May 10, 2020
Acts 18:1-4; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Corinth has been called the Las Vegas of the ancient world.
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The city was an economic powerhouse of the day … supported by the mining and pottery industries. It was an historic ship-building port with two harbours – one on the Adriatic coast and the other on the Aegean coast at the other side of a 6 kilometre strip of land.
To avoid rough seas at the southern tip of Greece, the ancient mariners would travel up the coast to one of the harbours … unload their cargo … have it carried over land to the other harbour and loaded onto another ship.
In Paul’s time, Corinth also served as the Roman capital of the region and a military stronghold.
The city’s prominence and commerce attracted people from across the known world. Jews and Gentiles … travellers from the orient … rich and poor … owner and slave … tradespeople and farmers could be found in the city. Cultures and beliefs mingled and shared influences on each other.
It was a city filled with a partying, anything-goes atmosphere. Like other cities in the Roman empire, there were temples devoted to various gods that represented different aspects of life. It also had temples dedicated to the Greek gods.
Just south of town was the temple for Aphrodite, the goddess of love, complete with 1,000 professional prostitutes all dedicated to the goddess and raising a fortune in offerings.
One scholar once wrote that Corinth was in the business of making money and making love.
It was city that offered a lot of distractions and divisiveness could happen easily.
It has been about 25 years since Jesus’ ascension and about five years since Paul last visited Corinth. When Paul wrote today’s letter to the Corinthians, he was two- or three-days away in Ephesus.
Word had reached him that there was trouble at the Corinthian congregation that he had started with Aquila and Priscilla.
It seems that people were dividing into groups … lining up behind certain leaders of the congregation … perhaps their favourite teachers or perhaps the ones who … when they preached … told them what they wanted to hear.
Some followed Paul … others Apollos and others Cephas – whom we call Peter. It becomes a question of who they belong to.
The congregation … it seems … is also divided over worship practices … their various spiritual gifts … and how they interact with all the different cultures and beliefs that are present in the greater community.
Members of the congregation … Chloe’s people … ask Paul for some clarification and … through this clarity … a means to bring unity back to the congregation.
Paul’s response to the congregation is one that focuses on their identity … of remembering who they are … who we are … and how they … and we … are called to be in the world.
Paul calls on the members of the congregation to push through the distractions and become unified in both mind and in purpose.
In his letter, Paul tells the congregation that they are confusing the messenger with the message.
Paul instructs the congregation not to worry about who baptized them or who first taught them about the Gospel … it’s the Gospel that should be their concern … how they share it … how they live it… regardless of how the world views such a radical promise.
“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.”
Paul reminds the people that Jesus was crucified for them and because of this … God speaks to them through the cross … that God’s power is shown through Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection … and that through this act, God’s love is shown as God aligns with us through Jesus’ suffering.
For those outside the congregation, the idea that a God would allow themselves to suffer for their sake … in the most humiliating and painful way known … would likely seem foolish since it is something that goes against their sensibilities and reasoning.
Faith is still seen as foolishness by some.
But the love that is shown through the “foolishness” holds the promise of changing the world by overturning the values and perspectives that serve only to oppress, divide and marginalize.
Through the cross we are saved and through the cross we are called to live life differently … openly … lovingly.
Rev. Jane Lancaster Patterson is a seminary professor and an author.
In looking at today’s reading from 1 Corinthians, she wrote: “For Paul, salvation is not a once-in-a-lifetime event, but an ongoing embodied process of mending the fabric of relationships that stretch across the entire creation, a fabric that is revelatory of God’s grace and power, from end to end.”
Another way of putting it, is that Paul wanted the people to live the Gospel … to live through the cross.
Today, Paul reminds the congregation that God’s love and power was revealed through the cross and that, through their baptism, they are linked to the Jesus’ crucifixion.
This, Paul tells them, makes them Christ’s people … not Apollos’ or Cephas’ or even Paul’s, but Christ’s people . That is their identity.
This makes us Christ’s people. This is our identity.
Through our baptism … something we are called to remember … not only at Sunday worship services … but each moment of our lives … we are joined to the story of the cross. It makes us people of the cross.
It makes us a resurrection people … it makes us a resurrection church.
Through our baptism … we are called to live the Gospel … to share its promise … its love with others … to be unified in mind and in purpose as we share this gift of grace.
The act of fully and earnestly living the Gospel transforms people … and through this personal act … transforms the world.
So, I ask that you consider how you live the Gospel … how we live into our identity as a people of the cross.
How do we proclaim the love that comes through the cross?
Do our actions serve to divide or unify? Do we allow ourselves to be distracted from purpose by internal or external influences? Do we try to divide or ration out God’s love … or do we … with open heart … love unconditionally?
These are all questions that Paul calls us to ponder … and … in this time of social-distancing and self-isolation … when the world has an opportunity to reset its priorities … these are questions we can each reflect upon to determine if we need a reset, as well.
I pray that you are all safe and healthy and that you find comfort in this time of uncertainty. God bless and,