But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom then shall I fear? •
The Lord is the strength of my life;
of whom then shall I be afraid?
4 One thing have I asked of the Lord
and that alone I seek: •
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
5 To behold the fair beauty of the Lord •
and to seek his will in his temple.
6 For in the day of trouble
he shall hide me in his shelter; •
in the secret place of his dwelling shall he hide me
and set me high upon a rock.
7 And now shall he lift up my head •
above my enemies round about me;
8 Therefore will I offer in his dwelling an oblation
with great gladness; •
I will sing and make music to the Lord.
9 Hear my voice, O Lord, when I call; •
have mercy upon me and answer me.
Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 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.’ Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 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.
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.
1 Corinthians 1:10–18
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.’
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake — for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
Sermon on Third Sunday of Epiphany
Last Sunday I was asked to preach at an evening worship across the water, and I looked at the epistle. Today, I would like to continue considering Paul’s message to the young church in Corinth.
Paul has begun by praising the congregation for their speech and wisdom, that the grace of God was visible among them. He continues with our reading today that we should be a unity, we “should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions” – that we “should be united in the same mind and the same purpose”. This isn’t much to ask, is it? Or is this the most difficult of human endeavours – to agree with one another? – to concur about the final object of the course of our lives? Last week I took the hymn in this letter to be the expression of this final purpose of life – the song of love, culminating with the phrase “the greatest of these is love”. So let us keep that in mind as we work out what this union with one another should actually be.
Paul produces a very practical example of the difficulties in Corinth – “each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’” In other words, there are divisions amongst the worshipping community as to their loyalties. Someone follows how Paul taught. Someone else holds on to the tenets of Cephas – Peter. And there are other groups whose lines of thought diverge even further.
Some groups could be bullies, others just subversive, and others could call for a more individual stance from each and every single person of the community, sort of a theological anarchy. Each of the groups has its own view and proclaims it over against every other. There is no humility in their declaration of belief – or in their judgement about correct behaviour.
But we do this all the time in all the organisations we belong to, don’t we? Why would the church be any different? “I am a Tory.” – “I am Labour.” – “I belong to the greens.” This is especially poignant now, isn’t it – with Mr Trump’s inauguration and the discomfort it has caused throughout the world?
I have to say, this sort of triumphalism which groups exhibit is quite difficult in our times. Why should we alienate anyone from the purpose of communal life? However, we do this, in our political life time and again. Just listen to our political “leaders”. I say that no one is prepared to “use one’s breath only to cool one’s porridge”, are they? Everyone wants to guide the ship of state in their own particular direction. They stand up to declaim their own policies because they broadly, in some way, benefit themselves (even if it is only to allow someone to say, “I told you so!”). Isn’t this what the political commentators are doing as they pick over the entrails of the US election and inauguration?
But let’s get back to Paul’s letter – for he deplores the fragmentation of the community into factions. I cannot say “I am of Paul’s party,” if I want the Church universal, let alone my own particular local church, to flourish in unity. I need to say “I am within the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” which includes everyone who espouses Jesus Christ as their personal saviour or Jesus as salvator mundi, the saviour of the world.
Such an identity does not limit itself to one issue. I would not reduce faith to this or that. Rather, it seems to me that such an identity releases us all to a global belief – a global reality of belonging to one another most profoundly. The superficial estrangements of dogma are blown away as cobwebs on the windiest of days. No longer do we build walls of gossamer, rather we build the royal highway on which all will travel, and even the fools cannot get lost, for everyone looks to each other for confirmation of their membership of the body of Christ. Everyone travels together with one another on this most interesting of journeys. There can be no one arbiter for membership. Either everyone belongs or there is no Church reflecting the heavenly reality, the heavenly city of Jerusalem, the City of God.
Paul writes, “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.” In other words, Paul came to speak about Christ’s universal salvation, not to particularise the Church in one manifestation. Rather, Paul planted the idea of the Church to let it grow – that Church which is the wherein of love, where there is unity between all its members even though they are so very different one to another.
Paul tries to confirm the height and depth and the breadth of the love of God in the message of the cross. It is a paradox to all who wish to categorise it. He says, “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.”
In essence, I suppose, Paul is saying that salvation is the ultimate “Catch-22” – if you think it is this, then you find out how wrong you are, just as if you think it is that. Every statement about Christ’s salvation must be accepted for the other person’s sake. And others must accept your own proclamation of being saved.
If I say “they don’t understand me,” then I have to work even harder to make myself clear, as clear as a piece of glass, that nothing distorts the message of salvation which everyone should hear. This last point, I think, corresponds with Paul’s message here. I need to speak about salvation in a way that everyone can hear what I am saying, but I can not – ever – speak only to myself, I cannot speak without that clarity of dialogue with my correspondent, the audience who will hear my message read out, just as the Corinthians listened to Paul’s epistles.
How can we disagree when Paul is writing about unity and love? How can our own message negate the basis of life as we know it? How can we say Paul is wrong when he counsels us to live amicably with one another, that we look to Christ alone – even more so, when we hear Paul speaking about the love of God and one another as the basis of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church? In the Church we are “enriched in [Christ], in speech and knowledge of every kind … so that [we] are not lacking in any spiritual gift.” Let the Church universal show that we are brothers and sisters in the fellowship of love.