Sermon Commentary for Sunday, January 15, 2017

1 Corinthians 1:1-9 Commentary

If what we call First Corinthians were a contemporary letter, then a good bit of this reading would be like focusing not on the shank or the primary content of the letter.  Instead, it would be like focusing on the part of the letter at the very end that begins with “Well, that’s about all for now.  Say Hi to Dad for me and drop a line when you can.  Love, George.”

As Thomas Long has reminded us, ancient letter writers signed their letters up front and so the first couple-three verses of all of Paul’s letters are essentially the part of current-day letters that include the “Sincerely” signature at the end.  It does not seem like the most exciting part of any letter.  But there it is in this particular lection for the second Sunday of Epiphany this year.

But there is far more here than you might think. And speaking of Tom Long, I really cannot think of a better way to direct you on this passage than to invite you very simply to listen to a wonderful sermon on this passage that Long preached at a preachers conference now nearly 20 years ago.  Because here Long detects the wittiness of Paul as the apostle writes these verses with tongue firmly embedded in cheek.   If you listen correctly to the signature of this letter, you see Paul summarizing the letter he had received from Corinth (with a long list of their troubles and questions) even as he sets the table for the balance of this landmark letter of 1 Corinthians.

In Long’s sermon—that you can hear by clicking here—you will find some novel insights into the text and several illustrative stories to choose from.   But as you listen to this—and as you glean ideas for your own sermon on this passage—notice how enduring and how perennial Paul’s words are.  If 1,000 different pastors read this sermon commentary and listen to Long’s sermon, I can all but guarantee that every one of those pastors will be shepherding a flock that has just enough squabbles, questions, and controversies that the congregation will be able to see itself inside the Corinthian picture.   And insofar as Paul had something to say over the troubled waters that just were the tiny church in Corinth 2,000 years ago, he has by the Spirit something to say to each of our oft-rocky congregations today too.

As Long details it, listen, then, to how Paul kicks off his letter to a congregation that surely vexed him and tested his patience.    And listen, too, for how the Spirit of God—no doubt vexed and troubled by our own congregations yet today—also exercises enormous patience with us as he calls us along the road that will lead all of us to true sainthood in Christ.


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