Saturday, 5 February 2011

5th Sunday before Lent: Is it love or just entertainment?

1 Corinthians 2:1-12
When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him’—

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.

Matthew 5:13-20
‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

When I met Alison I was drawn to her immediately. She was a beautiful young woman, with long dark hair. She’d just come back from a holiday and she must have Mediterranean blood because she catches the sun so easily and so she had a deep olive tan. Those of you who are aware how few details I notice in what goes on around me will be aware of just how smitten I was to have seen all this.

And then on top of being absolutely radiant, she was intelligent and gifted. I heard her lead a session about worship at the prayer group we attended during which she sang several of her own songs. I was in love in a big way. Fortunately she felt the same way, and so, just nine months after we started going out, we were married.

Now the reason I’m telling you this is because this first stage in the relationship that Ali and I have could be likened to what Jesus declares about how you light a lamp and then put it up so that everyone can see it, so that it gives light to everyone. This is very much the first stage in a relationship, when you are drawn in by the beauty of what you see.

That’s how it was for me when I met Alison. She wasn’t walking around wearing a veil. She didn’t hide her abilities as a theologian, teacher and musician; she used them, and because of that I was drawn to her.

So what drew you to Christ? Was it the worship that took place in church? Was it the singing, or the language or the prayers? Maybe it was the teaching?

You see this is what we find in the words that St. Paul wrote. When he first arrived in Corinth, he knew that he wasn’t a proficient speaker. He may have been an excellent theologian and a great letter writer, but apparently he wasn’t a terribly powerful speaker. But that was to his advantage, because he wasn’t tempted to try and make a great show in terms of who he was.

Instead he engaged in a ministry that was based on the power of the Holy Spirit so that the people were drawn to God directly rather than to him. St Paul wanted to avoid there being some kind of cult of personality around him, and so he simply engaged in the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and so the people were drawn in.

This is all very much like the first stages of love. It’s all about the beauty and majesty of what we see. We are drawn by the way the object of our affection moves; by the things they say and how they say them, and by how they look at us. And so in the first stages of our beliefs, as with our loves, we are drawn by the beauty, or the power of God.

But that’s not enough is it; not for the test of time. Because we all know that this is not true, deep, long-lasting love. The reality is that we change and we age; we grow and mature, and love has to deepen. We cannot be forever drawn to the youthful beauty that was once ours because it is fleeting. Love has to go beyond the city on the hill. Love has to go beyond the light on the lampstand, and this is my greatest fear for the church.

What I mean by that is that I don’t think we’re terribly good at that. I think that we expect our love for God to always remain like those first flushes of youthful love. What I mean by that is that we expect to be engaged by our church worship, and if that isn’t interesting, if the preaching isn’t full of life or if the singing doesn’t take off, then we begin to grow cool and our lives cease to be changed any further. Imagine how short our marriages would be if we had treated our spouses like that.

And this, I believe, is what St. Paul may have found at Corinth. So enamoured were they with the bright shiny worshipping in the power of the Holy Spirit that they thought that was all there was. There were difficulties with speaking in tongues becoming too prominent because it was different and seemed rather special, and the people were being drawn after this amazing preacher or that amazing preacher, and so St. Paul was trying to communicate that there was more to loving God than this.

Back to my relationship with Ali. She remains truly beautiful to me, but it’s no longer a skin deep beauty. I have begun to glimpse the deeper mystery within her of who she is. The more I get to know her, the more I want to know her more. I value her deep insights and wisdom more with each passing year, and that’s what’s supposed to happen in a loving relationship.

That, I believe, is what St. Paul was trying to convey to the Corinthians, that there are great depths to God, depths which are only searched by the Spirit of God herself. If we want to truly begin to engage with God it has to go much deeper than the surface veneer of our worship in Church; it has to be based in lives soaked in prayer and dedicated to good works.

My worry is with regards to how much effort we put into achieving this. Don’t get me wrong; I’m aware that it helps a great deal to have worship which is engaging and sermons that draw us more deeply in to thinking about these things. But does it stop when we leave the building? We live in a culture which is driven by entertainment, and that is reflected in what we do in church.

We have this kind of service, that kind of song, this many candles, and it all helps to keep people coming to church. But does it make us disciples? Does it encourage us to be like Jesus? You see that’s what a disciple is; one who learns from their teacher to be like him or her. So do we learn and apply, or just sit and receive. It’s only in application that we become disciples. Anything less is just being entertained.

I believe that one of the greatest reasons for marital break-up is that we have lost sight of what love is. We’re caught up in the glitz and glamour of youthful beauty, and those with wealth may spend fortunes on trying to retain it. But the real depth of love comes with maturity. Yes, the lamp is on the lampstand to draw us in, but once we have arrived on the threshold, we must journey deeper into God.

You are the salt of the earth. Make sure you continue to taste of salt. The only way we can do that is to go deeper into our relationships with God by disciplined prayer and meditation in our own homes. Then we will shine as Christ’s lights. But in shining as lights we are not to draw people to ourselves, but to direct them into the deeper mysteries of God. May we be inspired to search the depths of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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