Sermon Transcript 9.25.22 "A Still More Excellent Way."
Last week, we talked a little bit about connection and I ended the sermon that had focused on connections and the way different projects are hopefully working together to make our church more invitational and welcoming. We talked about Paul's letter to the Corinthians. Some are apostles, some are prophets, some teachers, some speak in tongues, some interpret, different gifts for different people together forming the body of Christ. And that passage we read last week ends with an interesting line. He says, and I will show you a still, more excellent way. We're going to continue talking about the gifts of the body of Christ, our individual gifts, our collective gifts, and that's still more excellent way this day as we gather in worship. I invite you to stand and join in our opening hymn, many gifts, one spirit.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts and minds be acceptable to you, oh Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.
“A still more excellent way,” Paul writes. Of all these diverse gifts that form the body of Christ, each of our unique gifts being incorporated into the body of Christ. The body of Christ that already exist. Christ was in the beginning, through whom all things were made. For some reason, wants us to exist; Intentionally creates The last few weeks, I have shared some conversations I've had, suggestions that have been made, disagreements that have been aired out. I talked a little bit about Kristen mentioning a book that she'd enjoyed. Getting that reading and all about Mitch Albom struggling with his own faith history growing up in a synagogue and then not paying a great deal of attention to it, yet being asked by the Rabbi of his childhood to give that Rabbi’s eulogy. A rather challenging assignment, particularly since the Rabbi was not on death's door. They actually wound up meeting for eight years before the day came. But Mitch talks about that journey and what he discovers about himself and at the same time, he interweaves it with his growing friendship with a Christian Pastor who runs a homeless shelter on string and bailing wire… and part of that is because it of the Pastor's own past. He's a felon he was convicted of selling drugs. He admits to using drugs. He wasn't a trustworthy character and yet his life has been transformed. He's in Detroit, where Mitch works, trying to help others and Mitch talks about his journey of growing friendship and understanding and overcoming his very reasonable resistance to giving this pastor access to funds. And what he learned from his attempts help and the way he sometimes got in the way. It's a fascinating look. A reflection of who the author is and invitation for us to reflect on our journey. Where we trust, where we have fallen short, where we have wandered away, and what remains true.
Thursday, I was privileged to go out to the fort and witness a once-a-year naturalization ceremony. They hold these in courts all over the state and the country every month but once a year, they come to Fort Scott and they hold a naturalization ceremony in that historic setting. Where we are surrounded by our triumphs and our failures, times when we were divided, unreasonably, times when we stood up for what is right. Roughly 120 new Americans took their oath. They came from 46 different countries. I don't know their particular journeys but I know on average, it takes about 17 years to go from applying to citizenship to that day of celebration. 17 years. which means occasionally shorter but often it's much longer. and they were surrounded by friends and family, many who had driven great distances to gather here in Fort Scott and we celebrated all that is good about this nation. Mark McCoy, a former city manager, gave a wonderful speech. He talked about our original national motto, E Pluribus Unam. Out of many one, and his own wife's journey through immigration and to that day, and just what being an American to him. It was a stirring observance. A reminder of where we come from collectively. all of us were either Native Americans here before the first Europeans set foot on this land. or slaves, those who were captured, primarily in Africa and brought here unwillingly or immigrants. Some ancestors somewhere got on a boat and came over. How did your family come to this place? How did you come to Fort Scott? I've shared before two of my favorite family stories - we had a crewman, not a pilgrim, but a crewman on the Mayflower who stayed and then had to flee Massachusetts because he was being persecuted for a difference of faith and wound up in Rhode Island. Then, on the other side of the family, one of our founders was a Hessian mercenary, paid to come fight on what we believe is the wrong side of the Revolutionary war. A defector, but now he's one of the good guys because he joined us. He met a nice German girl on a farm in South Carolina and decided that was the life for him.
Where do you come from? How did you come to be here today? and maybe more importantly, how did you come to be a United Methodist, a Christian, here today? The letter of 2nd Timothy, addressed from Paul to Timothy, talks about that kind of shared history.
“I am grateful to God whom I worship with a clear conscience as my ancestors did.” Paul sees a continuous line of worship. The one God, the God of Israel, whom he is still worshiping even as a Christian. He doesn't believe that his faith has changed. It has grown. It has been expanded. God has given him new insight and revelation in the risen Christ, but it is still the same God. He didn't convert. He has not abandoned or betrayed his ancestors. He is in a new land of faith. A new journey that is a deeper, growing understanding of all that God is. and he writes to this young man, Timothy, who Acts 16, tells us accompanied him on many of his journeys.
Depending on how you trace the Biblical timeline, perhaps they spent 20 years together as mentor and mentee, growing in faith together, planting churches, and Paul writes about Timothy's faith. Timothy's faith came to him from his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice They taught him about faith. They taught him about Jesus. They introduced him to Paul. They set him on his way.
Some of us gathered this morning or watching online or listening on the radio. Some of us have always been United Methodist. Some of us had wandering journeys. Most of us have always been Christian, but again some of us have had wandering journeys, where we claimed and announced different labels and different understandings. I've shared before one of the most important stories in scripture for me is that of the prodigal son because I was one who wandered… and while I didn't squander much, I certainly had motive and opportunity.
And I looked back, thankful for the times I was perhaps gently guided away from trouble or really poor choices by a grace that surrounded me before I even knew it. How is it that you came to faith? What is your journey like? When I asked those kinds of questions, I always think of my paternal grandmother. I've talked about Olga Eshelman here before. She is to this day, one of my rocks. I did not realize it. I didn't remember it. Until this week, I was searching for some things I'd written about her before and I came across the eulogy I wrote for her. We formed a packet of the grandkids memories and mine was a lead article in that. Grandma taught me a great deal about faith Then, when I found that packet, I realized she's been gone 17 years now. She died in 2005. I wouldn't have told you it was nearly that long ago. In fact, I was telling the kids earlier, I have a distinct memory that is a false created memory but I remember her watching me preach at my first appointment at West Heights - which is absolutely not possible because she died in 2005 and I wasn't appointed there til 2008. I think I experienced her presence and I've melded some memories.
She did get to see me preach before she died, but it wasn't at West Heights and clearly, I have blended those. In part because I still to this day can feel her holding me at times. Particularly when I am most upset. Particularly when I realized I've been wrong. Grandma was one that She wouldn't tell me I wasn't wrong when I was, but she would somehow make it all right. She would continue to hold me.
One of my absolute favorite stories, she held people. and when my dad divorced my mom, when my uncles divorced their wives, so many times, we used to joke that the family quilts should have the daughter-in-laws on there by Velcro, because they changed out so often - but Grandma wouldn't let them get away. They were family. Her sons may have made a decision but that didn't impact her choices. She stayed in touch with each of them. She was a lifeline to my mother during my obnoxious teenage years. And then after Mark, my younger brother and I had grown, my mom and grandma hadn't seen each other very often and grandma's health started to decline. I thought I should take mom to see her. They would like that.
Grandma happened to be in ICU and I took my mom up to ICU to visit and two ex-aunts, one of whom I barely even knew because we just hadn't interacted, are there with their newborns from their second or third marriages. And Grandma's just having time of her life with these babies - and she looks up. “Well, hi, Jane. Good to see you.” Invites my mom in. Now, you remember Rhonda? I don't even remember the other aunt's name. I'm ashamed to say. Grandma is reintroducing them and the kids and the nurse I happen to know from college starts to walk by. We're in ICU. There are children present and there are way more than two people in this room. This is clearly against the rules.
I stepped into the hall and explained to the nurse that I was the only person there blood related to the patient. At which point, the nurse kind of looked at me and looked at grandma who was clearly happy and was not going to part with those babies and decided she was busy somewhere else on the floor. That was Graham Eshelman. She was a cradle Lutheran and when I was in my teenage phase, when I was exploring Catholicism, we were having this wonderful conversation about faith but she blurted out, “why Catholic?” See, when her Lutheran son had married a Catholic girl, that had shaken her. But we talked. It was the first time I ever had to defend my faith, to explain why I thought what I was doing was right. And she loved me and she continued to love me when I wandered away from Catholicism, when I wandered away from Christianity altogether. I learned in hindsight that she had a prayer group going for that grandson of hers, but she loved me and she held me and she taught me about faith and one of the great ironies of life, this lifelong Lutheran who'd always been a little distrustful of Catholics. Wound up first a United Methodist, which is a big part of how I wound up in a Methodist Church. See, after my parent’s divorce - Dad had been the choir director at their Lutheran church and Grandma and Grandpa wound up leaving and they wound up United Methodist. Robin got me to go to church. Well, sure… I'll go where Grandma goes. And that began another chapter in my story… but then in her later years, Grandma was a resident of Georgetown. And then eventually a resident of Catholic Care Center in Wichita. Both run by the Catholic Diocese. She used to laugh. One of her neighbors at Catholic Care had been one of her caretakers at Georgetown, and she was a retired nun. Grandma certainly never thought her best friend in the world would be a Nun. But Sister Sue was.
How did you come to faith? Who are the rocks in your story? Your Eunice, your Lois, your Olga, that naturalization story, that service, I got to go to, the judge is a dear friend. I hadn't realized it until that day. But Theresa James is part of my story. She and her spouse at university were a couple of the key people that welcomed me in, that listened to my questions.
For this reason, Paul writes to Timothy, because of that legacy of faith, because of all those people that have contributed to your journey, rekindle the gift of God that is within you. “Rekindle the gift of God that is within you.” God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, the grafter, a spirit of power, and of love, and of self-discipline.
As we move into October, as we move into fall, we have an opportunity once again to rekindle our faith, to share it with others, to reconnect to faith ourselves, and others. To take the next step on our journey of faith. To create opportunities where others might take an important step on their journey. Wherever it is are, wherever they come from, whatever label they're using for their journey right now - because we know, we know that in Christ, there is no Jew nor Greek, no slave, nor free, no male, nor female.
Our differences matter. They are not obliterated. They are included. Christ, God who created us, who is beyond time, beyond space, beyond our frail humanity, claims us, knows us, become one with us that we might become one with God. We are the body of Christ. Each of us is a part of it. Each of us is a part of it. We need each other's gifts. We need each other's disagreements. We need to be held by one another, challenged by one another. Some of us have years, some of us are eyes, feet, hands, mouth. We have different gifts that together are incorporated into this body that we might be the beloved kingdom. That we might be the people of God in this time and place.
We sang a childhood favorite, Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so, Jesus loves me still today, walking with me on my way, walking as a friend to give, like and love to all who live. It's an intriguing verse.
Jesus loves me still today, Jesus is walking with me on my way… and I don't know about you but sometimes my way is not where Jesus would have me go… but Jesus is with me, guiding me, saving me from some bad decisions in my life, redeeming me from some worse ones. Loving me, walking with me on my way, wanting as a friend to give life and love to all who live.
Jesus is my friend and Jesus is their friend.
But I think that verse is about wanting me… as a friend to the other folks Jesus loves… to offer light and love to all who live. For me to participate in what God is doing in this human life I have been given.
And as I was making the PowerPoint it struck me. There's a Spanish version of the hymn we could put up on the screen. There's German. I took three years of German. Don't speak a word of it. Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so in the language Luther first translated the Latin into.
Or we could show Japanese transliterated. Obviously, Japanese would be characters I couldn't begin to read, but translated into the English alphabet. You could put Japanese up there,
Cherokee. Representing the first peoples of this land, one of their languages. How often do we think about the body of Christ as inclusive of those who do not share our tongue? Who may have been here long before we were?
We are, I said a few weeks ago, but children. The oldest, wisest among us, are mere children. We do not yet see clearly. We see through a mirror dimly, we have grown. Perhaps, we have appropriately put away childish things as Paul wrote in today's letter. But sometimes we put away that childish wonder, that openness to realize that we don't know everything, that we have a lot of learning to go. That as deep as our theological training might be, it's still just spiritual milk. Maybe the very beginnings of solid food. We do not fully understand the mystery that is God, one God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. We experience, we can share, we can talk about but we do not fully understand.
We don't fully understand in creation The universe been listening to one of my favorite bands. I've got a song that talks about “the endless universe and yet we keep looking through the eyeglass in reverse.” We see tiny details not the whole picture. For all of our wonder, for all of our science, for all that we have learned during the scientific revolution of the last several hundred years, we're just beginning to scratch the surface.
We don't know what's clear out there. We don't even know what's at the bottom of the ocean here. and we are challenged, as the Makoto Fujimura, the artist I quoted last week, we're challenged to repair, to seek wholeness, to hold intention, our own brokenness, The Japanese process of Kintsugi, golden repair, mend’s vessels by highlighting the cracks, and making something even more beautiful. Instead of trying to cover them over and deny them, embracing them, seeking beauty and wholeness that includes the brokenness. Fujimura suggest that that is the ultimate of art and of faith - of recognizing wholeness in the wounded and risen Christ, who still bears the wounds of his humanity, and yet, redeems that humanity, redeems all of humanity. Christ surrounds us with grace, and invites us, does not coerce us. that invites us to the table, that offers us wholeness.
Fujimura talks about art. He says, “there can be no art If we don't have the patience for the paint to dry.” I've been thinking about that quote, about patience. I'm often not very patient. I want to hurry along. I dabble periodically in iconography and I really haven't done any of it since I moved here. I've still got the desk set up in the living room but it's piled with papers and other busyness and I haven't gone back to that practice.
As I'm reading this book about a theology of making. I'm feeling called to go back to that. One of the things I'm aware of is, I always want to rush it. I want to get done and you have to do layers, very, very small steps to build up the depth of an image that you might properly venerate God through the saint in that slow, prayerful, patient process. God is teaching me
Each time we take communion, I think it's another layer, another very patient opportunity to grow in grace. Next week is the first Sunday of October. We'll again share Holy Communion as we kick off our reconnect to faith series and its World Communion Sunday. Christians around the globe will be sharing communion. Even those traditions that don't often share communion. Will have it on that day, as we recognize our commonality even in the midst of our differences.
I talked about the Cross about the understanding Rev. Lee came to that when he had power, his task in Christ was to yield and share that power, to have the mind of Christ, to humble himself. Yes, even to the point of death. But when he didn't have power, when he was being excluded, ignored, that same Cross invited him to claim the grace that surround him. To claim power, to bear good fruit. Not simple answers, not single answers, but a journey, a circle, a time of yielding, a time of claiming, a growth in wholeness.
Wholeness. It's another word for love. We are called to be the beloved community. We are called to share each of our gifts together that we might begin to share with the world the depth of God's love for us. and we read Paul's great work on love. “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 truth.” We know from the Bible that God is love. 1st James makes it explicit, God is Love. The whole of the Bible tells the story.
This perfect relationship of love. Father, Son, Holy Spirit that yields itself that we might exist; that loves us even when we fall short; that redeems us while we are yet sinners.
God is patient. God is kind. God is not envious or boastful, arrogant, or rude. God does not insist on God's own way. God is not irritable or resentful. God does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth.
We who claim the name Christian are called to have the mind of Christ, to be like Christ. We hold that Christ is fully human, knows all of our finitude, and we hold the Christ is fully divine. The Christ redeems us, that Christ regenerates us, that Christ covers over our brokenness and invites us into wholeness.
Might we dare to read such a passage about ourselves. I've been doing this all week deciding whether I had the courage to introduce this as a practice because I'll admit to you, I get hung up on that not irritable or resentful. I get hung right up right there. Sometimes I am.
Sometimes, I'm not very patient, but when I'm in the mind of Christ, when I am doing what God calls me to do, I I can be patient. I like to think that I'm kind and when I'm not being kind, love calls me to reconnect the faith, to reanimate, to rekindle that faith that enables me to be kind, that prevents me from being envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
Grandma Eshelman still holds me to this day. We are still connected in ways I do not fully understand. and she's still teaching me that Christopher is patient. that Christopher is kind, that Christopher is not envious, or boastful, or arrogant, or rude, and when I am those things, I am not being who I am called to be.
And because God's grace surrounds me, I can go back I can make it right We are called to wholeness, not to cover over our brokenness, but to embrace its beauty. We're called together to be love, even when we necessarily disagree with one another.
We are called to be the body of Christ to recognize that sometimes those disagreements just have to do with whether we're being an ear or a foot or an eye or a mouth. That moment we are called to do different things. I've said before at the beginning of the series, I was talking about the fruit of the spirit. How do I judge when I think I'm on the right road? Because obviously, we think we're right. I mean, very few of us do and much of anything thinking that we are wrong about it. And we come to such different answers. How can we tell when we think we're right? that we are in fact doing the right thing? Well, when what we do produces the Fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…
Love is more than a feeling. One of the things that goes wrong in many marriages is the people get together over a fleeting emotion… that honeymoon phase.. but they don't have a depth of friendship that goes beyond that emotion. Too much of our culture is centered around lust instead of love. Too much of our culture sees people as things to use and loves things. The people were made be loved. Things were made to be used. We get that confused.
One of the things I have done on my journey is try to limit the number of times I say I love something unless I really mean it. because it's not the same thing for me to love my spouse and love a football play. So, I like things. I try to be intentional about my language, so that love means something more than a fleeting emotion. Love is a commitment, a part of wholeness. A desire of good for the other. A willingness to be self-sacrificial for their good.
Joy is more than mere happiness If I describe someone as a joyful person, that doesn't mean that they are always happy. In fact, some of the most joyful people I know have experienced deep sorrow, but they live with an assurance of God's love. They know that Jesus loves me. They know that Jesus suffers with them. They know that they are gifted with grace.
My grandmother - and this is not an accurate quote of the Bible - but she used to say that God won't give you more than your shoulders can bear. I don't believe that's true. I think we are sometimes overwhelmed, but I remember grandma saying that because she'd always kind of laughed and she'd say that and she said, “it's just that God and I have a disagreement on the sides of my shoulders.” God bears with us. We bear with one another. That is joy.
Peace is more than the absence of violence. It is the presence of justice, of wholeness. The prophet Micah says, peace exists when “each has their own vine and sits under their own fig tree and no one makes them afraid. This the peace that God brings.
Christ says to his disciples, who he knows are about to suffer and be persecuted, who will be bewildered, that he is crucified, he has been risen, but that they will not see him in the same way anymore, that the spirit will come, but Christ knows they will struggle - and he says, my peace I give you, I do not give you as the world gives. I give you my peace.
Patience. In Wesley's day, what we call patience was often referred to as longsuffering. When we say the covenant prayer in the Wesleyan tradition, we say things like “put me to doing.” We're good with that. “Put me to suffering.” Most of us don't really want that. And I often explain when we use that prayer that what Wesley means in that context is… I'm okay waiting. Not my will but thine. Use me when I'm useful. Set me aside when I need more seasoning, more learning. Put me to suffering means: teach me to be patient, God. God, who is beyond time, God who is not in any hurry. God who is with us because that kind of patience purifies faith. it fosters hope, it leads to perfection.
Kindness is not merely being nice. Jesus says, for I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. Not that we should excuse any behavior. Not that we should tell those being abused to go back into that situation. But we recognize that those who oppress and those who are oppressed are among both suffering; that both are in need of kindness that might redeem Love your enemies. Do good and lend expecting nothing in return. Kindness is not merely being nice. Kindness is a way of being. Christ like.
Generosity. Many translations of the Bible put goodness here. And the trouble is when we read goodness, we think, “I'll be good.” You know, the child who picks up the room when mom tells him to, being good or not yelling out when the adults are trying to be quiet as being good but that doesn't begin to tap the sense of the Greek here. Generosity, not just a few dollars from our excess occasionally, but a way of being. An innate giving sharing of gifts, a recognition that all that we have is ultimately God's. And that those who sow sparingly will reap sparingly but also an understanding that this isn't about some kind of prosperity gospel. This isn't about gaming the system. Well, I'll give this much and I'll get… if we're thinking about what we get, we're not being generous. Generosity is sharing God's gifts, God's abundance.
Faithfulness. Commitment. Honoring God by honoring others, especially honoring those we have made vows to be at a church, a life partner, an organization, a nation, being faithful, being faithful primarily to God. That when we sense that we have gone astray, that we're willing to make a change, or a move, to migrate to a better place, a place of faith.
Gentleness. Doing no harm. Perhaps the primary example I can think of is gentleness is Jesus in conflict with the Pharisees. They haul before him a woman who's been caught red handed in adultery. They know and Jesus knows the punishment. She is apparently guilty. Jesus doesn't enter into the debate. Jesus stoops and draws in the dirt. Allowing for time and presence and grace to do its work of convicting those who judge. Bringing about the dropping the stones, recognizing their own sinfulness. and then giving a second chance. “Where are your accusers?” “I do not know, Lord.” “I don't accuse you either. Go and sin no more.” A new lease on life, a new opportunity. Gentleness.
Self-control, focusing on ourselves… but not the way our culture wants us to focus on ourselves selfishly. Self-control is about focusing on ourselves and our own behavior, dropping our stones rather than tossing them at others. Recognizing when we fall short. When we need to rein in an impulse and emotion, a behavior. Recognizing at the same time, when we need to claim our power, when we need to speak to power, when we need to stand up for ourselves and others, that is self-control.
These are the fruit of the spirit. These are the things that we are creating when we engage the world with the mind of Christ. A still more excellent way. The greatest of these is love. So we enter into a new month and a new season. We'll continue to talk about these things as we celebrate our faith and our journey and we invite ourselves and others to reconnect to faith, to rekindle the faith that is within us. That's what I believe. Thanks be to God Amen.