Sub Dean - Revd Canon Michael Rawson
The first century city of Corinth was a busy, cosmopolitan place with a diverse population drawn from all parts of the Roman Empire
It was a centre of government, commence and sport but also had quite a reputation for debauchery and was not a place for the faint hearted. In our second reading, St Paul was writing to the fledgling church of that city which he had himself founded. He was seeking to give the Christians there instruction to bring them to a better understanding of what it means to live in Christ and to follow Christ. Much of this first letter deals with divisions within the Christian community, then he goes on to explore the importance of the body, followed by responses to questions raised by the Church, concluding with teaching about the resurrection.
In our second reading Paul is addressing the Corinthians love of speaking in tongues. He says that this is a valuable gift in itself but it is more for the individual than for a wider audience, for most of the time others cannot understand what the individual is saying when speaking in tongues. It is a wonderful gift of the Spirit and shows the presence of the Holy Spirit within the Christian community, pointing others to praise and glorify God themselves. But Paul concludes that the gift of prophecy is a more important gift, for it reaches a wider audience and builds up the Christian community. So what is prophecy? In broad terms it means to give a message of correction, comfort and warning.
In many ways there are parallels between our own situation living out faith in the 21st century city and the first readers of Paul’s letter in the first century Corinthian Church. If that is true then how should the church and us as individual Christians be responding to living out a prophetic faith?
Sadly, there is no end to the issues on which there should be a clearly Christian prophetic message on the issues of our day. The climate crisis and scourge of single use plastic that is polluting our oceans and now entering the food chain. The blight of knife crime particularly in our own city and the fear that so many inner city communities live beneath. The political chaos, damage and instability across our country caused by the Brexit process. People trafficking and modern slavery is as prevalent today as it was in the 19th century days of Wilberforce, Equiano and Clarkson. Too frequently the church and individual Christians are silent on these issues, with some bright exceptions.
This week the clergy of Washington National Cathedral have made a prophetic stand in calling the President of the United States to account for his treatment of people of colour. They wrote this:
‘We have come to accept a level of insult and abuse in political discourse that violates each person’s sacred identity as a child of God. We have come to accept as normal a steady stream of language and accusations coming from the highest office in the land that plays to racist elements in society".
This week, President Trump crossed another threshold. Not only did he insult a leader in the fight for racial justice and equality for all persons; not only did he savage the nations from which immigrants to this country have come; but now he has condemned the residents of an entire American city. Where will he go from here?
Make no mistake about it, words matter. And, Mr Trump’s words are dangerous.’
This is a brave stand and the authors emphasise that the question ‘is less about the president’s sense of decency, but of ours.’ The statement is a clear response to Paul’s challenge to the church to a prophetic role in the world, which he writes;
‘I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.’
Perhaps their words might embolden Christian leaders to speak out prophetically and that in turn might encourage us to do the same?