January 26, 2014 –– 3rd Week in Ordinary Time
1 Corinthians 1:10-17
CHRISTIAN IDENTITY, UNITY AND THE CHURCH
There is a story about a young boy whose mother asked him what he had learned in church school that day. He decisively said, "The disciples drove a Honda." Now obviously this was not an answer the mom expected, so she pushed the issue a bit. "The disciples did not have a car, dear," she said to the blossoming theologian. "Oh yes," replied the boy, "the teacher told us the Bible says the disciples were all in one Accord!"
Today Christianity is so fragmented we can hardly conceive of it being any other way. What does unity mean for Christian faith? One way to answer that is to see what it does not mean. Paul's prayer for the Corinthians is that there be no divisions among you, but that you may be united in the same mind and in the same purpose (v10). Does this mean everyone in the church is to be a clone? No, unity has never been intended to be “uniformity.”
And just as unity does not mean uniformity, diversity does not mean divisiveness. The Body of Christ has Spirit-given diversity. In our milieu of polarized issues today, we need to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying through St. Paul in this First-Century setting. The Corinthians were divisive, and Paul makes it clear that this is wrong. In fact, in other places Paul puts divisiveness in the same list of sins where he puts things like murder, sexual immorality, drunkenness and idolatry (e.g., Gal 5:19f)! When we hear someone stirring up dissent in the Church, do we really believe such a thing is just as odious to God as murder or adultery?
The Corinthians were falling out with each other over personalities. For some it was Paul, who planted the Corinthian church. For others it was Apollos, who came to Corinth after Paul. Paul also mentions those who rallied to Cephas (who was Peter)––maybe they were the original ultra-exclusive Catholics. Then there were those who proudly said they followed “only Jesus”––they were the early Fundamentalist Protestants. Paul says all of them are missing the point!
What is it that binds us together in the Church? There is more than one way to answer this. In the Creed we profess one, holy, catholic and apostolic Faith. There is also, indeed, a Petrine unity in Catholic Faith. The answer to unity in today’s epistle is in v17: Our unity––our identity––is not based on the wisdom of human eloquence. Instead, St Paul says our identity is the cross of Christ. The cross of Christ is what so quickly separates human opinion from God’s Truth.
We become inoculated to the cross of Christ. The cross is a figure of speech we can hear without it evoking much of any emotion. The cross is the crucifix on our walls or on our necklaces. The cross is part of “church-talk” that seems quite removed from our day-to-day lives.
You and I are part of the Church today only because we came by the way of the cross. The cross of Jesus Christ proclaims something human wisdom does not want to hear: every one of us is sinful and needy and lost apart from the cross. We are not self-sufficient. We are not able to figure out the mysteries of life. We cannot find our own way. The cross of Christ is the basis for grace, mercy, and peace.
We should understand that when we get irritated by opinions that do not match our own.... when we get angry that decisions do not go our way.... when we hear another Christian express a differing view, even if we know it goes against Scripture and the teaching of the Church.... before we can hope to respond with a word of Truth, we need to let the Lord crucify our own selfish spirit––that proud part of us that always wants to be “right”––and receive his Spirit of grace and mercy and peace. When I live as if “unity” means conformity to my opinions, and if others around me assume the same thing, there will be no unity and there will be no peace.
We who are part of God's church––who, according to Paul, are called to be holy––should never forget that we all come to God and stand before him on the same ground: the cross of Christ. That is where we get our wisdom. That is where we are reminded that it is not my idea or your idea that matters. Popular opinion is not our source of wisdom or truth. Political issues are not the ultimate guide for making our commitments. We are not here to build our own kingdom based on personal convenience. We are here to be united on the one great eternal truth that each one of us needs so badly: Jesus Christ is our hope, our forgiveness, our life, our wisdom––grace, mercy, and peace. It is not what I think or what you think or what is politically correct. It is how much we are conformed to the character of the Son of God, and that comes only through the cross.
I need to be clear about one thing: This will not make “peace” with the world around us. We are in a spiritual war, and there is a spirit of antichrist which will never make peace with those who give ultimate allegiance to Jesus Christ. St Paul is writing to people in the Church. It is in the Church that we seek to make our personal agendas secondary (or even give them up), and thus model a life of grace, mercy, and peace to a world that desperately needs an alternative to the hatred and pain and death that are all too prevalent.
Are you in the Church because of who Jesus is in your life––because you know the reality of his cross in your life? Are we willing to submit our personal desires to the purification of crucifixion? That is the identity of the Church. That is the foundation of our unity. If this is real and true in our lives, no other diversity can overshadow it. The cross of Christ in my life and yours is what will take us to the unity of grace, mercy, and peace.