You can find all the readings for this week at the following link: Vanderbilt Divinity Library. Rev. Ron will be preaching the Gospel text (John 1:29-42). For the next seven weeks, the other New Testament reading we will hear in Church will be from Paul’s first Letter to the Church in Corinth, so I have chosen to use the blog to explore this letter,for the following reasons:
- Paul, “apostle of Jesus Christ” authored or inspired a large percentage of the New Testament, and has therefore influenced the development of Christian beliefs and practices; it’s worth taking a closer look.
- Paul often gets a bad press these days, for being opinionated, verbose, misogynistic and capricious. This is our chance to see how true/fasle – and complicated – each of those allegations may be.
- d) Paul’s letters to Corinth reveal some of the real down-to-earth issues that faced a diverse (often divided) community struggling to make sense of Jesus in the midst of their culture and day to day lives. While the time and place is very different, we can connect with this letter when it deals with timeless issues, like loyalty, faith and doubt, relationships, and so on.
This week’s reading (1 Corinthians 1: 1-9 http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=162031285) may at first glance seem a bit pointless: why are we just reading the preamble to a letter, without actually getting to the substance of it? ( It’s a bit like only reading the logo, return address and salutation in a modern letter, though in Paul’s case his opening salutation lasts for 8 verses!)
There’s actually a lot going on in this opening. His original readers – and us – are left in absolutely NO doubt about:
- Who wrote the letter.
- To whom the letter is addressed.
- What ( and who) connects the sender and recipients.
1. Paul, “Apostle of Christ Jesus” is the writer. The use of “Apostle” is deliberate. It means Messenger of Christ, or “The one sent by Christ”. So, already, even though we are reading a letter from Paul, it’s as if he’s signalling… “whatever I write here is really coming as a message from the one who sent me.”
2. The letter is addressed to the “Church of God that is in Corinth” – not just to a gathering of humans, but a gathering of God in a particular time and place….. lest the reader forget that “our” church is also “God’s” church. It’s like a double identity: “You are Corinthians, but you are also God’s” or, to us as modern-day readers, “You are Cedar Parkers, but you are also God’s”. (I’ve posted a separate page about the historical background of the Church in Corinth; follow this link: )
3. As for what connects the sender and the recipients, that is contained in verses 3-9. Paul launches into some particularly flowery language at this point, and we may well wonder, “Just who is he trying to please?” This is almost a fan letter – he recollects a community he spent over a year with, and obviously relished many aspects of their life together – they were smart, they were good at talking about their faith, and they had “every spiritual gift” imaginable. Elsewhere, these ‘spiritual gifts’ are named and include patience, kindness, wisdom, love, generosity,deep active prayer, justice-making ethics, faithfulness… quite the list. Those of us who know what comes next in the letter (wait for next week’s exciting instalment!!), tend to rush over this introduction and miss this clear statement of joyful gratitude for the faith-in-action of the Corinthian church. He likes these people a lot. He is writing to people with whom he shares a passionate faith, people he loves.
3.b. Now to the “who” in my third point: note also the flambouyant sprinkling of “God language” in this fan mail. We find it odd… (the only time we hear Jesus and God mentioned that often in a few sentences is in the company of drunken hockey fans after the Habs lost in overtime, and in that circumstance, it is most definitely not a prayer!) The Corinthians are awesome people, because of God. It is God who hs given them this wisdom, the eloquence, the wisdom, the love. A God whom Paul also loves deeply, and upon whom Paul will repeatedly stake his reputation and his life. God, to Paul is no abstracted deity, but an active, gift-giving, life-sustaining agent of grace upon grace. God, whom Paul calls “faithful to the end,” is the ultimate connection between the From and the To in this letter.
I’m glad the lectionary stops there, even though I want to turn the page and see what comes next. It gives me ( and hopefully you) chance to ponder, through the events of the upcoming week, just how much, if I look, God is life-giver, strength-bringer, life-sustainer, gift giver, in my own life. When a student has an “aha!”moment this week, this reading will remind me, that my teaching, and that student’s moment of insight are both the fruits of God’s generous grace. When I bite my tongue to stop an unkind or impatient word, then I shall know for sure that – yet again – God has given me a capacity for patience and generosity that doesn’t always come that naturally to me!! Try it for yourself this week. (And post a comment too, if you like!)