SERMON 1/23/11 Epiphany 3A
1 Corinthians 1:10-18 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. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 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.” Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 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. 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.
Choosing sides seems to be fairly natural for us. We take sides whether it be over political issues we support or don’t, the American Idol finalist we like or don’t, the news channel we watch or don’t, and the college or professional football team we cheer for or we don’t. Last Saturday night was date night for us, but as many of us know, during this time of the year finding a restaurant where there’s not at least an hour wait for a table, is almost impossible. Luckily, we arrived at Ruby Tuesday’s at the mall, and discovered that there was no wait if we dined in the bar area. Playing on the TV’s in the bar was the AFC divisional playoff game between the Pittsburg Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. Honestly, I haven’t kept up with football at all since I went to seminary, so this game didn’t have much meaning for me, but it sure did for the other people at Ruby Tuesday’s that night. They were yelling and cheering, some for the Ravens and others for the Steelers. One of the servers walked over to our table, stood next to me and asked me, “So what team are you for?” I said,” oh, I really don’t care.” I have to admit, it wasn’t long after watching this contest that Terri and I were drawn into the competitiveness of the game.
When there were only a few minutes left, the game was so close, and one team was making a great comeback, suddenly we chose sides. In that moment, I became one team’s fan. Why? I wanted to be on the winning side of the game. I wanted to be with the winners. I chose sides, not because I really cared if one team won or lost, but I wanted to be with the in crowd. Sporting events are not the only areas in which we choose sides. Divisions, disagreements, and dissent that we sometimes engage in, usually has its foundation in things of more significance; the battle of the ego and the human desire to be right.
The Church in Corinth was a hotbed of controversy and egos for which the Apostle Paul had to deal. These poor folks were torn into factions over some many issues. They were choosing teams so to speak, not so much because of the issues themselves, but because they wanted to be associated with the right leader.
Some folks claimed an affiliation with the Apollos faction, others the Cephas team and even others the Paul camp. All of these folks were great speakers and Christian leaders and each had their own theological bent. The skill of rhetoric some great orators practiced in the first century, made them very popular and as such, people chose whom they followed based on that popularity. If you were associated with one of these great speakers, then you were in the “right group.”
Today, we might compare this self-association as equivalent to being in a particular political party or the right side of a particular debate. Being right or being in the right crowd stands in direct conflict with the teachings of Our Lord, which shows us that we are to be united in the “same mind and purpose.” Jesus said, “That you may be one as the Father and I are one.” Righteousness and being right is not the same thing. We are unified and we are made righteous, because we are in Christ. Righteousness is not being right, it is being in right relationship.
In Our Lord’s summary of the law, He explains that all the law and the prophets hang on these two things: Loving God and loving neighbor as yourself. The law’s original intent is that we should be in a right relationship with God and with each other. We Christians are united not by being in the right crowd, but by knowing our identity in Christ. Following the example of Christ, living the
message of self-giving love is following Christ. It was Jesus’ ministry of love, his revelation of what it means to live as God planned, which truly led him to the cross of suffering and death.
Imagine a love so deep that one gives up their life for the love of the other. God’s love for creation is so beyond anything we can imagine. By the cross, Christ fully experienced our pain, our humility, our suffering, and even death. The cross in the first century was an instrument of torture, shame, humiliation, suffering, pain, and death. The Christus Rex cross like the one in our chapel is found in many churches. It is a beautiful symbol of the Risen Lord, but it does not clearly communicate the cross of Jesus. The Crucifix with its image of the bleeding, rejected, broken, beaten Lord, vividly portrays the agony, the pain, the suffering, and the humiliation of the cross.
We all have had times in our life when we have faced some form of loss, pain, humiliation, and shame. This is a part of the human experience because we live in times of suffering. The power of the cross is that God incarnate has drawn near to us in our suffering. God took on our human nature and bore what we bear. The cross is the symbol of a love that is so great, that we have a difficult time imagining it.
The Power of the Jesus’ cross transforms suffering into the way of forgiveness, mercy and grace. God’s love endured human suffering and transformed it into new life. By the cross of Christ, we are restored to right relationship with God and with each other. In Christ, there is no more room for divisions, no more room for self-inflating associations. Our right-ness, is now found not in factions or divisions, in political parties or debates, nor even in church politics or theological contests. Our right-ness is powerfully found in our unity through the cross of Christ.
The cross shows us that God suffers with us, God bears our pain, and God calls us into unity so that we too can join in the ministry of bearing each other’s pain and suffering. The scandal of divisions is so trivial in light of the cross. The divisions of the world, which are all around us, a part of human nature, is a terrible distraction to our unity in Christ. God promises that one day, divisions and disunity will vanish away and that day will be when we come to know that we are truly one in Christ.
Disagreements happen. Opinions are expressed. Differing ideas will and do emerge. These events are not in themselves immoral or depraved. In fact, when we come together and collaborate with our different ideas and opinions, we can usually come up with a better solution. Look at the Council of Jerusalem when the Early Church agreed that Gentiles could join in table fellowship with the Jewish Christians of that time. The church throughout the centuries grew through the debates and collaborative work regarding potentially division-creating issues.
It’s not our disagreements and debates that empty the power of the cross. We empty its power when our disagreements, opinions, and quarrels result in division and separation from the unity we share in Christ. Even when we disagree, and yet when we come together and collaborate together, when we work together, when we share the burden together, we are turning our eyes to the cross of Jesus and recognizing that in the cross, we have One Lord and together we are One Body. United by the never-ending, life restoring, grace-filled love of God, we are one community of Love, who follows the example of Our Lord by stretching our arms wide to the world, welcoming all to the heart of God. We glory in your cross, O Lord, and praise and glorify your holy resurrection; for by virtue of your cross joy has come to the whole world.