The Main Thing

The Main Thing

Easter 5 (NL2) John B. Valentine
1 Corinthians 1:10-18 April 28, 2024


I suspect that most of you folks have never heard of a fellow named Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr.

He was a French journalist who lived in the 1800's.

But I suspect that most of you do remember something Monsieur Karr purportedly once said:

“The more things change ..... the more they stay the same.”

And ... honestly ... if I had to prove the veracity of Monsieur Karr’s assertion ... I’d be hard-pressed to find better evidence of the truth of that claim than this morning’s scripture lessons.

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Let’s be clear ... the second of this morning’s scripture readings ... the one from 1st Corinthians ... was written almost two thousand years ago.

It was part of a letter written BY that fellow we refer to as Saint Paul ... and written TO the earliest Christian community in the Greek city of Corinth.

Now ... at first glance ... one might well say that those Corinthians couldn’t have been more different than us:

They were “ancients” ...
We are “post-moderns.”

They lived in the Eastern Hemisphere ...
We live in the Western one.

They anticipated Jesus’ earthly return to happen within the next five years ...
Most of us don’t expect any such thing.

They met for worship and fellowship in people’s homes ...
We have a whole campus set aside for those particular purposes.

Their knowledge of Jesus consisted of stories related from traveling apostles ...
We have the Bible ... collected ... and edited ... and translated ... and bound.

For them ... the Christian faith was new and exciting and maybe even a little scary ...
For us ... it’s that “old, old story” that is patently routine.

But throughout that letter ... we can observe Paul and those Corinthians:

• encountering the same difficulties ...
• fighting the same battles ...
• asking the same questions ...

as we encounter and ask and fight about two thousand years later.

With not too very much editing ... this Letter we call “First Corinthians” could easily become Paul’s letter to the church in Lamorinda.

In other words ... “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

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You see ... Paul begins his first letter to the church in the city of Corinth with a pretty standard introduction ...

But then here in verse 10 ... Paul gets right after it.

• Forgetting any tact ...
• Forgetting any propriety ...
• Forgetting any sense of naming strengths before identifying growth areas ...

Paul dives right in to what’s bugging him the most ...


“Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there are quarrels among you.”

Curious ... that. How that is his number one concern.

“Quit bickering with one another.”

Paul isn’t saying here that they shouldn’t ever “fight”.

No ... Paul seemed ... in a certain way ... to relish theological battles.

But what Paul DOES seem to be saying here is “quit the sniping and the quarreling and the general cantankerousness and all”.

Apparently ... some folks are saying :

• “I belong to Apollos.”
• “Oh yeah ... well ... I belong to Cephas.”
• “Well, I belong to Paul. So there!”
• “Well too bad for all of you, I belong to Christ.”

Now ... pray tell ... how might that sound in a modern congregation???

• “I was a member of Shepherd of the Valley ....”
• “I came over from Holy Cross ...”
• “We were long time members at Our Savior’s ...”
• “Well ... I grew up Missouri Synod!”

Not that any of that ever gets said around here ... at least not in a holier-than-thou sort of way.

But to ALL of that ... Paul responds with a great big “Big deal!” ........“So what?”

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Actually ... I’m thrilled with the way you folks ... at least over the past two decades ... have been able to be a fairly harmonious community.

Not that we didn’t have a few hiccups along the way ...

Not that there aren’t still some issues out there that could upset the apple cart ...

But generally ... there hasn’t been a lot of that back-biting and sniping and griping that derails so many congregations over time.

For while there have been some things over which we’ve disagreed ... we haven’t been consumed by a spirit of disagreeability.

But ... if you haven’t noticed ... we’ve entered a new age ... folks ...

• An age that seems to be defined by sniping and griping and division ...

• An age wherein most of what’s in the news is about sniping and griping and division ...

• An age wherein most of what is modeled for us in society feels like sniping and griping and division.

And the reality of this culture in which we live right now being so engrossed with sniping and griping and division ... leaves me more than a little fearful that some subject will pop up over which we disagree that will cause us to succumb to the spirit of the age ... and leave us endlessly and irrevocably divided.

Now ... that is NOT to say that we should never disagree with one another.

Quite the opposite.

If we take discipleship and mission seriously ...

There will undoubtedly be times when we won’t all be on the same page.

But let’s make sure that our disagreements are focused in the right places ... and for the right reasons.

Which is actually what Paul’s first “rule of engagement” for fights within the church seems to be ... “Don’t fight about stupid things”.

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Then again ... his second “rule of engagement” is like it ... “Don’t demonize your opponents” ....

If you look at the church fight that Paul is talking about here in 1st Corinthians ... you’ve got:

• Folks in one group who claim to belong to Apollos ... and
• Folks in another group who claim to belong to Peter ... and
• Folks in still another group who claim to belong to Paul ... and then
• Folks in a whole ‘nother group just turns up their noses and declares that they ... and they alone ... “belong to Christ.”

Not that the church hasn’t perfected this very same behavior that Paul despises over the years ....

Giving ourselves names which hint that we are right and everybody else is wrong.

The first group out of the box were the Catholics ...

Which means literally “We include everyone.”

Which insinuated that .... well ... “If you aren’t one of our group, then you aren’t part of the group at all.”

Then your had the Orthodox ... which means “We’re the ones who believe the right things.”

And ... logically ... if you’re not ‘orthodox’ ... then you must believe the wrong things.

We call ourselves “Lutherans” ... but some of the first Lutherans called themselves Evangelicals ... which meant that they were grounded in the Gospel.

So ... I guess ... if you’re not Lutheran ... you’re not REALLY ground in the Gospel, right?

Then you had the “Reformed” ... those who weren’t stuck in the past!

And the “Church of Christ” ... as is the other churches weren’t “of Christ”.

And ... more recently ... a whole bunch of churches that call themselves “nondenominational” ... they take pride in saying “we’re not like you people who have split off into other groups.”

You see what we do?

We name ourselves in ways that belittle ... and seek to exclude ... those who see things differently from us.

But Paul tells us to knock it off.

So ... for instance ... not too many years ago ... there was a big brouhaha in our denomination between a group of people who called themselves “Good Soil” and another group called “Solid Rock Lutherans”.

And it kind of left me wondering how different the conversation might have looked if they called themselves “Bad Soil” and “Sinking Sand Lutherans”.

We belong to Christ ... but so do those who genuinely disagree with us.

Paul’s second rule of engagement is “Don’t demonize your opponents” because ... when we write off people who are made in the image of God ... we’re writing off a part of the body that is Christ.

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But finally ... Paul seems to be saying ... “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

Andy of you perchance remember the movie “City Slickers” with Billy Crystal and Jack Palance?

Wherein there was that one scene where Jack Palance ... playing Curly ... is seated up there on a rock ... holding up one finger and saying ... “One thing ... there’s just one thing ...and you’ve got to figure out what that one thing is.”

For Paul the one thing ... the main thing ... is pretty darn clear.

It’s Christ Jesus ... and him crucified.

“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same ... folks.

• May God grant us the grace to choose our battles wisely ...

• May God grant us the grace to always fight them fairly ... and

• May God grant us the wisdom to always remember that Jesus Christ ... and him crucified and raised from the dead ... is the only hope we have.

“The Main Thing” was/is a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine in conjunction with our worship gathering on Sunday, April 28, 2024 — the 5th Sunday of Easter.  The text upon which it is based is 1 Corinthians 1:10-18.  To access a copy of this week’s worship bulletin, click here: Worship Order 20240428