Rev. Jeff Wakeley,
February 16, 2020,
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
One of the highlights of my ministry has been taking people on mission trips to places devastated by natural disasters. I was privileged to lead the first team out of the Central PA Conference to Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. The best part of the trip, besides helping the people who desperately needed help, was seeing people grow spiritually. When they came back from the mission trip most said it changed their lives and their faith and caused them to treat people differently. Their experience of serving and being in a relationship of love with those persons they were helping was more life changing for them than me preaching multiple sermons on love.
There are somethings which are better learned through experience than through words. Paul understood this from his own personal experience. It was his experience of encountering Christ on the road to Damascus that changed Paul’s life and understanding of God’s love and grace and what it meant to live spiritually. It was that experience which was the foundation of Paul’s message to the churches he would help start.
But what Paul discovered was that the words he was preaching about his experience of God’s love and grace fell on deaf ears. Despite Paul’s message, the Church in Corinth treated one another with jealousy and they argued a lot. They even went so far as to separate themselves into different camps according to whether they followed Paul or Apollos or Peter. That is why he said to them:
“And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh.”
It’s not hard to see from Paul’s words that he didn’t think they were living spiritually. The difference as he describes was drinking infant milk rather that eating solid spiritual food.
The title of my sermon is Spiritual ?” It occurred to as I read this morning scripture that the Church in Corinth believed they were living spiritual lives despite the way they were treating one another. It occurred to me that perhaps we believe we are living spiritual lives too. We may think we are being spiritual by avoiding talking about politics and only talk about Jesus. Or, we think we are being spiritual defending the what the Bible says about certain human behaviors. Or, we think we are being spiritual by praying for others or when we feed the poor. There are even some of us who those who think that they are being spiritual by avoiding anything that might look religious. I hear that a lot.
There is the issue reconciling our belief in God of love and the bad way we often treat one another, especially those who are marginalized. We may think we are spiritual but what the world notices is hypocrisy. Considering the way the world is we have to wonder if we aren’t also living as Paul tells the Corinthians, on infant milk when it comes to living spiritual lives and not on something more solid.
Of course if you want to know what it means to live spiritually we only have to look to what Jesus told his Disciples about the Great commandment. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.” Remember what he told the young scribe who had asked him what the Greatest Commandment was. He told him do this and you will be saved. Another way to put it is “Do this and you will be living a spiritual life for God.”
Seems too simple. Perhaps the Corinthians thought that too. Perhaps that’s why they argued with one another so much. They like us tried to understand what it means. For centuries now we have been arguing what it means and how to do it. We have scoured the Bible for clues, created traditions that express what it means and reason to try to explain it. Some of those attempts have come close while others have missed the mark completely. The story of the Parable of the Good Samaritan is a good example. The scribe thought he was living a spiritual life as the parable showed but he wasn’t even close.
Underneath it’s simplicity lies a mystery. The mystery which is God’s grace and love for all people, all living things and the world. The mystery that changed Paul’s life on the Damascus road. The mystery that Paul lived with his entire life. The mystery of how God could love me despite how I treated my neighbors Christians. Is that mystery of God’s love and grace which is that solid food that Paul was talking about, the solid food for which the Corinthians were not ready to eat.
The question is whether we are ready to eat that solid food and ready to accept that mystery of God love and let it change our lives, our habits, our values and our attitudes. Or will opt as the Corinthians to live on infant milk and let our attention and faith be caught up in arguing over who is right or wrong or trying to change the gospel that is something that is more comfortable to live with.
When I think about Paul’s analogies of infant milk and solid food. I think about how we live in a culture and society that values convenience and service. We like it when we can sit down at the table in a diner or restaurant and have somebody serve us. One of my problems is that I like to eat out to much. Thought I look to cook, I don’t always like all the work and preparation that goes into it. I want it easy but at the same time I want to be fed.
There is another side of that metaphor of infant milk and solid food and that has to do with we do with this mystery of God’s love. Of course if we are called to live off solid food spiritually it mean creating something which is solid and gives sustenance. Half of living Spiritually is living and accepting the mystery of God’s love. The other half is what we do with mystery. Do we as the Corinthians argue over it or do we build something out of it, like a community of love and grace. A place where the walls which formerly separate people from one another are taken down and bridges of understanding between diverse people are built in their place.
You know I hear a lot of people who say that they are spiritual. Living spiritually is being able to live with the truth of God’s grace and love for everyone. That isn’t an easy thing to. But live spiritual lives is most about what we do with that mystery. Do we like Paul share it and do the hard work of building something that will help change people’s lives for the better and make a better world or will be like the Corinthians and argue about what it means and try to water it down so that we feel more comfortable with it, or water it down do that only right people benefit.