Text: I Corinthians 12:12-27
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
Jan. 24, 2016
On the first day of January while many in our nation were sleeping in after an all-night celebration of welcoming in the New Year, our Haitian congregation gathered here at Saint Paul’s to celebrate the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, which is also the name of their congregation. Haitian congregations from throughout southern Florida, over 200 in all, joined them for the celebration. I was delighted to see several of you there to support them in their ministry among us.
It got me to thinking, why don’t we have a similar celebration honoring our Patron Saint. One reason I suppose is that St. Paul shares his feast day with St. Peter. Secondly, their feast day comes in June, when so many of you are up North. Then I got an idea. St. Paul has a second feast day commemorating his conversion to Christ. That happens tomorrow and we are celebrating it today.
One commentator I read said the day of Paul’s conversion was one of the most important days in the history of Christianity. A friend of mine was studying at the University of Louvain in Belgium and was just in the process of learning French. The pastor of the church he was attending asked him to preach one Sunday morning. It was the first time he gave a public address in French. As he was preaching on Paul’s conversion, suddenly everyone burst out laughing! Rattled, he stopped and asked the congregation what he said that struck them so funny. They replied, you just said “Paul fell off of his ass onto his ass!”
Regardless of what happened that day, the course of world history changed. Paul stopped persecuting the infant Jewish Church and spent the rest of his life proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus throughout his world. Through his writings that message has transcended the centuries and we at St. Paul’s Naples are numbered among his legacy.
If we are to be faithful heirs of Paul, what does that mean for us practically speaking? To fully answer that question would mean, at the very least, a three-hour course entitled: “The Practical Theology of St. Paul.” I have at most ten more minutes!
Paul said “I preach only Christ and him crucified, that is my message.” But he did not preach this message in a vacuum. He applied it to real people who were struggling with real problems. In our New Testament reading this morning he addressed the Church at Corinth. Corinth was a city of immigrants attracted from throughout the Mediterranean world composed of Egyptians, Syrians, Jews, Orientals, who had settled among the Greeks and Italians who had come a hundred years before them. They brought with them their diverse cultural heritage, their distinctive social customs, and their differing religious beliefs. Even at a time when public morality was at a low ebb, Corinth in Paul’s day made the rest of the empire seem Victorian by comparison.
The Christian community in Corinth reflected this diversity with all its strengths and weaknesses. They met in the courtyard of Gaius, a wealthy land owner. A few like Crispus, who we know from archeological evidence was Director of Public Works, were government officials. Erastus, the city treasurer was a member. Then there were Aquila and Priscilla were Jewish merchants living in the city. Others were educated slaves who served a teachers and accountants for the movers and shakers of the City. Finally, there were Choloe’s people, blue collar workers, many of whom manned the docks of this significant port city in the Roman Empire.
To those of you who were at the 10:45 service last week, you heard me outline some of the struggles that community faced. This diversity met with a host of problems. Although all were followers of Christ, they held different views about him. Some believed he had risen bodily from the dead, others that only his spirit survived death. Some thought he would return bodily to take them to heaven, others thought he had already returned in the form of the Holy Spirit.
Some claimed to be followers of Apollos, a Greek orator who had become a Christian evangelist. Others identified with Paul who after all had founded the congregation. Still others, particularly Chloe’s people, identified with the rough and ready ways of Peter. They especially liked the salty language of this fisherman. Still others saw themselves more spiritual than the rest. They said, “we do not follow men, we follow Christ.”
Many brought Gnostic tendencies with them which, among other things, saw all of creation as evil and the person’s soul was trapped in an evil body. Some who held this view believed that you should not marry as sexual relations were evil. Other’s holding this same view advocated “spiritual marriage” by which a couple lived together but refrained from sexual relations. Still others took the opposite point of view arguing that the soul, though trapped by the body was not “tainted” by it. Therefore, sexual immorality did not affect one’s spiritual status. One such person was living openly with his mother-in-law.
Others, not influenced by this Gnostic world-view, none-the-less had different views on marriage as a result of coming to Christian faith. Many argued that they should not marry so that they could focus all of their energy in promoting the gospel. Still others said if they had been divorced, they should not remarry. Others argued if a person’s spouse was not a Christian, they should divorce.
Then there was a communal practice that went amuck. Each time they gathered for worship they began with a common meal followed by celebrating the Lord’s supper. They met toward the end of the day after work. Like church suppers in our day, each person was expected to bring something to contribute to the dinner. However, those from the upper classes and the educated servants and slaves got off work earlier than Chloe’s people. They also were able to bring better quality food. Rather than waiting for the dock workers to arrive, they ate shortly after arriving. By the time the dock workers arrived, most of the food was gone. The irony of the “common shared meal” was all too evident as they celebrated the Lord’s supper.
Despite the problems caused by these differences, Paul celebrated their diversity as a God given gift. He used the image of the church as that of a living body. In the structure of this body all members are valued. They belong to each other and offer each other their own particular gifts. He states that the “foot” needs the “hand”, and that “hearing” and “seeing” complement the sense of “smell.” All are different, all are complementary. All are necessary.
But to function properly, the body must be directed by the head, that is Christ and in our New Testament reading for next week, Paul spells out what it means to be directed by Christ as the Church seeks to live out its mandate before the world as Christ’s visible body on earth – to live as a community of sacrificial love. He states: “love is patient and kind, love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
This was, at least in part, what our patron saint meant when he stated, I preach only Christ and him crucified. Its implications are not only what Christ has done for us, but also how we, a community of faith, should then live.
It is because we have all been baptized into Christ’s body, and that His spirit dwells within us that we are enabled so to live. Our diversity of gifts, perspectives and service will then begin to function as a unit. Coming together for worship, for prayer and for fellowship we are renewed and empowered to be a blessing to those outside our fellowship.
The Community of Faith at Corinth, for all its problems, thus becomes a model for us. May God give us the grace and humility to embrace it, and live out the reality of its redemptive power more fully each time we come together. Amen.