Paul Was Irked

I Corinthians 1:10-18 – The Third Sunday after the Epiphany – for Sunday, January 22, 2017

“Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you, or were you baptized in Paul’s name?” (I Corinthians 1:13)

For years I’ve thought the opening of I Corinthians was a bad first draft.

Paul wrote it too hastily and sent it off too quickly.

He should’ve re-read what he’d written.

Why didn’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 (doesn’t Paul seem like a guy who’d keep a spreadsheet of his activities?), Paul could’ve easily listed the Corinthians he had personally baptized.

In the opening of his note to Corinth, Paul was irked. Apparently one of his snitches—oops, I mean a fellow believer by the name of Chloe—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 didn’t matter if Cephas or Apollos or even grumpy Paul did the wet deed. All were baptized in Christ’s name! Right? Right!

And then brash Paul claimed . . .

Thank God that I didn’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 “house,” 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 “house” were baptized? One? Three? Ten? More?

Otherwise, I don’t know if I baptized anyone else.

Liar, liar, first century robe and sandals on fire! Don’t you think that Paul knew exactly whom he’d baptized and when he’d baptized those men and women and children and where he’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 Adam’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 church’s early service.

I remember!

What about the tenth person I baptized? What about the hundredth I baptized? What about the . . .

Wait.

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 wasn’t me doing the wet deed.

Was Paul crucified for you, or were you baptized in Paul’s name?

I am wrong.

Yes, I stood by Adam and his parents and said some special words. But they weren’t about Larry. They also weren’t about being United Methodist. They weren’t said so that I could brag, or that infant Adam—at whatever point in his future when he’d mutter a few words—would boast about being sprinkled with holy enough water by Larry. Adam’s pleased-as-punch parents wouldn’t later wow their friends with the fact that Pastor Larry was their own personal go-to baptismal guy.

In Christ’s name. Not Paul’s name.

For Christ’s sake. Not for Paul’s sake.

For the foolishness—the absurdity, the audacity—of the cross.

And yet I do imagine Paul knew exactly whom he’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 “forgetfulness” were composed with bold humility. The Corinthians needed to know that it didn’t matter who baptized whom.

Did some grumble and complain when Paul’s letter was delivered and read to the congregation? Crispus, Gaius, and Stephanas’ household couldn’t have been the only Corinthians baptized by Paul! Paul had also baptized others! Wasn’t Paul wrong? Wasn’t his memory faulty?

But then, at least for a few believers, it dawned on them.

Paul wasn’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 need—especially for those of us who are so adept at sinning—for multiple baptisms, I am part of a tradition that claims one is sufficient.

Baptism—sprinkling or dunking, in a river or a sanctuary, with a gurgling infant or giddy octogenarian, accompanied by highfalutin church language or in stunned silence—is an inadequate, inspired celebration of the Holy’s love for the human.

I like to believe, for a few believers in the Corinthian community of faith, that they read Paul’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.

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