A Sermon on Acts 18.1-4 and 1 Corinthians 1.10-18
Two of our readings today,
the one from Acts and the one from 1 Corinthians
are connected in a fairly unique way.
Usually when we pair readings it's because there's a common theme or message.
However, the connection this morning is purely narrative.
Acts gives the prologue for 1st Corinthians.
Our reading in Acts-
where Paul travels to Corinth and works with Aquila and his wife Priscilla-
talks about Paul's begging at Corinth.
And while this story is used to point to the story in 1st Corinthians,
there are some important things to look at.
I'll be the first to admit that I completely forget that Paul ever had a "real job."
I knew that his kind of ministry didn't really make money,
and that he largely relied on the hospitality of these he visited,
but it completely escaped my mind that he would have had a paying profession.
Paul, along with Aquila, is a tent maker.
Back then, this would have meant that he was also a leather worker and a weaver.
Also, it meant that he spent a LOT of time at the market.
And markets back then were not only a place to sell your goods and crafts,
it was also the place of philosophical debate and deep conversation.
So while Paul would have done most of his teaching and debating over religion in the Synagogue,
He was certainly no stranger to religious discussion in the market place.
Corinth was the first place where Paul planted a church.
And just like anyone today who starts a church,
it truly started with knowing your community.
What better was to get to know your community than to meet them where they're at?
When you work in a church,
it can become incredibly easy to find yourself surrounded by Christians,
and only Christians,
all day, every day.
But that's not the type of church leader Paul was.
He was of the people,
and amongst the people;
those he served,
and those who would never step foot inside a church.
And this is the piece that bridges the gap between Acts and 1 Corinthians.
Remember, I just said that Paul first started a church in Corinth,
and 1st Corinthians is a letter written to the church in Corinth.
In the same way we keep in touch with the people of our past,
Paul writes this letter to tell the church in Corinth that there are people who have
been keeping him updated with what's going on back there.
Obviously someone had been ratting out the Corinthians to Paul,
and in response,
Paul had some things to say.
You can't tell just from the words he wrote whether Paul is
sad, or angry, or frustrated, or disappointed,
or some combination of all of that,
but in any way, he thinks it's important to tell the Corinthians that they're
heading in the wrong direction.
The Corinthians weren't that different than we are.
They had their favorite pastors and preachers.
Some liked the firm traditional message of Paul.
They knew that when Paul preached there wouldn't be any frills or flowery language.
Some like Apollos with his silver tongue and smooth delivery.
He had an air of coolness,
the kind of preacher who would do really well on Twitter and youtube.
Now, there's nothing wrong with having a preacher you connect with the best,
a preacher who delivers a message in a way where you feel like you understand it better.
The problem comes, as Paul points out, when you think the messenger
is the most important aspect of being Christian, and you use it to divide yourselves.
With far more churches than they had in Paul's time,
we do this same thing today,
it just looks a little different.
Of course we have Jews and Christians and Pagans just like they did back then,
but we've taken this idea of division even further...
as Christians, we've divided ourselves.
About five years ago,
a friend of mine was in a religion course in college
and was really frustrated with the idea of denominations.
We were out to eat and she kept asking me questions like rapid fire.
She started off with, "Ok, so you're a Christian?"
"Yes," I answered.
"But you're not Catholic?"
"No," I replied.
"But Catholics are Christian?" She asked, beginning to get confused.
"So what are you?"
I told her, "I'm Lutheran."
She asked, "What's the difference?" with a look of just defeat...
I considered taking her through the entire catechism over our hamburgers,
but I decided that I actually wanted to still be friends with her...
I looked down at the table,
had a stroke of genius,
(or I was inspired by the Holy Spirit),
and I grabbed a fork.
I held it up and said, "This fork is Christianity."
She looked at me like I had lost my mind... but I kept going.
"It's all one piece, right?"
"But at the end it splits into prongs.
Christianity does the same thing."
I went on and explained the prong of Catholicism,
the prong of Protestantism (which is when I had to grab an additional fork),
the prong of the Mormons,
and the Seven Day Adventists, and so on.
When she later considered studying the religions in the Middle East,
she asked me one day to "do the fork thing, with Islam this time."
And while the visual of the fork was useful...
we sure aren't working like a fork, are we?
What I mean is,
a fork is a solid object.
If the prongs on a fork are moving in four different directions,
a fork is considered broken.
What Paul is pointing to, in his letter to the Corinthians, is a broken-fork system.
And it's one that we continue to perpetuate.
We've split ourselves into these denominations,
and then we've even split ourselves again.
Not only are there Protestants and Catholics,
but there are Lutherans and Baptists and Methodists and Presbyterians...
and it doesn't stop there.
Within just the Lutherans, there are ELCA Lutherans, Missouri Synod Lutherans, Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, and the list goes on.
To the point where every time we disagree we find it easier to split ourselves again.
When does it stop?
I'll tell you right now,
there are denominations I have a hard time with.
Any denomination that says that because I'm a woman,
I can't be ordained, makes me angry.
And I'm sure there are some of you who have family and friends in different
denominations who believe differently about things than you do...
And here lies the problem,
these lines that are drawn between us...
WE drew them.
Jesus never commanded that we lay down tape,
where we stay on our side,
and they stay on theirs.
Because much like it was with the Corinthians,
the only real difference between our side and their side,
are the messengers,
because the message is the same.
"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,
but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God."
The message of the cross...
the one that said that Jesus suffered and died for our sins...
I'm going to be honest,
you can jump from denomination to denomination your entire life,
looking for the preacher or the messenger that makes that message easier to swallow,
but the truth is,
no preacher can "pretty" up the message of the cross.
Because it is bloody, and it is heartbreaking, and it is dark.
No one gives a sermon so smooth and beautiful that it makes the cross seem like a delightful idea.
The message that unites us is not one that can be translated into a fairy tale.
However, the message that unites us is also the message of the resurrection,
and the message of light and life everlasting.
And, what's different between that and the message of the cross,
is that the message of the resurrection can't help but be beautiful,
no matter the messenger.
Paul says that we should all agree with each other and that we be perfectly united
in mind and in thought because Christ was not divided.
Well, I'm sorry Paul.
Right now that's just not the reality.
BUT, if we keep our eyes and our hearts on the message above all else,
the message above our differences in opinions,
the message above our differences in practice,
the message above our differences in messengers...
Perhaps we can become a fork that's a little less broken.