1 Cor. 1:1-18
I was always the last one picked to be on a team in school – or maybe sometimes the second-to-last one. Standing there, becoming more and more alone with each passing pick, I had some feelings. And not all of them were what you might think. Of course, I felt small and unskilled at sports – but I knew these to be facts and not something I could really change about myself. I felt conspicuous – the fewer people stood there waiting to be picked, the more I stood out. But, I also felt unique (in a good way… I may not play sports well, but I do other things well). I also felt relieved: if the team captains were working so hard to avoid getting stuck with me, I would probably get placed in a position where I would never have to actually touch the ball – like far, right field, very far right field.
So, did I feel any loyalty to my team captain once I was picked? Not really. I mean, I wouldn’t actively sabotage the game. But I would happily stand there and barely play – it didn’t matter to me who my captain was or whether we won the game. I was just there because I had no choice. I was just there to endure it – to get through it – to be done with it.
Standing around waiting to be chosen… I imagine it felt different to the athletic types, to those who were wanted by both captains, to those with real gifts to offer the team. I imagine those people standing tall and proud, excited even, waiting to see whose team they would be on. And, I imagine that these folks did feel a certain loyalty to their team, especially knowing that they could make a contribution – that they could personally make the difference for their team and be a large part of a winning score.
Pretty early on, I realized that I wasn’t competitive. Not only did I not have any attachment to winning those team sports in school, but I also felt fairly similar whether I won or lost at table games at home. For me, the fun has always been in the conversations that go on while games are being played. It’s probably a good thing that my family doesn’t play table sports involving teams. I would likely be waiting to be chosen all over again, just like on the play yard at school. No one wants someone on their team who doesn’t care if the team wins.
In our lesson from 1 Corinthians today, Paul has heard of divisions in the church at Corinth. Some are saying that they belong to Paul, some to Cephas, some to Apollos, and some to Christ. It’s as if there’s a massive choose-up on the ball field, and instead of being chosen by the captain, each person is choosing a team: I follow Paul! I follow Cephas! I follow Apollos! I follow Christ!
Paul can’t believe his ears! How could the people have become this confused? What happened to the clear message that he had preached to them week after week in their synagogue while he stayed with Aquilla and Priscilla and they made tents together? How could the people have begun to follow earthly leaders and not Christ?
Well, pretty easily, as it turns out. It doesn’t take much for us as human beings to begin to seek out and follow a human being instead of Christ. We can even follow our own cleverness, our own gifts and skills, in lieu of Christ.
Day after day, our temptation is to think that our own intelligence, our own skills, have gotten us where we are today. We rely on our own thinking, and we praise our own abilities. We follow where we ourselves lead.
Or we follow a charismatic leader. It happens, doesn’t it, that one or more parishioners leave their congregation when the pastor does – and sometimes they follow that pastor to the new congregation. Baptized by this pastor, confirmed by this pastor, received into membership by this pastor, the person is a follower of the pastor first and Christ second. Now I’m not saying that all people who leave a congregation when a pastor does are following that pastor and not Christ – but it is a temptation.
Paul says, “Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul? For 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.”
This is a comfort to preachers everywhere: It’s not about our eloquent wisdom. It’s about the cross. It’s about the cross.
“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but for us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
Whom we follow is a life or death choice. Do we follow a charismatic preacher/pastor? Do we follow a winning team leader? Do we follow our own wisdom, intelligence, cleverness? Do we follow our own gifts and skills? Do we follow those whom we see and hear on the news or social media? Whom do we follow? It matters.
Do we follow Christ and proclaim Christ crucified? Do we say, I belong to Christ?
Whose team are we on?