Congregational Church of La Jolla
Rev. Tim Seery
January 27, 2017
1 Corinthians 12: 12-31a
“One Body, United”
Please join me in prayer:
Gracious, Holy, and Most Merciful God: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts together be found acceptable in your sight. Our Rock and Our Redeemer. Amen.
On most days I preach from the Gospel text assigned for the day. The Gospel texts tell the story of Jesus´ life and form our core understanding of his miracles, his life, and the basics our faith which puts him at the center. However, today our primary text comes from one of the epistles. These are the letters and other biblical texts that were written during the early years of the Christian church just as everything was getting going. The Apostle Paul, who authored most of these, including our text this morning from 1 Corinthians, was on a mission spreading Christianity throughout Asia Minor and Europe. He was sort of a traveling preacher and organizer of churches. His goal was to spread the message of Jesus´ teachings and organize people into churches that served their respective communities. As you can imagine this was not exactly the easiest task. But Paul was good at this. 1 Corinthians, the text from which we read from today, is viewed by many theologians as a masterpiece of pastoral theology. Paul was the right man for the task. Most famously 1 Corinthians contains the all too well known wedding text: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.
I think this is a great text with an important message. But in its original context it was not written about a spousal or otherwise romantic relationship. The entire text of 1 Corinthians is essentially about how to do and how to be church. Of Paul´s many churches around Asia Minor the Corinthian church was his problem child. You know, its easy for us to think and to romanticize that things in the past, the way they used to be, was for some reason superior to the way it is now. We do this in all sorts of things. The past always looks better than the present. Almost as if we miss that which we feel is no longer present with us today. We do this with church. Its easy to have romantic notions of the old way, of the old Sunday school, of an idealized image of a bygone era. So it seems natural then to think that the ancient churches, the churches that came about just a few decades after Jesus walked the earth would be superior. It is easy to think they would be the most faithful, the most pure. I mean, now we are over 2000 years away from the life of Jesus so how much better could we have done had it only been 60 or 70 years since Jesus walked the earth. The truth is, for as much as we might like to think the Corinthian church was flawless it was far from. It was perhaps one of the most dis functional churches in its day. Humans are humans in every era including ancient times and these people were a piece of work. Think about this, when Paul wrote this epistle there were several lawsuits waged by members of the church against other members of the church. They didn’t even want to talk to each other. There were so many factions of people taking sides. There were rumors. There was gossip. One man was engaged in a public affair with his stepmother. And most troubling to Paul, amid all this discouragement, the church had adopted a theology that focused on petty details and ignored the miracle of Jesus resurrection. While the wedding text is a beautiful expression of love, imagine how much more weight this would carry in the context of the Corinthian church. They needed Paul to remind them why they gathered together. They needed Paul to come in and remind them of the Jesus that they profess to follow. If you ever need a reminder of how good your church is doing then all you got to do is go back and look into some of the issues going on with the original churches, the ancient churches, the ones we like to think of as perfect, and to see just how much help they needed.
Paul wanted to remind the church that each part that constituted it was essential. In fact, was critical. Paul, if you notice, did not come in and shame these people, he didn’t chastise them. He didn’t call out by name the people having affairs and the people backstabbing, and the many lawsuits that were going on. Instead he he tried to teach them. He tried to teach them in a way that they could understand. Just as our bodies are composed of essential parts that work together so it is with our churches. No one part can do it on its own. No one person can do church on their own. All the parts form one body, and that body is the body of Christ in the world. The more excellent way is to be together. To be united. And to acknowledge that every single piece of the body is critical.
This is the message that the Corinthian church forgot. This is what they didn’t keep in mind when they spied on each other, when they sued each other. The good news is that these crazy and somewhat dysfunctional people persisted and passed on the faith. We are here today because of them. They could have folded. They could have fought with each other past the point of no return. But they didn’t. They were imperfect people trying to grapple with how to live with each other and they made many mistakes but nonetheless they were successful in passing down the faith through the ages.
This text was one of the assigned texts for today which I thought was perfect because it is the sort of text needed on annual meeting Sunday. If for no other reason than uplifting our spirits and helping us to see that each era brings its own unique challenges. I am sure the people of the Corinthian church wondered if their faith would last into the next generation. I am sure in the midst of all their turmoil there were times they weren’t sure. We being here today are a testament to the fact that their faith didn’t just last another 100 years it lated another 2000 and it will last another 2000 more. The church in every age has had its doubts. People have been people in every time and every place. And despite all our shortcomings, all our mistakes, all the ways that we can mess up we are carried through to the end. God sees us through and Paul reminds us that faith, hope, and love are the foundation of any successful relationship be it marriage, friendship, familial, or church.
In our Congregational heritage we don’t have bishops and we don’t have a pope. We are self governed. In some ways that is an even greater test of faith than simply being told what to do. In Congregationalism we actually have to be active participants in putting faith into action because no one from outside is going to do it for us. The annual meeting is the core unit of congregationalism. In non congregational churches this is the time when the bishop would come and tell us what to do and tell us how we are doing. But for us, this is our time when we celebrate our self governance and our independence. The congregational church annual meeting was the first expression of democracy in the new world. It is freedom in one of its most purest forms. It is by far the hardest method of church governance but in my opinion it is the best because it really forces us to be the church without the help or guidance of anyone but God. Our covenant, which we will read together at the start of our meeting is the glue that holds us together just like the covenant that God made with his people that carried them through the wilderness with hope for the future.
I hope that the story of the Corinthian church inspires in you a hope and a pride in the good work that you church does and an appreciation for the beauty of our little expression of democracy at work here. May it be so. Amen.