February 12, 2023, Sanctuary Worship, Sermon, “A New Direction: Focusing on God”

February 12, 2023

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Scripture: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Isn’t it great that we aren’t all alike? If we were all like me, then we definitely wouldn’t have this wonderful band/Choir uplifting us, as I am not musical at all. And we wouldn’t have great works of art, as I’m not very artistic. And the list goes on. I’m a preacher and a teacher, but even to put those labels on myself doesn’t define who I am. For just as there are different types of musicians and different types of artists, preachers and teachers have their own style as well.

            In this passage from Corinthians, Paul is having to respond to the criticism of not teaching the people in depth and there is jealousy and quarreling going on.  Some are for Paul and others are for Apollos who has also been helping with the church. Paul’s response is quite telling. First, he says, you are infants. He had founded the church in Corinth and had been trying to nurture them along with Apollos, but in their questioning of him, in their focus on allegiance to one preacher over another, he points out that they are again demonstrating that they are infants in the faith. For different preachers are needed to plant and water so that they may grow in faith. If they were mature in the faith, they would know that it is only to God that they should have an allegiance to and not to any human.

            When the Bible talks about spiritual growth, it is really talking about spiritual depth. Growing in spiritual depth means that the Gospel permeates more and more into every facet of our lives. Everything good comes out of growing in spiritual depth – our relationship with God and our relationships with friends and family grows in understanding, unity, and love: and, we are able to give more of Christ and his love in the service we do for God.

            So how is spiritual depth exhibited? First and foremost it is that inner conviction that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, who was crucified for our sins, and through his resurrection we find forgiveness, grace, hope, and most of all love from the One who calls us his children. Being children of God are not just words, but is the root of who we are in relation to Christ. It is knowing that we are the children of God in our hearts, and embracing all that comes with being a child of God’s.

            Spiritual depth is trusting in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and that no matter what happens to us in life, God is with us, caring for us, guiding us, loving us. And I don’t say this as if it is an easy thing to do.

            Last Sunday, after everyone else had left, Jerusha and I sat and talked. She spoke about how life changes. We think we know what direction we are going and then something unexpected happens and the life we had planned has suddenly shifted. The dream job is lost to downsizing, the beloved spouse is found cheating and wants a divorce, a parent, spouse, sibling or child dies and the family dynamics are shifted. We cannot predict what will happen to us as we go through this life, and to talk about spiritual depth is not to say that there isn’t questioning, or fear, or doubt when something life altering happens, but spiritual depth can be seen in the psalms as the psalmists cry out to God with all their frustration, hurt, and pain, but the psalms always ends in praise. That is spiritual depth, going to God, even when confused or angry or afraid. It is going into the scriptures, into prayer, surrounding yourself with the community of faith for strength until you can stand and walk again. And we all know that if we choose to let God carry us through our pain, then we find that in the end we have grown in faith. That is what we see as Jesus goes to God in the Garden of Gethsemane. He is afraid, confused. Why do I have to go through with this? Can’t you do this another way? His human side is afraid, but he leans into the journey before him. And that is the difference between growing in spiritual depth and growing in religious knowledge.

            Several months ago, I read a story online. A young mother in one of the southern states had asked her Methodist minister to baptize her baby. She had grown up in that church, but hadn’t been a regular attender for some time. He wrote her a letter telling her that he wouldn’t baptize the baby because she was living in sin with the father of the baby and that her mother was also living in sin with her boyfriend. If she repented of her sins, married the father of the baby, and turned her life to Christ, then he would baptize the baby. I was appalled as I read the letter and thought about what a missed opportunity it was for this pastor to reach out to this young woman and invite her in to talk.  Instead of condemning her, he should have thought of her as a babe in need of more milk, more nurture, so that she might have the opportunity to experience God in a new way. And, as we know, our baptism is just a ritual of what God has already done through the blood of Christ. Christ had already died for that baby, had already extended eternal life to that baby. Religiosity is not spiritual depth. I’ve known people who can quote the Bible from front to back but are living lives that don’t extend grace or mercy or love to others. Judgment and condemnation is not of God.

            Further on in Corinthians, Paul says exactly that: You can have all the spiritual gifts, but if you don’t have love, then you are just a noisy cymbal. Love is God and God is love. If we cannot extend love to another no matter how different or broken the other person may be, then we have no spiritual depth.

            So how do we grow spiritually? We do more than attend church. To attend is not really participating with our active embodied selves. We need to be participating, involving our spirits in our worship, not be passive listeners, but engaging in the words and in what the Spirit wants us to take out of the service.

            When we read scripture we need to ask God what God wants us to learn from these words. To be open to the gentle whisperings of the Spirit to bring understanding to the words and how they might instruct us to live our lives in a new and better way. We read scripture through the lens of our American culture and sometimes that really hinders our understanding of what God would have us learn. We need to ask God to help us see the universal truth in the message and what we are being asked to do or become.

            And finally, we need to pray, but not pray in just the traditional understanding that we have of prayer. Richard Rohr, an American Franciscan priest, who writes inspiring books and meditations, says this about prayer: “I am convinced that the word ‘prayer,’ which has become a functional and pious thing to do, was meant to be a descriptor and an invitation to inner experience. When spiritual teachers invite us to ‘pray’ they are in effect saying, “Go inside and know yourself.” Go inside and know yourself. Know the wonderful you that God has created. Know yourself as the beloved child of God. Know yourself as one who was broken and now has been made whole through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

            Spiritual growth. Spiritual depth. That is what Paul is telling the Corinthians they need to attend to. Go to God. God is the foundation of your faith. It is not Paul or Apollos. We, Paul says, are just workers building on the foundation that Christ has laid. Grow so that you can partake of solid food, so that you can partake of the heavenly feast that God has laid out for you. Take. Eat. For it is good.

            Kevin was a good and faithful servant, doing the work that God put before him, helping to build the kingdom of God through helping each of you to grow in depth of faith. Just as the Vanderzees did and I do now, and as the pastor who follows me will also do. Remember whose you are. You are the beloved children of God. Follow God. Adhere only to God and God’s teachings, and let the Spirit of God infuse your being. Grow in your spirituality. Go deep. Love and be loved. Amen.

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