LentBlog ’14, Day 26: Consider the Other

1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1

Are you sensing a theme yet? I am. And it won’t be too long before Paul whammies them over the head with it: Christians are to live their lives with a constant consideration of others. Paul’s not speaking of a passing thought that thinks about other people every once in a while. He’s build to a point where he’s about to say a life lived without discerning the body–  that is, without significant consideration of others, either as the church gathered or scattered–  is idolatrous and sinful.

The short version: You ain’t the center of the universe, Jack.

At the core of the divisions found in the church at Corinth is the idea that each individual is sovereign and should live autonomously. 

It’s also at the core of the divisions we find in our churches presently, particularly in the West.

So here’s Paul spending another half a chapter trying to kill the bloated leech, and I find myself wondering what our churches would look like if we really lived like this.

Something to ponder…

 

Blessings,

Mark

 

 

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LentBlog ’14 Day 25: In the Light

Going with the Revised Common Lectionary epistle reading instead of the BCP reading again tonight, because I worked through Romans last Lent.

Ephesians 5:8-14
5:8 For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light- 9 for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

 

A few very important things happen when light is shone on a dark place…

  • You can see where you’re going.
  • Our eyes shift from monochrome to color vision.
  • You can see all the dirt, grime, and clutter previously hidden by the darkness.
  • It gets awfully hard to hide.

Paul says live in the light… go ahead and let the spotlight of the Light of Christ to shine continually on you. It’s actually possible and preferable to live in such a way we don’t have hidden, embarrassing stuff in our lives that would cause shame if they came to light.  Live open. Live accountable. Live exposed to the searchlight of God.

Pretty much a short and sweet point tonight… let’s see how it works out tomorrow. 🙂

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog ’14, Day 24: On History Repeating Itself

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Paul jumps into a new thought, intended to further take the Corinthians to task for their overconfidence. He reminds them of the story of God’s chosen people, how they all followed the pillar of cloud when coming out of Egypt and how they all crossed the same Red Sea. They all ate the same manna and quail in the desert, and they all drank water from the same rock. He’s doing a comparison here between those events and the sacraments of Baptism and Communion. He reminds the church the chosen people were all partakers together, and yet some of them (ok, a lot of them) perished in the desert because of their disobedience.

Most of the time it was idolatry of some form. Sometimes it was complaining or sexual sin. The individual stories he’s referencing can be found in Exodus and Numbers. Regardless, Paul reminds them of the peoples’ past failures in order to guide them away from the same failures in the present.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The same is true of us.

Oh, we’re perhaps not tempted to make a golden calf or something, but we are most certainly tempted with idolatry. We are most certainly tempted to become complainers when we don’t get our way or when God’s work in the world seems weird to us. We are most certainly tempted by sexual sin pretty much everywhere we look.

The people in early Israel were not exempt from temptation to sin and its consequences just because they had gone through the Red Sea and eaten manna.

Neither are we exempt from temptation to sin and its consequences just because we are part of the church.  Come to think of it, this passage is another spot that pretty well shreds the idea of eternal security, but I digress…

The good news is we are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of our ancestors, but it’s going to take diligence, attendance to the means of grace, and a whole lot less spiritual pride.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog ’14, Day 23: Discipleship, Wrestling meets, and Intentionality.

1 Corinthians 9:16-27

There’s a lot happening here.. From the oft-misinterpreted “all things to all people” passage to the essence of Paul’s call. It’s hard to pick what to reflect upon because there’s so much there.

In light of all that, I think I’ll talk about my son Nick for a bit. Nick is 6, in kindergarten, and absolutely loves life. We’re trying to give him some opportunities to try new things, knowing he’ll find one or two things he really likes to do so he can do them well.

This winter/spring, Nick started wrestling in the local school’s wrestling club. They have kids anywhere from 4 to 14 or so, at all levels of experience. I wrestled 7 years between Jr Hi and High school, so I’m able to help the little guy as he gets started. One thing about novice wrestlers: they have no sense of technique or wrestling instincts. As a result, when the whistle blows, they tend to flail. They move around, sometimes with a great amount of energy, but there’s no purpose behind their movements. A wrestler with a year or two of experience under his/her belt knows better. They have a plan for what moves to hit and when. They have developed instincts that tell them what to do next, and they do it on purpose with no flailing.

If you put a total novice up against one of those experienced wrestlers, the results are usually short, decisive, and predictable. The wrestler with a plan wins almost every time.

I think this is what Paul’s talking about in our lives of faith when he says,

24 Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. 25Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. 26So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; 27but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not NickWrestlingbe disqualified.  NRSV

Don’t run aimlessly… don’t flail the air if you’re boxing… you’ll lose. Instead, structure your workout and the match so that you have a plan, and then execute the plan. In short, willy-nilly, unintentional discipleship is going to get its butt kicked. 

Last Saturday was Nick’s first wrestling meet. His first match was brutally short, because he went out there and flailed against an experienced
opponent. The second match was different. Nick had a plan, and he went out there and beat the guy with his plan.  I wish we as individuals, families and churches could learn the same lesson with the wrestling match we’re in. If we’re flailing around, looking for the next flash in the pan thing that’ll make us feel good for a minute, we’re going to get rocked. Effective discipleship is intentional, purposeful, and long-lasting.

 

Blessings,

Mark

 

LentBlog ’14 Day 22: Practicing what He Preaches

1 Corinthians 9:1-15

Having just finished a section where he talks about refraining from meat sacrificed to idols for the sake of the broader community, Paul launches into a a section where he commits  a preaching “no-no:” he uses his own life as an example. We’re told in our preaching training “Never make yourself the hero of your own story,” and it’s true. But Paul does it here because he’s building a case. Oh, and he’s the Apostle Paul, so I guess he can get away with a “no-no” or two. 🙂

This entire passage is an example of Paul laying down his rights and freedoms as an Apostle in order to reach the people in Corinth with the Gospel. He has laid down most all of his rights as an apostle while among them, so they might be led to Jesus, not himself.

Paul practices what he preaches here. The best way to reach the most people in Corinth was evidently not to come to town guns blazing, conquering all in the name of Jesus. Rather, he came in weakness, not because he had to or because of any lack of authority or power, but because it was the best way to spread the Gospel.

Sometimes I wonder what that might mean for us these days.  What would it mean for us as clergy to think way on outside the boc?

 

Hmmmm.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog ’14 Day 21: “This Liberty of Yours…” (AKA: The Bloated Leech of Individualism)

1 Corinthians 8

This is a pretty important chapter in all of Paul’s writings, and I wish I had time to respond in such a way as to do it at least some justice. But alas, this blog is for me to log my responses as I read devotionally, not as a (feeble) attempt at a running commentary or something.  So without further adieu, I’m going to jump right into the heart of what this passage is saying to me tonight.

Methinks we have allowed the rampant, unchecked individualism of our culture to plaster itself onto the church and suck the life out of it like a big, bloated leech.leech

Leeches are ugly. They give me the creeps. While they were once thought to be a normal part of human medicine, it turns out they are not the healthiest of creatures, either. They’re parasites that suck the blood from a healthy host and then move on to another, concerned only about from where their next meal will come.

The same can be said for individualism in the life of a church.

Individualism is ugly. It goes against the very heart of the command to love our neighbors. When I hear someone describe his/her Christian faith in terms resembling “just Jesus and me” (Or as Paul Bassett once said, “Just Cheez-its and me”) it gives me the creeps.

Paul says:

“Take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block for the weak” (v.9 NRSV). That dynamic is at the heart of this whole food sacrificed to idols thing. It’s not that eating that food is a sin. Eat or don’t eat– you’re not sinning either way in the eating in and of itself. What is a sin– and an ugly, bloated sin at that– is to eat without discerning your neighbor. The attitude that says, “I have my own personal thing with Jesus, that’s my focus, and whether my actions affect you or not isn’t important to me” is a parasite that sucks the lifeblood out of a church and infects it with a disease that can threaten its continued existence. Paul will go further with this theme later, but the main point is this: We are not Christians alone. We must pay attention to the Body or we’re sinning. Like, sinning. In Paul’s definition of the church, there is no room for the kind of “Me Church” individualism we find so rampant here in the west.  Now, for years the church catered to Western individualism. We thought the leech was a good thing, with our over-emphasis of a “personal relationship with Jesus.” We structured our churches to meet the individual felt needs of people. And we’re paying the price for that, because it turns out the church never has existed to meet people’s felt needs. The church exists to bear witness to a new way of living in the world together, being reconciled with God and each other. The church supposed to be the beginning of the end of “me first” individualism.

Honestly, it’s way past time we killed the leech.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog ’14 Day 20: Self Control in an Out of Control World

1 Corinthians 7:32-40

I read this passage devotionally last night, but we were having an internet outage here at the house and I couldn’t post my reflection. So, for all none of you who have been waiting with bated breath for my next post, here ye be:

Paul continues his advice about marriage vs. celibacy here. Obviously, since the Corinthian people have asked Paul about it (7:1) it must be important to them. Paul restates his opinion that it is better to stay single and celibate, so that one’s entire focus can be on the Lord. He warns that being married can cause a divided heart. If they can, it’s better to practice the extreme self-control required to remain chaste.

What crosses my mind about this passage is how it really flies in the face of our culture as 21st century Americans. The idea that exercising self-control, particularly sexually, might be to our advantage is the furthest thing from our collective cultural mind. Again I don’t think Paul is saying we should all take vows of celibacy here and never get married… He’s pretty clear that this is his opinion and he does not think it a sin to marry…  But this passage could serve to remind us that self control is a good and preferable thing. Love for God and Neighbor is are not selfish in nature. To follow Jesus is to deny oneself daily. I guess it just helps me to touch base again with how counter cultural this whole thing really is.

 

Blessings,

Mark