1 Corinthians 1:18-31 – The Sixth Sense of Spirituality

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (New International Version)

Although a lot of people are not religious, I believe every person on planet earth is spiritual. By that I mean we all intuitively know deep in our gut that there are bigger things going on in this world beyond our own existence – that there is a transcendent Someone who is higher than us whom we can connect to and helps us connect with one another as humans.

If our epistemology (the study of how we as humans know things) doesn’t allow for transcendent reality, then it is a deficient and truncated philosophy (the study of truth, knowledge, and conduct); it will not be able to accommodate spiritual realities.

There are times you have no explanation for what is happening – no words to describe the experience you went through. That’s because your five senses (taste, sight, touch, smell, and sound), although alert and reliable with taking-in all kinds of sensory data, are simply inadequate to explain the transcendent situation.

I was once talking with an agnostic (a person who denies that ultimate knowledge can be found, or that knowledge can be located ultimately with a god). This particular guy became a father for the first time. He was fresh off the incredible experience of being in the room with his wife when she gave birth to their son. 

Bill (not his real name) was flush with enthusiasm. He took in the sight of his newborn baby boy, held him and touched him for the first time, and joyfully listened to his very first screams of new life in this great big world.  Bill described it all to me with such awe and reverence. 

Then, Bill said something to me that I haven’t forgotten: “I don’t know how to explain it, Tim. Something spiritual happened when my son was born, something I can’t put into words. All I can say is that I experienced something that was not of this world.”

Something not of this world. That was Bill’s way of saying that he had no mental categories from which to draw from to give him any kind of sensory explanation to the awesome reality of being there at childbirth. 

Our five senses are vital, critical, and significant; yet they do not tell the whole story. As important as our ability to taste, see, touch, smell, and hear is, there are other ways of knowing and experiencing life.

Faith and spirituality are the sixth sense which enable us to discern and know things about ourselves, this world, and God – things that we would not know with only our five senses. 

There is a spiritual reality which transcends the physical. The soul, whether we acknowledge we have one or not, is the place of communion with this unseen reality. The inner person is where we meet-up with God and find a vast world of spiritual resources which boggle the five senses. Somehow, we know this is true, even if we have no language to explain it.

Jesus once said that it is the Spirit who gives life; human strength isn’t even a factor (John 6:63). In other words, God is Spirit, and the One who gives meaning, connection, relationship, and even physical life. Human abilities cannot ultimately do this. Yes, we do have biological explanations for human attraction, marriage, and where babies come from; yet this is not the whole story. 

There is a transcendent reality behind it all that gives life meaning and purpose. There are times, once-in-awhile, when the unique, the astonishing, and the beautiful grab us.

Our souls spring to life. We “see” the transcendent and get an awesome glimpse of this place where the physical and the spiritual “touch.”

We “taste” that the Lord is good, and “hear” the call to a deeper experience of recognizing the care and compassion of Christ. 

We take in a deep breath and “smell” the aroma of him who created us in his image and likeness.

Let your senses draw in all the wonderful information it can. And don’t stop there. Allow your soul to drink in the spiritual dimension of wisdom, and feed your inner person with Jesus Christ, who saves us from the sinful and the mundane, and lifts us to the world of the Spirit where there is life, hope, and infinite love.

Holy God, your knowledge of me exceeds what I grasp or see in any moment; you know me better than I know myself. Now, help me to trust in your mercy, to see myself in the light of your holiness, and grant me the grace that I may have true contrition, make an honest confession, and find in you forgiveness and perfect remission. Amen. – A prayer of St. Augustine

Matthew 9:27-34 – How To Use Your Faith

Jesus healing two blind men, 11th century mosaic, Sicily

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!”

When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”

“Yes, Lord,” they replied.

Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you”; and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” But they went out and spread the news about him all over that region.

While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.” (New International Version)

Every day the news is a steady stream of disease, death, war, and outright human suffering. It’s as if the phrase, “slow news cycle,” is a thing of the past.

As we stare into the face of trouble, I find myself uttering the ancient prayer of the Church: “Lord have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord have mercy and grant us your peace.” 

We collectively feel the weight of the world’s suffering, experience the heaviness of concern for family and friends, and perhaps wonder how much more people can take.

It’s in the topsy-turvy times that I come back again and again to the deep spiritual convictions which inform what I do each day. One of those underlying creeds and affirmations is this:

Jesus is trustworthy, no matter whether my faith or the faith of others is small or great.

In our Gospel lesson for today, two blind men were healed according to their faith in Jesus. The diverse healing accounts of Jesus in the New Testament, whether the faith was large or small in those healed, leads me to the conclusion that:

It isn’t faith itself that heals, saves, or transforms – it is Jesus.

All the healing accounts in the New Testament Gospels have something in common: They all directly point to Jesus as the object of faith. 

It isn’t about the level or amount of faith, but about where the faith is placed. 

For the Christian, faith itself doesn’t mean much if it isn’t in Jesus.

If I place a large and sincere faith in an inanimate object such as money; in a position of power; or, even in my own independence, my faith isn’t worth much. 

If I have a huge faith in a doctor or a psychiatrist to heal my body or my mind, I will quickly discover there are limits to their abilities. 

If I have a confident faith that my family will meet all my needs, my faith will eventually run into failure when they let me down. That’s because the ultimate object of faith is Jesus. 

If all my faith eggs are in the church basket, my faith will eventually face a crisis because it is a misplaced faith.  Furthermore, the answer I provide for others is not simply getting them to attend church or to adopt my moral code.

There should be a consistency that runs through us all. For Jesus doesn’t change—yesterday, today, tomorrow, he’s always totally himself.

Hebrews 13:8, MSG

We know with certainty that circumstances change, as everyday seems to bring new levels and permutations of unprecedented alterations to our lives – and through it all, Jesus remains as the ever-present Savior, seated at the right hand of God ceaselessly interceding on behalf of those who offer even the slightest mustard seed of faith.

“For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Jesus (Matthew 17:20-21, NRSV)

It says something about our modern Western society that whenever we hear the words of Jesus on faith that we interpret the mountain moving as an immediate event that happens almost instantaneous, like a snap of the finger. Yet, there is nothing in those words that says that. There is also nothing that says an individual necessarily does it.

The fact of the matter is this: Jesus heals, transforms, and delivers people from sickness, sin, trouble, and overwhelming circumstances in his own good time, not ours.

Just because we pray without ceasing for days, weeks, months, and even years for something doesn’t mean we lack faith if the prayer isn’t answered immediately. It could be that God wants others involved, maybe even across generations, for the impossible mountain to be moved.

It is misplaced faith which expects microwave results. Faith placed appropriately in Jesus as the object of belief discerns that faithful prayer is consistently prayed until there is an answer.

Healing and restoration will happen – just maybe not always how or when we think it will.

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep me both outwardly in my body and inwardly in my soul, that I may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

John 17:20-26 – The Need for and Importance of Unity

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me, and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (New International Version)

What is the Church’s identity?

What is the Church all about?

Why is the Church important?

The Church’s Identity

The Church is made up of people who have been reconciled to God through Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross and brought to new life in the Spirit. This special relationship that believers and Jesus enjoy with their God is a covenant relationship, and, so, the Church is a covenant community – receiving the blessings first promised to Abraham in the Old Testament that all nations would be blessed by grace through faith. 

God mercifully acts on the Church’s behalf through choosing, adopting, and redeeming people. This new covenant community receives the promises of God and exists to follow Jesus Christ in all things. 

So then, the Church is not a voluntary society, like other human institutions. Rather, it is divinely called by God. The Church is the community of the redeemed whom God has joined through the Spirit to Christ. Therefore, an individual, theologically speaking, does not join a church; instead, God joins the Church to Jesus.

The Nicene Creed

This ancient ecumenical creed describes the Church with four identifying marks:

  1. The Church is one. The unity of the Church comes from being in fellowship with God through Jesus in the Spirit – expressed through the bond of love and a common worship which includes the spiritually forming practices of preaching, liturgy, and sacraments. Since believers serve a triune God of Father, Son, and Spirit who exists in unity, so Christians are to work toward maintaining their unity through the bond of peace.
  2. The Church is holy. The Church is holy by virtue of Christ’s finished work. Therefore, the members of the Church are saints, called by God to live in holiness and participate with him in carrying out his purposes on earth. As God is holy, so believers are to be holy in all they do. Since Christians are holy through God’s justification in Christ, so the Church as saints must uphold justice in the world.
  3. The Church is catholic. This means that God’s people are found in all parts of the world throughout all times in history, including every race, class, gender, and ethnicity. Since the Church includes all kinds of people from different cultures, these believers must work together. The Church, across all kinds of denominations, ought to minister together to the total life of all people through gospel proclamation and good works done in the Spirit.
  4. The Church is apostolic. Apostolic means “to be sent.” The Church is not only a people who are gathered for worship and teaching; they are also sent into the world as salt and light to those who remain in darkness. Where the Church goes, the rule and reign of Jesus goes with them so that good news is spread to all nations.

The Church’s Mission

  1. The Church is called to love God.  The Church is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and the house where God dwells. The Church exists to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Christians are to develop intimacy with Jesus through the Spirit.
  2. The Church is called to love one another. The Church is the Body of Christ and is to be a haven for saints. The Church exists for community and is the place where believers are strengthened in faith through the proclamation of the Word in preaching and sacrament.
  3. The Church is called to love its neighbors. The Church is the people of God, being a hospital for sinners. The Church exists to serve the kingdom of God so that God’s benevolent and gracious rule might extend to all creation.

These three dimensions define the Church as being a “missional” community of redeemed persons who are concerned and focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ. The forward direction of the Church is to come ever closer to Christ through faith, be strengthened in that faith together through the Word of God, confidently stepping into the world to engage it with the love and grace of God so that others may come to faith in Jesus Christ.

The Church’s Importance

  1. The Church is a Trinitarian community, birthed as a free expression of God’s love through Word and Spirit. As people created in the image and likeness of God and redeemed for his purposes, believers reflect the image of the triune God.  The Church was important enough for Christ to die for.
  2. What the Church “does” flows from its identity as a redeemed community, being the people of God. So, then, the Church’s mission is not so much about establishing evangelistic programs so much as it is to listen to the Spirit of God and live in the power of the Spirit as it rubs shoulders with unbelievers.
  3. Just as the Father sent the Son, and the Son sent the Spirit, so the Church is sent into the world armed with the grace and love of God as if believers were ambassadors for Christ in a ministry of reconciliation.
  4. God has moved in a “downwardly mobile” way to bring reconciliation to all of creation. God has gathered the Church on earth to be sent as witnesses of Christ’s person and work through humility, meekness, and gentleness so that God’s mercy and peace might become realities in this world.

Therefore, the Church is to glorify the triune God by embracing its missional identity and mandate by making disciples of Jesus Christ through worship, community, and outreach. The Church is to aim its love toward God, one another, and neighbor through Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit.

The Belhar Confession

This Reformed Confession of faith directly addresses the need for and importance of Christian unity, which was of great significance to Jesus in his high priestly prayer.

We believe in one holy, universal Christian church, the communion of saints called from the entire human family.

We believe that Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another.

We believe that this unity of the people of God must be manifested and be active in a variety of ways:

That we love one another;

That we experience, practice, and pursue community with one another; that we are obligated to give ourselves willingly and joyfully to be of benefit and blessing to one another;

That we share one faith, have one calling, are of one mind; have one God and Father, are filled with one Spirit, are baptized with one baptism, eat of one bread and drink of one cup, confess one name, are obedient to one Lord, work for one cause, and share one hope.

That together we come to know the height and the breadth and the depth of the love of Christ;

Together are built up to the stature of Christ, to the new humanity;

Together know and bear one another’s burdens, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ that we need one another and upbuild one another, admonishing and comforting one another;

That we suffer with one another for the sake of righteousness; pray together; together serve God in this world; and together fight against all which may threaten or hinder this unity.

Amen.

Luke 24:36-40 – Peace Be with You

Jesus Shows Himself to Thomas by Rowan and Irene LeCompte, National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. (New International Version)

Christ’s disciples were abuzz. Two dudes showed up and told eleven of the original disciples that they had seen and talked to Jesus himself! This was a lot to wrap both their heads and their hearts around. Maybe they dared to hope it was true.

Peter and John encountered an empty tomb. Now these guys from Emmaus are giving this wild testimony of a risen Savior. Into the weird mix of doubt, curiosity, grief, hope, wondering, and outright confusion, Jesus materializes out of the blue and says, “Peace be with you.”

Already feeling unsettled and uncertain, the disciples had anything but a peaceful response to the presence of their Lord. Startled, troubled, and frightened they were, as if somebody had just dropped a skunk into the room.

Why the fear? Why not be overjoyed or overcome with sheer delight at seeing Jesus?

The disciples were caught off guard, as if they had zero expectation of seeing Jesus. Believing him to be dead, they immediately went to thinking this was some ghost. After all, the door was locked. Nobody could have gotten into the room without the disciples knowing it. (John 20:19)

As it turns out, faith and belief are not uniform static terms. There are layers to faith. Yes, the disciples really did believe, and their faith developed over time with Jesus. However, their belief had not yet come to full bloom. So, in this sense, they still possessed a lack of faith and were rebuked by Jesus for it. (Mark 16:14)

A full-orbed belief in the Lord Jesus Christ is more than words, more than making professions, and more than signing-off on a doctrinal statement of faith. Faith is shown for what it is through our actions. (James 1:19- 2:26)

Faith comes to fruition when the head, the heart, and the hands all align together and conspire to proclaim the gospel in thought, word, and deed. If they are misaligned or incongruent with each other, then that faith is inadequate. There is yet another level to the belief which needs to emerge.

Perhaps this is instructive for people today. While maintaining beliefs about the person and work of Jesus, and acknowledging Christ’s death and resurrection, some Christians live as though he had never risen from the grave. If Jesus were to suddenly show up and say, “Peace be with you,” like a startled puppy, they’d likely have an accident on the floor.

As Jesus had done so many times before in his earthly ministry, he invited the disciples to experience him in a real, tangible, visceral way. This is no ghost. This is a Christ who has physical flesh and bones. You can eat with this Jesus, real food and drink. Look at his hands and feet. Touch and feel them if you must. But, by all means, believe!

Jesus came to give them, and us, peace. Peace is more than a greeting, more than the absence of conflict or anxiety. It is to enjoy harmony with self, others, and God. Peace is wholeness and integrity of being, even when all is going to hell around us.

A child is born to us, a son is given to us,
    and authority will be on his shoulders.
    He will be named
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be vast authority and endless peace
    for David’s throne and for his kingdom,
    establishing and sustaining it
    with justice and righteousness
    now and forever. (Isaiah 9:6-7, CEB)

The peace of God is closely associated with the presence of God. And so, conversely, the lack of peace is to experience a sense of divine absence. God’s peace and presence are inseparable. It is, therefore, no surprise that Jesus demonstrated his actual physical presence and spoke to the disciples about peace.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked in fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again, Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:19-23, NIV)

Chronic spiritual anxiety usually arises from the inability to perceive a generous and hospitable God having our backs and working on our behalf. Knowing God, who is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, leads to peace and settled rest. 

May the Lord bless you
    and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you
    and be gracious to you.
May the Lord show you his favor
    and give you his peace. Amen. (Numbers 6:24-26, NLT)