HAS CHRIST BEEN DIVIDED?
The theme of this year's Week of Prayer for Christian Prayer is "Has Christ been divided?" Our scripture verse is 1 Corinthians 1:1-17.
There's a story about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson on a camping trip. After sharing a good meal, they retire to their tent for the night. At about 3 AM, Holmes nudges Watson and asks, ‘Watson, look up into the sky and tell me what you see?’
Paul had established the church in Corinth, and then he moved on to another location to start another church. He left behind some leaders that would give direction to this new little faith community.
The church of Corinth was so small that it was probably meeting in private houses.Paul heard that there were problems with the church in Corinth.
"It has been reported to me about you that there are quarles among you. I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Paul, “ or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?”
All of Paul's letters have a thanksgiving in the opening, not this one, Paul's really upset. Despite his efforts to establish a faith community united in Christ Jesus. The people have started to divide themselves –just as they have seen people do in the society around them.
People were divided into those who were educated needing to feel superior to those who were not. Divided into those who had political power over those who had none. Divided into those who were from prominent families and those who were nobodies. Their society wasn't much different than ours in that regard.
We might listen to these words of Paul and think “This doesn’t apply to me in my life." But in the reading today, Paul starts to talk about the relationship that we're to have with God because of Jesus– and this does make a big difference in our lives.
In Paul’s times and in our times, we admire people who are rich and famous. We admire those who are educated and popular. It can sometimes seem as though these are the sort of people who are especially blest by God. We also live in a society that believes that we can buy happiness, earn favors and that there is no such thing as a free lunch.
For those who think this way, Paul points out that there is no one among us that is particularly loved by God because they are smart, well born or powerful. People find these things valuable – God doesn't.
To prove this we have the example of Jesus. If God wanted to impress a lot of people and to get their attention he should have chosen someone who was powerful and wealthy and respectable – not Jesus.
Jesus was respectable to some Jews and scandalous to others. Sometimes great crowds followed him, but at his worst moment – he was abandoned. He was a traveling rabbi. He had no significant power. Religious authorities questioned him all the time. Jesus had no wealth. He was supported by wealthy women, but had none of his own.
Paul challenges the Corinthians and us to remember that the values of their society and our's are not whatGod values. God's not impressed by the rich and famous.He's not persuaded by the powerful or the educated.
When there are distinctions made in ways that separate people into have’s and have not’s, us versus them, or into whatever the distinction. Paul points out these divisions cannot be of God.
When a person makes a distinction that breaks unity. That means that someone has seen a need to divide. So as to claim that one person is better than the other, or the other person needs to change to see things MY way.
Whatever our differences we can still be united in love, respect and hospitality. Sometimes we won't do a good enough job. There will be misunderstanding and hurt feelings because the effort for unity is more difficult than the ease we have in making divisions.
This same principal is important within families. How tragic it is when families are divided because of arguments or disagreements. How easily it is to harbor a grudge remain bitter and angry for months and even years. Is unity more valuable than pride? Is unity more valuable than having to be right?
Sometimes it's hard to realize a basic truth. That Paul points out to the Galatians and us. We're all sons and daughters of God. We've all been baptized into Christ Jesus.
It was for all of us – despite whatever divisions that exist among us – it was for us that Jesus came to us in human flesh to be an example of God’s wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption.
All of this unites us. Our unity is in the Christ that unites us in one love. We come here today, united before this altar. Together, with all of our different background and experiences, we are able to be united in Christ.
United in our songs of praise, united in our request for forgiveness, united in our memory of the great sacrifice made for us, united in our desire to leave this sacred place united in the one love of our one God and Father.
Praise be to God!