"The same mind and the same purpose"-A Sermon for Epiphany 3, I Cor. 1:10-18
So, Paul begins our New Testament lesson today from his first letter to the Corinthians by saying, “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.” So…understatement of the year alert…that my friends…is a tall order. Our nation inaugurated a new President this week…as of course you know…and the protests and celebrations that dominated the news cycle just reemphasized the divisions that this election cycle and that wealth, racial and gender inequity have already made so painfully clear. The image that keeps returning to me is of a glass bowl, not unlike our baptismal font, dropped on a cement floor exploding into fragments and shards being jettisoned, flung far, in all possible directions, from the point of impact. On Tuesday morning, I heard an NPR news report in which the reporter was traveling to different cities and towns around the nation exploring reactions to the election. As you would imagine, the responses were very varied. This particular interview was of a woman in a town in the Midwest…and the woman described the response in her own town as one of overwhelming joy, excitement and celebration at the election results. She literally described the jubilation as what people must have experienced at the end of World War II. She said people were honking horns in celebration…people were literally celebrating in the streets…high fives and thumbs up everywhere. My own experiences with the people in my own personal life have indeed been much more muted…but still very, very different and diverse…from a family member, who I love entirely, deeply respect, have trusted my very life to, who said to me: I voted for Donald Trump…but I will be in sincere prayer each day. And I compare this to other dear friends and loved ones who were in tears…experiencing deep grief, shock, fear, anxiety for a future that now feels unsettled, unmoored, even unsafe.
So, what of agreement, no divisions, same mind and same purpose…this call to unity that Paul sets before us today? Is this but a pipe dream…nothing more than the rhetorical musings of an overly optimistic and utterly unrealistic religious zealot…a, perhaps well-intentioned but entirely misguided, notion that may make us feel good, even hopeful, but can never, will never actually happen…and thus taken seriously can only set us up for disappointment and failure?
Whatever the issue we want to consider, achieving unity, in any respect or on almost any subject can feel…well…challenging at best. I’ll admit that as the leader of a community of people from very different backgrounds and experiences…all of whom I love…holding very different theological, political, and cultural worldviews…that the idea of unity of purpose and mind, again, can feel, if not entirely out of reach, a very distant reality…that feels somewhat more akin to a dream than a lived experience. For I have never served a community that didn’t at times suffer from conflict, deep disagreement, and have within it real interpersonal conflicts…that is people who for any number of reasons did not get along…did not see things from the same perspective…and of course, on occasion, actually hurt each other.
Now at St. Julian’s in particular, we have as one of our core values…that we will negotiate our differences with love and mutual respect…and this has served us well. It is in our DNA…a value that we identified at the beginning of our life together…and, again, it has served us well. We have stood together, more times than not. We have, when needed, maybe not every time but most of the time, done the hard work of engaging in love and with respect those with whom we are in disagreement to seek reconciliation and understanding…and this takes incredible bravery and profound trust. I have sat in awe in many of those conversations. And I have had to be in some of those conversations myself…for I am not immune to unintentionally hurting someone…or being hurt. I am not immune to conflict or disagreement. And all of this good relational work has led to growth in number and spiritual depth. And I find in this fact, this lived experience, great hope for our own shared future. The fact is, we are and have already faithfully entered into the challenging work that Paul sets before us today…thus we should be encouraged…perhaps unity is possible…and there is no other family of faith that I would rather do this difficult thing we call life in. We are blessed to be here together…I hope you feel similarly.
And I mention this not for the purpose of suggesting that our unity oriented work is remotely done…it is not, or for back patting, or some sort of psychological boost, but because I believe, with all my heart, that this experience we have shared at St. Julian’s is the very thing of which Paul speaks in his proclamation to be in agreement, unity, the same mind and same purpose. For Paul’s writing that we consider today is shared not with a nation, a state, or even a city, though his words can and should have impact on all three. Instead, he was writing to a particular community…he was addressing concerns and challenges facing a particular group of people…the Christian Community in Corinth, the family of Jesus followers, who made up the church in a particular place and time…a church he helped plant and nurture. Therefore, the very writings that we consider today are more of a love letter written to his extended family than an inauguration address…or some such. Paul’s writing was much more intimate than a political speech. He is writing to a family of faith he shares…and saying to them very specifically…he even calls out one family by name, Chloe’s people…saying to them…you…you my friends and extended family…be of the same mind…be of the same purpose. Paul actually seems a very bright and realistic fellow…not a religious zealot or mad man…if, at times, he can be awfully enthusiastic. And thus, he knows well that arguments arise…that disagreements develop…that people, even people who love each other, find themselves in conflict and deep disagreement. He knows that healthy communities that share values and purpose and hopes and dreams take intentional work…lots of work and it is almost always hard work…but it’s also always worth it. Thus his proclamation to us today is not something that we are to have already attained and may never attain completely. Instead, he shares with us a vision…a future oriented vision of who we can be…who we are to be. And make no mistake…this is not work that we begin today and accomplish tomorrow. It is work we begin today and continue tomorrow and the day after and the day after and the day after…for a lifetime. For we are entirely human…often self-oriented, blessed with some level of autonomy, formed by our own experiences and learning, which is all to say that we are very different…and blessedly so.
And I say blessedly so…because our differences are what make us, together as a whole community of God’s beloved, interesting, rich, and complex. Our same mind and same purpose is only discovered and enacted when all are counted, loved and belong…in all of our uniqueness and difference. I have shared before the metaphor of stained glass. What allows stained glass to tell a story…to paint a picture that speaks to the world, all who see it, something of the beauty, wonder and love of God…are the interplay of the different hues and colors…different colors, a wide variety of colors, that come together for one purpose, with the one mind of the artist behind it all, who pulls all the different pieces and colors together to tell a unified story…to paint a cohesive picture…that speaks to the world something, again, of the beauty, the wonder, and the love of God. The colors are us, all of us, in all our uniqueness and difference, and the artist, the one mind behind it all, that pulls it all together, is God alone…the very mind of Christ.
But I would be remiss if I ended with this image of unity of purpose, rooted in the mind of Christ, which binds us all together into the particular people God is calling us to be. For we have a huge part to play in developing the unified story or picture of God’s beauty, wonder and love that we, with God’s help, are indeed creating. For it requires something of us…perhaps a lot. It looks and sounds like something…and, as already suggested, that work is hard, requires intentionality, and needs to happen all the time…but again the work is so good and so worth it. And further I think this work has to begin in the particular, in the micro, not the macro…it begins in the home and in communities like this one, like St. Julian’s, like the church in Corinth to whom Paul first wrote, and other gatherings of the faithful…in their own particular time and place. This work of finding agreement, a shared mind and purpose…begins by divesting ourselves of all power, of all might, of all sense of being always right. Just like Jesus on the cross…we must be willing to give ourselves entirely to and for the other…to open ourselves entirely to one another…not to fix the other…or teach the other what we have already determined to be right…but, instead, to lovingly listen to one another, taking turns sharing from our own hearts and stories who we really are, what we believe, what inspires us, what keeps us up at night. In doing so, we begin to find ourselves in the stories of others. We learn from each other and are changed by each other. We grow from each other. We are made more completely who we are because of each other. And we begin to find that we indeed share purpose, we share a desire to be more deeply rooted in the one mind of Christ, and we find ourselves more deeply unified one to another all wrapped up in the bonds of God’s great love.
Lastly, I believe it is just these sorts of relationships and communities that have the potential to be uniters and reconcilers for the larger world around us…to be agents of unity and transformation in this sorely divided world with which I began this sermon…bringing more and more people into unity…alongside us…around the teaching, the mind, the life of Jesus…a life rooted in the love of all, the care of all, equity for all…a common life that finds unity within diversity…that looks ever more and more like the rainbow colored people of God. For our unity is not for the sake of simply going along to get along…our unity serves a much, much higher purpose…which is nothing less than building the kingdom of God on earth…a kingdom in which…all are safe…all are given the freedom to be fully alive and uniquely who God has made them to be…for the glory of God is indeed a human who is fully alive. But, I believe with all my heart that Paul’s forward looking vision of unity…the move from enemy to sister or brother…the move from quarrels to shared purpose…begins, not ends, to be clear, but begins, in our homes, among our families and friends, and in our church.
Now this work of binding ourselves together doesn’t and can’t only happen in church. To this end, I hope you will invite each other over for dinner, to celebrations and to coffee. I hope you will get involved with groups beyond this church who are entering into storytelling and relationship building work in the larger community. But to participate and facilitate, just these sorts of opportunities, for the first-time St. Julian’s will be offering a program on Wednesday evening this Lent that will be very simple in its intention…to gather for a simple meal of bread, soup and salad followed by storytelling around the table. More info will be coming, but I hope you will join us…as we strive to be more deeply bound one to another, to know together the mind of Christ, and to share a purpose…for the benefit of those entrusted to our care and all beyond. Amen.