Sermon of the Week
A Foolish Message.
Keywords: Concord, Unity Not Uniformity, Foolishness, Guthrie.
I’m glad that the lectionary planners
have turned our attention back to First Corinthians.
I’ve always liked this letter, which one of my seminary professors described as
“Paul’s plea for concord.”
She got that description from today’s reading,
where out of the gate Paul points out
various diverse groups in this church he founded, and urges them to come together
not under the most plausible argument they can muster,
not on which side has the most votes,
but under the “foolish message of the cross”
the power of God to save and to enliven us.
I invite you this morning to open your hearts and your minds
to this reading of God’s Word.
10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,
by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that all of you should be in agreement
and that there should be no divisions among you,
but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose.
11For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people
that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.
12What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’,
or ‘I belong to Apollos’,
or ‘I belong to Cephas’,
or ‘I belong to Christ.’ 1
3Has Christ been divided?
Was Paul crucified for you?
Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
14I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius,
15so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name.
16(I did baptize also the household of Stephanas;
beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)
17For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel,
and not with eloquent wisdom,
so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.
18 For the message about the cross is foolishness
to those who are perishing,
but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
And may God bless our reading,
and our understanding,
and our applying of this word,
to how we live our lives. Amen.
I love this letter because you can almost picture Paul writing it,
or maybe dictating it as he paced back and forth from where ever it was he was,
having first received a note from the Corinthians
who were concerned about all sorts of things.
He cared for that church, there in Corinth,
the people he came to know over several months
the people who came to know what it meant to love God
because of Christ’s foolish gift of selfless love.
And so, when he heard from them and saw that they were stressing out
about how to be community together, about what to do next,
about where to go, collectively, into an unknown future,
he sets about to respond, out of compassion for them,
and out of the conviction of faith.
What you get is this letter which we call First Corinthians,
this appeal for concord.
What we get is Paul appealing to the sensibilities of those he has come to know
that, yes, they each have their own perspectives, their own passions,
their own biases and yearnings and ways to do things.
Paul isn’t going to denigrate that,
in fact, just a few chapters later, he’ll celebrate that:
there are many gifts, but one spirit, he will say,
some are teachers, some speak with spirited tongues,
some might be plumbers or mechanics or preachers or bookkeepers or singers
but all of you are gifted, in different ways,
with different perspectives and passions and yearnings,
for a common purpose:
which Paul called the common good,
or which we might call the Kingdom of God.
Paul wasn’t pushing uniformity,
which is something we get wrong sometimes when we hear today’s reading
this “be of the same mind” part.
Unity and uniformity aren’t the same thing.
What gives us our unity, instead,
isn’t our all being the same.
Our unity comes from the one who unifies us,
the one who calls us, and who sends us.
Our unity comes from our following God on the path of Jesus Christ.
And so Paul is pacing back and forth
trying to figure out how to help these beloved people claim that calling.
It’s not about me, Paul says.
(So he rambles a bit about baptism,
knowing full well how people seem to follow the one who does the baptizing;
just ask John, as we peek at our other reading from Matthew,
John the Baptist:
whom many would turn to as their leader,
John who was trying to point to Jesus instead…
I am glad I didn’t baptize many of you, Paul says,
except one or two, or maybe five or six or ten or who knows,
but it wasn’t about me…
right, my Corinthian friends?”).
And it’s also not about you, come to think of it,
not even about the other ways you’ve clustered yourselves,
–belonging to Paul
–belonging to Peter
(That’s Cephas, right, the rock on which the church would be built,
the popular leader of the predominantly Jewish followers of Christ in Jerusalem).
–belonging to Apollos (he was more out there, think the Andrew Yang of his time)
–or even quote “belonging to Christ”….
if that is a way you separate yourselves from the others.
Christ is not divided, Paul says.
We don’t do this, not in the church,
not the way the world does.
(Paul would likely look at all the various denominations
over the years and wonder what happened)
The world does not get this,
but, then again, the one who died for you and for me
is not really something we have gotten our heads around yet.
Even today, 2000 years later.
Its foolishness. And we know that.
And still, we are amazed by what it means for us and for the whole world.
Paul’s appeal for concord.
But it is also a call for each of us to follow, right,
to work together for the realm of God. [Read more…]