I Corinthians 1:10-18 Isaiah 9:1-4
I am thirty years late! For the past thirty years I have heard about Les Miserables, seen pieces of it performed on variety shows, but only now since it has been made into a movie, did I get to see all of it. Over, and over, and over again – yes, we taped it. Very moving piece of musical theater.
In the middle of it, though, is a scene set in Paris in 1832 at the start of a small revolution. There is a small child, named Gavroche, running through the streets of Paris singing about the inequality of life. He sings, ‘Here’s the thing about equality, everyone’s equal when they’re dead! Take your place, take your chance, vive la France!’
When I heard that, I thought, ‘Well that is true.’ And nothing new really. It is a well-known theme in literature, death as the great equalizer. Then something in me started to screech, almost like an Urschrei: ‘It is NOT true!’ It is, in fact, part-truth. And that is where the wisdom of this world becomes foolishness to God. It is only part-truth. Why? Because we are all equal in God’s eyes – even while we are yet living.
Nature is a great example of God’s equality – As Jesus says in Matthew 5: ‘for He makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.’ Great sunsets are not hidden from the poor or the rich. We only need the eyes to see or nose to smell or tongue to taste or skin to feel or ears to hear and appreciate what is so freely given to us. If you are alive, you are receiving gifts from God through nature on a daily basis.
Ever been fruit-picking? It never ceases to amaze me how much fruit one plant or tree can grow! And only humans limit who takes from the tree. God doesn’t. One of my favourite children’s storybooks is called The Cookie Monster and the Cookie Tree. In it there is a witch who has created a tree that produces only chocolate chip cookies (in my house that would be me), but she puts a spell on the tree so that Cookie Monster cannot take from it. So the tree does this (show page), it bends away from the Cookie Monster when he reaches for a cookie. Have you ever in real life seen a fruit tree bend away from someone because they were undeserving? God through Nature does not distinguish who gets what. While we are alive, God pours out his generosity upon us in great bucketfuls – on all of us. We create competition and ownership. We create inequality. We create the yoke of burden.
So in our scripture reading in Corinthians today Paul says, why are you competing? Why are you bringing human wisdom into the church? Now the composition of the Corinthian church was a lot like this one. Corinth was a cosmopolitan city full of educated, ambitious people, as well as refugees. It had very rich and very poor and everything in between and the church there reflected that diversity. Christianity as a religion was young and still developing its identity, so there was disagreement about what the faith actually consisted of – and where there is a lot of disagreement, you have the opportunity for a power struggle.
The Christians there were name-dropping. *Now I am soooo guilty of this.* I love telling people who it was that confirmed me in the Church of England. Mostly because that person is well-known as an author. So the reaction to dropping his name tells me a lot about the person I am currently talking to and becomes a conversation starter. But that is not why the Corinthians were name-dropping. They were elbowing for power. They were saying, ‘You should listen to me because I was baptised by Apollos or Cephas!’ Paul said, just stop it! Find your worth and unity in Jesus.
Why? Because it is a far more profound gift of God AND it is evenly distributed: For God so loved the world – as it is, unequal, wrapped in partial truths, sinful – that He gave His only son to die for it. God’s love doesn’t wait to be given until you deserve it. That bears repeating. God’s love does not wait to be given until you deserve it. He loves you now – as you are – well or unwell, housed or homeless, rich or poor, sinful or hurting. Like the love a parent has for a child no matter how they misbehave, they are loved.
There is a pop song playing on the radio now called ‘We Got Holes in Our Hearts’ about the hurt that everyone is carrying around with them. It is our duty as Christians to fill those holes with the love of God. And like the rules about applying an oxygen mask in an airplane, fill your own heart first. There will be an abundance leftover with which to help others come to wholeness – that is ‘whole’ with a ‘w’ on the front. Fill their holes with the wholeness of God’s love – graciously given, evenly distributed. Everyone needs it. Most people want it even if they don’t know what it is exactly, and some are actively looking for it.
But we cannot do this if we are squabbling with each other. There is no room for competition in the church. There is no room for power struggles and dissent. There is lots of room for healing, encouraging, caring and sharing. We should be lifting each other up. You are loved, you are worthy, you are forgiven. That is the Love of God. It removes the yoke of burden and breaks the bar of the oppressor, and the people who have walked in darkness will see a great light.
In our church in Princeton, one of the pastors always invites the congregation into saying the creed with the words, ‘People of God, what do you believe?’ I love that intro, but if I were to rewrite the creed the first line would be: I believe God loves me. Because that is where faith begins. That is why the song, ‘Jesus Loves Me’ is so important to teach to children. If you don’t truly believe that God loves you, how can you share His love with others?
People of Church of the Ascension, do you believe God loves you? (Yes) Now, say it with me: I believe God loves me. Good. I believe God loves you also, and that is what we take to share with the world. AMEN