One of my favorite class projects in seminary was to study and prepare a role-play of the church in Corinth to whom St. Paul writes two of his letters. Paul writes after spending a great deal of time establishing this community of disciples, and then continuing on his journey. Well, he gets word that they are a community divided and seriously at odds with one another. You see, Paul is not a terribly patient person, and it seems that factions have developed among them, each one claiming to have the right answer, the one true interpretation.
Interestingly, while Paul asserts the truth of God’s call to the Church in Corinth, he’s angry about the fact that these groups are focused on asserting their rightness more than on listening to one another and to their leaders. The really educated ones flaunt their intelligence as if that alone made their position correct. There were others who were the wealthy elite of the city, and they would lay out their sumptuous feast following the Sunday service without one thought of sharing with those who didn’t have the means for such a feast. There were the deeply spiritual members who made sure everyone knew how pious they were and who seemed to think that since they could speak in strange languages, everyone should listen to them and no one else. They each had their favorite leader and couldn’t conceive of the possibility that some other leader with a different perspective might have something important to say. If they didn’t already know it and understand it, they didn’t need to listen.
So, Paul writes and reminds the followers of Jesus in Corinth that the way of Jesus, the way of Love to which they have been called will quite likely seem like foolishness when stacked up against the conventional worldly wisdom of the day. It will seem upside-down. The same is true for us. God’s ways will only make sense in the light of God’s love when we strive to build up God’s Kingdom. Paul reminds them (and us) that if their speaking in tongues, their wisdom, their intelligence, their courage, their material means weren’t building up that Kingdom, if they weren’t manifesting in love for everyone (even the most unlovable) it was all just noise and fluff.
Let’s not forget this important lesson ourselves. What makes us truly human is our being lovingly created in God’s image. All the other attributes of ourselves and our lives to which we’re so attached, God calls us to count as but loss for the sake of building up God’s reign. In fact, if we really want to get as close to God as possible, we will ask for God’s holy spirit to cast out our fears and share the vulnerability and the brokenness of the world around us. We won’t wait around for someone else to fix things or blame someone else for the problems, we will enter the work of building up God’s Kingdom right in our midst, of bringing peace, fighting for justice, binding up physical and emotional wounds, and even owning our part in creating the brokenness with a readiness to repent.
It doesn’t matter if we’re exceptionally smart or wealthy or wise or spiritual. Nor does it matter whether we think any other individual possesses any of those attributes. We are called to live in love and unity and to be ready to learn and grow and even to repent for the sake of God’s Kingdom and of our own spiritual health.