God Imagines…..All Are Equal – 1 Corinthians 1: 10-18

Gerald C. Liu – 3rd Sunday After Epiphany,  January 22, 2017.

“I am Christ’s and So are You”

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that no matter who runs the United States, we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, Collect for Year A, Third Sunday after Epiphany, modified by author.)

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.

Well that sounds nice, doesn’t it? We’ve never had a disagreement in this church, have we? I remember at one of the parishes I formerly served in England, there was a weekend morning coffee gathering open to the public. It wasn’t quite as elaborate or hip as the Sunny After Dark coffee house. But it was a significant undertaking for a church comprised mostly of 60 and 70 year-olds. We were located on the “High Road,” which was a main shopping drag, not unlikeNassau St. We’d offer free coffee, tea (usually with milk and sugar) and biscuits (that’s Queen’s English for cookies) to people buying clothes for the kids or themselves or both, getting groceries, and taking care of any other weekend errands. And when everything was finished, as we were cleaning up, boy, if a single cup or saucer was placed on the wrong shelf, or the coffee maker or tea kettle were stored in the wrong cabinet, or if the chairs weren’t rearranged just as they previously were, (The church was small. So, we had moveable chairs in the sanctuary and used it for the social coffee time), you’d think that the world had ended. If anything was out of place, I’d get an earful from church members who were mad at the world.

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.

It sounds nice, doesn’t it?

Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families and good jobs for themselves. These are just and reasonable demands of righteous people and a righteous public, but for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists:Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.We are one nation, and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams, and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.

Though the language exaggerates for effect, we can probably nod our heads to the sentiment. Some of our heads may begin to shake, however, at the next line – “The oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans.” Those words and the occasion where they were pronounced make us want to do something. We have to do something, like Mayor Liz Lempert did when she joined the women’s march in Trenton, NJ yesterday. Maybe some of you were there too. In New York, where I live, there were reportedly 400,000 women, men, and children participating. Lempert told the Princeton Patch, “It is going to be more important than ever that people will stand up and be vocal about things important to them, and to use our collective voice to make a strong statement” (“Princeton Mayor to Participate in Women’s March in New Jersey” in The Princeton Patch, Anthony Bellano, January 19, 2017). Her speech isn’t empty. She isn’t merely saying what sounds good. Her appeal and action to empower social change gets at what Paul urges the Corinthians to do.

I Corinthians is a letter. It’s one of the longest in the New Testament. Paul writes it to a church he founded. He’s a seasoned minister at this point. He’s been proclaiming the gospel for about 20 years. He spent about a year and a half with the Corinthians and at the time of this letter, he hasn’t seen them for about three years. He’s in Ephesus. It’s as far away as Nova Scotia is from us. And even though he writes from a distance, there are pressing church problems that need addressing. We won’t get into the details today. Our focus this morning is his appeal that the Corinthians must unify.

Given all he’s been through with and apart from the Corinthians, when Paul makes an appeal for unity, he doesn’t speak from naïveté or blind faith. He isn’t articulating a platitude or wishful thinking.

He also isn’t just addressing the Corinthians. In verse 2 of chapter 1, he writes, “to the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” He’s writing to all of us, including Princeton United Methodist Church, nearly two millennia later.

Still, how do we receive Paul’s words as true, especially today? And how do we live into them? We’re getting close when we as a church believe and declare, “All are Equal.” But that kind of declaration can seem unreal too.

All are equal?

President Trump is a billionaire three times over. President Obama didn’t do too shabby either. Though born to a single mother and raised by his grandparents, he was a millionaire when he took office. He’s worth twelve times that now.

All are equal. What does that actually mean?

Here’s how I understand our national reality. Our country was born out of genocide. Slavery gave us our infrastructure. We secure our freedom through law, military interventions, and advances in economy and technology that are by no means balanced in their application or fair at all. That is in large part what putting America first looks like. Opening our hearts to patriotism has not only provided space for prejudice. Our patriotism has warranted violence beyond the pale. We’re the only country to drop nuclear bombs, twice. Frankly, the U.S. is both idealistic and ruthless when it comes to what we call democracy.

I’m of course saying nothing new to most of you. Prof. Brash could do a much better job at filling out the details. By the way it didn’t go unnoticed that he and Jana are alumni of Drew, where I taught before making my way to the mothership of PCUSA education across the street.

All are equal?

The statement is still puzzling even if we don’t want to get into politics. At Princeton Theological seminary, we’ve had an unusual number of spouses, partners, parents, grandparents, and loved ones pass away. Many died from an unexpected and unrelenting illness or an unwanted accident.

You have your own pain like this. It’s uncle John, dying of cancer and your Uncle John’s sister, your mother, realizing if that happens she’ll be the only sibling left of what was originally five. It’s you or someone you can’t live without, feeling tired all the time, bothered by dull and chronic stomach aches. After thinking it was ulcers, you’re informed by a specialist it’s stage 4 adenocarcinoma, inoperable and incurable. Maybe it’s “fourteen years” of marriage and you’re “still rocking an empty cradle” (Fred Craddock, Hoping or Postponing, Matthew 16:13-17 in The Collected Sermons of Fred B. Craddock, Louisville: KY, WJK 2011, 85.). Maybe you are Uncle John or that mother, that couple or even someone who suffers terminally.

What do we mean when we declare that all are equal?

For Paul, it means that we share the mind of Christ. God may not reach down and mold each of our existences into our best life ever. But God’s hands touch our lives graciously so that we can perceive and live in the world as Jesus does.

What do we mean when we declare that all are equal?

For Princeton UMC, we aim to show it every Sunday. When our Presbyterian, Muslim, Bahá’í, and Jewish neighbors associated with the Princeton Clergy Alliance join us in worship with Asian and Black Baptist guests from Westminster Choir and Princeton Seminary to honor Ms. Jennings and the late MLK, we give evidence that all are equal. Every Sunday we worship in unity and with purpose. And we continue the celebration in occasions like the Lunar New Year Feast following worship.

Those celebrations remind us that we are all equal as family united in God, born of the Spirit, and able to think and act as Christ did and still does. We just have to keep the holy verve during the rest of the week too. The reality we see cannot stop what God revealed to Paul so long ago that we’re all equal as those united and called by God to be of the same mind and purpose – Christ’s not President Trump’s. That truth remains true for us today whether we’re a fan of Paul or not.

I’m not talking about hidden revelation either. I’m talking about keeping the faith because

Christ has not been emptied of his power no matter who is president. Heck, Rick Perry now believes in climate change. Miracles can happen. And as we pray for more, may the power and imagination of God stir us to proclaim and live into the gospel with unity and purpose. Amen.

Written by Isabella Dougan