16 Jan 2011
“To you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.” (1 Cor. 1:2) In the name …
In the earliest years of Christianity, the church was defined not by a far away hierarchy, nor by elaborate theological dissertations, but instead by the practical reality of the local congregation. This is why St. Paul could begin his First Epistle to the Corinthians by saying to those earliest Christians gathering together in small house-churches: “To the church of God – that is in Corinth”. Not to the Corinthian congregation of the church of God, but to all that is the church of God making herself known in that particular place. All that was church was contained and confirmed in that local gathering of believers, and also in each and every separate house-church spread out wherever the gospel was preached and a community formed. But even though that local community was the fullness of church, it never existed in isolation from all of the other local communities that also contained the fullness of church. Their unity was based on one thing and one thing alone, and that was summed-up by Paul when he next says to them: “[You have been] called to be holy, with all those everywhere, who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul is here speaking to the profound connection among all Christian churches. Each contains the fullness of God, but part of that fullness is the realization that so do all other Christian churches because we all call upon the name of Jesus Christ.
This is an important message for us to be reminded of in 2011. I say this because we are about to enter into the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Internationally, Christian denominations will pray during this time for the unity that once defined the church. And St. Paul’s words to us this morning from the introduction to First Corinthians gives us a sense of what that unity implies. Today St. Paul is considered the definition of orthodox. His writings fill the New Testament. But in his day as he was preaching the gospel, as he was organizing churches all around the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, St. Paul was anything but orthodox. He was challenging the earliest church with a new message. His churches were only one model of the Christian faith standing among many others. There were others that were quite different from Paul’s churches. This is what we’ve been talking about for the past two years in our Bible study group. But none of these differences were significant enough to break the bond that united them. Or in Paul’s own words to us today: “With all those everywhere, who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Then in the next four words Paul speaks volumes. There is no way that Paul doesn’t recognize the differences among the various churches of his day. Nor does Paul relent in his commitment to his new and different gospel message. But Paul at the same time is humble and faithful enough to realize that in all of these different churches it is still Jesus, or in Paul’s powerful four words, “their Lord and ours.” This is the basis of Christian unity; this is the basis of the ecumenical movement. It is the realization that we here are the fullness of church, and simultaneously it is the respect that others are also the fullness of church: “Their Lord and ours.”
This profound and mystical connection between all Christian churches is truly needed today. We don’t feel it here in South Deerfield, but the Christian church is under siege. Christians are being massacred as they gather for worship in Iraq. They are being killed in Egypt. When the Pope spoke out against these atrocities, the government of Egypt was offended and sent back the message that the internal affairs of their country were not the concern of anyone else. There are 8 million Christians in Egypt. In Iran Christians were rounded-up and imprisoned around Christmas because they dared to worship in small house-churches rather than in government sanctioned church buildings. Iran looked upon these Christians as subversive and a threat to their Islamic state because they chose to worship as did the earliest church. In Pakistan a bodyguard assassinated a state governor because the man stood-up for tolerance of minorities and women. Christians are one such minority. The bodyguard said that the governor’s actions were blasphemy and that the penalty for blasphemy is death. 1,000 lawyers signed-on to defend this vigilante, and they are the ones who are supposed to protect and advance the law. Christians in Pakistan are constantly threatened by these same blasphemy laws because they profess faith in Christ, and it now looks like a bad situation is going to turn worse.
We have to be cautious here in America too. Intolerance is gaining a foothold. Last weekend Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was critically wounded, six others were killed, including a Federal judge, and several more were injured. This violent rampage was committed by a disturbed young man, but a lot of the commentary about this tragedy has focused on the language of politics, that it has become uncivil, and it is laced with imagery of violence. Congressman Richard Neal was quoted as saying that every topic before Congress, even the mundane, takes on the imagery of Armageddon, the ultimate battle between good and evil. The ones who speak these sound-bites are not intending violence, but their rhetoric is sometimes so extreme that the ones who are disturbed can take it seriously and with tragic consequences. We have to be careful of letting intolerance grow. We really need to pray for a respect for differences, that conviction does not demean compromise, no matter how much they yell on talk-radio and the 24-hour news stations.
Physically, the threats against fellow Christians are taking place half way around the globe, but mystically those Christians sit right here among us in our pews. We are the same church. That’s the message behind “their Lord and ours.” We need to pray for them and to stand with them, and we need to stand against the increasing intolerance in our own country. We need to tone down the rhetoric and return to civility. And for these things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo