Text: I Corinthians 1:1-9
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
Jan. 15, 2017
Picture yourself this morning on a journey. It is not the type of journey that we think about today, a two-week cruise in the Caribbean, a tour to Europe where you wake up in the morning and ask yourself, “Where am I? If it’s Monday, I guess I am in Paris.” No, the journey I am talking about is a life-time journey. For the past three months you have in in Ephesus establishing a new church. During the day you work, making tents and other leather goods. You look forward to the evenings and weekends where you can go out on the streets and share your faith with the people of this city on the western banks of what is now Turkey. On this particular day as you are at work, you looked up when someone came in to the shop. It was a face you recognize. He has come from Corinth in Greece and was a member of the church you established there ten years before. After you have warmly greeting him, he soberly hands you a long letter. That evening as you read its contents by candle your heart became heavy. The church was facing many conflicts. They are writing you asking for your advice. How should you reply? Our New Testament reading this morning provide us with the opening lines of St. Paul’s response.
However, before I reflect on his open response, let's learn little more about the composition of this church’s membership and some of the problems they are facing. They were an interesting mixture, these Corinthian Christians. Among their numbers were two political leaders from the city government. There were several artisans: middle-class freemen who had their own small businesses. There were others also, who held middle management positions, both freemen and Greek slaves. These slaves were cultured and educated. Many of them were teachers and civil servants. Others were trusted household servants of the landed gentry.
Crispus was there, a converted Jew who had served as chairman of the local synagogue. And then there was Erastus, Director of the Department of Public Works. There was Phoebe, a woman from the docks. And Chloe, probably, a former madam, who since her conversion, ran a boarding house for the dock workers. They were all there with their diverse backgrounds, different life styles, variant values, and alternate outlooks on life. To bring these folk together for worship and to live in community was bound to create conflict.
The meetings usually were held in the evening. The freeman and educated slaves arrived first at the house of Gaius, a wealthy landholder who allowed the church to meet in his courtyard. Everyone brought something to eat. Wine, bread, fruits of all kinds, nuts and other good things. By the time, Chloe's people, the dockworkers, got off work and arrived, however, the food was all gone. These persons, hungry after a long day's work, with little food, and no money of their own, felt the slight. They sensed the irony as the service began and as the Lord's supper was celebrated. Resentment and tension filled the air.
Chloe's presence caused uneasiness as well. Many of the middleclass gentlemen knew her all too well from the days before their conversion. They wondered if their wives suspected just how well they knew Chloe.
There were also tensions between the Jewish converts and the Greeks. Those of Jewish background still felt their salvation was of a higher order because they were circumcised and observed the Jewish law. The Greeks followed the teaching of Apollos, the silver-tongued orator from Alexandria. The dock workers identified with the teachings of the Apostle Peter, who had visited them a few years before. They had liked his quick temper, his rough and ready ways, and the earthy way in which he expressed the gospel using blunt plain language they could understand. Others argued that since the apostle Paul had founded this local church, his teachings should be observed. Finally, there were the mystical pietists who thought that they were the holiest group of all. They went around saying "We do not follow the teachings of men, we follow only the teachings of Christ."
There were both theological and practical problems in this little church at Corinth. Some thought that the human body would be resurrected at the end of history. Others argued that only the soul would survive.
Many of them had become Christians after they had been divorced and remarried. They wondered whether they should leave their current spouses and ask their first mates back. Others were fearful that they were living in sin because their spouses were not Christians. Should they leave their spouses and live a celibate life? Finally, there was that situation which was of such embarrassment to the church that they could hardly bring themselves to speak of it. A young man, who was a recent convert, had left his wife and was sleeping with his young step-mother.
Yes, this church had its share of problems!
Despite this, when St. Paul wrote to this church he addressed his letter "to the Saints who are at Corinth!" He considered these Christians, for all their problems and outright sinfulness, to be a holy people. not because of their ethical behavior but rather because they had been accepted by Christ. This mix of people with all their differences with all their prejudices with all their problems were called to be saints.
As they came together to live out their common life they were confronted in their conflict with the incongruences of who they were and of what God had called them to be. Paul compared them to a person. Together they composed the body of Christ to be visible here on earth. Christ was still the invisible head, giving direction to the church But they in all their diversity and in all their conflicting values were to open themselves to listen, to our Lord and to each other. They were called to be saints with different gifts. As they listened to each other as they worshiped together out of the conflict would come beautiful music an orchestra with symphonic harmony.
Those who were educated and articulate could pray and sing and read of the glories of God. Others who could not would suddenly burst forth in an unintelligible language. For them, speaking in an unknown tongue was like building a cathedral of sounds. Others were given the gift to sense what these folks were trying to express and would interpret these sounds to the rest of the church. Still others discovered that they could teach or speak words of encouragement when visiting the sick and to tending to the needs of the poor.
As they came together they saw needs and met them. They opened themselves up to each other and to God. They came often tired and weary from a hard day's work. They went home refreshed. This life together did not happen without pain. Their differences were real. Their conflicts wounded. But their openness to each other paid huge dividends, and the church grew.
Compared to the church at Corinth, St. Paul’s here in Naples has it made! Like them, we come from diverse backgrounds. Undoubtedly, many of us hold diverse values and outlooks on life. As I have come to know you, I have discovered that you have different educational levels and financial resources. Our marital situations, like theirs, span the gamut. In short, we are a good cross section of our larger culture.
Though we living in a different time and country, in many respects we at St. Paul’s are very similar to the folk at Corinth. Like them, we bring different gifts. Like them we have our differences that have in the past led to conflict and undoubtedly will surface again from time to time. I am confident that we, very diverse but ordinary people have been given the gifts, the talents the wisdom to face the challenge and meet the needs. we meet each week as open vessels to be filled and to be used we shall leave refreshed. There is room here for all of us to participate actively in the life of the church to have ministry here and through St. Paul’s to reach out to meet the needs of this community. Like the church at Corinth we are many members with diverse gifts but members of one body. Although we may have our share of challenges, like the Church at Corinth, as we look to our God for help and strength, I am confident that He will lead us on in triumph.