10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,* by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.* 12What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’ 13Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14I thank God* that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15so 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.) 17For 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.
Christ the Power and Wisdom of God18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Driving through rural Scotland, bridges often appear seemingly out of nowhere and sometimes with very little obvious purpose. Perhaps to link farmland that has become separated through sprawling urbanization. Or to allow the passage of livestock across a busy road that has materialized in a formerly rural landscape. It often seems like a lot of effort and expense has been incurred for correspondingly little benefit. Except history would decree a different story and place in context the need for a gap to be bridged and a new pathway to be created. And the many, creative, picturesque styles of bridges do make the scenery even more beautiful and varied.
Divisions in the church are nothing new - as old as time itself. We become quite tolerant and even, at times, indulgent of these divisions. But St Paul places in context the need for bridges to be built - or chasms dispensed with. The divisions and our pandering to them, claims Paul, distract us from the mission to which we are called - preaching the gospel.
This makes me uncomfortable. I would rather chip away at finding similarities in our differences, common ground over which we can agree than work at a real solution that would bring about unity. I am more content with living with the differences than with dismantling a system that, in the end, still excludes. I cling on to the arguments, rationalizing that they lend some spice to life, even, on occasion, beauty. Cozying up with division means that all the while, the gospel remains unpreached, far less lived out in the life of the church. Once again, Paul presents us with the unpalatable facts that we’d rather simply choose to ignore, just as we try to ignore the erosion of our open spaces and the deterioration of our rural culture, threatened by inappropriate land use, even if that does result in some pretty bridging structures.
This is a piece written for the 2014 edition of The Abingdon Creative Preaching Annual, a source of stimulation for preachers reflecting on the RCL texts Sunday by Sunday. Available on Kindle.