One of the joys of preaching is spending time with the text—diving in, getting to know the scripture and its context, and getting to know the book from which the passage is taken, attempting to figure out just what the writer was trying to say in his or her day and listening to what the text says to us in our day. This week, I’ve been spending time with Paul, the church in Corinth and Corinth itself. When I come up for air, I mention to a friend or colleague where I’ve been and I get some weird looks and impatient brush-offs. “Why spend time with him” those looks seem to say. Some people brush Paul off, others dismiss him outright. Some feminists chafe at his teachings about women; others recoil at his comments about homosexuality. Some of what Paul says is deeply offensive. And yet Paul, like us, was a product of his times. There are those who say that in his model of church leadership Paul was way ahead of his times. (His clergy teams often included women!)
This week I went on a rabbit hunt. I wanted to find out just what Paul meant when he wrote, “But we proclaim Christ crucified.” I read and re-read Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. First I read it straight through. Then I read the first two chapters and the last two chapters. I looked at foolishness and I looked at wisdom and I looked at what was going on in Corinth. Then I circled back and looked at the Body of Christ—the body formed at the Cross. The joy for me came in looking closely at the whole text and encountering passages and thoughts that have been a part of my life since I was a young child. Of course, I lingered at the thirteenth chapter. I’m sure you know it. It’s often read at weddings and heard, I think, as a statement about love in paired relationships.
This time I read it as a statement of love in community, for that is how I think it was meant to be read. You’ll notice that right before Paul launches into his discourse on love he talks about the people of the church in Corinth as the body of Christ recognizing that people have different spiritual gifts. Then he says, “But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way” (12: 31). Think of the communities in which you live and work and play. How do Paul’s words about love play in the daily life of the communities in which we live? How might we pray those words when our patience is challenged or our kindness takes a hike?
Though there is a part of Paul that is troubling, there is so much of Paul that is right on. Let’s start a conversation with Paul—listening to him, challenging him, inviting him to challenge us. I’ll wager we’ll find plenty to talk about!