I Corinthians 1:10-18 – The Third Sunday after the Epiphany – for Sunday, January 22, 2017
â€œHas Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you, or were you baptized in Paulâ€™s name?â€ (I Corinthians 1:13)
Paul wrote it too hastily and sent it off too quickly.
He shouldâ€™ve re-read what heâ€™d written.
Why didnâ€™t the cranky old apostle revise his obviously poor observations and poorer memory? Surely, with a little extra thought, or with a perusal of his written records (doesnâ€™t Paul seem like a guy whoâ€™d keep a spreadsheet of his activities?), Paul couldâ€™ve easily listed the Corinthians he had personally baptized.
In the opening of his note to Corinth, Paul was irked. Apparently one of his snitchesâ€”oops, I mean a fellow believer by the name of Chloeâ€”has warned Paul that some noisy members of the community are claiming the superiority of their baptism because of who baptized them! How dare they! It didnâ€™t matter if Cephas or Apollos or even grumpy Paul did the wet deed. All were baptized in Christâ€™s name! Right? Right!
And then brash Paul claimed . . .
Thank God that I didnâ€™t baptize any of you, except Crispus and Gaius . . .
Yep, only those two fine fellows.
Oops. Forgot some.
Oh, I baptized the house of Stephanus too.
By the â€œhouse,â€ did Paul mean Stephanus along with his lovely wife and happy children? Perhaps Stephanus had some servants who were also baptized? Were there possibly a couple of visiting cousins? How many in that â€œhouseâ€ were baptized? One? Three? Ten? More?
Otherwise, I donâ€™t know if I baptized anyone else.
Liar, liar, first century robe and sandals on fire! Donâ€™t you think that Paul knew exactly whom heâ€™d baptized and when heâ€™d baptized those men and women and children and where heâ€™d baptized them?
I recall my first baptism as a clergy.
Okay, it does get a little fuzzy after that first polite United Methodist sprinkling with a few drops of tap water on bald baby Adamâ€™s cute little noggin. Yes, Adam was my first baptism. I remember him. I remember his parents. I remember the church. I remember that it was in the chapel for that churchâ€™s early service.
What about the tenth person I baptized? What about the hundredth I baptized? What about the . . .
Whether it was sweet baby Adam in the early 1980s when Ronald Reagan was president and I was listening to John Denver on cassette tapes, or all of those many folks that were baptized by me that followed Adam, it really wasnâ€™t me doing the wet deed.
Was Paul crucified for you, or were you baptized in Paulâ€™s name?
I am wrong.
Yes, I stood by Adam and his parents and said some special words. But they werenâ€™t about Larry. They also werenâ€™t about being United Methodist. They werenâ€™t said so that I could brag, or that infant Adamâ€”at whatever point in his future when heâ€™d mutter a few wordsâ€”would boast about being sprinkled with holy enough water by Larry. Adamâ€™s pleased-as-punch parents wouldnâ€™t later wow their friends with the fact that Pastor Larry was their own personal go-to baptismal guy.
In Christâ€™s name. Not Paulâ€™s name.
For Christâ€™s sake. Not for Paulâ€™s sake.
For the foolishnessâ€”the absurdity, the audacityâ€”of the cross.
And yet I do imagine Paul knew exactly whom heâ€™d baptized . . . and when and where. I now further suspect that Paul pondered and debated, and then wrote and re-wrote the letter to the Corinthians. His carefully crafted sentences about his â€œforgetfulnessâ€ were composed with bold humility. The Corinthians needed to know that it didnâ€™t matter who baptized whom.
Did some grumble and complain when Paulâ€™s letter was delivered and read to the congregation? Crispus, Gaius, and Stephanasâ€™ household couldnâ€™t have been the only Corinthians baptized by Paul! Paul had also baptized others! Wasnâ€™t Paul wrong? Wasnâ€™t his memory faulty?
But then, at least for a few believers, it dawned on them.
Paul wasnâ€™t forgetting.
Paul was remembering.
And Paul was trying to help them remember.
Though there were and are some Christian denominations and individual believers that would claim the needâ€”especially for those of us who are so adept at sinningâ€”for multiple baptisms, I am part of a tradition that claims one is sufficient.
Baptismâ€”sprinkling or dunking, in a river or a sanctuary, with a gurgling infant or giddy octogenarian, accompanied by highfalutin church language or in stunned silenceâ€”is an inadequate, inspired celebration of the Holyâ€™s love for the human.
I like to believe, for a few believers in the Corinthian community of faith, that they read Paulâ€™s letter and ceased arguing about who baptized which person. Instead of creating more division, they foolishly worked toward creating community.
That good work remains underway.