1.15.23 homily on 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 by Pastor Galen
One of the best TV shows of all time (in my opinion) was the show MacGyver, whose lead character (by the same name) was played by Richard Dean Anderson in the original 1985 series.
MacGyver possessed a genius-level knowledge of science, and an uncanny ability to solve life-threatening situations using common, everyday items such as paper clips, chewing gum, an ID card, or his trusty Swiss Army knife and the roll of duct tape, which he carried in his back pocket, flattened out to make it fit.
In the pilot episode, for example, MacGyver was called in to rescue a group of scientists trapped in an underground New Mexican laboratory after a major explosion. The explosion caused a sulfuric acid leak that put MacGyver in a rush with time before the acid would leak into the aquifer. In this situation, MacGyver’s survival techniques included using chocolate bars to plug the sulfuric acid leak (since the sugar formed a sticky paste when it reacted with the acid) and making a bomb made out of water and the sodium from a cold pill to blow a hole in a wall.
MacGyver’s ability to solve complex problems with simple, everyday household items is so iconic that the term “MacGyver” has now become part of the American English lexicon. In contrast to the tendency in our society to keep throwing more and more money and resources at problems, hoping something works, if you “MacGyver” something, it means that you have discovered a simple yet elegant solution to a problem using existing resources. (Our world could use a lot more MacGyvers – especially those who follow MacGyver’s methodology of avoiding violence, and finding non-violent solutions to problems!)
The Church in Corinth
In the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church in the city of Corinth, Paul tells the Corinthian Christians, “you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 1:7). In other words, the problems you’re facing may seem overwhelming, but you already have the resources you need to deal with the problems you are facing. You are not lacking – you just need to “MacGyver” the situation, using the spiritual resources you already have at your disposal.
Now, the Christian community in Corinth was in fact dealing with a myriad of problems – many of which seemed overwhelming. The church was split over moral and ethical questions regarding some of the members’ sexual behavior. Church members were caught up in legal battles with one another, with some members suing other church members in public court. Some of the leaders and members claimed spiritual superiority over other members of the church, believing that they possessed particularly special and unique spiritual gifts that others lacked. And they couldn’t even find refuge in their regular worship gatherings, since there too there was chaos and division regarding various practices related to worship and communion. And all of these divisions were compounded by the fact that the church in Corinth was made up of people from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, with varying levels of wealth and education.
One example of this division can be seen in the ethical question of whether or not it was OK for Christians to eat meat that had previously been sacrificed to idols. The Greeks and Romans worshiped a variety of gods and made statues to represent their deities. As part of their worship of these various gods they would offer food and libations to the gods – who of course could not eat the food – and so the food would then be sold in the marketplace.
The educated members of the Church in Corinth saw the worship of these gods as mere superstition, since the gods didn’t exist, and thus they saw no problem in eating meat that had previously been offered to these idols. The less educated Christians in Corinth, on the other hand, believed that this practice was dangerous, perhaps seeing eating the meat as tantamount to worshiping the idols.
We see divisions of this sort in the Church today – where often the fault lines fall between people of different educational and socioeconomic backgrounds. For example, people with more formal theological training are often more liberal on certain issues, whereas people with less formal theological education may often be wary of such people, believing they have strayed away from orthodox faith and doctrine.
And so even today we see how even theological divisions are compounded by economics and education.
Now, the Apostle Paul will go on to address these specific questions later on in his letter to the Corinthians. But it’s interesting to me that he doesn’t start off by listing off all of these problems, or highlighting how messed up things are in their church. That would have been the tactic taken by someone who was trying to sell something.
Not a Sales Pitch
Normally, a salesperson begins by highlighting the problem – showing you the insufficiency of the thing you already have. Think, for example, about a paper towel commercial. It begins with the person dropping their cup of orange juice on the floor, or spilling their coffee all over the counter. Then they try to clean up the mess with the off-brand paper towels they’ve always used – which are woefully inadequate for the task at hand. But then they discover the name brand paper towels, and their problem is instantly solved!
The message of these types of commercials is that the thing you need is not something you already have. You need to spend more money and resources in order to get the thing you really need, because it’s not already in your possession. (That’s probably why MacGyver went off the air – the show didn’t encourage people to go out and buy a lot of stuff!)
But here in 1 Corinthians 1, Paul is not trying to convince the Christians in Corinth to go out and buy a lot of stuff – or even to seek resources to fix their problems beyond the resources they already had. And so he doesn’t begin by naming the problem, but rather by pointing out the multitude of resources they already have.
Saints, Rich in Grace
Paul refers to the Christians in Corinth as “those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours” (1 Cor. 1:2). He reminds them of “the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:4), saying that they have been “enriched in [Christ], in speech and knowledge of every kind just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:5-7).
Paul says that they are “saints” – not with the connotation that they are perfect or without fault, but that they have been called by God, and that they had said “yes” to that invitation. And then Paul reminds them that they are each part of something bigger than themselves – they are not just members of the church in Corinth, but they are part of the global Body of Christ – the “Kin-dom,” as we’ve been calling it in this series. The “Kin-dom” is the family of God, made up of God’s children in every time and every place scattered all around the world.
And Paul says that they have received the grace of God, and that they have been “enriched in [Christ], in speech and knowledge of every kind” (1 Cor. 1:5).
This is not the way you would convince someone that they need to buy a lot of stuff, or throw a lot of money at a problem in order to fix it. Rather, Paul is encouraging them to take stock of what they already have – the spiritual resources they have already been given, to see that within their community they already have everthying they need.
Because you see, the “you” here is not singular. Rather, it’s plural. Meaning that Paul is not saying “Bob, Susan, John, Rebecca, each of you individually have all of the spiritual resources that you will ever need.” Instead he is saying “you all” – “you’s guys” – “you’ins,” “all y’all” (depending on where you’re from) have everything you (collectively) need to solve the situations you are facing.
On a practical level, I think he was helping them to see that they didn’t need to take each other to court and have a Corinthian city official determine their legal questions. They didn’t need to turn to secular philosophers and ethicists, they didn’t even need to turn to celebrity pastors and theologians. They had the spiritual resources they needed right there in their community.
That didn’t mean that it wasn’t helpful for them to get an outside perspective – Paul was in many ways outside their community looking in, even though he had previously lived among them and knew their situation – and he was uniquely situated to help them see things about themselves that maybe they couldn’t see for themselves. But on a spiritual level, God had already given them what they needed. They just needed to learn to work together, and to value the unique contributions of every member of their church and community – not discounting the spiritual gifts or offerings of any member of their congregation – no matter their socioeconomic background or political or theological perspective – no matter their level of formal education, or lack thereof.
This is one reason why later on in The Book of 1 Corinthians, Paul will use the image of a body, and remind them that they are all connected to each other, and that they need each other. This is also why Martin Luther King, Jr., whose legacy we celebrate this weekend, would said, “[We] are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
We are Not Lacking
Here in our congregation, it can be easy to look around and see all of the resources that we don’t have – especially when we compare our church to much larger congregations. For me as the pastor, it’s tempting to wish I had a secretary to answer the phones or make my appointments, or maybe an associate pastor to assist with home visitation. I’m sure it could be tempting for our tech team to look at larger churches that have all the expensive equipment and lights and sound. Perhaps our singers and musicians might wish that they had a full orchestra to accompany them. And of course we could go on and on, wishing for the resources that we don’t have.
But I believe that the Apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthian church apply to us today as well. We need to first of all remember that God has called us – each and every one of us – to be saints, set apart for God’s holy purposes. When God looks at our congregation God doesn’t see gaps or holes or empty spaces. God sees us – the ones God has called and equipped to do God’s work. And God does not see us as lacking or insufficient. Rather God sees us as containing an abundance of resources. We are rich in the grace given to us by Christ Jesus. And God sees us as containing all of the spiritual gifts that we need to function together as a community. We are not lacking – together as a community, with God’s help, we have what it takes to fulfill the call that God has placed on our church.
And so, even if and when the situation may seem dire, let us remember that through Christ, God has already given us everything that we need. And so let us be MacGyvers, learning how to more effectively use the spiritual resources we have already been given. May we know that we are called by God, and equipped with what we need to do the work God has called us to do. May we faithfully respond to God’s calling on us as a church and community.