I’m under a deadline. I’m supposed to be preparing the preaching notes for our worship series for the season after Epiphany. But I keep running into blocks. Or I can’t get the words to come out right. Or I’m feeling the pressure. Or something. So, here I am. In the past, when I was using this as preparation for preaching each week, when I was having trouble getting the words to come out right, I would write something else. A letter or an email, a story or a fantasy, something, anything really. What I’ve discovered about myself is that the best way for me to overcome writer’s block is by writing.
I know, that seems impossible. I can’t write, so I’ll write! Doesn’t really make sense. Except that I’m writing something else. Not trying to force my way through what I’m supposed to be writing, but instead writing around it. A different genre, a different purpose, a different style. So, I’m here writing this, hoping it will help me write that.
What is that? Well, I’m in charge of the preaching notes for the worship series for Ordinary Time 2020. The first Ordinary Time. And it should be up on the website already. But it isn’t. I’m behind. So, I should be writing it. But I’m not. I’m trying. And now I’m going back and forth as words come and ideas begin to flow a little bit.
What’s Ordinary Time, you say? Thanks for asking. Even if you didn’t. Let’s pretend you did. So I can answer it. It is the season after Epiphany. At least in this case. There is also an Ordinary Time that is the season after Pentecost. Did you realize that Epiphany and Pentecost aren’t seasons? They are days. And the season that follows those days is called Ordinary Time. Advent and Lent, and Christmas and Easter are seasons. Thus you have the Third Sunday in Lent or the Fourth Sunday in Advent. But you have the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany or the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost (that’s a long season!) Ordinary doesn’t mean, well, ordinary. It means ordered, it means counted, it means significant. Don’t think that it is just down time. Because any time in the family of God, in the body of Christ is significant time. It matters, you matter, even your ordinary Ordinary time.
We are still in the larger block of Ordinary Time, even though Advent is hard on our heels. I’m looking into the first Ordinary Time of 2020, which is lectionary year A. And we have chosen to build a series out of the Epistle texts for the five weeks in the middle of this block. So, from January 19 through February 16, we’ll be looking at the beginning of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians.
OK, it’s now Saturday, and I finished the series. At least I finished the preaching notes for the series. So now I’m at home, watching college football and reflecting on the process. The first realization is that I need to start working on the next series now. The pressure to get it done made me panic a bit. But I got it done. Or rather, I did my part. The work isn’t done, because others have to contribute. And part of what they will contribute will be, perhaps, recommendations on changes and adjustments that I need to make to what I’ve done. It’s a group process. A team effort.
That’s inherent in the series. We decided to title this one Somos del Señor. That translates as “We belong to Christ.” We took it from a verse in the Epistle texts. It’s a series based on I Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 1:10-18 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.
Paul leaps right into the issue in this text from the second week. The issue is division. The issue is factionalism. The issue is us and them, left and right, good guys and bad guys. The issue is that the church has begun to reflect the larger society around it. Rather than living as an example of what community is supposed to be, we have shifted into the same sorts of line drawing and team choosing that the rest of our culture revels in. “Now I appeal to you,” Paul pleads, stop it! Stop being a mirror and start being a lighthouse. Stop trying to blend in and start standing out, standing apart.
The problem that Paul identifies has to do with allegiances. To whom do we belong? On the one hand it seems simple. Of course we belong to Christ, that’s how we would answer the question if we were asked. But Paul isn’t interested in what we say, he’s interested in what we do, how we live. And how the church in Corinth is living right now does not reflect the allegiance to Christ and Christ’s Lordship.
Paul is asking for a profound humility to govern the behaviors of the body of Christ followers. He even diminishes his own actions with his “senior moment” of who he has baptized. It’s not about me, he declares to them. It’s about Him, the Christ who calls Paul and who calls the community of faith in Corinth. So, set aside the other allegiances and cling to the One who gives life. Be like Him. Be like Him in his humility. Be like Him in his suffering. Be like Him in his death.
Paul introduces the cross in this text as a call to humility. The cross is foolishness to the world, Paul declares. Foolish in its shame. Foolish in its embarrassment. Who would claim the cross as a symbol of anything, let alone victory? The cross is not just the worst way to die, it is the lowest, reserved for the wretched refuse. The cross is the empire’s means of taking out the garbage. Who would claim the cross?
We do, says Paul. We do because we see the power of God at work. “God took what is low and despised in the world …” That’s coming later, this is a preview. For now, Paul says, the cross is the power of God, for those of us being saved. Being saved. Those of us. There is a process here, and a commonality. We’re in this together. Let’s not be choosing sides, let’s not be building barriers, creating a us and a them. Let’s have the same mind and the same purpose.
That’s the difficulty isn’t it? We don’t have the same mind; we don’t agree on everything. Sometimes we wonder if we agree on anything. Wrestling with what Paul means here is necessary for preaching this text, especially in the current climate. Would the leader who celebrates the unity within diversity of the gifts of the Spirit, really be asking the church to only think one thing? Or is the emphasis not on a particular theology or interpretation, but on a mission that loves God and loves neighbor, period? The singularity Paul calls for is vital.
There is an odd moment in the text. We can clearly understand why Paul condemns the “I belong to Paul” or “I belong to Apollos” or “I belong to Cephas.” But what’s wrong with the “I belong to Christ”? Isn’t that the whole idea? Why does he seem to claim that those touting the I belong to Christ slogan are just as divisive as the others?
Perhaps it comes down to the pronoun. I belong to Christ. Paul is about community, about being a body. His “yous” are almost always “all y’alls”. The complaint is about the “in your face” attitude that separates, rather than the humility that invites and welcomes. We belong to Christ is an invitational phrase. We belong to Christ is, on the one hand, almost too obvious to mention. On the other hand, it changes everything. It is the definition of an ordinary epiphany.