January 22, 2023 – Third Sunday after Epiphany – 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
There’s a story that is told in Jewish circles that speaks to us in the Christian church as well. Once upon a time, a young rabbi discovered what he believed to be a serious problem in his new congregation. During Friday services, half of his congregation stood for prayers while the other half remained seated. Each faction believed that they, alone, were observing the true tradition. The young rabbi sought the counsel of the 99-year old rabbi who had founded the congregation. “Tell me,” the young rabbi pleaded, “was it the tradition of the congregation to stand during the prayers?” “No,” the elderly rabbi answered. “So then,” the younger rabbi continued, “it was the tradition to sit for the prayers.” “No,” the elderly rabbi answered again. “Well,” the younger rabbi pressed, “half the people are standing, and the other half are sitting. And neither side will acknowledge the other. It’s complete chaos!” “Ah,” said the aged rabbi, “that was the tradition.” 1
Chaos is what sometimes happens when people of different traditions and backgrounds
come together. And it sounds a bit like there was some of that chaos going on in the Corinthian church. Corinth was a trade hub in its day. That meant that all different sorts of people passed through the city on a regular basis, and some settled there. There were Greeks and Romans and Jews, there were slaves and former slaves and free people, there were people all along the spectrum of wealth and of education and of culture. Corinth was a diverse place. Paul had established the church in this cosmopolitan center during his second missionary journey in about the year 51 CE, and he had stayed among the Corinthians for about a year and a half. But a couple of years later, after Paul had moved on to found other churches in other places, he received word that there were some problems in the Corinthian church – disagreements arising, at least in part, from their diversity, and not just their diverse backgrounds, but even their diverse experiences as a new Christian community. While Paul had been the “founding pastor” of the congregation, it seems that Paul’s co-worker, Apollos, had also been very influential there, and even though there is no biblical record of Peter travelling to Corinth, it seems that some of the Corinthians were identifying themselves as his followers. And Paul makes it clear, in the words that you heard earlier, that they were all missing the mark with their various allegiances. Let me read to you again the beginning of the second lesson:
10 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. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12 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.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
1 Barbara Lemmel, “Makeshift Communities,” The Christian Century, January 6, 1999.
Paul’s position is obvious: The person from whom you learned the faith does not matter. The traditions you have developed in your separate gatherings under different teachers do not matter. The only thing that matters is moving forward, being united in the same mind and purpose: and that forward movement is in the mind and purpose of Christ.
This is, I believe, an important message for us in this congregation. Even though it’s three
years now since Christ the King Lutheran Church and the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany became one new body in Christ, I still hear a fair amount about who came from which church. And to a certain extent, that is natural – and even good. Our traditions and our experiences have shaped us, made us who we are in all our diverse expressions of faith. But I believe that St. Paul would tell us that the congregations to which we used to belong do not matter. What matters is how we move forward, united in the same mind and purpose. This becomes even more critical for us as a household of faith as we welcome more people among us. We have welcomed those, and may welcome still more, who came from Epiphany way back. Perhaps the same may be true for people who had stopped attending Christ the King in years past. St. Paul’s Lutheran, East Longmeadow closed their doors in November – some of their folks have already joined us, and there may well be more. Bethesda Lutheran Church is closing in June – I expect we’ll welcome some of their folks. And that’s just naming people coming to us from congregations and traditions that I know about. The fact of the matter is that, just like the poor young rabbi learned, there may be some chaos as our various traditions and experiences are woven together into one beautiful, rich tapestry of life in the Spirit. But let the chaos come . . .as long as we’re moving forward in the mind and purpose of Christ.
One of the ways that the leadership of our congregation is seeking to show unity of mind and purpose is by the decision, at our monthly meeting last week, to change the name of our governing body. The language of Council/Vestry or Vestry/Council served us well for the first three years of our life together. It helped everyone both to understand what we were talking about and to appreciate the fact that we were being careful not to go out of bounds of either denomination. But as we have continued to grow into our mission and ministry at CTKE, the language has felt unnecessarily cumbersome. So our governing body is now the Parish Council, and the two primary leaders of the Parish Council will no longer be known as the president/senior warden and the vice president/junior warden (a mouthful, for sure) – they will now be known simply as the chair and the vice chair. You may well say, “So what? It’s just a name change.” But what we call things affects how we think about them. And my prayer is that, by its new name, we have freed the Parish Council from being the custodians of two traditions to be the leaders who will help us move forward in singleness of mind and purpose in answering the call of Jesus Christ. And then who knows what holy chaos might ensue. Because when we follow Jesus, when we commit or re-commit to following Jesus, our lives will never be the same. Nor will this community. Nor will the world!
Will you come and follow Jesus?