Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

1 Corinthians 3
1 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?
5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Richard Donner has never won an Oscar. It’s two weeks to Oscar night, and Donner hasn’t made a film in five years, so odds are it won’t happen anytime soon. He almost won in 1978 for the film “Superman” starring the late Christopher Reeve, and is widely credited for inventing the modern superhero movie.

He is also credited for reinventing the “buddy film” genre, with four little movies called “Lethal Weapon” (1, 2, 3, and 4). He even gave the world “Scrooged” starring Bill Murray, a movie that is well on the way to becoming a Christmas classic. And he made a film that is wildly underappreciated, almost in the category of a forgotten gem, 1985’s “Ladyhawke.”

Michelle Pfeiffer is lovely, Rudger Hauer so-so, but Matthew Broderick makes the film. He plays “The Mouse,” a petty thief who has unraveled the mystery of the Ladyhawke and has a habit of continually talking to God. “Lord, I’ll never pick another pocket as long as I live” he begins, and the movie unfolds from there.

This ongoing conversation with God doesn’t seem completely out of place in the Middle Ages, the setting for Ladyhawke, but would seem less likely in our time, or is it? surveyed nearly 10,000 readers, and 97 percent say that they regularly talk to God.*

Now, this in and of itself should not seem like a great surprise. A website with the mission “to help people find, and walk, a spiritual path that will bring comfort, hope and happiness” should be expected to have an audience of “spiritual people,” people predisposed to a life with God.

97 percent still seems like a remarkable figure. And the details are surprising too: Three-fourths say they talk to God in prayer, 60 percent say they talk out-loud to God, just like “The Mouse” in Ladyhawke, and most of the rest say they speak to God through some form of activity: gardening, yoga, or writing in a journal.

As I said, remarkable stuff: but it gets better. Of the 10,000 who responded to the survey, 90 percent report that God talks back. ‘God is quite the chatterbox,’ the author of the article says, with three-quarters reporting that they hear God in their thoughts, 40 percent in art and music, and at least 20 percent hearing the voice of God, including one woman who said God sounds like Denzel Washington!

And what are they talking about, all the people engaged in this ongoing conversation? A little bit of everything, it would seem: Their day-to-day lives, events unfolding in the world, and lots of questions, mostly starting with “why.” A majority responded that they had argued with God, a sure sign of a mature sense of faith, and they felt challenged in return.

Again, remarkable stuff, but the most telling number in the survey? Only 1.5 percent say that they talk to God in a house of worship and only 2.5 percent think God is somehow more accessible in a church, synagogue or mosque. This poses quite a challenge to those who like to think God and church go together like peanut butter and jelly. For a time we imagined that we owned God, or at least had first dips on all things heavenly, but it seems the world has a different view. How do we make sense of all of this? Maybe St. Paul can help:

Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Paul is confronted by a church on the wrong track. Things in Corinth are not going well, with fighting and divisions around the various leaders of the church. Some cling to the founder’s vision, and name themselves followers of Paul. Some point to the next minister’s vision, and name themselves followers of Apollos. You can hear Paul’s frustration boil over:

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.

Over and over Paul has been trying to convince them that the primary relationship is between believer and God; not believer and Paul or believer and Apollos, but believer and God. In some ways it seems self-evident, that is unless you recall the human capacity for taking sides and missing the heart of the matter.

The believers in Corinth are “infants in Christ” Paul says, and as such are barely weaned and stuck in the Gerber section of the supermarket. They want to argue sides, or pick teams in the schoolyard, rather than focus on what really counts: a love-affair with God.

Now we’re getting to the Valentine’s Day good stuff. It’s all about a love-affair with God. Are you blushing yet? Last week I quoted from Jesus summary of the law: love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind; and love your neighbour as yourself. But we do two things wrong. First, we tend to love our neighbours first. We love them and serve them and do all sort of things that we understand Jesus commands. As we should. But this is squarely in the realm of ‘doing,’ when part of what the law demands is ‘being.’ And that is the second thing we do wrong: we forget the command to love God, which isn’t really a command at all, it’s more like permission.

Jesus gave us permission to be effusive, to write love letters, to bring chocolate and flowers, to get down on one knee and tell God that we’re in love. Jesus gave us permission to add “in a relationship” on Facebook, send an e-card, and let all our friends know that we’re getting serious with God.

Are you blushing yet? And like all relationships, Jesus doesn’t suggest it’s going to be all sunshine and flowers. There will be arguments, there will be things neither partner can understand, and there will be petty disagreements like the cap-on-the-toothpaste or the size of our offering.

When I started doing what I do, back when I was barely weaned myself, it become obvious quickly that many of our churches no longer reflected the neighbourhoods that surrounded them. This situation has only grown, and one-by-one churches have been thinking about being intercultural their outlook, being open to other cultures and ways of being, particularly when they are right outside the front door.

Sometimes this takes the form of outreach, like the drop-in downstairs, and sometimes it means things never assuming that English is a first language. But there is a missing element to re-engaging our context, and that would be assuming that most of the people “out there” don’t already have a pre-existing and lively relationship with God. I fear that we sometimes believe that we have something to offer that people do not have, when the facts on the ground may be quite different.

Maybe Paul is speaking to us when he reminds his readers that seeds were planted and seeds were watered, but it is God who has been busy out there building a relationships with people and making that relationship grow.

So what is our role? Why are we here, if the relationship between a people and their God seems to be happening out there? The answer may be found in the survey. If three-quarters of the people responding hear God in their own thoughts, when are they really hearing God and when are they hearing what they wish God would say? The author of the article finds a Rabbi to respond:

"That people think God sounds like them is quite beautiful,” the Rabbi says, “but if you hear God and he is always telling you what you want to hear, you should be honest and say you are not listening to God, but to yourself. Part of listening to God should be to occasionally be surprised or unnerved. There should be moments of sacred surprise and growing that comes from the discomfort of not always hearing what you want to hear."

And this is where a community of faith comes in. Our task is to discern together what God is saying, to help people discern between their own thoughts and the ‘still small voice’ speaking inside. It is our job to demonstrate God’s love and model God’s forgiveness so that the feeling they have inside is make real in the world of their everyday. It is our job to read together the scriptures and see how ancient words can help understand new words and make a conversation with God even more meaningful. And our job is to encourage: to encourage ourselves and encourage everyone to stop ‘doing’ and try ‘being’ once and a while, so the God we love that be heard.

The end of the survey collected things God said to nearly 7,000 respondents and made a summary of God’s words. I give God the last word:

Listen. Stop complaining and just listen to me. Love one another. Love unconditionally. Don't worry, I will always be with you. Trust me. Be patient. I am not finished with you yet. Be at peace.



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