Living in CommunityPosted: June 5, 2016
Living in Community
SLIDE 3: HOUSE CHURCHES
The church in Corinth was a naughty congregation. They were very bright, creative and contentious. Many members of the church in Corinth had issues, and whenever a disagreement appeared, they were all too ready to choose up sides and throw rocks at one another.
The congregation was also divided into several smaller house churches. Remember at this time the life of the early church was organized around the Sharing Table, people coming together to enjoy the evening meal, read the scriptures, pray together and share the Eucharist. So house churches comprised 40 or 50 members from three or four different households meeting in the atrium of a large home. Each little congregation had its own diverse and competitive leadership, and the rivalry between the house churches often led to ugly disputes about the right way to express their faith about Jesus or conduct worship, or organize the life of the church. Were they going to sing hymns from books or choruses projected on the walls. Were they going to use paper bulletins or use digital announcements, or what kind of food were people allowed to bring to the potluck. The competition in the church in Corinth became so destructive, Paul had to write to them:
SLIDE 4: ARE YOU NOT ACTING LIKE JEALOUS CHILDREN?
I Corinthians 3:3 For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not behaving worldly? Are you not acting like jealous children? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,” are you not pursuing your own agendas, rather than the way of Jesus?
5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? or Peter? Only servants, through whom you came to believe — as the Lord has assigned to each his task.
21 So then, no more boasting and division about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Peter or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are followers of Christ, and Christ is of God.”
SLIDE 5: DIVERSITY IN COMMUNITY IS DIFFICULT
Diversity in community is difficult. We can talk about live and let live, and embracing and respecting our differences, but what happens when we really do disagree with one another, how do we make community work? The church in Corinth was bright, creative, diverse, passionate, often disagreeable, so I would like to suggest that we begin with Paul’s letter to the Corinthians for some rules of thumb about living in community.
SLIDE 6: MEAT SACRIFICED TO IDOLS
In the market place in Corinth, meat that had been offered as a sacrifice in a pagan temple was selling for at least 25 cents a pound less than meat that had been simply butchered. There was an economic incentive to buy the meat that had been sacrificed to a pagan idol, and as Paul rightly noted, “Idols have no actual existence, because there is no God other than the one God. In strict logic, then, nothing happened to the meat when it was offered up to an idol. It’s just like any other meat.”
SLIDE 7: WHEN WE OFFER OFFENSE TO OTHERS WE ARE OFFENDING CHRIST
But Paul went on to admonish the members of the church, if there are people in the congregation whose conscience is offended by meat that has been sacrificed in a pagan temple, then for heaven’s sake don’t bring that meat to the church potluck. And if you are inviting people over for dinner whose conscience is offended by the meat offered to an idol, then don’t serve it to them. Each of us is able to use our own conscience to make up our minds about things like meat offered in pagan temples, but don’t allow our own freedom of belief to offend the sensibilities of others. For when we offer offense to our fellow church members, we are offending the Christ whom we claim to follow.
SLIDE 8: SENSITIVE AND COURTEOUS TO OTHERS
Paul summarizes in his letter to the Romans: When you sit down to a meal, your primary concern should not be to feed your own face but to share the life of Jesus. So be sensitive and courteous to the others who are eating. Don’t eat or say or do things that might interfere with the free exchange of love. So first, rule of thumb, whenever possible do not offer offense to others.
SLIDE 9: BACON WRAPPED PICKLED PIGS FEET
Paul’s letter to the Romans raises further concerns about living in community. Paul had suffered a disastrous controversy in the church in Antioch. The congregation there had been split fairly evenly between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. Everyone got along until a controversy about food brought to the congregational potluck erupted. Gentile Christians in honest ignorance began bringing non-kosher items to the church dinners: lobster, shrimp, country-fried steak with milk gravy, baby back ribs, bacon wrapped pickled pigs feet. The Jewish Christians at first just sort of ignored the non-kosher stuff, at the table, but then representatives from Jerusalem showed up and they were aghast.
SLIDE 10: SAINTS OF THE CHURCH ARGUING WITH ONE ANOTHER
Paul argued that if you were going to accept Gentiles into the church, then maybe you had to tolerate their food. There was an argument that broke out with Paul accusing Peter of hypocrisy:
Galatians 2:11-13 Later, when Peter came to Antioch, I had a face-to-face confrontation with him because he was clearly out of line. Here’s the situation. Earlier, before certain persons had come from James, Peter regularly ate with the non-Jews. But when that conservative group came from Jerusalem, he cautiously pulled back and put as much distance as he could manage between himself and his non-Jewish friends. That’s how fearful he was of the conservative Jewish clique that’s been pushing the old system of circumcision. Unfortunately, the rest of the Jews in the Antioch church joined in that hypocrisy so that even Barnabas was swept along in the charade.
14 But when I saw that they were not maintaining a steady, straight course according to the Message, I spoke up to Peter in front of them all: “If you, a Jew, live like a non-Jew when you’re not being observed by the watchdogs from Jerusalem, what right do you have to require non-Jews to conform to Jewish customs just to make a favorable impression on your old Jerusalem cronies?”
SLIDE 11: THOSE ROWDY CHRISTIANS
Life in the early church was certainly rough and tumble. Can you image these people we think of as Saints of the Church going after one another on the floor of a congregational meeting? Wow! They were rowdy Christians.
SLIDE 12: VEGETARIAN OR VEGAN CAN BRIDGE THE GAP
But even though Paul talks like he won the day in Antioch in fact he seems to have lost the argument and never returned to the City. So let’s fast forward to the church in Rome about ten years later. The Church in Rome had both Jewish and Gentile Christians. What food could be served at congregational potlucks with both Jews and Gentiles attending? One compromise was to go vegetarian. In fact, if you have to fix dinner for a mixed crowd including orthodox Jews who observe Kosher and Muslims who keep Halal, vegetarian is one of the best menus for not offering offense to anyone.
SLIDE 13: COMPANIONS IN LOVE
Knowing the controversy Paul had engaged in Antioch the church in Rome asked his opinion. And ten years later, I think we see an older more mature Paul:
Romans 14: 13-14 Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced — Jesus convinced me! — that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it. 15-16 If you confuse others by making a big issue over what they eat or don’t eat, you’re no longer a companion with them in love, are you?
SLIDE 14: DON’T IMPOSE YOUR OWN FAITH ON OTHERS
19-21 So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don’t drag them down by finding fault. You’re certainly not going to permit an argument over what is served or not served at supper to wreck God’s work among you, are you? 22-23 Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don’t impose it on others.
SLIDE 15: WELCOME EVERYONE TO THE TABLE
So rule of thumb cultivate your own relationship with God, follow your conscience, but don’t impose your own interpretation of the faith on others. Be mature, compromise and remember that the essence of hospitality is not insisting upon our own freedom, but welcoming and helping everyone to be comfortable at the Table.
Now I know the examples so far have been about food. But this is United Church right? Also the Sharing Table open commensality, everyone eating together, was Jesus’ symbol of the Commonwealth of God. Living in a diverse community is difficult because we will not always agree. And all those other people are so different from us!
SLIDE 16: HOW CAN YOU SEE THE SPECK OF SAW DUST?
So let’s agree to use our energies in getting along with each other. Helping one another with encouraging words; not dragging one another down with fault finding. Remember the example of Jesus, “Why do you see the speck of saw dust in your brother or sister’s eye, when you can’t see the two by four sticking out of your own eye!” We’re certainly not going to permit an argument over what is served or not served at supper, or what’s in the budget, to wreck God’s work among us, are we? 22-23 Each of us is encouraged to cultivate our own relationship with God, and not impose our understanding of the faith on others.