3rd Sunday after The Epiphany

January 26, 2020


I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarrelling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ 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 may 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 preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:10-18 ESV)

It is not uncommon among all Christians – well the ones I meet – and yes, they are mainly Lutheran but I do meet people with quite a good cross section of labels, views, teachings, denominations – to hear sighs at the fragmentation of Christianity. We all know that the Church is described as one – as Paul wrote to the Ephesians … There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6 ESV)

But after 2,000 years, it doesn’t look one and yet in faith we say it is. After 2,000 years we also hear from non Christians that one of the problems today is working out what is truth and where to find it, if everyone is saying ‘Jesus!’ ‘Jesus!’ or ‘Lord!’ ‘Lord!’ or even ‘We are right!’. When there was only one religion in a country – generally the religion of the king – then things were socially easier but perhaps there was more deception or demurring or dissembling if you on the inside didn’t agree. Today at least people can have their views – and we all default to thinking we are right – and we can discuss them at least. And one thing Christians have learnt over the centuries is that it is good when the followers of Jesus do agree, do have the same mind, and do have the same judgements but that we don’t isn’t something that Luther started or is only a phenomena of the last 100 years but is part of following Jesus since there were followers of Jesus.

Call it what you want – pride, cantankerousness, the Devil sowing seeds of discord, lack of trust in God’s Word – we shouldn’t be surprised that there are divisions in the Body of Christ, considering how beaten and whipped and pierced Jesus’ body became – just as we shouldn’t be surprised at how Jesus’ words, water, and bread and wine can bring healing and wholeness and reconciliation and growth to the body of Christ, the Church, today. This tension has been with us since the beginning.

We don’t know who Chloe or her people were in Corinth but they have let Paul know that there is quarrelling among the Christians in Corinth. I don’t think you should see them as early denominations. In this case it is more that groups of the congregation seem to like a certain pastor and this is causing the friction. But it is a short step from promoting a person to promoting words that person said that were different to the words of the others and the criteria for success becomes difference rather than unity. Pastors come and go but hopefully they will speak the same Law and Gospel and point to the same cross – because for a perishing world that is where the power of salvation lies. Law and Gospel and the cross all point us to look at ourselves and look at Jesus. The
pastor, preacher, teacher becomes the voice helping people to see the hidden truth that Jesus is Lord and that Jesus cares for all his people.

In the ancient world – particularly in the Hellenistic mystery religions – there was a special bond between the person joining the religion and the priest who initiated them or welcomed them. Often they became a mentor or spiritual father and there was a special something that help the initiate understand and relate to the god involved. Scholars think that is behind Paul’s dismissal of his baptismal memory because the promotion of either him or Apollos or Peter or even Christ might still be part of the Hellenistic world of Corinth but we’re not specifically sure why there is the fragmentation and the quarrelling. In this context it is unlikely they were teaching error but again we can’t be sure but Paul reminds them of their unity in Christ. They are all equal, they are one, under the cross!

That is where sin is forgiven. That is where life is given. That is where meaning and purpose and hope and courage can be found. Why? Because staring at the man on the cross each person knows ‘he died for me’ and each person hears that God is gracious to all. There is no need to look to the left and to the right to see how others are because we can hear the words – Jesus’ words – ok, the actual voice and accent changes – but not the words – ‘for you’ – ‘you are my child’ – ‘I am with you always’.

And that is the message that brings unity. Of course we will not want there to be untruth, deception, falsehood, error, speculation about our Jesus and so we will stick with his words and stay with them. And where we hear different words, we won’t flee but we will do what Jesus did for us – speak and love – speak the truth in love – and keep speaking to the other followers of Jesus – and keep living and sharing the truth in love in the world.

And we might even smile and laugh – not at people – but recognising the folly of what we are saying that a dead man has risen and he is God and this Jesus is the best person to know and follow … ever. The followers of Jesus deep down know this to be true – that Jesus and his gracious cross has saved the world.

Bible References

  • 1 Corinthians 1:10 - 18