Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15, 1 Corinthians 14:26-33, Luke 19-31
A few years ago one of my friends came back from visiting our sister church in Kaoma Zambia with this worship story. Worship there involves hours of singing and scripture, of sharing what God's word is saying. When it came time to recieve the offering, people danced up to a large winnowing basket set before the altar. The singing and dancing went on and on, sometimes people came to the basket more than once with something to offer: a little money, some vegetables or handmade item, whatever God had given them to share. When they came with empty hands, the woman would step into the basket themself.
I thought of that story recently when I heard someone say that worship is the offering plate into which we put our gifts, ourselves.
We are God’s offering plate, gathering our collectively gifted lives for God’s purposes.
Are you ready for more?
Well, can we stand a little more Jesus?
Cultural observers tell us that people today are hungry for two things:
1) Significant relationship
2) meaningful responsibility.
How many of us are longing to come to a 2 hour meeting this week? Go ahead, put up your hands. (OK, so there may be a few meeting junkies among us).
How many of us long to do something meaningful this week than what we think we'll experience at the average meeting?
We are creatures with limited lifespans who are coming to appreciate the value of every minute, every hour, as increasing demands squeeze them out of us. And the knowledge that our life is time limited frees us up to do what is most important .
We need to be a community that brings out the flavor of salt, an environment for the yeast to rise.
John Wesley wasn't afraid of very much, he was quite confident in the work Christ put before him. But he worried that the people can be quickly converted by enthusiastic preaching and just just as quickly fall away if they were not committed to daily practices and accountability groups.
Are you ready for more? Are you ready for the kind of church that will help your faith grow and flourish instead of frazzle and fade?
Paul wrote to his friend and student Timothy as they traveled through the wealthy trade towns of the Roman empire. A devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God....Tell those rich in this world’s wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:6-19 The Message (MSG)
The NRSV reads: They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.
Are you ready for more than chasing after money and building your reputation?
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians carreis a glimpse into the earliest believers’ worship
What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (1 Corinthians 14:26, New Revised Standard Version)
Eugene Petersen’s translation reads: When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight.
God gives each member of the body distinct and valuable work to be woven into our offering basket.
Paul goes on, Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to someone else sitting nearby, let the first person be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged. And the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets, 33 for God is a God not of disorder but of peace. (As in all the churches of the saints….1 Corinthians 14:26-33, NRSV
Petersen translates this as: When we worship the right way, God doesn’t stir us up into confusion; he brings us into harmony. This goes for all the churches—no exceptions.
God's order is peace full, creating Christ centered order in place of compentitive chaos. God’s prophets see more where most only see less.
Take Jeremiah. In the middle of a war zone, this holy fool makes a major land investment. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.
This past Tuesday, up in Orono, Mike Slaughter told a bunch of his Mehtodist Clergy collegues that, “the problem with ministers is that we’re used to doing things “right” in a time when the need is to risk being wrong.”
Its not a new problem. Charles Wesley was his brother John's partner in ministry and the creator of many of our greatest hymns. Do you know which one is printed first in our hymnals? (Its ok to look!). “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” is as familiar to a life long Methodist as church suppahs and Sunday School. (sing first verse).
There, you've just made one of our church founders roll over in his grave. Becuase Charles Wesley famously declared that "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing" should never be sung in church worship. Never. It was set to a vile secular tune suitable only for evangelistic purposes, with the men truding out of the caol mines at the end of their shift. With the woman walking wearily out of mills and the children from factories hoping they had something to put on the table for supper.
In the Christian Church, historically, real exponential growth has always been with people on the wrong side of the tracks, from the margins.
Are you ready for more? Or are we settling for less?
God’s grace is always seeking to break through, to crack open the places that are squeezing the life out of us.
As outside forces bear down on the Holy Land, Jeremiah buys land and declares hope.
Generations later, in that same land, God sends a beggar to rich Lazarus' door to remind him what his wealth is for.
In Bethelehem, as crowds overflow the hospices of the city, one inn makes room for a young mother, who got pregnant too soon and too strangely, so that she can birth her child in the clean hay of a animal’s home.
In Brunswick, a child given a second chance home snuggles next to the woman who opened her heart to him and says, “I love you, Mom.” Who is the gift, who is the giver?
Are you ready for more?
In lives where it feels like we already have too much, too much to manage, too much to juggle, too much on our plates (can you hear me, Lazarus?)
In a world that tries to squeeze more and more out of us, are you ready to be filled up with the overflowing goodness of God until is spills out of your life?
God invites, and expects, us to makes that choice now, in our living, not later, after our dying. Poor Lazarus, if he’d only known in time. Why didn’t he? He was so full of what he thought were good things, so sated, so bloated with what he mistook for the good things in life, that he missed it. He missed what God offered as more valuable than all his time, than all his money, he missed the purpose of living.
You don't need to miss it. Are you ready for more?
Prayer: God, I'm ready for more you in my life. Help me recognize whatever stands in the way and put it in its proper perspective. Take me hand. Help me into the basket of your people where I"ll find support to grow my gifts. Bless us as we become your offering. Amen
Jeremiah 8:18-9:1, Luke 16:1-13, Excerpts from 1 Corinthians
Jesus has just told us a story of how very complicated life can get. It is about ingenuity born of desparation, the actions of one who's never wanted to be part of the herd and now finds himself cut off by his own greed. Do'nt you wish that life could be simpler than that? Is Jesus really encouraging us to be liars, cheats, and general all around finaglers? Or is this one of those seed strewn stories ready for truth to break through the hard surface of our expecations, a yeasty tale ready to raise our awareness that God does things differently than the owner and manager of this tale?
Our Jewish friends and neighbors have been observing Rosh Hashanah, taking seriously this business of cleaning out old yeast from every nook and cranny. (I Corinthians 5:6-8) Paul's first letter to the Corinthians spills over with evidence of the layers of transformation in which God is working.
Corinthians 11 shows Paul himself bound by “old yeast.”
And Corinthians 13 declares the balm in every Gilead:, the love that is the very character of God.
Love that skillfully restores what is broken,
Love that boldlyl renews what is worn out
Love that gently recreates what has died and is ready for new life.
Corinthians 14 gives an example of how a community can “grow up” and sets gifts in context of Community’s current needs.
This letter asks its readers whether they are ready for solid food or content to wallow in perpetual spiritual infancy. Infancy makes demands (my need, my way, my opinion), Paul describes a church full of infants, upset by quarrelling, jealousy, competition.
Growing up in Christ means more than trickery for survial. It means building muscle, increasing capacity, choosing to move toward fuller function, being able to do productive work without injury. It is a simpler way than the wreckage of holding onto infancy past its time.
1: 7-9: the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Sometimes God gives us parables in the world around us. Can you see the wisdom of a simpler way as we watch these geese?
Congregational Conversation: What did you notice?
•Lessons from Geese Fact 1: As each goose flaps its wings, it creates an “uplift” for the birds that follow. By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock has 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.
•Lessons from Geese Fact 2: When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.
•Lessons from Geese Fact 3: When the lead bird tires, it rotates back into the formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.
•Lessons from Geese Fact 4: The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.
•Lessons from Geese Fact 5: When a goose gets sick, wounded, or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then, they launch out with another formation to catch up with the flock.
Mature Christian Community intentionally moves together into God’s transforming vision while providing care for the vulnerable among them. The need to care for one does not stop the purposeful momentum of all.
1 Corinthians 13 litany: response-“Love.”
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.....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 15: 8-10
1 Corinthians 1:18-24
Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,”
Last week we talked about belonging, that deepest of human needs.
Paul, the great early church builder described himself as “an apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God.” His letter was addressed “to the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called t be saints.”
As soon as we begin to truly follow Jesus, to be drawn in from the edges of the curious crowd, as soon as we say, “yes, I’m yours Lord," we begin to align our hearts with what was real all along. God becomes our identity.
The problem for the Corinthians was they already had these other identities, other ways of belonging. Its one thing to switch loyalties, its still another to be utterly transformed by the renewing of our minds, as Paul wrote to the Roman saints.
When “I owe my allegiance to my patron” became "I owe my allegiance to the one who baptized me, __________”, old patterns were being re-enacted.
Following Christ can feel at first like that old Johnny Mercer song:
(words & music by j. mercer - r. bloom)
Fools rush in, where angels fear to tread
And so I come to you my love
My heart above my head
Though I see the danger there
If there's a chance for me
Then I don't care, oh-oh-oh-oh
Really living as though we belong to Christ Jesus upsets our common sense.
Christ’s wisdom, what looks so foolish is expressed in the Body of Christ, when we activate the spiritual gifts God gives us. We begin to recognize Christ’s uncommon sense when our human will works with Holy Spirit’s way.
The church is a kind of kindergarten in which we practice new order life in the midst of our brokenness. David Buttrick, The Mystery and the Passion
Christ’s wisdom, the wisdom that seems so foolish,
is characterized by simplicity and by vulnerability.
Consider the woman who lost one coin. Not many of us would spend hours searching the nooks and crannies of our home for one lost coin. We may think, “it will turn up,” (if we notice its gone) or “there are more where that came from.”
Time is too valuable to spend looking for that one of many.
We’d look like a fool!
Last week’s gospel text, Luke 14:25-33, reminded us that we hate to look like fools,
For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'……
Its a pun of a parable,
because if we follow through by following Jesus
that will almost certainly mean looking like a fool from the world’s perspective.
“The world” is the part of us that expends its resources grabbing every minute of life, death is the enemy. Accumulates money without noticing what the piles push out of our lives. We have so much that a penny doesn’t really matter much.
But God starts small
looking around for someone
one man, even, God-expectant,
just one God-ready woman.
God sees unshepherded Sheep, taking turns pretending to be Shepherd. ……
Don’t they know anything, all these impostors? Don’t they know they can’t get away with treating people like a fast-food meal over which they’re too busy to pray?
Night is coming for them, and nightmares, for God takes the side of the lost and the least.
Is there anyone around to save the people?
Yes. God is around;
God turns life around. Turned-around Jacob skips rope,
turned-around Israel sings laughter.
Jesus followers find life in giving up life; become reconciled with death
In weakness we find strength, in loss we find love.
We are the people saved by the crucified Christ
and sanctified by the Resurrection Spirit
by living as though God’s kingdom is so close we could reach out and touch it.
So with yourselves, wrote Paul to the Corinthians, since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church.….When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.
(words & music by j. mercer - r. bloom)
Fools rush in, where wise men never go
But wise men never fall in love
So how are they to know,
When we met, I felt my life begin
So open up your heart and let
This fool rush in
"….what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
Luke 14: 25-33)
1 Corinthians 15: 44b-53
Will you join me as I offer this prayer written by Walter Brueggemann?
Truth-telling, wind-blowing, life-giving spirit-
We present ourselves now
For your instruction and guidance;
Breathe you truth among us,
Breathe your truth of deep Firday loss,
Your truth of awesome Sunday joy.
Breathe your story of death and life
That our story may be submitted to your will for life.
We pray in the name of Jesus risen to new life-
And him crucified.
Human beings want to belong. We are both unique creatures playing our individual gifts and dreams and we are social beings, meant to belong to something larger than ourselves. From the creation of Adam and Eve so that human became more than one, to efforts today to “fit in,” or “find our tribe,” Human beings need to know how we belong.
NY Times Magazine 9-7-13”You are, to an unprecedented degree, the emperor of a personalized kingdom of popularity, and zillions of bots are working tirelessly to heed your whims and hone your experience. …Once we listened to the same song together, watched the same show together, argued over the same movies together. Now we’re each focused on our own screen, listening to our own playlist…
It sometimes seems like we're in an extended adolescent crisis of Nothingness. How do I know there is anything but me?
A little Church history sets the stage for our fall series, “See How They Love Each Other.”
Nearly 2 centuries after stories about Jesus began to travel with traders around the Roman empire, through Europe and North Africa and east into Asia,
And about 150 years after Paul planted the early Christian Churches of the Jewish Diaspora, as the Roman empire was beginning to break apart...
a famous orator from Carthage, what is now Tunisia, the nearest point on the African Continent to Italy, recorded what the pagans of the day thought of their Christian neighbors.
"See how they love one another." –Tertullian wrote.
We are a body knit together as such by a common religious profession, by unity of discipline, and by the bond of a common hope. We meet together as an assembly and congregation, that, offering up prayer to God as with united force, we may wrestle with Him in our supplications. This strong exertion God delights in. We pray, too, for the emperors, for their ministers and for all in authority, for the welfare of the world, for the prevalence of peace, for the delay of the final consummation. We assemble to read our sacred writings . . . and with the sacred words we nourish our faith, we animate our hope, we make our confidence more steadfast; and no less by inculcations of God’s precepts we confirm good habits. ……. The tried men of our elders preside over us, obtaining that honour not by purchase but by established character. There is no buying and selling of any sort in the things of God. Though we have our treasure-chest, it is not made up of purchase-money, as of a religion that has its price.
On the monthly day, if he likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able: for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary.
These gifts are . . . not spent on feasts, and drinking-bouts, and eating-houses, but to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined now to the house; such, too, as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines or banished to the islands or shut up in the prisons, for nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God's Church, they become the nurslings of their confession.
But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another, for they themselves are animated by mutual hatred. See, they say about us, how they are ready even to die for one another, for they themselves would sooner kill.
The communities Tuertullian described were started by Paul of Tarsus and his co-workerd, traveling out from Jerusalem to Jewish communities around the Roman empire. It was an age of expansion.
The community from which our text comes this morning, Corinth, was Paul’s third church plant. The city itself had a particular and peculiar reputation. “Wealth without culture, and abuse of the poor by the wealthy.” It was, one travelor wrote, without grace.”
In that culture, everyone belonged to someone else in a way that we find it hard to imagine today. A Lord or a patron connected you to the economic and social web.
Competition within the Corinthian Church was fierce for who would “lord it over,”
be in charge. For who got to say who was in and who was out.
What did it mean to “belong” to the Body of Christ.”
In His letter, Paul urgently reminds them, "we are God’s servants working together."
But evidently too many Members belonged in name only, not in practice.
Oh they’d show up in time for dinner, in time to get a good seat at worship,
But what did it mean to belong first to God.
We experience that belonging through faith community. We experience it from taking our place at the table, not elbowing out the people we'd rather not sit next to.
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
O LORD, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.
For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts,
O God! How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them -- they are more than the sand; I come to the end -
- I am still with you.
****You know me so well that you know where my thoughts veer (19-24)!
 Walter Brueggemann, Prayers for a Privileged People, Abingdon Press, 2008.
Karen L Munson
United Methodist Pastor & Liturgical Artist