“The ‘Gift’ of Love”

1 Corinthians 13:1-13
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part;
but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Luke 4:21-30
Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land;
yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

The Gift of Love

I have to say, I have a hard time having a sermon title by Tuesday. Well, let me rephrase. Having a sermon title is easy. Having a sermon title that is interesting, thought provokingly clever, AND relevant to what I want to say is a whole ‘nother thing.

To be honest, I was reluctant to even use the I Corinthians passage as a sermon text, because, really, what can I even begin to say about it that you haven’t already heard a thousand times, or that you don’t already know? That won’t be boring to you? I mean, come on. Faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.

Still, it’s this passage that seems to fit best with the things I’ve observed and experienced this week that I think maybe I need to share.

2f1d74150486b146e252c6207f667732So. “The Gift of Love” goes along nicely with that sweet, gentle  passage from
1 Corinthians we heard read earlier. It’s all satin ribbons, unicorns and rainbows, isn’t it? It’s THE most popular scripture for wedding ceremonies. It was one of the scriptures read at David’s and my wedding.

But if you look at it in the context in which it was written, that’s not really the main point.

It comes on the heels of 2 other passages about the body of Christ, both of which we read the past two weeks here. Paul has been exhorting the members of the young church at Corinth to persevere and play nicely with each other. He’s talked about how all the members of the church have gifts of the Spirit, and how all the members are like the Body of Christ, with all parts being equal and necessary — the first century version of “there are no small parts, only small actors” kind of thing.

And now this – that all our actions with one another need to be guided by love or the center just won’t hold. Everything else will fade away; love is the only thing that remains.

Then, there’s that bit about seeing through a glass darkly or in a mirror dimly, now but later we will see face to face.

THAT’s key.

If you connect the body of Christ part with the all- you-need-is-love part, it leads you toward thoughts like, well, what if I’m an ankle in the body of Christ. I don’t know what it’s like to be an earlobe. All I know is being an ankle. I can’t see the whole thing. We can’t see the whole thing. Only shadows and occasional glimmers of something so much brighter and clearer we can’t bear to look at it.

Ever try it? This “love” thing? For real for real?

maxresdefaultI don’t know if 4th grade curriculum is still this way or not, but when I was in 4th grade and Bonnie Hughes was my teacher, she had to teach us about nouns and verbs, and various other parts of speech. Circle the noun in the sentence and underline the verb.

As a kid I was a voracious reader; I loved books and stories, and I was reading above my grade level way before I knew how to analyze what I was reading. But that actually worked against me when we began to identify nouns and verbs. I remember Mrs. Hughes reading sentences aloud, and we had to write down all the verbs in each sentence she read. Seems like there were a lot of sentences – I don’t remember how many, but when we got our papers back from being graded, mine said “ – 45” in red at the top. Minus 45! I was crushed!

We had a little conference at the teacher’s desk. The sentence was “The storm raged outside the house.” I said the verbs were “raged” and “storm”, because the storm raged, and you could be raging mad and storm through the house. Another sentence: “The wolf ran into the woods.” Verbs? “Ran,” of course, and “wolf,” because it was entirely possible to wolf down food. I was making up scenarios right and left to accommodate all the words she was reading; if there was a word that could be used as a verb, then by gum, I wanted it to have its day and be listed! Mrs. Hughes very gently and clearly explained it depended on how the word was used within the context of that sentence as to whether it was a noun or a verb. The light bulb came on, and I did fine after that.

Love is kind of like that. It’s a noun and a verb. And not only that, as a verb it is both transitive and intransitive. Transitive means it has a direct object.   I love cats. He loved music. She loves power tools. Intransitive means it can kind of hang out there alone: I love. He loved. She loves. Love does indeed keep going and going and going, without bounds, without limits.

That’s what makes it strong and beautiful and HARD.

Love is patient and kind and generous and – and that’s easy enough when the person or people you’re “loving” is 1) loveable – e.g., nice, friendly, sincere, honest, clean, and not asking too much of you at inconvenient times. Someone who isn’t too needy. Someone who is basically of sound mind and health, someone who has something to offer in return. That’s loveable.

If the person is obnoxious, loud, says offensive things, talks too much, sees everything differently than you do, it gets to be a little harder. Still doable, but harder.

Then there are people like my friend, Clyde. We’ve known each other our whole lives. Grew up together. He has schizophrenia, and lately, the things that used to be anchors holding his life together have changed. He lives on his own, with a disability check and a little bit of supplemental income from a trust his mom set up before she died. He doesn’t drive but lives close enough to grocery stores, the pharmacy and fast food to be able to get out some on his own. My level of involvement in his life hashqdefaultalways been to make sure he had a ride to and from choir practice and church, and to talk to him like a regular person. He got off his meds last summer, though, and that’s when loving Clyde became a lot harder. As meeting his needs necessitated more involvement and personal investment from me, I had to look at myself harder than I really wanted to. Loving Clyde had become an intransitive
verb. No end to it. No boundaries. No end to the need for it. That’s hard. Love never gives up or fails or takes a holiday.

Try loving the scamming panhandler who’s got your phone number, or the belligerent drunk person, or the mentally ill folks who don’t or won’t or can’t listen to logic…

Try loving your church neighbor when you’re at odds with each other over the way some church decision needs to be resolved.

Love is not for the faint hearted.

You want to love God and Jesus? Jesus had been reading scripture in the temple at Nazareth, saying that the scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it. And what he had just read had to do with God being there not just for the Jews and Israel, but for the Gentiles and the rest of the world beyond Israel. The upshot of it all is that God is God even for the Gentiles and the world outside Israel, AND God has a penchant for the poor.  That’s NOT what they wanted to hear. So, the people chased him out of town and would have thrown him off the cliff if they could have caught him.

Love. Not for sissies.

Here’s the thing I’ve been really noticing and thinking about this week, and it comes in the forms of an observation about perspective, and good news.

The perspective part is this – like the bulletin board here in the pastpresentfuture_resizedhallway says – you spend your childhood making faces in the mirror – Middle age is when the mirror gets back at you…My perspective has changed, and getting to know you is changing it even more. I think when you get to be “middle aged” it’s like you are equidistant from the beginning to the end – and you now see that there IS most definitely an endpoint. It’s a shift in how you look at things.

Most of you are already there and have moved beyond that point already. We THINK we know what something is, what it’s like, what it will be. But once we get to it, nothing is ever what it seemed like it would be when it was still a long way off. Hence the truth of the saying, “Be careful what you wish for! (or pray for!)”…………..

Loss of spouse, friends, health problems – money problems – no guarantees – families that were once close-knit and happy become scattered and isolated. Lives end abruptly, too soon. Sometime strokes or other debilitating illnesses trap a person longer than they want to be here. All of us have scars from having loved. To love is to live, to live fully leaves scars from involvement, from your heart and soul being ripped apart and seared through and torn and trampled. Even the church that’s supposed to be here for you in your “golden years” no longer exists in the same way.

We can look at it as a betrayal, as though we somehow got short-changed, and get mad at God, turn bitter; or we can remember that the odds of any of us being alive at all are too astronomically high to comprehend. And, we have received not only God’s gift of LIFE but God’s ongoing gift of love. The love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, and never ends.

That’s powerful stuff.

That’s what you are helping me see, as we get to know each other. YOU are love, in action.  The way you care for one another, the way you greet each day with a smile and a “thanks be to God!” – no matter how you’re feeling.  How it all fits together? None of us knows. Through a glass darkly, in a mirror dimly – but in the fullness of time, God’s time, sometime, we’ll know.

Meanwhile, faith hope and love abide, and the greatest of these is love.

Thanks be to God.

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The Body of Christ According to Android

When you’re talking church, and you’re talking about engaging one’s neighborhood,

the Body of Christ is like…. this:

Sure wish I had a way to show this Sunday morning.

Be together. Not the same.

1 Corinthians 12:12-27
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect;  whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

Lessons from My Father’s Desk

Well, I’ve been here a week now. Got it all figured out! I know what to do to increase attendance, solve all the church’s financial problems, engage our neighborhood, and make everyone happy in the process!

Right. But I did at least remember to bring my sermon with me this morning.  Baby steps…

I have met more people now, and am beginning to know the stories of some of you. One thing I think EVERYONE has said so far, in some form or fashion: “Western Hills is such a good place. We just need more people!”

This sermon is an attempt to share some thoughts about that.

In the scripture today, Paul is addressing the people of the church in Corinth, because they are having problems being a church. It’s nothing new, even when it WAS new. Same sort of problems have been around, as long as churches have existed, because churches are people.

This isn’t to say at all that organizations are inherently bad things. But they are all composed of people, and we are all fallible. Paul is using imagery to compare the church to a human body with a head, hands and feet – the body comprising all the people in the church. He wasn’t the first person to use this body analogy – lots of writers in the Roman world used it, especially politicians and philosophers. But there were differences. In the social hierarchy of the Roman world, the head of the body was typically going to be chosen from among the elite and wealthy – the ruling class as it were. Everyone else was responsible for the grunt work.

What works in the secular world doesn’t work as well for the body of Christ. Paul was using the same image but doing something very different with it. He was saying we are one body, united in Christ, so we have unity with each other. And because of that unity with each other, we all get treated the same. Weaker parts are treated with special care, and all the parts belong to one another, equal. It’s not a case of some parts being more equal than other parts. Paul was turning the social hierarchy upside down, just like Jesus always did, and does.

Brian Peterson, a NT professor at a Lutheran seminary in NC said it very concisely:

We often confuse unity with uniformity, because it is much easier to gather with people who are like ourselves than it is to reach across the divisions which mark our culture. Thus, few of our churches reflect the ethnic, social, and economic diversity of the neighborhoods around them. Our congregations are often very homogenous, and we are, sadly, comfortable with that.

 Paul made examples of the disparity between Gentiles and Jews, women and men, rich and poor. Church people don’t usually quibble over each other’s spiritual gifts. What I’ve seen so far is caring people, working together, doing a good job of taking care of each other within the church and reaching out through several established channels to the world beyond the church – Under the Bridge, Heifer, helping out with supplies for the school next door, and until recently, the Food Pantry.

But where do we go from here, and how do we do it? What polarizes us – or paralyzes us here, in the 21st century in the Western Hills neighborhood? What’s our plan for moving forward?

I don’t know yet, but if we do it right, it should look something like this: (Android ad – Be together – not the same) Unlikely pairings blue-tick hound/orangutan, baby rhino and a sheep, a sheep and an elephant, dog and cat, cats and duckling, cockatiel and dog, dog and dolphin, a marmot and tortoise — Together, not the same at all, but together.)

***
I’ve noticed when people ask me about my family background, a lot of them conclude that because my three older brothers were United Methodist pastors, my father must have also been a pastor. But he was not. My dad was a jeweler. He was many other things, too, as we all are, but by trade, he was a jeweler. He was good at taking tiny bits and bobs of metal and stone and creating new things of great beauty and value. It seemed an odd profession for someone with broad, thick hands and short, log-like fingers, but he was very deft and skilled with tiny tweezers, special tools and an ever-present head-mounted eye-loupe, which he called his “lookers.”

And in our house, as far back as I can remember there was the rolltop. This behemoth desk was Dad’s domain, its myriad drawers and shelves full of mysterious and wonderful treasures – and off-limits to my curious kid hands. There is probably fodder for an entire sermon series based on the things in that desk: clockworks – springs, cogs, tiny screws, flat crystals, gears, stems, broken rings, earrings and watchbands, loose coins, receipts, buttons, rubber bands, marbles, fountain pens, and little manila envelopes with rocks in them. Little rough pebbles – brown, greenish gray, black, reddish gold – just rocks. I remember once when a friend was over to play, she asked about “that desk with all the drawers,” and even though I wasn’t supposed to meddle with things on the desk, I showed her some of the things in the drawers, and in so doing, I came across a drawer I’d never noticed before. It had a number of beautiful, polished stones in it – we thought we must have opened a drawer of rare gems – stones smooth and shiny as glass – some solid, some with stripes and bands of contrasting colors, some with swirls, purple, green, deep crimson, some translucent, some solid, one a deep rusty brown with golden flecks and sparkles, a piece of turquoise, shiny onyx black – it was a treasure drawer.

I sort of got myself in a pickle, because I wanted to ask where those beautiful stones had come from, but I would have to explain what I was doing rummaging around in the rolltop that was off limits to me… I did ask, though, and Dad told me all those shiny stones were just like those envelopes of pebbles and rocks, except they’d been tumbled to make them smooth and shiny.

I was pretty skeptical about that until he showed me a rock tumbler and how it worked. Rocks, water, grit, motion, and time. I still remember the feeling of wonder that hit me when it sank in that something as plain and ordinary as those little pebbles could be transformed into something so beautiful.

The same thing happens to us as the body of Christ.

We work together, worship, pray, and play together, plan, sweat, laugh, argue, get in each other’s way, love each other, forgive each other, and do it all over again and again and again, all the while listening for the voice of God and trusting in the proddings and nudges of the Holy Spirit, and then one day, we discover we have moved from where we were to where God was calling us to go. And the journey continues.

We discover we’re starting to resemble that pile of tumbled stones

It’s the friction.
It’s the motion together, over time.
It’s embracing opportunities and challenges rather than being defeated by problems.
It’s dealing with the issues, whatever they are. It’s listening to ideas, having ideas, making plans, experimenting, by trial and error, maybe taking some risks, and it’ll take time and effort.
It’s sandpaper Christianity.
The body of Christ in a rock tumbler.

“One Body” (This is a song I learned at the national Episcopal Youth Event in Amherst, MA in the early 90s.  I can’t find the songbook I know I still have, and I’m no longer sure who wrote the song. Might have been Lindy Hearne, might have been someone else. But the words are basically as follows.)

CHORUS
We are one (we are one)
One body (one body)
Many parts (many parts)
One body (one body)
God has made (God has made)
One body (one body)
All of us (all of us)
One body (one body)

VERSE 1
If I am an ear (one body) I will need the eye (one body)
If I am a foot (one body) I will need the hand (one body)
One –ooooooh

CHORUS

VERSE 2
So it is with Christ (one body) each one has a gift (one body)
Each must do a part (one body) Together we will stand (one body)
One –ooooooh

CHORUS

 

We now join our regularly scheduled program, already in progress…

Wow  – so it’s been a while since I last posted anything. But I have a new gig now, first time as a senior pastor, so the preaching-every-week thing is about to get real, and I think blogging and having a regular spot for posting sermons will lend some structure to the process and be helpful.

It’s finally a properly cold winter day, overcast with faint bits of sleet and snow sprinkling Fireplacethe rooftops. It’s Martin Luther King Day – a day on rather than a day off, but a federal
holiday nonetheless; there’s a fire blazing in the fireplace, dogs snoozing nearby, Piph the cat is birdwatching through the frozen window, and it’s quiet, except for the sound of the bluejay Piph is watching, who is screaming his predator alert back at her, and David’s sneezes (allergies) echoing through the house. He’s been rummaging around in the dusty attic and repurposing storage bins.

Yesterday was my first official Sunday at Western Hills UMC in Little Rock, AR.  I’d put in quite a bit of time on sermon prep, trying to find the right balance of  introductory stuff and an actual sermon that wasn’t just stuff about me.  I had whittled it down to what I thought would work ok, but I was afraid if I just read it, it would sound stiff, and if I didn’t read it but talked it, I would get myself off track and start tangential blathering.  And I was nervous – nervous about the sermon, nervous about this whole new chapter in my life, nervous about so many changes all at once and whether I would be up to the challenges before me — just….nervous.

Turns out the cure for that kind of nervousness is to discover 10 minutes before worship begins that you have actually left your sermon at home and not brought it at all.  Not on the pulpit, not in the folder, not on the desk, not by the paper cutter, not in the car…It’s like a bad dream come true.  But after that sick feeling hits, and you realize you are still going to have to do SOMETHING, with or without notes, you’re not nervous anymore. It’s actually sort of freeing.

So for better or worse, what I am posting here is not what I actually preached. Parts of it are close. Parts of it are and were blather.  But I’m pretty sure I did no harm. So, onward!

January 17, 2016

Isaiah 62:1-5
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.

1 Corinthians 12:1-11
 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.
You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

“The Gifts of Pilgrimage, a Guy Named Rick, and Western Hills”

When our Central District superintendent, Richard Lancaster, first called a week ago Thursday evening, I almost didn’t answer the phone because I didn’t recognize the number, and had been receiving a lot of those “Hi! This is Veronica!” calls telling me how I can lower my mortgage interest rate or consolidate loan debt or whatever (you know how there will be a whole spate of them from time to time…). I had resigned from my job(s) both as Administrator and Associate Pastor of Quapaw Quarter effective the end of December and didn’t have another appointment or a job of any sort, actually. I was overdue for a long vacation, and was playing with the possibility of reinventing myself again with a “real” job outside the UMC, but I really wasn’t sure WHAT I wanted to do or what options might be available to me. And for UM pastors, it’s the time of year when forms have to be filled out and turned in regarding official “stuff” – I wasn’t sure how to proceed. Earlier that day, I’d had coffee (well, tea, actually) with Phil Hathcock, who is a retired UMC pastor, former DS, former instructor, and ongoing friend who will tell me the truth about things as he sees it, even if it’s not what I want to hear. That’s really valuable. After spending an hour or so with Phil as a sounding board with a wise echo, I had decided I would send Richard an email and just say, hey, I’m here – if you end up having something somewhere that sounds interesting and compatible, give me a call. Otherwise, see you around.

That was my big plan its entirety. I had no expectation that he would call with anything I would be interested in, not in January, anyway, and probably not ever.   But still –I had a sense of peace about that decision and felt more like myself than I’d felt in weeks. It felt good to have made a decision – for about 40 minutes, and then the phone rang – the call I almost didn’t answer but then did, and it was Richard Lancaster, telling me there was an opening at Western Hills, and a bit of the sad saga of what you have been through over the past year, with Sylvia’s stroke and then Holly’s health issues.

It was weird. I hadn’t emailed him. Phil had not contacted him. It was like when you’re playing an old vinyl record and the needle suddenly skips and skitters all the way across on a scratch. Or like those Twix ads when the voice says, “Need a moment?”

David and I talked that night, and after a lot prayerful tossing and turning and restless dreams, I sent Richard an email the next morning telling him I was in if y’all were. And I have to say those of you I’ve actually had a chance to meet so far could not possibly be warmer or have made me feel more welcome. Thank you so much for that!

I met Loyd and Ruth first off, in the office. Discovered Loyd knew my mom, discovered I know Ruth’s daughter, Anna. Met Faye in the parking lot – she’d been up here getting things set in the Gray Building for the meal following the memorial service for Brenda Quick. I thought maybe I could lend a hand as kitchen help with some of the meal prep on Friday, so I came, and met Teen and Bud, Faye, Ruth and Loyd again, Wanda, Tammy, Tom, Barb, Todd, Michael, Brenda, Rudy, Kathleen, Karen, Karen/Diva Lee – a bunch of folks, actually, and I hope you’ll be patient with me while I learn people’s names, and remind me if I forget!  I hope to be able to visit with all of you over the next few weeks and months as we get to know each other. I’m not sure yet the best way for that to happen – I’m certainly open to suggestions! But I want to know YOU. Everyone here has a story. And we’re all connected in more ways than are apparent on the surface. Some of you remember my brother, Roger Armstrong, from when he was pastor here. More overlapping circles of connection.

I even have some connections to this church that have been important in shaping my own story. I was born in 1960 and grew up attending Winfield Methodist/United Methodist in downtown LR. When I was in the youth group there, back in the day, church youth groups had district and sub-district events that worked in varying degrees of success in terms of
getting churches to come together for activities. I have 3 clear memories of Western Hills from those formative years: sub-district volleyball and softball league games that involved a picnic here, complete with swimming in the pool. And then, two concerts in your fellowship hall in the Gray Building (magical at the time!): one with Rick Bonfim, a Brazilian guy who is now a UM pastor in the North Georgia Conference, and the other with a group called Pilgrimage, which is now defunct, but whose front man is now a music producer in LA and lives across the street from Natalie Portman.

PILGI still have the albums. Signed. Autographed on the front of one and the back of the other. I used to lie on the floor and listen to them over and over and over. Even transcribed some of the lyrics on a napkin once that I kept in my jewelry box for years because they were of holy significance to me. These guys were all forerunners of the current contemporary Christian music industry. They were part of the Jesus music movement. I don’t still have the napkin, but I still remember the song some forty years later. I probably can’t tell you what I did last Wednesday, but I remember old song lyrics! Hooray for connections… 🙂

When I looked at the lectionary for today’s scripture passages, I was blown away by how relevant they all were to our current setting here today. In the OT passage from Isaiah 62 that you heard read earlier, Isaiah says:

 You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married.

  For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.

Isaiah is delivering God’s message to the Israelites who are shell-shocked at returning to Jerusalem after a hundred years of exile in Babylonia to find their beloved city in ruins – the armies of King Nebuchadnezzar had decimated it in 587 BC. Even though so much time had passed in exile that probably none of them had ever seen Jerusalem it firsthand, they had believed in it and been told the stories all their lives. Jerusalem represented the center of hope for whole culture. Quite a shock to discover it blasted and destroyed. There would be no returning to the glory days of yore.

The Israelites are sad and grieving, frustrated, dejected, just as you folks must have been, may still be, having struggled to keep the church going through this past year. It’s not easy even under ideal circumstances. But the voice of the prophet is clear that God stands by God’s promises. Our God is a covenant God – and not just for ancient Jerusalem, but for us. “You shall no more be termed Forsaken. Your God will rejoice over you.” Because THAT’S WHAT GOD DOES! Not just thousands of years ago, but here and now. Everyday. God is forever starting over, creating, weaving new stories from the most surprising threads. Let the healing begin. God is working. God is working with us, and through us. There’s a new story starting.

In the other scripture passage, Paul is talking to the people of Corinth:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.

We are the threads God is using in weaving this new story. You all know the gifts you have better than I do – I just got here! But there are some things I do know already.

From scant time I’ve been here, I know you are people with roots and a heritage here in this place. This is home.

The church celebrated its centennial this past fall. You don’t get to be a 100-year old church without a lot of stories. Like Natalie Sleeth’s Hymn of Promise says, “from the past will come the future…” Of course, you have to LOOK for it, and move toward it, but it always helps to know where you’ve come from and who you are!

The church looks like people care about it. It looks well-tended. There’s a sign up by Col. Glenn and the marquee sign outside here. There’s a parking lot and cool-looking lamp posts. There are bulletin boards with recent things on them, and tables with recent and useful things on them, and a gathering spot for coffee and conversation. There’s a fully-functional office area, and Sunday school rooms, and there’s the Gray Building that’s a veritable treasure trove of potential.

You’ve got some gifted musicians, and administrative help who CARE about the church. You’ve got some great cooks, and people who have gifts for hospitality and making strangers feel welcome. You’ve got people who are proud of their church and want to put its best foot forward. You’ve got people with compassion for the homeless, the marginalized and disenfranchised. You’ve got people who want to share the blessings of what they have here with other people who aren’t here, not just to “grow the church” but because knowledge of and experiencing the love of God, and the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life can make everyone’s lives BETTER.

And you know what? We didn’t even read the Gospel text this morning, which was from the 2nd chapter of John – the wedding at Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine. Further confirmation and reminder that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are forever turning things upside down, always full of surprises.

There is so. Much. Here.

I know it takes time to build relationships, and that will come as we worship together as a family of God and work together as a church. Heck, you can learn a lot about someone just washing dishes with them or cutting up apples in the kitchen! I’m looking forward to sharing lots of activities with you.

Over the past few months as I was trying to discern what I needed to do to move forward with my own life, John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer became my mantra. You’re probably familiar with it. I’ll probably be referring to it a lot in coming weeks, both publicly and privately, because there is SO much here, SO much to do, it’s overwhelming, and this prayer helps center me. It reminds me that it’s ok to take baby steps, one at a time. It reminds me that being blind and walking by faith is not only ok, it’s what we are all called to do from time to time, which means none of us has to have all the answers all the time. It reminds me that we are not necessarily guaranteed tomorrow, or a happy Disney ending, or a time-line that matches our own wants and desires, but that what we ARE guaranteed is that we never, ever walk alone. The same God who made us all and transcends all time and space and human understanding is always with us, every step of the way. That God is with Sylvia, with Holly, with each of us.  Would you join me please in this prayer, as we begin our journey together:

Celtic cross
I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, place me with whom you will.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be put to work for you or set aside for you,
Praised for you or criticized for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and fully surrender all things to your glory and service.
And now, O wonderful and holy God,
Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, 
you are mine, and I am yours.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it also be made in heaven.  Amen.

 

 

Thanks be to God!