First Congregational Church
October 6, 2019
World Communion Sunday
Luke 17:5-10 & 2 Timothy 1:1-14
“Fanning the Gift of God”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A customer at Stingray Fishmongers marveled at the owner’s quick wit and intelligence. “Tell me, Simon, what makes you so smart?” “I wouldn’t share my secret with just anyone,” Simon replies, “But since you're a good customer, I’ll let you in on it. Fish heads. You eat enough of them, you’ll be positively brilliant.” “You sell them here?” the customer asks. “Only $4 a piece,” says Simon. The customer buys three.
A week later he’s back in the store, complaining that the fish heads were disgusting and he isn’t any smarter. “You didn’t eat enough,” said Simon. The customer goes home with 20 more fish heads. Two weeks later, he’s back and this time’s he’s really angry.
“Hey, Simon,” he complains, “You’re selling me fish heads for $4 a piece when I can buy the whole fish for $2. You’re ripping me off!” “You see?” said Simon. “You’re smarter already.”
One day, the Sunday school teacher asked, “Now, Ole, tell me frankly, do you say prayers before eating?” Ole said, “No sir, I don't have to. My mom is a good cook.”
One of the really interesting and captivating television shows back on this fall is called New Amsterdam. It centers around the nation’s oldest public hospital, and so there are bunches of surgeries and emergency room scenes. This past Tuesday, a little blip, almost a throw-away moment, caught my attention.
It was between the head of the cardiovascular surgery department and a new, shy, surgically talented intern. They were discussing the lack of thoroughness the intern displayed on a patient, and at one point, the department head told the intern that he was smart. The intern, who supposedly has scraped and clawed his way through a modicum of eight years of school, replied, “No one ever told me I was smart.”
This morning’s scripture passage uses the example of a servant. In Jesus’ day, the word for servant was also the word for slave. So the example Jesus uses is rather antiquated in terms of relevance in our modern age. As I thought about a good substitute, I think a waiter or waitress would fit, rather than a servant plowing or looking after the sheep - to get to a current meaning.
5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. 7 “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8 Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9 Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, 2 To Timothy, my dear son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
3 I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. 4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.
Appeal for Loyalty to Paul and the Gospel
6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. 9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.
13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
Thank you, Judy. FYI, in coming up with a relevant comparison, please understand that I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t thank any wait staff we encounter. In fact, how they are treated often influences the service they give - intentionally or unintentionally. The point of bringing in waiters and waitresses is that we don’t usually invite them to sit down with us to eat, and in bringing us food, they are doing their job. And we get to express our gratitude in giving them a tip, the acronym for “to ensure promptness,” which seems to me, should be given before the meal, but I digress.
Co-pastor of All Saints Lutheran Church in Palatine, IL, Jennifer Moland –Kovash shared a story from her life that does a lot of the weaving in this morning’s shawl message. She says, “My grandmother was well into her 90s when I called ahead to let her know we’d be stopping to see her the next day. “I’ll make lunch,” she told me. I protested: that wouldn’t be necessary; I didn’t want her to go to the trouble. She finally acquiesced about lunch, and I hung up thinking I had won. I should have known better. She had more than nine decades under her belt of doing things her way.
We arrived as scheduled at her small, tidy apartment, our new baby in tow, exhausted from being new parents and traveling, so that my grandmother could meet her newest great-grandchild. After she held the baby and cooed over him, she said with a hint of smugness. “I made cake. Let’s have some cake. It’s nothing fancy. Would you like some coffee?” So we had cake and coffee, because I wouldn’t let her make lunch for us. As we thanked her profusely, she kept repeating. “It’s nothing fancy; it’s just cake.”
My grandma wouldn’t have prefaced her statement about the cake with “I am a worthless slave,” but her belief that she was only doing what she should have done rang loud and clear. When someone visited her, she served something—lunch, coffee, a little something sweet. I should have known better than to try to change how things were done.
She continues, I know many other people who have shrugged off the thanks I have offered them, saying that they’re simply doing their job, or doing what they ought to have done. I, too, sometimes become uncomfortable or don’t know how to respond when people thank me for doing what I ought to have done.
I never would have considered not saying thank you, but I know that’s not what motivated my grandmother, or any of the others I have thanked. We don’t do it for the thanks; we serve those we love because it’s what Jesus calls us to do. Besides—don’t worry; it’s nothing fancy. It’s just cake. Let’s have coffee.”
It’s not rocket science - telling someone they’re smart. In fact, it could be life-changing for someone who has never heard it. And it’s not rocket science - making cake. In fact, it can be endearing and far-reaching. And, of course, I’m not making a plea for cake makers for the Halloween Open House, but should you so desire, there are still pans left….
The writer of Luke reminds us to do what we feel we are supposed to do, not for the praise of it, but for the duty and even nobleness of doing what we’re supposed to do. Paul reminds us “to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” It’s a point written to the young pastor, Timothy. But as it says on the back of our bulletin, all of us are ministers.
This morning, as we celebrate our Lord’s Supper, we don’t exactly lay hands on each other, but we hand the cup and the bread to each other. Even in the moments of our leave-taking, we have opportunities to “fan into flame the gift of God” - love, joy, peace, mercy, forgiveness, in speaking words of encouragement and truth. Mind you, not every piece of “truth” needs to be uttered aloud, which exercises some of those smarts we have, called having tact. Even so, we are all so much more than smart, and after greeting one another this morning, you should by now - all know that you are all smart.
But there are kind people among us that perhaps need their flame of encouragement fanned. And there are hard-working people among us who might really appreciate their flame of effort fanned. Whether here or amidst people beyond the church doors, there are people among us who are weary, who need their flame of perseverance fanned.
As we enter into the time we share in our Lord’s Supper, as we prepare our hearts for this sacred act, let it fan the flame of God in you, that Christ’s gift of sacrifice and resurrection renew and strengthen our faith until the next time.
Let us pray. God of all that is holy, thank you for giving us sacred work in tending to the work of your hands - in this earth, in the people you give us and in our own lives. Help us to guard the good deposit that was entrusted to us—guarding it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. Help us, regardless of how great or small our faith, in being able to do what you call us to do - to love and help others in this world. Enable our faith to shine, for you, long after our time here on this side of eternity. And thank you for those who have spoken words or done a kindness that has changed our lives in big and little and all ways. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.