Yr A ~ Epiphany 2 ~ 1 Corinthians 1:1–9
The year is 0055, the place is the Roman city of Corinth, and the author of the letter we heard quoted today is Paul – church planter extraordinaire. Corinth was a busy cosmopolitan city and the church community that gathered under Paul’s initiative was very diverse – socially, ethnically, economically, spiritually. Christianity was actually radically diverse from the very start – and each planted community of faith had its own style, theology, strengths, and challenges.
So what do you think would prompt Paul to write a letter to this church that he had planted some time earlier? I’d like to tell you it was to congratulate them on their awesomeness (that’s certainly what my letter to you would be about – most days!) – but really he was writing because they were messed up. They’d lost their focus. They had too many divergent ideas about what was most important. They had brought too much of their worldly hierarchy into the church.
In simple terms, they were doing community wrong.
We ain’t them! So I’m wondering, can we read this as positive and without Paul’s cynicism or edge? While he’s probably “damning them with faint praise,” what he’s saying ought to be the ideal. Can we hear it as invitation and encouragement rather than setting up how we’re going to be scolded?
Are you waiting for a scolding? It ain’t coming today!
I’d like to preach this without the big BUT that Paul starts into in the verses after this introductory section.
So let’s have a look at this letter and start with something that seems so obvious it should go without saying, but that we really need to say: for Paul it’s all grounded in Christ! If you did a quick ‘word frequency count’ here you’d see something wonderful. In these short, opening 9 verses Paul uses the word Christ 9 times, Jesus 8 times, God 6 times, and Lord 6 times – all in just 9 verses.
Whatever you hear Paul saying, one thing that’s perfectly clear is that it’s thoroughly and deeply grounded in Christ. Christ, Jesus, God, Christ, Jesus, God – it booms out like a musical ostinato echoing in the air. And remember that this would have been read out loud to the Corinthians, not photocopied or sent as an email – they’d have heard it, heard the words reverberating, heard the holy refrain setting the foundation.
So with Christ, Jesus, and God in the air and in your ears, let’s hear what Paul might have to say to us!
1 Corinthians 1:2-3 “To the church of God that is in Corinth…Courtice(?), to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
It was very important to Paul to remind his church that they were not alone. They were (and we are) part of the body of Christ. We are at all times spiritually and mysteriously connected to all those who in every place call on the name of God. Sometimes those connections feel really good, and other times, when we hear of someone going off the rails in the name of Ja-eez-us, we roll our eyes and wish people didn’t associate us with ‘them’. But we are all part of the body, together.
That means that while we’re individuals we can never be individualistic. I try to emphasize the individual’s first-hand personal spiritual experience and growth, but it’s always in the context of being part of the community of faith.
We are individuals together.
The Corinthians forgot that and established a pecking order and it led to trouble.
Verses 4-5 “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind…”
That word enriched can also mean fullness/made full. Paul’s giving thanks that the Corinthians have been made full in Christ in every way. I like the sound of that! It sounds deep, and rich, and expansive, and empowering, and life-giving, and wonderful! How have you been made full/enriched in Jesus? (or in faith, or spirit, or whatever word works for you). So Paul is thankful for their fullness!
Or is he being ironic? It’s possible. He might be giving them the gears here. read on