When I told friends and acquaintances in Minnesota that I was moving to New Jersey, one of the commonest responses was, "How close will you be to Atlantic City?" This seemed to me to be an odd reaction, it certainly isn't something I'm particularly attuned to. But now every time I turn the corner to my apartment I see a sign that says "Atlantic City - 47 miles". So I suppose it's not too surprising that the image that kept coming to my mind as I was meditating on this week's Scripture lesson was a roulette wheel. Now I know that gambling is a controversial issue, and no doubt one that we'll discuss often in the future. But let's try to set the pros and cons of the issue aside, and just look at that wheel for a minute.
As long as that wheel spins, the little ball whirls about in the opposite direction to the wheel, forced up and out against the inside of the rim by centrifugal force. As long as the wheel spins, the ball can't come to rest. Do you ever feel like that? Does your life ever feel as though it's spinning you around so fast that you not only don't have any control, but that it's going in exactly the opposite direction of where you would choose to go - if you had any choice? Or even if you are going in the right direction, do you ever wish for it to slow down, for a moment or two, so that you could take stock, check your bearings, make sure you're on track?
Imagine that the wheel is beginning to slow. Think of all the places it could come to rest. It bounces off one or two, skitters around the edge again, touches a few more possibilities, and finally the wheel comes to a stop and the ball is at rest.
But where it comes to rest is random, if the game is honest. Any slot is as likely as any other. And where it comes to rest this time has no effect on where it will come to rest next time. There's neither rhyme nor reason, only the laws of probability.
Where we come to rest, when our lives slow, is not random.
Where we come to rest, when our lives slow down, affects how we live when the pace picks up again.
Where we come to rest, when our lives slow down, is a product of our habits and our hopes, and reveals what we most deeply believe as clearly as anything else we say or do.
Where we come to rest is our center, from where our lives draw meaning.
Where do you come to rest? Where is your center?
Once upon a time, a small, new church was divided over who was the most spiritual. "I was converted by Peter himself," said one, "and Peter says..." "Huh, Peter! He's passe, good enough for country folk, I suppose, but if you really want classy preaching, Apollos is the one for me." "That's right, Peter can't even speak decent Greek. He still says dese, dem and dose!" "Well, I think that we should pay more attention to Paul, after all, he's the one who founded this church!" "That pipsqueak! what miracles has he done lately? And have you heard? He's in jail again! How are we going to grow with his reputation around our necks?"
If you asked, these folks would probably say that their center was the church... but they all had different ideas of what made the church. One said that good preaching was the key, another looked to miracles, another to their standing in the community. One was impressed by originality, another by tradition, another by miracles. And all were looking for ways to enhance their own position, their sense of security, of being in the right.
Paul said, "No. Don't do it. You're looking in the wrong places for meaning." And he gives them examples of people - whom they know well - who were looking in the wrong places for meaning. Look back to verse 22: "Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom..."
Remember that the church of Corinth was composed of a few Jews from the local synagogue, but mostly Gentiles. The old city had been destroyed by the Romans about a hundred years before, and the inhabitants of the new city were a mixed lot, refugees, merchants, former slaves, Greeks, Romans, Asians. Many of them were attracted to the church because it offered a new way to bring meaning to the turbulence, the disruption, often the chaos of their lives. But all brought their own cultural baggage to the new church with them. In a sense, they transplanted their old centers into the new context.