The Power of the Cross
The Power of the Cross
Why does Paul focus the Church in Corinth on the power of the Cross? What is happening in this early church community that is of such concern that Paul would write to them and what news does it hold for us today?
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1: 10-18
“Perhaps this is one of the greatest understatements in all of Christendom: there are quarrels among you. Quarrel is a quaint word for what evolved in the history of the church. Time and again, century after century, Christian movement after movement, Powers and Principalities wooed us, wormed their way into our consciousness, worked division and competition, and won wreckage over our feeble faith. There are quarrels among you.” (Nancy Lammers Gross)
Have we been divided?
Paul reminds the church in Corinth that they are called to be in agreement with one another. However, it seems a bit naïve. No two people are going to be in agreement 100% of the time. It doesn’t mean they will be fighting or dislike one another, but we have our differences. Reminds me of a series of jokes that are going around that go like this:
There are two types of people in the world, those with a short attention span and those… hey look a plane!
However, I don’t think Paul is naïve. He knows that people will disagree, it is the severity of the disagreement that he is concerned with. Paul is arguing that as a community of faith, the church in Corinth should find hope in the message of Jesus. As a church family when we are disagreeing, it’s important to take a step back and remember what is the core of what we believe. The good news of Jesus and what his death on the cross means.
Of course, I make that sound easy when the reality is there are many different viewpoints on what Christ’s death on the cross represents. But for now, we will keep it simple. Paul is trying to remind the church in Corinth of what is central to them, following in the way of Christ.
The folks back in Corinth in that day were arguing about who was the best preacher, whose baptism meant the most, who had the best spiritual gifts. These fights are stalling the church from proclaiming the good news.
Years ago, I had moved to a new community and was looking for a home church. We attended a local congregation on a Sunday morning. The worship was fine, the people seemed nice, however it quickly became apparent that the congregation was divided and bickering. I didn’t want to get drawn into the situation and pick sides, I was new and looking for a place to worship. We moved on and found another church to attend.
Years later I learned that this congregation I had visited was in discussions to amalgamate with two other Presbyterian Churches. This is what the disagreement was about, those who felt they should and those who felt they shouldn’t. Of the three ministers involved, one retired, one moved to Scotland, and the other left the denomination. Two of the congregations closed, the third picked up the pieces and is still open today. I often wonder if that situation could have been avoided and what were the issues which caused such division?
The reality of those three churches is that their quarrel caused harm to the overall mission of the church. Whether it was issues of what building would they use, who would be on Session, or who would be the new minister, the inability to agree lessened the impact and witness of the Christian community.
Paul is fairly clear in his letter that the church belongs to Christ. Factions within the community were saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” This is the equivalent to us saying who our favourite preacher is. Or perhaps of you saying Rev. Jack or Hayes or Macdonald or any of the other ministers whose picture hangs in the Narthex was the best Minister of St. Andrew’s. Those were the days. I remember when…
Paul reminds them it is only to Christ that they belong. Paul downplays the importance of who was baptized by who. And while the section here on baptism is a cringe worthy moment, Paul is arguing that who did the baptizing doesn’t matter as much as the baptism itself.
It’s the belief behind the baptism that counts. The understanding that Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection hold power and meaning. Baptism is a restart or an affirmation that the gospel or good news has meaning. Jesus wasn’t put to death because his message was harmless, he was killed because the message he preached. A reform or clearer understanding of the law, that everything centered on grace and elevating the poor and marginalized. This didn’t mean the rich or powerful would loose what they had, it wasn’t a tax the rich proposition. Rather, it was a recognition that those who had been economically exploited or who were marginalized due to their health would be provided with greater resources.
This is the promise that the people made to God. When we think about the Old Testament and covenants, the people agreed to care for one another in a certain way. The message of Jesus reminds us that the people were failing in that. When we say we follow Jesus, we pick up the same cross that Jesus did. We bear that same task, to proclaim that same justice.
Why did Paul go to Corinth, to preach the good news of the gospel. Not to argue about baptisms or who was the best preacher, but to preach the good news. That the cross of Christ, would not be emptied of its power. What is the power of the cross?
That God has the last word through the resurrection. That though society or the world or powers and principalities might try to silence the word that Jesus taught, God has the last word and the message will be proclaimed. It is still proclaimed today. Because Jesus is that Word and it reverberates through all of creation.
Paul urges the early church to work together. Reminding them that through Christ all things are possible. That united as the body of Christ they lack no spiritual gifts, that God is with them. Just as God is with us. Amen.
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