1 Corinthians 1:10-18
What makes a disciple? If the breakdown of the makeup of a disciple of Jesus could be jotted down on a recipe card, maybe it would start with a splash of baptismal waters, a heaping spoonful of grace, a cup of invitation, mix-in healing, welcome and feeding, and mix it all together by the Holy Spirit. Whatever ingredients are needed, they are all given to us in these weeks during the season of Epiphany as Jesus gets into the controversial, subversive mission of breaking open the kingdom of God. Last week the featured ingredient was invitation. The invitation from Rabbi to a searching group that simply said, “Come and see.” This week is a similar type of story with Jesus on the move, fulfilling the prophetic word with his travel and hanging out by the sea.
One day, while on a walk by the Sea of Galilee Jesus spotted a couple of brothers working as fishermen and invited them too to come and be a part of sharing the good news of God’s love for the world. There was no new-member class, no memorizing of commandments or writing a faith statement, -- these guys, these stinky fishermen of no regard were invited by Jesus. He didn’t even check to see if they were aligned with the right political party or if their socio-economic status would make them upright and proper church leaders! None of that mattered of course, all that mattered was their nonverbal response, they released and dropped their fishing nets and without question followed Jesus. They left their boats, their family, any ideas of their own identity and instead wandered off to work in a controversial, subversive movement of breaking open the kingdom of God.
Fast forward a couple of decades and we are hearing the apostle Paul giving counsel to a newly formed faith community in Corinth. He doesn’t exactly invite the community to drop their nets, or quit their jobs and leave their families, yet there is a similar call to lay down their allegiances. The community had bonded together because of their faith in the resurrected Jesus, but division had festered in the community, cliches formed, and allegiances to community leaders formed sects within the church. The church to which Paul writes more likely numbered in the dozens than in the hundreds. But small as they may be, leadership styles are just one of the ways they have found to divide themselves: worship practices, sexual ethics, social and economic class, spiritual gifts, and education level all appear in the letter as instances of division too. Some say they belong to Apollos, some say they belong to Paul and Paul, with his typical brash corrective tone says, “Can Christ be divided? Thank God I didn’t baptize more of you because that would mean more division!” This letter that Paul wrote to the church in Corinth is a letter on community building, on being unified by the one, eternal power of our world -- the love of God known in Jesus.
Jesus invited the disciples to drop their nets and work for the kingdom.
Paul teaches the church to drop their allegiances and work for the kingdom.
Yesterday with somewhere around 90,000 of my neighbors I stood on the lawn of the state capital. To be honest, I was hesitant to share this experience with you for fear that assumptions would be made about my political leanings, my social agendas or my beliefs as a woman in this world. I did not march in total agreement with every sign I saw or every organization represented, and before I made the choice to go I wanted to get clear in my own head andheart what I was about and what I believed to be the core of my identity in such a time and place as this. I still have a lot of questions about how we, as Christian sisters and brothers are to live in this world, but one thing I felt clearly was that I was called, not to be against something, but to be for someone. In all the madness of our world, the purpose and call upon me actually felt clear -- I was called to be a neighbor. Being a neighbor implies some close proximity to another and also some knowledge of that other. How can I be a humble, supportive neighbor in my neighborhood or city if I do not know my neighbor? So I marched yesterday so that I could listen to minority voices, to learn more about being a neighbor and I held a sign that said “Do justice, love mercy and walk (or march) humbly with your God” this word comes from the prophet Micah.
And putting one foot in front of the other, one smile passed along to a stranger, one hug passed along to a new friend, felt a little bit like dropping my net, dropping all prior allegiances and answering the call to love God and love neighbor before self.
For identity markers, we still look to things like race, age, economic circumstances, education, and geographical region to create meaningful boundaries and to identify our tribes. It was true of the earliest church and the habit of division is a hard one to kick. If our congregations manage to build community -- to have, in Paul’s words, “the same mind and purpose” -- across the standard identity markers, they are “practicing diversity.” We think of them as a remarkable social experiment. Paul, however, would regard such a community, gathered by the Spirit in the name of Christ, to be simply a church. ( https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3139)
For Paul, the death and resurrection of Christ signals the beginning of an age in which all the ways the Corinthians have divided themselves into groups just aren’t any longer interesting, important or defining. To be baptized is to be joined with all the other baptized to the risen life of Christ and to be, as Christ is, numbered among God’s children. In our baptism, we have all the identity and purpose we need.