Sunday after Sunday we listen to letters that were written to the first Christians in Corinth where they were caught up in the history of the city. Although the Greeks had been overpowered by the Romans 200 years earlier, their language and allegiance to their gods lingered, making for tension with the Latin-speaking Romans who came with their own set of gods which included their emperor.
The Romans also brought their practice of labeling people and associating them with the name of a prominent person or school of thought which made for divisions. There was fierce competition members who were caught up in vying to be recognized as the group that proved to be superior to all the others.
The Roman practice of labeling made its way into the young, small Christian community in Corinth, where they began to break into contending groups, each under a name: Apollos, Cephas, Paul, Christ, with each demanding full allegiance to their leader. And that’s what makes Paul’s letter written around 53 AD to Christians in Corinth still relevant today, especially after last Friday’s inauguration and all the months leading up to it!
We are far more divided now than back in that first-century. As a nation we seem to be more divided now than during the years of our Civil War, and the conflicts that continued into the movement for civil rights and on into the years that pitted Peaceniks against Hawks in the years of the Vietnam War; all of which became religious causes as well as political crises, dividing denominations and congregations. Now we seem to be threatened with more and even deeper divisions that turn arguing and debating with one another and trying to come to some resolution, even if it is to agree to disagree, into a steel-like resistance that is raising impassable walls of division among Christians. unsolvable divisions are spilling over into all the places where we use to be able to have an unguarded conversations and not come away from the table with indigestion or have a family member or friend]jump up, vowing to sever all ties…forever!
I think how the first members of this congregation experienced rejection and expulsion from their ancestral meeting house, where they were judged to be too liberal in wanting an educated clergy, a communion table open to all Christians regardless of the time or manner of their baptism, public schools for all children, and – the costliest commitment – to turn from being pacifists to taking up arms in the Union Army to abolish slavery.
And then I think of the challenge that faces us right now – to not let political partisanship to tear us apart as a congregation, to resist forming into divisions with impenetrable walls, as we let Paul’s charge to Christians in Corinth in that first century be heard by us twenty centuries later:
Now 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.
Call this the timeless “Unity Test” for Christians that is most timely now, a test with one question answered with two work projects.
The question is:Is the name above all names that names us:
the name of our Lord Jesus Christ?
The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers who serves in the national staff of the Episcopal Church is stirs us to answer in her sermon for today:
We Christians ought to know there's more to God. Just look at Jesus, the clear and true embodiment of God with us. Would so many people have flipped their lives inside out, literally dropped their nets, for a really good teacher, an entertaining speaker? Would the religious and political authorities have been so dead set on shutting this brother down, if he was merely a good organizer or one more wannabe messiah?
No, …everything about (Jesus) radiated the fullness of God.
He was the real deal, and when he announced the kingdom was near, people believed it because it was unfolding around him with every step he took. (Andrew and) Simon Peter saw it, sensed it. When this Jesus turned toward them and said, "Follow me," they simply replied, "Alright. We're with you." The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, Canon for Evangelism, Reconciliation, and Stewardship of Creation for the Episcopal Church, January 22, 2017 Day1
So, first question in the Unity Test:
Are we answering Jesus’ “Follow me” with “I’m with you!”?
That answer is followed with two assignments, first is:
that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you,
because we are all looking to Jesus, the One Who makes it possible to keep from being pulled into a divisive group, the One Who holds our congregation together, by completing the second assignment:
that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.
An old story some of you may have heard me tell is about a group of pastors returning from a meeting filled with contentious remarks and unresolved tensions, which had the pastor who was drive over the narrow, winding uphill and down roads in Western Pennsylvania,
turning to the pastors in the back seat and shouting repeatedly,
“What would Jesus say, what would Jesus say?”
Finally one of the pastors, fearing they’d soon crash, said,
“If you don’t keep your eye on the road, you’ll be able to ask Him.”
A corrective to the answer is: “Jesus is already answering in His ‘Follow Me’ that gives us the assignment the first Christians in Philippi turned into a song:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…and
every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” (Phil. 2: 5,10-11)
The "mind" of Christ which is the head of the body Paul calls the church - the "Yes, Jesus, we will follow you" being like members, like parts of that body.
We all know our bodies are controlled by impulses from our brain, which when no longer functioning, diagnoses is as being "brain dead" and life support equipment is turned off and detached.
So Christ, the head of his followers, His body, are animated by the breath of His life. For some Jesus comes to them as He came to those fishermen long ago; they hear Him calling them; they feel the surge of His breathed n presence. For others, the impulses -the brainwaves of Christ - come through His Sermon on the Mount, His stories, His table conversations, in bread and cup and cross, and empty tomb, and His, “Peace I leave with you, receive the Holy Spirit”– the breath in Me is now in you, “I will be with you always.”
Christ the head, animating this body of His followers called the church; Christ, the breath, that gives us the mind of Christ to think and act like Christ,
In 1572 when the Polish-Lithuanian monarch Sigismond Augustus died, a new monarch had to be found. Just a few months earlier Catholics across France had unleashed the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of Protestant Hugenots and slaughtered 4,000 people. At a meeting on January 28, 1573, the Polish-Lithuanian citizens vowed that such a massacre would never happen in their land. They passed the so-called Confederation of Warsaw in which they vowed
we mutually promise for ourselves and our successors forever...that we who differ with regard to religion will keep the peace with one another, and will not for a different faith or a change of churches shed blood nor punish one another by confiscation of property, infamy, imprisonment or banishment, and will not in any way assist any magistrate or officer in such an act. Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Reformation (New York: Viking, 2004), p. 332
The footnote to that pledge is that it only lasted for 100 years
And so Paul’s letter need to be read on onto our time; now as back there then we are charged with: Passing the Unity Test – asked in a question followed with two
assignments that don’t have us working for unity in organizational structural, but united looking to Christ, to think and act like Him, to do what Jesus did, and will do through us.