I had originally planned on preaching just out of the Psalms this weekend, but decided when I read the passage from 1 Corinthians that I really wanted to preach out of that and supplement with the Psalms. I think the lesson of Paul’s words here – that we really all belong to God – ring true, now more than ever!
Here is my sermon from the weekend. Enjoy!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
February 12, 2017
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
On Becoming Spiritual People
On Wednesday night, as schools, businesses and organizations were announcing their closings for the following day, someone on one of my clergy forums posted about how excited they were for the upcoming snow day. Someone else replied that they would be excited, but the prospect of keeping their two children occupied without fighting all day already had them exhausted and the snow had not even started falling yet.
I am sure other parents of young children can commiserate. I know the scripture says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them,” but I would imagine that for parents of multiple small children some days it feels more like, “Where two or three are gathered on a snow day, they will start fighting.”
The truth is, sometimes we, as adults, do not do much better than children. Sure, we might be able to occupy ourselves during a blizzard without fighting, but we do not always get along with one another. Just like children, we often find ourselves at odds with the people around us, sometimes even with the people we love.
Being in community – whether it is here at the church, in our families, with our friends, at work, in our towns or within other organizations – is not easy. When conflicts arise, we try the best we can to be mature and use our ‘I’ statements to find some sort of resolution, but we are human beings living in a very imperfect world. When the rubber meets the road and tensions are running high, sometimes we are not much better than siblings squabbling on a snow day.
In our second scripture reading this morning (from 1 Corinthians), Paul did not talk to the Corinthian people as if they were grown adults, but addressed them as if they were those squabbling siblings. He said he was not speaking to the Corinthians as spiritual people, but as infants in Christ, who needed to be fed with milk and were not even ready to eat solid food.
I mean, certainly we all have our moments when we are not as mature as we could have been, but think about it: As a church, if we were experiencing some sort of conflict, would we really want someone to come in to help us resolve it and basically put us in the same maturity category as the preschool Church School class?
It certainly was an effective way for Paul to make his point.
Paul had a history with this community in Corinth. He traveled there sometime around the year 51CE and spent about 18 months establishing and cultivating a church. His goal was to build a flourishing Christian community, but, unfortunately, this community was full of people, human beings that also lived in a very imperfect world. There were differences among them, differences that often threatened to divide them. And as the people in Corinth tried to live and be in community, they realized just how challenging it actually was; not surprisingly, they experienced tension and conflict.
In this morning’s reading, Paul talked about alliances he heard were forming in Corinth:
For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?
Essentially, communities within the community were emerging within the church; each with their own religious teacher that each group believed had superior wisdom and knowledge.
Paul had actually addressed the same thing earlier in the letter – in the first chapter of this book – when he wrote:
Each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” “I belong to Apollos,” “I belong to Cephas,” “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided?
A lot of this tension boiled down to the simple notion of everyone thinking they were right and anyone who believed differently was wrong. But Paul strongly urged the Corinthians not to put the human wisdom of their religious teachers over the divine wisdom that comes from being in a relationship with God. Keeping God at the center of the Corinthian community – not splitting off according to religious teachers – was going to give them spiritual strength and growth. “For we are God’s servants,” Paul said, “working together.”
Paul’s use of this spiritual infancy metaphor is actually really intriguing to me because, as much as it sounds like it, I do not think Paul was trying to insult the Corinthians or act like he was somehow superior to them. I think Paul wanted the Corinthians to experience the fullness of God’s grace in a way that they could not when they were splitting off according to their human leaders.
Paul said there was more to our faith than the spiritual infancy where we all begin and where the Corinthians seemed to be stuck. He said that in order for the Corinthians to be spiritual people and not infants in Christ, they needed to look away from the things on earth that were threatening to divide them (these alliances to various religious teachers) and look instead to God, who could and would unite them.
Paul reminded the people in Corinth that religious teachers were servants of God, but they were not God. Yes, they played a crucial role in sharing God’s message and cultivating this community of faith, but God was still the one that should be the ultimate power and authority for Corinthian people.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.
Paul was trying to impress upon the Corinthian people that spiritual growth and maturity would come from putting God at the center of their lives and their community. They needed to start there – with God – if they wanted their church to grow and thrive.
Now, as much as this letter is about a specific conflict Paul was attempting to resolve, I actually think his words go much deeper than that. I think Paul was talking about more than just reconciliation; he was talking about spiritual wholeness. At its core, this letter showed the Corinthians one of the ways they could grow in their faith from infants in Christ to spiritual people.
This is a wonderful lesson for all of us as today we seek to learn how to grow in our own faith. Far too often we look to earthly people, things and desires for authority in our lives and forget to look to God. Paul not only believed this – this ultimate focus on God – would bring unity to the church in Corinth, but spiritual wholeness to the individual people that made up the church.
And I strongly believe this can bring us spiritual wholeness as well. So often our lives are crazy, busy and out of our control, but Paul’s words remind us that regardless of what else may be going on, we all have the capacity within ourselves to be spiritual people, to experience the fullness of God’s love, light, grace and wisdom in our lives. But we have to remember to turn our focus on God. We have to center our lives around God. We have to wake up every day and make a commitment to live out the Gospel as we seek to strengthen our faith.
I wanted to read the psalm from the lectionary this morning because I think it gives us a really beautiful prompt on how we can live our lives as we seek to grow into spiritual people.
Happy are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord.
Happy are those who keep his decrees,
who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways.
We need to walk in the law of the Lord.
This means that if we really want to grow as Christians, then we have to let go of the things on earth that often consume us and cling to God in a way that gives us life. Even when our lives are super distracting and making us crazy, we need to try that much harder to focus on our faith and live our lives for the glory of God. This means making time for prayer, reading the bible, coming to church, doing some sort of mission work, helping others and giving our time and our money. This means doing the sometimes hard work that God requires of us to not only live out our faith, but also to share that faith with others. This means holding ourselves accountable and always seeking to dig deeper into our faith.
There are a lot of things in this world and in our lives that are extraordinarily distracting. Some are good – Super Bowl comebacks, for example – and some are bad – illnesses and tragedies unfortunately impact a lot of us. All have the potential to turn our attention away from God and this is not always easy to control. But we can push back. We can make a commitment. We can make our faith a priority. Paul wrote this letter because he wanted this community not only to feel a sense of unity among themselves, but also the freedom and wholeness that comes from keeping God at the center of our lives.
And I think, more than ever, his words ring true for us in our lives today. I believe we all have the potential to become spiritual people, we just need to tap into the wholeness that comes from knowing God, nurture our faith and give ourselves space to grow into spiritual people.
So may we all find this grace, understand this fullness of divine authority and feel the wholeness of God.
Thanks be to God!
 Matthew 18:20, NRSV
 1 Corinthian 3:2, NRSV
 The CEB Study Bible, edited by Joel B. Green, NT pg. 303
 1 Corinthians 3:4, NRSV
 1 Corinthians 1:12-13, NRSV
 1 Corinthians 3:9, NRSV
 1 Corinthians 3:7, NRSV
 Psalm 119:1-3, NSRV