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It seems that our ancestors the primates taught us how to get along in families and extended families.  But when our ancient ancestors learned to live together in thriving metropolises, that was really a watershed mark.  Ancient Corinth was such a place.  Humans have always thrived when they have learned to cooperate and collaborate with other humans.  The temptation is always to fear the other and to assume that their very difference is a threat.  But people and groups that decide to stay isolated seem more likely to decline rather than thrive.

Corinth

Archeologists tell us that ancient Corinth was a thriving metropolis, a complex organization of many people working together and sharing prosperity.  They were a part of sophisticated trade routes that allowed them to buy and sell with a far flung network.  Eventually they had the courage and confidence to launch out onto the scary sea in search of more connection.

But there appears to have been a kind of ceiling to their consciousness when it came to cooperation and collaboration.  When they came across other large complex groups that were similar to themselves, it was as if they reverted to the more unevolved place of fear and mistrust.  They made war as a way to get what they wanted from these groups.  And they succeeded in dominating for a long time, enjoying their spoils.

As it happened, this city that understood unity and yet still had a tendency to choose domination as a way to security was itself conquered by the Romans.  Enter Paul in the first century, founding a community of Christians.  This church was made up of Greeks, Romans, and Jews.  There were men and women, rich and poor, slave and free.  This diverse group struggled with issues of unity, of cooperation and collaboration and was always tempted to choose domination-of-the-other as the way toward unity.  There were different traditions about worship, about sexual behavior, about social and economic interactions, about education; each of these “issues” show up in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that we read from this evening.  Paul makes it very clear this evening that functional unity, and indeed love, is the bar for the future of humanity; the church is called to live in this future now.

The Church

The history of the Christian Church is a history of both a tendency to connect and a tendency to dominate—right alongside each other.  We have awesome historical examples of inspiring unity and cooperation and at the same time horrific examples of violent torture and killing over differences. It has always been easier to excommunicate than to communicate.  To say, “You’re a heretic!” than to say “You’re heard.”  In the midst of this historical wavering, Paul’s voice is like a tuning fork. 

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. (1 Cor. 1:10)

True Unity

When Paul says “in the same mind” in the quote above, we know he doesn’t mean that everyone should think alike.  The mind of Christ is one of Paul’s favorite focuses.  Paul means a part of Christ’s inner self that is deeper than his thoughts, that underlies his thoughts. 

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,

   did not regard equality with God

   as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself, [emphasis mine]

   taking the form of a slave,

   being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

   he humbled himself

   and became obedient to the point of death—

   even death on a cross.  (Philippians 2.5-30)

The Rosetta Stone of relationships is that people want to be understood more than they want to be agreed with.  We understand others by focusing on them instead of ourselves.  There is a “emptying of self” that takes place so that I can “stand in the other person’s shoes.”  Everyone on some level knows that being able to do this is the mark of a good person.  When people are pouring over options for prayer cards for a funeral service they inevitable pick the prayer often attributed[i] to St. Francis of Assissi, our co-patron:

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek…

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

When in tonight’s reading (vs. 18) Paul says, “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,” he is talking about this emptying that we are all called to imitate.  On the high seas of love, this emptying allows us to either perish or be saved.

For a community to live anywhere near this ideal is to live in unity as each member tries to understand the other.  Once we understand each other’s unique perspective, we can find the way forward in love in a way that works for everyone. 

St. Stan’s

For about 125 years, St. Stan’s has been practicing a kind of common life where everyone has a voice.  They chose the way of communication and of hearing each other.  Their “unity” did not come from “obeying the same person” as if they were the Roman army.  Their unity came from paying attention to each other and collaborating together.  [Now I turn my attention specifically to our visitors from St. Stan’s.]  You have been doing this for 125 years.  We want to be just like you.  You are our heroes.  This is the kind of church we want to be a part of.  This is the kind of church Paul founded and nurtured in Corinth. 

Sts. Clare & Francis/ECC

We belong to a group of parishes that decided not to call ourselves a “church.”  Of course we are a church; but we wanted to avoid the connotation of yet another big corporate power structure that is primarily institutional and top down.  We call ourselves a Communion because communion is what we want to be about.  We want to take the experience of a thriving local community and not assume that at the next level of grouping there has to be war.  We want to break through that “ceiling of consciousness” that stops some from envisioning wider and wider circles of collaboration and unity.  We would like to build a strong partnership with you.   And we would be thrilled if you became a part of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion.

Differences

There may be small differences in the way we celebrate the Eucharist.  For example, we like to stand around the altar table during the Eucharistic Prayer; we prefer inclusive language; and we borrow a great phrase from Paul to say right before we receive communion:

“We, though many, are one body, for we all share in the one bread and in the one cup.”  See 1 Corinthians 10:17

It might be clear that unity is a major focus for us.  There may be small differences but both of us celebrate the same Eucharist.

Unity

And our unity is much deeper than these small differences.  As Christians we share a very deep, trifold common core, do we not?

  1. Don’t you sense a great Mystery that is throbbing just beneath the surface of everything and aren’t you at least tempted to surrender yourself to this One who is so profound that the Hebrews would not even utter the name of this One?  This Mystery grounds our vision of selflessness.
  2. Don’t you want to engage with the mystery of other persons to greater and greater levels of Communion?  Don’t you have a vision of humanity as a whole being in Communion?  This is the Reign of God that grows in you like a seed.
  3. When you witness the suffering of the world, don’t you sense a call to run toward that suffering rather than run away from it?  This is the God of the Exodus coming alive in God’s people, sharing God’s heart with those who are God’s daughters and sons.

We want our future to be your future.  Amen?

Third Sunday of the Year/ St. Stan’s Day
January 25, 2014
Isaiah 8:23 – 9:3
1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17 (focus text)
Matthew 4:12-23
Homily by Frank Krebs


[i] Scholars do not believe that St. Francis wrote this; however it is easy to see why so many people thought he did.  It captures the heart of this “emptying out” that Paul spoke about and that Francis lived.

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