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January 22, 2023

Third Sunday After Epiphany

Isaiah 9:1-4

Psalm 27:1, 4-9

1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Matthew 4:12-23

Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,

grace and peace to you from the one who makes us one. Amen

Our Gospel and New Testament readings for today

take us on a little time travel journey

from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry

where he calls his disciples,

to a community that gathers in his name

about a generation after his death.

And the contrast between the two communities is rather remarkable.

In Matthew, Jesus gather his first disciples,

fishermen, right out of their boats,

and to the fishermen he adds tax collectors

and people at loose ends on the road,

influential people like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus,

and the nobodies of society

like the man found living among the tombs

because he was possessed by a legion of demons.

Jesus’ disciples include

people whose focus is service like Martha

and people who sit and listen like Mary,

people who are quick to speak and act

like Peter

and people who want to take the time and see for themselves

like Thomas.

Little children

and foreigners like the Samaritan woman at the well

The centurion who believed Jesus could heal his servant from a distance.

All wildly different people,

united by Christ,

And his mission to share the good news of the kingdom

And then we hear Paul’s letter to the community in Corinth

His reason for writing to the community,

Is that it has been reported to him

that the community is divided,

people are choosing patrons to follow

along the lines of who baptized them

and are claiming they belong to Paul

or Apollos or Cephas.

And if that’s not bad enough

Later in the letter it is revealed

that they are divided in other ways

They disagree on the practice of marriage

They are getting into disputes

and instead of settling them themselves

they are suing one another,

And worst of all they are abusing the Lord’s Supper,

combining it with a community meal

but instead of everyone sharing everything

people bring their own food so that those who are wealthy have great feasts

and those who are poor go hungry.

So very different from the meals where Jesus fed people

And all ate until they were full and there were even leftovers

Paul is very upset at what he hears

coming from this community for which he cares deeply,

he writes to scold and correct

the individual ways they have gone astray

but these things point to a larger problem

they have lost focus on the main reason they are gathered together

the life changing, lifesaving message

of the cross, the death and resurrection of Christ,

the message that is the power of God,

that unites all people

by telling the equalizing story

of our utter need for God’s grace

and the gift of that grace through the mercy of God in Christ.[1]

And Paul realizes that to most people

The causal observer

Those who go by the logic of the world

That this message is utter foolishness

“But to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.”

To that end

Paul calls on the community,

to be in agreement,

to be united in the same mind and the same purpose.

That saving message of Christ.

For those of us

who have experienced severe division

in the public sphere,

or un-mendable division in our families,

or the hurtful division in community

like the Corinthians are going through,

this seems to be an impossible

and even naive request on the part of Paul.

There are some breaks in this world that cannot be fixed.

but Paul reminds us

that we are dealing with more than the world,

we are being saved by the power of God

and in that power unity is possible,

because it comes from the source of life.

Now, it is important to note

that when Paul says unity

he does not mean uniformity

later in the letter

he rejoices in the variety and necessity of gifts and skills

that are brought together as one in the body of Christ.

It is in unity of purpose,

That a community with such a variety of individuals

Is able to come together and stay together.

Of course this is something that we imperfect humans struggle with,

we get distracted and divided so easily

by things that are not the main point,

congregations argue over the color of the carpet,

the kind of music being played

and what instrument it is played on,

or who gets a key to the door.

On a broader scale we’re still playing out

some of the divisions that plagued the Corinthians,

there are some churches that say I belong to Luther

and some that say I belong to Rome

and others that say we follow the presbyters.

And between the churches there are arguments

about who can get married

and who can lead worship

and who can partake of the Lord’s supper.

And yet we are all Christians

Joined into one in Christ

It is utter foolishness

And it is what we are called to by God

Indeed it is only possible in God

God is under no illusions about us doing it on our own

Which is why we have Christ and the cross

Which is why God is continually reaching out to us

In water, word, bread and wine

Offering forgiveness, gathering us together again and again

Returning our focus to the main point

Sharing the life changing, lifesaving message of the cross,

the death and resurrection of Christ

and the experience of the power and grace of God

that brings new and abundant life,

for all.

It is foolishness

It is the power of God.

Thanks be to God. Amen

[1] New Interpreter’s Bible, “1 Corinthians.”

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