STUDY 1 ANOTHER FINE MESS!
READING.... 1 Cor. 14: 26 - 33 and Luke 15: 11 – 21
When we say someone will get their 'just deserts' we usually mean that they will get what they deserve. The saying means that they will get their reward whether it be good or bad, and usually it means punishment, but in our series of studies on 'Just Desserts' I want to look at individual desserts. Each study will look at some of the desserts we would serve up for dinner, and hopefully by the end of each study we will get our 'Just Desserts’, the rewards God has given us by His grace.
Eton mess is a dessert made from broken meringues, cream and strawberries, and originally comes from the famous Eton college. It is supposed to have come about when a Labrador dog sat on a picnic basket, however the chef at the college claims that the dish came about when a strawberry meringue pie was dropped on the way to the prize giving picnic day. It is still the tradition that it’s served every year on the 4th June for the prize-giving picnic, that celebrates the birthday of King George the third who was one of Eton’s royal patrons.
Eton mess can be made with many other types of summer fruit, but strawberries are regarded as more traditional. The Scottish version of Eton Mess is Cranachan, which uses raspberries, oatmeal and the cream is flavoured with Whisky.
It doesn’t take you long to work out that it’s the same ingredients as a Pavlova. So if you have an accident with the meringue base before you add the cream and the fruit, then Eton Mess saves the day, and obviously it got its name because it looks a mess. Nevertheless it’s much better when served as a Pavlova, therefore we need to take precautions and follow the recipe instructions carefully to ensure it looks good when put on the table for our guests.
My dictionary defines the word mess as cluttered, untidy or dirty, but it also means troubled or confused. But what does this have to do with our reading I hear you ask! Well Paul is giving us instructions for orderly worship in our churches, and if we want pavlova churches instead of messy ones, then it would be sensible to follow these verses.
1 Corinthians 14:26 (NIV) 26What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. Paul recognises that everyone in the fellowship has gifts to be used for glorifying God, but in the following verses he is trying to bring some sort of order to the service. It seems the church in Corinth were very unorganised in church and that worship was just a holy rabble!
Paul is recognising that all the people have different gifts, but instead of competing with each other, he is advising them to bring some order into worship. Many would say that to do this it means we are not giving the Holy Spirit freedom to move amongst us, but that is not necessarily true. In some churches and meetings the freedom expressed sometimes goes overboard, and when that happens the worship becomes chaotic and out of control, and no longer reflects the God of peace.
Further on in the chapter in verse 40, it says, “ but everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” In other words, yes by all means use the gifts God has given you, but do it in such a way that it follows the order of service. For those in leadership who plan services, it’s their responsibility to make sure that everything is done decently and in order. Many people would say that to worship in a planned service quenches the Spirit, but a service that is planned is not unspiritual. The Holy Spirit leads in the planning beforehand just the same as He can lead the service itself on the day! But even when a service is planned we need to make room for the Spirit to flow.
This is one of the problems I have in writing the Bible Studies. They are usually written at least three months in advance. Yet when I write them I very seldom add an ending. This is to allow God to speak to us on the night and give the Spirit freedom to move amongst us. I have to admit there is some disadvantage of keeping to the notes you’re given, and there have been many nights I’ve wanted to speak without being held back by the notes in front of me. But just like the services it needs to be done in an orderly way, yet still allowing the Holy Spirit to be in control.
The one thing we can learn from our study tonight is that God likes everything to be organised, in other words He likes His house kept neat and tidy and as women we all know about cleaning and keeping houses tidy. Many people who come into the manse probably think the place is tidy, but then they don’t go upstairs to my work room. My study cum workroom gets messy, all card-making stuff, study material, computer stuff, cross-stitch, in fact most things I work with. It gets very cluttered and eventually I have to tidy up the mess and restore things to some form of order if I want space to work in.
It’s the same with our lives, they get cluttered with all sort of rubbish, and eventually they need a good spring clean. God is in the job of cleaning up people’s messy lives, and Jesus gives a good example of this in the story of the prodigal son. The father had two sons, the eldest knowing he would inherit the farm on the death of his father, stayed around and worked hard because he knew eventually he would take over the running of the farm.
The younger son however didn’t have that responsibility, and he wanted to see a bit of the world, and asks if he could have his inheritance in advance so he could travel. So off he went, travelling around, enjoyed the high life of partying, meeting new people and had a great time never thinking that the money would run out, but it did. His so called friends didn’t want to know him, he didn’t have anywhere to stay, and had to find a job, which we know was on a farm – the very thing he wanted away from. But this wasn’t a great job, it was looking after the pigs. It didn’t pay enough to feed him so he fed himself on the pigs food. What a come down for this party going youngster, and he decides he would be better working for his father than living like this. He finally admitted his life was a mess, and returned home.
Now we’re probably thinking how foolish he was to squander his inheritance, but we may not be any different. We could be just as guilty as this young man when it comes to squandering our spiritual inheritance in Christ. Ephesians 1:18 (NIV) 18I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
We can’t earn this inheritance, but we can squander it, and sometimes we do it without even being aware of it. Okay we’re probably not going out and painting the town red, but sometimes even seeking the spiritual pleasures of life can take us down a road that is way off track. It’s so easy when we become bored or discontent in our Christian lives to start seeking an experience rather than seeking God. We begin to look for what I call the ‘cappuccino church experience’ we look for the whipped up froth that puts us on an emotional high, we want all the blessing without the hassle, without the trials, without facing the bitter taste of the coffee underneath. Yet sometimes it’s not what God intends for us. Without the bitter taste of trials and temptations our faith won’t grow, and we’ll begin to rely on our emotions rather than on God. Therefore it’s important for us all to make sure that whatever we seek, or whatever we do, that we’re taking the path that God wants us to take, that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened so our hope is on the One we worship, and not on how or where we worship. Our inheritance is a gift from God, therefore let’s look after it, and not squander it as the young man did.
He made a mess of his life, and eventually admits he was wrong and returns home to the farm. On his way his mind is going through what he’s going to say, yes he was wrong, and he hoped his father would see his sincerity, accept his apology, and allow him to work for him.
I think the most difficult thing to do when we know we’re in the wrong, is to accept it, swallow our pride, and apologise. James 4:6 (NIV) 6But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” When we slip up in our Christian life, the only way to get back on track is to admit our shortcomings to God, and seek His forgiveness.
As this young man neared the farm, his father saw him in the distance. When he realised it was his son, he runs to meet him. Gone is the hurt and disappointment he felt when his son left home, only one thing mattered, his son was back. The father throws his arms around him and kisses him. The son apologises but the father is already telling the servants to prepare a party. What has happened is in the past, and it’s time to start afresh. Unfortunately he wasn’t prepared for the reaction of the older son when he returned from working the fields, and when he found out what all the fuss was about, he was angry. He went to his father and demanded an explanation.... what are you playing at? He’s the one who has squandered his inheritance, while I’m the one who’s stayed around helping run the farm and look after you. What a nerve he has turning up here and thinking everything would be all right. The Prodigal son got his just deserts – but not in his brothers eyes – he thought he should have been punished.
I wonder how we would react in similar circumstances. How do we react when we see people who have hurt us carrying on as though nothing had ever happened, they’re having a great time and being blessed, while they’ve hurt you big time... it’s just not fair! Or if they are having a difficult time? Do we think it serves them right, that they’ve got their ‘just deserts’ or do we pray for them asking for God’s grace to get them through. We need to be so careful not to react like the elder brother in never forgiving those who hurt us. Jesus felt so strongly about this that He said in Mark 11:25 (NIV) 25And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Those are pretty strong words for Jesus to use, because Jesus is saying that we need to forgive if we want God to forgive us!
Un-forgiveness will fester away in our hearts, it will make us bitter resentful and angry. God doesn’t make us forgive, but can we really expect God to forgive us, if we don’t forgive others. Forgiveness is essential if we want to move on with God. Yes okay, people have hurt you, but forgive them and move on in your relationship with God. This is what Jesus is getting at in this parable. His emphasis wasn’t about how the sons reacted, but how their father reacted to the sons.
This parable is a wonderful story of a father who showed un-conditional love, who ran with arms out-stretched to receive the son who had caused him grief. A father who accepted the failures of his son, and forgave him for all he had done. A father who was so pleased that his son came back to him, that he showered him with gifts and blessings. A Father’s heart, that’s what this parable is about. Jesus is reminding us of His Heavenly Father, who wants us to respond to that un-conditional love.
We began our study tonight with our dessert Eton Mess, a dessert made from a broken pavlova. It could have been so easy to throw that pavlova in the bin and start again, yet they came up with a new dessert instead. Just like the son in the story whose life was broken, and yet with his father’s forgiveness he was given a new start in life.
It’s very easy in our Christian life to allow the clutter to build up which results in anxiety, confusion, and at the worst a mess. Yes, our lives are messy, but God makes them beautiful. In other words God turns the whole process of the Eton Mess and Pavlova around.
God is saying to us that our mistakes and failures can be rectified, and all we need to do is come to Him and tell Him honestly about our messy life, and just like the father in the parable, God’s outstretched arms are waiting with that un-conditional love and forgiveness ready to shower you with hugs and kisses. So what are you waiting for? Just run into His loving arms and receive the blessings He has for you.
1. 1 Corinthians 14:26 (NIV) 26What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. How important is it to take an active part in church life?
2. 1 Corinthians 14:40 (NIV) “ but everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” Many people would make an argument for giving the Spirit freedom in the church services. What are the disadvantages of having a ‘free for all’ service without having any structure to it?
3. We all make mistakes and sometimes we have to live with the consequences of them. How does God view our mistakes, and how is it possible for us to move on in our lives, without feeling guilty?
4. Some folk always seem to be searching for the perfect church, or the up to date must have ‘blessing.’ What are the drawbacks of looking for the ‘cappuccino experience, and how does it affect our walk with God?
5. There are many times in life that we feel like the older son in the story. We feel that life is just not fair, and sometimes feel victims in other peoples circumstances. Think of some examples and discuss what we should do in response.
6. So often we allow our lives to become so cluttered that it begins to affect our relationship with God. What are the things that clutter our lives, and what steps can we take to clear the clutter out?