Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister

 

 

 

Being Godís Temple: Working on a Building

Sunday, August 27, 2006

 

 

I Corinthians 3: 10-17

 

Rev. Dean Snyder

 

Corinth was an interesting city.[i]

 

It was located on the isthmus that connected the Peloponnesus to the rest of Greece, which made it a key city on the land-based trade routes connecting Greece. It was also two miles south of the Bay of Corinth and six miles west of the Saronic Bay, which gave it access to oceanic trade routes connecting the world.

 

During the time of the Roman Empire, Corinth became a great commercial center. Julius Caesar made Corinth one of his special projects in 44 BCE. It became a city that attracted ambitious, upwardly mobile emigrants from throughout the empireÖpeople who were eager to better their lives and willing to leave their homes behind to find opportunity and self-advancement. It was a boom city.

 

As a result Corinth became a culturally and ethnically and religiously diverse city. Emigrants, sailors and travelers brought with them their religions and planted them so successfully that modern archaeologists have found evidence for more than two dozen temples, altars and shrines in the city to Greek, African, Asian, and Roman gods.

 

It was a competitive city Ė a cut-throat city where only the very smart and the ruthless survived. There were great extremes of wealth and poverty Ė a vast gulf between the rich and the poor. Corinth had a reputation for of being a city without compassion, where people begged on the streets for bread while the wealthy consumed lavishly without conscience.

 

Compared to Athens 40 miles to the north, Corinth was an uncultured cityÖso obsessed with making money that no one bothered much with theatre, music or the arts. And the entertainment that did emerge there was often considered crude and tawdry.

 

Corinth was the center of the changing sexual mores of its time. There were those who called it ďSin City

 

Corinth was exactly the kind of place the Apostle Paul liked to go to begin new churches. Paul was very strategic in planting churches. He looked for places where people were open to new ideas, where there was a strong international presence, because new disciples would tell their families about Jesus, and Christianity would travel naturally, in this way, around the world, which was Paulís vision and passion.

 

Paul planted a church in Corinth in 50 CE, 17 years after the death and resurrection of Christ. Corinth was such a strategic place for the spread of Christianity that Paul himself stayed there for a year-and-a-halfto make sure the church was well established before he moved on to start his next church.

 

The letter that Paul wrote to the church at Corinth that we have in our Bibles as I Corinthians was written four or five years later.

 

By the time Paul wrote the letter that we call I Corinthians, the church Paul planted had taken on the culture and character of the city in which it was located.

 

The Corinthian Church had become very much like Corinth, the city. It had become factious. The church had divided into camps based on who their favorite pastor had been. There were those who called themselves followers of Paul, and those who considered themselves followers of Paulís successor Apollos, and those who became followers of the Apostle Peter. The church had become divided by which of their pastors they had preferred. I Cor. 1: 10-17)

 

The church had become litigious. Cut-throat. Church members were suing each other in the secular court system. (I Cor. 6: 1-8)

 

The church had become divided by differing opinions about sexuality. Some members had decided that truly being Christian meant becoming celibate and they had stopped having sex with their spouses. Others had gone the other direction and said there should be no limits at all when it came to sex. (I Cor. 7: 1-40) Paul was apparently especially bothered by one man who had become involved with his step-mother. This was too much for Paul to handle. (I Cor. 5: 1-2)

 

And the church had taken on the cityís insensitivity about economic circumstance. At Corinth when the church celebrated communion it ate an entire meal. According to Paulís letter, the more affluent members of the Corinthian Church were able to get off work earlier for the weekly meals. By the time the poorer members got there, the more affluent members had already eaten most of the food and drunk most of the wine. The result, as Paul put it in his letter, was that ďone goes hungry and another becomes drunk.Ē(I Cor. 11: 21)

 

The Corinthian Church had become just like Corinth.

 

We need to understand our scripture lesson from I Corinthians within this context. The Corinthian church had become just like the culture around it.

 

Now, before we look more closely at what Paul says in todayís scripture lesson, Iíd like to tell you two things about Paul that may help you understand him and his letters better.

 

First, Paul was an extravert. Weíve been using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator at our Pre-Cana retreat this weekend. And one of the things weíve said that is a difference between extraverts and introverts is that introverts think to speak and extraverts speak to think.

 

In other words, introverts figure what they think and then articulate it. Extraverts donít know what we think until we hear ourselves say it. We think out loud.

 

When you read the Apostle Paulís letters you should know that he dictated his letters and that he was an extravert, so his letters are Paul thinking out loud. If you read them as though they were a carefully outlined, ordered reasoned, edited document, Paul will confuse you. He is thinking out loud.

 

The second thing you need to know about Paul is that he was an intuitive Ö big-time. On the Myers-Briggs sensing-intuitive line, he was a big N, so his writing is not linear. It is flashes of inspiration. One idea about one thing inspires another idea about another thing in a non-sequential way. You will be confused reading Paul if you do not understand that he was an intuitive extravert.

 

So here is what is happening in the lesson we heard today:

 

Paul is trying to address the factionalism that has happened to the Corinthian church, and he is trying to help the Corinthians get over their divisiveness based on who their favorite pastor was.

 

He is using an analogy of building a building to do this. There is only one foundation for a building, he says, and there can be only one foundation, and that foundation is Jesus Christ.

 

Different builders might use different materials to build on that foundation, some more substantial than others perhaps, but donít confuse the building with the foundation.

 

What really matters is the foundation, Jesus Christ, and not the building any of your pastors have done. Time will tell whose work is transitory and whose is more substantial, but donít confuse the building with the foundation.

 

Paul is using this analogy, thinking out loud, when this idea of the church being a building, gives him another intuitive insight, and what he says, thinking out loud, is this: He says to the Corinthian congregation: ďDonít you know you are Godís temple, and that the spirit of God dwells in you?Ē

 

And it is this intuitive insight I want us to take home with us when we leave here today.

 

ďDonít you know you are Godís temple, and the spirit of God dwells in you?Ē

 

The ďYouĒ here is plural in the Greek, so he is speaking collectively to the entire Corinthian congregation. You as a congregation, as a faith community, as a missional people, as an extended church family, you are the temple of God.

 

You are where the holy and mundane meet. You are where the transcendent and the ordinary meet. You are the locus the divine Ė human encounter. You. You in your life together as a congregation are where God and humanity meet each other.

 

See, I think that it is not a bad thing that a congregation takes on the culture, character and issues of the city in which it is located. I think, in fact, that this is a very good thing.

 

I think a church ought to represent its context. I think Foundry ought to be like Washington DC. Ė diverse, intense, engaged, political (in the broader sense of that word), ambitious, passionate, an odd mixture of idealistism and cynicism. Whatever is true about Washington ought to be true about us.

 

I think churches make a mistake when they try to be a place of escape from the culture around them. I think a church ought to represent the culture it is located within. This is a good thing.

 

But I donít think churches ought to stay like the culture around them.

 

I think being Godís temple means that the role of the church is to take into itself the culture and characteristics and issues of the mundane culture around it and live them out in an alternative way under the influence of Godís Spirit.

 

I donít think the temple is where we pretend to be holier than we are. The temple is where the mundane and holy meet, and the mundane is transformed, and we become a role-model for how the larger society around us might live if it were open to the movement of Godís spirit.

 

I donít think the temple is where we all pretend to agree with one another and (kiss, kiss) ďloveĒ each other by being superficial and avoiding our differences.

 

The temple is where we bring the differences of the city around us Ė the different interests, the different economic statuses, the different cultural assumptions Ė and we work together at living out our differences in a God-inspired way Ė under the influence of Godís spirit.

 

If we as a congregation are Godís temple, what we offer the culture is an alternative way of living together, not an escape.

 

This is surely not easy. But where else is it going to happen? We live in a particularly divisive, partisan time. We live in one of the most diverse cities in the world. We live in a city with vast economic extremes.

 

If the congregations of this city are not the places where diverse cultures, diverse opinions, diverse styles, diverse statuses, diverse agendas, diverse orientations, diverse generations can learn to live together in new and healing and authentic ways than we are only playing church. Then we are merely ghettos.

 

But you Ė Foundry Church Ė are Godís Temple and the spirit of God dwells in you. Letís not destroy this temple. Letís build it even larger, even more inclusive, even more filled with Godís spirit. Let us be a role-model. Letís us offer our city Godís good alternative.

 

 

www.foundryumc.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[i] Material about Corinth is from The New Interpreterís Bible, Vol. X, pp. 773-792 and The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 1, pp. 1134-1139.