A More Light Congregation

Bethany Presbyterian Church


The Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California has successfully bred a very rare distant cousin to the seahorse called weedy seadragons and on Friday two tiny babies were born.  Each baby is only one inch long, and evidently the two are already feeding on tiny shrimp.

So it seems that even in nature, no matter how tiny you are you can always find someone even tinier to eat.  

Dr. Robert Fuller, PhD., writing in Psychology Today, says that our genetic disposition to be bigger than another comes from our history as predators.  Humans being at the top of the food chain are used to and good at finding smaller creatures for food.  Without that need then, why do humans still find ways to rank ourselves?

We do that as cultures, as countries, in our political and legislative decisions, and in personal relations, no matter the degree of intimacy.  We find ourselves in competitions that we didn't sign up for.  In a healthy competition whether in sports or music or debate or art or dance or film, there are ways of winning without someone else having to lose.  When I was in a competition in high school for a monetary prize, there were 1st and 2nd place prizes, and an honorable mention.  I came in fourth.  The only reason I knew I came in fourth is because my teacher was behind the screen with the jurors and she knew that the paper with my scores and comments on it, was the last one eliminated from the winning pile!  Even without winning anything, I still needed to know the degree to which I didn't win anything!

Dr. Fuller calls this “rankism” and points to our need to have an advantage as the reason why we still utilize this long devolved trait.  He points out that we make others small so we can appear big.  Being big gives us an advantage.  We set poverty levels higher when we don't want to spend as much of our money but still want to give to the poor.  We set poverty levels low when we want to appear above the poverty level.  We want to be the big fish, even in a tiny sea. An unhealthy ego can only feel good if compared to someone smaller or less than, whereas a healthy ego doesn't need a small ego in order to feel fine.  An unhealthy ego is a dignity thief.  A healthy ego leaves the dignity of the other intact.

I sometimes think that Paul has a weak ego.  He says he's really humble, and isn't particularly wise, but the folks that put our bible together have certainly given us a lot of his words.  For someone humble, he sure can act better than those around him!  I think though, that compared to how he used to feel – one of the biggest persecutors of Christians around – as of the writing of these letters, he is relatively humble.  In today's passage for example, he is on his third chapter of railing against these Corinthians, for having so many divisions.  In this reading, he even insults them by comparing them to babies, still reliant on their mother's milk and not even being able to eat solid food.  He uses the description and image of a human baby to counter the more spiritually advanced life he wishes for the Corinthians.

He compares being a baby Christian with being a baby human, and refers to that as being of the flesh.  Just as a baby human cannot eat solid food, a baby Christian cannot hear and follow adult messages.  Being of the Spirit requires growth just as a baby human is required to grow.  Being of the flesh is limiting, but being of the Spirit is a limitless path.  One can always grow in their relationship to Christ.

The Corinthians appeared to want to grow in faith, but they were demonstrating their growth by trying to attach themselves to special things.  They boasted that the person that baptized them was better.  They ranked themselves according to who had more wisdom.  They listened to wisdom from others and not the wisdom from the spirit from within.  So Paul seems to take another approach.  He says yes, I see you want to grow in your faith, so let's talk about growth itself.  It's good to want to grow he says.  The path to growth consists of events and places and people and choices, but the growth itself is a process that does not belong to any of us.  It only belongs to God.  Yes, we plant, we water, we tend, but we don't make the growth happen.

I think of it like this:

     - There's the plant – I think of this green growing thing as the main event.  The star of the

        show.  The big deal.

     - Then there's the dirt – the tool, the only thing really supporting the plant and holding all

        the nutrients, supporting the star, the tools that get the big deal to be a big deal.

     - Then there's the water – the mechanism that gets the nutrients to actually do the work of

        supporting the main event.

The green plant wouldn't get anywhere without the support and nutrients of the dirt, and the dirt couldn't do it's job without the water.  Neither the water or the dirt or the plant happened on their own.  All three had to work together.  The actual growth belongs to God.

So here's another example:

     - There's a lit room – the lightbulb throwing off all of that great stuff that makes you not step

       on a sharp cat toy.  This is the main event.

     - There's the actual bulb – the tool that provides the light.  The support to get the lit room

       suffused with light.

     - Then there's the electricity – the mechanism that gets the bulb to light up and do the work of

        keeping the room lit.

The room would never be lit if there was not a bulb, or without the mechanism of electricity.  But the actual light couldn't happen without all three.

I ask us today:  When in your life are you the main event?  Maybe that's the winner of an argument, or the loudest singer, or the strongest person in the room?  Do you enjoy that?  Do you feel better than anyone else?  Are you ever the main event, inappropriately?  I would argue that it could go either way?  The loudest singing voice can really carry a section, but not if it doesn't blend.  The winner of an argument could really be making a crucial point, or could just yell the loudest.  And a physically strong person could be a bully and threaten and push others around, or could be the only one able to lift someone out of harm's way.

When in your life are you the tool?  You read a book out loud to someone who can't read.  You teach.  You spend your day making others look good.  You provide dignity.

And when are you the mechanism?   Maybe you're the one who gives permission.  You spend time making things work, making the answer be yes to someone's need.  You spend your day helping make it work.  You are the one who gives back the dignity someone needs.

I invite everyone to help themselves to a tiny succulent from the table in the back.  Each plant is sitting in a tiny plastic cup.  Take the plant, the main event, and use the spoon to put some of the dirt from the container into one of the tiny cups you find there, and if you'd like pour some water over it.  You can take these home and watch God provide the growth to go with your tending as you discover daily, ways that we are all a part of the life in community that God has in store for us.

Let's pray.


Reverend Debra McGuire

February 16, 2020

1 Corinthians 3:1-9