There’s a saying I love about “seeing how the sausage is made.” We usually only consume the final product, without a thought as to how it gets to that point. We eat and love sausage, but most of us have no idea how that delicious meat gets to the shelves of our supermarket (and in the case of sausage, maybe that’s a good thing.) Hot dogs, McDonald’s ‘chicken’ McNuggets, any number of foods fall into this category, but this expression fits many more areas. You have a beautiful garden that we all admire and appreciate, but have no idea how many hours went into the planting and care to achieve such beauty. Slash is the guitarist for Guns N’ Roses and his solos are transcendent. His playing looks glamorous and natural, but we don’t see the 10,000+ hours of practice in his bedroom alone that makes it possible.
I’m not Slash, not particularly glamorous, and this isn’t a beautiful garden, but I wanted to give you a small peek behind the metaphorical curtain for the upcoming series at the Bridge.
I decided months ago that we would study the epistle to the Ephesians after the Sermon on the Mount concludes (which will be this week). I asked for suggestions, because if there was an interest, maybe we could adapt. I also mentioned we would jump into Ephesians or 1 Corinthians (and I don’t know why that came out of my mouth that morning 2 weeks ago, it was totally unplanned and I thought, “that’s interesting. I wonder what that’s about.”)
So I finished reading Job (the book I had been reading) and turned to Ephesians. Why I never got there, again, I can’t say. But I flipped to 1 Corinthians and went no further.
My Bible has introductions to each book, and in this particular one, it read: “The Christians in Corinth were struggling with their environment. Surrounded by corruption and every conceivable sin, they felt pressure to adapt…They were free in Christ, but what did this freedom mean?”
Then, in some specific notes on chapter 1: “[Corinth was] fiercely independent and as decadent as any city,” and “arguments and divisions arose [within the church.]”
Yet, the people were “called…made holy…given every spiritual gift.”
And now I know why.
Looking at the notes in my Bible and the ones I took, I can’t tell where they’re describing, Corinth or America. There, then, or here, now? They were called and given every spiritual gift, yet also fiercely independent, decadent, with all sorts of questions about what being “called” means and why it matters.
I wanted to talk about being God’s “masterpiece” and the armor of God. Ephesians has some of the most gorgeous language and profound Gospel teaching, it’s no wonder I would want to spend some time there (and maybe we will afterwards.) But we’re not talking about the Ephesians. We’re going to dive into the letter to the Corinthian (American) church and splash around in this deep water that, I’m now convinced, will be absolutely vital to our lives.
The youth retreat was last Tuesday. This day, the youth was a group of high school aged boys (Only boys. Not because boys are the only ones welcome, but because that’s just how it was. There is one lovely young woman, but she happened to be on vacation, so we had all boys. I am not complaining or lamenting this fact.) This group spent 12 hours together with 2 adult facilitators swimming in a lake, reading the book of Mark, and eating. Towards the end of the evening, I had the opportunity to ask if there was anything they wanted to talk about, fully expecting silence or, if anything at all, I figured something about girls.
For some reason, the evangelical political-spiritual movement in this country has decided the 2 most important issues facing the Church are not grace, love, compassion, poverty, kindness, non-violence, addiction, or anything else. Abortion and Homosexuality are the big 2, and judging by the overwhelming amount of time & energy given to those 2, there isn’t a 3rd. I tell you this because one of these thoughtful, courageous boys chose to take my invitation to ask about homosexuality, which became a wildly fascinating hour long discussion.
These young men were engaging with the Scriptures – much more than just these two current hot buttons. What is the role of the Bible in our lives and in the lives of the country and culture? What did the Bible say about a subject, specifically? Do we actually care? Does context/translation matter? Is there a seeming conflict elsewhere, and if so, which weighs more? And we can’t forget the most important question: Now what?
In the book of Genesis, Jacob (whose name means, “he grasps the heel,” which doesn’t mean much to us now, but it also means “he deceives,” which does. Jacob’s story in Genesis illustrates this second meaning.) finds himself in the wilderness, all alone, with a “man.” Jacob asks this ‘man’ for a blessing, which gives us the clear hint that this is not an ordinary man. They wrestle all night and in the morning (after an unbelievably significant question about his name), the ‘man’ finally blesses Jacob, but not before he injures his hip. Jacob’s name is changed here, and becomes “Israel,” which means “one who wrestles/struggles with God.”
We can struggle with God, too. Right? And sometimes that struggle leaves us with a permanent limp. The Jewish people saw this struggle as absolutely vital to a life of faith. We don’t as much, we mostly want assent, agreement, conformity. I easily find doubt, questioning, and wrestling all over the Bible. It’s much more difficult to find assent and certainty.
Athol Dickson says: “What if God placed the paradoxes within the Scriptures to cause me to struggle for the truth? What if it is the struggle He desires as much as the truth itself?”
Haven’t you ever thought that Jesus could have pretty easily cleared up a lot of our questions? Maybe instead of answering with more questions (inviting the one who asks into a conversation, a struggle), he could’ve just given us the straight answer, in plain words, with bullet points. And why does the Bible sometimes contradict itself? Couldn’t it have been far more instruction manual and far less poetry? More fact and less story?
I could have said, “this is the answer,” if I felt like being that guy, and shut that discussion down immediately. As they wandered around in the dark, throwing guesses and opinions against the wall, I could have said, “no,” or “that’s wrong,” if I happened to disagree, (or even “yes,” or “that’s right”) and they would have learned that this was no safe place, no place where their authentic searching engagement was valued, only their quiet acquiescence, their right-ness.
That’s what’s so inspiring and encouraging about this youth group conversation. They aren’t content to just take what they’ve been offered, they want to turn it over, around and upside down. They aren’t cool with being “the one who grasps the heel,” they’re willing to fight for the truth, and in the process, become “Israel.” And that fills me with more hope for our homes, communities and world than I can even begin to tell you.