n the Anglican Journal this week there was an article about a debate between former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US journalist Christopher Hitchens. It was the Munk Debate, they were chewing over whether faith is a force for good in the world.
Blair was suggesting that, “Religious faith has a major part to play in shaping the values which guide the modern world, and can and should be a force for progress.” While Hitchens who is the author of a book called God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything suggests that organised religion is “violent, irrational, intolerant; allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry; invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children.” I take it he is not a fan, but concluding that “if religious instruction were not allowed until the child had attained the age of reason, we would be living in a quite different world.” This is a major argument, is faith a good thing or not? Is it useful to the progress of the world.
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In our reading today from Corinthians, it seems that this is not their argument. Their argument is more about which one they have more faith in, was it Apollo, was it Paul, was it Cephas, or was it Christ? Who are you following? We can update this passage to say, What I means is that each of you says I belong to Luther, or I belong to Menno Simons, or I belong to Thomas Cramner, though I have not heard that one very often. Then when we do get inside a church, the argument changes yet again. We hear, we follow the BCP, we have traditional music, we are not changing the colour of the carpet, we don’t have those kinds of people in our church. It seems whether big or small, we can find an infinite number of things to argue about.
Paul is introducing a new concept, one that had not been common place before now. He is attempting a community of diverse people, a church composed of rich and poor, Jew and Greek, slave and free. He is attempting create a community where the normal bonds of ethnicity, culture or family are not there. Teaching them that the bond that holds them together is Christ. Paul seeks ways in which the divisions can be dealt with in a way that does not make people ‘up and leave’ because they are not happy. He reminds people that the saving grace does not come through any human leader, but through the gospel that manifests the saving love of God. Paul is making it perfectly clear that God’s love is not through human wisdom but the foolishness of the cross.
Just as a side I love the way this letter is written, Paul gave a glowing praise filled opening to his letter to the folks in Corinth, then blasts them with “Chloe tells me you guys are fighting. Now stop it!” It seems they have been busted!
The foolishness of the cross is developed into a theology of the cross which is persistent in the letters of Paul. It not only shapes our responses to the need of others, but equally shapes how we are not rushed to judgement, how we discern what we do, and in what spirit we make decisions and follow through with actions. Tim Sedgewich suggests that as we engage the world through the lens of the cross, Christian faith becomes a way of life which leads to a theology of the church as a new covenant, a new people and a new society.
This is how the call to Peter and Andrew made it possible or even probable that they would just drop their nets and immediately follow Jesus. I can easily imagine that at first meeting they were not particularly interested in a future salvation, but more of the contemporary action of fishing for human beings. They had no idea what they were getting themselves into, they maybe saw adventure following this man. Let’s face it the first thing he does is begin travel throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. That is adventure if ever I heard it.
Now as you know last night there was an art show here for the Home Omuka Project. That started off as an adventure, Lola who has been part of the saint benedict’s family from its inception had a choice. She was going to either invest and buy a house in Winnipeg or she was going to do some kind of mission trip, maybe Mexico or Africa, she was not sure yet. I told her about the school in Kampala that Mawejje, another priest in Winnipeg, was involved in. Mawejje is from Uganda, and liked the Canadian system of education and so set about building a school for Ugandan children.
I suggested that she talk to him and see what he had to say. She came back ready to set off on an adventure, she was going to spend one year working at the school. She raised the funds and packed all kinds of amazing things, she was crazy to live with in the last few weeks before she went because she was heading off into the unknown. By the time she came back she had a future plan to go back there and together with Roger they would care for teenage orphaned boys. The call to adventure put her on a track that she never expected. So to what is Jesus calling us to. Some would say we are called to believe, some would say that we are called to service, some might even say called to church membership, while others such as Dietrich Bonhoffer said that the call to “follow me” was a call to absolute discipleship, and that only in surrendering ourselves to Jesus command could we, paradoxically, know our greatest joy.
Throughout the gospel, Matthew is not particularly gracious in the way he describes how the disciple don’t understand what Jesus is doing, or what the kingdom is about, however they do follow him. Stanley Hauerwas contrasts the disciples with the crowds that are attracted to Jesus. He says, “those in the crowds will often be in awe of Jesus, they will express amazement at his teaching, but at the end of the day they will shout “Let him be crucified!” Matthew is teaching us what is required to be a follower rather then admirers of Jesus.
For Bonhoffer it cost him his life. He was not in the slightest bit interested in the colour of the carpet, or which denominational affiliation was better than another, or even if faith was a good thing. He was ready to follow in search of a new society, without the easy bonds of ethnicity or culture, he was more than just admirer, being ready to go wherever it took him. Are we ready to be part of the adventure, that is the question and that is the call.