Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

In the time of the Apostle Paul, the Corinth Canal was an Empire Builder’s fantasy.  The Isthmus of Corinth was only 4 miles in length, and if it could be built, it would save 430 miles of sailing around the Peloponnese. Yet was considered a Herculean feat. The ancient philosopher Apollonius of Tyana prophesied that anyone who proposed to dig a Corinthian Canal would be met with illness. Three Roman rulers considered the idea and all suffered violent deaths. The first was Julius Caesar was assassinated before he could begin the project. Caligula, the third Roman Emperor, commissioned a study in 40 AD from Egyptian experts who claimed incorrectly that the gulfs on either side were unequal in height resulting in the land being inundated with water. He too was assassinated before making any progress. The emperor Nero, himself, came to Corinth in 67 AD, and personally broke the ground with a pickaxe and removed the first basket-load of soil, but the project was once again abandoned when he died shortly afterwards.

1800 years later, in 1881 construction recommenced, but was hampered by geological and financial problems that bankrupted the original builders. It was completed in 1893, yet, due to the canal’s narrowness, navigational problems, and periodic closures to repair landslides from its steep walls, it failed to attract the level of traffic expected by its operators. Today the Corinth Canal is largely a fanciful, tourist attraction.

The ancient Greco-Roman world of Paul’s Corinth would not have considered such a fool-hardy 19th century construction project as a failure or embarrassment. It was truly a demonstration of human class hierarchy and pride where every one understood their place.. Freedmen knew more than slaves, wealthy classes knew more than the poor, men were more intellectually superior to women, Greek scholars were more highly regarded than foreigners, and Roman nobility more revered than any provincial statesmen. The organized Roman Empire with all its laws and judgements was greater than any realm the world had ever known. So, the emperor’s decision to build or not to build the Corinth Canal was regarded as something inspired and divine. The apostle Paul understood that, and that what also his greatest challenge. What sense could be made of Jesus in such a society, the savior of the world, who was crucified as a criminal by the same Roman government?

The reports which came to the Apostle Paul from Chloe’s people as he was ministering in Ephesus were troubling. The Church in Corinth was embarrassed and ashamed that the faithful gathered in the name of a crucified Savior. The pain of crucifixion was excruciating, as the Roman orator Cicero in describing it as “the most cruel and disgusting penalty.” How could this play any role in the order of civil society? So in and among the quarrels about who was greatest and least of the members of the church, based on whose hand had poured water over them in baptism, Christ the Crucified One was no longer mentioned.  Paul saw such discreet silence about Jesus’ death as a compromise by the church as pandering and the longing to appear respectable and unoffensive in the eyes of their neighbors.  For Paul, to abandon Jesus and his cross, all for the sake of moderate and benign appearances, was offensive and lacking any integrity. The church in Corinth didn’t need Christ. They wanted a religious system of which they could be proud.  They wanted a coherent teaching that could be presented convincingly and defended rationally.  They wanted respectability without being viewed as absurd and “fundamentalist.”  Frankly, it is the choice that every generation of believers must make. How often do we choose comfort and accommodation over Christ and commitment?

My seminary lecturer Jerome- Murphy O’Connor once wrote, “A crucified savior defies logic. No arguments can make the concept palatable or intelligible. The moment the gospel is made intellectually persuasive, ‘the cross of Christ is emptied of its power.’”

In his response to Chloe’s people, the apostle underscored the paradox of the Christian faith in his 1st Letter to the Corinthians It is this paradox which we have grown to understand, but which defied Greek logic. The Crucified criminal Jesus around whom they worshiped, gathered into one those who came from different backgrounds, traditions and classes. “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters; not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” By faith, a criminal who was once condemned to death, could become the victorious king of life.  By faith, the Roman Empire’s emblem of the supreme judgement and cruel death, the cross could become the symbol of eternal life and God’s unending love.  By faith, when one spoke of their weakness, they were made strong. we are made strong.  And by faith, when one embraced the death in Christ, one received God’s greatest treasure, the crown of heaven.

Regretfully, even today, many Christians find themselves more connected and accustomed to the ways of imperial Corinth than the ways of Christ’s humble, servant church.  Yes, they fail to see the central focal point of the church. “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified- a stumbling block for Jews and a foolishness to Gentiles.” Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.