By Pastor April, Delivered January 23, 2011 Sometimes we read Scripture and it seems a bit abstract, hard to understand and connect it to our present day. And sometimes, we read Scripture and it sounds as if it could have been written last week.
The dynamics going on in this letter to the church in Corinth are quite familiar to us.
“I’m hearing reports that there have been quarrels among you – that some of you are taking sides and going after your own self interest”. And we can just imagine the scene –This new church, these new Christians have already started jockeying for position and finding ways to pull themselves apart.
It’s sad, but it’s so familiar. Because this is how we are as humans. Coming together with a shared purpose and mission is incredibly hard work – but divisiveness – that’s just our default setting. Finding all the ways we are different from one another is easy.
Like many of you, I’ve been thinking a lot about the tragedy in Tucson. And aside from the horror of what actually transpired and the tragic loss of life, I’ve been thinking about the lines that divide us, the assumptions that we make about each other without really knowing the truth, the fear that we sometimes have of others and the danger that it brings to all of us when we fail to reach out and offer compassion and care to others who are in need. What is particularly disturbing is the number of people who are taking the tragedy and making it an opportunity for more divisiveness. Laying blame and pointing fingers.
We are a divided nation. We talk about unity, but we have failed to manifest it in reality.
This Monday, I attended the MLK breakfast along with 4,000+ people from around Ohio. It was an impressive event and it was inspiring to hear the speakers talk about the life of Dr. King and everything he stood for. Here was another person who spoke out for truth and for what was right, who desired and dreamed of a time where people could live together without judgment for the color of their skin. And though we were celebrating all that he stood for, we were also remembering that he was killed for the struggle against racism and for civil rights. The speakers cautioned us against romanticizing the goals of Dr. King – because while we may celebrate the dream, we have failed to manifest it in reality.
And they are exactly right. A large number of people at this gathering were representing religious communities of various faith backgrounds and denominations. And though we were able to come together and celebrate the life of Dr. King, come Sunday morning our churches still represent the most segregated hour in the nation. We are still squabbling over issues of doctrine – what does it mean to be saved and who, in fact, is going to hell? Instead of finding ways to work together to shine God’s love into the world.
We are a divided church. We talk about unity, but we have failed to manifest it in reality.
We are a divided people. And unity is a nice concept to talk about, it sounds good, but the reality of our human nature and the way we are wired is that we look for the differences between us – we find ways to separate ourselves from others who are not like us. That’s just what we do…
We may celebrate the dream of unity, but we have failed to manifest it in reality.
So, it is into this world that Paul is speaking. It may be disappointing that these divisions have crept into the Corinthian church, but I certainly doubt he was surprised. He knows that when divisiveness is our default that our focus is on ourselves, our own agendas and protecting our own self-interests.
But he also knows that he is addressing this letter to a group of Christians. He is writing to a group of people whose very identity as a community, whose very identity as individuals is based on a very different kind of Spirit.
The Spirit of Jesus Christ. A spirit of love and unity.
And somewhere along the way they had lost sight of that.
Before I was a pastor, I was a teacher in North Carolina. One summer, I had the opportunity to attend a 4-day wilderness trek with 10 other teachers. The goal of the time away was personal growth and to learn to work together as a team. On the first day, as I was meeting all the other folks, I met Daniel. Now, I know you can’t generalize, but Daniel was from Texas. He was one of those obnoxious Texans and he was running his mouth about this and that. I knew right away I wasn’t going to like Daniel so I steered clear of him during that first day.
That night, our guide outlined one of the rituals that would be a part of our group experience. Each of us was to draw the name of one person that we would be getting to know better, a person we would take the time to listen to and on the last day we would share with the group what things we had found especially meaningful about that person. Of course, I immediately started praying, “Not Daniel. Not Daniel. Please God, not Daniel.” And of course, I drew Daniel’s name. Great.
So, begrudgingly I tried to get to know Daniel over the next two days. The more time I spent with him the more he drove me crazy. What was I going to say on the last day? I had nothing good to say about Daniel! On the last night of the trek, I was helping put away supplies for the night and was heading to bed. I walked by the campfire and there was one person sitting by himself… Daniel.
“Alright God,” I said. “I’ll go talk to him.” So, I sat with him and he began sharing some things. He told me about some of the incredibly difficult things that he had dealt with over the past few years. And then he said, “You know, you’re one of the only people who’s really taken the time to listen to me and to give me a chance. I really appreciate that – it’s been awhile since someone has really listened.” I felt about an inch tall at that moment.
Not surprisingly, everything was different from then on. I had a lot to say about Daniel the next day, but mostly I had been given a wonderful and important reminder about the worth of all people.
That’s what this letter is. It’s the wake up call. It’s the reminder that every person is a worthy child of God. It’s reminding us that, if we claim to follow Christ, our default response to others will simply NOT do. We are called to love. We are called to intentionally work at cultivating a life together – seeking out the good in one another – even when we don’t always agree on everything. And even when we drive one another insane.
So, where are you being invited to trade in a spirit of divisiveness, for love? Maybe there is a person who drives you crazy and you’ve been thinking about them what I was thinking about Daniel.
That doesn’t mean that we are going to be best friends with everyone we encounter. This week, I had made a decision that made a particular person very upset. And she spent several e-mails phone calls and in person conversations telling me what a horrible decision I had made and what a terrible pastor I was. Now, it’s unlikely that this woman and I are going to become great friends and go have coffee. But I am called to extend to her a spirit of love – even though we are not going to agree about things.