31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
January 24, 2016
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
1 Corinthians 1:10, 12:12-21,
First Corinthians 13, these well known words of love, is one of the most popular readings shared at weddings. It might surprise you to know though, that these words of love and unity were written by the Apostle Paul to a very divided church.
The church in Corinth had big problems. The community was picking sides saying, “I belong to Paul’s camp”; “I’m on Apollos’ side”; “Well, I’m loyal to Cephas.” There was jealousy and quarrelling. Believers were actually taking one another to court and suing each other. Add to that a man “living” with his father’s widow; people viewing the Lord’s Supper as an all you could eat buffet; and the temptations of the reigning religion of Corinth, the Temple of Aphrodite, with its one thousand, yes, one thousand “working girls”.
If you thought there was trouble in River City, that was nothing in comparison to the trouble in Corinth.
People often call the church a family. Well, if this was a family, it was a totally dysfunctional, back-biting, warring, unhealthy family.
The Rev. Tony Robinson, whenever he hears people call the church a family, reminds us that we are not a family; we are a body. We are the body of Christ. We represent the Living Christ in this world.
But as you have heard, the church in Corinth is not living or acting as one body. They were picking sides, creating cliques, acting upon their own wants, desires, and passions without any regard for what was best for the rest of the community, the rest of the body.
Hear again Paul’s words: “If the foot would say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body…The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ (1 Corinthians 12:15, 21)
Interdependence. A body is interdependent. When one part of the body hurts, all of the body hurts. The same is true of the church community. When one member of our church community hurts, we all hurt. When one member is attacked, we are all attacked. When one member is slandered or discriminated against or bullied or made to feel less than, it affects all of us.
We are all connected. We are dependent on one another. So what do we do if community members pick sides, like in Corinth? What do we do if members are fighting with one another to the point of suing in court? What do we do when the body of Christ is broken?
Love. We love one another. We love one another with patience and kindness. We take a deep breath when we feel envious or resentful. We examine our behavior for moments when we have been boastful or arrogant, and we apologize in love.
And when we feel irritable, like we just want to vent our anger upon someone else, we remember we are connected to them, and we picture our whole body filled up with love, because if we do not have love, we are nothing. If we do not have love, we gain nothing.
“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)
After worship, the active members of the First Congregational Church United Church of Christ Bristol, CT will gather for annual meeting – you don’t have to be a member to come, and I hope everyone will come and have lunch and listen because it is at annual meeting that we make decisions about our future ministry. The election of committee members and officers, our budget and how we will spend our money, these are all ministry decisions, helping to determine what our focus as Christ’s body will be this year and in the years to come.
Our ministries this year will include the United in Ministry renovation which will make 90% of our building accessible for all and also bring much needed safety improvements, as well as making it so much easier to bring food, tables & chairs, and equipment up and downstairs. In the coming year, we will also unite for our work as a Family Promise hospitality congregation, where once a quarter, we will house 14 members of homeless families, doing our part to help them on their journeys back to having permanent homes.
These are both ministries that will require us to work together as one united congregation, one united body, and here is one more ministry I hope we will focus on and that is nurturing our relationships with one another – not just with our friends, not just with other ears and eyes, not just when it is comfortable or convenient, but with everyone, all of the time.
During the capital campaign and the recent visioning cottage meetings, church leadership heard clearly that we are hungering to know one another, to be connected. We want to nurture our Christian faith journeys by nurturing our connections, by gathering together and getting to know one another, connecting over the Bible, prayer, book studies, and fun.
In this world that too often feels broken, in this world where we are divided by political beliefs, race, religion, and socio-economic class, in this world where even churches compete and within church communities there are divisions, we hunger to be united, united in ministry, united in love – because after all, love is the most excellent way.