-Rev Melissa Fain-
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
1 Cor 1:1-9 NRSV
Corinth was an interesting place. It was the capital of Achaia. So if you could call the Roman Empire a country, Achaia would be considered a state. Corinth is to Achaia as Atlanta is to Georgia- judicially speaking. Corinth was also a bustling center of commerce. Its location was ideal for business because of its prime location between two major ports on either side of it. In some ways this means we could relate Corinth to, let’s say Chattanooga: located just off a river and pulling business from both Georgia and Tennessee.
I could visit the mix of Atlanta and Chattanooga. So far, sounds like a nice place to visit. Until we get to the rest of the story…
Perhaps it was Athens, or maybe it was just being a capital port city, but Corinth had a reputation. If it was Athens, we know it was the Greek center of educational prowess. Corinth was just north of Athens, and it’s prime location would have been seen as a threat to Athens.
Now, for those of you who know your history, Athens and Sparta rarely got along with one another. It didn’t help that Corinth usually took the side of Sparta when disputes broke out. Athens coined a term for those Corinthians: Corinthianize. This term is no longer in use, so let me give you a definition: Corinthianize means to make something lewd, raunchy, or sexually immoral. Whether it’s Athens responding to what they see in Corinth, or Corinth living up to its name, history marks the city as the center for prostitution and other immoral behavior. The biggest evidence we can use to pinpoint this fact is their city goddess. (All Greek cities chose one from their pantheon.) Corinth chose Aphrodite. You might be thinking Aphrodite is simiply the goddess of love, we, at the time she was better known as the goddess of prostitution. So, step aside Atlanta and Chattanooga, apparently Corinth is closer to another American City, Las Vegas.
You know, what happens in Corinth, stays in Corinth. Except when it doesn’t, and apparently it didn’t.
I need to back track just a little to explain. After Paul found Christ on the road to Damascus, he spent most of his time traveling and sharing the story of Jesus. Somewhere during his trip he spent a few weeks starting a church in Thessalonica, followed by spending two years in Corinth! While he was there, he roomed with fellow Christians who happened to also be tent makers, like himself. He got to personally know the people; knew them by name. Eventually he moved on and left for Ephesus. When he left, things were apparently going well. The church was thriving. The people apparently understood the message Paul had shared. They had even set up a community meal where all members could come and share in a love feast. I would imagine Paul was pretty happy when he left.
Then the word got out. While he was in Ephesus things went wrong. It all began to fall apart.
First, there was the war of tongues. Different leaders of the church began to pretend they were speaking in tongues even though they were really just gibbering. No one could translate what they were saying; even they were clueless. The leaders did it because they became obsessed with one-upping one another. Secondly, they were misusing the communal meal. The well off were showing up early to the meal. They would get off of work early, and they would gorge themselves on the food leaving nothing for the poorer congregants who showed up late. Third, when a member of the congregation would have issue with another member they would ignore the church leadership and go straight to the city court for resolution. This could have been something like a congregant suing another congregant for speaking falsely when all they would have to do was talk it over with one of the leaders. Basically, taking something small and blowing it out of proportion.
And remember how everyone knew the message Paul preached before he left? Well, it didn’t take long for that to digress as well. Some people had taken Paul’s words about salvation through Christ and took it to mean they were currently living a redeemed life. That might not sound all that wrong on the surface, but they took it as an excuse to say they were redeemed while doing “Corinthianized” type things.
Let’s spill some tea, stories of prostitution got back to Paul. It was going on in the early church. In fact, it was so bad, Paul heard word of a man who was sleeping with his step-mother! What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but what happens in Corinth gets back to Paul… in two ways.
First, there were some concerned church leaders who took the time to draft a letter a letter which no longer exists today, but I bet if it did it would be a page turner. I’m sure by the time we read through it we would be adding some sins to the laundry list I just mentioned. Second, some Corinthian servants traveled to Ephesis, where Paul was currently working. They came to talk and “visit.”
Everything I just said is beginning to sound like an episode of the Jerry Springer Show! So, like a tabloid show, let’s take a breather from it for a moment and do the sermon version of a commercial break: also known as a side story.
Did you know Abraham Lincoln used to be harsh with the written word? He was terrible! When he had a personal issue he would immediately draft a letter and send it anonymously to an editor or drop it on the side of the road knowing someone would find it! He never thought his words through first. He never marinated in his thoughts, mulled through his ideas. That is, until he did it one too many times and it backfired. The person who had been insulted figured out it was Lincoln who wrote the “anonymous letter” and challenged him to a duel! AND! He almost had to participate in it, save for the grace of God it was cancelled just minutes before it was to take place. The event turned his life around. He realized the power of words. He thought first and wrote second. Smart advice. Never send the first draft of an angry letter. Wati a day, rewrite it when you had time to think about your words. That actually advice from Dale Carnagie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.
I bring up Carnagie’s book, and Lincoln’s actions because technically we never left Corinth and their debaucherious tale. How many drafts do you think Paul had to write before he penned the final version to send to Corinth? Let’s pretend, shall we?
Draft one: “You are completely hopeless! You are sheep without a shepherd. You know! I’ve got other churches, and I leave for one minute, and some guy is sleeping with his stepmother! Come on Corinth! You were better than this! If I came back, I would simply be wasting my time. You’re not saved people, and you never will be! I’m sorry I’ve wasted your time, Paul. [Crumple that one up and throw it on the floor.]
Draft two: “Seriously, I’m completely stunned at how deep into the world of sin you have gotten. If you got any deeper I wouldn’t be able to dig you out.
Now, you’re not hopeless but there isn’t much hope there. Don’t do anything else. You are on the edge and you shouldn’t trust your own judgement right now. Rushing over as soon as I put my tents up, Paul. [Crumple that one up and throw it on the floor.]
Maybe Paul wrote a couple of drafts before penning 1 Corinthians, maybe he didn’t. After all, he did not mince words with the Corinth people. He told them, in no uncertain terms, they were wrong. The truth is, we have no idea how he wrote his letters, we just have the end result. The end result is much better than those fake drafts I just shared with you:
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in the Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
SAINTS! He calls them saints. As Bart Ehrman writes about the saints of Corinth, “One wonders what the Corinthian sinners looked like.” I would respond, they are one in the same. We forget judgment is not our job. Once we label a group hopeless, or lost that is what they are- to us! There is no hope to help a group of people we have labeled hopeless. There is no finding a group we have called lost. We cannot save those we have sentenced as damned. Saint’s not because they deserved it, but because they were trying. Saints, not because they were perfect, but because they were striving. Paul begins his letter with hope. Maybe these people are getting started on the wrong track, but they are getting started. Pontis Pilate washes his hands while Paul gets his hands dirty. Choosing to walk Christ’s path means moving outside your comfort zone. It means getting to know the Corinthians of today by name. Whether you realize it or not, you are living among future saints, but not yet. They are waiting for you to tell the story. Think about it this way: You are the saints in the church today. Where would you be if you hadn’t heard the story? Did someone decide you were worth saving? Let me conclude with Paul’s own words: “He will strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen
Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. If you do, you will have a great reward. You will be acting the way children of the Most High act, for he is kind to ungrateful and wicked people. Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate. “Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good portion—packed down, firmly shaken, and overflowing—will fall into your lap. The portion you give will determine the portion you receive in return.”
Luke 6:35-38 (CEB)
When I think about kindness, I think about Doris. Doris is an elderly woman at my church where I previously ministered in Iowa. She has a smile about her that brightens any day. For me, she is the embodiment of kindness because of how much she does for others without ever asking for anything in return. She has been retired for decades now, but continually keeps busy serving the people of her community. Though health problems have limited her recently, she still devotes countless hours visiting people in the hospital, holding Bible studies in various nursing homes, and working with children through the local 4-H program.
Here’s what strikes me about Doris: she often serves people who can offer nothing back. Some literally have nothing. Others don’t realize what she’s doing because she does them in secret. Some aren’t grateful even if they do know. Doris gets nothing out of all of the time, energy, and work she puts into the week…and yet, she continues on relentless. Why? Because Doris is kind. Doris is a child of God.
In the passage above, Jesus talks to his disciples about what it means to be children of the Most High: love your enemies; do good; lend expecting nothing in return; be compassionate. These are all things that God does for all people unconditionally, regardless of who they are. “God is kind to ungrateful and wicked people.” What a thought! As bearers of the divine image who have been made in His likeness, this is how we too should be. As people who are followers of Christ, we are called to imitate the life of Christ, including his kindness. The standard for our behavior is in the character of God himself. Not only do we experience God’s kindness, but we demonstrate it to the world.
Kindness is found in the heart and attitude of Christ. As Paul writes in Philippians 2:3, “Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves.” The “others” he speaks us are not only those whom we get along with and whom we call friends. Consider even your enemies as better than yourself. When we look to the interests of others instead of our own, we find the power within us to be kind even to those who do not deserve it. In these kind acts, it is not about what we are to receive or “get back” from doing them. It is about the act itself and the good that it does in this world.
In a world that is so often focused on the “bottom line” and investments and returns, practice the kindness that expects nothing back. To paraphrase Jesus elsewhere, let the kindness of God be reflected in your life, so that when others see your good deeds, they will glorify your Father in heaven.
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Father, we praise you for your kindness. You have demonstrated to us your goodness, even when we were still sinners. May your Spirit be at work in us to demonstrate kindness to others in a godly, unconditional way. Amen.
Mike Miles is the student and family minister at the Livonia Church of Christ in the western suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. He attended Abilene Christian University, where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts in Christian Ministry in 2009. Mike is currently working on his Master of Religious Education in Missional Leadership at Rochester College in Rochester, Michigan.
Mike has a love for community and for bringing people together, especially across society's dividing lines. Born in the Philippines, he has since lived in over twenty different places but happily calls Michigan "home." He is unashamedly nerdy. He has tried to maintain a blog for years, but has decided that he is just too lazy. He is married to Blythe and has a son, with a baby girl on her way in early 2017!
“If two friends ask you to judge a dispute, don't accept, because you will lose one friend; on the other hand, if two strangers come with the same request, accept because you will gain one friend.”
-Rev. Sarah Renfro-
He said, "May you be blessed by the LORD, my daughter! You have acted even more faithfully than you did at first. You haven't gone after rich or poor young men.
Ruth 3:10 CEB
Almost twenty years, comedian Chris Rock had a special that included a bit about those wanting credit for things they are “supposed to do.” Using plenty of expletives, Rock made fun of those who say, "I take care of my kids." Well, “You're supposed to…” he shouted on stage. The 1996 special is not for family viewing, but the essence of this statement is true. There are some things we are just “supposed to do.”
We are supposed to take care of our family members. Naomi was trying to take care of her daughters-in-law when she told them to go back to their mothers after their husbands died. That was caring and kind. And expected at that time and in light of a famine. It was not unkind that Orpah said good-bye, but Ruth would not leave her mother-in-law.
A foreigner in her MIL’s homeland, Ruth provided for her family of two, and in turn, Naomi made sure that Ruth would be taken care of in the future. Boaz had shown kindness to Ruth by letting her glean from his fields of grain. And he thought Ruth was kind for taking care of her MIL and by proposing marriage to him, an older relative. He would do what he was supposed to do, by marrying a relative in need, and he praises Ruth as one who exhibits hesed, loving kindness, loyalty, faithfulness.
In Ruth’s eyes, however, she is just doing what she is supposed to do, as a devoted daughter-in-law and child of God. She embodies the hesed of God, who also “takes care of [Her] kids” because that’s what God is “supposed to do.” God doesn’t brag or boast or ask for a special blessing, and neither does Ruth. Ruth is praised for going beyond mere niceties. Hesed may be displayed by human and Divine, and it does not discriminate. Ruth was, after all, a foreign widow. God demonstrates divine care for all who seek refuge.
Who in our world needs hesed? How can we practice loving kindness? Aren’t we called to take care of our family of faith (brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles in Christ), just as God takes care of us? Isn’t that what we are supposed to do?
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God of hesed, encourage us to practice loving kindness, loyalty, and faithfulness, beyond borders and boundaries, not just because we are related by blood or marriage, but because we are “supposed to” as members of Your family. Amen.
Rev Sarah Renfro is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Geist Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Fishers, Indiana. Born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky, Sarah formerly modeled internationally, was ordained into ministry in 2010, is married to Rev. Kyle Brown, mother to Miriam, March Madness fanatic (Go Big Blue!), and writer at m-bodied.com. Her ministry includes leading body image workshops and preaching on embodiment and faith.
-Rev. Joanne Walker Flowers, PhD-
A sensitive answer turns back wrath, but an offensive word stirs up anger.
Proverbs 15:1 CEB
I lived in a small town, Sierra Vista, Arizona while working at Cochise College many years ago. It took a while for me to adjust to the dry, brown desert terrain but I grew to love it. There was such openness to the land, it was vast and untamed and living there gave me the opportunity to do something I’d always wanted to do, ride horses. Of course, first I had to learn how.
As a beginner, the quarter horses I rode were larger than I expected and a bit daunting. How could I possibly control this huge animal? But as every experienced rider knows, the secret to controlling the horse rests in the control of its mouth, that is, its bit. To illustrate the power of the tongue, James wrote about the bit controlling the horse and a small rudder turning a large ship. (James 3:3-4)
In Proverbs we read, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Proverbs 18:21) If the tongue is so powerful, why are we so careless with it?
Lord, I ask you to grow in me the fruit of kindness that I may speak words of love and healing rather than hurt and scorn. Control my tongue as I submit to your will in my life. Lead me, guide me, direct me, and please use me. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
Joanne Walker Flowers is ordained clergy in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) with a ministry of health and healing.
Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ.
Ephesians 4:32 CEB
Drivers mashed their horns and swerved around me. My little blue car sat right in the middle of the off-ramp, and it wasn’t going anywhere. Just as I was exiting to head back to my new job, my car just stopped. The engine wouldn’t turn over, and I didn’t know what to do. I was nineteen, without a cell phone, and living on my own in a new city. I’d never had to deal with a broke-down car on an off-ramp before.
A soft tap on my driver’s side window startled me. I assumed the middle-aged man outside my window wanted to holler at me for blocking the ramp, so I only cracked my window a little. “Put it in neutral,” he said.
I did. He pushed my car off onto the shoulder, and then offered me a ride to a phone.
He probably doesn’t remember me. But I remember him. He could have gotten agitated by my inconveniently parked car. I was in his way just as much as I was in any other driver’s way. Instead of honking at me or flipping me the bird, he chose to be kind and help me out.
And kindness is a choice, isn’t it? We can choose to put ourselves into another person’s shoes. We can choose to act out of kindness and compassion instead of acting out of anger and judgment.
If we allow ourselves to be open to the Holy Spirit, our first instincts won’t be to lay on the horn and drive around. Our first instinct will be to listen to the problem and offer to help.
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God, please help me to choose kindness, even when it’s not convenient. Allow the Holy Spirit to work through me and influence my actions.
Kristy Burmeister writes about stalkers, church-related trauma, feminism, and pie (pretty much in that order) at kristyburmeister.com. She's currently working on a memoir about a church that almost got her murdered when she was a teenager. (Spoiler: She's still alive.)