Acts 18.1-4 (p1114)
1 Corinthians 1.10-17 (p1144)
A Naval chaplain I knew well repeatedly told the story of the visitor to the monastery. At evening mealtime, one of the monks stood up and shouted out 87 – to which the holy men laughed and laughed. The visitor was bemused and asked the Abbot what was going on. Oh – he said – that was a joke. We all know each other’s anecdotes so well – we don’t retell them we just give its number. The visitor replied – could I give it a try? Yes of course! So he shouted out 22. There was no reaction at all. What’ wrong? Someone told that one just yesterday. Try again. This time he bellowed 67. Again the reaction was underwhelming. Hmm actually 67 isn’t very funny said the head monk. Have another go! With all his voice he yelled – 43. But again it didn’t raise even a titter. The Abbot look ruefully at the visitor and said – It’s the way your telling them.
Whilst the monastic tradition is not part of our Presbyterianism, but there is still within it an attraction. For idea of a community living, working and worshipping in unity invokes a deep sense of harmony. The idea of a group striving for the same goal guided only by the Spirit is very appealing. And so, whilst we do not have a cloister around us, the idea of our congregation as such a community has always inspired me. Hopefully, it has a resonance with you also.
And today we heard that very same harmonious lifestyle in our portion from Acts. For here was a highly mobile preacher settling for a brief period with friends to work together, share together and worship together. We can imagine them chatting as they sewed their animal hides into tents. We can imagine their mutual meals together talking over local events and characters as well as spiritual issues. Moreover, we can imagine them together professing a faith that was vastly bigger than their daily vista and ready to encompass anyone who also heard and believed.
Similarly, we can feel Paul’s frustration with the Corinthians at a later date. For they have obviously asked him which community member was right and who was wrong in some dispute or other. And we can see in our mind’s eye his agitated dictation to a hapless scribbler of a written reply where he remembers who he baptised. Then remembering more names that the poor scribe had to add in somewhere on the scroll. Yet we can also feel his determination to make clear no one owns the Gospel which is infinitely beyond the hold of one person, one community or one organisation.
Indeed, in his words we sense his desire that this community should live now as he had lived earlier that self-same city. The way he had lived and worked with Aquila and Pricilla. And that was in harmony, in unity and in submission to the singular truth of the Christ risen.
Today we celebrate our gift day and we do so in the meal that is the very essence of community. So much so, it is called communion; communion of Christ with his Father, communion of Christ with his followers and communion between those very followers.
Yet we leave the word communion rather at home if we do not share our gifts. And therefore we should indeed feel a sense this morning that all our time, talents and resources we are giving are being blessed, that they are being rededicated and they are being refocussed on our Christian life and work in this place and for this place.
Yet even when we are generous towards our community, we still feel the sort of tensions self-evident in Corinth. So how do we deal with it?
One of the most inspiring projects at the moment for our nation must be astronaut Tim Peake’s mission on board the International Space Station. For, from time to time, we hear him interviewed about his collaborative work with Russians and Americans on a host of scientific research and indeed just keeping this huge structure whizzing around the earth.
During these various video clips, we never sense any tension between crew members. And I suppose throwing things at each other in zero gravity might be difficult.
Yet there must be from time to time differences of opinion and even personality clashes. My time at sea taught me that any group living in close quarters rarely is without some disputes even dislikes. Yet the odd thing was even someone I did not get on with well at sea, when we meet years later we were always great friends. And the reason is simple. We had a shared experience of meeting challenges together, we had shared work and pastimes together and he had shared a unity of purpose together. Moreover, we had shared community together – a team where people were concerned for each other even if that was less than obvious from time to time.
Here then is the real power of living in community, living in harmony and living in achievement. And it is in giving with open heart, in accepting with a good grace and working together for one goal, for one source of unity and for one voice of concern, love and reason. And that objective, fount and calling is always the gospel that Christ has risen. The gospel that Christ is with us and Christ always binds us together.
Now let us enter communion – one renewed with God, one renewed with Christ and one renewed with each other – now and forever more.