The Living Spirit

The manifestations of the spirit are truly wondrous and as varied as creation itself. The living spirit grows and even outgrows its earlier expressions. It freely chooses men and women in whom it lives and who proclaim it. This living spirit is eternally renewed and pursues its goal in manifold and inconceivable ways throughout the history of humankind. Measured against it the names and forms given it mean little enough. They are only the changing leaves that blossom on the stem of the eternal tree.
-Carl Jung

Paul speaks often of the gifts given to those who follow Christ. He says there are a variety of gifts but the same Spirit. Our gifts are given by and are the gifts of the Spirit, the Spirit of God in Christ. This Spirit pervades all of Paul’s writing as a life-changing experience, as his in-spiration and as the thread that weaves it way through his thoughts. You could say it is the underpinning of his theology. For surely it is the source of his new way of understanding faith. It is this same Spirit that is the source of our new life in Christ as well. Just as the breath of God was the source of life in the beginning. It is this same breath of God, the Spirit of Christ Jesus that has brought a new way, an enlarged way, of life, the life of Christ that breathes within us.

But what is this Spirit? A bird hovering around in the sky? Some unseen nebulous being? Can we see it? Touch it? Paul likens this Spirit to a wind that blows, blows where it will. So the first quality of the Spirit is freedom. And to the extent it lives in us we have a freedom unbounded in Jesus the Christ. A freedom for life, a freedom for living.

I recently heard someone speak of the Spirit as an entity. Apparently there is a theological discipline dedicated to this inquiry. My day job is in Corporate America, in what is called corporate governance. In that realm an entity is how a company or corporation is categorized. The church also defines the Spirit as the third Person of the Trinity. A Person with a wholly singular way of being in the one triune deity.

Paul speaks in another way when he refers to the Spirit. We’ve just read him talking about becoming perfect. Perfect as God is perfect. I take the meaning of perfect here not as a striving or attaining perfection, but of coming to wholeness. The way in which God is whole is the way God is perfect. In the gospels Jesus’ healing of the physical ailments created in that person well-being, freedom from dis-ease, freed to the possibility of the wholeness that is the mark of the Spirit. It was a symbolic gesture that signified in the touch of Jesus the outer healing as it made way for inner healing and wholeness. A wholeness as the well-being that freed the life of the Spirit within that person.

Carl Jung, the son of a minister, in his psychology describes the living spirit as the energies that bring us to wholeness. It is this living Spirit that is the energies itself that make life possible. It is this Spirit that we see in Paul as his enthusiasm, (his en-theos, being in God) for the new way of being, the experience of God in Christ that he experienced in the risen Christ. As one Jungian put it God is our experience of the energies that make us whole. The Spirit then Paul talks about is this same energy that not only makes life possible in the new faith in Christ but is also the abiding Spirit that sustains and impels us onward towards the source and origins of our lives. In Christ this Spirit is available to us in each moment of our lives. As temples we carry this Spirit in our hidden selves, in the unseen holy precincts of our being. The new life Paul says we are called to is this new way of being in Christ, funded by his Spirit. It is the energies of the Spirit at work in us to incarnate, to realize, in humanity, the depths of God, the fullness of our being, as the religious endeavor to which we are all called.

Paul life’s purpose was to incarnate the Christ-self within the people of the Way and to extend it out into the world. Jesus said it himself: I am the Way that brings the Truth that gives Life. In each moment of our lives this living Spirit is manifest in creation, in ourselves, in others; the real work, the real Way, of our lives then is to come to this awareness so that we are available to the living Spirit moving in our lives, however it reveals itself, and like Paul, to use our gifts to incarnate the experience of the living God in image and likeness, the real image and likeness that of Jesus the Christ.

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Love is…

1 Corinthians 13-14

None of our gifts come to much if they are without love Paul tells us; they fall flat or unstainable without having love as their primary motivation. Again Paul emphasis that it is not works but faith in Jesus the Christ and love for ourselves and our neighbors that comes first. Is paramount. We are to act in the spirit of Christ, the Spirit of love. And, of course, it naturally follows, that if we are first motivated by love that what we do will follow and it will be ‘good’ – i.e. be life giving. When faced with tough choices, the one criteria I bring to these and ask others is does it give life. Will what I choose be life giving or life negating?

Just as Paul speaks of the new life, the new creation, the new self that we become in Christ, it is the Love of Christ, through the great act of his death and resurrection that brings us this life. To a renewed way of being. Paul keeps reiterating that we do not have to do anything, except have faith and love. Have faith in the Christ who lives in the other person, who died for that person who is homeless, who is in jail, who drives you crazy, who just caused you to lose your job, your hormonal teenagers, or your needy parents. Each reach for you, each awareness that assaults you, each recalcitrant in your midst, and the unruly world that cannot be organized to your will, is the reach and invitation of Christ in God to love. To believe more in the power of Jesus Christ than our own.

You’ve most like heard it said “Let go and let God.” I know it’s not easy. I’m a first born. Letting go hasn’t always been easy for me. It still isn’t. I explore and pursue every possibility, option and resource at my disposal before I thrown in the towel. But there comes a point when you realize, like Job, you are powerless before much of what life throws in your path. Especially the big things. We are often certainly powerless over others, even to help, heal or lift up sometimes. It is only the power of God that can bring miracles, open  hearts and minds, healing, awareness, and forgiveness into your lives and that of others. The paradox being, that it is easy. In believing trust and trusting belief, over and over again, the God of life, tends the life he has created and sustains. We just have to turn it over to him. I have a really big prayer I pray a lot. It’s this: BE GOD. To God I am saying do what  you do, be who you are. You know better than I how you will be, how you are being in any given situation. Then one day you realize that it is all grace, the Christ-life within us. Paul counsels to pray, pray always. I believe that Paul’s pray always is not just living on our knees, but the prayerful awareness of the Christ-life present in each moment of our waking and sleeping. And this awareness is can be fed by dedicated prayer time, but it is surely to go about one’s day with attentive awareness to the Real Presence and to the presence of the Spirit of Christ praying within us always.

Eventually all gifts will fail, Paul says, even knowledge. Even faith seeking understanding will sidle away as faith seeking love grows into being known as we are known. For in love imperfect things, knowledge, ways of being and teaching will come to an end, when perfection comes. Perfection meaning being whole, to be whole as God is whole.. A wholeness that we strive for now, but will be fully realized when we see face to face. When perfection comes, all imperfect things will disappear, Paul assures us. But the greatest of these, the gift that endures and does not come to an end is Love. Love is this wholeness that we can have now. As he speaks of spiritual growth and maturity with all childish ways put behind him, the thought moves on then in that wonderful passage, the love is passage that if often read at weddings. His thoughts build to a spiritual maturity, and that even now having put away the things of a child, comes to a spiritual maturity, which still is a dim reflection of what we will see – what we will know – know in love. To know as we are known by God, to love as we are loved by God. Paul says

Love is always patient and kind

Love is never jealous

Love is never boastful or conceited

Love is never rude or selfish

Love does not take offense

Love is never resentful

Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins (faults or failures)

Love delights in the truth.

 There is no eloquence, understanding, knowledge or even faith, no sacrifice of body, soul or possessions that counts for anything without love.

Love is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes.

Five Words

I Corinthians 13-14

Paul’s dissertation on love is perhaps one of the most famous and often recited passage from all of his letters.

He begins speaking about spiritual gifts. He calls his audience and us to seek the gifts that are the work of the Spirit. Aspire to spiritual gifts that will benefit the community. Paul apparently has the gift of speaking in tongues. It is difficult for our modern minds to grasp what this might mean or sound like, even what purpose it had for his listeners. Paul even indicates that an unbeliever coming into the midst of a meeting where someone is speaking in tongues would only hear a bunch of meaningless babbling going on. The words would have no meaning for anyone listening; so seek the spiritual gifts he counsels that are intelligible to everyone.

 As we read Paul he is very much intent on appealing to as many people as possible. To the Jews he is a Jew; to the Greeks he is Greek. To followers of Christ he is his greatest Champion. Paul the chameleon for Christ. But we do not hear Paul compromising his principles or belief in order to be heard by as many as possible, so that he might reach as many as possible. The obstacle Paul seems to be saying is to speak in a language (tongues) that is unintelligible to those who have come to perhaps be persuaded by him. Words can inspire, instruct and heal. They can also be a stumbling block.

I can’t help but connect what Paul is saying here with the language of systematic or academic theology today. I have to wonder, having weighed through many of those tomes myself, what good it does to have this knowledge, these cloistered conversations amongst themselves, but in a language that no one can comprehend and does not add one jot or tittle to the faith, or understanding of the uninitiated or even initiated believer, us ordinary folk.  Don’t get me wrong, some of this work is very insightful and would benefit the people in the pews and those who are not, but it doesn’t get to them. These internecine dialogues have a language and an exclusivity all their own. Yet they are begging for an interpreter. Someone to take it to the streets.

This secret language as it were is not Pauline nor is it inherent in the faith Paul founded.  Granted, the faith was under attack from its very beginnings. Even Paul is defending the faith from challenges within and without.  The other apostles in Jerusalem, James and Peter, too were defending a faith that came under attach even before Jesus dies. In the centuries that followed those who followed in Paul’s footsteps would have to nail down (no pun intended) the “articles of faith”, the very definition of who Jesus was, what his message and meaning were. If you were a believer, what you could and could not believe.  In their zeal they did not always get it right. They appealed to other tongues, other agendas, and even twisted Paul’s words to their intent, their agenda. As I read through St. Paul I am more convinced that it has a fluidity as a living organism, organic and addressing people in the words that they could comprehend, identify with. Jesus spoke in stories that his followers could understand and relate to.

Paul says, I would rather say five words that mean something than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Paul shifts then from speaking in tongues to aspiring to the gift of prophecy which speaks to the improvement, encouragement and consolation of others as more desirable, for it is again building something in the community and within each person. It’s pastoral; its spiritual. Its a spirituality that comprises the whole person and the world they/we live in. A few meaningful words heard from Paul and that we need to hear again today. What five words from Paul can we take away? I began meaning to write about Paul’s famous words about love in Chapter 13. But this makes a good introduction, as it is the path Paul takes to lead into that passage. Paul begins love is and he will say in a few words words that mean everything.

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Hermeneutic of our Humanity

1 Corinthians 12

[In Chapter 11 Paul talks about the Last Passover Feast that Jesus celebrated with this friends. I will come back to these verses to reflect on on Holy Thursday.]

Paul has been emphasizing the importance of building the body of Christ. Enjoining on the people of Corinth to set a good example to those around them as followers of Christ. As he continues he will talk about the various gifts of each member but given by the one and the same Spirit. It is the Spirit that Paul credits with the Christ life that has been given to those who follow and have faith in Jesus the Christ. In the lengthy passage from verses 12-30 he uses the analogy of the body as it corresponds to the various functions that each person in his own way is gifted with. In other words, how our humanity contributes to and makes up a body that is one, unified. Just as the different parts of the body functions differently within one body, so too each person will have different gifts, talents and abilities that serve for the greater good of the community. Paul comes to a point that acknowledges that though different, each person (part) should be concerned with all the other persons since what one person does and feels is felt throughout the whole body. If one part is hurt, all parts are hurt with it. If one part is given special honor, all part enjoy it.

What Paul is describing here is empathy. Which means ‘to suffer with’.  For us to be so attuned to not only ourselves in self-awareness but also attuned to the needs and dispensations of each other.  His thoughts then naturally flow to the subject of love again, and come to a culmination with that wonderful passage of the way we see, a dim reflection in a mirror¸ some translations say we see darkly. But at some point Love will open our eyes so that we will see without darkness or dimly but we shall see face to face. Of course, he is speaking of seeing God face to face. That sense I wrote about earlier in Not as a Stranger. It is of course the same idea. His progression comes to that place where empathy brings us to knowledge and understanding, the reality of all that is sacred.

And Paul concludes this chapter saying that as Love clears the way for our sight, it will also make the way for our knowledge of God as well. He says, I shall know as fully as I am known. To know as we are known. That our humanity, as Teilhard de Chardin in The Divine Milieu suggests, will continue to become more and more in the God in whom we live and move and have our being. This too is what I see Paul saying here. The Christ Jesus in God is the very ground of our being. We are grounded in this divine life in our sacred humanity and eventually we will know God as he knows us now. This knowing is driven if you will by empathy and love. That this then, our becoming, is the sacred design in Christ that Paul envisions as well for all the world.

So that brings me to want to nuance a bit the notion that all we need to read the scriptures and understand them is our humanity. The only hermeneutic required is our humanity. It is this heightened sensibility in our humanity that both Paul and Teilhard are talking about. To bring our humanity, who we are, with a sense of empathy for the words that reach out to us from the page, as Paul’s passion makes the promise of God now realized, moving in Christ, moving along the path that began with a man named Abram who was given the promise in the wilderness and then set out upon a path that comes straight (well, not exactly straight) to our doors. It is the God given grace, where the Spirit enables our self-awareness, the lessons learned from our own journeys, to hear the words spoken across the ages to us.  There is nothing we have to DO. Paul says this is God’s good gift to us and we don’t have to work at it. All we have to do is be open to the Spirit that is as alive and well in us today as it was in the impassioned reach of Paul to his audience.

In other words, we can settle ourselves in the awareness of the Spirit, as God’s work of art, which Paul calls us later in Ephesians, and that as we read the ancient texts we come to a place where it becomes for us revelation. The revelations of ourselves. The revelation of God.

It doesn’t happen in sound bits. Some of the bible is too familiar to us. So much so that we no longer hear its words, their meaning. We can’t let what we know now color how we read the text then. We’ve heard and been told what the gospels mean and what Paul’s message is about, pro or con. What I am suggesting is that we come to the text as if for the first time. To listen in a new way, without the local color that is often more baggage than enhancement. Perhaps we even need to distance ourselves a bit from our studies so we can enter into St. Paul by way of what Paul Ricour calls a second naiveté, by which I take him to mean that even after all our study, which is good, we allow a fresh and open listening, that enables us to believe again. Without additional commentary. The words of St. Paul are heartfelt. Perhaps we could allow our reading to be as from one heart to another. That in our reading we both bring our sacred selves to the words and allow the text to touch us, so that we might touch an ancient memory that the Spirit surely makes available and connects us with today.

More Paul and Women

I Corinthians 14:34-35

I want to conclude 1 Corinthians with reflections on the Spirit, spiritual gifts and Paul writing about love, from which is a gift of the Spirit and the source of our spiritual gifts.

However, in Chapters 12 -15 that Paul writes about these, comes two sentences that have unfortunately eclipsed Paul, who he is, his message and his view or attitude toward women.

I was talking to a woman last evening, telling her about this blog and what I wanted to achieve in writing it. She said she has a friend who thinks Paul is a ‘woman hater’. I assured her that Paul is anything but a woman hater. In fact, Paul doesn’t hate anyone. I also find it a great shame if we have let this misunderstanding of Paul get in the way of his true meaning and message. As I said at the beginning in reading the letter to the Thessalonians, Paul’s letters often sound like love letters, or letters from a parent to his children that he loves, cares about and wants to strengthen their faith in Christ. And women are included in this.

So, when I got to these two sentences sited about, they didn’t ring right with all that had gone before in this letter. I hope that you have reading along, taking up your bible and reading the letters and stopping and reflecting upon whatever strikes you and seems to be Paul speaking to you personally. But here is the passage in question:

As in all churches of the saints, women are to remain quiet at meetings since they have no permission to speak; they must keep in the background as the Law itself lays down. If they have any questions to ask, they should ask their husbands at home: it does not seem right for a woman to raise her voice at meetings.

I am writing these reflections simply from reading Paul letters.  I am not using any commentaries. Recall in Chapter 4 Paul says keep to what is written. That is my approach to the scriptures. The only hermeneutic we need is our humanity. But I went to The New Jerome Biblical Commentary out of sheer disbelief that Paul would have written these words. Especially after we had just read about how women are to conduct themselves at meetings where they are allowed to participate, both in prayer and prophecy. That’s pretty big stuff.

Sure enough, my intuitions were correct. This passage is not from Paul. It seems to be an addition to the letter at a later date.  Jerome calls it a ‘post-Pauline interpolation’. And the commentary also cites the previous passage I have above in Chapter 11:5 which this later addition is in direct contradiction to. Not only does it contradict that verse but it goes against the whole of Paul goal of building up the Body of Christ, the unity of members with various gifts, and above all his ever recurring refrain of love and the faith in Christ without exclusions to those who believe.

What has happened here is what I spoke of earlier this week: that when we take sound bites of Paul’s words out of context, without understanding the larger message and how his admonitions, warnings and corrections build into the over-arching positive message, we misunderstand and do ourselves and Paul a great disservice. Paul didn’t hate women. Paul loved everyone, including women.

 

Paul and Women

Corinthians 7-11
Paul leaves off at the end of Chapter 6 proclaiming our bodies as members of Christ’s. We belong to Christ.
Questions have been put to him about how then to live in the Way he preaches. Marry or not marry. Eat with our friends who are not following the Way? Eat with others who serve food prepared for idols? How to conduct oneself when we worship together, believers and unbelievers, men and women.
Paul’s response goes on for a while. And I get the sense that as he addresses each of these issues, especially about marriage, that Paul is tripping all over himself, struggling to answer, but then amend his suggestions, for they are only suggestions, so as to cover all bases. And if you want a chuckle read the final sentence in Chapter 7, verse 39-40. He thinks!
It would be easy to skim over these chapters or skip over them entirely. But one of my pet peeves is that because we have taken much of what follows out of context we have mistaken Paul and his meaning. Taking bits and pieces of his suggestions about women and their place in marriage and out, at the worship service, their place in relationship to men in general one would think Paul debasing women. For our day and age he does. If I needed a marriage counselor it would not be Paul. We have to remember that Paul is living in and addressing a very different audience than those of us today reading his letters. And we need to keep reading when Paul says women have no rights over their bodies. He goes on to say the husband has no rights over his body as well. Taken in the context of the larger letter we might take away a different sense of what Paul is getting at here. We are all, whether married or not, working toward our salvation together. I’d like to think here Paul is talking about the mutual consent of each person to be a help mate in achieving life in Christ. And it is up to each us to discern which state suits us best in achieving that goal.
In Paul’s day, women were only protected, cared for if they lived in their father’s house or their husband’s house. There was only one other alternative and that would be working the street, or rather, walking the shore line, watching for the boats to come in. In Judaism divorce was permissible. Mostly men, could get a writ of divorce from their wives if she was found to have committed adultery or some such offense. So what Paul is saying here to men is that you can’t through your wife out if you don’t like her cooking or anything else for that matter. The stipulation against divorce is for woman’s protection.
All of Paul’s rhetoric here is aimed that one thing: Whatever you do, however you live he wants his audience to be free of worry, free to focus on building the body of Christ. There is in his language about marriage and for the whole community the sense that there is a mutual belonging. If your wife is an unbeliever, then keep her, perhaps by your good example she will become a believer. In other words, we all achieve salvation together. What we might miss when Paul talks about women covering their heads in public worship, is that, in spite of women not being able to study or read scripture, they could participate in the services, praying and even prophesying at their gatherings.
Paul’s message is time conditioned. I’m not making excuses for him. Women reflecting man’s glory, being created for man’s sake, shows we’ve come a long way, baby. Mostly we know our churches doesn’t view women that way, because Jesus didn’t view women that way. Although, I’m afraid, it’s still a man’s church, a man’s world, and the real tragedy is that after two thousand years, some still use these outdated views of women, Paul’s sound bites, to promote in both the public (read political) and private spheres the devaluing and denying basic human rights to women.
As I reflected on these chapters, I’m thinking how is this going to help me grow in Christ. Just like the early church would discontinue Jesus’ table fellowship without exclusivity, Paul does not here reflect how Jesus treated women. The church for many centuries followed Paul not Jesus.
Jesus respected women, care for and about them, healed them, would not let the self-righteous religious male establishment stone them, allowed them into his company, even when his disciples wanted to deny them access. Women went around with him and took care of him. And Paul might have had an experience of the rise Christ. He may have considered himself the thirteenth apostle. But in the garden on Easter morning the first person who saw Jesus was a woman. The first person he talked to was a woman. The first person’s name he spoke was a woman’s. And the first person he commissioned to go and tell the good news that he lives, was a woman.

The Unleaving Bread

1 Corinthian 4-6

Today our contemporary approach to our behavior is that it is not driven by what others think of us, at least so we say.  Paul on the other hand does care very much about how the people interacting in proximity to his new converts see them. And he cares about the activities in their lives which distract from living their lives as examples and witnesses to the Christ he has brought to them and the Christ they have received. We are stewards of the mysteries of God he says.  But what does this mean? And what are these mysteries?

Paul says that as stewards we are to keep to what is written. I take this to mean the Hebrew Scriptures. In the story of Israel are the unfolding mysteries that carry through in the message and meaning of both Jesus’s life and Paul teachings.

Stewards are those entrusted with the keeping and running of households. God’s household is the kingdom. The kingdom of God is not just words but it is power. Power. A big word, wielded, used as a shield, considered to be a way of being that excuses supremacy, rule, dominion over others, muscle, strength. Power here is none of those things. Power is simply in its most original sense, the ability to act. So what Paul is saying is that the kingdom is not merely rhetoric and nice words; it is something real, active and alive in our lives that carries with it activity. Action. Achievement and realization. The living words that have power over our lives. The Word that became flesh.

Paul enlists the image of yeast here. Yeast causes the dough to rise, be puffed up. Paul wants us to clear our households of the old yeast, the yeast that corrupts, that he associates with evil. We are to be the new bread, the unleavened bread. Yeast also takes time for the bread to rise. When God sent the plague over Egypt to encourage Pharaoh to let God’s people go, they were to sprinkle the blood of the lamb over their door posts so the angel of death would Passover and not kill their firstborn. When they were finally ready to leave Egypt they did not have time to make bread that needed to rise. So they took with them unleavened bread. They were headed for a new way of life. A life of freedom, freedom to worship Yahweh as they were meant. And the unleavened bread was the bread, the bread of their freedom and new life, was thereafter used for their yearly Passover celebration of their Exodus from Egypt.

Paul moves seamlessly from his image of the yeast and the new bread we are to be, to Christ as our Passover.  Our unleavened bread; shortly he will refer to the bread of life and institute the words we now use at the Eucharist. The words Jesus may have used as he celebrated the Passover with his friends the night before he died.

During the readings during Holy Week in my church last year a boy named Jacob read one of the passages about Jesus as the unleavened bread, our Passover.  But Jacob didn’t say unleavened, he said unleaving. Jesus was the unleaving bread. He kept to that way of the word throughout his reading. Jacob, you got it right! What a wonderful way of saying it. Jesus is our unleaving bread.

I wish Paul had been as insightful as Jacob. For Paul goes on to tell the newly formed community of followers not to eat with people who are wicked. But when Jesus was alive he ate with EVERYONE. Tax Collectors, Sinners, the Wicked.  Jesus even said that the wicked will be welcome in the kingdom of his Father. But after his death his disciples did not continue this practice. Paul here departs from the actions of Jesus, actions that enraged the religious establishment, upturned their purity laws. The wicked were unclean. The unclean were not allowed in the company of the elect. But Jesus didn’t care what the religious establishment thought of him. He cared more for those who came to him. I do realize that Paul wants his new converts to keep out of harm’s way, out of temptations way, until at least they are stronger in their faith. This too is an example from when the people went into Canaan, the land promised to them by Yahweh; they were to keep to themselves, as a way of strengthening their community. The way Elizabeth kept herself apart after Mary left her, so that her child, Jesus’ cousin and first Heralder, John the Baptist, might grow strong within his mother.  But apparently in the company of Jesus you were in the kingdom of God, no one was barred from admittance. With Jesus you experienced the action, the power of his grace-filledness, his life; he is our Passover, saving us from  death, saving us for life, saving us for a life beyond captivity, to be led out with only our daily bread; saving us so that we might find him and know that he journeys with us, accompanies and sustains us, pitches his tent with us, our unleaving bread.

Singing in the Fire

Corinthians Chapters 1-3

Paul wrote the first letter to the Corinthians sometime around Easter. It would have been Spring time. The season of new life. The season of the Resurrection. The season when the path to becoming, becoming a new creation was paved for us. So it would follow that one of the metaphors Paul uses for this new creation in Christ is planting, sowing seeds. It is Paul who has sown the seeds of his message; it has been watered by Apollos, one of Paul’s companions. But it is God who makes things grow. Paul goes on to liken the faithful in Corinth to a farm, God’s farm.

 What Paul addresses here in his writing sounds like weighty doctrinal issues of moral conduct. Corinth was a thriving and diverse metropolis in Greece. It was a port city on the Mediterranean Sea with a divergent populace of aristocrats, tradespeople, farmers and slaves. At some point in his letter Paul will address the issues facing all strata of his new community of believers. Earlier we heard him addressing the challenges of the unreasonableness of the cross from the Greek philosophers. There was also a large Jewish contingent who had migrated from Rome, and possibly Palestine. Corinth was a great cultural and religious mix. There were various challenges to religious practices, rites and rituals that Paul would also have to address. Most of the issues facing Paul’s converts arose from the mixed cultural and religious atmosphere this thriving metropolis. The believer were also surrounded by the ever attention getting conduct, the lewd and lascivious goings on in their midst.

 But it is the genius of Paul to turn these issues on their head, uprooting them from their strangle hold on the newly elect, shaking them loose of their power to assail the budding faith. They are God’s farm and at the same time working right alongside God, the farm and the farmer.  As co-workers with God their lives are rooted in union in Christ, where they share in the freedom of the Spirit, planted in love and tended by the Spirit that reaches into the depths of thing, even the depths of God. For Christ has become our wisdom, our virtue, our holiness and our freedom. Bound to Christ we are no longer slaves to the world, life or death, present or future.

 Paul changes his metaphor to one a building whose foundation is Christ. Moral conduct then is determined by the Christ we have received, not by our status in life, rich or poor, slave or free. Freedom is to live under one sign, the sign of the cross, and one master, Christ. Our only wisdom is to know that we are God’s temple. Just as the Temple in Jerusalem was the destination, goal and center for the Jews, to say that we are God’s temple now relocates what is central, holy and our goal into the present and presence of the sacred reality that we are, our Holy of Holies the indwelling of the Spirit. It is the reminder that as God’s temple we are sacred. And this is the temple that no one can destroy. This is how we are to carry and conduct ourselves, as temples of God. (If the dating of this letter is correct it comes before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. If that is accurate then Jesus’ words about destroying and rebuilding the Temple in three days echo eerily in Paul’s words to the Corinthians.)

 Paul likens us to tradesmen who are build something, building our lives of faith. Paul asks us to think about what we are building. What is the quality of our work? Will what we build, what we do, last? Can what we have built withstand the fire. The first association with the image of the fire that comes to destroy is that this is apocalyptic rhetoric. That Paul is referring to the end times and the coming of Christ. But knowing that Paul was a devout and well-read Jewish man, a well-schooled Pharisee, who knew his Hebrew Scriptures very well, I thought of another association that Paul might have had in mind here. If you recall, in the Book of Daniel, when the King sentences Daniel and his friends into the burning furnace because they would not worship false idols, remain faithful to the Lord God of Israel, they go, into the fire singing. When the guards go to see them turned to ash, the guards burn up because the flames are so hot, but the three men are still alive, singing in the fire. The earliest Christians in Corinth were in a kind of melting pot (could not resist the pun) with challenges to their faith on all sides. Perhaps our lives today are like that. Challenges within and without to living our lives in Christ, to putting on Christ, looking like God’s fool. And yet Paul by his triune metaphors suggests that if we build it he will come. If we have Christ as our firm foundation, if we plant with God and see ourselves as the sacred beings we are, what we plant and what we build will last, and we can go about our lives singing in the fire.

God’s Folly

Paul’s letters to the Corinthians are a treasure trove.  Throughout these two letters the Spirit sows the seeds that grow into a marvelous succession of images and ways of being that bring us to the heart and soul of the Good News that Paul preaches with clear-sighted focus, vigor and single-minded ardor.

He begins with an appeal to unity.  To begin from oneness so that the rest may proceed from the wholeness and well-being that was the gift of the Creator now through his Son. Jesus’ mission was to regather, to reunite the dispersed tribes of Israel. Now Paul takes this charge up as his mission as well extending his churches as the new creation in Christ, the Israel of God. But there is still wrangling among the coverts as to what this means. Who would they follow? Peter, Apollos, Paul?  No, Paul says, Christ cannot be divided.  With the longer view of two thousand years behind us this sounds like a great irony. For we know that indeed the Christian faith has been dispersed among many factions and denominations. But for Paul what is important is building the body of Christ. One Body. Building a community of faithful who will unite around the one Lord, not any one person’s preaching, but the wisdom of God.

So he begins writing about wisdom. Because the dissention revolves around, again, how to rationalize something that Paul emphasizes at the beginning of Corinthians is not rational. The wisdom that we are shown here is not the wisdom of the reason or philosophy but the wisdom of what appears to the world as folly. That a man would hang on a cross and by doing so bring what he calls salvation to the world. It is this wisdom that looks certainly like folly. This kind of folly that sees strength in powerlessness, not in power. God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. Paul speaks from experience. From his own weakness. But through his weakness the power of the Spirit is released so that he can do the work he has been sent to do.

It was unthinkable to the Jews that human sacrifice would bring about the saving of anyone, certainly not the Hebrew people.  This is the foolishness that Paul is addressing. The folly of Christ crucified. And I must say at times it does seem mind boggling. I want to say couldn’t this have come about some other way? Did Jesus have to go through such ignoble humiliation and horrible death? The death of Christ can be a stumbling block to ourselves sometimes as well as the Jews who wanted not this kind of weak, powerless messiah, but a capital M Messiah who would wield an army, conquer their Roman oppressors and set them free, saving them at last, from the exile and save them to be able to worship Yahweh as they believed they were meant to, rather than give tribute to the pagan power of their Roman oppressors. Yet irony of irony again that it would be their Roman oppressors who would hand Jesus over to the religious authorities to execute, so that this thing called salvation could be realized for all.

In Lent we make our march through the wilderness, up the Appian Way, to place we would rather not go. To a scene we would rather not see. To a foolishness we would rather not witness. Even though that scene on the cross-laden hill hovers over all that Paul preaches, its foolishness is God’s foolishness for us. The foolishness of love. The foolishness of a pierce heart reaching out to the world to remind us that no price too high, no cost too dear, in order to gather us all together to that one heart, one community, one Body of Christ.