First Corinthians 3:7

Only God who gives the growth… I’d like to focus with you this morning on growth and what it is that Paul means when he says, “Only God who gives the growth.” And as a follow up to what we’ve discussed so far in First Corinthians, it’s important to note that the GROWTH THAT GOD GIVES may not always be obvious. It may happen in the blink of an eye when the cameras aren’t rolling. The GROWTH THAT GOD GIVES may not be measurable in the same ways that we measure a person’s height or a company’s revenue. In fact, the GROWTH THAT GOD GIVES may require an agreement—a covenant agreement—on what kind of growth really matters. It may, as we said last week, require the on-going process of “interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.”

But just for the sake of argument let’s just say that Paul wants to make this simple comparison. He wants to compare the growth of a plant with the growth of the people of God. And like all of us the apostle has observed what’s necessary for growth. First, there needs to be a planter. Second, there needs to be a person who waters. And lastly, by some miraculous reproduction of cells, there is the growing thing itself, green and growing toward the sunshine and into the air. Where there was once nothing but a little speck in the dirt, there are root systems and the landscape is utterly transformed.

Now, everything that I’ve just described happens all the time at the literal level. Literally things are growing. Literally someone planted the tomato plants in our community garden and literally someone hooked up the hose and watered them. But let’s take the metaphorical leap that Paul takes in First Corinthians.

Latah Valley is GROWTH THAT ONLY GOD GIVES. It’s not given by me. It’s not given by you or by the Presbyterian Church (USA). Latah Valley is not the seed of the idea of starting a new church. Latah Valley is not the watering of how we do worship or what the leadership structure looks like. Latah Valley is the GROWTH THAT ONLY GOD GIVES and that we, all of us, are privileged to receive.

For the past several months, as you might imagine, I’ve been beating myself up and occasionally beating you up and I’ve been saying, “Why haven’t we grown? Why don’t we grow?” And finally, it dawned on me. We are growing. You are growing and I am growing with the GROWTH THAT ONLY GOD GIVES. And it’s growth that makes our hearts weep tears of love when they used to be stone cold. It’s growth that makes our minds giggle with a question. It’s growth that winds like a tendril into our souls. It’s growth that comes into our hearts, our minds and our souls as we consider Jesus and him crucified.

Jesus Christ, you see, is our model for the GROWTH THAT ONLY GOD GIVES. And when we look at him, on one level, we see a Jewish man who grew up in a working class family in an occupied country and he eventually quit his job as a carpenter and started walking around an area no bigger than a hundred square miles and at the end of his thirty-three years he had twelve (strike that) eleven men and assorted prostitutes and other women who followed him. He is our model for growth—the kind of growth that God gives.

And the funny thing about this Jesus-kind-of-growth is that when we’re in the middle of it, it doesn’t feel like growing. It feels a little bit like dying. It feels that way. It only feels that way until we begin to hear this whisper. And the whisper I think wraps around us like waves of warm bathwater and we soak in it for a while; we bask in it for a while, getting all nice and wrinkled. And then amazingly we rise.

This morning, as we read through First Corinthians, chapter three, the one thing that’s clear to me is that many of the church folk in Corinth don’t comprehend this growth. What they get is Paul. What they get is Apollos. And Paul writes to them with this self-effacing challenge:
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

You see, whether or not we understand this growth that feels like dying and whether or not you have latched onto Latah Valley as your church—we have ultimately not gathered here to claim affinity or like-mindedness with one another. We have ultimately not gathered here to proclaim “I really love these people” (although we may and I do). We have ultimately gathered along the banks of a meandering creek and adjacent to Route 195 for GROWTH THAT ONLY GOD GIVES. And when he gives it, all you and I can do is invest in it.

Amen.

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Latah Valley Transition

June 17, 2011

Dear Friends of Latah Valley:

Grace & Peace in Jesus’ name!

I’m writing to you now with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I have a sense of wondrous expectation about what God’s Spirit wants to do with the church community around the world and with the likes of you and your friends and family. On the other hand, I am sad because our particular New Church Development, known from the start as Latah Valley, has fallen on hard times.

What I mean is that we have not grown numerically over the previous two years (since moving to our present location), and what’s more troubling is that, as pastor, I have been unable to convey my vision for the church with much clarity. For these and other personal reasons I will be asking the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest and the Latah Valley administrative commission to dissolve the pastoral relationship between us. That is, I will finish my last day as Latah Valley’s pastor on June 30.

With this in mind, my hope is to celebrate with you the many fruitful times of ministry that we have shared. In November of 2006, I moved here with my family from Pennsylvania, where Sheryl and I had helped to plant a congregation that chartered in 1999 with over one hundred members. My dream involved doing something similar in Spokane, and with the support of Hamblen Park Presbyterian Church among others, we have put ourselves at risk in witness to the gospel. Some highlights for me include:

• Our very first Easter Sunrise Service in the parking lot near Chaps & Latah Bistro (April, 2007).

• The Emergent Mainline Dialogue hosted at Whitworth University (November, 2007) and our first worship at Moran Prairie (December 9, 2007).

• The Community Garden, A Baptism In Latah Creek, A World Relief Connection.

• The Art Auction At The Threshold (September, 2009 & October, 2010).

• The Live Nativity (December, 2009 & 2010).

Again, it’s important for me to acknowledge the myriad ways that you have jumped in and embraced this work and for the joyful attitude you’ve had throughout our many ups and downs. Like those first century fellowships that endured much persecution, you and I have borne the brunt of everything from economic hardships to communication quagmires. I, for one, have learned a great deal about myself and the tenacious love of Christ Jesus.

Finally, let me encourage you to dream one more time. Dream about, not simply knowing those you already know, but dream about the unreached and the unchurched people who surround us. Simply by virtue of your presence and passion for Latah Valley, I continue to believe that God has called you to share your stories of faith with them. For now I will be pursuing my Master of Fine Arts degree in poetry at Eastern Washington University, and perhaps a little teaching down the road. If we should meet somewhere at worship or in a pub or between the frozen foods and the baking aisles—I pray that we will be able to smile at one another and know that we have attempted “great things” in Jesus’ name, and that there are still many books to be written about all the things that Jesus says and does through us. Thank you.

May the Peace of Christ Be With You Always—

Charles Scott Kinder-Pyle
Friend in Christ


1 Corinthians 2:13

The Spirit of God has been associated with Wind and Breath, and I like both of these images very much. The Spirit is Wind in that the Spirit comes upon us from the outside in. We feel the effects of the Spirit like we do the effects of wind. And yet, the Spirit is also Breath in that the Spirit comes from within and among us. And we feel the effects of the Spirit like we do the effects of our own breathing. In and Out. Out and In…

Now that dual-description of the Spirit of God is of course not everything the Bible has to say on the subject. But it’s an important primer to what the apostle Paul wants to teach about the Spirit in First Corinthians, chapter two. Namely, he says in verse 13,
the Spirit interprets—“interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.” And, you see, it is none other than the Wind-and-Breath Spirit that does this interpreting; and that means that whenever this spiritual interpretation takes place it happens from the outside in and from the inside out.

For example, a random guy by the name of Adam loves to ski. He skis every chance he gets. He travels to Colorado, to Utah and to the Swiss Alps in order to ski. Adam grew up skiing with his mother who virtually nurtured him on the slopes. But, after his mother has passed away, Adam is skiing at Schweitzer resort in early March and he has this mystical experience. He gets off the lift and is about ready to take on a black diamond set of moguls and it occurs to him that his love for this activity has its source in his parents’ love and his parents love might even be traced even further back… to the love of God. You see, that’s what we mean when we say the Spirit interprets from the outside in. Adam has taken a lifetime to make this connection:
“for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within?”

Now I want to take what I just described as happening to Adam a bit further. Suppose, after Adam’s experience on the mountain, he skis back to the lodge and he tries to tell somebody. Suppose he tries to tell Rebecca who works in one of the Schweitzer shops in the village and suppose Rebecca is this woman that Adam has recently slept with. At first, Rebecca might be skeptical. Initially she might respond to Adam by saying, “You’re so full of it… Hey, let’s go out tonight. Have a few drinks.” This reaction, of course, may be discouraging to Adam. But suppose he persists. Suppose he invites Rebecca to go to a chapel service with him and surprise, she goes. And suppose they eventually approach another couple about starting a prayer group. And suppose eventually Adam and Rebecca get married and become missionaries to some of the snowy places where they used to take vacations. You see, this would be an example of the Spirit interpreting things from the inside out.

And just think for a moment about the beauty, the intricate and intimate beauty of these interpretations happening in the lives of individuals and social groups. Think about them multiplying and layering on top of one another generation after generation. Latah Valley, as many of you know, has been started with this beauty in mind. That is, we believe that God is making these connections both with us and without us. And so, one of the reasons I like to emphasize church as dialogue is this: you and I may be one of the few interpretive forums for people to come and say, I have a question.

With this in mind, then, it’s important for all of us to understand that interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual is not easy. In fact, the prelude to every valid interpretation of the Spirit is bewilderment. For evidence of this we need to look no further than Acts, chapter two, when the Spirit blew into Jerusalem and Jewish people from all around the world spoke in foreign languages (not their own) and were then accused of being drunk on wine at 9 o’clock in the morning.

The point here is that the Spirit of God very often will manifest its presence in terms of the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control—but the process of developing and maturing these fruit is an interpretive process from the outside in and the inside out.

There’s a good illustration of what I’m getting at here in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, where Huck has a decision to make about the runaway slave, Jim. He has been taught through various interpretations of the Bible that God had intended and sanctioned slavery as a benefit. He has been taught through various interpretations of the Bible that if he doesn’t turn Jim into the authorities that he, Huck Finn, will go to hell. That’s how Huck interprets his relationship and that’s initially what motivates him to write a letter and reveal Jim’s whereabouts. And just when he’s ready to send the letter, he has what I would call a Spirit-moment:
(I) set there thinking – thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, ‘stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and suchlike times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.
It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:
“All right, then, I’ll go to hell” – and tore it up.
“Alright then,” says Huck, at a certain bend in the Mississippi river. “Alright then… I’ll go to hell.” And, you see, the irony of that spiritual interpretation is really profound. And it makes me wonder about the things we have to decide about being church in today’s world.

Back in our last congregation, someone approached Sheryl and I and said that we shouldn’t try to interpret the Bible. The Bible speaks for itself, he said, while ironically going on to interpret it himself. “There—you just did it again,” he said. “You’re interpreting. There and there you’re interpreting the plain words of scripture.” And gradually it dawned on me. The Christian faith is so radical and so life affirming it’s frightening for people. The Christian faith, as opposed to the Law of Judaism or to the Koran of Islam, puts the revelation of God in our tentative and sweaty and clumsy hands and, make no mistake, each sentence of the Bible begs us to respond. And when we respond, whamo!

We are interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.

There’s no way around it, and there’s no reason for us to look for a way around it.

In fact I would go so far as to say that interpreting spiritual things is our privilege and not our burden at all. Thanks be to God!

First Corinthians 1:10

Agreement. Agreement is a friendly word until we ourselves try to agree on an idea or a project or a plan with another person or another group of persons. When that happens, as you may know, there’s a lot of back and forth, posturing, practices of persuasion, rhetoric that gets one side fired up against the other, maybe a little compromise, a little razzle-dazzle, a little manipulative mumbo-jumbo, a handshake, a signature, a notarized document and when all is said and done we have an agreement.

But I’d like to point out this morning that forging agreements is nothing new under sun. A strong biblical word for agreement is covenant. God made a covenant with Abraham and Sarah. He agreed to be their God and to give them a child and that from this child would spring up descendants as thick as the sand on the shore or the stars in the sky. God made a covenant with Moses and the escaping slaves from Egypt. He agreed to be their God—which he was anyway—and they agreed to be his unique people with a unique claim on a unique piece of land. So the point I’m making is that the word agreement runs parallel with the Hebrew notion of a covenant that’s struck with God. And when Jesus arrives on the scene in Roman occupied Judea, lots of covenants have come and gone. Lots of them have been agreed upon with lots of fanfare and hoopla and then eventually forgotten and broken into pieces. Jesus then goes about his sacred business of crafting a new agreement (which by the way is the reason the New Testament is called the New Testament because the writers are all bearing witness to the covenant that God has renewed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus).

Don’t you agree? I remember once having an argument with someone about extraterrestrial life on other planets. And we agreed that is it is possible that other civilizations exist right now on some distant rock that happens to orbit a sun that appears to our eyes like a speck in the night. We agreed. But then the conversation turned to Jesus… It turned to Jesus and whether or not, if he’s the Messiah and Savior of this world, planet earth, wouldn’t it be necessary to have other Saviors to forgive the sins of other creatures on other planets. This, of course, is the kind of discussion that coincides with a busy waitress bringing a few bottles of beer. And as we talked on and on and laughed at ourselves, trying to agree, one thing became clear to me: our agreement on whether Jesus would be the Savior for the whole Universe or for just the known sphere of earth made no difference. What mattered wasn’t the agreement on this side or that side. What mattered was the relationship that allowed us to have the discussion to start with.

And so, let’s take another look at First Corinthians, chapter one, where the apostle Paul writes to one of the first century’s most contentious congregations. He says,
“Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you…”

What do you suppose is going on here? And, as we try to imagine that dynamic that occurred in that fellowship over two-thousand years ago, what might that mean for us who live and breath many miles and many moons later?

I would like to suggest that agreeing on an idea or a project or a plan is not nearly as vital as agreeing on the relationship. In this sense, Paul uses very specific language. “Be in agreement.” That is, BE IN IT. Be IN it like a person who swims must be IN the water. BE IN IT like a person who is utterly immersed in the blessing of God and that the blessing of God has nothing to do with right thinking or correct opinions about the world.

In the classic movie, Twelve Angry Men, Henry Fonda plays the part of the one man on the jury who believes that a murder suspect may be innocent of the crime. He is one against eleven. And what’s fascinating is how by the end of the story, all eleven change their minds and agree: the suspect they once had thought to be guilty they agreed was innocent. My point here, however, is not to argue the American system of meting out justice. I simply want to make note of the fact that these twelve men had to stay together and maintain a relationship. And even when they disagreed on the merits of the case and the details of the case, they agreed to BE IN RELATIONSHIP.

Latah Valley—the mind of Christ Jesus is this mind—the audacious and tenacious capacity to BE IN RELATIONSHIP AND NOT TO FAKE IT. At first it might follow the old proverb, that “we agree to disagree.” But listen to where Paul takes the Corinthians in chapter one, verse 26:

“Consider your own call, brothers and sisters, not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish… God chose what is weak… God chose what is low and despised. He is the source of life…”

You see, agreeing to disagree may after all keep us at the level of the world’s categories. And as you well know, the world is very good at making categories for whose in and whose out. Paul’s proposal, by contrast, is that we value above every category the shared, covenantal blessing we have in Christ. God chose us… Wouldn’t you agree?