Sunday’s sermon: Pieces of the Puzzle

Where Oliver Fits

Text used – 1 Corinthians 1:10-18

 

 

  • So we have this book that we love to read at our house. It’s a fabulous children’s book called Where Oliver Fits by Cale Atkinson.[1] → story about a little puzzle piece named Oliver who’s looking for his perfect place
    • Oliver has big dreams → can’t wait to be part of the bigger picture: “something exciting, something wild, something out of this world!”
    • But poor little Oliver is having trouble finding his fit.
      • Tries a bunch of different places → gets turned away every time (and turned away pretty harshly and roughly!) → Different groups of puzzle pieces who have already found their fit together waste no time telling Oliver all the ways he doesn’t fit: “Too much blue! Not enough red! … Too round! Not enough square! … Too tall. Too short. Too pointy. Too bulky. Not right. All wrong!”
      • Finally, Oliver gets fed up! → in an attempt to find his fit sooner rather than later, Oliver tries to change himself
        • Change his shape
        • Change his color
        • Eventually alters himself so much that he’s completely hidden behind everything → Not a bit of the real Oliver is visible. He changes everything about himself to fit into a space that looks nothing like his real self. But in this altered state, he fits … sort of.
      • Over time, Oliver realizes this fit he’s forced himself into isn’t right either → It isn’t as perfect as Oliver hoped it would be because even as he himself finally fits into a space (a space … not necessarily his space), he watches all the other pieces around him continue to turn away other pieces that are just trying to fit in, jeering and ridiculing them just like they teased Oliver himself.
    • And y’all, the church in Corinth – the congregation that Paul sent this letter to – was in a pretty similar situation. Paul wrote to Corinth because the church was splintering apart, putting up walls and setting troublesome and arbitrary distinctions between one subgroup in the congregation and another.
      • Finger pointing
      • Labeling
      • Nitpicking
      • Excluding
    • So Paul sent this letter, trying to bring unity … trying to bring togetherness into a fragmented church … trying to lift up the church as a whole and remind them, not of the things that separate them, but the ultimate thing that brings them together: their faith in God through Jesus Christ.
  • Now, before we dive into our Scripture reading itself, let’s talk about Corinth as a city.
    • Large city not too far from Athens
    • Diverse city
      • Lots of commerce
      • Lots of cultures
      • Lots of religions
      • Lots of artists
    • City of extremes
      • A few exceptionally rich citizens and lots of poor citizens
      • Transitory city → lots of people who were doing everything they could to climb the socioeconomic ladder → Corinth was a middle rung on that ladder
      • Ancient historians: known as “Sin City” of the ancient world
    • Corinthian church sort of reflected this city personality – see that in Paul’s words in our text this morning: Now I encourage you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Agree with each other and don’t be divided into rival groups. … Chloe’s people gave me some information about you, that you’re fighting with each other.[2] → Leave it to Paul to not beat around the bush. He sees a problem within the Corinthian church, and he calls it out. Plain and simple. “You’re fighting with each other.” Bam.
      • Goes on to detail some of the ways that they’re putting barriers up between one another → namely who they were baptized by/who they “belong to”
        • Even gets a little bit of a dig in – text: Thank God I didn’t baptize any of you, except Crispus and Gaius, so that nobody can say that you were baptized in my name![3]
        • Just like those groups of puzzle pieces in the story à all about enforcing the parameters of whatever little clique they’ve created … all about deciding who’s “good enough” and who’s not
  • And if we’re honest with ourselves, the church today is not really all the different from that ancient Corinthian church, is it?
    • Ways we create divisions amongst ourselves
      • Denominationally
      • Progressive vs. fundamental
      • Traditional vs. contemporary
      • Size delineation (I like to call this the “Grouchy Ladybug” delineation because churches either say to themselves or say to other churches, “You’re not big enough!” Not big enough for this program or that … not big enough for this mission or that … not big enough for whatever.)
    • There are a thousand different ways we draw lines and portion out the body of Christ today, aren’t there? But just because “that’s what we do” doesn’t mean that’s what we should do.
      • Scholar gets at the heart of this: It can happen that we become so accustomed to a divided church that we simply accept the situation. We have always known a divided church, and we are not shocked or dismayed because that is the way things are. Paul will not let the Corinthians or us be satisfied with the church in its divided condition. There may be no quick solution to the problem, but there can be no casual acceptance of it.[4]
  • So let’s revisit Oliver and the rest of his story
    • That new space that Oliver had found – you know, the one where he had to change everything about himself to “fit in” – still wasn’t right. → finally comes to the realization that if he can’t be himself, whatever fit he’s found isn’t the right fit for him → sheds his disguise (to the scorn and consternation of the pieces around him) and strikes out on his own again
      • Glad to be himself again BUT also finds himself alone again → returns to his worries that he’ll never find his fit: “How can I be part of something exciting, wild or out of this world if it’s just me?”
    • BUT as he’s wandering alone, Oliver finds a few other pieces who have also been trying their darnedest to fit in – even trying to alter their appearances (just like he did!) to fit into a place, any place. → with those pieces, Oliver finds his perfect fit → “Oliver discovered that you can’t rush or force your fit. All you can do is be yourself! Your fit will find you. And it will feel … PERFECT!”
  • Friends, this is what Paul is getting at here!
    • Promotes togetherness right off the bat: Now I encourage you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Agree with each other and don’t be divided into rival groups. Instead, be restored with the same mind and the same purpose.[5]
      • Very cyclical phrasing in Gr. – “don’t be divided into rival groups” = literally “no schisms/splits” and “be restored” = literally “be mended” → So Paul is both recognizing the tears in the fabric of the Corinthians’ church life and imploring them to stitch up those tears in the name of Christ.
    • Later puts the importance of that reconciliation into theological context – text: Christ didn’t send me to baptize but to preach the good news. And Christ didn’t send me to preach the good news with clever words so that Christ’s cross won’t be emptied of its meaning. The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed. But it is the power of God for those of us who are being saved.[6] → Paul is reminding the church in Corinth about their “ultimate why” – their purpose for being the Church in the first place. It’s not about them. It’s not about who brought them to the faith. It’s not even about who started the church in which they are now squabbling (Paul himself!). It’s about God and what God did for them through Jesus Christ.
  • It is this message – all of the love and grace and openness and acceptance and wide-armed welcome that Christ rained down from the cross – that makes the church the Church. It’s this message that opens the doors and erases the lines. It’s this message the lets us all gather together to lift up the same prayers and share the same bread and cup and join our voices in praise and thanksgiving. It’s not about keeps us apart. It’s about what unites us: Grace. Unconditional love. Jesus Christ. And a God who was willing to give it all up for us on the cross. That’s why, every time we come to the table for communion, I say what I do: “No matter who you are … no matter where you come from … no matter what you bring with you … you are welcome at this table and in this community.” God has made a place for you – just for you – and that is what matters. And for that, we welcome you and we love you. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] Cale Atkinson. Where Oliver Fits. (New York, NY: Tundra Books), 2017.

[2] 1 Cor 1:10a, 11.

[3] 1 Cor 1:14-15.

[4] Harry B. Adams. “Third Sunday After the Epiphany – 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Homiletical Perspecitve” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 280.

[5] 1 Cor 1:10.

[6] 1 Cor 1:17-18.

One response to “Sunday’s sermon: Pieces of the Puzzle

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: When the Perfect Comes | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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