In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Did anyone here today attend any of the women’s protest marches yesterday? I know several people who did. One 70-year-old friend proudly showed off her pink hand-knit hat to me last week. It’s shaped like a cat’s head with two little ears sticking up. That’s an interesting response to the inauguration, isn’t it...and a sad one, too.
This is a year when many people from the Blue States especially are extremely worried about our new government leaders. And we are so fortunate to live in a country where we have the freedom to express our fears and push back lawfully. What a blessing that is.
Other folks, some of us here, aren’t dismayed at all, but may be looking forward to what seems like a change for the better.
Thank God we can express our joys and worries openly.
The American people seem so incredibly divided this year, don’t we? We differ on economic policy, on care for the less fortunate, on our interpretation of rising global temperatures, on how to give minorities the voices they ask for. We differ widely based on income and education and sexuality issues and religious affiliation and on all kinds of other matters.
Yet, I’m not convinced that these divisions are necessarily bad, as long as we’re truly striving in the same mind, and the same purpose. I hope we all share a desire to have the best United States of America possible in a world at peace and on a healthy planet. If that’s our one uniting purpose, truly, then we should be ok. (If it isn’t, then it’s definitely time to worry.)
And so it goes in the church as well. This will be our theme for today’s sermon on 1 Corinthians. Last week we spoke about the introductory verses of the letter. This week we get to the heart of why Paul’s so worried about the Corinthian Church.
In verse 10 Paul sets out the theme of the entire letter. It’s the first verse of our reading, and it says, “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.” Being of the same mind and the same purpose are really important to Paul, for he knows that a divided church is a terrible witness to the power of God to save. It’s a terrible face to show to the world because it says we really are a bunch of hypocrites.
Paul goes on to speak about how the Corinthians are so fragmented. It seems they’ve split into factions depending on who baptized them. And by doing that they’ve left behind the whole purpose that should have united them: that they came into the fellowship of Christ to save their lives, to follow the One who could bring them out of their darkness into the light, to worship the One who humbly hung on a cross, and then spectacularly rose from the dead.
Now, of course, baptism was their gateway into this fellowship of Christ. They’re all connected and made One Body through baptism. And that would be reinforced each time thereafter when they met for the Lord’s Supper. They shared the One Bread, a deep symbol of being parts of the One Body.
But for as long as they remain divided and NOT of one mind, their factions bring no peace and no fullness of joy. And so Paul exhorts them to stop and consider what they’re doing. He’ll be asking them to consider the hope to which they were called: their purpose of following Jesus, of finding their peace in him, and of taking that peace out into the world so that others may know it, too.
Now, in the Christian Church today – by which I mean all the believers in Christ all over the globe—are we united in the same mind and purpose, which is to follow Jesus…to answer his call? A blog last Thursday by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York bemoaned the “legacy of mistrust and competition” among churches after the Reformation that began 500 years ago in 1517. We do have mistrust and competition, and yet…
we know that there are times when we can work together for the common good, and be united in one mind, which means living as followers of Jesus. We’ve seen this over and over, say, in the 1960’s when the churches led the push for civil rights for all of our citizens, regardless of superficial things like the color of our skin. We see it today when various churches in communities band together to accomplish any number of goals like helping refugees to settle nearby. We taste it in our Thanksgiving services in Redding.
And yet it seems to me that it’s not a terrible thing that we have different expressions of how to “be church” among Christians all over the globe, as long as we’re each striving to be followers of Jesus with our unique accents. The various denominations suit people from various backgrounds and differing personalities. But it IS truly heavenly when we work together for one purpose, and in one mind, despite our differences. That gives us a glimpse of the fullness in Christ to which we’re called.
And how about here in our parish? We’ve had our share of differences in our 285 years of being Redding’s parish of the Anglican Communion. You can only imagine some of the conflicts that have risen up over the centuries. One huge one happened back in the American Revolution when our parishioners were challenged to declare their political allegiances: Tory or Patriot? You can bet that there were some splits over that issue.
Following Paul’s logic, though, if we can work through our conflicts while still keeping communally the mind of Christ, we’ll be OK. The mind of Christ, if we truly have it, will help us hold our differences in an atmosphere of love and cooperation. And what is the mind of Christ? What is the purpose to which we’re called? Again, it is to follow Christ Jesus, and him alone, to subordinate our egos and desires to that overarching mind, that overarching purpose of following Christ and thus to attain the peace that the world cannot give.
May we spend some time this week reflecting on how we might follow him more fully. May we ask forgiveness for the times we’ve strayed from that one mind, that one purpose, in order to seek some glitzy thing that seemed better at the time. And may we thank God for our minor differences, and treasure them, because in aggregate and under the same purpose they help us to be closer to complete.