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Sometimes Bibles will have in the back Maps, and they often include a map of the journeys of Paul. Paul was a nomadic missionary or evangelist, traveling to a city settling in there for a while and then moving on to the next one. We don’t know how long he was in Thessaloniki, when he moved on to Athens, or how long he was in Athens before he traveled further south to Corinth.

Greece has its primary landmass, and then a bunch of islands, but it also has the smaller parts South of Athens that is connected with an isthmus that is about 4 miles across. That is where Corinth is.

Corinth was an ancient city, founded before the 8th Century BCE. But it had been destroyed in 149 BCE and then rebuilt in 44 BCE as a Roman colony so it was also a very new city. Strategically important we’re both travel and trade going east and west and travel and trade going north and south. Because it was a port city in a trade City they’re always a lot of people coming and going into Corinth and Corinth was then like many other cities in which much of the population was transient and came with some of the problems that come with a transient City. Corinth was the Las Vegas of the Roman Empire. You can get or do anything you want in Corinth and what happens in Corinth stays in Corinth. But they’re also people who lived there who made their living in Corinth who maybe just wanted it to be a nice town. Current was filled with these seemingly opposing groups of people: the wealthy and the owners and the laborers, the transient and the settled, though educated and the plebeians or common folk or undereducated. These were the divides of how the Roman Empire structured itself and how Grace structured itself before them. You did not socialize with people of another class, particularly lower class unless they can do something for you and it was incredibly difficult to break into a Higher One.

So here’s the problem with the church in Corinth: this Jesus movement this way of Jesus that they were following was one that was started by a very common construction worker and smelly Fisher Folk. It appealed to the outcast and the marginalized, the Forgotten, and to women–even wealthy ones. And these women would bring along their family members and their household servants and slaves.

It seems, despite Paul’s best efforts, the members of the Church of Corinth defaulted into the sections and the factions that made sense to them. Or maybe they heard enough stories about Jesus that they realized wealth and money couldn’t be why there was a divide between them so they found other ways to declare themselves better than others.

In Paul’s telling of the story, they had decided that some people’s story of how they came to faith was better than others. Who was your first and primary teacher? Who brought them on the way? A Billy Graham crusade? Bishop Sprong or Marcus Borg book? Was it Reverend Schultz 20 years ago?

They got so focused on the things that made one group better than the other group that divided them that they were full-on missing the whole point.

If Paul could see us now.

The United Methodist Church is having their first International Gathering since before COVID, while they figure out how to move forward after a split.

The Presbyterian Church of the USA split over the same issue and now there exists the PC USA and the PCA as if they needed to make it confusing as well as sad.

On a church level, churches end up in disagreements and divisions for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes over the same issues, sometimes over a pastor they don’t like, sometimes over how to spend money.

Growing up, the entryway into the church was painted this orange rust color and not everyone loved it, though no one else had volunteered. I’ve heard of fights over carpet color. Or what flowers are in the narthex.

With the church in Corinth, Paul was trying so hard. He was trying so hard to convince them that there is another way. The Spirit that changed Paul’s life, that came upon the disciples, is that Spirit that could bring all these diverse people together.

Attributed to many people is the saying: In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity. For Paul, If they could just focus on the most important thing that binds them together, that is the most important part of being the church and living the faith: the cross, and for Paul that includes the resurrection.

The translation of the Bible we most often read is academically vetted and considered as close to the oldest and most authoritative texts we have so far. But it is often not the easiest to understand. I thought I would read the last 2 verses again from the First Nations Translation.

The First Letter from the Small Man to the Sacred Family in Village of Pleasure:

For the Chosen One did not send me to perform the purification ceremony. He sent me to tell the good story, not with the wisdom found in high-sounding words, because that kind of wisdom empties the cross of the Chosen One’s power.

The message of the cross seems foolish to the ones who are walking a path to a bad end. But for us who are being set free and made whole, the message itself is the power of the Great Spirit.

As someone whose faith and for whom the church has been important for most of my life, crosses have been a regular part of my life. I got cross necklaces as gifts at my confirmation and graduations. I got decorative crosses around my ordination. Some are simple and some are fancy. I brought some home from traveling and some were once my dad found at thrift shops. They have been part of the life of the faithful for… a while.

I’m not sure when the cross became the pretty, non-offensive part of Christianity. Or the most marketable part of Christianity.

I think I have had a hard time with the cross over the years. I wonder if it’s holding the dichotomy of these pretty gifts and then being told about the gruesomeness of the death one would have experienced on the cross, and having the discomfort of being in churches where Jesus is one the cross looking at me.

And then there is how it is often spoken about. There are many theologies of atonement, the study, thoughts, and discussions on what it means to be saved, justified, by God–how we are made whole before God. We sing about it in our songs, hear about it in sermons, and read about them in the books you might find in the “Christian Life” section of the book store. Most center around the cross. Some talk about how Jesus was sent to die to replace us, that God sent Jesus to die, that we were so terrible, something about conquering satan, and then there is at least one that focuses not on the cross as the central moment but in the life of Jesus, learning to live from the life, actions, and teachings of Jesus. I have found that one appealing but every story we have about Jesus, and all the writings we have from Paul, center on the cross, climax at the cross, lead us to the cross.

There are faith communities, churches, that are loud and public and try to convince the world that what they have and profess is what the gospel means. Some are lined up with the empire, the powers of this world that wield death. That proclaim violence and death upon people who are already vulnerable.

Before the cross was decoration, before the cross was made pretty, marketable, or worn as jewelry, when Paul was writing this letter in about the year 50, the cross was still the means of execution of those who were threats to the empire. The cross was used to bring someone low, to reveal how powerful the empire is, to serve as an example for others who might consider making moves against the empire. The cross was the electric chair, the syringe, the noose.

The empire lifted Jesus onto the cross to prove how low they could make him, to make Jesus a joke. The cross of the empire revealed the empire’s power was oppression, violence, death, and that the tenuous peace the empire manufactured was at the end of a sword and hanging on a cross.

But God raised Jesus to make a mockery of the cross of the Empire, to prove that their power was nothing to the power of God, to prove that their means of death was nothing to the life of God brings, that their violence was nothing to the love of God. The cross of Jesus revealed Jesus’ love, generosity, abundance, life. The cross of Jesus reveals that the empires of this world, the systems that try to keep people in line, the systems that perpetuate injustice, the systems that squelch the those who stand up against the powerful, the systems that excuse the death of some for the sake of pocketbooks, the systems that . The cross of Jesus and the life revealed in the resurrection–THAT is something we can gather around. That is something we can unite around.

That is the cross we gather around. Not a decoration, not a symbol. This is the cross we gather around, that lifts up the oppressed, cares for the outcast, brings life to those who have been kept down. This is the cross of Jesus that brings life into this world.

And when that is the cross of Jesus–the cross of new life, the cross of justice, the cross of life, the cross of liberation.

And when that is what unites us it brings everyone in. And it means we gather together to care for each other, to care for the least and lost, to move in justice, to seek to overcome the powers of the empire that use violence and death as a weapon, thinking that peace can be achieved at the end of a gun.

So maybe this is what we need: Christ crucified by the empire wielding the power of death as the ultimate demonstration of how it can hold Jesus down and God redeemed that whole thing through the resurrection. It was the power of life over death.

That is the whole and the heart of the gospel.

We can argue about the color of the carpets, the flowers in the narthex, the paint in the color in the entryway.

This is life given by God over the power of death wielded by the empire.

The cross of the resurrected Jesus reveals life.

So we, followers of Jesus, need to put ourselves on the side of life, on the side of what brings life to this work, life to people, recognizes the wholeness of humankind; and on the side of what destabilizes the structures of the empire that bring death.

So when issues come up, when it could be a dispute, when we could find a place to argue… What leads to life? What brings more life?

Some things are just details. Some things are not.

This is what it means to be of the Gospel.

Look, it means there are some things that are not just details. The life of trans kids, wars, the kids protesting genocide, on the side of life.

The rest of it, the paint or the carpet, are just details.  But when we are united around the cross of God for good, for love for justice, life… that is beautiful.