think they might be.

We live in a world which celebrates who we are by our accomplishments. In the news we celebrate people for their victories in life. We reward people for achievements; good grades, new jobs and so on.

When we meet someone we don’t know, what are the questions we have? “Who’s your father?” and “What do you do for a living?” And for me people will at some point ask, “Where are you from?” We identify people by their lineage and their work, or maybe more accurately, their potential income!

We’re always looking for connections. As a new person to a community, it amuses me when I mention a name to someone and they try and figure out who they are connected to. Usually I have no idea about who parents or siblings are, so people will take time to see if they can figure it out for themselves. “Isn’t that the son of so-and-so?” “I wonder if they might be related to the whozits from Cranberry?” It’s part of the beauty of a small community as I slowly start to figure out who is connected to whom.

These are our identification tags so to speak. My father is Peter, I’m a United Church Minister, and I grew up on the South Shore. But the question is, what does this reflect about who I am as a person? If you know my father, that might give you some insight about who I am. I don’t think we can say my profession adds a whole lot given the way clergy are being depicted in the news lately. Where I grew up certainly doesn’t help either, except that it’s another beautiful place in our province.

It’s interesting when we read what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth today. It seems as though there has been some conflict in the church about who’s leadership people were following. Some professed to be followers of Paul, others were following other leaders in the local church.

Paul wasn’t happy about this development. He saw this situation as dangerous to the church because he saw this as putting people on god-like pedestals. He strongly urged them to return to unity in the only way they could, and that was to follow the true leader of the church. Who else, but Jesus Christ!

In the absence of Jesus walking among the people of Corinth, they turned to whoever they saw as a significant influence in their lives. And it seems as though difference in opinions between the philosophies of these leaders led to some division in the church.

It’s not hard to do. We easily put people on pedestals every day. We see stories in the news all the time, modern heroes doing great deeds and saving the world. It seems to be a need within us all to fill our lives with something to fill a void. Yet we also depend on ourselves for so much, thinking we have all the answers for our own happiness and self-fulfillment.

Frank King, who works for a branch of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Canada heard the story of a man who burned through a 19 million dollar lottery win in just 8 years. He literally had nothing left as he went back to his old boss to see if he could get his job back as a garbage man. Frank decided he had to find out what happened. Here’s what he found out:
According to a June 2010 story in the Britain’s Daily Mail, 26-year-old Michael Carroll was hoping to get his old job back as a trash collector, eight years after winning about $19 million in a lottery.

Why was he seeking employment again? Because the entire fortune is gone. Gone on drugs, gambling, parties, bling, a fleet of cars, and hundreds of prostitutes. Just a year after winning the lottery, he was smoking about $4,000 worth of crack cocaine every day and hosting lavish parties.

All this caused his wife to take their baby daughter and leave him. But according to the Daily Mail, this wake-up call instead caused Mr. Carroll to turn to prostitutes. He boasted about sleeping with up to four per day (he didn’t need much sleep, thanks to the drugs), spending nearly $200,000 on sex.

“I only started to think about three things – drugs, sex, and gold (jewellery),” he told the newspaper.

I found a quote in the Bible that indirectly refers to exactly what happened to Mr. Carroll: “Don’t drink too much wine and get drunk; don’t eat too much food and get fat. Drunks and gluttons will end up on skid row, in a stupor and dressed in rags.” Mr. Carroll’s vices were different, but they certainly left him in the same dire straits.

His spectacular downfall aside, I also noticed the article mentioned Mr. Carroll had issues before the lottery win. For example, he showed up to collect the cheque in 2002 wearing what the journalist called an ‘electronic offender’s tag’ after being found drunk and disorderly. In other words, it wasn’t just the money that tossed his life into a sea of turbulence.

This leads me to conclude that, beyond having a breathtaking lack of wisdom, Mr. Carroll was – and probably still is – missing something his life. Something so significant he went to extraordinary lengths to fill it. And not one of them worked.

Blaise Pascal, the famed French mathematician, physicist and religious philosopher, seemed to understand this. One of his most famous quotes says, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.”

How many of us will listen to the seductive siren call of fame, riches, career advancement, sex, extreme sports, drugs or alcohol? And how many will end up, if not destitute, then as spiritually empty as Michael Carroll? (Soul Chat: Resisting The Seductive Siren Calls)

There are many stories out there of people throwing away money, fortunes or not, because of bad choices. People who ruin their lives trying to live up to what the world tells us to be.

Yet the real answer is simple. You want fulfillment? Come to God. Get to know Jesus Christ, God made flesh. Nothing on this earth can give you what only He can.

When Jesus was walking along the shores of the Sea of Galilee he made an offer to some fishermen. They were in the middle of a days work, fishing off the shore. Peter and Andrew, hard working young men trying to provide for their families, and Jesus calls out to them, offering them a different job, a chance to fish for people. The same with James and John, working with their father mending the nets so they could go back out to sea, Jesus called to them too. And again, they jumped at the opportunity to join him.

Did they know much about who Jesus was? I doubt it. Jesus was not very long into his ministry at the time. This wasn’t his home territory, Jesus had left Nazareth and was now in a different region. But there was something about this simple invitation which brought these four men out of their boats to follow Jesus.

Something stirred within them that caused them to turn their lives around. To leave all they knew and start on a new life with Jesus Christ.

No longer were they fishermen. No longer were they identified by their family line. They were now identified by their association with Jesus Christ. They belonged to him.

This is what Paul is reminding us of today. This is what Paul urged the Corinthian church to embrace. To not be labelled as followers of particular people, what does that have to say about who they are as people? If we claim to belong to leaders then who are we? We are then images of our leadership. Our leaders are flawed. Our leaders are imperfect. Our leaders sin.

There is one who does not. Only one. That one is Jesus Christ. God himself who came to earth to call each and everyone of us away from lives of sin and to join with him on the path to eternal life by coming to God in his name.

I don’t belong to Peter. I don’t belong to the United Church of Canada. I don’t belong to the South Shore. I belong to Jesus Christ. We all belong to Jesus Christ. With him we are one with God, sharing in the gift of life eternal.

This statement alone speaks volumes about who we are as people. If we stand proud and say, “I belong to Jesus Christ” people will know where we are coming from, and where we are going. Maybe then, they’ll be ready to hear more from us and the journey we are on. Maybe they too will learn who they belong to.