To the Church in Exile,
The peace of Christ be with you. Our lectionary reading is I Corinthians 14:20:
Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking;
rather, be infants in evil, but in thinking be adults.
I am taking this single verse and ripping it out of context, something I am always instructing people to never do. As I am fond of saying, a text taken out of context can be used as a pretext for whatever you want to say. My excuse? This verse jumps out screaming at me; it’s almost as if I’ve never seen it before.
Now I know the context quite well. I preached on this passage two years ago, where the apostle Paul is trying to bring some semblance of order to crazy chaotic worship in the Corinthian church. They are not thinking through things, guided by their guts, and creating factions. There’s a lot of reactivity in First Presbyterian Corinth, and so Paul says, “Look, you can think through this.”
But verse 20 is almost proverbial, a word for any time and any context, and more specifically a word for my time and my context. First, note the comparison making evil and thought as opposites. I don’t think I’ve seen that contrast before. Thought vs stupidity – for sure. Evil vs good – yes. But thinking and doing evil as contrasts is a surprise.
I don’t know if you’re like me, but I have to say you can stick a fork in me – I am so done with American stupidity. Like the shirtless 20-year-old on spring break in Florida last week who told a Reuters reporter on video that he wasn’t going to let a little pandemic keep him from enjoying spring break in South Florida. “If I get corona, I get corona. At the end of the day, I’m not gonna let it stop me from partying.” (I hear he’s apologized for his stupidity, or is it his evil?) Or the pastor in Florida who defiantly held worship services two days ago. He was arrested yesterday for his – can I say it – his evil. Where do you draw the line between stupidity and evil?
In one of our sunshine breaks yesterday, between the downpours, I was returning on a bike ride when some driver made an illegal left turn almost hitting me. Furious, I pointed my finger and raised my voice. Lacking any grown-up thinking capacity, I was close to doing something malevolent.
I like the New Jerusalem Bible translation of our verse: do not remain children in your thinking; infants in wickedness—agreed, but in your thinking grown-ups. 1 Cor. 14:20 is indeed a verse for any context. What about yours? At home, at the pharmacy, on that Zoom work call, in working with the unemployment bureaucracy, am I thinking or just reacting? Am I demonstrating maturity or just having a tantrum, thus leaving a wreckage of hurt?
So, let’s start practicing, Bethany. Practice grown up thinking and keep the wickedness in infancy. Right now. In each of our contexts as disbursed as we are. Because some day we’ll all be in the same room on Sunday morning, and although our gatherings are not nearly as messed up as First Presbyterian Corinth, the practice will help there too.
Lord God, who comforts and restores, who heals and redeems, meet us in this day of anxiety yet possibility, this day of hurt and mending. Give us the hunger and stamina to grow up in our thinking. Keep us from temptation and rescue us from evil, even our own. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Peace in Christ,
Doug Kelly, Senior Pastor
Bethany Presbyterian Church
(206) 284-2222, x11