Sunday’s sermon: Treasure Stolen, Treasure Shared

heart treasure

Texts used – Genesis 25:19-34 and Luke 12:22-34

  • There’s nothing like a good treasure hunt, is there? → treasure hunts = the stuff that epic tales are made of
    • Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island[1] → tale of young Jim Hawkins, Captain Long John Silver, and their ill-fated adventure on Treasure Island, hunting for the gold and the jewels Silver had buried there long ago
    • R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit[2] → classic tale of Bilbo Baggins and the band of dwarves led by King Thorin Oakenshield and accompanied by the wizard, Gandalf – seeking the long-forgotten gold of the dwarves in the Misty Mountain guarded by the horrible dragon, Smaug
    • And I’m sure that in about a month’s time, as the population of Oronoco explodes over Gold Rush weekend, there are plenty of people who have come back year after year with their own treasure hunt stories – stories of pieces they’ve been searching for; stories of that one time when they found the perfect piece for the perfect price; stories of just how much fun they’ve had in the midst of the hunt itself.
    • Plenty of things that make a treasure hunt entertaining
      • Uncertainty of it – Will treasure be found? Where? How? What will you have to do along the way?
      • Thrill of the hunt – moment when the treasure is finally found (because it cannot truly be a good treasure hunt story unless the treasure is indeed found at the end … A treasure hunt story without an actual treasure is like a bad fish story. “It was this big!” Yeah. Sure it was.)
      • All the adventures you have along the way
        • People you meet
        • Near misses
        • Twists and turns of the journey
        • And maybe, if you’re lucky, a lesson or two that you learn about yourself along the way.
    • Treasure hunts are for more than the pages of fiction and the cluttered tables of flea markets
      • Treasure hunt in your own attic/basement/storage space: hunting for that one, special item that you just know you didn’t throw away … but you also can’t quite put your finger on
      • Treasure hunt in your favorite store: perfect piece (article of clothing, electronic gadget, book, etc.) → I know a few people who have had very productive and meaningful treasure hunts in the aisles of Menard’s. 🙂
      • Virtual treasure hunt within the files of your computer or tablet: hunting for that file that you so desperately need (document, picture, video, song, etc.)
      • Wherever there is treasure to be had, there is the promise of a hunt for that treasure, a legendary undertaking to find that which is precious … that which is revered … that which holds deep value and meaning for us. Ahh … treasure.
  • But what happens when there is no treasure? What happens when the treasure is gone? What happens when, for some reason, we find that cherished and beloved abundance out of our reach? Or worse yet, when that treasure has been taken from us?
    • Feel outraged
    • Feel entitled
    • Feel cheated
    • Probably feel a lot like Esau in today’s OT story → I’ve always found this a really interesting story. You see, throughout the Bible, Jacob is revered. Jacob is the one who wrestles with God and is renamed “Israel.” The whole people of faith in the Old Testament – God’s chosen people – come from this one man, Jacob … Israel. A people are named for this man. A nation – way back then and now – is named after this man. God specifically chose this man to do carry on that special covenant relationship for generation and generations to come, down through the millennia. So he must be a great man, right? A man among men? Jacob must be wonderful and just and humble and wise and kind and all of those things that we expect a “man of God” in Scripture to be, right? Well … not so much. At least, he certainly didn’t start out that way.
      • Today’s story = birth of Jacob and his twin brother, Esau
        • Abraham’s son, Isaac, married Rebecca BUT no children → prayed to God for a child → BAM! – text: Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, since she was unable to have children. The Lord was moved by his prayer, and his wife Rebecca became pregnant. But the boys pushed against each other inside of her, and she said, “If this is what it’s life, why did it happen to me?” (( [PAUSE] Hmm … gee. I wonder what that’s like.)) So she went to ask the Lord. And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; two different peoples will emerge from your body. One people will be stronger than the other; the older will serve the younger.” When she finally reached the end of her pregnancy, she discovered she had twins.[3]
        • So these twins are born: first Esau, then Jacob.
          • Different as night and day
            • Esau = hair, Jacob = smooth skin
            • Esau = big and strong, Jacob = small and weak
            • Esau = hunter, Jacob = “quiet man who stayed at home”[4]
            • Most interesting/challenging difference – text: Isaac loved Esau because he enjoyed eating game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.[5] → I don’t care what story you’re reading or who you’re talking about … that, my friends, is a recipe for trouble.
        • And trouble, indeed, is what they find. One day, Esau comes in from the field and is starving. He’s been working hard out in the fields all day long, and he hasn’t had anything to eat all day long. So when he sees that his twin brother, Jacob, is cooking stew, he cannot focus on anything else. He begs Jacob for food.
          • Does Jacob act like the wonderful, just, humble, wise, kind, Godly man that we expect? Nope! Jacob begins scheming – text: Esau came in from the field hungry and said to Jacob, “I’m starving! Let me devour some of this red stuff.” … Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright today.” Esau said, “Since I’m going to die anything, what good is my birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Give me your word today.” And he did. He sold his birthright to Jacob.[6] → Jacob takes advantage of the situation in all the wrong ways, demanding an inexorably high price for a few mouthfuls of food.
            • What’s the deal with the whole “birthright” thing? – scholar: The birthright – namely, the conferral of rights and privileges on the eldest son (normally) – entails a leadership position in the family and establishes claims regarding inheritance, indeed a double share of it.[7] → So it’s not just some sheep and a hut that Jacob extorted out of Esau. It was a double share of inheritance and it was a position of prestige and power within the family. Basically, it was an entire way of life. For a bowl of stew.
        • Not the only time Jacob steals such a treasure from Esau (seriously … at least in the beginning of his own story, Jacob is not such a fine, upstanding citizen!)
          • As Isaac is lying on his deathbed, Jacob disguises himself as Esau and also steals a blessing meant for Esau → doesn’t really sound like a big deal BUT – scholar: The blessing centers on fertility and dominion … over other nations/peoples, including his “brothers/mother’s son.” … Then, Isaac links his blessing with God’s promise: Whether people are cursed or blessed depends on their treatment of Jacob/Israel.[8]
          • This last theft is too much for Esau to bear. Jacob has stolen everything from him – his physical inheritance, his position of leadership within the family, and now a powerful blessing that cannot be replicated. Within that culture and within that family, what Jacob has stolen is priceless. And Esau feels it → flies into a rage at Jacob → Jacob fears for his life and flees
  • Certainly plenty of parallels between the treasure in this OT story and many of the things that people treasure today
    • Wealth – money, possessions, property
    • Power over others
    • Prestige/notoriety
    • And yet as Christians, we have the words of Jesus weighing heavily on the other side of the scale. – today’s text: Jesus said to his disciples, “Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. There is more to life than food and more to the body than clothing. … Don’t chase after what you will eat and what you will drink. Stop worrying. All the nations of the world long for these things. Your Father knows that you need them. Instead, desire his kingdom and these things will be given to you as well. Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights in giving you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to those in need. … Where your treasure is, there your heart will be, too.[9] → These two texts together pose such a real and present struggle in today’s world.
      • Age-old struggle of “haves” vs. “have nots”
      • Struggle of wanting bigger, better, nicer, fancier, shinier … more
      • Shines light on the difficult and sometimes daunting threads connecting what we own with our own identities à begs the question: What if all of that were stripped away? Who would you be? How would you define yourself? What would you still have?
        • Gospel text: Consider the ravens: they neither plant nor harvest, they have no silo or barn, yet God feeds them. You are worth so much more than birds! Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? If you can’t do such a small thing, why worry about the rest? Notice how the lilies grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. But I say to you that even Solomon in all his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. If God dresses the grass in the fields so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, how much more will God do for you?[10]
  • I have to tell you that this is not the kind of sermon in which I give you all sorts of information and flowery impressions and walk with you down a specific path. It’s not, as they taught us in seminary, a neat and tidy 3-point sermon with an introduction, three meticulously-crafted points, and a conclusion all wrapped up in a nice, shiny package. Today, I have no answers. I have no solutions. I have only questions. This is a sermon to leave you pondering today – to leave you assessing and evaluating: evaluating your own life, the desires of your heart, and even our goals and wants and future as a church.
    • From today’s centering prayer at the top of your bulletin:
      • What is your dearest treasure?
      • How do you know what you treasure?
      • Is your treasure a blessing, or is it something that holds you back?
      • How do you share your treasure? How do we, as a congregation, share our treasure?

[1] Robert Louis Stevenson. Treasure Island. (London, England: Cassell and Company), 1883.

[2] J.R.R. Tolkien. The Hobbit. (London, England: George Allen & Unwin), 1937.

[3] Gen 25:21-24.

[4] Gen 25:27.

[5] Gen 25:28.

[6] Gen 25:29-33.

[7] Terence E. Fretheim. “The Book of Genesis: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 1. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994), 522.

[8] Fretheim, 536.

[9] Lk 12:22-23, 29-33a, 34.

[10] Lk 12:24-28.

Sunday’s sermon: Broken Jars

cracked pot

Texts used – 2 Corinthians 4:6-18 and Luke 7:36-50

  • THE TALE OF THE CRACKED POT[1]: Once upon a time, there lived a man in India. His job was to be the water carrier for the master of a large estate. He spent his days walking miles from the master’s estate to the stream for water and back again. This water carrier had two large jars, each hung on opposite ends of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of those jars had a crack in it while the other was perfect and smooth and whole. The perfect jar always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk. The jar with the crack in it leaked water with ever step the water carrier took, and by the time the man returned to the master’s estate, the jar with the crack was only half full. For two whole years, this went on daily, with the water carrier delivering only one and a half jars full of water to the master’s estate. Of course, the perfect jar was proud of its accomplishments, flawlessly fulfilling to the purpose for which it was made. But the poor cracked jar was ashamed of its own imperfect and miserable that it was only able to accomplish half of what it had been created to do. After two full years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water carrier one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.” → Flawed. Imperfect. Ineffective. Inadequate. Useless. Worthless. Hopeless. All labels and descriptions that, when heaped upon our shoulders, pull us down and down and down – make our backs and our heads and our hearts stoop lower than the shoulders of that water carrier as he carried two heavy, clay jars full of water.
    • Not labels that we love
    • Not labels that we embrace
    • Not labels that we want to take on for ourselves
    • Let’s be honest. No one walks around declaring with joy and pride, “Hey, I’m inadequate! I’m worthless … isn’t that great?! I’ve been told I’m flawed, and I couldn’t be happier!” // And yet // how often do we give those labels to ourselves? How often do we sit there and look in the mirror or look at our houses, our cars, our checkbooks, our lives in comparison to other people’s and say, “I am ashamed of myself.”? Or we can turn it around. How often do we cast judgmental, disparaging glances at the people around us – in the grocery store, at work, on the highway, wherever – and think these things about them?
      • Like the Pharisee in one of Jesus’ parables[2] who boasts loudly and proudly, “Thank God I’m not like that other guy … that tax collector guy … that sinner! Ugh! I may not be perfect but at least I am better than him. Phew!”
  • Or like the Pharisees in our gospel story for today → I think that today’s gospel story may be one of the most touching and most heartbreaking stories in scripture.
    • Begins simply enough – Simon the Pharisee invites Jesus to his home for dinner → would have been a pretty big deal
      • A “who’s who” sort of dinner party
      • A chance for Simon to show off his home/affluence
      • Even more important: a chance for Simon to show off his connectedness, a sort of “Aren’t you impressed by who I know?” kind of gathering → rubbing elbows, making powerful associations, etc.
      • Definitely a “by invitation only” sort of gathering
    • But then in comes the Uninvited Guest, “a woman in the city, a sinner,” as Luke calls her in his gospel account. → what do/can we know about this woman who doesn’t even get an actual name?
      • Long been speculated that, by being called “a woman in the city,” it is implied that this woman has been a prostitute → assumption that has been seriously called into question in recent years
        • Scholar: Like Jesus, she finds that her reputation has preceded her. Simon’s knowledge of her sin implies that, whatever her wrongdoing, it carries with it a public shame. Her low, inward body gesture suggests that she has long been cast out from community gatherings. The shame that she carries has pushed her to the fringes of society and leaves her looking up at the world from a lowly place.[3]
      • And if her presence and her reputation alone weren’t enough, her actions certainly would have scandalized the entire gathering.[4]
        • First, as we said, woman was a sinner = she was unclean → So when this unclean woman touched Jesus, according to Jewish law, she made him unclean, requiring that he go through the specific cleansing ritual before he was considered clean again. An unclean person having physical contact with a clean person – especially an unclean woman having contact with a clean man – was a grievous social indiscretion.
        • Second scene-creating action = where she touched Jesus → In that culture at that time, touching or caressing the feet could have sexual overtones.
          • Gesture that all the guests in that room would have recognized immediately
          • Could be where interpretation that this woman was a prostitute came from
        • Third strike = the woman let down her hair → another sexual impropriety in the culture, women never let down their hair in public
          • Intimate … sensual … familiar
          • And not only does she let her hair down, she touches Jesus’ feet with her long, loose hair!
        • She would have known this – all of this. She would have known how her actions would be perceived. And yet none of that mattered to her. While we do not know her name … while we do not know her story … while we in fact know nothing about this woman except that she was a sinner … what we know for sure is that her love for Jesus was stronger than anything else inside of her. → love so strong, it poured out of her
          • Poured out of her in weeping – in so many tears, she was able to wash Jesus’ feet with them
          • Poured out of her in compassion/desire to serve – drying Jesus’ feet with not with her hands or the hem of her dress but with her own hair
          • Poured out of her in devotion/reverence – anointed Jesus’ feet with precious, expensive oil → And not only did she pour oil out of that alabaster jar, but because of the way those jars were constructed, the top actually had to be broken off in order to pour oil out in the way that this woman was doing to anoint Jesus’ feet.
    • Simon’s response to this appalling act = full of judgment and disdain – text: “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him – that she is a sinner.”[5] → Now, Scripture tells us that Simon said this to himself. He probably muttered it under his breath. But Jesus’ hearing was apparently better than Simon had anticipated because Jesus not only hears this comment but turns Simon’s judgment and disdain back on himself by first pointing out the power of great forgiveness and then pointing out Simon’s serious lack of hospitality.
      • Cultural gap we need to bridge: Middle Eastern culture at the time required a number of hospitality actions including a place to wash your dirty feet, a kiss of greeting/peace, and an anointing of special guests → Simon did none of these things for Jesus, and yet this unnamed woman … this uninvited one … this creature of the city … this sinner … did them all to the ennth degree. Like the water carrier’s broken jar, she surely would have felt her shame – felt it like a burning pit deep within her – but instead of letting that shame define her, this woman is define by forgiveness and the exquisite love and devotion that that forgiveness inspired.
  • So let’s return to that story of the water carrier and his jars: After two full years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, the broken jar spoke to the water carrier one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.” The carrier asked, “Why? What are you ashamed of?” The broken jar replied, “For these past two years, I have been able to deliver only half of my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to the master’s estate. Because of my flaws, you don’t get full value for your efforts.” The water carrier felt sorry for the cracked jar, and in his compassion, he said, “As we return to the master’s estate today, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.” As they went up a hill, the cracked jar took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it somewhat. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because once again, half of its contents had leaked out along the way. Again, the cracked jar apologized to the water carrier for its failure. But the carrier said to the jar, “Did you notice that there were flowers on your side of the path but not on the perfect jar’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them. For two years, I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the master’s table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his home.”
    • 2 Cor passage: God said that light should shine out of darkness. He is the same one who shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars so that the awesome power belongs to God and doesn’t come from us.[6] → Clay jars. Plain. Simple. Ordinary. Clay jars. Chip-able. Crack-able. Break-able. Clay jars. The perfect vessel for the light of Christ in this world. The perfect vessel to display the incredible love and grace of God, not in spite of their commonness and their breakability but because of it.
      • Commonness draws attention not to ourselves, but to God → We are not our own creation but God’s creation. We are not our own saviors; God has saved us. We do not find perfect love or grace within ourselves, but God gives them freely to us. God can and does do anything and everything with simple clay jars, making us beautiful and special and unique and suited perfectly to the purpose to which God has called each and every one of us.
        • Makes me think of Pinterest = social networking site that allows people to share ideas, images, vidoes, and website in a very visual manner → find anything from fitness tips to recipes to book suggestions to craft ideas to organizational hints and everything in between
        • One of the most commonly used items on Pinterest (especially in the summer) = terra cotta pots
          • Used in indoor and outdoor gardening (of course)
          • Used in recipes = unique food delivery vessel (especially desserts)
          • Used in a staggering number of crafts → People have turned these basic pots into just about anything you can imagine with paint, chalk, twine, glitter, glue, candles, googly eyes … you name it, someone has used it to “fancy up” their terra cotta pots.
            • Our own experience with this = Amy → If you look at the peace lily in my office, it’s potted in a terra cotta pot that has 2 butterflies on the side … butterflies make out of the boys’ footprints! They made it for me for Mother’s Day a few years ago.
        • That is what God does to us, simple clay jars though we may be. – Paul in Eph: You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.[7]
      • But did you notice that Paul said “good things,” not “easy things”? That’s where our cracks, our chips, our dings and our dents – that’s where our own imperfections come into play.
        • Paul names them again in our 2 Cor passage: We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out. … Our temporary minor problems are producing an eternal stockpile of glory for us that is beyond all comparison. We don’t focus on the things that can be seen but on the things that can’t be seen.[8] → Basically, it’s not about our cracks, our flaws, our imperfections but about what God can make of them. It’s about how God can use us in all our cracked and broken glory to shine the light of Christ in this world.
          • Like the woman with the alabaster jar who had to break the jar in order to anoint Jesus’ feet
          • Like the water carrier’s cracked pot watering the flowers along the path
          • Or think about it this way. Imagine you have a solid jar with no cracks and no imperfections in it, and you put a flashlight in the bottom of that jar, what are you going to see? Not a whole lot. But what if your jar is cracked? What if it’s been entirely broken and pieced back together, but some of the smaller shards got lost? So there are not only cracks but holes … gaps … missing spaces? Now imagine putting a flashlight in the bottom of that How much light are you going to see shining out? Friends, the good news of the gospel is that God uses cracked pots! God doesn’t simply tolerate our broken and imperfect selves but God embraces us – flaws, cracks, sins, and all. God embraces us with a love and forgiveness that we cannot even imagine and says to us, “You see this purpose? You see this need in my creation? You see this other broken place in the world – this place that needs water, needs color, needs light, needs forgiveness, needs love, needs hope? Your broken edges fit perfectly with those broken edges. See, I have a place and a purpose for you. Not in spite of your brokenness, but because of it.” Alleluia. Amen.

[1] Indian folk tale, found at http://www.moralstories.org/the-cracked-pot/. Accessed July 5, 2017.

[2] Lk 18:9-14.

[3] M. Jan Holton. “Proper 6 (Sunday between June 12-June 18): Luke 7:36-8:3 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 142 (emphasis added).

[4] R. Alan Culpepper. “The Gospel of Luke: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 9. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 170.

[5] Lk 7:39.

[6] 2 Cor 4:6-7.

[7] Eph 2:8-10.

[8] 2 Cor 4:8-9, 17-18a.

July 2017 newsletter article

visioning sundays

I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the LORD; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me. I will be present for you, declares the LORD” ~ Jeremiah 29:11-14a

June 11 …
July 9 …
August 13 …

These are all the 2nd Sundays in their respective months, and for us at the Presbyterian Church of Oronoco, they are also our Visioning Sundays.

So what the heck are “Visioning Sundays” anyway?

Well, I’m so glad you asked. 🙂

As you know, we’re in a place of transition, a place of new things and change and transformation. Part of the reason we’ve come to this place is out of necessity. Our budget is not large, and we know that things cannot continue as they have been forever and ever. Things need to change, or we’re going to have to face closing our doors, which is certainly not something any of us want to do.

But we’ve also come to this place out of choice. We’ve come to this place because we want to do something different, try something new, be an active and vital presence for God’s love and grace in this community and in the world. That desire to build ourselves up and embrace what could be is popping up all over the place. Ideas are flying around. Energy is high. Attendance is great (and it’s even summertime!). And I must tell you that because of that attitude – that desire to change coupled with the necessary willingness to actually make those changes and try new things – that attitude is what gives me such strong and powerful hope for this little white church on the hill.

And so we are engaging in Visioning Sundays – chances for all of us who know and love the Presbyterian Church of Oronoco to sit down together, have some refreshments, and talk about our vision for the church:

  • What do we love and/or have we loved about this church in the past?
  • What would we like to do as a congregation?
  • Who are we as the PCO?
  • Who do we need to reach out to, and how can we do that?
  • How can we best present ourselves, our core values as a congregation, and our faith to those who may be looking for a church home?

I know summer schedules are busy. That’s why we put 3 Visioning Sundays on the calendar. If you can make it to one, great! If you can make it to all of them, awesome! It doesn’t matter whether you’re a member or a friend or somewhere in between. We want your ideas, dreams, and contribution. As part of these Visioning Sunday discussions, we’re both looking at how the congregation’s history has shaped us up to today and how we can not only survive but thrive in this community.

I truly believe with every ounce of my soul that God does indeed have plans in mind for this congregation – plans for peace and not disaster, to give us a future filled with hope. So as we embark on this process together – as we think and dream and brainstorm and share in life together, may we remember to do so in conversation with God – praying, listening, discerning together, searching for God with all our hearts.

Pastor Lisa sign

Sunday’s sermon: Holy Communion

communion bread

Texts used – Luke 22:7-20 and Ephesians 3:14-4:6

  • Flour. Water. Oil. Salt. An egg. And a little bit of yeast. That’s it. It’s nothing fancy. It’s nothing complicated or elaborate. But when you mix them together, let them sit a while, and bake them, you get bread. Soft, warm, delicious, down-home-feeling bread.
    • Difference in recipes? Of course.
      • Add different amounts
      • Use variations on the ingredients
        • Bread flour/rye flour/semolina flour
        • Regular salt/sea salt/pink Himalayan salt
        • Olive oil/canola oil/sesame oil (for a little zing)
      • Use completely different ingredients
        • Different herbs and spices
        • Add a sweet element – brown sugar or molasses
        • Cheese bread or fruit bread or cinnamon raisin bread
    • Each new and different element added to the dough changes the bread – makes it look different, smell different, taste different. The ingredients can change the way you treat the dough – how long you knead it (if you even need to knead it!), how long you let it rise, how many times you let it rise, how long you bake it. You can follow the same recipe 100 times and come up with a slightly different loaf of bread every time.
    • True beauty of bread = in its simplicity and its simple necessity → For thousands and thousands of years – 30,000 years, according to scholars![1] – this simple recipe, in one form or another, has been a basic staple of every civilization in the world.
      • France = baguette
      • Italy = ciabatta
      • Ireland = soda bread
      • India = naan
      • Congo = chapati
      • Israel = challah
      • Mexico = tortilla
      • Mongolia = sesame flatbread
      • No matter where you are in the world, someone at the shop around the corner is baking fresh, local bread, and they would all be more than happy to share it with you … not just the bread itself but the story of the bread – how the recipe was passed down from generation to generation; how no one’s bread tastes quite as good as this one; how the family has been built up around this bread, what this bread means to not only the family but the village, the province, the country as well.
        • Bread = more than just a recipe → bread = a story
          • Ingredients tell the story of country and even pantry of origin → who made it
          • Technique tells the story of care and wisdom → kneading just enough, letting it rest and rise just enough
          • Even the things with which the bread is served tell a story. Butter or jam? Some sort of savory spread – olives and cheese, perhaps? Dunked in broth or a rich, hearty stew? Fresh fruit and vegetables? Sugar and cinnamon? Meat and cheese? The stories that go along with the bread are as varied as the ingredients – as simple and as complicated as the lives behind the recipes.
  • Bread plays significant part in our Story of Faith as well
    • Part of the Passover Meal – established when Moses led the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt[2] → unleavened bread
    • One of the many offerings deemed acceptable by God in the Old Testament[3]
    • Bread brought to prophet Elijah by an angel in the desert after his escape from Queen Jezebel and King Ahab[4]
    • David was on a simple mission to deliver loaves of bread to his brothers when he found the Israelite army cowering from the giant, Goliath[5]
    • Bread sustained David and his supporters as they hid in the temple from King Saul, who was trying to kill him[6]
    • Crazy incident when Jesus turned 5 loaves and 2 fish into a meal for 5000 men and their families[7]
    • And then there’s that strange and sacred final meal that Jesus had with his friends.
      • Disciples were jazzed – they just re-entered Jerusalem in a hail of cloaks and palm branches and shouted praises → riding high!
      • Then Passover arrived – holy day in Jewish faith
      • Jesus sent Peter and John on strange quest → Now, don’t Jesus’ instructions sound a little bit like something out of a spy movie? – text: Jesus sent Peter and John with this task: “Go and prepare for us to eat the Passover meal.” They said to him, “Where do you want us to prepare it?” Jesus replied, “When you go into the city, a man carrying a water jar will meet you. Follow him to the house he enters. Say to the owner of the house, ‘The teacher says to you, Where is the guestroom where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?’ He will show you a large upstairs room, already furnished. Make preparations there.”[8]
        • Have to wonder how Jesus had this all set up ahead of time
      • But no matter how it happened, no matter how they got there, the meal is prepared and the disciples all arrive at the Upper Room. And they break bread together.
        • Something they’d done hundreds of times before – traveling with Jesus for 3+ yrs. = celebrating other Passovers together but also simple meals together at the end of the day → They surely didn’t expect this Passover meal to be all that different. Holy, yes. An observance of a central moment in their collective story of faith as God’s chosen people of Israel, yes. But then Jesus takes it even further: After taking the bread and giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”[9] And in those seemingly simple words, Jesus created community, that night and for centuries to come.
          • Community that we honor and celebrate every time we gather together at this table
            • Every time we break bread together
            • Every time we pass that bread to one another
            • Every time we share in that holy feast together
            • Quote from Rev. Asher O’Callaghan (program dir. for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, an ELCA organization that provides support and resources for LGBTQ persons seeking a call in the ELCA): When you take the body of Christ every week with people, you BECOME the body of Christ with them. → Every week … every month … it doesn’t matter. The power of the statement is the same. When we take the body of Christ together time and time again, some of us for decades together … when we sit down with each other amidst this broken bread and are reminded of our own brokenness, as individuals and as a community … when we are fed and nourished by the grace of God even in the face of that brokenness … we are changed.
  • Community = not so unlike the bread
    • Different communities look, feel, are experienced differently → We all bring our own stories to this table, to this feast. We bring all the pieces of who we are – the pieces we love and display for all the world to see, the pieces we try to hid in the deepest parts of our being, and everything in between.
      • Like each culture’s bread comes with its own story, this table is enshrouded in stories
        • Stories of those who have come before
        • Stories of those who come now
        • Stories of your experiences at other tables
        • Article: We recall the post-Resurrection meals as a biblical witness of the past; we share the meal with Christ in our midst in the present; finally, “we anticipate the feast for which we wait” in the future. The fullness of communion comes for those who understand that at the moment of this meal, time—past, present and future—collapses into that single moment.[10]
        • When we come to this table, we come to Story. Before we break bread together, we recount the Story of our faith in our prayer – from creation through the Exodus, from the warnings of the prophets to the coming of the Savior. And some of the most sacred stories I’ve heard from others in terms of their own experiences with Church center around this table.
          • From Young Clergy Women International:
            • Cardelia: “One year I took my 4yo daughter with me to camp. I was the worship leader and the last night we had communion on the dock. People came down in small groups or one at a time to be served. My daughter came by herself. I have her communion. She turned to me and pulled me down to my knees. Then she repeated the words ‘The body and Blood given for you Mommy’ and she gave me the bread and cup. She stood with me the rest of the service whispering the blessing to everyone who came down.”
            • Leigh: “We do an outdoor camp communion service on Memorial Day Weekend, and for the last two years, after the service has ended they ask if they can have the rest of the bread and the juice. Two years ago, they all gathered around the table and served bread to one another and they all kept dipping it in the juice. It was amazing. The best example I’ve ever seen of Communion.”
    • Like the different ingredients in bread, we each bring our own different, individual element/flavor – our different gifts that make this community what it is → Some of us are sweet. Some of us are a little bit spicy. Some of us are the flour that forms the solid base. Some of us are the leavening agent that makes everything rise up. Some of us are the binding agent that hold everything together. But we all come together in community here, creating our own little slice of the body of Christ as best as we know how.
      • NT reading speaks to how we are supposed to come together – READ EPH PASSAGE → When we take the body of Christ together, when we share in this holy communion – this sacred meal – with one another, we indeed get to know, to experience, to share in “the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that [we are] filled entirely with the fullness of God,” as Paul put it.
        • Words of the hymn that we’re about to sing: We gather here / In Jesus name / His love is burning in our hearts like living flame / For through the loving Son / The Father makes us one / Come take the bread / Come drink the wine / Come share the Lord / No one is a stranger here / Everyone belongs / Finding our forgiveness here / We in turn forgive all wrongs[11] → Alleluia. Amen.

[1] Sarah Lohman. “A Brief History of Bread” from The History Channel website, http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/a-brief-history-of-bread. Posted December 18, 2012, accessed July 1, 2017.

[2] Ex 12:1-32.

[3] Lev 23:17-18.

[4] 1 Kgs 19:1-8.

[5] 1 Sam 17.

[6] 1 Sam 21:1-6.

[7] Mt 14:13-21.

[8] Lk 22:8-12.

[9] Lk 22:19.

[10] C. Michael Hawn. “History of Hymns: Come, Share the Lord” from https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-come-share-the-lord. Accessed July 2, 2017.

[11] Bryan Jeffrey Leech. “Come, Share the Lord,” © 1984, 1987, Fred Bock Music Co.

Sunday’s sermon: Defending Hope

Hope Tutu quote

Texts used – Acts 17:16-28 and 1 Peter 3:13-22

  • Over the last decade or so, there’s one type of movie that seems to have exploded in popularity: superhero movies.
    • Probably started with the original X-Men franchise → has expanded from there to include Spiderman, Ironman, Captain America, the Avengers, more X-Men, Batman, even Guardians of the Galaxy and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
    • Superhero movies are great because they speak to people of all genders and all generations.
      • Certainly geared toward the generation that grew up reading these characters in comic books
      • Also appeals to generation that may have watched some of these characters on TV
        • Live action Batman show from the 1960s with recently-deceased Adam West
        • Cartoons like X-Men and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that were so popular when I was a kid
    • Whether you are an aficionado on the life story of all the characters involved in these movies or whether, when you sit down in that theater seat, you’re seeing them for the very first time, there is something about the superhero story that draws us. → all have somewhat similar basic storyline
      • Character experiences some sort of disadvantage/hardship
        • Superman = orphaned and dispelled from his home planet just before it was destroyed
        • X-Men = isolation/fear/shame of being a mutant
        • Spiderman = basically a social outcast overlooked by the girl he loves
      • But despite these rough beginnings, for each and every one of these superheroes, there is a rising from the ashes – an incredible, immeasurable good that comes from their darkest of days. We see their struggles and identify in them our own challenges and hurdles. We watch them not only overcome but triumph, and we are encouraged to be strong and steadfast in the face of whatever trials we are facing. To put it simply, we continue to love and adore these superhero stories – in whatever form: comic books, graphic novels, cartoons, live action shows, or movies – we continue to love and adore these superhero stories because they remind us of the power of hope.
        • Hope for the good guy
        • Hope for a happy ending
        • Hope that there is more to the story
  • Frankly, the world is full of stories about hope … poems about hope … enough inspirational quotes about hope to fill a Hallmark outlet store and then some. Hope seems to be one of those topics that everyone loves to talk about and is fearful to talk about at the same time because hope is such a strange and sometimes contradictory dichotomy in and of itself.
    • Hope is fragile and tenuous … BUT … hope is strong (strong motivator, brings us strength)
    • Hope is all about looking ahead … BUT … hope can only exist when what is ahead is unknowable
      • Heb 11: Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.[1]
    • Hope is a brilliant light … BUT … hope shines brightest in the darkness
      • Archbishop Desmond Tutu: Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.
    • Illustrated by Carl Sandberg poem – “Hope Is A Tattered Flag”

Hope is a tattered flag and a dream of time.
Hope is a heartspun word, the rainbow, the shadblow in white
The evening star inviolable over the coal mines,
The shimmer of northern lights across a bitter winter night,
The blue hills beyond the smoke of the steel works,
The birds who go on singing to their mates in peace, war, peace,
The ten-cent crocus bulb blooming in a used-car salesroom,
The horseshoe over the door, the luckpiece in the pocket,
The kiss and the comforting laugh and resolve—
Hope is an echo, hope ties itself yonder, yonder.
The spring grass showing itself where least expected,
The rolling fluff of white clouds on a changeable sky,
The broadcast of strings from Japan, bells from Moscow,
Of the voice of the prime minister of Sweden carried
Across the sea in behalf of a world family of nations
And children singing chorals of the Christ child
And Bach being broadcast from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
And tall skyscrapers practically empty of tenants
And the hands of strong men groping for handholds
And the Salvation Army singing God loves us….

    • Captures all sides of faith – the tenuous and tattered side, the light and enlightening side, the underdog side, the fill-up-a-room side, the soothing side, the uplifting side, the all-encompassing side … and everything in between.
  • Throughout the Bible – spanning both the Old and New Testaments – all of these different natures of hope are captured in the variety of words that have been used for hope. – accompanied by a variety of connotations
    • Heb. “hope”
      • Tikvah: expectation, hope (kind of hope that makes your heart and stomach flutter)
      • Yachal: wait, hope (more uncertain – dubious, shaky)
      • Michveh: hope, confidence/security (kind of hope
    • Gr. “hope” = consistently helpitzo: hope, expect, foresee → And I don’t know about you, but I find something theologically copacetic in that – about the Good News of the gospel, about the free gift of God’s everlasting grace poured out for all, about Christ’s coming and dying and rising, about eternal hope conquering sin and death forevermore – there’s something about all of that being tied to one word that feels so theologically fulfilling.
      • One word in Gr., yes, but many variations of that word – different forms, different parts of speech, different tenses that carry a variety of connotations in Gr. (much more so than in English) → Just as each of us have different stories and need different manifestations of that same enduring hope in God and Jesus Christ throughout our lives, so throughout the New Testament there are many variations on the same linguistic “hope.”
  • This is what we see in our two Scripture readings this morning.
    • Passage from 1 Pet → encouraging all believers in the hope of our faith
      • Acknowledges the presence of challenges in our lives – text: But happy are you, even if you suffer because of righteousness! Don’t be terrified or upset by them. … Act in this way so that those who malign your good lifestyle in Christ may be ashamed when they slander you. It is better to suffer for doing good (if this could possibly be God’s will) than for doing evil.[2]
      • Crucial verse: Instead, regard Christ as holy in your hearts. Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it.[3] → “Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it.”
        • Important linguistic distinction – Gr. “defend” = logic, reason, speech (not violence) → Defend it with your knowledge, with your own conviction and belief. Defend your hope with your testimony, your own personal experience – all those times in your life when hope seemed ridiculous, ludicrous, completely crazy and out-of-bounds … and yet, that hope – hope in God, hope in the strength and courage that you know God can provide, hope in the promise of new life thanks to God’s grace, hope in a Savior who knows all the pangs and prejudices of being human and yet still chose to live among us and go to the cross for us – that hope, ridiculous and ludicrous and out-of-bounds as it may be, has gotten you through.
          • Peter’s encouragement = we have to be ready to defend that hope – to speak to it and share it openly – with every ounce of our faith
      • The rest of the passage from 1 Peter is a remind of just where the hope comes from – the story of our faith, of Christ’s suffering and sacrifice, of God’s patience and unshakable desire for us, of the hope poured out in the waters of baptism and our salvation in Christ’s resurrection. Our belief in these things, these tenets of our faith, uphold and fuel that hope, even in the darkest of times.
        • Archbishop Desmond Tutu: Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.
        • Acts text = hope in action → Paul doing exactly this – defending his hope to the people of Athens
          • Athens = center of universe when it came to theological and philosophical thought at the time
            • Mish-mash of belief in the traditional Greek pantheon of gods/goddesses (Zeus, Athena, etc.) as well as other, more family-centered systems of belief (belief in household spirits, etc.)
            • Home to the school of a wide variety of different philosophical ideas: Sophists, Stoics, Epicureans, etc. – all intellectuals who taught courses on things like logic and rhetoric (how to debate and craft words convincingly)
            • Home to philosophical giants like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle (all lived, taught, died prior to Paul’s time) → In fact, Paul uses some Greek philosophical techniques in a number of his arguments and persuasions throughout his New Testament writings, especially when he’s talking about the physical body versus the spirit and his treatment of wisdom. Our text for this morning is a bit of that as well – Paul turning Greek philosophical technique back on its originators to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with them.
          • First, hear the typical Athenian hunger for knowledge – text: They took [Paul] into custody and brought him to the council on Mars Hill. “What is this new teaching? Can we learn what you are talking about? You’ve told us some strange things and we want to know what they mean. (They said this because all Athenians as well as the foreigners who live in Athens used to spend their time doing nothing but talking about or listening to the newest thing.)[4]
          • Paul’s response = story of faith
            • Covers creation (“God, who made the world and everything in it, is Lord of heaven and earth.”[5]), God’s love and desire to be in relationship with all of creation
            • Uses Greek philosophical rhetoric and both physical and literary landmarks that would have been extremely familiar to the people of Athens (with a little bit of flattery thrown in to keep their attention) – text: Paul stood up in the middle of the council on Mars Hill and said, “People of Athens, I see that you are very religious in every way. As I was walking through town and carefully observing your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘To an unknown God.’ What you worship as unknown, I now proclaim to you. … God made the nations so they would seek him, perhaps even reach out to him and find him. In fact, God isn’t far away from any of us. In God we live, move, and exist. As some of your own poets said, ‘We are his offspring.’”[6] → Paul stands up and speaks of his hope, defending it not in ways that are combative or accusatory or divisive – not in ways that are meant to browbeat or shame his listeners into belief – but in a way that’s conversational, a way that utilizes the cultural cues and landmarks around him to relate to those listening, a way that opens up for true dialogue – speaking, listening, and attempting to understand. Friends, this is the type of defending that we seem to have lost track of in this country. We carry this powerful hope: our hope in God – in all that God has done for us, in all that we can be in God’s presence and in service to God, in the love and peace and unity of God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. As Peter spells out, it is our mandate to be ready to defend that hope but to do so “with respectful humility, maintaining a good conscience.”[7] God doesn’t promise that this will be easy, and we certainly know that in the current cultural and political climate, the pendulum has swung pretty far in the other direction – away from respectful, humble discourse from a place of good conscience – but that is indeed our call: to share our hope – the Good News of our faith – without tearing down other people’s hope in the process. Amen.

 

 

[1] Heb 11:1.

[2] 1 Pet 3:14, 16-17.

[3] 1 Pet 3:15.

[4] Acts 17:19-21.

[5] Acts 17:24a.

[6] Acts 17:22-23, 27-28.

[7] 1 Pet 3:16a.

Sunday’s sermon: The Sordid History of Stones

living stones

Texts used – Acts 7:54-60 and 1 Peter 2:1-10

  • There’s a great show on Food Network today.
    • No cable (like us)? Catch it on Netflix and Hulu
    • Show: Chopped
      • Premise: competitive cooking show
      • 4 competitors – usually professional chefs but not always
      • 3 rounds – appetizer, entrée, dessert  worst dish in each round gets cut (chopped)
      • But here’s the twist with this show. The contestants all have to use the same 4 ingredients, but they’re never typical pantry ingredients.
        • E.g.s
          • Appetizer: duck bills, young jack fruit in brine, strawberry flavored jerky, and hand-pulled noodles
          • Entrée: chicken in a can, canned clam chowder, tater tots, and skirt steak
          • Dessert: fruit cocktail, kale, cottage cheese, and marrow bones
      • Inevitably, there are a few clunkers along the way when your goal is to make a 5-star restaurant quality meal with such odd combinations and such challenging ingredients. But the incredible dishes that these contestants are often able to pull off are staggering. I mean, come on … there are nights when I stand there staring at the very normal ingredients in my pantry, and all I can come up with is, “Well, it’s a pizza night!” And yet these people take the most ridiculous food combinations, work a little culinary magic on them, and make them into something delicious. → truly a case of making the best out of a bad situation!
  • Bad situation = certainly what we find in our NT reading this morning  Those who followed along in the pew bibles may have noticed the heading for this little story: “The Stoning of Stephen.” Like I said … a bad situation.
    • BACKSTORY[1]:
      • Stephen = deacon in the early church – introduction in Acts: Stephen, who stood out among the believers for the way God’s grace was at work in his life and for his exceptional endowment with divine power, was going great wonders and signs among the people.[2]
      • Somewhere in those doings, Stephen ticks off the wrong people  people convince others to give false testimony against Stephen: “We heard him insult Moses and God.”[3] (definitely a no-no at the time)
      • Stephen is caught and dragged before the Jerusalem Council (same cluster of men who had sentenced Jesus to death not too long ago)  basically accused of blasphemy
      • And then, in response to these charges, Stephen gives the longest sermon/testimony in the entire book of Acts – even longer than Peter (which is saying something). Nearly all of Acts 7 is Stephen’s testimony to the incredible nature of who God is and God’s actions throughout the history of the Israelite people, down through Moses, King David, and the prophets.
      • Last bit = step too far: “You stubborn people! In your thoughts and hearing, you are like those who have had no part in God’s covenant! You continuously set yourself against the Holy Spirit, just like your ancestors did. … You received the Law given by angels, but you haven’t kept it.”[4]  Stephen’s last words before the part that we read this morning: Once the council members heard these words, they were enraged.
    • Stephen = considered the first martyr of the Church – the first person killed for his faith in Jesus Christ → And how did that frenzied mob accomplish their macabre task? By stoning Stephen to death.
  • Stephen’s murder joins a long line of troublesome events in the Bible surrounding stones.
    • As with Stephen, often used as a weapon
      • Stoning of many others throughout both OT and NT
      • Angry crowd that attempts to stone Jesus in gospel of Luke → strange story where Jesus somehow seems to “pass right through” this angry crowd unharmed[5]
      • Classic story of David and Goliath[6] → David slays the giant Goliath with a slingshot and a stone
    • Stones marked places in which people of Israel struggled with God
      • Stone altar built on the place where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son, Isaac, at God’s request[7]
      • Stone marked the place where Jacob wrestled with God until dawn[8] → renamed “Israel”
      • Pile of 12 stones marked the place where the Israelites finally crossed the Jordan River into the promised land … but only after they had wandered in the desert for 40 years and after Moses’ death[9]
    • Very often the idols that the Israelite people ended up worshiping when they turned away from God were idols of stone
    • Those who resisted God’s call/instruction = often referred to as having a “heart of stone”
      • Pharaoh in Egypt when Moses lead the Israelites out
      • Pass from Ezek: I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove your stony heart from your body and replace it with a living one.[10]
    • And certainly closest to the hearts and minds of the disciples during Stephen’s time would have been the giant, seemingly-immovable stone that had sealed their beloved Jesus into what they thought was his forever-tomb.
    • Cannot neglect to acknowledge that stoning is a practice still used today
      • Mostly in Middle Eastern countries but also a few countries in Africa
      • Largely carried out as penalty for adultery → almost exclusively perpetrated against women because of the reprehensible lack of women’s rights built into the law
        • Men = buried up to their waist
        • Women = buried up to their chest
        • Sometimes, if you can escape, you can go free – but it would be a heck of a lot easier to escape if your arms were free → obvious gender bias
      • Some cases of being used to punish homosexuality as well
    • Yes, the history of stones throughout the Bible and even into today has not been a good one. It has been a turbulent history. It has been a bloody history. It is a history that has been marked with mistakes, false testimonies, willful delusions, and purposefully turning away from God.
  • And yet, we come across today’s passage from 1 Peter.
    • Text: Now you are coming to [God] as to a living stone. Even though this stone was rejected by humans, from God’s perspective, it is chosen, valuable. You yourselves are being built like living stones into a spiritual temple.[11] → Despite all of the negative connotations associated with stones – certainly in that culture centuries ago but also in our own – despite all of the mistakes, false testimonies, willful delusions, and purposeful turning away, God is saying through Peter, “I can use you. I desire to use you. You are precious. You are valued. You are not just convenient but instrumental in my purposes in this world.”
      • Fred Rogers: What interests me so much about the characters of the Bible is that they make mistakes but God uses them anyway, in important ways. Nobody’s perfect, but God can even use our imperfection.
        • Catch a glimpse of this in the reading from Acts this morning – one small line that you may have missed: Together, they charged at him, threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses placed their coats in the care of a young man named Saul.[12] → “A young man named Saul.” Saul would later become Paul, one of the most prolific witnesses – if not the most prolific – in the history of the faith. Again, truly making the best out of a bad situation.
    • And that’s the thing about stones. Sometimes the most imperfect, the most malformed, the most cracked and jagged-edged stones are the ones that end up being the most beautiful, the most sought-after, the most precious.
      • Home building/remodeling world: current trend of granite countertops → Everyone wants granite countertops in their home. It’s the best. It’s the fanciest. It’s the prettiest. Incidentally, it’s also the most expensive option for countertops.
        • Most people’s preference: the granite that has veins of color running through it → gives the countertop an element of interest, makes it unique
        • But the thing about those highly sought-after, extremely expensive slabs with all the veins and color in them is that those veins are actually technically flaws. → natural fissures in the stone = “Fissures look like small lines of a different color than the base stone. Fissures occur naturally in the stone and are created during the rock’s formation. They’re not considered a defect, but an inevitable feature that often adds to the natural beauty.
      • Similar situation: stone used for landscaping or exterior work in homes = the more natural-looking, the better → That includes odd sizes, wonky shapes, and rough edges … just like the people of God: odd sizes, wonky shapes, and rough edges. But God assures us that we are living stones building God’s Kingdom here on earth piece by odd, wonky, rough, and precious piece.
        • Nadia Bolz-Weber: The jagged edges of humanity are what connect us to God and each other. They give us texture that God and others can grab onto. Our spiritual practices aren’t supposed to erase our identity – to smooth out those edges. → Those jagged edges just mean that we fit together more uniquely, more completely. And when we fit together – when we come together to build that holy Kingdom piece by jagged piece – we make a picture even more genuine and beautiful than if all our edges were as smooth and straight as cut stones.
  • Friends, the good news is that God claims us. God claims us with all our sordid histories and past mistakes, all our willful delusions and turning away. God claims us with all our rough edges and wonky shapes. God not only claims us, but God calls us treasured, not in spite of those jagged places but because of them. God claims us because God has a purpose for us in this world.
    • 1 Pet: You have become this people so that you may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. Once you weren’t a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you hadn’t received mercy, but now you have received mercy.[13] → By that mercy, by the claiming, by the power of that amazing light that has drawn us out of the darkness, we are made more than we could ever hope to be: living stones, active participants, cherished servants building the Kingdom of God. Amen.

[1] Acts 6:8-8:1

[2] Acts 6:8.

[3] Acts 6:11.

[4] Acts 7:51, 53.

[5] Lk 4:14-30.

[6] 1 Sam 17.

[7] Gen 22:1-19.

[8] Gen 32:22-32.

[9] Josh 4:20-24.

[10] Ezek 36:26.

[11] 1 Pet 2:4-5a.

[12] Acts 7:57b-58.

[13] 1 Pet 2:9b-10.

Sunday’s meditation: Many Gifts, One Spirit

So this past Sunday was a pretty full and crazy one at church. It was Pentecost – the birthday of the church. Being the first Sunday of the month, it was also communion Sunday. And we had confirmation this Sunday, welcoming two wonderful boys into the congregation via their statements of faith. And it was the day that we recognized our recent graduate. And we had a special mission guest.

Whew!!

Because of all of those goings-on, I wrote more of a short meditation than an actual sermon for worship yesterday. But here it is anyway. 

crayons

Texts used – Acts 2:1-21 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-13

  • Friends, I tell you what: there are few things in this world more beautiful, more satisfying, more pleasing to the eye … than a giant, immaculate, brand new box … of crayons! Seriously. It doesn’t get much better than this, am I right? Look at all those colors! Look at all those nice, sharp, pristine tips! Just imagine the possibilities here in this box. Truly, they are endless.
    • Any picture
    • Any color
    • Any combination
    • Really and truly. Anything could come from this box. No restrictions. No limits.
  • Today in worship
    • Pentecost – birthday of the church → the day when the Holy Spirit came down in tongues of flame upon the disciples and encouraged them to go out and share the Good News of the gospel – the Good News of Christ’s resurrection and God’s gift of grace – with the whole world
      • First time that this had happened
        • Up to this point, people of Israel = concerned with preserving their heritage and their identity in the midst of everything around this
        • But now, instead of encouraging the disciples to stay behind locked doors and hide themselves away, God was encouraging the disciples to go out – to talk to people, teach people, baptize people, welcome people into the faith that they never would have interacted with before. And in true Holy Spirit, Divine Disturber fashion, God doesn’t give the disciples a subtle suggestion and a gentle nudge. → text: Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.[1]
          • Nothing subtle about that!
    • Communion → We are coming together once again to gather at Jesus’ table – a table of revelation and openness, a table of grace and giving, a table of hope and help. We are coming together to take part in this holy mystery, to be reminded once again of how God’s grace covers us, to be nurtured and sustained in our faith once again, and to be sent out just like the disciples on that first Pentecost morning.
      • Like that box of crayons – possibilities out there are endless
      • At this table, we find the courage, the strength, and the inspiration to go out and explore those possibilities. Sometimes we seek them. Sometimes we stumble into them. But because we have been fed here by God’s mercy and love, our eyes and hearts are opened. We can see those possibilities for what they truly are and call them “good.”
    • Graduate – Will
      • Preparing to go out into the world as those disciples did
        • To explore new places
        • To meet new people
        • To try new things
        • To make his way and find his calling in this world
      • As a community of faith, we find such joy in watching one of our own – a child raised and nurtured by this congregation – embarking on a new adventure, and in that joy, I think we can catch a glimpse of the joy that God must have felt on that first Pentecost day as God watched the Good News adventure out.
    • Confirmation – bringing two new members into our congregation by their own statements and affirmation of faith
      • Always a privilege to watch faith develop and grow and mature in people
      • Often a challenge to be a part of that maturing → Faith is a difficult thing – fluid and flexible, always growing and evolving and deepening as we encounter new people and new situations in the world around us. And to walk with someone through that deepening – to wade into the questions and the foggy bits of theology and practice (why we believe what we do and do what we do) – is a powerful thing. And to be a part of someone taking that next step in their own journey of faith, like the step that both Kaedyn and Michael are taking today, is an honor and a blessing.
        • Undertaking of the whole congregation → You all have been a part of this – of watching these boys and helping them along in their faith, in ways that you know and ways that would probably surprise you. As a community of faith, just as those early disciples, we encourage each other, teach each other, pray with and for each other, and raise each other up. Today, we have a concrete reminder of that in Michael and Kaedyn.
    • Special guest: Sam
      • Preparing to embark on his own mission – his own journey of calling and answering, his own adventure of following and serving and discerning and being God’s hands and heart in the world (more specifically: in Israel)
      • Sam’s going to share with us in just a few minutes more about himself and this mission. I don’t want to steal his thunder, but being able to send someone out in mission is a powerful thing as well.
  • Think back to our box of crayons for a minute:
    • Often joke about not being “the brightest/sharpest crayon in the box” → plenty of moments in life when we don’t feel quite so bright and shiny and new
      • Moments when our own doubts and misgivings dull our God-given brightness
      • Moments when the world around us tries to tell us we are not enough – stealing our vividness and luster
      • Especially vulnerable to this in times of transition – times when the new outweighs the familiar in our lives and things feel a little unsteady and untried
        • Today: worship is full of examples of those times of transition in Will, in Kaedyn and Michael, in Sam
        • And that’s why I chose the 1 Corinthians passage: to remind you – all of you, in the midst of all that is going on in your lives and in your hearts and in your own journeys of faith – to remind you that you are a gift. To remind you that God has gifted each of us in different and special ways.
          • Exemplified in that first Pentecost – gift was as obvious and as shocking as speaking other languages to spread the Good News
          • Exemplified in our service today: There are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; and there are different ministries but the same Lord; and there are different activities, but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.[2] → If a giant, 156-count box of crayons was all the same color, what a boring box it would be. And if God’s whole creation were filled with the same giftedness, the same expression of the Holy, the same path of faith for each and every one of us, how boring it would be. But our lives, our paths, our learnings and yearnings are all different. Today, our difference is in abundance. Our cup overflows! And for that, we say, “Thank you, God!” Amen.

[1] Acts 2:2-4.

[2] 1 Cor 12:4-6.