1 Corinthians 3:1-9
I always find it amusing that you can be in a room of reasonably well-spoken individuals, And they’re engaged in the most erudite conversation. But introduce a baby into the mix and these ostensibly intelligent people turn into babbling goofballs. They start speaking to the baby with a Chinese accent.
Oh yes! They replace the l’s and r’s with w’s “What a cute wittle baby you are.” “Wanna pway with the wittle bunny wabbit?” And, of course that’s accompanied by the funny animated faces the make to go with the new Chinese dialect. I, myself do the face thing.”
It’s baby talk and I’m sure we’ve all engaged in it from time to time. We think we’re helping the child communicate. But actually, it’s just the opposite.
What helps a child learn to speak more quickly and more proficiently is talking a lot to them. Using good pronunciation. Reading to them.
And researchers at NYU say that the parent’s response to the child’s own attempts at speech really matters. Pointing to the cup when you say “cup.” Context matters. The point being, that we don’t expect a baby to talk baby talk forever. We expect babies to grow and mature in their vocabulary.
Oh, no doubt they might have some difficulty along the way. I remember Miss Ryan visiting our Kindergarten class periodically. She was professionally dressed, appropriately accessorized. She spoke differently from our teacher – more distinctly and with more animation in her facial expressions. And she selected certain kids who got to go with her for some special time on their own.
I always felt cheated that I never got picked. Later I learned that Miss Ryan was a speech pathologist, The children she picked needed some remedial work.
Well, Paul is filling the role of a spiritual pathologist in this morning’s passage from his letter to the church in Corinth. He’s being a Miss Ryan to them. They need a little remedial work on their conception of what church is all about.
They were Christians – to be sure. But they needed some maturing. They needed to be weaned off of their spiritual milk diet and start eating meat.
Paul writes to a church of people who were likely descendants of slaves who were given their freedom by Julius Caesar. A very upwardly mobile population.
This congregation had become querulous and factionalized. It seems that they’ve complained to Paul about not supplying sufficient advanced instruction on spiritual wisdom. And now the congregation is facing a moment of crises and testing. Will they remain a congregation unified in Christ?
Paul does not mince his words. Paul lowers the boom. Hear what he writes to these folks who pride themselves on their individual spiritual superiority. I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.” “People of the flesh.” Ouch!
When Paul accuses them of being “people of the flesh,” he’s not accusing them of orgies.” He’s not talking about sex. He means they were self-focused, self absorbed.
He saw it in their jealous attitudes. He saw it in their conflict with one another, their tribalism. In this regard, they were a lot like the secular world of Corinth.
Now consider this. We’re not talking about a church in San Francisco or LA. This is a church that started up in the first century when eyewitnesses of Christ were still alive. They were pastored by Paul. They paid a price for their faith because it was so new and counter-cultural to their world. They weren’t Jewish, they weren’t pagan.
You would think that their proximity to the resurrection, their proximity to apostles would ensure a harmonious congregation all marching in forward in lock step under the banner of Christ. It didn’t. And the fact that even that congregation could experience inner conflict should put us on our guard that it can happen in the best of families. How does Paul deal with it?
First off, he expects to see spiritual growth in his congregation. He expects them to mature past the baby talk. They’re still on spiritual milk when they should be feeding on spiritual meat.
Now, there is nothing wrong with a diet of spiritual milk …..for the baby Christian. You need to get the basics down first. You’re a sinner separated from God. The wages of sin are death. God sent his son, Jesus, to pay the penalty for you sins. Repent and follow him.
That’s basic. That’s the spiritual milk. But you don’t stay there. You learn, you assimilate Jesus’ teachings and put them into practice. You exercise your faith, you grow. The normative Christian life is not a static one. It’s a life of learning and growing.
Take for example the whole concept of Church. For the baby Christian church might be a building. And not just any building. A building that looks a certain way and has certain features.
A as child, my first church experience was in my cousin’s Episcopal church with a beautiful stained glass window, candles, vestments and organ music. Then we moved across town and I started going to church with a neighboring family. They were Baptist and the church we met in was the local Lion’s club. No stained glass window, no vestments, no candles and a piano instead of an organ. That wasn’t “church” for me. I was a baby Christian.
For some baby Christians, church might be all about the music. I noticed that in a lot of the more Protestant churches, the “Worship Leader” is not the pastor. It’s the music director. And when they talk about “worship,” they don’t meaning praying or celebrating communion, they mean singing. For some baby Christians, church has to have a certain kind of music or it’s not church.
Others might bring a consumer mentality to their understanding of “church.” For them, church is where I get my needs met. If I’m not being “fed,” it’s not church.
In short, the word “church” for some people gets associated with things that self-focused infants are concerned about: a place where everything’s good as long as I get what I need and want. That is understandable IF you’re a new Christian, a baby Christian. But as you mature in your faith, you mature in your understanding of “church.”
Paul describes “church” this way. We are God’s servants, working together; You are God’s field, God’s building. You see the difference? Right off the bat, Paul’s reverses the focus, doesn’t he? Church is GOD’s field, it’s GOD’s building.
Church is not about my conception of what a church should look like. Church is not about what kind of music I like. It’s not even about whether I am being fed. That’s a baby Christian’s view of church.
A mature Christian conception of church turns the focus away from me and puts it on God. What is God’s conception of church? How can I, his servant, make God’s concept of church a reality?
A mature Christian would not ask, “Am I being fed?” A mature Christian would ask, “How can I feed others in the church, how can I help others mature in Christ?”
The church in Corinth suffered from spiritual elitism. Factions had developed who were each clustered around their favorite teacher. They had come to know the words about Jesus, but they had not begun to put them into practice. They still struggled with their old ways of being and doing.
In our time there is a lot of fascination with “spirituality.” But it’s a spirituality that is individualistic. It’s focused on ways of personal well-being and personal contentment. That’s understandable, but it’s also an immature approach to faith.
Paul offers the prescription for the mature Christian. It’s in his letter to a church that really had all going on. It was a church that brought joy to Paul and you could see it in his letter to them. They were the Philippians. He praises the Philippian church and then he asks them to make his joy complete. He asks them to have the mind of Christ, to have the attitude of Christ, to have the outlook on life that Christ had.
And then he describes that “attitude of Christ.” Christ who being in the nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. Instead, he made himself nothing. By taking on the very nature of a servant. He humbled himself and became obedient to death. Even death on a cross.
What is Christian maturity? It’s taking on the mind of Christ. Servanthood, humbleness, self-sacrifice.
God’s timing for this lesson is divine. Last Thursday, the Vestry met with the Bishop to discuss the search for a new rector for the church. He told us that we must first understand who we are as a church and where we want to go.
Are we looking to be a chapel for ourselves? That has benefits but it also has costs.
Are we looking to grow, to expand beyond the types of people we have now. That has benefits, but that also will have pain.
We are a church, As we go forward, we want to be careful not to be the Corinthian. But follow the example of the Philippian church.
To define what the church will look like in the years ahead, we will want to take on the mind of Christ. Cast the vision. And then call a new rector who can buy into that vision.
As we do that, let us be guided by the words of a very wise man who, himself, had the mind of Christ. When it comes to defining who we are as a church going forward, he tells us: We are God’s servants, working together. You are God’s field, God’s building.