Sunday, February 12, 2017

“The Paradox of Faith” (I Corinthians 3:1-9)

It’s a lie.

When I graduated from kindergarten I truly believed Robert Fulghum and what he wrote about everything I needed to know I learned in kindergarten.  But, it was a lie.  They made me go back to school.  Told me there was more that I needed to learn.  So, off I went to elementary school.  Six years later, I was graduating from elementary school . . . a scholar of all things elementary.  I thought I was done . . . but, no, they told me I had to go to junior high . . . told me there was still more to learn.

Off to junior high I went.  Three years . . . three more years in the educational system . . . three more years of stuffing my mind with education.  At the end of ninth grade . . . ninth grade graduation . . . I realized the end was there; or, so I thought.  They told me I had three more years.  They told me I had to go to high school.

Reluctantly I made my way to high school.  There they opened my mind to even more education . . . rammed that education stuff right into the ol’ brain.  For three years they crammed that education in, and then, in my senior year I felt I had reached the apex of all things educational.  But, no, I was told . . . there’s more, there’s college.  Higher education.  Not only do you get more education, you increase your likelihood for better wages.  In fact, I was told you really needed to go to college.

After high school I thought there was no way I could learn any more.  Shoot, if we are going to be honest, after kindergarten I thought I knew it all.  But, I was wrong.  Thus it was that I put in my four years in college.  Got myself a degree.  Then, I found out that if I wanted to really be what I wanted to be--which was a minister--I needed to go to more school.  In fact, it was three more years of school . . . three more years of education.  Even after three more years of education, I wasn’t done . . . I even went back to college for another degree.

So, to sum it all up . . . I graduated from kindergarten, elementary school, junior and senior high, once with a bachelor degree from college, once from seminary with a master’s degree, and one more time from college with a second master’s degree.  That is seven graduations.  I am what my oldest granddaughter says is “edumacated.”  And, still, I feel lied to.

I feel lied to because education never stops.  Even after all those graduations, all those diplomas . . . there is still a lot to learn.  Education never ends . . . education is a lifelong journey . . . it never ends until we die.

One of my favorite cartoons was of a student sitting at a desk taking a test.  The question on the test was, define the word “paradox”.  That was the first frame of the cartoon strip . . . the second was the student scratching his head . . . and, the third, was him writing his answer: “Paradox--two of ox.”  Any kindergartner would know that!  Actually, “paradox” is a statement that is contradictory.  The way we talk about and present education is a contradiction . . . learning is a lifetime proposition.  It does not end with kindergarten, high school, college, or the most advanced degrees . . . there is always more to learn.  I know that now, but through the years . . . well, I felt lied to.

This is the point that the Apostle Paul is attempting to get across to the people in the congregation at the church in Corinth.  They might think that they have reached the pinnacle of faith thanks to the teachers that they had, but, Paul knows better.  They are mere “children in the Christian faith.”  They might think that they have matriculated at the top of their class, but they haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what it means to be a person of faith.

Paul points out the signs that show that they have not matured in the faith and that they still have a long ways to go.  He tells them that they continue to live as people of the world . . . that they are jealous of one another . . . that they continue to argue and bicker . . . no, says Paul, you are not there yet.  In fact, he tells them that they are a work in progress, always a work in progress.

And, in the end, the people feel lied to.    Think about it . . . give your life over to Jesus and you are save . . . you have hit the heavenly home run and the game is over.  After all the holy celebrating, someone asks you if you are ready to grow in the faith.  Wait a minute . . . the homerun . . . that won the game, right?  Nope . . . there is more.  So the people jump into the study of faith and what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  They take the classes offered by their teachers . . . Paul, Apollos, Peter, and even Jesus.  They learn everything that they are taught, everything their teachers know.  They graduate . . . and, then Paul shows up and tells them that they haven’t even begun to understand and life of faith.

I think they felt like I did when I learned that kindergarten wasn’t the end all to education.

That is the paradox . . . especially when it comes to faith and living a life grounded in faith.  The reality is that it never stops . . . it is a constantly growing, changing part of who we are as the children of God . . . part of who God created us to be.  And, I know that all of you know about this paradox of faith.  I know that you have all experienced it.  Just when you think that you have it all figured out, God reveals another part of the picture for us to consider.  That is the desire of God . . . that each and everyone of us continue to grow in faith and in the faith.

The bottom line is that we are never done when it comes to our education about faith.  During my time serving as a pastor of a United Church of Christ congregation, I appreciated their use of the slogan that Gracie Allen--wife of George Burns--is created with: “Never place a period where God has put a comma.”  It is our human nature to put periods in the journey of our lives . . . capped off as a milestone . . . as the final piece; but, the truth of the matter is that those periods--those ending points--are nothing more than mere respites in the journey of life . . . a chance for us to catch our breath . . . commas . . . before we continue on with the next leg of the journey.

I know that you understand what I am saying.  I have heard many of you tell me that you are not at the same place you were when you first committed your life to Jesus years ago, that you are not in the same place in your faith that you were five, ten, twenty, or even forty years ago.  You have grown in your understanding of what it means to love God and in turn, love one another.  You know that you have grown deeper and wider in your faith and love for God.  You are not the same person who encounter Jesus years ago . . . you have grown deeper in your faith.

Paul wanted the people in the Corinthian congregation to understand that faith in Jesus is not an end product, but a process.  A process that takes a lifetime.  And, because it is a lifetime process, one must constantly be studying, praying, and considering one’s faith in the light of the time that he or she is living.  One must continue to grow.
Now it is true that the call upon each of our lives is to love the Lord with all of our being, and to love our neighbors.  Yet, at the same time, the call upon us is to discover completely who we are created by God and how we fit into this world we have been placed in to live.  We can never reach the end, but always continue to discover the deeper and more intimate relationship we can have with God, one another, and the world.  We can never be complacent in thinking that we are done when it comes to faith.  We are never done.  That is the paradox of faith . . . we are never done.  It might feel like a lie, but the truth is we are never done.

I just wish they had told me this in kindergarten.  Amen.

1 comment:

  1. I like a sermon that starts with a good personal story.