Sunday, January 22, 2017

“The Common Denominator” (I Corinthians 1:10-18)

Diversity . . . “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements . . . the inclusion of different types of people in a group or organization.”  We, as a nation, community, and church speak of diversity as a positive thing . . . as something we want, need, and should embrace . . . after all, we are historically known as a “melting pot” as a nation.  Historically we have open our shores to a huge array of diverse people to make us the great nation we are today.  As I look at those of you sitting in the pews this morning, what I see is a diverse group of individuals . . . each created uniquely, who think and act differently--based on a huge foundation of life experience--culturally, educationally, religiously . . . based on your gender . . . based on the area where you live . . . based on your income level, just to name a few of the conditions that make you a diverse crowd.  The bottom line is that you are a diverse crowd . . . you are all different . . . and, it is that diversity that gets us all into trouble.

That trouble comes when we--or any group--attempts to assert their diversity as the only way.

At the time of the Apostle Paul, Corinth was a great cosmopolitan Greek city.  It was the capital of the Roman province of Achia.  It was noted for its thriving commerce, proud culture, widespread immorality, and variety of religions . . . it was a virtual melting pot of diversity.  You name it and you could have probably found it in Corinth . . . from legal to illegal, politics, commerce, religion, entertainment, education . . . they had it all.  Corinth was filled with diversity . . . and, filled with competition.  It was a competition between diverse groups as to which was the one and only one.

I think that, as individuals, we understand this conflict because we live in it on a daily basis.  For example, take advertisement--whether it is on the radio, television, newspaper, or magazine; advertisements are a competition of diversity proclaiming one product over another.  Think about it.  I like VO5 Shampoo . . . I think that it is the best shampoo out there.  It is the only shampoo I use.  Yet, sitting in the bathroom of my house is a huge variety of other shampoos . . . four or five other bottles of shampoo.  Each one is there because they claim to be the best . . . and, each one is a little different than the other one.

And, you know what?

They all do the same thing.  They clean hair.  So, in my mind, why not buy the dollar brand instead of the five dollar brand?  I haven’t won that argument in the family yet.

This conflict of diversity permeated into the very fabric of the Corinthian community . . . even into its places of worship.  Whenever there is conflict, there is division as people line up on sides.  This was the apostle’s concern with the congregation that he established in Corinth . . . that diversity would divide them and make them impotent in following the call of Jesus.  Paul’s concern was in holding the congregation together in order to be Jesus’ representative in that community and beyond . . . of holding them together to be the body of Christ . . . of fulfilling God’s call upon their lives.  And, it was a valid concern as the congregation was splitting itself up into factions . . . and, those factions were getting a little heated in their debates.

Paul says, “Let me put it this way: each one of you says something different.  One says, ‘I follow Paul’; and another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; and another, ‘I follow Christ.’ Christ has been divided into groups!”

Sounds to me as if there is a problem with diversity.  Each side wants their way.  There is no compromise . . . it is “our way or the highway.”  And, the conflict is reaching the point that the congregation is about to fall apart.  In Paul’s mind, which he delves into later in his letter to the Corinthians, he see the various diverse members of the congregation as parts of a body . . . in this case, the body of Christ.  Each part of the body is necessary to be a “whole” body.  No two parts of the body are the same or perform the same duties, yet together they make the whole body.  Together they present the fullness of Christ to themselves and to the world around them.  In Paul’s mind and heart, he knows that it takes all of them together.  In this conflict he is witnessing the body self-destruct.

Thus it is that Paul realizes that there only one trump card that he can play . . . only one thing that he can do . . . and, that is to point out to those he is addressing, that despite their differences they are all bound to one another with one common denominator.

Now I realize that I have used a “math” term . . . “common denominator”; and, true, the first definition of that term is based in mathematics.  But it is not the mathematical definition I want us to focus on, it is the second definition of the term: “a feature that everyone or everything in a particular group has.”  A “common denominator” is that thing that binds the group together despite their diversity and differences.  In Paul’s mind and heart, that “common denominator” is Jesus.

Paul takes issue with this division within the congregation.  He points out that none of them who are gathered as a congregation got there through different means.  Paul points out that it was not he who was crucified upon a cross, nor any of the others.  It was Jesus.  It was through Jesus that they came into a relationship with God and with one another.  It was through Jesus that they became a representative body of Christ.  It was through Jesus that they were saved and brought into a life of faith. And, the very thread that holds them together as family . . . as the body . . . is Jesus.  No matter what their differences . . . no matter how unique they are as individuals . . . they are all bound together through Jesus.

It is at that point, states Paul, that we begin . . . we begin at Jesus.  We read his words . . . not the words of those who interpret them, but his words . . . the words he said.  We watch his actions . . . watch how he relates to those around him . . . those outside of him . . . those who are forgotten . . . those hidden in the shadows.  And, we pray . . . we pray to the God whose intimacy we gained through Jesus . . . we pray for guidance as to how we can live up to that call by Jesus to live as he lived in our own lives.

Now, I realize, that each and everyone of us has a relationship with God that is unique to who we are.  Because of that we are going to have differences in the way that we see God tugging on our hearts to be like Jesus . . . that we are not all going to do things the same way.  We are going to have differences of opinion, we are going to have disagreements.  And, that is okay.  That is okay as long as we remember to keep connected to that common denominator that makes us one as the family of God--Jesus.  It is through that common denominator that we will accomplish God’s will.  Through Jesus all things are possible in bringing about the Kingdom of God.

Paul is not knocking diversity.  No, Paul acknowledges diversity; yet, at the same time, he points out how the diversity fits together like an intricate puzzle to form the totality of the picture.  In this case, the body of Christ.  The fact is the family of God is a rich and diverse family that stretches from one side of the spectrum to the other.  There is no escaping it . . . after all, God created us, each and everyone, to be unique and in God’s own image . . . and, it takes all of us to make it happen.

Paul’s argument is simple.  Be one in Christ Jesus.  Let that be the foundation from which the words that we speak--no matter how we speak them--and the actions that we take--no matter how we take them.  We may not agree on anything else, and that is okay; but, as the followers of Jesus we can agree on that.  Jesus came to restore us to God’s Kingdom . . . a kingdom in which we are in a loving, intimate relationship with God and one another . . . a kingdom in which all are welcome, received, included, and made to be a part of the family . . . a part of the body.

Jesus is the tie that binds us.  Let us pull tight on that tie and be the body of Christ in this time and place.  Amen.

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