Life, Faith and Urban Farming

The life and happenings of an unconventional pastor and urban farmer living in the city with a family of five.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Sermon: 1 Corinthians 3: 1 - 9

 This is a version of what I preached yesterday at The Open Door. It didn't get recorded, so if you missed it, you can read it instead.

Human nature is a dynamic and ever growing area of science, why do we do what we do? Psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, neurologists, and many other branches of science study the human brain and try to figure out why we do what we do. In Paul’s writing today we’ll read that Paul sees an innate human deficiency built into the physicality of our being. Paul struggles with it in himself, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15) We might call it our sinful nature, or maybe our less-than-human nature, anything that keeps us from living into the fullness of who we are and who God created us to be. Paul sees a way of pressing against this less-than-human nature through the way of the Spirit.

Have you ever heard the term “failure to thrive” for a baby that’s not growing on a healthy growth curve? I always thought it sounds like such a harsh phrase, it must be really hard for new parents to hear their baby is failing to thrive. And yet, it’s a necessary term, it helps the parents realize they must take action to help diagnose the problem with their doctor and do whatever is necessary to help that baby begin to grow and become healthy. It seems adults can have a “failure to thrive” spiritually too. Listen to Paul’s words to the Corinthian church.

Read part of our Scripture:

3 And so, brothers and sisters,[a] I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3 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?

Many churches, especially church plants, move from quick growth to a failure to thrive. Many other churches in our day have other medical conditions, like the 10k+ megachurch that functions like numerical growth is all that matters, It’s like they have a spiritual cancer, church growth can be an unhealthy cancerous growth.

In the scripture we just read, a new church in Corinth is suffering from some “failure to Thrive”, they are not able to move from liquids to solids in there spiritual food because they are not able to love one another, they are not able to let go of their selfish, sinful nature.

Read remainder of Scripture (The Message translation):
3 1-4 But for right now, friends, I’m completely frustrated by your unspiritual dealings with each other and with God. You’re acting like infants in relation to Christ, capable of nothing much more than nursing at the breast. Well, then, I’ll nurse you since you don’t seem capable of anything more. As long as you grab for what makes you feel good or makes you look important, are you really much different than a babe at the breast, content only when everything’s going your way? When one of you says, “I’m on Paul’s side,” and another says, “I’m for Apollos,” aren’t you being totally infantile?

5-9 Who do you think Paul is, anyway? Or Apollos, for that matter? Servants, both of us—servants who waited on you as you gradually learned to entrust your lives to our mutual Master. We each carried out our servant assignment. I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow. It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow. Planting and watering are menial servant jobs at minimum wages. What makes them worth doing is the God we are serving. You happen to be God’s field in which we are working.

It seems that the Corinthian Church had problems. Some people claimed Paul as their leader others claimed Apollos. These two groups took great pride in who they claimed. When there is in-fighting in a church, the church cannot fulfill it’s mission. This is as true today as it was in the ancient Roman world. The Corinthians were allowing their human nature, their desire to be right, to prove themselves, to keep them from serving one another and the world. These things kept them from developing a deep spirituality. 

I think that what Paul means when he says he is feeding the church milk and not solid food has to do with how much he is able to push the congregation into missional endeavor. A church that is focused on quarreling and dealing with jealousy has no ability to do mission, they are too focused on themselves. 

I love it that Paul uses agricultural imagery again to help us understand the role of church leaders, of pastors like myself and BJ. Many, many church plants are built around their leader, their pastor. Many fail to exist when that pastor steps away. Eugene Peterson does a great job translating and giving some interpretation to the original greek. He says that his role and any other church leader’s role is the simple task of putting seeds in the ground and watering those seeds. It’s God who allows people and church to develop into health and maturity.

Last summer I did something I do many times throughout the year, I planted lettuce salad mix in our backyard garden. Salad mix is one of the main crops we grow at Garfield Community Farm for sales in restaurants, at our mobile farm market and even for donating to the Valley View Church food pantry. This time I planted a few thousand seeds, did it just right, watered it perfectly, and waited. I waited and waited for the baby lettuce greens to begin to emerge from the rich healthy soil in my garden. But, the seedlings didn’t emerge. For some reason the seeds did not germinate. I waited another week, watered the bed, and watched… nothing. Two weeks later I raked it up and replanted. Again! the seeds didn’t germinate. It seems those seeds had a germination problem. I could plant things perfectly, water everyday with just the right amount of water, but if the seeds aren’t good it won’t matter. The same is true with our spiritual growth. The leaders in our church may plant, they may water, they may work hard to help us grow, but it is only through the Holy Spirit that we will become what God desires us to be.  Many churches rely so heavily on their pastors and leaders for their teaching and spiritual growth that they lose sight of where true connection with God comes from.

Here’s the good news, from me to you, I think The Open Door has moved from breastfeeding to solid food! I think we are a healthy church, learning to deal with our struggles, continuing to be focused on making the world a better place, focused on caring for one another and our neighbors. I think we have a long way to go, but I think we are on a healthy growth curve.

But, The way forward for Contemplative Activists is not going to be easy, many activists in our country are going to become angry, tired, burnt out. But you, you all have each other and have the Holy Spirit to revive you and keep you strong in the way of the Spirit.

Last week BJ said that the way of the spirit comes through prayer. BJ shared that our lives can be transformed by a life of prayer. I have to tell you, for years I heard this, I believed it, but I did not experience it. For years I did not know what to pray, why to pray or how to pray.

A few years back our church had a ministry called the House of Saint Michael. It was a gathering of people committed to prayer and the contemplative way. This group lead a larger gathering a few times a year. Each January I would go to the 24 hour prayer vigil that happened, I did not to the over night part. We prayed, sang and prayed more, we read passages of scripture and passages from the early church fathers and mothers. It was torturous to me! I struggled to engage in prayer that seemed to do nothing. I struggled to quite my heart and my mind to focus on the Spirit for such long periods of time. I struggled.

What is the opposite of the contemplative way? For me, it’s the preoccupied, distracted, scattered way. That was my brian for a long time. During those years of trying to enter into contemplative prayer I was struggling with anxiety and struggling to find any consistency in my life.

For me the opposite of the contemplative way is quite possibly the way of Facebook! Seriously, Facebook has a way of providing us with unlimited unfocused information, causing our brains to lack an ability to focus. Facebook and other such entertainment based media are designed to create a dopamine loop in our brains, they actually cause an addiction through brain chemistry, thats why so many of us find ourselves dwelling on our phones and computers, scrolling from one status update or news headline to another with little real interaction. We leave feeling overwhelmed, hopeless or maybe agitated and angry. Facebook may not really be the opposite of the way of the spirit, but it can be a dangerous distraction. The way of the flesh is this distracted, agitated, self-focused way of life that takes us away from any self reflective way. The way of the flesh is the addiction to selfishness and instant gratification, addiction to being focused on ourselves and our own selfish gains, training our minds to avoid concentration, to avoid being focused on the work of the Holy Spirit.

The contemplative way that Paul teaches us is the complete opposite of a distracted and agitated way. Paul teaches us to dwell with the Holy Spirit. Paul teaches us the way of the Spirit throughout his writing. In Philippians 4 he says, “8 Finally, beloved,[a] whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about[b] these things.”

Paul also gives us the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 and 23 22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.

When our minds are focused, our spirits become tuned and aligned with the Holy Spirit. Contemplative prayer and meditation train our minds to focus on the ways of the Spirit. That’s what I was missing. I thought prayer could fit right in with my unhealthy, distracted, disorganized way of living. Instead, prayer redefines and reshapes all of those things.

I love it when science and spiritual practice align. Some Christians are threatened by science, I’m not. I was reading about meditation in the Scientific American recently and was amazed that our brains physically are changed, measurable changed when we engage in prayer and meditation. Gray matter in and around the amygdala is reduced, that part of our brain actually becomes smaller. The Prefrontal cortex actually gets thicker. That’s the place in the brain that makes us most human, it gives the ability to make good decisions, allows us to stop, pause and act with compassion and empathy. There’s science now showing that Paul was right! The fruit of the spiritual life, the fruit of the Holy Spirit!

As BJ said last week, the way of the Spirit takes practice. Richard Rhor says that it takes about a year of practicing contemplation, really practicing it, before you actually start to feel comfortable doing it and like you’re doing it well.

Just a few weeks ago my family escaped the crazy and anxiety filled inauguration weekend in a little cabin in western New York state. While there my friend, who works with some amazing high tech medical gadgetry, offered to let me try out a new product that actually measures your brain while meditating, and through an AP on his phone tracks your meditation. I had been practicing meditation for about a year and so was kind of excited to try it out, though I knew pretty much for sure that I was still terrible at prayer and meditation. I’ve always said it, I not gifted in prayer. I’m terrible at meditation. I do it now, never used to, but my mind wanders terribly and I can’t focus. Well, I was wrong. I scored 96% out of 100 for my 10 minutes of mindfulness! That doesn’t mean that I am now able to clear my mind of everything and meditate in some perfect state of peacefulness. What I’ve learned is now to focus on my breathing and allow distractions to pass through my mind, but not to dwell on them or be preoccupied with them. If I can learn the ways of the contemplatives, anyone can! 

Here’s an idea, lets all meditate on the Fruit of the Spirit this week. Here’s how we do it, first memorize the verse or print it out on a piece of paper. Focus your mind on each of the nine fruit that Paul lists. Take time to dwell on each of those words for at least a minute. Repeat that word in your head and visualize yourself loving more, loving your family more, loving your neighbors more, loving your enemies. Or just repeat the word with little more intent than focusing on breathing the word saying it as you breath in and as you breath out. If you’ve done this kind of prayer before you might meditate on each word three minutes before you move on, making for a 30 minute mediation exercise. If this is new, you might focus on each word for one minute, making for a 10 minute practice.

Prayer actually transforms us. When we live the contemplative way we become people who are able to face the world we live in today. We become people who are equipped with the Holy Spirit and the Fruit of God’s spirit, able to take action on behalf of others and the planet.

3:9 For we are God's servants, working together; you are God's field, God's building.

It is through the Holy Spirit that we become fully who God created us to be. Human beings are changed through the practices of prayer, meditation, of being mindful of how we act a react. When we live by God’s spirit we develop good and healthy fruit in our lives. Paul describes these fruit throughout his epistles. When our minds are transformed by these spiritual practices we become more and more able to deal with the world around us, we become more able to look hatred in the eye and proclaim love inn it’s place. We become more able to see injustice and help people struggle out from under oppression. People of faith are able to give of themselves without being worn out because of the spirit of God working within them.

I believe we are ready for the solid food that Paul talks about. The solid spiritual food that produces compassion, empathy, patience, steadfastness, love, joy, peace and much more. As we continue to strive to be the church that God has called us to be, let us look inward to develop deep spiritual practices in our lives so that we may develop the fruit of God’s spirit for the sake of a world where they are being forgotten and plowed under the soil of anxiety, hatred, and fear.  Let us be people of Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness and Self Control.

No comments: