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

In the world’s first architecture textbook, “De architectura” written in 30 BC by Roman architect and engineer Vitruvius, the author tells the story of a young girl from the city-state of Corinth. “A free-born maiden of Corinth, just of marriageable age, was attacked by an illness and passed away.”  She was buried with a basket of her favorite things atop her tomb, near the root of an acanthus tree. That spring, leaves and stalks grew up through the basket, creating a delicate explosion of natural beauty. The effect caught the eye of a passing sculptor named Callimachus, who began to incorporate the intricate design onto column capitals. Because the sculptor created the first work in Corinth, the columns became known as Corinthian columns.

Corinthian columns are easily identifiable by their fluted (grooved) shafts, their capitals decorated with acanthus leaves and flowers and sometimes small scrolls. Vitruvius described the Corinthian column as “an imitation of the slenderness of a maiden; for the outlines and limbs of maidens, being more slender on account of their tender years, allow prettier effects in the way of adornment.”  During the Renaissance, the Italian architect and architectural theorist, Vincenzo Scamozzi rediscovered the possibilities or Corinthians columns and their universal use. Today, however, because of their opulence, Corinthian columns are rarely used as common porch columns for the ordinary home. The style is more suited for grand Greek Revival mansions and public architecture such as government buildings, especially courthouses.

It is not surprising that a city which created its own style of crowning glory and evocative architecture would have issues with stayed traditions and teachers.  Paul may have established the church, but the members in Corinth, who were perhaps only 50 to 150 in number, felt that they were just as entitled to interpret God’s way than any of the apostles. Paul, Peter, or Apollos, it didn’t matter. They were all servants called to serve the church, and through the church- them.  Besides they were confident that were was no correction needed in their behavior.

Of course, preachers today are used to that criticism. Every time a pastor enters the pulpit and speaks honestly, there are those listening in the congregation who will be offended, and others who believe that the pastor should have spoken even more boldly against their neighbors.  Criticism, correction and judgement are never easy subjects when you’re on the receiving end- either as the pastor or parishioner.  Some churches believe that there should be no words of judgement from the pulpit whatsoever. For that reason, pastors either seldom speak of judgment or not at all even though it is a frequent theme in scripture. The guiding rule of survival in such congregation seems to be “be nice” at all costs, even if it means ignoring behavior that is harmful to the community.

The Apostle Paul understood that challenge.  The church in Corinth was wrestling with the same struggle of judgment and personal leadership, as well as some thorny issues that were causing disruption and disharmony in the church. Paul also had the difficult and unenviable task of preaching and teaching to a church who viewed themselves as ornate and unique Corinthians columns.

It was reality facing all of the apostles. No one provided Paul with a regular salary.  Each day was an agonizing balancing act.  He had to earn enough money to survive, but he also had to proclaim the gospel.  The occasional gift of money was most welcome and became increasingly indispensable as his pastoral responsibilities grew.

Still, Paul wasn’t afraid of preaching on judgment and the need for change, correction and to be transformed. Paul saw the final judgment day coming in the future. He also knew that he himself would be judged for his faithfulness to the Gospel on the final judgement day and it could not be avoided

For many of us this final judgement day has been portrayed in painting and literature as a time of terror and doom. Paul, however, did not seem to share those feelings of dread and despair. Instead, he looked to the final judgment day with buoyant confidence and hope that God would strengthen the saints to end, so that they would be blameless as they were met by Christ. For Paul there would be joy as the earthly shadows gave way to a God’s blinding light of love.  That was the wonder he wanted all believers to experience, and was with that spirit, he dared to write openly about problems that were dividing the church in Corinth.  Those are the issues we will begin to address next Wednesday.

Nearly 40 years ago, when the beloved and charismatic pastor in my home church died on the handball court, the call committee was charged with the formidable task of calling a new pastor.  Everyone had their desires and their pet peeves concerning any candidate who could replace such a legendary pastor. When the day finally came and the pastor stepped into the pulpit for his first sermon, everyone wondered what he would be like.  Would he be as good as the beloved former pastor?  Could anyone?  To this day, I remember his first sermon.  “When the call committee began their search for your new pastor, they went to the Church Office and asked for the best preacher in the American Lutheran Church.  They went to him, and he turned them down.  They went back to the Church Office and asked for the best theologian in  the ALC.  They went to him, and he turned them down as well.  They went to the Church Offices a third time and asked for the best-looking pastor in the ALC.  Well, I had already turned them down twice, and I couldn’t turn them down a third time.”  In that one small exchange, he won the trust and confidence of the congregation to begin his ministry.  We were prepared to accept gentle criticism, correction and judgment for the sake of spiritual growth.  With Paul’s introduction to the First Letter to the Corinthians, so was the church in Corinth. Amen.

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