Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Long Way to Go (I Corinthians 3:1-9)

You cannot walk into a church like you are walking into a store, grab a box of faith, and be done with it once and for all.  Faith is just not a one shot deal that covers a person for life and beyond.  Faith is not a product or an object . . . or as some people like to think of it, a full-proof insurance policy that gets one inside the pearly gates of heaven.  Faith is not a badge that we place upon our clothes proclaiming us as the “faithful”.  Faith is more than what some of us think it is . . . faith is a living, breathing, growing part of who we are as the children of God.  Faith is like a plant . . . and, like a plant it must be cared for, nurtured, fed, and allowed to grow.  Faith is life.

So, why then, do we treat it as some sort of object that we pull out and use when we think we need it?

Our scripture reading this morning is a continuation of the letter that the Apostle Paul started a few weeks ago concerning the conflict afflicting the congregation in Corinth.  As you remember, the congregation was split into factions based on the teachings of several of the leaders of the church.  Some were going with Apollos, others were going with Paul, others Peter, and others who were sticking with the fundamentals of Jesus.  No one could agree . . . lots of arguments ensued . . . and, the conflict was threatening the demise of the congregation and its witness to the world around them.  Into this mess steps Paul . . . hoping to smooth over the conflict, reconcile the congregation, and strengthen their witness . . . but, he realizes that this won’t be easy.  It won’t be easy because people are people, and they do not understand faith.  Faith is not a one-time object grabbed off the shelf . . . faith is a journey, an adventure, a process of growing towards what God created as the kingdom.  Faith is not something that is set in stone and accomplished in one day . . . faith is life . . . ever-changing life.

I think that it is important, though the apostle does not bring it up in the particular passage, for all of us to remember that . . . first of all, faith is a gift.  There is nothing that any of us can do to receive this gift other than to accept it.  Second of all, it is a gift that was paid for by someone else . . . not us, but someone else . . . Jesus.  Jesus paid for this gift of faith and has offered it to us.  We did not do anything to receive this gift . . . we did not pay anything for this gift.  Faith is a gift we receive for being in a relationship with the Holy . . . a gift we receive for stepping into an intimacy with the Creator who loves us and desires us . . . a gift for accepting the love that is offered.

Now, Dana and I have now been married for nearly 33 years.  We both remember how excited we were as we said our vows of love to one another . . . and, how scared we were.  We couldn’t put our fingers on what it was that was so scary about getting hitched, after all, we were in love.  Love conquers all . . . even though we thought we understood love, we really did not know a whole bunch about love.  We had not reached the pinnacle of love when we said our “I dos” . . . no, we were just beginning.  With perfect 20/20 hindsight we realize now how little we knew and understood about love, and how complex and deeper our love is now 33 years later.  Love must be nurtured, cared for, fed, and be allowed to grow . . . it is a journey . . . an adventure . . . something takes more than a day to accomplish.

So it is with faith.

The apostle explains to the congregation that faith is like a seed . . . a seed that must be planted . . . a seed that must be cared for . . . a seed that must be allowed to bloom and grow and become what it has been created to be.  The apostle explains that the faith that they have received . . . the gift . . . has been planted in them by those who they follow; but, the gift is not the leaders . . . it is the seed.  It is the seed that matters.  All the nurturing, care, feeding to allow it to grow does not come from the leaders . . . it comes from life . . . it comes from living life.

Living life is not a one-day deal . . . we all still have a long ways to go before it is all said and done.  Because that is the case, how could we ever think that the faith that we have at this moment is it . . . all there is . . . and, that there is nothing left to learn and grow?  The love that I have for my wife today is not the same love that I had for her 33 years ago when we got married . . . no, it is deeper, more profound, and wonderful.  If we had accepted that that was it on the day we got married, I doubt if we would still be married today.

So it is with faith.

The past couple of weeks have been tough on my soul.  From the typical politics of working for a state entity to the daily dealings of family . . . life has been hard.  Throw into that mix having to find the time to respond to a call to investigate a clergy misconduct case . . . life has been hard.  Trying to walk gingerly through relationships with people I love and people I really don’t like . . . life has been hard.  Dealing with the daily commute through several storms in the past few weeks . . . putting up with drivers who are ignorant of winter driving . . . life has been hard.  When life is hard it takes its toll on all of us physically, mentally, and spiritually . . . it wears us out . . . and, it is no different for me.  I have been worn out for the past couple of weeks dealing with life.

And, like any other faithful person . . . I questioned God . . . I questioned what God was doing to me . . . questioned why God was even doing this to me . . . questioning where in the world was God through all of this.  Those were my prayers . . . and, I will tell you what, the silence that answered my prayers did nothing to make me feel better.  Yet, I have received encouragement from others . . . told to hang in there . . . told that if it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger . . . told that that is how faith grows.
That is how faith grows . . . by living life . . . by dealing with what life throws at you . . . by taking the highs and the lows . . . by allowing it to challenge you—your thoughts, feelings, and emotions . . . by pushing you to the limits.  It changes you and makes you stronger . . . makes your faith stronger and deeper and more profound . . . it moves you closer to God and to others.

That is what the apostle is trying to get through to the congregation in Corinth . . . that faith is a not a one-shot deal, but something that lasts a lifetime . . . that it is a journey towards discovery and relationship . . . and, that we still have a long ways to go.  The key to it all is knowing that God is with us each and every step of the way . . . that God never abandons us . . . and, that faith must be cared for if it is ever to be fully realized.  Faith must be lived . . . Jesus showed us the way.  Amen.

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