notre dame montreal

Sermon preached by The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman


Our Unity in Christ, Our Inheritance and our Challenge

Over the Christmas holidays I went over to visit some family who live just outside a small village in mid Wales. I have been there before and I know the way by the main roads but also know there is a shorter way using the back roads. No problem – I’ll use my GPS system, with which I’m developing a love – hate relationship. I tapped in the village name, which the system recognised, and then I set off

Things are going well and I’m getting close and the GPS system does indeed direct me off the main road on to the back roads – bear left, turn right, turn, left, and so on until after a while it says ‘After 400 yards you have reached your destination’, followed by, ‘You have reached your destination’

Only I hadn’t. It was pitch black, pouring with rain, and I appeared to be in the entrance to a field. I had to try and find a map in the car and work out where I needed to go. Now maps are useful, but only if you know where you are - which I didn’t. I knew where I’d come from, I knew where I was going, I’d just got lost along the way. Like the Christians Paul was addressing in today’s epistle reading

Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth from where he was in Ephesus around AD 54. The church at Corinth was racially and socially mixed, there were some Jews but far more Gentiles. They ranged from slaves at one end of the spectrum, to Erastus, the city treasurer at the other. Many were converts from a pagan background and they prided themselves on their intellectual prowess and logical thought.

Some, it would appear, had become Christians but wanted their lives to remain unchanged and they wanted to put a particular slant on what they believed. As a result of all this it had been reported to Paul by members of Chloe’s household, either by a letter or a visit, that there were, among other things, divisions developing and all kinds of sexual immorality taking place there (1 Cor 1 v 11; 5 v 1; 7 v 1; 16 v 17)

In the passage today Paul deals with the divisions which were appearing in the early church, and which would have been fatal if allowed to develop further. The Christians in Corinth met in halls and houses and split into smaller groups as needed. It would seem that there was a group who wanted to follow Paul himself, another who wanted to follow Apollos, another who wanted to follow Cephas and yet another who wanted to have the exclusive right to use the label Christians

Perhaps those who wanted to follow Cephas wanted a more Jewish feel to their new religion, and those who followed Paul a more radical and Gentile approach. Apollos was a Christian from Alexandria who had been taken in by the Christian community at Ephesus by Aquila and Priscilla when he arrived there (Acts 18 v 24 ff) and

He then travelled on to Achaia, which had Corinth as its capital. It’s clear that he was a powerful and eloquent speaker, well educated, well groomed and well spoken. He taught accurately and with enthusiasm. (Unlike Paul who, although he was very well educated as a Roman and a Jew, we know found public speaking difficult and often felt he did not have the right words). Perhaps people were making comparisons between the two of them. But Paul was much more concerned with the message that the manner in which it was delivered, ensuring that it was the pure gospel which was preached, not some spin on it which suited a particular element or faction of society

Concerned with the commonality of vision and purpose and the importance of unity within the church

Concerned about God’s plan for unity between all people through salvation in Christ

Concerned that we might live out that unity, not division

Division is a trap it’s easy to fall into. We look around and see Christians, denominations and churches who do things slightly (or very) differently to us. If we’re not careful we see the difference as ‘not doing it properly’ and from there if we’re not careful we‘re on the slippery slope downwards to ‘we’re right and they’re wrong’ and ultimately to bigotry and intolerance

We get sidetracked into thinking things which aren’t important are important, of focusing on the peripheral not the central

For Paul, it wasn’t a question of baptism, as important as that was, and is – it was a question of preaching the gospel as widely and as clearly as possible and being united in that message

One faction of the church in Corinth was not superior to another; their strength in Christ, as does ours, comes from unity, not from factions or elitism

As Christians we need to guard against that in our churches and in our society

The Holocaust Memorial day this Thursday 27 January 2005 which this year marks the 60th anniversary since Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviet Army, reminds us graphically what happens when one element o a society believes itself to be superior to others

Holocaust comes from the Hebrew Olah = burnt offering – many Jews call this tragic episode in human history Sho’ ah = destruction or desolation

As a nation we need to stand against the evils of prejudice, victimisation, racism and bigotry and ensure that the horrendous suffering by all in the Holocaust, and subsequent atrocities are neither forgotten nor repeated. We cannot allow such things to happen again.

And as Christians we need to declare our unity in Christ again as we enter the week for prayer for Christian unity

A week of prayer is held from 18 - 25 January 2005 (to cover the days between the feast of St Peter and the feast of St Paul), to bring together Protestant, Anglicans and Catholics under the similar goal of Christian union

This year’s week of prayer will follow theme, "Christ, the One Foundation of the Church", a reference to Paul’s teaching from 1 Corinthians (particularly 1 Cor 3 v 1 – 23)

We are to live as one, as a church and as a society, and not to get sidetracked or lost on the way, not to put a particular spin on His message which suits us – Christ expects no less from us