Those of us who follow the lectionary are going to be stuck in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians until Lent. It’s a problem for our parishioners for several reasons. The controversies in Corinth seem at odds with what the accompanying gospel lessons have to say about Jesus’ teaching. We have been raised on the sophomoric idea that the early churches were gatherings of loving people sharing one mind about Christ and what it means to be Christian. It isn’t always clear what Paul had heard by way of rumor and letter about conditions in Corinth. It certainly isn’t clear how his counsel is to be translated to our benefit in our day given our conditions. As important at Paul is, he must always take a back seat to Jesus, and that can often be too easy to overlook.
Some of my local colleagues are going to duck the problem by ignoring it altogether. They’re going to preach on the Old Testament and Gospel readings as if Paul had not just been heard from. I’m not sure that’s a good idea because so much of what is written in 1st Corinthians has become bedrock for assumed truth and grounds for doctrinal warfare. In the meantime, we will all take a moment to wipe sentimental tears from our eyes as we hear again the words of chapter 13 before we get back to the serious business of behaving like Corinthians.
For my part, I’m going to spend a little bit of time reintroducing the congregation to Corinth and Corinthians and then wade into the quagmire of trying to ferret out what we are to learn from them in our own time and place. How does big bawdy Corinth speak to a little ranch town in the rural west? We shall see. The advantage for this small congregation is that I’m only there twice a month. Two other retired clergy take the other Sundays, and can correct my errors.