Acts 18:1-4; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
(watch here: https://youtu.be/v4XZiSdwVcI)
After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together—by trade they were tentmakers. Every sabbath he would argue in the synagogue and would try to convince Jews and Greeks.
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.
*Change to slide 1* Our reading for this morning reminds me of the one about a big city lawyer who went duck hunting in rural Wisconsin. *Change to slide 2* He eventually shot and dropped a bird, but unfortunately it fell into a farmer’s field on the other side of a fence. As the lawyer climbed over the fence, an elderly farmer drove up on his tractor and asked him what he was doing. The lawyer responded, “I shot a duck and it fell in this field, and now I’m going to retrieve it.” The old farmer Peter replied, “Uh, uh, uh, this is my property, and you are not coming over here.” The indignant lawyer said, “Do you know who I am?! I’m one of the best trial lawyers in America and if you don’t let me get that duck, I’ll sue you and take everything you own!” The old farmer smiled and said, “Apparently you don’t know how we settle disputes here in Wisconsin. We settle small disagreements like this with the ‘Three Kick Rule.’” The lawyer asked, “Huh. What’s the ‘Three Kick Rule’?” The farmer replied, “Well, because the dispute occurred on my land, I get to go first. I kick you three times and then you kick me three times and so on back and forth until someone gives up.” The lawyer quickly thought about the proposed contest and decided that he could easily take the old codger. So he agreed to abide by the local custom. The old farmer slowly climbed down from the tractor and walked up to the attorney. His first kick planted the toe of his heavy steel-toed work boot into the lawyer’s groin and dropped him to his knees! His second kick to the stomach sent the lawyer’s last meal gushing from his mouth. The lawyer was on all fours when the farmer’s third kick to his rear end sent him face-first into a fresh cow pie. Summoning every bit of his will and remaining strength the lawyer very slowly managed to get to his feet. Wiping his face with the arm of his jacket, he said, “Okay, you old cooter. Now it’s my turn.” The old farmer smiled and said, “Nah, I give up. You can have the duck.” *Change to slide 3*
I guess that’s one way to settle a dispute! Poor Mr. Big Shot lawyer didn’t even know what hit him! That old cooter sure took advantage of the situation pulled a fast one on that slick lawyer. If only all disagreements could be settled with the Three Kick Rule! I suppose someone would wise up fairly quickly and it would lose its effectiveness. But boy, all those poor people who’d get suckered into receiving the first three kicks!
I wonder if the good people of that first church in Corinth could have benefited by the Three Kick Rule. Quite a different church than Paul’s church at Thessalonica as we lifted up last week in our reading. In Thessalonica, we heard how Paul’s proclamation of the good news had mixed receptions. *Change to slide 4* Some took to it and were converted to the Christian faith while others felt threatened by it and subsequently rioted throughout the town. It was pretty much base level discord: either you believed or you didn’t. Jump to a little more mature church at Corinth and the issue wasn’t over whether to believe but rather over what to believe. *Change to slide 5* The believers at Corinth were struggling over what to believe doctrinally as we heard in Paul’s letter to them. In particular, how to understand the conversion in baptism. Was it Christ at work converting the baptized or the person actually performing the baptism? “I belong to Paul” or “I belong to Apollos” or “I belong to Cephas” or “I belong to Christ.” Who has the authority to convert in baptism? Of course, we know that it is Christ at work in the waters of baptism and it is he who names and claims the baptized as beloved children of God.
It is somewhat of a silly argument but for the good people of Corinth it had caused great disagreement and discord. So much so that it was fracturing the church body! Rather than fighting the church from the outside as the people of Thessalonica had done, the fighting was happening within the church of Corinth over doctrinal understandings. In either case, both churches were not immune to disagreement and discord. Christ’s church consists of people and people naturally disagree about all sorts of things. Just look at that lawyer and the farmer and the dead bird on the farmer’s property! Just because people are naturally contentious doesn’t mean they can’t remain in relationship with each other. Christ’s church may be made up of people but it also has a head to it: Christ himself. And he most certainly wants us to remain in loving service to each other even when we disagree over issues. We can be a church of disagreeing people held together by God’s love and Christ’s command to serve each other. The love of Christ holds us together, not agreeing opinions on issues that arise in the life of the church.
Paul went on to address several doctrinal issues in both his letters to the good people of Corinth. Over and over again, he reminded them (and us) that issues that arise in a congregation are important to a degree. What’s most important is that no matter what issues arise, we must always remain in loving service to each other. Why? Because we are the body of Christ now. Recall what Jesus said in Matthew, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (18:20) I take that to mean wherever two or three or however many people are gathered in his name then that gathering actually becomes the body of Christ. And as the body of Christ, the gathered are to behave and interact as Christ would have them behave and interact–in loving service and fruitful cooperation. Believe it or not, disagreements can produce great fruit. They can push us to change and grow and mature. *Change to slide 6* They can create new and better fruit. It is when we allow disagreements to override our call to lovingly serve that God is most displeased. Yes, we are first and foremost to lovingly serve as the body of Christ.
Perhaps this is why we have been asked to reflect on the church of Corinth during this season of Easter. The resurrected Christ is revealed through us, the living church and body of Christ. WE are the resurrected Christ now and we must reveal God’s love and wisdom to the world just as Jesus did 2,000 years ago. Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians, “What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will live in them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (6:16) As the gathered people of God, we are the temple of the living God now. We celebrate the risen Christ through our witness and love now. Let us lovingly serve each other through whatever disagreements arise in our life together. And let us heed Paul’s wisdom from his letter to the Philippians, “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” (2:1-5) We are the body of Christ now so let act accordingly! Who knows…maybe we won’t need the “Three Kick Rule.” Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.