Summary: Human tendency is to look for all the ways we are different. But the church finds its unity only in Christ.
January 26, 2020
Hope Lutheran Church
Rev. Mary Erickson
1 Cor. 1:10-18; Matt. 4:12-23
We’ve All Been Caught in the Same Net
Friends, may grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and Christ Jesus our Lord.
If one thing marks our current culture, I think many people would say that it’s division. We’ve become increasingly tribalized. And we can factionalize in so many different categories.
- Religiously, we divide ourselves between Protestant and Catholic. Within Lutheranism, we divide between our many synods. Our brothers and sisters in the United Methodist Church are currently undergoing a potential division of their church body.
- Politically, we’ve created fierce divisions between our two political parties. We label the people we meet as either red or blue. People exclusively watch specific news sources and distrust all other viewpoints.
- Socioeconomically, we divide ourselves into differing camps. There’s increasing discrepancy between rich and poor. There’s distrust between people living in rural, middle America and those in urban, coastal regions.
There’s nothing new about this. Human instincts have always gathered us into differing camps. The early church in Corinth suffered from it, too.
St. Paul addressed these polarizations in the passage we heard today from 1 Corinthians. Paul had been the initial Christian evangelist in Corinth. He travelled there during his second missionary journey. Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half. Soon after he departed, a Christian evangelist named Apollos arrived in Corinth. Apollos was a gifted orator and he preached with strong conviction.
Paul now receives news that the Corinthian church is breaking into factions. They’re creating loyalty camps. Some of them identify with Paul. Others circle around Apollos and others even around Peter. Paul is horrified. This cult of personality is not what the church of Jesus Christ is about!
As we read further into his letter, we find there are other divisions, too. Some people in the Corinthian church have received the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues. These individuals sense that they’ve been blessed more greatly than those who don’t speak in tongues. And they feel superior about it. There’s a growing hierarchy of holiness.
But there’s even more division going on in this beleaguered faith community! The believers in Corinth come from varying economic levels. Some of them are from the wealthy, gentrified class. They live off the earnings of their estate and so they don’t have to work. But others come from the laboring class or are slaves. They put in long, hard days at work.
The early church met in house churches. They didn’t have dedicated church buildings like we do. When the church community gathered, they started with a potluck dinner. They called it an Agape Feast. They brought their food and beverages along to share. But the wealthy, gentrified people didn’t want to share their fine food and wine with the poorer people who came after a long day of work. The food and wine they brought was inferior. So the rich people made it a point to come a little early. They ate and drank quickly so that their food was gone before the working people joined the fellowship. The poor church members were left to share their crumbs with one another.
This Corinthian church was broken in so many ways! Talk about a fractured community! Paul addresses their brokenness in the opening verses of his letter. “Has Christ been divided? Paul makes it known that we are united in Christ. Christ is what binds us together, and Christ alone.
The image of a ship has long been used to illustrate the church of Christ. We are all in this same boat called faith. We’re in this community together. But what tempests can assail us! There are fierce forces buffeting against our small ship. They’re doing their best to tear our vessel apart!
When I was in seminary back in the mid-1980’s, a classmate of mine came from Austin, Minnesota. Nowadays, Austin is best known for the Spam Museum. Travelling along Interstate 90, the billboards will alert you about this not-to-be-missed tourist attraction!
Austin is the world headquarters of Hormel Foods. George Hormel moved to Austin in the late 1800s. He borrowed $500 from someone and started his meat business in 1891. From such humble beginnings has come this global corporation.
During my time at seminary, the workers at the Hormel plant in Austin went on strike. This strike would become known as the worst labor strike in Minnesota history. It lasted 10 months. 1500 meat workers went on strike.
When the company brought in non-union workers, it was like throwing gasoline on a fire. The National Guard was called in to monitor the situation. At its worst point, a riot broke out. Law enforcement found it necessary to use tear gas to maintain order.