I’ve been writing a series of teaching recently about our lives being infused with God’s values and life. I thought I’d put the introduction here.
“An Englishman abroad is one thing. An englishman trying to purchase a decent cup of tea in Italy is another. I remember being sat in Verona, the “city of lovers”, where Shakespeare’s tragic “Romeo and Juliet” is set. I was sat in a small Italian Cafe, everyone partaking in the morning ritual of sipping small cups of thick strong espresso coffee. I called the waiter over, “Camanieri!”, I then explained the steps that I wanted to make the perfect cup of tea. He assured me that he understood. 10 minutes later, the tea arrived. Hot frothy milk with a tea bag unceremoniously dumped into it. This wasn’t what I had in mind….
What I wanted was a proper infusion of flavour. Traditionally, you take boiling water, and pour it upon the fresh tea leaves or tea bag waiting in the cup. There is some debate as to whether this should be bone china or not. Some people swear that tea tastes better in china crockery. Myself, I have always been a mug man. The bigger the better. It’s probably to do with me being from Northern England. As I was growing up, tea was practically on mains supply in my house.
The bottom line, what I was being served in our Italian Cafe in Verona was definitely not the real thing. Frothy milk is nice, but it definitely doesn’t make a cup of tea. I never have had a decent cup of tea in continental Europe. The problem seems to be that of infusing the flavour of the tea leaves into the water. After all you often throw the tea leaves away, leaving what has been left behind and become part of the water you poured into the cup. For this to happen well, the water has to be just off the boil. That’s why frothy milk, tepid water and adding milk to the cup beforehand never produce a strong, full coloured, full flavoured cup of tea.
It’s an interesting question isn’t it? What makes a good cup of tea?
Here is another question. “What makes life and the world full of flavour?”
In the same way that tea leaves, water and the infusion of flavour make a great cup of tea, what is the equivalent for life, and especially living as a Christian in this life. There are plenty of people who ask all kinds of awkward questions about Christianity. They wonder what God is like? They struggle to connect the conduct of the church with the picture that sermons and Christian talks present to them. The two simply do not match. In short they are asking, “Is Christianity real?”, “Is it practical?”, “Does it work in this life of mine?”
If we are honest, these are some of the very same questions that we carry ourselves as Christians. There are two possible answers to that question. The first is that somehow God himself has changed or indeed never was there. Maybe He never was practical, or relevant to life or never truly cared. Maybe the whole thing is a scam, a cruel confidence trick on billions of unsuspecting people. In short, we have to make the best of it ourselves. God either isn’t interested, doesn’t care or simply does not exist. There is no hope apart from that we manage to conjure ourselves.
The second answer is perhaps more apt to our situation. We carry these questions because the flavour of faith that either we have or have seen displayed is simply not the real thing. Just like a cup of tea made with frothy milk, we can sometimes accept a meagre taste of who Christ is and what life can really be about. The result of this is that other people by proxy also observe a life or a church that is weak and insipid, tasting of nothing.
Frothy milk has a lot to answer for.
The Apostle Paul quoting the Book of Isaiah, said some strong words about this to the church in Rome. “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you”.(Romans 2:24) Strong words. They were written for one reason. God’s people had missed the point.
In their devotional life they started to focus on rituals, controversy and being seen to do the right thing. They neglected the heart of the matter, which of course is the heart, the true seat of decision making in human affairs. Jesus said himself when talking about what we say and do, “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these defile you. For out of the heart come evil thoughts. murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:17-19)
It is the heart that Christ and Christianity is centered upon. It is from the heart that all human behavior finds its’ origin. If you manage to make a change in the heart of an individual, a community or a nation then conditions and life itself can change radically.
Paul talking about the people of God said this: “A person is not a Jew who is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.” (Romans 2:28-29)
They used frothy milk: their own effort combined with religion and the whole result was something that was undergirded by failed spiritual achievement and hypocrisy. They probably thought they were doing the right thing, but the result was the same.
In short, they and we have forgotten how to make a decent cup of tea and the world is worse for it.