1:10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.
This appeal from St. Paul brings me both a comfort and anguish to know that the early christian communities suffered the same social challenges that we do today. The comfort comes from that we are not unique in our struggles in achieving community amidst diversity. Anguish because two millennium after Paul wrote this letter, the church and culture is more factious and divided than ever.
What is the difference between a church that is united in the Eucharistic mystery and one that is united by personality cult, political perspective, style of worship, social, ethnic, or age demographic? What is the difference between a church united in the cosmic and inclusive embrace of God’s love in Christ and a church that creates and protects a dominant culture? What is the difference between any culture, community, or club, that personifies unconditional love and acceptance and one that perpetuates a profile for “preferred customers and members?”
This letter from Paul to the Corinthians deal with all kinds of divisions and factions that existed in their community – factions defined by personality, theology, spiritual gifts, and social demographics – divisions defined by personal preferences and comfort – exclusion created by looking at others as less important to the life of their community than themselves and their like – cliques created by the chronic tendency for any and all religious and spiritual endeavors to devolve into self-perpetuating institutions whose ways and culture have insulated and isolated them from the very times and people God loves and with whom God becomes ONE..
It is not to missed, I think, that as Paul was writing this letter to the community in Corinth, as he exposed all that he found unacceptable and not what he imagined when he first planted the message of Jesus Christ — he needed to provide some kind of remedy or strategy or directions as to how they would move from being a community divided in so many ways, to becoming a community empowered and demonstrating the way of Jesus. The solution he arrives to is– love. It is in this letter to a church so compromised by its factions, that Paul writes one of the most beloved pieces of literature ever written – Paul’s prescription for the diseases crippling the witness of the church in Corinth – was an immeasurable dose of love, followed by doses of faith and hope.
My professor for New Testament theology in seminary, Dr. William Hertzog, in his class entited, “The Epistles of Paul,” hone day asked us students, ‘What did Paul replace the law and commandments in his strategy to develop christian communities?” After mutual attempts from the class to come up with profound and correct answers, he finally gave us his answer. He said it was the law of community. And indeed, throughout all the letters we have preserved from Paul to the first churches, more than anything else he is addressing the way they treat one another and how the witness they demonstrate to the cities in which they existed.
Paul’s instruction to the church in Corinth in order to mend what had been divided, in order to heal what had been infected, in order to reclaim what had been lost – his instructions were Pursue Love (14:1). Do not pursue rightness, do not pursue personalities, theologies, methodologies, commonalities, music tastes, liturgy, prophesy, self-interests, personal preferences, cultural dominance, doctrinal agreement – – because as he writes to the community in Corinth so long ago, all these things – seemingly so important and essential to the health and well being and preservation of the community – all those things will come and they will go – this decade’s great spiritual revival and methods will give way to the next movement that sweeps the community. But according to Paul, in this letter he writes to the a church crippled by conflict – let all that defines your little piece of the puzzle – your segment of the politic – your preferred style and comfortablity – let all that separates you from those with whom you were called into community – and give it all up for three things:
1) A powerful faith that embraces the knowledge that all that is — is passing away and give yourselves to that which is still to come.
2) An enduring hope that empowers you to persevere against all that obstructs and undermines the endeavor to create the Eucharistic community. And the last as well as the greatest of the only things that remain
3) – love – love – love and be patient – love and be kind – love and do not envy – love and do not boast – love and do not be proud – love and do not be rude – don’t be self-seeking – don’t be easily angered – don’t keep a record of the peculiarities and faults of others. Don’t revel in the misfortune of those who are different than you or who share the perspective of “the other side.”
Be a champion for the comprehensive and universal truth as opposed to personal perspective and ideology. Protect others – trust others believe in others hope in others – and never give up the dream of creating a community of faith, hope, and LOVE.
So I close with the question with which I opened: What is the difference between a church that is united in the Eucharistic mystery and one that is united by personality cult, political perspective, style of worship, social, ethnic, or age demographic? What is the difference between a church united in the cosmic and inclusive embrace of God’s love in Christ and a church that creates and protects a dominant culture? What is the difference between any culture, community, or club, that personifies the Eucharistic community of love and service and generosity and sacrifice?” The difference is love – and all it means to practice the laws of love in community.