So what’s the deal with Corinth? Paul had been there a while back to get the church started, to do some teaching and preaching, and then, as the Spirit called, he moved on to the next city. But what we know from the bible is that Paul would keep in touch with these church communities through letters, using a trusted companion to carry messages back and forth. And he would write letters to encourage (see Philippians), to condemn and correct (see Galatians), and sometimes, like in 1st and 2nd Corinthians, to settle disputes and clarify. Turns out the message of Christ and what it means for our lives is something we need to hear more than once!
So when we take the 1st letter to the Corinthians as a whole, we can piece together that they had written Paul with some questions about some disagreements they were having. But somewhere along the way, Paul also got word that there were maybe a few other things going on that they weren’t telling him.
Like what? Oh, well, those usual church problems that seem to show up as reliably as crabgrass in a garden – divisions in the community, personal preferences outweighing community unity, money talking a little too loud, authority being questioned, people wrestling for control, an indifference to injustice, things like that. Those things that have plagued church communities from the very beginning.
And what Paul recognized is that all these problems come from the same place. They come from people who have forgotten, or maybe just haven’t quite understood, what it is that God has done in Jesus. Who don’t realize just how much the world, and our lives, have changed because of the cross.
And if they’re not at least on the same page about that, nothing else that Paul has to say will matter. So before he can go anywhere else, Paul’s gotta remind them that what brought them together in the first place, and what continues to bind them together, is Christ crucified.
Not just “Jesus in general”, mind you. Christ crucified. The point, the moment, the place that binds us not just to one another but to God is Jesus on the cross. The event in history in which Jesus went through the last human experience and in that took on the fullness of human reality. And in taking on the fullness of us, was able to give to us the fullness of God.
Jesus on the cross is the pinnacle of God’s self-giving love. The moment when salvation and redemption are made possible. When the chasm between us and God is closed by the broken body of Christ, stretched out on the cross.
So yes, we proclaim Christ, and him crucified.
Of course, to outsiders, it is totally and utterly ridiculous. Foolishness, even! Who worships a god that dies?! What sense does that make?
If, for instance, you came from a world that valued money and status and respectability and pride, that cared about working your way to the top, the whole Jesus story might just strike you as a load of garbage. And of course, that’s exactly the world most of those early Christians came from and even, dare I say, is still the world we live in today.
So as much as we might know “that Jesus thing” is important, the world we live in screams at us that it’s all utter baloney. That it’s just a cover for people who are weak or simple-minded or scared. That faith is nothing but a waste of time.
Two very different stories. Two very different worlds, even. And that right there is the crux of the whole thing. Which story do you believe? Which world do you live in? Because you can’t have it both ways. Divisions in the community will never be healed if we can’t even agree on who we are.
So Paul starts there. By naming what God has done and because of what God has done, who they are. They, Paul says, are fools. They are the fools who look for God among the weak and powerless. Who don’t jockey for power or strive for status. What binds them together isn’t any great thing they have done, but what God has done in Jesus. And that means something.
It means they don’t belong to that other story anymore. That they live by different rules. Different goals. Different hopes. Don’t believe him? Then look at yourselves, Paul says! Who among you was anyone special? Who among you came from noble birth or places of power? And yet, God still called you into this body! God still lifts you up as his own beloved child, loved beyond measure! Do you not see what the power of the cross can do? Look around you!
The world will call it foolishness, but we know otherwise. We know that the cross is hope. It’s salvation and redemption and family and home. It’s our world, our everything. It’s who we are. So if you want to boast about something, let it be the Lord. Let it be what God has done. And if we can at least get there together, we can work out the rest later.