Joshua, called to be a priest of the Episcopal Church by the people of the Diocese of Olympia and by Jesus Christ by the will of God,
To the church of God that is in Viking Union, known as EPIC, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to question and rebuild their faith-filled lives:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I cannot tell you how thankful I am to know each and every one of you and to witness the work of the Holy Spirit in your lives as you build friendships together, ask sincere if occasionally irreverent questions, and stretch yourselves during these years of intensive learning so that your efforts are not merely self-serving, but act as earnest contributions to the Kingdom of God wherever they may take place.
I appeal to you tonight, siblings in the faith, that all of you hold out hope for Christian friendships that are yet to come, and that you do so while eagerly considering the words of our brother Paul. The words the apostle wrote around the year 54 to the Christians in the port town of Corinth stand for us today as helpful words in many ways, and perhaps not so helpful in others. Indeed, all of Paul’s letters, with the probable exception of the Letter to the Romans, were written to people he knew personally and loved deeply. He understood the specific situations in which the churches found themselves, and he set out to address specific problems as they came up. In short, Paul’s letters are not a theological or ethical treatise, but a practical advice column: “Dear Abby” for Christians of the ancient Mediterranean, as one of my seminary professors put it.
The Corinthians were a troublesome lot. As their town was a multicultural hub of trade, its citizens were constantly exposed to new ideas and new philosophies. This meant that it was probably very easy for Paul to plant a church, but it was difficult to keep its members on task. Perhaps they were tempted by some form of Gnosticism, or they were allergic to accountability, or their spiritual enthusiasm tended to be a bit self-focused. We think that the Corinthians used to meet in the homes of rich people who had lots of space for entertaining. The people would stream in gradually for worship as they got off their shifts at work, but sometimes the hardworking poor would arrive to find that the idle rich had already eaten all the food. Keep this in mind as you read 1 Corinthians, chapter 11, and ponder the meaning of “an unworthy manner” and “eating and drinking judgment against themselves.” (For the especially academic among you, I have attached a seminary paper I wrote on this section.)
At any rate, Paul responded to them with a three-pronged approach: a theological emphasis on Jesus’ victory through seeming defeat on the Cross, a reminder that to live in the Kingdom of God means actually changing our behavior, and examples of such behavioral changes pointing toward love as mutual up-building of the members of the church.
One way I would put Paul’s emphasis that might be helpful to us in our own day is this: To be a Christian means to keep working to accurately assess your own minimum needs, so that you can share with others. This applies not only to money, but also to time and energy. To be a Christian means that you can never go it alone. We need each other, and we need to change our behavior to make room for others, even if those people are difficult or unlikable.
One more thing before I go: Paul was a human being, and as such he was flawed. Many Christians have trouble with the idea that anything in the Bible might not represent literal words directly from God’s mouth. But sometimes Paul does comment, “This is what I say; I don’t know what God thinks.” At other times he seems downright certain about something that we now know to be false: for instance, despite Paul’s insistence that the world was going to end sometime around next Tuesday, we are all still here. It’s OK to disagree with Paul. But I do believe that the words of Holy Scripture at least demand from Christians that we consider what wisdom is to be found in them, even if it is there to teach us what not to do.
If you only get through 1 Corinthians tonight and not 2 Corinthians, let it be. We all have a lifetime in which to read the Bible. Read some of Paul, discuss, and learn from each other. Express your opinions and respect the opinions of others. Try not to interrupt or carry on side conversations, but listen intently to the one who is speaking.
My wife Christy and my daughter Sarah send greetings. No doubt we have enjoyed our time at GeekGirlCon and worshipping with the people of St. Thomas, Medina, the congregation that sent me to seminary. Greet one another with a holy kiss, or if that doesn’t yet seem appropriate to your relationship, greet one another with a side hug or a hearty handshake.
I, Joshua, type this greeting with my own two hands. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.
The Rev. Josh Hosler
Associate Priest for Adult Formation/Campus Chaplain
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church