Almighty God, you have created the heavens and the earth and made us in your own image: teach us to discern your hand in all your works and your likeness in all your children; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit reigns supreme over all things, now and for ever.
Almighty God, give us reverence for all creation and respect for every person, that we may mirror your likeness in Jesus Christ our Lord. Post Communion God our creator, by your gift the tree of life was set at the heart of the earthly paradise, and the bread of life at the heart of your Church: may we who have been nourished at your table on earth be transformed by the glory of the Saviour’s cross and enjoy the delights of eternity; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
1 Blessed are those whose way is pure,
who walk in the law of the Lord.
2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies
and seek him with their whole heart,
3 Those who do no wickedness,
but walk in his ways.
4 You, O Lord, have charged
that we should diligently keep your commandments.
5 O that my ways were made so direct
that I might keep your statutes.
6 Then should I not be put to shame,
because I have regard for all your commandments.
7 I will thank you with an unfeigned heart,
when I have learned your righteous judgements.
8 I will keep your statutes;
O forsake me not utterly.
And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul’, and another, ‘I belong to Apollos’, are you not merely human?
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. 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. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labour of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Sermon on Second Sunday before Lent
“God-given growth” is the theme we have for today’s worship. It is easy to see how people grow, isn’t it? – The change from infant to adult is just one way to understand it. As christians we grow in many ways, but using Paul’s words, we go from babes fed on milk to adults feeding on solid food, or from fleshly to spiritual. How do we recount our own growing up? How, then, can we tell the story of our lives?
Normally we describe a time line and peg that line on a map of the globe, don’t we? This occurred to me again as I watched an episode of Star Trek as we were waiting for our supper to cook the other night. This is germane because Voyager was in what they called “chaotic space”. In that episode, there were no fixed points. Chakote was the focus for this episode as he was battling with internal and external chaos in that area of space they inhabited for the episode. In this episode, Chakote met up with his deceased grandfather, a holographic boxer and a groundsman of indeterminate, but older, age from the Star Fleet Academy, all amidst a strange landscape of his own dream quest. He was thrown into chaos, much like all of us at many points in our lives. Chakote must make order of this chaotic space and time in which he finds himself – much as each one of us has to make ourselves at home wherever we find ourselves: in other words, we endeavour to dwell in a world of meaning guided by some kind of ultimacy. We have to grow into this bewildering world which may reveal itself to us in such oppressive ways. Sometimes we don’t think this growth is God-given, do we? No, we are in the midst of chaos where there is only immediate danger, people and things stand in the way of what we we think are beyond ephemeral.
Last week, before we sat down to watch that episode of Star Trek, I picked up a small but, for me, significant tome, “The Dynamics of Faith”, in which the theologian discusses the various ways order is established in life, he describes this process through the expressions of faith within the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. He outlines the range of the Church’s worship from a formal, sacramental type which morphs very slowly, but surely, into an absolutely free form of worship. The writer used other heuristics to explain how faith expresses itself in so many different ways, but this one is enough for me at the moment to get on with. This range of worship can guide our consideration of how we grow by examining what sort of worship allows us to feel comfortable as it challenges us to grow in faith, by reaching beyond the immediate.
The most formal and sacramental church in my experience is the Eastern Orthodox, which runs from the Russian through the Greek to the Coptic Egyptian. All its worship is focussed on the sacrament of the Eucharist. It is a very different worship when compared to the anglican holy communion. The language is ancient, not a modern vernacular, and no change in the liturgy is ever envisaged. The Russian church uses an ancient Slavic, the Greek church uses koine which is neither the ancient Greek of Homer, Euripides and Plato, nor is it anything like modern Greek, and the Egyptian church uses Coptic, and who among us has heard anything about that language revered as it is?
The rite of the orthodox church is absolutely fixed in a culturally acceptable form depending on where in the world you find yourself. The ancient ceremonies are respected and would be the same as 1,000 years ago and should remain the same 1,000 years from now. Why that is so can be relayed through a story I find revealing – the pagan Tzar sent a delegation to Greece to find out about christianity, and when it came back all they had to say was, “We have seen heaven on earth.” So, how could we expect any change in this formal, structured worship? Really, would we want to change anything of that revelation?
The other extreme is the Quaker Meeting. – When Friends meet, there is no liturgy, there are no symbols on display. In this worship one sits and waits upon God. There is nothing from any authority, everything arises from the movement of the Spirit, the spark of God, within each worshipper. How very different is this meeting house from the orthodox church building! There are no icons, no altar, no priests, no acolytes, no chalice, no paten. The Friends sit in a white room with clear glass in silence. There is no decoration, nor are there any officials.
Between these extremes lie so many other church groups. If we just look at our own communion, we anglicans show a great diversity of organisation and expression of our belief. Some of our churches, like ours here, are what is called “low” where you would not know the difference between those churches and a congregational or a reformed gathering, almost bordering on the experience of the Quaker meeting but we have music, movement and worship leaders of all sorts. Then there are the “high” churches where the priest and his acolytes and choirs obscure the sacred rites from the congregation, much in the same way as the iconostasis hides the sacramental mystery from the orthodox congregation gathered in worship. So within our own anglican communion there is great diversity of religious expression and we have to find our place in that very broad church.
Many have moved from congregation to congregation to find that place where we can feel at home – where no longer are we confused by the chaos of our thrown existence. We have established a world of meaning through the rites and symbols of a common language we share with our neighbours and friends. In other words, the world of each different church can serve us for a time, long or short.
But we do wander in our life journeys, don’t we? Sometime we find ourselves a place here or a time there. They may be very different sorts of spaces, don’t you think? When I was a child, I lived near Boston. When I went to university, I found myself in Chicago, then I came to this country, and here I have lived in big towns and small villages. In every place, I have had to make myself at home. My time line and my journey’s route are part and parcel of the story I tell of my life.
This wandering can be seen to be the same sort of journey we have in faith. It would seem that sometimes we need the rigid structures of a fixed liturgy, where things all have their proper place and there are no surprises in our worship. At other times we need to have a freedom where nothing can be predicted – every moment is its own, and each is extraordinary. In both extremes we are free to engage with the ultimate concern of our lives. There is nothing to deflect our attention away from God. The emptiness of the Quaker meeting or the symbolic overload of the orthodox liturgy within the vault of heaven on earth both allow each one of us to grasp the ultimate care of our own lives.
We often feel as though we are in chaos where space and time make no sense, and so neither does our experience, but in this chaos we do find order, it grows within and without. The world is given shape and purpose and we discover the epiphany of our God in time and space for ourselves in the immediacy of experience.
My conclusion is that God-given growth allows us to move from the milk of the flesh to the solids of the spiritual. Always, however, this growth throws us into a world not of our own making, but one in which we must find our life’s compass, by which we must reach our ultimate concern. We should never be deflected by immediate problems, but always we grow into God, from a fleshly infancy towards a spiritual maturity. This is the God-given growth we explore through life.