February 12, 2023

  “Spiritual Food for the Mature Soul”

(1Corinthians 3:1-9)

1Corinthians 3: 1-9

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. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?  For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?  What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each.  I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.  The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each.  For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Matthew 5: 21-37
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 
So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you,
leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.  Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.  Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.  “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’  But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.  “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’  But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.  And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.  Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

      Anyone who has spent time around a colicky baby knows how difficult they can be.  Their system cannot digest the milk or formula they are given, their littles tummies are hurt and upset, they often bring it all back up, and they cry, cry, cry.  I experienced a colicky baby up-close and in-person with one of my nieces.  My recollection of her for most of the first ear of her life was seated in my brother’s forearm while he gently rocked her up and down to try to ease the distress of one of her chronic colic episodes.  I can recall my brother and sister-in-law trying everything they could get their hands on, from mother’s milk to a formula imported from some company in Europe, all to no avail.  Some of them, for sure, caused her worse distress than others, but none of them was well tolerated by her immature digestive system.    

     I am happy to report that, slowly and eventually, my niece developed a digestive system that would tolerate her feedings.  It was only then that more solid foods could be mixed into baby cereal to increase her diet and support her growth.  Today she is a healthy adult with children of her own.  I have shared this story with you today, because I think it provides a good analogy to Paul’s struggles with the Corinthian Church, the church that he founded around 50 A.D. or C.E. (Common Era) during his second missionary expedition.  I am sure you will recall our recent discussions about the church at Corinth.  The Corinthian Church folks were relatively well off, and they were living in a port city where diverse people with many different beliefs and gods could be found.  Living in an environment which recognized many gods who held various roles and positions of status, the Corinthians began to develop a hierarchy within their own church family.  It was based upon such things as who had performed their baptism and which gifts of the Spirit each person received.  Paul likened this immature activity and behavior taking place among them to the behavior of infants whose systems cannot tolerate solid food.  From our lesson today we heard Paul say to the Corinthians, “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 in the flesh.  For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not in the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?  What then is Apollos [or} Paul?  Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each.”  As long as the Corinthians remained knee-deep in their childish quarrels over their baptism and their various gifts of the Spirit, Paul could not share any deeper spiritual truths with them.   They were stuck in the milk zone, and not yet mature enough to receive solid soul food for mature spiritual souls. 

     The Corinthian Church was not the only church family to struggle with issues implementing the spiritual truths for living that Paul shared when he was with them.  The Galatians, for example, also struggled to live out Paul’s Gospel message and example to them of their new life in Christ Jesus.  Some people had come among them and began telling them that in addition to their faith in the gospel of Christ, they also needed to follow Jewish laws and customs to be saved.  Paul admonished the Galatian Church with these words from Chapter 3, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing works of the law or by believing what you heard?  Are you so foolish?  Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?  Did you experience so much for nothing?”

     Believing the gospel message that God’s plan for our salvation was fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus is, indeed, great and exciting news for believers.  It is the spiritual milk of truth which Paul fed to the churches he founded to bring them into a new and eternal life in Christ.  But, it is also only the beginning of the spiritual truth Paul deeply desired his churches to have.  The problem was that they were still deeply tied to the ways of the world, life in the flesh, as Paul described it to them.  With their hearts and minds so firmly tied to the world’s values, these people were not ready for the deeper and more difficult spiritual truths Paul wished to share with them.  Not only did Paul want the people of his churches to live in harmony with one another, Paul wanted to prepare them to both accept and graft in the diversity of believers that also received new and eternal life through faith in Christ Jesus.  For example, a spiritual truth we do understand and are striving to embrace today, is that male or female, Jew or Gentile, enslaved or free; we are all one body in our One Lord and Savior, Jesus.  Yet, even we today have not yet arrived at a place where we can fully receive, comprehend, and accept this or many other spiritual truths of Christ.  But we must continue to grow ever closer to the truth.  Paul told the Ephesian Church, “We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind and doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming, but speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together  by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”   There it is for us, Peninsula United Methodist Church family.  Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up into him who is our head, Christ Jesus.  We do this by building up each other in love.  It sounds easy enough, but these are words for the spiritually mature and for actively maturing believers.  It is not always easy to live the truth of Jesus’ command to the spiritually mature, a call to show others unconditional love through kindness, mercy and forgiveness.  It means that we not only love the lovely, those who look, act, and think just like us; it also means we love the unlovely, those who do not yet even know that they are lovely and lovable to God.  I chose our Hymn of Preparation for today because of its challenge to us as believers.  Verse two states: “The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.”  The vilest offender—like the thief who was crucified on the cross next to Jesus, or the person who took the life of a mother’s child by driving alcohol impaired, or the armed robber who shot the police officers attempting to bring them to justice, or the enraged individual who shot up a synagogue during a worship service.  Is your faith maturing enough to accept that even these and other vile offenders of all that we hold dear can be forgiven their sins and grafted into the family of God?  Love is the command of Jesus for all who are maturing in their faith-life.  It is the way that we will change one another, and the world, one act of mercy, forgiveness, and love at a time.  The way of love calls us to a new mindset, one that Jesus taught the crowd in his sermon on the mount, which we shared from the Gospel of Matthew today.  It convicts even our innermost thoughts, and turns them toward loving actions.  As Valentine’s Day approaches, let us as maturing people in our faith, remember that love is not only found in warm feelings and sentimental expressions to those we like; love is the hard and spiritually mature work of showing mercy, kindness, and love to those who are not yet lovely people.  This is a truth, a morsel of spiritual food, to nourish the mature believer’s soul.  Paul called the Corinthian Church out of their infant-like actions by reminding them of true love.  He wrote in Chapter 13, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love,  [this kind of self-sacrificing agape love Jesus taught us], never ends.”   May your heart, soul, and mind receive well this spiritual truth that I have shared with you today.  Amen—and let it be so.