“Creating Authentic Community”
1 Corinthians 1: 10-18
10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas ”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Acts 18: 1-4
18 After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3 and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. 4 Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.
Watch the Sermon
These passages we just read are about conflicts: conflicts between leaders in the newly formed churches in Corinth! I would like to say I’m surprised, shocked really…how can there be conflict when the people are just learning about their faith in Christ? I would like to be surprised and shocked but really all of us know that conflicts are present in our relationships with one another almost everywhere. Conflicts creep into our personal lives, our professional lives and of course in our church lives, too. And this is true even back in ancient times when there are various leaders and understandings about how to be a Christian, how to interpret Christ’s message. It is often downright hard to work alongside and among people without conflicts of some kind erupting. Even people who we think are righteous and upholding and faithful! Why is that? do we so easily have disagreements with one another? Why is it so difficult to work in harmony with one another? I just happened to be introduced to a book titled, “The Truth About Us”, by Brant Hansen. It is a timely book for right now when Paul is asking us to dig into the problem of conflicts, relationships, and our faith! For those of you who have attended our adult studies in the past, he is the same author who wrote the book, “Unoffendable”.
Hansen tackles a whole different issue in this book, an issue he labels as our biggest problem; biggest problem as people of faith. (This seems like something we definitely need to explore!) This issue, he says is the self-delusion that we are good people…. self-righteous is another word he uses for this delusion. And from his perspective, self-righteous means we’ve met that standard of believing that through our own self-assessment, through our own eyes of viewing ourselves we are good, and we are right, almost all the time. The whole premise of his book is to help us be open to the possibility that our lives are largely shaped by this desire to convince ourselves and I might add, everybody else around us, that we’re good people. He talks about many ways that we try to maintain this false image of being good.
Hansen says one way that we falsely portray this goodness is in always thinking that we are right. We have the right answers, the right approaches, the right perspectives, the right…I could go on and on, but you get this. Basically, we’re always right! To battle this sense of self-righteousness, to see ourselves as we truly are Hansen believes one has to cultivate an awareness of our self-wrongness! (I think he probably made this word up- but it works!) We must cultivate an awareness of our self-wrongness. But, herein lies the challenge…he poses that it is really, really hard to see when we are wrong about something. He attributes this to our biases, and our own interpretation of events that really are lies about ourselves. He says this, “We need to become more aware of how we think, because our thought processes are skewed. Our reasoning is a tool, and it’s not the precise, calculating, impartial tool we like to think it is. Every waking moment, it’s put to work to defend us and our conception of our good selves.” Wow, let’s catch our breath a minute, this is eye opening isn’t it? But thank goodness, Hansen says there’s hope for us. He says we can learn that we don’t have to defend our goodness and rightness, and when we do this, we become more patient with ourselves. And then he adds it helps us be more patient with others too.
It seems clear to me that this idea of being good and right is connected intimately with the passages we read this morning in Acts and 1 Corinthians. The conflicts that have erupted are about rightness, who is right, who has the correct understanding of the message of Christ. Which leader is more accurate? Maybe Apollo remembers something else than Peter did remember and then maybe Paul believes in a different theological perspective than Apollo. You can see how this conflict would arise as people talked to each other and compared what was being taught. You’ll notice Paul is not concerned about the theological issues or the differences in their thinking but rather he is concerned about the divisions that these conflicts are causing. These baby churches are and will continue to be a witness of their faith in Christ. If they are divided among themselves, fighting, and disputing about what they believe, how can their disunity in the faith form authentic, long enduring communities? The community is the strength of the church, people standing side-by-side, working together to further God’s kingdom. Because ancient Corinth was one of the largest and most important cities in Greece, with a population of around 90,000, it helps us to understand why Paul would be so insistent and so strong in advocating that they be united with the same mind and the same purpose.
Now that disunity within church bodies is not something new to us is it? Divisions in churches? Different theological understandings? It’s not hard to see why today we have so many different Christian denominations!!! After all WE ARE RIGHT, OUR FAITH IS BASED ON THE TRUTH…isn’t it? I think Brant Hansen is laughing at me right now.
Paul knows that the strength and health of the community is what will give endurance and longevity to the churches; churches that are the living expression of their faith in Christ. This is true for us too! All the trivial things we bicker about separates us and weakens our message of Christ’s love and transformation. And I believe Brant Hansen helps us to see that it starts with the individual and the struggle we all have to be good and right. But let us be fully aware that this need to be good and right affects our communal relationships! Hansen says, “Self-righteousness impedes our ability to listen. It thwarts our efforts to be in lasting relationships. But humility, he says is the very opposite of this. It relies on others. It allows us to be corrected, to be set straight. It opens us to wisdom.”
So how can we begin to create an authentic community; a community that becomes a reflection of our faith in Christ, united together? It begins by accepting our own wrongness; the truth about who we are, and this is hard work because it requires us to be vulnerable, open, able to hear the voices of others. But then in our point of greatest weakness, our painful awareness of our frailties, and the many ways we fall short, Paul reminds us, as he did the church in Corinth, that we have been baptized into the body of Christ. And in Christ we are united as one body with no divisions.
And at this point of weakness, being not so sure we are good at all, questioning if we have anything right to say…humility, that gentle sense if unworthiness, seeps into our hearts and at that very place we know we need each other, here is where authentic community emerges. In this community of faithful people, real changes happen. Accepting the truth about who we are changes our focus to the truth about whom we serve. And it is living in this authentic community where our focus is sharpened, our hearts are changed, and we live into our true calling to serve the living God.