Lay Reader = Romans 12:1-8
1I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. 3For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
We are still in our series looking at how our spirituality can be life-giving. Last week we looked at life-giving submission. We talked about how we try to control God by keeping him confined to our schedule and our wish list, and how liberating it can be to release the need to get my way all the time.
This week we are looking at life-giving study. We have a lot of kids here today, and I know you are happy to be in summer right now where you don’t have to study for school. But there actually is a way of studying that can fill you up rather than be drudgery like homework.
1 Corinthians 3:1-4, 10-13, 18-23
1And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? 4For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?10According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.
11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. 12Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done.
18Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. 19For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”
21So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours,22whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, 23and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.
The Right Blueprint
Many, many years ago, my grandfather (called Gramps) was having a house built on some undeveloped land. If you’ve ever been through the building process, you know that it’s pretty stressful because you just have so many choices. And if you put that light switch in the wrong place, you can’t blame the previous owner – it’s all on you, baby.
Gramps made it a habit to check in on the contractors every few days just to make sure everything was going well and to handle any questions they might have. Here’s a pro tip – if you’re not there to answer a question, the builder will probably just make the decision for you. And that decision will be heavily influenced by convenience.
So he was on-site and he noticed something was a bit off with the fireplace they were putting in. In fact, it wasn’t just a bit off, it was hugely, obviously, head-slappingly off. So Gramps talked to the builder about it, and he said, “Oh yeah, I thought it looked really weird, but that’s what it says in the blueprint.”
Gramps wanted to make a point, so he retorted, “Well if the blueprint showed the roof upside down would you just do it that way?” To which the builder responded, “Well yeah, if that’s what was in the blueprint.” Not exactly the response my grandfather was looking for. He made it a habit to be on-site EVERY day after that conversation.
We talked about blueprints at Vacation Bible School this week, and I drew a house with a roof upside down, and the kids spotted it immediately. And I loved one of their answers when I asked what would happen if you built a house with that blueprint – she said, “Your house would fall down.”
If you want your house to stand, you need to follow a good blueprint. This church building has been here since 1926 – it wouldn’t still be here if it didn’t have a good blueprint and good builders to follow the right plan.
In our text today, Paul, the author, says, “no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.” Jesus is our blueprint. Jesus is our foundation. A house built on Jesus won’t fall down.
You know, this year I discovered something wonderful – the free e-book collection at our library system. And it coincided with me being sick for like six weeks, so I devoured books like never before this year. I read six books from one of my favorite authors. I caught up on five Star Wars novels I had never read. Oh, and then I read the entire Harry Potter series. Just the Harry Potter series alone – that’s 4,224 pages if I were reading it in dead tree format.
Guess how many pages there are in the average Bible? 1,200. So just with the Harry Potter books, I read the equivalent of 3-4 Bibles in as many weeks. But for some reason, I find it takes me a little longer to read my Bible. Finishing the Bible in a year is an accomplishment. Why is there such a difference?
Well, when I’m reading Harry Potter or Star Wars novels, I’m not trying to follow a blueprint. I’m not patterning my life on Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter, though Quiddich does sound pretty fun. But when I read the Bible, I’m trying to follow the blueprint, to figure out the intent, to apply it to my life. I AM trying to pattern my life on Jesus. Don’t send too many home inspectors to see how well I’m following the blueprint, but hey, at least it’s the goal.
Richard Foster, who wrote the book on which this sermon series is based, Celebration of Discipline, has a profound thought. He says there are four steps to life-giving study as part of our spirituality. First is repetition – repeatedly channeling the mind in a particular direction. The second is concentration – giving some of your precious attention to the topic. The third step is comprehension – understanding what is being said or written. And finally reflection – ruminating on the significance for your life and your world.
And his profound thought is that whenever you do those four steps – repetition, concentration, comprehension, and reflection. Whenever you do that, your mind tends to follow the patterns of whatever you’re studying. This is both a great hope and a great danger. If our mind tends to wander in the direction of whatever we’re chewing on internally, then that’s a great hope. Because if I’m chewing on positive things, if I’m chewing on the right blueprint, if I’m chewing on the life of Jesus internally, then my mind will tend to bend in that direction. But it’s also a warning, because if I’m chewing on destructive things, if I’m chewing on revenge and anger and hate and deception, then my mind will tend to bend in that direction as well.
So what have you been chewing on? What has been circling your thoughts repeatedly like water down a fast drain? What has been receiving your attention? Is that the direction you want your mind to bend? Is that the right blueprint? Or is the roof on upside down?
The Truth Shall Set You Free
But let’s be honest here. When I draw a house, the VBS kids can spot a roof upside down. That doesn’t take years of experience in the construction industry. But our faith is usually more complicated than that. When we’re trying to figure out our faith, it’s more like reading this circuit diagram [SHOW MAKEY MAKEY CIRCUIT] that I showed at VBS. It’s complicated.
But that’s one of my favorite things about being Presbyterian. We believe that we are called to seek the truth. To figure things out. But we also believe that there are things about which people of good faith and good conscience can disagree. We admit that we are in constant need of re-evaluating our faith in light of any new understandings of Scripture, because even after 2000 years we still haven’t totally figured out God’s will for every situation.
Don’t get me wrong, here. We’ve figured some things out. We know that we follow Jesus, not someone else. We’ve figured out that we know who Jesus is and how we are supposed to live out our faith by studying the Bible, not some other book. But we might disagree on how to INTERPRET parts of the Bible.
We tried to practice this in the Hot Button Theology classes that we had this Spring. As we looked at having women as pastors, at the use of violence, at our relationship with Judaism, Israel, and Palestinians, at our sexuality in marriage and leadership, I didn’t teach one single way to look at those topics. I taught a process for studying the Bible and trying to figure out how you believe Jesus would apply it to those hot button topics. And I taught that relationships are more important than our opinions. I can disagree with you and still be your friend. Because people of good faith and good conscience can disagree.
But we also talked about two different kinds of interpretations, two different kinds of opinions. On one hand you have teachable opinions – well-thought-out arguments about how to interpret the Bible on a given topic. On the other hand you have personal opinions – things based on your emotions, or your feelings, or your experiences. Those matter, but they aren’t enough to change what the church teaches. I might FEEL that God is deep down a Texas Longhorn fan at heart, but that doesn’t mean I should teach that. Don’t worry – I don’t think he’s a Cowboys fan.
So when we’re using the discipline of study, when we’re trying to chew on, to deeply understand the Bible, we’re trying to arrive at those teachable interpretations – well-thought-out arguments. Our emotions, our feelings, our experiences, the people we know – all of those affect HOW we look at Scripture. But they aren’t enough on their own. So, for example, you might counter that in the Old Testament, God destroyed the altar set up to worship the golden calves, so God can’t be a fan of a team with a bull as their mascot.
Jesus summarizes this better than anyone in John 8. He says, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” Good feelings won’t make you free. Amazing experiences won’t make you free. Wealth won’t make you free. You’ll always want more good feelings, you’ll always be seeking after the next great experience, always feel like you need more money. Those won’t make you free. The truth will make you free. The discipline of study is seeking the truth so that you can experience the freedom that is found in Jesus Christ.
We taught the VBS kids this week that God Always Loves You. Even when you mess up, God Always Loves You. Even when you lie, God Always Loves You. Even when you hurt someone with your words, God Always Loves You. That truth gives you freedom. Not freedom to hurt others, not freedom to lie. No. Knowing that God Always Loves You means you don’t have to keep beating yourself up when you mess up. Keep trying to get better, but you don’t have to wallow in despair wondering if God will forgive you. He will forgive you. Because God Always Loves You. Knowing that truth makes you free.
Where do you need to be free? What truth do you need to study?
Sisters and brothers, when we are studying the right blueprint, when we are seeking the truth about Jesus, that’s when our life is built on something that will last. That’s when we will find freedom. That’s how study can be life-giving. What part of God’s blueprint will you study this week? Amen.