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From Conflict to Common Purpose.

3rd Sunday after Epiphany, Common Lectionary Year A

A reading, reflection and response to 1 Corinthians 1:10-18

©2014 Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

Jan 26 audio file – dramatic reading

Jan 26 audio file – reflection on Covenant for Harmony


We continue our exploration of Paul’s first letter to the Christian community in Corinth this week.   This week however, we are blessed with the leadership of Middle Zone’s (MZ) unique take on this letter, and what it means for us today.  If you recall, Corinth was a bustling port city, with all of the diversity and mayhem and activity that one would expect in such a multi-cultural, multi-religious, mult- everything sort of town.  Corinthians were as familiar with conflict as they were with seagulls and fish, so we shouldn’t be surprised to discover that conflict is rife in the little Christian community!  Factions are forming over which vision of the Gospel has most merit, and Paul wades in where angels may fear to tread, with typically forthright wisdom.. Let’s find out what happens when the Corinthians  receive their letter from the Apostle Paul.

Parts are identified as  1, 2, 3, 4 and Voice

Group of MZ……in the middle of an argument. 1.   …….Yeah, but Apollos said we could do it this way.  He knows what he’s talking about. 2.  Really?!!  Well you’re wrong,  cuz Cephas says otherwise, and he should know better than that Greek. 3.  Hey! Who are you calling names?  I bet Jesus would have had something to say about that! 1.  Yeah, well, he’s not here to listen is he?  We’ve got to sort it out by ourselves, and I say we go with Apollos. 2. Why? 1. Because! That’s why!!  His idea is just…. well more put together…

4. Hey, guys, we’ve got a letter! 3. Oh yeah, who’s it from? 4. Paul.    (2 and 3 are impressed, 1 rolls eyes and groans) 3. The apostle Paul?  Really?! Cool! 1.  (grumpy) What does he want? Isn’t he in jail somewhere? I bet he wants money or something. 4.  Well, we won’t know if we don’t read it.  Let’s see what Paul says  (roll open a scroll)

(Voice)  “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus to all the saints in Corinth, grace and peace to you…”

2. “Blah blah…” 3.  Be a bit more respectful would you? You should be open to what he has to say. (Voice)  “I give my God thanks for you always….”

3. Nice!  Really nice! Makes you feel really …. I dunno, blessed, or something.  Knowing he’s thanking God for us. 1.  From Paul?  You’ve got to be kidding,  he’s setting us up for something….. you wait. (Voice)” ….for the way you have been enriched in every way, in wisdom and knowledge because of Jesus Christ at work among you.” 2. You can’t fault that. 1. Wait for it…..

(Voice)” Now, sisters and brothers,” 1. Here it comes…! (Voice) “I’ve heard from Chloe’s people that you folk are bickering a lot these days, that you’re fighting one another.

1. And there’s the slap in the face… I told you! 3. But, why would Chloe do that?  Why would she say we’re fighting??? 4. Because we are!?  1. Well, what can he expect?  Apollos and Cephas started it!!  They can’t agree on how we’re supposed to be living the Christian life,  so of course there’s going to be a bit of conflict.  But Apollos IS  right, you know. 2. How can you say that?! Cephas knew Jesus! He’s bound to know better than Apollos. 1. Cephas is OLD! He’s going to bolt us down to the past!….. 4. Guys!!   Talk about proving Paul’s point! Let’s read on…

(Voice) I’ve heard that you’re dividing yourself, forming factions; “Apollos T-shirts, Cephas ball caps?  Even my name is getting dragged into it, and all of you keep saying “I’m sure Jesus would have taken our side!”

Group shuffle feet, and look shamefaced….

(Voice) But stop for a moment, think! If Jesus is the Christ, and he is, then in him we have a vision of God’s Dream. Now, is that Dream a nightmare? No!! Of course not! But you’re turning it into one with your fighting.

2. He’s pretty fired up, isn’t he?

(Voice) I didn’t come to your town last year to set you up for a fight, but to teach you about God’s wonderful Good News in Jesus Christ. Can you remember? That in Jesus we have been shown how to live God’s Dream together for the sake of the world. That in Jesus’ death, God has shown us that there is nowhere God will not go to be with us. That in raising Jesus to life again, God has shown us that death doesn’t win. And that the life of Jesus can live on in communities like Corinth – you get to be  the body of Christ, living as light in darkness, living as love in places of hatred and fear! So, for the love of God, for the love shown to us in Jesus Christ, don’t fracture the body of Christ with your disagreements and bickering.”

1. Sigh.  Okay, okay, he’s right, I guess. We’re not doing a good job of living like Jesus are we? 4. But how easy it is for us to forget! 3. I wonder if it was easier for those like Cephas, the ones who followed Jesus before he was crucified? 2. I wish Jesus hadn’t died!  I wish it wasn’t all down to us being the ones to live his risen life.  Sometimes it’s so hard to figure out. 1. Yeah, it’s too easy to get caught up in the latest church growth model…. 2. Or get caught up in holding on to the old ways, and not be open to how the Gospel fits in a new place and time…..    leave the chancel, as if carrying on the conversation.

(Voice)  Hear what the Spirit of God is saying to the churches. Thanks be to God.

Reflection by RevE

Thanks to Middle Zone and helpers, we can see how this 2000 year old letter still speaks to the churches a wisdom all too often honoured in the breach as in the observance. Thanks be to God for Paul; how prescient Paul was! Thank be to God for the wisdom of these fractious folk of Corinth to have kept this letter, and, like a facebook share, passed it around the communities of Asia Minor and the eastern Mediterranean, so that it would find its way into this Bible, to speak its wisdom down the ages, and into our own.

Because, if it was difficult for new Christians in multi-faith, multi-lingual, multi-racial Corinth  of Paul’s day to find the common bond of unity, amidst the competing visions of the good life, then it has proven equally difficult in every subsequent generation of the Christian church. If Paul were to ask the world wide Christian communion “Has Christ been divided?”  “Has the body of Christ been fractured into warring pieces?” the answer, shamefully, is yes.

But I’d like to narrow our focus to us this morning. (Now, don’t get anxious) I’d like to take Paul’s reminder to all churches to work through our conflicts to find our common purpose in the lively Dream of God, to introduce to many of you, and to reintroduce to others, Cedar Park’s own, homegrown, but Gospel inspired attempt to fulfil the hopes and dreams Paul has for Christian community. It’s called the “Covenant for Harmony.” About 5 years ago, about the time we crafted our Identity and Values Statement,  we also realized that to keep ourselves faithful to God’s call to us to be an open community, we’d need to be attentive to the very dangers Paul speaks of in this letter, getting so caught up in our commitments that we stop treating each other well, so we created this Covenant  for Harmony – a mutual commitment to do our best to maintain healthy relationships with one another as a community of faith.  It’s saved our bacon more than once,  as Paul would have imagined!  If the lectionary reminds us of Paul’s wisdom every three years, then it’s also a perfect time for us to revisit our own covenant to seek to find the common bond of unity in the midst of our diversity. So here it is… in newly minted logo colours,  and Middle Zone are going to lead us through it, taking the pointers, and rephrasing them in their inimitable fashion!

Cedar Park’s Covenant for Harmony

What follows are the ‘signposts’ for the Covenant, with commentary by Middle Zone – their take on what each signpost means.

1.  Commitment to Community

When we work together we can do more than we could alone. Cedar Park is more than a collection of individuals. We’re better together. So we ‘promise”  or `covenant to create community together.

2. Equality

Every single one of us makes this place great!!  Tiny tots fill us with laughter and hope. Seniors have been there, done that, seen it all, and share amazing wisdom. In between, all sorts of people contribute in unique ways.

3. Inclusion

We try to do all sorts of things to include everyone – Quelquefois nous parlons, prions, et chantons en français, We do playdough in a sermon for adults,  we have all ages Advent parties, we do intergenerational stuff like…secret pen-pals…..,  us helping with the sermon!

4. Respect

We all want to be treated right, to be valued and respected, so we make sure to do that with everyone here. Everybody’s opinion matters, so we try hard to listen carefully, and openly to each other. This place is a safe place to be me, to say what matters to me, and to share even crazy ideas, knowing I’ll be heard.

5. Openness

We are REALLY into being open!!! LGBTQ, straight, young, old, newcomer, long-timer, we’re all welcome, so that means we have to try really hard to keep the welcome genuine. We love the surprises that we get by being open to one another! When we want to be judgmental,  we`re reminded to ‘be open’ and to ‘listen up’, and be prepared to learn from someone else’s opinion. Being open can be a bit scary, because I’m expected to be honest, and take the risk to speak my truth. But if we all do that together, that’s how we grow as a community that is life-giving.

6. Commitment to Process

We keep asking ourselves “People, purpose, process” to make sure that what we do fits who God wants us to be and do. We measure our ideas and decisions against the Identity and Values Statement, and when we make decisions together we promise to support those decisions We tell each other what we’re thinking  about, and what we’d like to do together….. our meetings are open, you can come, you can read minutes, check the website, facebook, talk to one another,  it’s not a big secret being Cedar Park! And we don’t all agree! We’re all so different we’re bound not to agree.  The hardest bit of this covenant is this: if you have a beef with someone here, talk TO them, not about them!  (That’s what makes this place safe).

Together:  This is our Covenant for Harmony.


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