Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year A
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
The church is full of controversy and conflict. There are people divided over morals or liturgy. Some are unsure which leader to follow. Yet others are divided with lawsuits. The people of the church are not unified and the church of Corinth can hardly be characterized as anything but a mess. Oh yes, I am talking about the Corinthians; though it is obvious that the issues we deal with and the way we treat people today are really very similar to what was happing in a first century church.
Paul is obviously aware of these problems when he writes this letter because his letter is addressing these issues. But before Paul gets into all dirt that is going on in the church, he opens with a statement of faith and thanksgiving. In his opening remarks, Paul offers thanks for each one of the people in Corinth, because God has graced them with the knowledge of Christ. This grace has changed their lives and their faith. The knowledge of Christ has strengthened them as individuals and as a group.
What Paul is trying to do, is to get the group to become a Christ centered community and resist conforming to the behaviors of the larger society. Just because society finds something morally good or benign doesn’t mean that us Christ followers do. In our passage from today, Paul is offering a declaration of faith. He is also telling the people that God called them into the fellowship of His Son. So while they are called individually to be Christians they are also called to be in community with each other. This is a constant tension for us as Christians. Do we live in community or do we live as individuals?
Our culture often alludes to the “American dream.” In which “‘life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement’ regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.”[i] To me this seems similar to what the Prophet Isaiah is trying to tell us. Each one of us is unique. We are made very special by God. God has named us, polished and sharpened us. In some way we can think of ourselves as an object made by God. Sometimes an artist covers the work that they have created until it’s unveiled for the public to see. And when the artwork is unveiled the artist is acclaimed and congratulated for offering such beauty for the world to see. Isaiah says that we are such beings, beautifully created by God, in which God is glorified by his creation.
I think it is because we are such perfection that we cannot work to glorify ourselves. If something is already perfect there is no way to make it more perfect. If we are working to make life better for ourselves, we have to look to what extent? If we are bettering our lives for our own purposes, then we are ignoring the plight of others. If we are bettering our lives on the backs of others, then we are not seeing the other person as a unique but equally beautiful work of art. We are seeing them as an obstacle to climb over. It is only when we realize God’s creation in each other that we exemplify who God created us to be. When this happens we will be honored and it is God who receives the glory.
This is the American dream, because the American dream is not about putting up barriers for others, or treating others as lesser people, or building wealth at the expense of others. The American dream is about using our God-given talents to be the best we can be. I believe it is when we are the best we can be, when we are working together, not against one another, that then America becomes the best it can be. We cannot be the best all by ourselves. We have to be in community with others to achieve this.
Theologically, I’m not so sure that this is very different than what Paul is telling the people of Corinth. He thanks them because they recognize that God is working in their lives. Through God they are enriched in every way and are strengthened. They have not arrived at perfection as a community nor are they living out their potential as God made them to be individually. But with God and through Christ they are becoming better.
Paul eventually goes on to say, no matter what problems exist in the church, through their working together with Christ, eventually they will be blameless. This is a sign of God’s faithfulness and their maturity. In reading this text, it is nearly impossible to believe that a Christian life can be an individual journey. We are called to be in community with each other. Helping one another, teaching and learning, and holding one another accountable, in a loving way.
Christ Church is the community that most of us have chosen to join. It is a place where we can learn to work together so that we can try to be the perfection that God has made us to be. And I thank God for each of you. Not only for you generosity of time and money but for you spirit to want to follow Christ; to be in a deeper relationship with Him each other. But as we all know, much like the church of Corinth, we have not attained our perfect state, yet. Today after this service, we have our annual meeting in which we will talk about how we are living into this work, and we will see areas in which we still need some growth. No other person can make us perfect. It is only through Christ and working together that we can, as individual and as a community, be honored and receive our reward with God; so that God can be glorified by our lives. It is our faith, our works, our lives that glorify God and bring us honor.
[i] Library of Congress. American Memory. "What is the American Dream?", lesson plan