1/24/99, E3A

“One Body Or Nobody”
I Corinthians 1: 10-31

 few years ago at the Seattle Special Olympics, nine contestants, all physically or mentally disabled, assembled at the starting line for the 100-yard dash. At the sound of the starting gun, they all started out, not exactly in a dash, but with a relish to run the race to the finish and win. All, that is, except one boy who stumbled on the asphalt, tumbled over a couple of times and began to cry. The other eight heard the boy cry. They slowed down and looked back. They all turned around and went back; every one of them. One girl with Down's Syndrome bent down and kissed him and said, "This will make it better." All nine linked arms and walked across the finish line together. Everyone in the stadium stood, and the cheering went on and on. People who were there are still telling the story.

Unity, “togetherness,” is an experience that rarely happens in life, but the Apostle Paul, in our text, is calling all who would follow Christ, to make unity the common experience.

Jesus said, “...if two of you agree ...and ask the Father ...it shall be done.” (Mt. 18:19). However, it has been our experience that where two or three meet for a church committee, fifteen opinions conflict and factions lurk. Petty disagreements can split congregations.

At one church the new pastor said, “Let us pray.” Half the congregation stood and half kept seated and both sides stared at each other. “This is our tradition,” both sides told the young pastor. In desperation he went to the retired founding pastor: He asked him, “One group in the church stands to pray, and the other side insists that the tradition is to remain seated, and both sides are yelling at each other: What is the tradition?” “That is the tradition,” the old pastor said, “Both sides yelling at each other.”

In our text on this Ecumenical Sunday, both sides, actually three or four sides, are yelling at each other at Corinth First Church. Marilyn and I, and many of our family members, were amazed at how large was the ancient city, now in ruins. It was a seaport city at the crossroads of the world. Many cultures were represented. Much money was to be had. It was a place where you could find anything you desired--- much like Atlanta is today. Amid this diverse city was a small congregation of first century believers who themselves had been torn apart by church strife. Their infighting seemed to center around loyalty to former pastoral leadership. Paul, their founding pastor’ is here telling them, perhaps yelling a little himself, that their real loyalty is not to any pastor, but to the cross of Christ alone. The foundation of Christian unity is mutual experience around the cross. “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” (v.18,KJV).

Paul seems to be saying that we must be one body as a community of the cross, or we will become nobody at all. “Community,” That’s the word we are looking for. Can we find any common-unity?

It is said that the origin of “community,” the beautiful word and concept, arose out of the experience of the Anglo-Saxons of the British Isles. Families who lived in a close geographical approximation to each other decided that their best protection from the outside heathen hoards was a wall around their homes and farms. By vote, each family accepted responsibility for a portion of that wall. Small families constructed and maintained a smaller portion of the protective wall, and likewise larger families took on larger sections of wall. They developed a common unity focused on their common interest in the wall; thus, the origin of the word, and idea of, community. Paul is telling the Corinthian Church that their common-unity is in the cross of Christ. Their focus must be on the Lamb of God and not on human leaders.

None of these former pastors wanted to replace Christ anyway. Certainly Paul did not, for his entire life had been refocused on the risen Jesus who had called him, in his Damascus Road conversion experience, to take on a whole new life and mission. For certain, The Big Fisherman, Peter, the Rock of Faith, did not want folks following him and forgetting the centrality of following Jesus, who had called him by the Sea of Galilee. Neither would the eloquent intellectual Apollos want to become a replacement for Christ. After all, none were coming back: They had all moved on.

Humanly, it is natural to have favorites. I personally preferred Bishop William Ragsdale Cannon over any of my other bishops in our North Georgia Conference. I have fond memories of him, and many personal stories, but I did not worship Bishop Cannon. He is not coming back, he is dead, he has gone on to glory. And, if I am going to see him there, it will be through the blood of Christ; and Billy Cannon would not have it any other way.

Granted it is hard for local churches, denominations, and ecumenical groups to achieve harmony. We live in a world torn apart by disagreements, jealousy, and war. Most try to avoid the topics of politics and religion for fear of getting in an argument. I have tried to not talk about the current senate trial, at all. There is not much in the world we can agree on. Except here in Atlanta where we have been brought together by a bunch of dirty birds. The Falcons football team is taking us to the Super Bowl which, by the way, begins very late next Sunday evening--- long after church. I wrote this sermon while wearing my new Falcons Super Bowl XXXIII tee shirt, given to me by my wife Marilyn, who is a first time football fan. Aren’t we all? The underdogs have triumphed. Coach Dan Reeves has survived open heart surgery and has brought unity to his team and to the rest of us. Win or lose, our Falcons will be honored by a downtown parade the Monday after the Super Bowl, beginning in front of our church, at noon. We have canceled the staff meeting.

Seriously, would it not be beautiful if could achieve the unity that is in our name? What would our corner of the world look like if we were to get even half as excited about the cross as we are about the crossbar (as on a football goal post)? Our future depends upon our unity. We will either be one body or nobody!

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

1/24/99, E3A