Amos 8: 1 – 12
Colossians 1: 15 – 28
Luke 10: 38 – 42
Have you ever been struck by how a new-born baby just seems to know that if it is to survive it needs to find the teat and suck for all its worth? Babies put to the breast know what to do because instinct tells them what they need. What they need and how to get it are all part of the same inbuilt survival process. They move their little heads to and fro until they find what they need.
We adults have a spiritual hunger that we seek desperately to feed. Amos looks at the people of the northern kingdom of Israel and describes their lack communication with God as a drought. He says – they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.
Hungry for God! We all are, because we are created by God for fellowship with God.
In 1670, Blaise Pascal wrote, “What else does this craving, and this helplessness,
proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now
remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with
everything around him, … though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be
filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God
– Blaise Pascal, Pensées VII (425)
What Pascale is saying is that no matter how much we try to stuff into our lives, we remain hungry unless it is God who fills that gap.
So that’s the first thing: we desperately need to engage with God in Christ. 19For in him, as St Paul says, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
The second thing is that every infant needs to grow. No parent likes the thought of a 180 lb infant. The milk bill for a start would be daunting!
I was sitting in my office in 1980 and I caught sight in the doorway of the forlorn figure of my friend Sid, who was tall and thin anyway, looking especially sad. He sat down with a sigh in a chair I had near the door. When I asked him what was wrong, his response was simply, “Ann is pregnant again. Do you know what our milk bill is?” To appreciate his situation, that final pregnancy delivered a fourth boy (numbers two and three were twins) in the space of just over three years!
But I’m straying from the point. These boys were growing. We want to see our children maturing, developing through the expected growth stages. God has similar expectations of us.
In the words of St Peter, Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation (1 Peter 2: 2)
The writer to the Hebrews castigates them for not growing. 12For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; 13for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. 14But solid food is for the mature, (Hebrews 5: 12 – 14a)
And this maturity can only happen as we develop our relationship with Jesus. Paul tells the Colossians 28It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
We should not neglect our spiritual growth. Paul issues a warning. 21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him
23provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard,
There’s a condition attached to enjoying the benefits of Christ, a proviso. This secure establishment and steadfastness in the faith he mentions is the secret to maturity. That’s the second thing; growing in Christ, and we do it provided we don’t reverse spiritually. ‘Continue’ is the word he uses.
The third thing is a particular issue for First World communities, whether they are defined as educated ones, prosperous ones or politically powerful ones – or a combination of those factors.
What I’m talking about is a subtle corruption of Christ’s values, a giving in to the dominant culture which is always determined by the powerful.
We need to avoid getting seduced by the norms of our society. Because
when we do we inevitably compromise, as had begun to happen in Amos’s time 4 Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
We will make the
ephah small and the shekel great,
and practise deceit with false balances,
6 buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat.’
“But I’d never do that!” you say. Whether you would or not is debatable but you certainly could, and probably a lot easier than you realise. You see we all tend to accept the sub-culture into which we are born as a norm of sorts, and we are all quick to point to the faults of other sub-cultures as a means of justifying our own.
As a child I once asked my father which political party he voted for and he responded with, “For the lesser of two evils.” Wise words.
It is vital that we learn to critique our own preferences because they are likely to be self-centred. If we do not critically examine our cultural assumptions (no mater how superior we think they are to others) we are in danger of having our relationship with Christ undermined.
That’s the third thing, carefully monitoring our relationship with Christ so that we are on guard against undermining influences.
Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus had established a relationship with Jesus. They were his friends.
Clearly this relationship had grown. Jesus publically wept at Lazarus’s grave.
But one of the sisters had taken the nature of the relationship for granted (she wasn’t monitoring it), and the other was monitoring it carefully.
‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, Jesus says.
The sister-in-law of a friend of mine trained for the ministry with me. We were asked to preach a short sermon that had a dominant image in it. She spoke on the Mary and Martha story and told us of their family bach, in which was an old paraffin fridge that had always been in the lounge but was as noisy as anything. In fact it was so noisy, people used to go into the dining room so they could hear each other speak. The fridge was so much part of the furniture (as it were) that nobody thought to move it. It remained a massive distraction.
If we don’t critique our own values in the light of Christ’s values, we are in danger of having a dysfunctional faith because our faith could be undermined.
39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.
Being constantly in communication with God – listening to what he is saying – is vital if we are to guard ourselves from undermining our faith.
So there we have it: engage, grow and guard. And it all begins with listening:
- Listening to and engaging with the real hunger: Christ
- Listening to and growing in Christ
- Listening to and guarding our relationship with Christ
May God help us all to pursue that which brings life and joy; and that is Jesus.