31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
July 11, 2021
1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 25-13:7
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
There is this church I know where church members are not getting along. Some feel superior to others. Others are judging their fellow church members and of course, finding them lacking, always lacking. And then there are those who are rejecting the talents and help of their fellow Christians because, well, frankly, would you be satisfied with this sub-par help?
There is this church I know where church members are not getting along. Do you know it too? It is the church in Corinth two thousand years ago, but frankly, we all know it also as the church of Jesus Christ in every time and place.
We are baptized as babies; we come to Christ as teens and adults. We stay with the community we joined as a youth; we move to a Christian community that connects more fully with our sense of God. We find a Christian community on the Internet. The Church of Jesus Christ is a big beautiful community of people with different stories, different talents, and different views on life and the world. And the First Congregational Church, UCC Bristol, CT mirrors the wider Church.
And that is exactly how God intended for the Church to be – a big beautiful community of diverse people. That is also exactly what gets us into trouble – because diversity, obviously, is complicated.
Almost twenty years ago, I previewed a pre-marital video collection done by Neil Clark Warren, a psychologist, seminary professor, and founder of e-harmony. Neil Clark Warren’s advice was that your marriage would be more harmonious if you had lots and lots in common: the same religions, the same race, the same socio-economic background, the same interests and goals in life.
Birds of a feather flock together, right? It just means sense. Life at home, life at work, life in church would be so much easier if we had all things in common. Yet along came Jesus Christ including all sorts of people in his community. And then came the Holy Spirit doing the same, blessing this person and that person. And the Church, Christ’s community, began to look a little more like God’s dream for creation – a big beautiful community of diversity.
So here Paul was trying to bring people together into this community of love and connection, this community where love of God and love of neighbor, were central, and instead, after 18 months of eating with them, praying with them, teaching them, and praising God with them, Paul hears there is division in the church community in Corinth.
Some people thought they could do whatever they wanted, like eating food sacrificed to idols. Some people thought they were better than others in the community, that their gifts for speaking in tongues were far superior. Members of the community were even suing each other, fighting in public.
This letter makes it sounds like the Christians in Corinth have just totally missed the message of the good news of God’s love. This letter makes them sound like horrible people. What Christians would actually behave this way?! Sadly, too many of us have at one time or another behaved this way.
Even as our behavior is unacceptable, it does not make us horrible people. It just speaks to how anxious we are and how few skills we have to acknowledge and deal with our anxiety in healthy ways.
The Christians in Corinth lived in this huge city, second in population only to Rome. All around them were different cultures and people, some coming, some going as they traveled this major trade of the Roman Empire. For 18 months, Paul and other really strong and passionate Christians had supported and nurtured their relationships with Jesus Christ – and now, they were on their own– to discern and lift up their own leaders, to navigate the path of how to be in the world and not of the world, to share about Jesus in this city known for its extreme excesses.
As we like to say in my family, they aren’t giving Paul hard time; they are having a hard time.
They are having a hard time with the “beautiful” diversity of their Christian community. They are having a hard time with all of the new God is calling them into. They are having a hard time, and they are anxious.
And anxiety and fear have these wonderful abilities to pull out the very worst qualities in us. We get judgey and self-righteous. We start to under function and hide, putting our heads and all of our gifts in the sand. We start to over function and think we have to do it all ourselves, that no one else can do it better than we can. And for us over functioners, we think we need to control everything in our world and in others’ lives and make everything and everyone the same – because same is easier.
Lately, I have been listening to Brene Brown’s talk, Rising Strong as a Spiritual Practice. I laughed out loud as she told a story of a time when she was completely over functioning and wrapped in self-righteousness. On her return from a disastrous speaking engagement that she had been shamed into doing, she met with her therapist and said to her:
This whole spiritual, God, wholeheartedness crap is awesome. Loving God woo-hoo. The sewer rats and the scofflaws, I hate, and I will never stop hating them for as long as I live. I’m going to spiritually awaken while hating these people over here. And that’s going to be part of my new theology. And I betcha I could put together a big [big] church.
I laughed out loud because you just had to hear the way she said this, and I laughed because how many of us would like to spiritually awaken and love God, while hating those people over there.
I’ll bet she could put together a really big church with that belief system.
We all know though, that despite the temptation, this is not the new God is calling us to. People who are all the same is not the community Christ envisions. As we move into the scary, unpredictable, quickly changing and ever accelerating new, we need to do it together. We need to do it together.
We need to remember we are one body, with many parts, many diverse parts coming together for one purpose – to love. Love God and love our neighbor.
Love is hard though. Love is patient and kind, even when we prefer to be defensive and self-righteous. Love is not boastful, envious, or rude, even when we feel totally justified acting that way. Love does not insist on its own way. Love listens and works hard to understand. Even when every primitive instinct in our body doesn’t want to, love puts others first. Love is hard. Love is very, very hard.
And yet, love is the foundation for all we do as the Church. Love grounds our worship of God. Love grounds our ministry of feeding and housing others. Love grounds our partnerships with other churches and organizations. Love grounds our relationships, our relationships between people who are not the same, between people who might not even speak, people who might completely dismiss one another if not for this church. Love is the foundation for all we do as a church.
All of the new that we are doing, all of our dreams for ourselves and the church, all of our faithfulness to God’s still speaking voice, all of it is meaningless, a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal if we do not have love; if we do not offer love; if we do not embody love.
As we move into the new, as we acknowledge the anxiety of our lives, as we wrestle with the challenges of diversity – in the church and beyond, we remember love is the foundation for all we do as the church. Love is the foundation for our lives as followers of Jesus Christ.