Sunday, June 07, 2015

1 Corinthians 1:1-17: Called into Fellowship

June 7, 2015
Ordinary Time
Proper 5
Year B

Isaiah 9:14-16
14   so I will again do
amazing things with this people,
shocking and amazing.
The wisdom of their wise shall perish,
and the discernment of the discerning shall be hidden.
15   Ha! You who hide a plan too deep for the Lord,
whose deeds are in the dark,
and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
16   You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay?
Shall the thing made say of its maker,
“He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of the one who formed it,
“He has no understanding”? [1]

This week, we are starting a summer long series on the first letter to the church in Corinth. These letters to the Corinthians are written by the Apostle Paul to the church as a way to keep in touch with them and to instruct and guide them through the difficulty of figuring out what church was all about. This is in the very earliest history of the Christian church that this takes place, when some of the people Jesus walked and talked with on earth before his crucifixion, resurection and ascention took place.

1 Corinthians 1 (Introduction)
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Divisions in the Church
10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12 What 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.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank Godf that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so 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.) 17 For 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. [2]

Called into Fellowship
Rev. Charissa Clark Howe
Liberty Presbyterian Church

I get a little antsy whenever someone refers to a famous author or preacher as “the founder of the church of XYZ.” Or someone says “I go to Pastor Soandso’s church.” I also don’t like it when we worry about how many new converts are being made through baptism or membership or whatever measurement we want to measure numbers of people by. I get that sometimes, you need some way to gauge if the Word is getting out there, and you sometimes have to look to who started a particular church or ministry, but this passage is why that all makes me a little nervous. The church in Corinth was developing cliques and those cliques were based on who they considered the founder of their particular branch of the church and how many people each of those leaders had baptized. As they developed loyalties to these particular leaders and preachers, rivalries developed.
            “Well. . . all the good Christians follow Cephas.”
            “No, no, no. . . all the GOOD Christians are followers of how Apollos does things.”
            It’s sort of like if we were to go around saying, “Well, we all know that Catholics are OK, but all the real Christians are Presbyterian.” Or “our church is the best because Pastor Charissa is really the only one who knows what she’s talking about. Those other guys are hacks.”
            It’s amazing to think how little time it took for the budding Christian church to start to form these cliques and rivalries, too.
            Paul says to them, “Guys. Seriously? You’re taking all the power out of the message when you just fight and bicker like this with one another.” He’s so upset with them for worrying about who baptized how many and which people are following which leaders that he says he’s glad he didn’t baptize very many of them. He doesn’t want to even be associated with this sort of clique-making.
            Paul wants to be associated with one thing and one thing only: The Good News of Jesus Christ. The cross and what it means for us is powerful, but Paul says that we deny it the power in our culture when we allow ourselves to be divided in the way the church in Corinth was, rather than being united by the power of Jesus.
            The church is supposed to be presenting a common front, to share a common outlook and value system. This doesn’t mean they’ll always agree on every detail or that they’ll all react in exactly the same way in any situation, but it does mean that there is one important thing that they always circle back to no matter what: is the message of freedom in Jesus Christ being proclaimed?
            He scolds the church that it’s not their job to go around deciding who is more worthy because they are following the right person in the right way. We aren’t followers of a certain group or clique. We are followers of Christ. We aren’t members of just one particular church that is more right than the others. We are members of Christ’s Body. We aren’t members of a 50 member church or a 100 member church or a 1000 member church. We are members of a universal church that includes millions of people.
            When it comes down to it, the thing that matters is the cross of Christ. Even the divided Corinthian church can come together if they will only remember that this is their foundation. They aren’t founded by Cephas or Paul or Apollos. They are founded on the knowledge that they are joined to God through Jesus Christ. The are reconciled – made right with – God because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
            Church folk don’t put as much emphasis on the importance of being part of one denomination over another as we used to. And I think that’s ok. It’s important to know what the traditions and history of the church or denomination you’re part of are to fully understand why they worship and pray the way they do. But it seems that through the years, denominations are getting better about working together. We seem to have found other lines for defining what it means to be a Christian and that’s important in today’s cultural climate.
            If you watch the TV news or read articles online or in the paper, or if you listen to talk radio, you would get the impression that being Christian is about believing a particular way about certain political or social issues. Some people don’t see how you could be a member of that other (whichever other is for them) political party and still be a professing Christian. “All the good Christians vote for Candidate Suchinsuch because Suchinsuch voted yes for X and no for Z.” And when you watch TV, read the news, listen to talk radio, it’s hard to decide which ways “good Christians” are supposed to vote or do or talk.
            This would have driven our old buddy Paul over the edge. Where is the unity? Where is the fellowship – the brotherhood and sisterhood  - that we are called into as believers in the saving work of Jesus Christ? Are we proclaiming a Gospel of freedom and unity and reconciliation when we form cliques and play king of the hill? Does it really spread the light of Christ when we point fingers and make accusations?
When asked what it means to be a Christian, many non-believers seem to think that it means adhering to a certain set of rules about how to behave and the different denominations or groups in Christianity are about how to read those rules. But Paul says, “NO! That’s not what we’re founded one!”  Jesus came so that we could have freedom from that sort of rigid rule-following and constant condemnation!
            Our identity is in Jesus Christ. Our foundation is the cross. We are called into fellowship on that basis, not into zealous culture wars. When Paul talks about unity and being of the same mind, he’s talking about repairing, reuniting. It’s about remembering that we have one foundation and that foundation is not the denominational symbol on the sign out front. That foundation is not the way we vote or the social causes that we take up. That foundation is not the speakers or authors or preachers we follow. That foundation is not our skills at bringing new people in the door. That foundation is the cross of Jesus Christ that brings us together in the calling to a united proclamation that HE IS LORD. When that is the foundation of all we say and do, the other stuff falls to the side as incidentals to the Gospel of freedom and reconciliation in Jesus.
            As we begin our journey through this letter to the Corinthian church, we are wise to remember that this is not just an old, irrelevant letter because the church in Corinth isn’t still there. This is a letter written to a church divided, which is what the church in America – all denominations of the church – is today. There is a great amount of wisdom in this book that we can glean. And it all begins with this message: Start with the important thing: the Good News of freedom in Jesus Christ. Proclaim that with unity and as a united front, avoiding bickering and clique-building. That is the fou

[1] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Is 29:14–16). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
f Other ancient authorities read I am thankful
[2] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (1 Co 1:1–17). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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