1 Corinthians 3:1-9
You know what it’s like when there’s an invalid in the house, and the illness and the treatment mean that they don’t have much appetite for food, or the capacity to eat very much. And you’re trying to jolly them into eating just a little more to get their strength up, to help them heal and recover. “Go on, just another spoonful of chicken broth” or “just another mouthful of jelly”.
Nutrition is an important part of recovery from illness. And when we are healthy, good food is important to keep us healthy.
I saw my optician on Friday for my annual check. I told her that I was concerned that one day I might be subject to macular degeneration in the same way as my mother, and she said that though there was no sign of it in my eyes, if I wanted to prevent it, the best way was through diet, eating lots of blueberries and curly kale. Not necessarily together. So that’s the way forward.
In his letter to the Christians in Corinth, Paul is talking about spiritual nourishment. He is saying that we need a spiritual diet as well as regular food, we need to nourish our souls as well as our bodies.
There are limits to the metaphor of food and spiritual nourishment. We are surrounded by so many food issues, in a town regarded as having the second-highest proportion of people who are obese, in a world where so many people have eating disorders, where the nutritional value of the food we eat is deteriorating, where people are having to make choices between food and heating, where people are turning to food banks because they cannot afford to eat properly. The politics of food is a spiritual matter, no doubt about it, but it is spiritual nurture that Paul invites us to think about today.
If you want to keep healthy spiritually, you need to nurture yourself with the things that feed your soul. What are the things that give you life, the things that make you feel that life is worth living? For some people it is walking in the hills or gardening. For others it can be music.
Recently, we were given tickets for a concert at the Sage. My husband Sheridan hasn’t been feeling too good recently, and he was reluctant to go, but I drove over to Durham to pick him up, and we went. The main piece of music was Bruch’s Violin Concerto. It was so beautiful, Sheridan was in tears. The rest of the programme was also well-known pieces, and Sheridan’s mood lightened. By the time the concert was over, he was so glad he had gone. He felt so much better. The concert had nurtured his soul.
You can certainly tell me what the bread and butter of Christian faith are: prayer, reading your bible, worshipping with other Christians, receiving Holy Communion. You need these like you need 3 square meals a day. Different people need different kinds of spiritual diets, and that’s fine – it’s not exactly the same menu for everybody. You need to find out what feeds you, and what really doesn’t help at the moment. And at different stages of your life, you will find that different things nurture you. And that’s fine. Just as babies need milk, and then progress to mashed rice, so new Christians start with the basics and move on to more solid fare. And some of it you consume on your own, and some of it we share together.
The whole point of having the right spiritual diet is that it helps us become the people God made us to be. God wants us to have healthy spiritual lives, so that we can know his joy and peace, so that we can live out his love and truth, so that we can help others grow in faith. He feeds us so that we can help nurture others.
The church in Corinth, the people to whom Paul was writing, was not doing well. It was a dysfunctional church. People were arguing and quarrelling. They were muttering about each other behind backs. They were undermining each other, always moaning about everybody else. They were divided, taking sides. It was an unhealthy church. It was the body of Christ, but it was diseased.
People don’t often realise the impact they have on others. When they are being negative, they don’t see how it affects the people around them. I have met people who told me they stopped going to church because of the attitudes and behaviour of other church members – it just got them down. When that happens in a church, how do you change it?
The body of Christ needs to be healthy. And it can become diseased if it neglects nourishment from spiritual food. It’s not a matter of one person choosing a full, healthy spiritual diet, and other people making do on spiritual fast food or ready meals. The church needs to share its spiritual food, with church members nurturing each other and helping each other to grow and flourish in faith.
There are lots of spiritual recipe books, guides to a healthy diet. And they are great to help you with your own prayer life or bible study. Or you can start talking about spiritual matters to other Christians. When did you last talk about faith or prayer or the sermon with the people you share the peace with? In Lent, we will be meeting once a week to learn more about Jesus in his last week on earth and about our own walk with God. Be part of that.
There is always more to learn, always more to digest. When it comes to spiritual food, you can never eat God out of house and home.