Now I encourage you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Agree with each other and don't be divided into rival groups. Instead, be restored with the same mind and the same purpose. My brothers and sisters, Chloe's people gave me some information about you, that you're fighting with each other. What I mean is this: that each one of you says, "I belong to Paul," "I belong to Apollos," "I belong to Cephas," "I belong to Christ." Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you, or were you baptized in Paul's name? Thanks God that I didn't baptize any of you, except Crispus and Gaius, so that nobody can say that were baptized in my name! Oh, I baptized the house of Stephanas too. Otherwise, I don't know if I baptized anyone else. Christ didn't send me to baptize but to preach the good news. And Christ didn't send me to preach the good news with clever words so that Christ's cross won't be emptied of its meaning. 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
So I'm a child of the '70s, and I grew up in that era when children could only watch cartoons pretty much on Saturday morning. But interspersed with those were those little informational sound bits that were produced by Schoolhouse Rock! And one of the things that shaped my understanding of the world were those lessons that I gleaned from that. I was in high school, in English class, and I could still remember some of those songs like Conjunction Junction, and my rudimentary understanding of the English language was reinforced and informed by that.
But one of them I also remembered was the one called The Great American Melting Pot, that talked about how immigrants had come to this land and it showed a bunch of people jumping off of the handle into a big kettle. Well, it was years later when, I don't know if I was in college or seminary, where I'd read an article where someone was suggesting that maybe the idea of America being The Great American Melting Pot was a misnomer. Because a melting pot means that you take a lot of stuff and put it together and heat it so much that it melts and breaks down and it becomes a homogenous bowl of whatever, melted together, that nothing has its individual characteristic or quality to it anymore.
And the author of this article suggested that rather than the American Melting Pot, we should better think of America as a great stew pot. Think about a good stew. That delicious tender beef, the chunks of potato or carrot, or whatever other vegetables are in there, that they each contribute to the whole, but yet they retain their individuality and their uniqueness. You wanna be able to taste the beef. You wanna be able to taste the carrot. You wanna be able to taste the potato, but then that combination of those flavors together. The author of the article went on to say, imagine that if it was just about having all that stuff together with that idea of the melting pot, that when we got done making our stew, what we should do is then just pour it into a blender and whirl it into a slurry and serve a stew shake where it's all just blended together. It'd be the same, right? Well, his point was, no, it wouldn't.
And so his suggestion was that this idea of who we are as an American culture is that we are blessed and enriched by, yes, being together, but by bringing that unique and individual qualities of different cultures that have come together to be a part of this country. I share that story because this morning, Paul is talking about these conflicts that are taking place in this church in Corinth, and he's calling them to be united. That idea of that melting pot isn't necessarily about unity as much as it is about conformity. Conformity says that here is the standard and everybody has to adhere to this standard, or you're out. That whatever that standard is, it's either this or nothing.
Paul's not calling them to conformity. Paul's not calling them to conform to a particular standard. And in fact, he challenges that because it may be that that's some of that tension that's going on, when he says that it's been brought to my attention that some of you are saying, "I belong to Paul, I belong to Peter, I belong to Apollos." That they are saying, "I'm conforming to the teachings of this individual and this is the right, proper, correct understanding of how things are, and everybody should do this." Paul's saying, "You know what? That's just rubbish. You need to forget about that." It's not about everybody being the same. He says, it's about being united. And within that, he begins then telling them about specifically what it is that they should be united around. He calls upon them and says, "And there shouldn't be any divisions among you, but you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose." The same mind and the same purpose. The same mind and the same purpose around who this Jesus is, who he is and what he says.
He talks about those divisions that have been created and all the quarrels that have taken place among this congregation. Some say, I belong to Paul, I belong to Apollos, I belong to Peter, or some say I belong to Christ. He's even calling some of them out that when one person says this and another person says that, someone throws that Trump card, "Well, I belong to Christ." Top that. It wasn't necessarily a statement of faith, but rather a way of trying to one up the others. In the text that we heard, it said, "Has Christ been divided?" One of the commentators I read, I liked how he put it. He said, "Has Jesus chosen sides?" Well, they're rhetorical questions, but the answer is no. Jesus hasn't been divided. He hasn't chosen sides. He says, "Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" He's trying to rein them back in and say, "Wait a minute, wait a minute. What is the foundation of our faith? Where are we rooted? Where are we grounded? What should be the foundation upon which each of us build our faith?" And he says it's Jesus.
Elsewhere in Paul's letters, he is being challenged and confronted for what he's teaching, and his response to them is, "Look, when I came among you, I resolved to know one thing and one thing alone, Christ and him crucified." And that really is the threat of Paul's message through all of his letters. There's one and one thing only that matters, Jesus Christ and him crucified. He goes on and says, "Christ didn't send me to baptize, but to proclaim the gospel and not with eloquent words so that the cross of Christ might be emptied." Paul is even trying to remove himself from this equation. Paul was the one that went and planted this church. He was the one that went and proclaimed this message, this good news of Jesus that these people received and embraced. And yet within this congregation, they're beginning to kind of form their factions and their divisions.
And Paul says, "Wait a minute, wait a minute. It's not about me. It's not about Peter. It's not about a Apollos. It's about Jesus." And he says, "It's not because I'm wise or smart or can speak in such eloquent ways," but rather, Paul turns to the cross, and in the most eloquent way, I suppose possible, he says, "This, this is what it's about. Nothing more and nothing less. It's about the cross of Jesus. This Jesus who died and rose again, that we might live." That final verse of what we read this morning, Paul acknowledges, this message about the cross, it's foolishness to those who are perishing. But to us who have been saved or being saved, it's the power of God. The message of the cross is foolishness. In the Roman world, the cross was an instrument of death, of not just death though, but of torturous painful death. A public witness and a shaming of those who opposed the Roman Empire, and that was the death that Jesus faced.
Murdering, killing, executing those who opposed was a way to wipe them out, to remove them from the face of the earth, and in doing so, to squash any message they might have been proclaiming. But we know that with the story of Jesus, those attempts to do away with the message that he proclaimed failed. Because while he was put to death, he rose again to new life. The symbol of shame and suffering suddenly became a testimony to God's power, and the cross now stands as a symbol. A symbol of hope. A symbol of redemption. A symbol of the God who loved us enough to send his son, who, yes, died between two thieves, but rose again, giving witness and testimony to God's power at work through him and confirming the truth, the validity, the significance of his message.
And so Paul says, "Friends, it's all about that cross. It's all about that cross and the one who died upon it that we might live." And that's the call to unity that he places before them. A call to unity around the cross, the cross of Jesus Christ in which they are to come together and have nothing, nothing else before him. Sadly, we know that that hasn't always played out in churches. Maybe you've been a part of a church that went through a bitter split or a conflict, or even the Methodist denomination and the turmoil we're facing right now. To all of those situations, Paul would say, "You've got to be united in Jesus." And it's not a call to all be the same, it's not a call to look alike and talk alike and think alike and vote the same. It's about to having one uniting thing. One purpose, one mind, Christ and Christ alone.
Seems easier said than done, doesn't it? 'Cause people always find things to disagree about, it seems. But I think Paul knows that it isn't foolishness, it's not just wishful thinking. In fact, I think Paul will go so far as to say if there is any hope for the church, it is in Christ and our unitedness around him. There are thousands of Christian denominations around the world, and because there are thousands of Christian denominations, that means that every one of those denominations has something unique that in their opinion sets them apart from every other one. "We believe this." "Well, we believe that." "Well, we believe the Bible says this." "We believe it doesn't say that." "We believe that it should be this way or that way, and this," and in all of that, we have to come back to what Paul was saying, but it's about Jesus. It's about Jesus.
When I was in seminary, I took a class that was on rural ministry. It was a January class, an intensive class, and rather, the meeting at the seminary, it took place in Bellefontaine, Ohio, which is a county seat of a rural county, somewhere in the middle of Ohio. I'm not sure I could even get there right now. And the pastor that was teaching it was an older pastor. He'd been in ministry for years. And he was a very good pastor, but he really felt called to serving rural churches, and so he facilitated this class. And he shared that he had served as a delegate to General Conference at one point in his ministry. And I don't remember where he said it was at, but he'd gone to the conference and they were staying at the hotel, and there was a shuttle bus that would load people up and take them from the hotel to the convention center where the general conference was taking place.
And he said one morning he was telling us that he was on the bus and they were getting ready to go and there was a very chatty woman sitting next to him who was from Texas. And she was just carrying on about how excited she was to be there and talking about the church that she was a part of that was some huge mega church in Texas. And she said at one point, she said, "I go to church, the such and such church, and we have Pastor so and so, and we think he's just great." Now, mind you, this was a little snarky from the gentleman that was teaching our class, and he kinda had enough of it. And he turned and looked at her and he said, "Well, I'm serving at church such and such, and they think Jesus is just great." He said the conversation ended at that point, but he was right. It's not about who the pastor is. It's not about which ideas or which thoughts a congregation embraces or doesn't embrace. It's about embracing Jesus.
I shared this with the Bible study class this week, that if you were to draw a circle on a piece of paper and put a cross at the center of it, and some of you might be much better artists than I am. I did a very poor job, but they still got the point. And draw a little stick figures on the circle around the edge. If you draw an arrow from each of those stick figures to the cross at the center, they're all focused on the same thing. They're all focused toward Christ and his cross. And the thing about being focused on Christ is that as we do the work of drawing nearer to Christ, from the outer edge of that circle, moving into the middle where the cross is, we inevitably draw closer together. That it's not about seeking unity. Paul says, "Yes, there shouldn't be divisions among you. You should be united on the same mind and same purpose." He's not telling them, pursue unity. He's not telling them, work harder at being united.
He's telling them focus more on Christ. Focus more on him, draw nearer to him. Because when we are of the same mind and drawing nearer to Christ, well, the unity isn't the main goal, it's the side effect of drawing near to Jesus. In a world that is so divided, and in fact, in a world that is constantly calling us to choose sides and to pick one or the other, Paul's saying, if you have any choice, always choose Jesus. Choose him first and choose him only and let the other stuff sort itself out. Because if we're united around Jesus, yeah, everything else really doesn't matter. Because in him is the life of the world, in him is hope and salvation, and if that's what's on our minds, it's a pretty good thing and a good place to be. It's not always easy though, but seek Christ. Seek Christ and Christ alone. It doesn't take fancy words as I suggested with Paul. You look at the cross and say, that's what it's all about. Amen.