There were many problems in the church in Corinth, but there was one in particular that Paul kept coming back to, said the Rev. J. Peter Holmes at the 9:15 a.m. Thursday morning worship service. His sermon title was “Island Life,” and the Scripture readings were Psalm 133 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a.
In 1 Corinthians 1, 3 and 12, Paul comes back to the problem of divisions in the church. Some said “I belong to Paul,” others to Apollos, others to Cephas (Peter), and others to Christ.
“Imagine, the church had these incredible pastors, what a blessing — and they were not getting along,” Holmes said.
Similarly, there are divisions in our world today.
“I did not have to cross the border to learn about the divisions in your country; the whole world knows,” Holmes said. “The world sees our religious divisions and there is a whole generation who sees the bad mouthing among us and has said ‘Enough.’ ”
Holmes told the congregation that we have to be honest about who we are, but that we have much to learn from other religions without compromising who we are. He described a conversation he had with Rabbi Arthur Waskow about a gospel text and how he came away with a whole new perspective.
The squabbles in our own churches do damage to what faith in Jesus Christ is all about, Holmes said. There are divisions about theology, leadership, money and music.
“Paul called the Corinthians back to something,” he said. “Paul said that he had done the planting, Apollos had done the watering, but it was God’s one purpose and Spirit that made the church grow.”
We are here to do God’s work, he told the congregation; faith always comes back to God because God so loved the world. Paul used the metaphor of a team, but in 1 Corinthians 12 in the letter to the Corinthians, he used the metaphor of the body of Christ.
“It was brilliant,” Holmes said. “We are to be the body of Christ, empowered by the Spirit to carry on Christ’s work in the world. That is why unity is important; if we don’t have unity then we are not doing the work of Christ.”
Holmes thought that the Corinthians read Paul’s metaphor as something humorous. Paul wrote that the foot cannot say to itself that it is not a hand, therefore it was not part of the body. The ear could not say it was not an eye, therefore it was not part of the body.
How ridiculous it would be if the body were all eyes — where would the sense of smell be?
“It is a reminder to us how much we need each other and how ridiculous it is if we think we can do it all on our own,” Holmes said.
Holmes is a great fan of “Doc Martin” star Martin Clunes. Clunes does documentaries for the BBC and one of Holmes’ favorites is about the islands that surround the British Isles, the little islands around the big islands.
One of the islands Clunes featured was Forewick Holm in the Shetland Islands, whose one inhabitant, Stuart Hill, declared it the “Sovereign State of Forvik.” The island is only 2½ acres, and when Clunes landed on the island, Hill asked for his passport.
“I think Paul was holding up a mirror to all those who allow divisions to rest in the heart,” Holmes said. “They can end up looking silly. Paul reminds us that we need each other. We have a high calling to be Christ in the world. We need God and God’s Spirit to always draw us together.”
Paul wrote at the end of 1 Corinthians 12 that he had a “more excellent way.” Holmes said Paul was still speaking to the divisions as he named them clanging symbols or noisy gongs. He was calling them back to love because Christ came in love. Paul called the Corinthians to be “re-membered,” to be put back together with love and patience and kindness, he said.
Clunes visited another island in the Outer Hebrides, Barra, home of Clan MacNeil. It has a population of 1,200; everyone knows everyone and is known by everyone. Yet it is a warm, welcoming place and even outsiders feel cared for. For Clunes, it was a kind of paradise on earth.
“Oh, Chautauqua, you have got your compass and navigation system set on paradise,” Holmes said. “Stay close to the love that enfolds you. Wherever you go, take it with you, and together may we know paradise in our cities, churches, places of worship, homes and hearts.”
The Rev. Dan McKee presided. Shelby Frank, a scholarship student with the International Order of the King’s Daughters and sons, who is pursuing a bachelor’s in education in public Health at the University of North Texas, read the Scripture. Joseph Musser, piano, Barbara Hois, flute, and Rebecca Scarnati, oboe, played J. S. Bach’s “Trio Sonata in D Minor” for the prelude. The Motet Choir sang “Psalm 133,” by Richard Proulx under the direction of Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music. The Alison and Craig Marthinsen Endowment for the Department of Religion and the John William Tyrell Endowment for Religion provide support for this week’s services.