RCL A 1-22-23, Holy Spirit, Vashon, Evan Graham Clendenin
17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.
In Christ crucified, we come into contact with the living power of God. We come into contact with a desire of God to meet us collectively where we are at, and awaken in us the loving, generative energies put there to begin with. We come into contact with power, a gentle, patient, compassionate power. A medieval Anglo-Saxon poem, “The Dream of the Rood” envisions this coming into contact with Christ crucified from the perspective of the tree that was made into the cross. A poet and faithful pilgrim dreamt of this tree. The tree, cut down before its time, grieves its role in the crucifixion, descends with Christ. But that’s not all- it rejoices to rise, to ascend to new life with Christ. And the faithful pilgrim, who has come into contact with this living tree, this vision, this power of God, hears a call into journeying with God, centered only upon the patient, compassionate divine presence.
This call, this contact with the power of the cross works a purpose of love within us. It unifies us within, with others, with God. Paul speaks about it to the Corinthians. But on the way, he notes that he heard from Chloe’s people that there has been some quarrelling. They are quarreling- maybe they are the perfectionists of their day, nothing ever good enough for them. If you want to fatigue and frustrate yourself and others, never settle for good enough when good enough is enough. They were quarrelling-talking past one another, assigning blame but not doing anything, listening but not hearing. Not listening and discovering differences and finding practical ways forward that are good enough, not honoring one another gifts and limits, yeses and nos. Quarreling about stuff that does not matter as much-not that it doesn’t matter, but doesn’t matter as much. There is a good word for what doesn’t matter as much Lutheran circles-adiaphora, inessentials. You’ll really blow the Lutherans minds if you tell them ‘Yeah, we’re trying not to get caught up on adiaphora at CHS.”
They’ve been quarrelling, and worse, they had even divided into factions. I belong to Apollos, I belong to Cephas, I belong to Paul, I belong to Christ. It’s not clear at the outset just what all factors into the nature of these quarrels and factions, but some people evidently felt attached more to this jolly old gospel teacher, or this ever-efficient church worker, or that sacramental wunder-kind. And mixed in with those quarrels and factions may be some real things that need to be sorted out, with care and love, listening hearts and practical minds. Paul will address some of the Corinthians troubles have to sort out among themselves with patience and grace later in this letter. For now, he simply acknowledges their relative dis-unity, and goes on to state-again, by way of giving thanks-, what is central, and that is a reminder to himself as well, what is essential:
I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.
The power of the cross, of Christ crucified, calls us out of what doesn’t matter and into what does. It calls us to put down our less helpful occupations and embrace the way God sends us upon. Jesus calls the disciples out of the boats, away from mending the nets, to fish for people. Our old life is made new by being part of the Christ’s body. We too will use our gifts and skills and simply the way we are with others in order to foster unity, and cultivate listening, discerning hearts, and invite others to know the power, the life, the living tree that awakens in us the deeply rooted love we were made to live and share with others.