In today’s epistle we hear the apostle Paul’s works to the Christians at Corinth. His warning to them is a simple one that requires our attention every so often. Often as we read the Scriptures and the New Testament we are reminded of things that we might take for granted or ways that we may have become complacent in our own lives, and attitudes.
Listen to these words: “Brethren, I appeal to you, by the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissension among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ 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 Crispos and Gaius; lest anyone should 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 St. Paul, the greatest tragedy would be a church that is not united. He had spent his life in serious study and prayer, looking for the truth and trying to know God more fully. He was zealous for the ways of his teachers and fathers and this zeal, although misguided, had enflamed the apostle with a desire to see the truth spread and the false teachings stamped out everywhere. This is why he led attacks on Christians and threw many into prisons. Because his zeal was misguided and ill-informed. One day, by the will and the grace of God, Our Lord Jesus Christ revealed Himself to St. Paul on the road to Damascus and this set off a chain of events that have rippled through time and completely changed the course of history. Paul became the apostle to the gentiles and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ far and wide. He had a new focus for all of his earlier zeal and love for God. Rather, God came into focus more clearly for him. Through the encounter with the risen Lord Jesus, Paul’s world was turned upside down. His life was now fully dedicated to teaching others about Christ and helping others encounter and know this messiah, this Son of God who could save mankind from their sins.
With all of this as a background, we see St. Paul undertaking major missionary journeys all over the known world and the Roman empire. He gave the rest of his life to this daunting and joyful task of bringing the news of what God had done for humanity through His Son Jesus to the whole world. He set up communities and spent time with them, loved them, prayed with them and encouraged them. He would then pick up and move to the next area to start the work again in a new place, to bring new souls to Christ. St. Paul would often hear news from these communities that he had started, some good, some not so good. And what St. Paul understood clearly was that there were a few things that could hurt, if not destroy a church community.
First, false teachings. Second, immorality. Third, dissension or division over smaller issues. This is the one that St. Paul is focused on in today’s reading. What was the issue that began to cause division for the Christians at Corinth? It was their baptismal lineage. Who had been baptized by whom? Some claimed their baptism was better because it was at the hands of Apollos, some at the hands of Cephas (Peter), some at the hands of Paul. And this rather trivial matter became a big issue that divided the people.
In our world there are always things that will divide us if we let them. Today we divide over political affiliation, the use of vaccines, the wearing of masks and who serves the most delicious cheeseburger. But we are reminded that to divide over trivial matters isn’t just bad manners, it is a serious sin. It is tearing the fabric of the body of Christ in two. Shredding a lovely, single garment made by the hands of God, into pieces. It is a sign of a deficiency in love towards Christ and His Church and towards those for whom Christ gave His life upon the tree of the cross.
My brothers and sisters, it should not be so. We should not be like the world around us, uncivil, ill-mannered, ill-tempered, easily provoked, easily offended. As Christians we are called to see Christ in every person and to love every member of the church with a godly love. The things that unite us in Christ are much greater than the trivial and childish things that cause us to separate from one another. And if we find that perhaps our opinions are too strong, too offensive, too harsh and polarizing, we can choose the path of humility instead of the path of prideful resistance. We can choose to be peacemakers. I believe that our Lord said something important about being peacemakers. Being the man or woman who works for peace with their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, is more important than feeling right or justified in my opinions.
It should go without saying, that this is true even during coffee hour or when we are on social media. Not everyone does a good job of showing restraint and thinking about how their comments and opinions might serve to alienate or push away their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. That we don’t think about others makes us more than negligent, it makes us selfish and self-centered. So we are all called to restrain ourselves and to think of others. That is how we love actively. That is how we honor Jesus Christ.
St. John of Kronstadt writes, “As the Holy Trinity, our God is One Being, although Three Persons, so, likewise, we ourselves must be one. As our God is indivisible, we also must be indivisible, as though we were one man, one mind, one will, one heart, one goodness, without the smallest (mingling) of malice – in a word, one pure love, as God is Love. “That they may be one, even as We are One” (John 17:22).” He writes in another place “A Christian must always be kind, gracious, and wise in order to conquer evil by good.” Sometimes we are the ones being offended. Even then we are not let off the hook. We are commanded to forgive everyone so that we also might be forgiven.
My friends, let us work diligently for the salvation of our fellow brothers and sisters, every minute of every day, especially when we are here with this great extended family. Let us love and be ambassadors of Christ’s love just as the Lord first loved us and sacrificed Himself on our behalf. Let us not push others away carelessly, instead let us draw them further into Christ’s Church with the net of mercy and compassion, for this makes us shine with the radiance of the All- Merciful and compassionate God, the Lover of mankind. AMEN.