March 5, 2006: Sunday Morning
Rev. Marion Clark
1 John 5:1-5: True Spiritual Health (mp3)
So this past Sunday, we had a short sermon to give adequate time for a Spiritual Inventory of the congregation. When the Inventory was originally announced, I — coming from a charismatic background — automatically assumed it had to do with spiritual gifts and such. Upon reading the passage we were encouraged to meditate on to prepare for the inventory, however, I realized this was a very different animal.
And it’s another way that my church continues to impress me with its spiritual maturity. Our Bible study last week gave mention to the difference between the gifts of the Spirit and the fruits of the Spirit. Gideon possessed the shrewdness and talent to rout the Midianites, but he was not self-possessed enough to absolve his power and judgeship with dignity and faith. He had mad skills but a weak heart. A spiritual inventory focusing on gifts may help a church accomplish more (in the short-term), but will neglect the deeper issues of true spiritual health and character.
According to Rev. Clark, 1 John reveals three conditions of true spiritual health:
- truth (doctoral): We must have right belief
- righteousness (moral): We must exhibit godly behavior
- love (social): We must foster compassionate relationships
Pastor Clark went on to make the point that “belief is more than mental assent,” that ultimately (being good Presbyterians) we acknowledge that God draws us into belief — that it is He that births us again into a new family. Belief seals our certitude, membership, and identity into God’s family.
I particularly found Pastor Clark’s metaphor of family to be enlightening. What do parents say to children in the family? “Love your brother; he’s the only one you got.” “Be a good boy; set a good example for your little brother.”
I’m not a father, but I think of the kids I teach. I love all of them, but which are the ones I appreciate the most? Not the ones clamoring for my attention — after all, it’s hard not to suspect something insincere or insecure about such behavior. Not even the ones who dazzle me with their talent — what credit can I take for that? No, the ones that I “favor” are the ones that do what I ask, and take leadership and responsibility for the class as a whole. They are the ones, in other words, who understand and catch the “spirit” of the class that I am trying to establish. They are the ones that rally others to get with the program, that quiets down first, that always offers a thoughtful opinion. They are the ones that will straighten the desks, or will tutor a peer (without helping them cheat). They are the ones who get excited about an assignment, and not only do it with gusto, but with care — diligently following all my instructions. They are the ones who learns from my correction and takes pride in their work — without denouncing or demeaning the others around them.
I know better now the meaning of Jeremiah’s lament that a glut of altars, sacrifices, and rituals mean nothing; true worship is shown in obedience and love. Kids often miss this. In their immaturity they sometimes try palling around with the teacher, sycophantic currying, asking for extra credit, or distinguishing themselves from “lesser” students will up their status. I don’t blame them; I do the same thing with God.
Even Pastor Clark’s final point about the commandments not being burdensome is relevant. I put a lot of effort in to scaffold learning in my class; in other words, I try to make my class easy as long as you do what I ask. I am always considering those who do not have an aptitude for the language arts, those who don’t read, write, or spell well. I try to organize it so that knowledge and skills get built up in a logical fashion over the course of the class. Do the little bit I ask day by day, and — hopefully — you’d be surprised what you can accomplish by the end. That’s why it’s doubly frustrating when I have students who won’t (and then complain they can’t). But, once again, I can empathize. I’ve been humbled enough that I can keep the stones my pockets.