Belong (Day 5 of A Simple Lent)
Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth is one of my favorite pieces of Scripture. It is hasty and imperfect. It is often obnoxious, and divorced from its context, can sound pretty tough. But given who he is talking to, it makes a bunch of sense.
When Paul starts in about division, suggesting that there should be nothing dividing the people of Corinth, it sounds pretty significant. It sounds like it compromises my argument that we should find unity not uniformity. Like Paul is arguing for unity through uniformity:
you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose
He doesn’t beat around the bush. Do the same and be the same.
Of course, then we hear what the problem really is. He hears word from the church leader, Chloe, that the people are “quarreling”. But it isn’t just a little bickering. It is joining factions and different political camps.
What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
And what follows is the best/worst example of leadership I’ve ever seen. It is either perfect or petulant. I’m not sure which. He just dismisses them as horrible, giving thanks for not having baptized them: thank goodness I’m not responsible for your salvation he seems to say. Then comically remembers that he actually did baptize some of them.
I love this passage for how human it is. For how human these people in Corinth are and how human Paul is. It isn’t perfect and neither are the people.
The Problem of Belonging
This nature of belonging, though is serious. And Paul is right to be concerned.
Rather than be a people, the children of GOD, the gathered community, the church, they are claiming specific, different identities. Each one belongs to someone else. Not only to a faction, but a different leader, bearing a different identity. They aren’t bearing their common identity.
And some are claiming identity, not through Christ, but through Paul. Like they belong to his little fan club.
This time of year, we’re reminded that we are approaching Jerusalem: we are following Jesus, carrying our crosses. Our purpose is common. Our work is common. Our path is common. Of all the seasons, this is the one in which we are most called to see ourselves as belonging to GOD. That we are not of different factions or peoples. That we are one. Inside our churches and outside.
Tough sell, I know. Particularly in the present climate of transition and conflict.
I have often struggled with wanting to belong, with not feeling like I belong.
This is particularly true as a nontraditional follower of Christ called to the sacred order of priests in a very traditional denomination. I am not traditional enough in my theology and ecclesiology to truly belong to a lot of Episcopal churches. I am not Protestant enough to belong to many mainline churches. I am not evangelical enough to belong to many evangelical churches. I am not Catholic enough to belong among the Romans. Because we make belonging be about being the same, about showing little tolerance for difference: being of the same mind as Paul seems to suggest.
But what if that’s the point? What if our work transcends division and requires us to worry less about belonging and worry more about being. Paul is arguing that they must be of the same mind because they have drawn their battle lines and determined how they are going to war within the community that is supposed to be the body of Christ.
The simple solution is stop belonging. Instead, just follow Christ. Preferably with other people.
This week’s homework is to discern a priority and focus on it.
Download the worksheet: A Simple Lent – Handout 1!
Daily Office Readings
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