The Pas Epiphany + 3 & Conversion of Paul
22 January 2017
Psalm 27:1, 5-13
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
God of blazing light, through the power of the cross you shattered our darkness and set us free to live as your children. Give us courage and conviction, so that we may joyfully turn and follow you, led by the light that shines through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
I’ve always found Paul’s letters to the Corinthian community to be interesting. Not just for the passages that describe women as having to be silent, with their heads covered, and allow their husbands to be the heads of the families, of their households. After all, those who don’t understand how the Holy Spirit can call a woman to parish leadership often resort to these passages to tell me I’m in the wrong chair.
Still, I find Paul’s letters interesting for many reasons, not even for the fact that historians and biblical scholars have determined that between 1st and 2nd Corinthians there are five letters, not just two.
Paul is writing to a community in turmoil. He’s writing to a congregation that is trying to learn how to be a congregation, a community of faith, a place where ‘everyone knows your name,’ to steal the tag line from the show Cheers.
The epistles known as 1st and 2nd Corinthians shows us a pattern of correspondence that is filled with valid statements speaking directly to those, in that community, at that time where people are struggling to embrace a new system of faith. They’re struggling to understand what it means to be loved by God, to not be at the mercy of a system of multiple gods who they are told are more interested something or someone else.
This is a steep learning curve for them, and some days, still for us, when we forget how far Christianity has come, how far we’ve come in becoming the children of God. When we forget that we worship God, not a system of gods that still attempts to infiltrate our lives.
This is a learning curve that we need to return to from time to time, and it starts with Jesus call to each one of us saying “Follow me!” And, when we do follow, has the ability to change absolutely everything in the world, in our lives, and in the way we are able to see ourselves and our roles in the world.
These epistles, these books of the bible, these letters to a metropolitan Greek community in the first days of the acceptance and introduction of the Christian faith are interesting. They’re instructive for us from a historical sense because they show us a faith community trying to figure itself out when there was no set pattern of how to be, how to operate, established yet.
They show us a group of people trying to become a community. They uncover that Christianity wasn’t a prepackaged item just waiting for the cellophane to be removed and everything to be set out in place. Just waiting for the people to be an ‘add water and stir’ variety of Christianity, in the early days of the church.
We all know Paul. He’s the apostle to the Gentiles, the author of many of the books in the New Testament. A former prosecutor of the church whose heart allowed God in, and who turned his life from prosecuting the church, the faith, to promoting it across the Roman Empire, where it had never been before, yet God was and is there still.
In his heart, Paul heard Jesus call “follow me” and Corinth is one of the places to which God has led him as he follows.
And this isn’t an easy journey that God has set Paul upon. Christians in Israel, in the Middle East, have the patterns of the Jewish faith to fall back upon, the Jewish heritage to provide a framework of monotheism, or believing in only one god. Paul, on the other hand, has the challenge of establishing patterns of faith amongst people who have only worshiped multiple gods in their lives, in their society, and who now turn to worship the One True God.
Our passage, today, comes to us from near the beginning of Paul’s correspondence with the community at Corinth. It comes to us from the beginning of his attempts to guide, and mediate that troubled, very human community.
Paul says: “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.” (1 Cor 1:10)
This is where Paul’s letter begins. Reminding us that we are all one community, and although we are that one community, we are still individuals, prone to human traits, and divisions, and commonalities, belly button lint, and the rest of it, as well.
And this is important.
We, imperfect, impulsive, headstrong individuals, make up the body of Christ. At the same time, we have lives that are able to be independent of our roles in this venerable, respected, esteemed body that does the will of Christ in the world together, and as individuals.
And sometimes these ideals, these roles clash. We each have differing ideas of how to be Christians, we have differing ways to serve God’s people and creation. And we see this in the passage from Corinthians, today.
Paul shows us a community that is currently doing best 2 out of 3 all-out-mixed-martial-arts-cage-matches to decide their direction, their style of leadership, their way to follow God, and still serve the community.
They’re trying to determine who has the more authority candidate A, or B? or was it C? and what are their qualifications to step into such roles?
But, what is often forgotten, what is often left out of the equation, when we, humans, try to determine God’s will for our lives, is that it’s all a matter of love. It’s a matter of opening our hearts to the will of God, opening our lives to the love of Christ.
Paul tells us: “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.” (1 Cor 1:18)
At the same time, in the gospel Jesus tells us: “Come, follow me.” (Mt 4:19a)
As we answer Jesus’ call, we acknowledge that Paul is right.
If we don’t open our hearts, open our lives to God, to Christ, then what God, what Christ, what Paul has to say makes absolutely no sense. We need to be willing to invite God in to our lives, to our hearts.
We need to be willing to invite in the one who changes who we are, while at the same time we witness to who God is for us and for the world.
We need to be willing to embody who we are as the children of God as the body of Christ, as the Christian community in the 21st century, even as the community of Corinth needed to embrace who they are as the Christian community of the 1st century. This is a position that takes a great deal of courage. It takes a great deal of strength, and it takes a heart that is open to going where God is leading.
So what see, in Paul’s words, today, is the people of Corinth coming together under headings that they can identify with, yet at the same time, they’re not listening to the Holy Spirit in their midst, and Paul continues to urge the people to come together in unity as the Body of Christ in the world.
We are able to see people approach God from a human perspective, and not understanding that it is not us who reach God, but God who reaches us.
Its not us who has the ability to influence God, all we can do is accept or deny God’s influence in our lives.
Jesus, in today’s gospel, calls fishermen from their boats, from their nets, from everything they know to learn to be Christ’s disciples. And I’ve often wondered why fishermen? Why these people?
And I’m wondering if its because they don’t have to unlearn anything, in regards to the roles of leadership, in regards to the roles that God is beginning to equip them to fill the moment they put down the nets and walk away from boats, from father, from family trades, to follow where Jesus leads, even though that path leads through the cross and into the arms of God’s love.
“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.” (1 Cor 1:18)
All Jesus says is “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” (Mt 4:19)
Paul urges us to “agree with one another in what [we] say and that there be no divisions among [us,] but that [we] may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (1 Cor1:10)
When we are able to take ourselves out of what we consider ‘the equation’ then that leaves room for God to work fully in our lives and in our hearts. An old bumper sticker said “God is my co-pilot”. Well, if God is the co-pilot, then we’re in the wrong seat. We’re still trying to tell God what it is we’re willing to do, or not willing to do.
What God needs isn’t us dictating to God. God needs us to stand together. To “agree with one another in what [we] say and that there be no divisions among [us].” To be wiling to receive the Holy Spirit, to be the body of Christ in the world.
And for those who sit back and look for the will of God, who seek only what can be perceived, then I’m sure God will leave us still searching.
The message of the cross is foolishness. It calls for Christ, for God made manifest and dwelling amongst us, to sacrifice his life for us to have eternal life.
The message of the cross is foolishness because it’s the heart of God’s eternal compassion for you and for me. It leaves aside ego, resumes, qualifications, and differences. It looks only at our hearts at our ability to believe, because it is God’s power made manifest in a way that forever changes the playing field.
It pulls us together in commonalities. It encourages us to work hand in hand, side by side, to fulfill the will of God, not the will of Paul, who writes to the Corinthians. Not the will of Matthew, who pens today’s gospel.
The message of cross is the message of love, of faith, of compassion, not for just us, sitting here today, the body of Christ in the world, today, but for all throughout the generations, throughout the world who believe, who follow.
And together, agreeing with one another, as Paul encourages, the Holy Spirit has the ability to make us even greater than we can ask or imagine as we fulfill God’s will in and for the world.