1 Corinthians 12:31b

As I noted in my sermon on Sunday, the Corinthian church is perhaps most famous for fighting about everything.  Paul spends most of the first twelve chapters covering a laundry list of topics he would really rather not cover.  This coming Sunday, we’ll hear the final correction to a church tearing itself apart: “you are the body of Christ.”  In the midst of a teaching on spiritual gifts, Paul makes a short aside to remind the Corinthian Christians that above all, they are members of a community of faith and unless they can figure out a way to live together, they are failing to live into their identity as members of the body of Christ.

Sunday week, we’ll hear the antithesis of this argument in Paul’s great Love Hymn.  He’ll show them what life in Christ, united in love to the Trinity that overflows with love, looks like.  Between here and there, however, there is a key phrase which the RCL has decided we do not need to hear.  Epiphany 3C ends at 1 Cor 12:31a.  Epiphany 4C starts at 1 Cor 13:1.  In between is 1 Corinthians 31b.

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“I will show you a still more excellent way.”

The Greek word translated as “excellent” is “huperbole” which is basically hyperbole without the exaggeration.  According to my handy-dandy Bibleworks Lexicon, huperbole means surpassing greatness; outstanding quality; beyond measure, utterly, to the extreme

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This way is certainly better than the conflicts and tensions of the Corinthian community. This way far surpasses the way of self-interest and greed.  This way is more extremely awesome than Vanilla Ice’s hair.  What way is this?  The way of love.  The way of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  The way that seeks peace, that calls us to pray for our enemies, that invites us to seek to be forgiven and to forgive.

1 Corinthians 12:31b is an important moment of transition, and it would behoove the preacher who is tackling 1 Corinthians to give it a nod either this week or next as we follow Jesus on his most excellent way.

the cross

If I had the time this week, I think I would have preached the 1st Corinthians lesson for Sunday.  We’ve got a good crew of Lutherans who worship with us on Sunday mornings and I feel like a good sermon on Luther’s Theology of the Cross would be perfect for Lent 3, Year B.

I say “if I had time,” because that sort of sermon doesn’t happen very quickly.  It starts out as an exegesis paper, then it develops into a systematic theology and then, somewhere about 5am on Sunday, a sermon is born.  I just don’t have that in me this week.

But I do want to spend sometime today thinking about that opening line, chapter 1, verse 18.

“The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

What strikes me is the tense of the two verbs.

  • Are perishing – verb participle present middle or passive dative masculine plural
  • are being saved – verb participle present passive dative masculine plural

Both are ongoing.  One, those who are perishing, are doing it of their own volition.  The other, those who are being saved, are being helped by some outside force.  It would be easy to just draw a line of those who are in and those who are out, but Paul doesn’t allow us to do that here.  Instead, the situation is very fluid.  Some who were being saved might now be perishing.  Some who were perishing, are in this moment being saved.  And some, maybe most, possible all find both within themselves at any given moment (think Mark 9:24, the man whose son the disciples have failed to save, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”)

The cross very much is foolishness, or to borrow from last week, the cross is shameful.

But the cross is also the power of God, or to borrow from John, the Temple will be rebuilt.

Thanks be to God, I don’t have to figure it all out; faith like a child is all that is required.  Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.