The following is an adaptation of a sermon preached at Old South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Hallowell, Maine, June 26, 2022. Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:10-17.
What do we know about Chloe? What do we know about Chloe’s “people”?
Unfortunately, not as much as we would like. Still, there are a few clues worthy of consideration.
Was Chloe deeply invested in being one of those at the center of the quarreling in the church at Corinth? Was Chloe part of the problem in the church at Corinth? Or, is it possible that she wasn’t even involved in the church—and perhaps, instead, that it was members of her household that wished to be a part of the church, but were stopped by Chloe, and then managed to find a way to report their issues to Paul?
Or, could it be that Chloe was a leader of significance in the church at Corinth, with people and/or a household (family members as well as servants), who had enough clout to be able to reach out to Paul herself and to seek his guidance and assistance for a church that was falling apart from the inside, arguing and fighting over a variety of issues.
That this letter to the Corinthians identifies Chloe and Chloe’s people as the source, or at least an important source, of information regarding the crisis in the church at Corinth, ought to lead us to a place where we consider Chloe to be a woman of significance that church, the sort of person to grab Paul’s attention.
The issues involved were substantial. At the heart of the issue was the fundamental understanding of the central foundational allegiance of the community itself. Those in the church had come to believe that they needed to be aligned with a certain apostle—Apollos, Cephas, Paul. Or, aligned with Christ, as if Christ were on the same level as one of those apostles.
Paul teaches clearly and forcefully that the church cannot continue in this way. He essentially tells them to get their act together and understand Christ as the center of the faith community— that the gospel, or good news, of Christ must be at the heart of the church. No one else, not even one of the apostles, can be in that place.
Because of reports from Chloe’s people, outlining the disagreements and quarrels in the church, Paul sent this important letter, stressing that the church must re-center itself around Christ. And, through that reconnection to Christ, the church should seek to be in agreement, ridding itself of divisions.
It doesn’t take much thought to begin wondering about this, as we gather in this particular church, just down the road from another church, and down the road and up a block from yet another church and down the hill and over a couple of streets from still another church, and we haven’t even made it to the boundaries of this small city in this one state in this large country.
What is unity in the Church? And, what does it mean to be in agreement?
What would Paul say to us now? What would Paul teach? What would Paul offer as guidance and assistance to us in these days?
I’ve wondered about this in the past, and I wonder about it still.
And, I wonder about it especially as a woman and as an ordained pastor in a church. What is unity and agreement if my call to ordained ministry is not recognized by other denominations and expressions of the Church? What is unity and agreement when the denomination that recognized my call to ministry is one of only a few that not only recognizes that women can be called to ordained ministry and other forms of pastoral leadership, but that women have autonomy, the right to have authority over their own bodies?
There are plenty of churches, Christian churches, that today, on this Sunday, are celebrating with joyfulness and gratitude, the decision of the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade, declaring that women do not have authority over decisions regarding their own bodies, that women essentially have fewer rights than guns.
I don’t think I need to say that I’m very glad that I don’t belong to one of those churches.
And, with this in mind, how do we ponder these important questions: What is unity in the Church? What is agreement? What does it mean when individual churches and denominations have such profoundly different views, experiences and understandings of the good news of Christ?
What is unity in the Church when so many churches do not recognize nor appreciate the significance of women leaders in the early church, like Chloe, and Phoebe, and Junia, Priscilla, Tabitha and Lydia, etc, etc? What is unity to the Church Universal that does not recognize that Chloe was very likely an important leader in the early Church, one who felt it necessary to seek guidance from Paul for the quarreling and struggles within the church?
I grieve the reality of the divisions in the Church, while I also grieve the stubborn grip that so many churches, and their leaders, have in refusing to appreciate and acknowledge that women are full human beings, capable and called to leadership in the Church, capable of making decisions regarding their own bodies and their own reproductive capacities, deserving of privacy when making important decisions about motherhood, how to deal with violent acts that result in pregnancy, and what to do when the catastrophic news arrives that a pregnancy has gone horribly wrong and there is no good way to proceed.
In so many different ways, this is a season of grieving—grieving for the continued divisions, divisions so deep and profound that we really don’t even quarrel about them anymore. They are unfathomable chasms.
And, in this season of grief and foreboding for what is next in stripping women of their autonomy and dignity, I look at my little church assembled in this small place and I know that I am with my people. For that, I am deeply grateful and, through my faith, I trust that we will find our way to a better place.