This message was originally preached on January 22, 2017, at the Mount Pleasant Reformed United Church of Christ at the 11:00 a.m service. The audio can be heard here.
The longer I live, the more I realize that when it comes to
people, they always want to be right.
If you don’t believe, me, from September until
January, there are some homes that are split in half over
football games, and that is very apparent in this area. One
person in the house is a Washington Redskins fan, and the
other is a Dallas Cowboys fan. A personal note here, the
Cowboys fan is right. In other households, one spouse is a
Pittsburgh Steelers fan and the other is a Baltimore Ravens fan,
and these divisions cause much consternation in the home, and
a friendly rivalry exists, but there is still some love there.
The longer I live, the more I realize that people always
want to be right. If you don’t believe me, look at the political
situation in our country this very day. Two days ago, many
people descended on Washington, DC to inaugurate a new
president in the United States, and a day later, many people
descended on Washington, DC to protest the inauguration of the new president in the United States. In many neighborhoods
in this country, these divisions over the new president’s
positions, policies, and practices are causing people to look at
each other with suspicion and if we are honest, leading some to
reconsider their relationships with people they have lived next
door to, played golf with, shared recipes with, and in some
instances, actually lived with.
And I would be remiss in my duties as your pastor if I did
not mention that, even in our churches this morning, there is a
great division over this same event. There are people who are
reconsidering their relationships with people they’ve sat next
to, played golf with, shared recipes with, and in some instances,
actually lived with, over the election. There is a great division
in this country, and if we are honest, rightly so, because of
some beliefs about rights and positions on social issues.
we are going to really honest thins morning, these divisions will remain for the foreseeable future, as many of them are
based on how people see other people, in their humanity.
The longer I live, I tell you, the more I realize that people
want to be right, and this is made very evident in this
morning’s text from Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth.
If we look at the city of Corinth, we will find that it looks
suspiciously like our country this morning, according to
Fordham University’s Laurence Welborn, professor of Biblical
Studies and Pauline Epistles.
He says it this way:
“Paul’s Corinth was a Roman city, was diverse, and
included Syrians and Egyptians, along with Greeks who had
immigrated from the surrounding cities. Philo speaks of a
sizeable Jewish community in Corinth, and the city regained it’s
ancient prosperity based on its favorable location. Sharp
contrasts between rich and poor were apparent in this
flourishing commercial center, but opportunities for social advancement also existed; even freedmen held civic office,
something uncommon elsewhere.”
Corinth sounds like our country today, and, in the midst
of all of those social divisions, there were divisions in, all of
places, the Corinthian church.
Paul describes the situation in
the church in terms like those used by political orators to
characterize conflicts within city-states of the day, and if we
examine the text closely, Paul appeals for the church to be in
agreement and to be united in the same mind and the same
purpose echoes the language of speeches on accord. Paul talks
to the people in language they understand in an effort to get
the people to get rid of their divisions.
Look at the text: Paul tells the people that he has received
reports that there are quarrels – divisions – among the people:
“Chloe’s people have reported this, and you are dividing
yourselves into factions. Each one of you are are trying to show
that you are right. “I belong to Paul. I belong to Apollos. I belong to Cephas. I
belong to Christ!” These divisions are splitting the church. And
a note – “I belong to Christ” was not indictive of a “Christ Party”
as it were, but to be used as satire.
But there are these
Paul asks “Has Christ been divided? Did Paul die for you?
Were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
And then he drops this nutritional nugget – “Christ did
not send me to baptize, but to proclaim the Gospel. And, not
only did he send me to proclaim the gospel, but to do it simply,
so that the cross of Christ might not lose its power.” And that
right there, was divisive within Paul himself. Remember that
Paul was an orator – he was a lawyer, he was a Pharisee. He
was used to speaking with power and his words had impact. I
am sure that as a public speaker, he knew how to move the
people with his rhetoric.
Sounds like today. We have public speakers who know
how to make wonderful speeches, saying a whole lot of
nothing, which excites the people and keeps divisions going,
but say nothing.
But back to Paul. Paul then ends this portion of the letter
with this theological explosion: “For the message about the
cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who
are being saved it is the power of God.”
Glad you are as confused as me, and I am sure, the
listeners of the day. So, let me help you out a bit. This
“foolishness”, as it were, is not the right word to use – these
folks look at the gospel as “folly” or “a vulgar joke”.
maintain that if one if going to talk about Christ and the
message He proclaimed, one must talk about things HE talked
about. Jesus talked about the poor, and the sick, and the
downtrodden. However, let’s be honest – we don’t want to talk about those things, especially today. We see these things, but
don’t want to talk about them.
Let’s not talk about the poor, because if they work harder,
they would not be poor. Let’s not talk about healthcare,
because if people took better care of themselves, they wouldn’t
be sick. Let’s not talk about global warming, because we all
know it’s a hoax, despite what we actually see and record. We
don’t want to talk about that stuff, because it does not impact
us. It does not make us feel good, It would actually mean we
have to think about someone outside of our own immediate
circle of family and friends.
Yes, to the educated, the learned, the rich and the
powerful, Paul’s preaching the cross of Christ is foolishness, for
to those being saved, it is the power of God. How can that be? It
just is. What do you mean Guy? I am glad you asked.
The message of the cross, for me, is that love wins. In
spite of the things that divide us, and some of those things are deep and foundational, the cross shows us that love wins. That’s
foolishness – a dead messiah? How is that possible? It is. Love
wins. I know that we are divided among race, gender,
socioecomic, and political lines. Yes. Love wins.
That’s foolishness, even to some of us who call ourselves
preachers of the Gospel.
I know that “love wins” seems to be
simplistic and naïve. But for me, THAT is the message of the
Cross. I know that the execution of Jesus was a political act,
mean to scare the people into submission, but in the midst of it,
Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice shows that true love is to lay down
one’s life for a friend. That’s foolishness. But that’s love. Love
wins, in spite of everything else going on in the world, in spite
of all of the foolishness and competitions and distractions, love
50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King said the following in
his annual report to the Southern Christian Leadership
Conference: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear. And I'm not talking about emotional bosh
when I talk about love; I'm talking about a strong, demanding
love. For I have seen too much hate. I've seen too much hate on
the faces of sheriffs in the South. I've seen hate on the faces of
too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens Councilors in
the South to want to hate, myself, because every time I see it, I
know that it does something to their faces and their
personalities, and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden
to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest
good, I think you can find it through love.”
So my friends, love wins. Despite divisions and
distractions, love wins. Despite evidence to the contrary, love
wins. And in order for love to truly win in the face of hate, WE
must be the one to show that love wins. I can’t control other
people’s actions, but I can show love.
YOU can’t control other
people’s reactions, but you can show love. I know that sounds
foolish and simplistic, but it’s true. Love wins.