This morning we begin by traveling back in time to the ancient city of Corinth in the year 49 AD. The city of Corinth was a wealthy and thriving Roman colony. It was located in southern Greece and because it was a port city, Corinth was a center of trade and commerce in the ancient world. Sailors, merchants, and tradesmen were continually passing in and out of the city. Corinth also had a bustling entertainment district with courtyards surrounded by shops and theaters and other public amenities. Now since the Corinthians lived 2,000 years before Netflix and HDTV, their idea of entertainment was quite a bit different from ours. In fact, one popular way to pass the time was to go and listen to professional orators and speechmakers who would travel from city to city, and people who pay to listen to long and elaborate speeches. Can you imagine people today actually paying money to listen to sermons!?!
In addition to its thriving business and entertainment sectors, Corinth was known for its cultural and religious diversity. Throughout the city, there were temples and shrines dedicated to various gods and goddesses and Roman citizens from throughout the empire would come to the city of Corinth for wild parties and festivals and celebrations. In America, we have the expression “what happened in Vegas stays in Vegas.” In the ancient world, they probably would have said, “what happens in Corinth, stays in Corinth!” In the year 49 AD, Corinth was a solidly pagan Roman city and almost nobody had ever heard of the man called Jesus of Nazareth.
But all of that was about to change. Because right around the year 49 AD, give or take a few years, a man named Paul came to the city of Corinth along with some of his partners in ministry. And Paul began to teach and preach in the name of this man named Jesus. Now it’s important to know that Paul didn’t come in on a Friday night to do a three-day tent revival, take up an offering and skip town. Paul lived and worked in the city of Corinth for no less than a year and a half. We know that Paul was a tentmaker or “working of cloth” by trade, and for 18 months, Paul set up his tentmaking business on the streets of Corinth and started telling people about Jesus.
After then 18 months, having established a worshipping community in Corinth, Paul decided it was time for him to move on and so, he so he sailed across the Aegean Sea to the city of Ephesus. A few years went by and Paul decided to check in on the church he had planted in Corinth. And what he discovered was that although this community had certainly heard the gospel that was proclaimed to them, they had come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, they had received the basic message of the Christian faith – but their thinking, their mindsets, their behavior, their interactions with their surrounding culture had not significantly changed. Although they believed in Jesus, the way they lived their lives was still very much influenced by the cultural and social reality of the world around them. And this lack of transformation resulted in division and animosity and outright conflict within the church.
And so, Paul begins to communicate with the church in Corinth by writing letters. One of these letters has survived in the form of First Corinthians. This is not a book or a sermon or an essay. It’s a letter written by a pastor to his congregation. In this letter, Paul is teaching the Christians in the city of Corinth how to live together as a spiritual community, how to be God’s beloved community, a community not shaped by the values and principles of the world, but shaped by the values and principles of the Kingdom of God.
And so, during this season of Epiphany, we get to listen in on this conversation between Paul and his congregation, we get to listen in on this dialogue about what it means to be a spiritual people, what it means to be God’s beloved community. Are you ready?