We live in a culture that promotes being cautious about things. There is always something on the news or social media cautioning us to make sure we do this or to caution us to not eat that. It turns out that someone figured out a few years ago it is a bad idea to stick your hand in the discharge chute of a running lawnmower.
Paul highlights a couple of things for the church in Corinth to be careful of. Things that still pertinent to the church in Lincoln even to this day. Paul wasn’t so concerned about us sticking our hands in the discharge chute of a running lawnmower but Paul is concerned about the faith life in Corinth. Paul’s concerns about faith lives are still valid today.
He starts off right out of the gate in V1 by telling us ”you know you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak.” Don’t beat around the bush there Paul. Go ahead and make a direct and pointed comment that has seemingly passed the test of time. Being led astray to idols is nothing new. We just have to be honest with ourselves and recognize, admit, confess, and repent that we idolize things that do not speak.
What idols do we recognize that lead us astray? Of the idols that lead us astray, which ones will we admit to following and of the idols we admit to following, which ones will we confess and repent of following?
Churches get into following their own idols as well. And it isn’t easy to tell which are idols in the church and which are not. I knew a church that I suspected treated their painting of a Luther rose with a bit of idolatry. It always had to be in a prominent spot and treated very reverently. I don’t think it had any special significance other than it was something Luther designed and in some places anything Luther said or did is Holy writ. We follow Luther’s teachings but we don’t follow Luther. We follow Christ.
I also made the mistake at another church of asking why the good China had to be locked up. The immediate response was so only the people who treated it well could have it out and use it. Sounded kind of idolatrous to me. I mean, it is dishware, however expensive it might me. The thing was, the senior saint that was telling me why the china cupboards were locked also explained that the china was purchased 50 years earlier by young mothers in the congregation by using their egg money. They weren’t being idolatrous, they just sacrificed a lot at a time in their lives when they didn’t have a lot to have good china in the church. They weren’t idolizing the china, they were just protecting it.
Which means that we need to be wise and cautious about what may or may not be idols in our lives and in our church. We need to be wise and cautious about what we say and do in church or we can get sideways in our faith like some of the folks in Corinth. Habits can turn into traditions if we’re not careful. Traditions can turn into idols if we’re not careful.
Idols are a problem then and today. One of the things that prompted Paul to write this letter to the Corinthians is the are making a thing out speaking in tongues. Speaking in tongues is kind of hard to explain but the idea is that the Holy Spirit will descend on people who have the gift of speaking in tongues so that they put forth utterances about faith things that other people cannot understand unless someone is around that has the gift if interpreting people speaking in tongues. Have you ever heard someone speaking in tongues? It’s kind of cool but not terribly common in the Lutheran world.
The folks in Corinth, however, are making a thing out of it and giving the gift of speaking in tongues more importance than other gifts of the spirit. You were more special if you could speak in tongues. Your faith was better if you could speak in tongues. It has kind of become a contest of which gifts are more important than other gifts. Why in the world would followers of Christ elevate one spiritual gift over another?
In today’s church we maybe don’t spend so much time categorizing and rating gifts of the Spirit like the Corinthians did. I don’t hear so much that the Altar Care team is more spiritual and more gifted than say the Prayer team. It’s not quite so much of a contest most of the time. We do have a bit of a problem sometimes speaking and doing things that other people may not understand. The thing we have to be careful of in today’s church is providing answers to questions that no one is asking while using a language that no one speaks.
Which is something the Holy Spirit can help us out with. Today is the church festival of Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit descends on all the followers of Christ. When the Holy Spirit descended on them one of the things that happened is that the followers of Christ were able to be understood by people who spoke other languages. Speaking another person’s language would seem to be important in terms of sharing our faith, wouldn’t it? Look at it this way. With a little practice I could preach in German every Sunday but how many Sundays are you going to come and listen?
Over the years we’ve tried this program and that program to get people interested in church. Many of these programs may have worked at the time but some became a habit that became a tradition that became an idol that can’t be changed even when they really aren’t accomplishing what they used to do. People aren’t really interested so much in a program. They can order a program from Amazon and have it delivered for free to their door in two days without bothering to come to church on Sunday.
What program language have we been taught to use when we share our faith? Hey, want to come to church? Right? Invite a friend Sunday? These kinds of things had their time and place. Maybe. But we’re kind of past that now. Look at it this way. If you had a Muslim or Jewish friend and they came up to you and invited you to their mosque or synagogue for worship, what would your response be? Right? And we are all people of faith that come from a common faith ancestor in Abraham. Now imagine asking someone to come to church who doesn’t have a faith background of any sort. Some of you probably have. What was their response generally speaking?
Worship probably isn’t the entry point for most people to have a life of faith. Worship is central to OUR life of faith but for someone not sure or familiar about being a person of faith in Christ it probably isn’t worship that gets them started.
Instead of inviting them to worship it probably makes more sense to just be real with them. Have conversations about real things in real life. And when they start asking you why your faith is so important to you then follow the Holy Spirit to share your faith. Let the Holy Spirit guide your words and your language. And then let the Holy Spirit work.