1 Corinthians 1:10-18 (NRSV)
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. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12 What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.
18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
I know how much you all love learning new music. Especially new music in languages you don’t happen to speak. We’ll be singing a hymn later that was originally written in Spanish. Now what usually happens when a song is written in one language and then translated into another is either the translation is good but the words don’t match the notes very well so it’s hard to sing, or the translation is off a bit but it’s easier to sing. I realize it’s a given that no translation is totally accurate, but I’ve read some musical translations that are so far off the original meaning of the song that we might as well be singing a different hymn altogether. That’s not the case with today’s hymn. “We are united in Jesus” is about as close to “We are one in Christ” as you can get and fits the notes. You all will be invited to sing it in English or Spanish, or once in each language, as you prefer. And yes, I know I did this to you last week too, but I’ve had unity on my mind a lot lately and somehow unity through the language of hymns just feels right to me. At least this week there’s no Swahili.
Have you ever noticed how, when you have something on your mind, everything seems to be about that? It’s one of those eternal truths, right up there with the fact that a sore finger will bang into everything nearby. It seems as if the entire world is conspiring to remind you about the sore finger, or in my case, unity. I read a daily meditation from a 12 Step Program and yesterday morning’s meditation was titled, “Unity and Uniformity.” I’d like to share parts of it with you.
“Unity is not uniformity. Unity springs from the fact that we have unity of purpose.… Even so, we often find that while we strive to fulfill the same purpose, our means and methods may be radically different. We can’t impose our ideas of unity on others or confuse unity with uniformity. In fact, a big attraction of [our] program is the absence of uniformity. Unity springs from our common purpose, not from standards imposed on the group by a few well-meaning members. A group that has the unity which springs from the loving hearts of its members allows each [person] to carry the message in his or her own unique way. . . We need unity to help show [others] that this way of life works.” (Just for Today. pg. 21 ©1991-2017 by Narcotics Anonymous World Services, Inc., Van Nuys, CA)
And, of course, as a nation we are currently experiencing pretty significant division. I was so saddened by reports of violence at the demonstrations on Inauguration Day, while lifted up by the peace and unity displayed in the Women’s Marches all over the country yesterday. In the first case it was loudly declared that the violence came from groups who were not part of the individual organized protests - one of the violent groups even stated on Twitter that its anger was not directed only at President Trump, and that it would also have demonstrated had Hillary Clinton won the election last November. In the case of the Women’s March, the organizers were primarily leaders of religious organizations and not-for-profits whose purpose is to help the poor and disenfranchised, victims of racism and religion-based hate, women, the LGBT community, Native people, immigrants, etc., whose aim is to peacefully protect the rights and freedoms of those groups, working within the framework of the law and the Constitution. I am proud that so many of my friends and colleagues made their presence and intentions known, as one unified body with singleness of purpose. May we all soon remember that we are one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all persons.
The church in Corinth was having a problem with unity. They were divided and arguing over which leader was better, who preached the Word better, who baptized the most people, who they owed their personal allegiance to. And Paul said, “Really? Did you forget already that you are all one? That you are all followers of Jesus, and only Jesus? I am just a person, just as Apollos and Cephas are just people. But Jesus is the Christ, the one in whose name you are baptized. He is the only one who matters. The cross is what matters.”
I think we forget that, sometimes. I think we get so worried about the details that we forget what’s important. I think there’s a good reason for that old saying, “The devil is in the details,” because it’s always the details, the minutia of a given situation, that we get tangled up in and argue over. I mean, churches have been known to split over the color of the sanctuary carpet! Or over who gets to be an Elder. Or over how to administer a community center that has grown out of the ministries of the congregation. And all that has what, exactly, to do with the Gospel? It’s one thing to disagree on the matters that fall under the heading of “church business.” It is another to let those disagreements keep us from being church.
Our purpose as church is to heal the world. Our purpose is to do what Jesus and his disciples did - feed the hungry, comfort the prisoner, clothe the naked, provide shelter for the homeless, heal the sick, and get justice for those who have no one to stand up for them. Our purpose as church is to proclaim the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness for all the world - and that All Means All. Everything we do as church needs to aim us at that purpose. Everything we do as church needs to tell the whole world that this way of life, this cross remembering, Jesus following, God loving, Spirit trusting way of life works.
As we go forward into a New Year, with new board members, new elders, new deacons, new team leaders, looking toward a new building, and yes, singing new music, let us go forward united in Christ. Let us go forward without fear, for we know that God is always with us.