Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (1 Corinthians 1:10-17) transports me to four concerts by artists well known in the world of contemporary Christian music. Each of these four performers has won multiple Dove Awards and each enjoys quite a following. Here’s a sample of what you would hear in these concerts: Chris Tomlin sings Where you go I’ll go, where you stay I’ll stay, where you move I’ll move, I will follow you in Oklahoma City. Michael W. Smith sings You are holy, you are mighty, you are worthy of praise, I will follow in Atlanta. Ray Boltz sings Take up your cross and follow Jesus, take up your cross every day in Abilene. Jennifer Knapp sings I’m tired of choking in the shallow waters I’ve been in, I’m ready to be baptised by water and blood, c’mon push me under in Orlando. Nothing seems odd or out of place about these songs, until you see the context. None of them are performing for a worship setting. Chris Tomlin is singing at a Congressional campaign rally for the Tea Party activist James Lankford. Michael W. Smith is singing at an anti-Obama rally headlined by Sean Hannity. Ray Boltz and Jennifer Knapp, both of whom came out of the closet in the last decade, are lending their artistry to the gay rights movement. Following Jesus leads people into all sorts of movements and causes. Political figures and social movements across the spectrum enjoy a following from some segment of the body of Christ.
It seems that it didn’t take the Body of Christ long to begin stretching in different directions, following the leads of different public figures. The Corinthian correspondence, dating back to the mid 50s of the first century, was among the first writings that eventually became the New Testament. So twenty years after Jesus’ great high priestly prayer, may they be one, they were divided. Some were following Paul, some were following Apollos, some Peter, and others, trying to be non-denominational, said they were just following Christ. You can tell how flabbergasted Paul was by the news. You can hear him saying, I didn’t come here for this! Christ wasn’t divided, he says. You didn’t wade into the baptismal waters so you could start swimming off in your own stream. None of these church leaders were crucified for you, he tells them. All he can do is try and point them back to the cross, in hopes that they may regain, or gain for the first time, that essential unity of the body.
Two thousand years later, our correspondence reveals that we are still in the habit of dividing as we find ourselves following one or another leader, movement, or cause. The news from Chloe’s household hasn’t changed in all that time; we are still quarreling, and we haven’t achieved Paul’s dream of perfect unity in mind and thought. Or could it be that there really is an essential unity at work underneath all of our squabblings, a sustained musical note playing underneath all the songs of Tomlin and Smith and Boltz and Knapp? Could it be that we are united by grace, no matter what theologian or politician or social cause captures our heart at any given time? That is my hope, that the cross was powerful enough to create a diverse body that really is one, despite all evidence to the contrary. It is a body that at times seems to be flailing away in awkward maneuvers, but it is one body nonetheless. It reminds me of Rilke’s poem about the swan, who hobbles along on the dry ground as if his legs were bound. But then, grace comes - And to die, which is the letting go of the ground we stand on and cling to every day, is like the swan, when he nervously lets himself down into the water, which receives him gaily and which flows joyfully under and after him, wave after wave, while the swan, unmoving and marvelously calm, is pleased to be carried, each moment more fully grown, more like a king, further and further on. As we continue to lumber along trying to follow this or that leader, and support this or that cause, may we find the courage to occasionally let go and fall into the waters of grace.
How about you? Where does this Pastoral Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.