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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

If You Give a Corinthian a Cookie

2015-02-08 1 Corinthians 9:16-23
If You Give a Corinthian A Cookie


Lately, I've been thinking a lot about a book we used to read to the girls at bedtime, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Have any of you read it? Had it read to you? It's a good one. The pictures are cute and the words are in big print. In fact the book's so good it's spawned a string of sequels. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, is followed by, If You Give a Moose a Muffin. If You Give a Moose a Muffin is followed by, If You Give a Pig a Pancake. If you buy one book, you have to buy the next one. Genius.


They're all cautionary tales about why you should never, ever feed wildlife. Cookies, muffins, and pancakes. You may THINK they're harmless, but they're all just gateway foods. Like when you give Smoky Mountain bears just one candy bar through your car window. The next thing you know, they've followed you home, ringing your doorbell and asking if they can use your wifi.


Here's how the cycle begins:


"If you give a mouse a cookie, he's going to ask for a glass of milk. When you give him the milk, he'll probably ask you for a straw. When he's finished, he'll ask you for a napkin. Then he'll want to look in a mirror to make sure he doesn't have a milk mustache…." 


On and on until it loops back to yet another cookie, and starts all over. "Read it again! Read it again!" It's like the movie "Groundhog's Day" in a book.


About the twentieth time I read this book, it began to dawn on me that it really isn't for the kids. It LOOKS like a children's book because of the cute animals. But I started to suspect it's really meant to make adults take a long sideways look at the children to whom they're ostensibly reading.


"Ohhhh…. What if this adorable two-year old is the mouse, the moose, or the pig? What if this book is a secret-code warning that no matter what toys I buy them, no matter clothes I dress them in, no matter what college I send them to, no matter how well I fix up the basement for them and their boyfriend, it's never going to be enough?


"And someday THEY'LL reproduce. More pigs, more pancakes, more cookies. It never ends."


This is where the violins from "Psycho" start shriek, shriek, shriek.




Like I said, I've been thinking about this book a lot lately. Not just because we've been doing plumbing repairs at our house. But also because I've seen If-You-Give-a-Mouse-a-Cookie-Syndrome play out in real life.


If you get a hip replacement, you're going to realize how much the opposite knee hurts. If you tell your doctor your knee hurts, she's going to recommend a replacement. If you get your knee replaced, you'll notice how much the other one hurts. Anybody fed that mouse?


If your company gives you a raise, you're going to spend more money. If you spend more money, you're going to need another raise.


If you buy a new outfit, your friend's going to buy the same outfit, and then you'll have to buy something to make you look more awesome than your friend.


If you eat cookies, muffins, and pancakes, you're going to need cholesterol meds. If you take cholesterol meds, you'll probably think it's OK to eat all the cookies, muffins, and pancakes you want.


Oh, the humanity.


A tiny flake will probably turn into a snowball. Snowballs gain speed and snowball faster. One thing leads to another.


It. Never. Ends.


If You Give a Mouse a Cookie Syndrome starts innocently enough, but it spins, and twists, and curves delirious directions. You thought it was something small, you thought you had it planned out, but how you ended up where you are is a mystery. You may ask yourself, "How did I get here?"


And here is today's scripture, the first letter from the Apostle Paul to the little church in Corinth. If instead of a letter, Paul had written in a children's book, he could have titled it, "If You Give a Corinthian a Cookie."




Sometime before this First Letter, the Apostle Paul planted a little church in the Greek city of Corinth (3:6). Since then, they've had at least one other preacher (3:5), and appear to be growing. Maybe because weekly Communion has turned into a most excellent party where "certain" people get drunk and gorge themselves on food, but other people go home hungry (11:18-21). And "certain" people are breaking into cliques (1:12). And "certain" people are making freedom from Jewish law the opportunity to start suing each other in Judge Judy's court over trivial things (6:1). And "certain" people are getting a little too familiar with their stepparents (5:1). Holy shades of Grey, Batman.


But even more than that, they've put Paul in a position of defending himself. From the letter's start to finish, Paul's trying to get down from up against the wall. It sounds like the only thing the church is certain about is its uncertainty about its founding pastor. Does Paul really have the authority he claims? How come he's not as fun as the new guy? Maybe he doesn't know Jesus as well as he says. Maybe he's "misremembering."


The letter turns into a biblical battle against Mouse-Cookie Syndrome. If you read the whole letter – and I'd encourage you to do that – only takes about 20 minutes, less in the Cliffs' Notes – if you read the whole thing, you see Paul pleading, scolding, reminding, begging, and hoping to lead this church back to where they started, that first bite of cookie.


He says:


And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. (3:1-2)


But like with so much else – like so much else in the church, like so much else in personal life, like so much else in trying to live together without killing anyone – the taste of one thing has led to the taste for another, and to another, and another. An infinite loop.




We had a Pancake Breakfast this morning. It was delicious. I'll admit it, I was a bit of a pig with the pancakes. If there had been muffins and cookies, I probably would have eaten those, too. Because wasting food's a sin. So much syrup. So much butter. So much bacon. Sorry, drifted off there.


So, then you walk in the sanctuary and what do you see? More food. Oh great. As if it weren't hard enough to stay awake in church.


But the table here's a lot simpler. The meal is a lot smaller. Compared to the size of most American meals, it's hardly anything. One bite of bread. One drink of juice. You can't live on that.


I don't think we're intended to. I think the Lord's Supper is intended simply to whet our appetites. But not our appetite for more food, and not our thirst for our rewards.


In verse 17, Paul writes:


For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. 


The food we get at church – whether it's physical or spiritual – isn't meant as a reward for being good. That's the Corinthians' critical error. They thought faith was a cookie. They thought faith was dessert. They thought belief was their own little treat.


But faith isn't a reward. The Bible says faith is our commission. Co-mission. Our common mission. Our shared work. Our collective purpose. Our taste of faith is personal, but the point of faith is to make it public.


It's so hard when everything almost all of culture tells you you're a consumer. It's so hard when getting what we want turns gospel.


Faith isn't about getting what we want. Faith is about discovering what we need. Faith is about listening to what other people need, and doing all we can to help them.


In verse 22 Paul says,


I have become ALL things to ALL people, that I might by ALL means save some.


(Or more literally: That I might undoubtedly (continue to) keep saving any.[1])


This isn't what a lot of churches mean when they talk about "getting saved." This is different. What Paul's saying is that he'll do everything he possibly can to keep on saving people from turning into mice, moose, and pigs that are stuck in the endless cycle of fulfilling our own desires. Because that's not why Christ came.


Christ came that we might be more than slaves and free, more than Jews and Gentiles, more than weak and strong, more than one faction facing off against another. Christ came that we might continue the long, hungering journey toward fulfillment, instead of always circling back to the cookies.