Covenant Pines Bible Camp Climbing Wall (from covenant pines.org)
After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3and, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together—by trade they were tentmakers. 4Every sabbath he would argue in the synagogue and would try to convince Jews and Greeks. (Acts 18.1-4 NRSV)
One summer my brother, Danny, was planning and leading weeklong summer camps for the church where he works and was really short on guy counselors for a week of middle school camp. He couldn’t find anyone who could help and he wound up asking me if I could be a counselor for a cabin of sixth-graders.
The kids in my cabin seemed to have a lot in common. They were part of the same church. They liked similar things. But they didn’t seem to like each other much. It was so weird because I liked talking with them and being around them, but they for some reason they never really gelled as a group.
One afternoon during our team building time on a low ropes course the cabin completely fell apart … the activities were supposed to build unity by giving the cabin an opportunity to encourage each other and succeed at something – it didn’t work out how it was intended, the cabin just grew more and more frustrated with each other. The activity was called “The Spiderweb.” Someone had tied together a bunch of rope to look like a big net. There were as many openings in the net as there were kids in my cabin. The idea was to get the whole cabin to the other side of the net without touching any of the ropes and using a different opening for each kid. Counselors were told to make sure the campers were safe, but we were supposed to be quiet and let the cabin figure out how to get every one to the other side of the web. Instead of listening to each other, my cabin started yelling at each other … instead of cooperating they criticized each other. Things grew more tense … these two guys started pushing each other. My junior counselor and I tried everything we could think of to help them, but finally we gave up and stopped the team building activity before an all out brawl could erupt.
It was so discouraging to see this group of people who were all so great on their own and could have had so much fun together become immobilized by their division. They could have overcome “The Spiderweb Challenge.” But they couldn’t stand each other. They couldn’t figure out how to work together. They couldn’t find a tiny sliver of unity.
It was so hard to see these kids, I really liked, and who had so much more in common than they imagined, have such a difficult time together.
Since Easter we have been following the growth and spread of the church in the book of Acts. Today, Dan read a passage that introduced Paul’s missionary work in Corinth. We see that Paul followed his usual routine in Corinth. Paul made connections with people. He spent time teaching and talking with people in the synagogue … and after some time a community of Christians formed.
Something happened to that community though. We see in the letters Paul wrote, that he was worried about them.
Listen to 1 Corinthians 1.10-18:
10Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12What 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.” 13Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
14I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16(I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)
17For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. 18For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1.10-18 NRSV)
In other readings from Acts we have noticed that the early church faced pressure from the outside as Christians were persecuted for their faith and as they embraced a counter cultural lifestyle as they tried to follow Jesus. Now, in 1 Corinthians we see that the church is experiencing inner tension as divisions spring up inside their community.
Paul seems really distressed by what is happening in the Corinthian church. It must have seemed like they were completely falling apart … they formed these factions based on their preference for teachers. And that was just the beginning. If you read all the way through 1 Corinthians you will see there were even more ways the Corinthian Church found to divide itself up.
Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half. During that time he must have developed friendships with the Corinthian disciples.
Paul really loved them … He spent so much time with them … He invested so much of himself in their lives … and then Paul heard from Chloe’s people, maybe another faction in the church) that the community seems to be completely falling apart.
It must have been so frustrating for Paul to hear how these people he loved so much, and had spent so much time with, were having such a difficult time with each other.
If the outside pressure on the church wasn’t bad enough, now this group of people who could have been supporting and encouraging each other were building up tension and division inside the community and making life much more difficult for each other. It must have been so heartbreaking for Paul to see these people he cared for so set on dividing and separating themselves into factions.
Paul pleads that the church move past division and toward unity, to share the same mind and same purpose.
Paul reminds the church they have a common connection in Christ. Christ loves them and laid down his life for them on the cross. He asks the Corinthian church, in the name of Jesus, that they be in agreement and be in the same mind and purpose.
When they could have been supporting each other, they were tearing each other apart.
They were, making things harder for each other.
When I had that bummer experience with the camp cabin that just couldn’t figure out how to work together it left me discouraged and worn out. It took a so much energy to be around those campers.
Years later when Sarah and I worked at a camp together, we had a totally different experience with team building. One weekend we hosted a Sunday School class from a large, urban, church. At first glance the group didn’t appear to have anything in common. They spoke different languages … most of them had been born in different countries … they all seemed so different.
The group wanted to use the camp’s climbing wall and zip line.
Sarah was at the bottom of the wall helping them with their climbing harnesses and helmets. She would belay them as they climbed. I was up top on the perch, my job was to set them up for the zip line after they climbed to the top of the wall.
No one in their group had done anything like this before.
It was amazing to look down at this group that didn’t seem like they could have anything in common and see them (and hear them) encouraging each other. With all these different accents they were building each other up and cheering for each other when they finally climbed to the top of the tower. They had the common mind and purpose. They wanted to see their friends succeed at something new and difficult. Being around them was so energizing. The way they cared for each other was so refreshing. It wasn’t hard to be around them.
So, how does Paul’s call for unity connect with our life together as Christ’s church?
I think it points out that we are pursuing the right track – we have this community that represents so many Christian traditions, and backgrounds, we have theological convictions that cover the whole spectrum, and still together, we recognize that Jesus has made the difference in our lives, and we want to live in response to the goodness and love we have experienced. We aren’t uniform (we aren’t all the same), but we are united in mind and purpose. We want to know Christ more and we want to share his love with the people around us.
Our passage points out that together we are pursuing something good and necessary.
As we pursue life together and seek to support and encourage each other we are living into Paul’s vision of church unified around Christ, and even more than that, we become a refreshing glimpse of the kingdom of heaven.
We are becoming something precious … we are becoming something the world desperately needs …