Lectionary passages for Jan. 19, 2014. Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-11, 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, John 1:29-42
The new testament readings catch my eye this week. They both, in different ways, speak about unity and the goal of the followers of Jesus.
In Corinthians, Paul spends the first chunk of his letter (9 verses) in greetings and warm thoughts. In verses 4-9, he names the particular strengths of the church. They have grown in speech and knowledge and in their faith in Christ. They are not lacking any of the spiritual gifts necessary for them to live out their lives and to face any difficulty (including persecution) that will come their way.
Have you ever felt suspicious when someone is too gushy in their praise, leaving you wondering what difficult thing they are building up toward saying? Read verses 10 and following! Paul really wants to get at the issue of divisions in the church. Apparently people are arguing over which leader they follow. Paul is frustrated because understands his goal as a leader is to present the gospel, not to become a 'god' of some sort! He is frustrated when the divisions distract from what the church is supposed to be doing.
At a Christmas Eve service about 3 years ago, I greeted a visiting couple. Their church didn't have a service so they came to ours. The man leaned toward me and joked; "we're from the competition!" That comment has always niggled at me. Other churches shouldn't be competition, we're all, hopefully, on the same team. We might have different styles, and some disagreements, but ultimately we have the same goal. It's not to glorify ourselves, but to point people toward God.
While Paul is definitely wanting to get on with the chastising, we shouldn't forget those first 9 verses of warm praise. Problems can take over our psyche and occupy more than the legitimate amount of attention at times. Paul does a good thing in pointing out what is working well, it is a way of establishing a basis from which to get to work at what needs doing.
In the John passage, Jesus' public ministry is just beginning and he is gathering disciples. His first followers are remarkable because they were John's before they came to Jesus! John identifies Jesus and points him out. It's a remarkable selfless and authentic faith act on John's part. John was a wildly popular evangelist, yet he has absolutely no designs on keeping his followers or building his "fan" base. His message was always about Jesus, and when Jesus shows up, John steps back. Andrew and Simon Peter, likewise, make good decisions based on what they see and hear. Their switch over to following Jesus isn't a rejection of John, it's an embracing of God's message. There aren't "sides" to chose between, it's all about following God, and John really gets that.
There's a lot to think about in these passages!