Phase 1: The core ingredient!
For those of you who have had children or any of you who are aware of the early stages of childhood you will relate well to Paul’s metaphor.
In general we know that an infant relies on its mother’s milk alone. Its body simply cannot cope with solids; there are no teeth to chew to start with.
Yet as the child grows opportunities arise and the situation changes. Water and other liquids are added to the diet, mushy foods and other soft foods and then gradually solids. It can take quite a few years until a child can engage in the full array of foods on offer.
This is a natural process and as well as taking time it can be a little frustrating and more than a little messy as the mashed sweet potato is tossed hither and yon.
It is a good analogy that Paul uses for the growth of the spiritual life and it is quite a deliberate one.
Paul is entering into a conversation about where knowledge and knowing come from.
In Paul’s time the place of great teachers and philosophers was highly significant. They were a source of knowledge. So it was that certain members of that early Corinthian community had allied themselves with particular teachers: “I belong to Paul” or “I belong to Apollos,”
But Paul challenges this behaviour as divisive and destructive of the community and he appeals to a different understanding of where spiritual knowledge and growth come from.
He says, they come to us from God. God works within us to nurture our spiritual lives. The teachers are simply conduits through which God acts.
“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
Paul was trying to encourage a hunger and thirst for spiritual growth whilst at the same time indicating that this growth came from God and that the so–called meal or teaching provided by those who were called to teach needed to correspond to the stage of spiritual development of a particular people.
The teaching took place in the context of a community as people who shared in their connectedness to Jesus Christ and the call he had placed upon their lives.
As people of faith who have heard the good news of Jesus I have little doubt that each of us has some self understanding of how mature we are in the faith.
Yet tonight I want to remind you that the process of maturing in the faith can be a messy business just as the process of introducing solids to an infant’s life can be fraught with problems.
Just as child can mistake pureed vegetables for paint or can misunderstand that nostrils are not the appropriate orifice through which to ingest food our explorations of God’s love and message expressed to us in Jesus can create similar chaos.
This may seem to be an unhelpful thing but the reality of growth is that it involves inquisitive behaviour and risk taking and community.
The one thing which Paul continually emphasises in this journey of growth and discovery for the Corinthian community is that at the heart of our faith the diet which we are given is grounded in God’s message of Jesus Christ. He is the core ingredient!
In 1 Corinthians 3, he goes on to say, “No one can lay any other foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.”
Maybe it is that we share a taste of the centre of our faith each week in the bread and the wine, signs of Jesus presence in us and with us. As we chew the bread and swallow the wine we are drawn to remember Jesus and to be changed by him who is the staple of our diet and source of our growth.
Phase 2: Unhealthy Habits
In the first part of the sermon I have suggested some things to you about what Paul was trying to get across to the Corinthian community: people and communities can be at different stages in their spiritual development. The stage that they are at relates to what they have received from God who is the one who brings growth. Yet whatever the stage of our development the core ingredient within the menu is Jesus Christ.
I want to push Paul’s analogy about food and spiritual growth in a slightly different direction now and talk about unhealthy eating habits.
The first is to caution us about remaining childish in our palates.
Often little children will express their distaste over particular foods. I remember a personal dislike for brussel sprouts. Yet we know that over the years our taste buds mature as we get exposed to different flavours.
The concern that I have to allow people to stay eating the same spiritual food without trying new things and maturing as God brings growth within them.
There are many Christians in our congregations who have been in the church all their lives but apart from a Sunday sermon they have not exercised their spiritual appetite since Sunday school.
As I suggested before transitioning a child to eat solids takes time, patience and a little mess but as the child grows opportunities for trying new things emerge.
Yes to be engaged in growth as Christians means coming to the weekly feast but it also means constantly consuming our daily bread. Some among you have subscribed to the devotional that goes by the same name “Daily Bread” but I would challenge you all to reflect on how else you might try new flavours and expand opportunities for your spiritual growth.
The second is to caution you about the additives in food. As modern people we know a lot about diet and healthy eating, although there is debate around what a healthy diet is we do know that some foods are simply not good for us.
There is a trend amongst food producers to load processed foods with sugar, salt and fat. Things which add flavour and presumably make our food more palatable. Yet these are things which are not necessarily that good for us.
I am concerned at times that we have sugar coated Christ or spiced up our faith. Rather than accept the taste of the message of Christ our explorations of the menu have lead us to overpower the flavour of our core ingredient.
So, for example, instead of speaking of the importance of Jesus to our daily lives we only want to talk about the church as a community and the friendships that we find there.
Of course the church develops Christian community, but it does so because of who Jesus Christ is and what he has done for us. So if we speak only of the community that is being developed and not the one in whom the community is grounded then we lose the meaning and purpose of our identity as church and community – the flavour of Christ is overpowered.
In a similar way we can become overly attracted to particular expressions of worship or understandings of worship that supplant the central message that we are disciples called to follow Jesus and sent as apostles into world to share the good news. In other words we only accept worship when it tastes of the flavours we like and when it is different we complain.
Lastly, in terms of unhealthy habits I want to talk about the problem of skipping meals.
One of my favourite stories about food and faith is about the minister who goes to visit a congregation member who has stopped going to church. When asked why the man says he has stopped coming because he doesn’t think he gets anything from it and can’t remember the sermon after the service anyway.
In response the minister asked can you remember what you had for dinner last Sunday night to which the man replies no. The minister then asked did the meal nourish and feed your body, did it help you to live even though you can’t remember it.
The point is subtle but worth remembering it. The discipline of coming to worship and share at the table every week feeds us in ways that sometimes we are not aware of. It is important to be here every Sunday, to not skip meals, to be nourished by God and share in each other’s fellowship and encourage others to join us for all are welcome in at this feast.
Phase 3: A mature palate
I want to conclude the sermon with this third phase and consider maturity in our spiritual diet.
As we grow and try new culinary delights we are also drawn into the celebration of community that sharing food is.
The word companion literal means ‘with’ ‘bread’ and infers that a companion is one with whom we break bread.
Eating moves from simple function to enjoyment, enjoyment shared communally.
Jesus breaks bread with us and invites us to break bread with one another as companions – sharing physical and spiritual food.
To hark back to a point I made before about being engaged in our spiritual growth beyond a Sunday sermon, our Uniting Church tradition has not been the best at developing the discipline of weekly bible studies or home groups or prayer groups. This congregation fits into that category. Yes we do our Lenten studies but not much else.
Like constant dinner parties we should be gathering with one another to plumb the depths of what it means to be followers of Jesus and to share where we have seen Christ active in our lives. I do not believe the value of weekly gatherings to nurture our faith, be it a prayer group; a Bible study, or home group can be overstated.
More than that, there are those among you who should take the opportunity to host the meal and prepare the food. The tendency can be to rely overly too much on the one cook – the minister, but the experience of so many Christians around the world is that the process of preparing the meal is where real growth occurs. The companionship of sharing the journey of faith together is a truly enriching thing – enjoying God and each other intentionally and deliberately.
As we consider what it means to be a community of faith in this 21st century, to follow Christ and to grow in his love, let us be adventurous in our palate and renewed in our committed to the menu as God feeds us and causes us to grow.