First Congregational Church
October 12, 2014
18th Sunday after Pentecost
“Rejoicing & Peace: How It Comes to Be”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A lawyer had successfully handled a difficult case for a wealthy friend. Following the happy outcome of the case, the friend-client called on the lawyer, expressed his appreciation of his work and handed him a handsome Moroccan leather wallet. The lawyer looked at the wallet in astonishment and handed it back with a sharp reminder that a wallet could not possible compensate him for his services. "My fee for that work," acidly snapped the attorney, "is five hundred dollars.” The client opened the wallet, removed a one-thousand dollar bill, replaced it with a five-hundred dollar bill and handed it back to the lawyer with a smile.
There is a "Peanuts" cartoon in which Lucy asks Charlie Brown, "Did you ever know anyone who was really happy..." Before she can finish the question, Snoopy comes dancing into the next frame. As only Snoopy can, he dances his merry way across the frames while Lucy and Charlie watch in amazement. In the last frame Lucy finishes her question, "Did you ever know anyone who was really happy ... and was still in their right mind?”
We might want to ask that question of the apostle Paul. By the world's standards of happiness, anyone who was in his position and in their right mind, should have been miserable. He was in prison when he wrote this letter to the Phillippian church. He had lost everything he valued or that gave him happiness. He was isolated from his closest co-workers and most intimate friends, and perhaps most difficult of all, he had no idea what the future might hold. As he waited for the Emperor to decide if he would live or die, he finished his letter to the Philippians.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!
2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Thank you, Carolyn. I know it wasn’t that long ago that this scripture passage was used for the morning message. And lest I interfered with God’s message for today, I didn’t go back to see what that message was about.
Over the years I have learned that I do - what I think is - my best work when I can concentrate on the subject at hand. I don’t mind multi-tasking, but I don’t feel like I do my best work that way. So to rid myself of clock-watching for appointments, I have developed quite a dependency on my phone’s alarm clock. I don’t have to keep a part of my mind remembering to check the clock if I know it will let me know when it’s time to move on to the next thing.
If you have 75 pianos that need tuning, and who doesn’t from time to time, there are two ways you can do it. One is to tune the first one to itself, tune the second to the first, the third to the second and each additional one to the previous one. Except that that system doesn’t work very well. Each piano has its own quirks and issues, and in the end, you still won’t have 75 pianos tuned to each other.
The other way to tune 75 pianos is to tune them all to one tuning fork. Each piano will still have it’s quirks and issues, some notes being brighter, others more dull, but being in tune with one standard will make them all in tune with one another. Long before pianos were ever created, the apostle Paul used that same idea when talking about Euodia and Syntyche. Paul didn’t tell them to be of the same mind with each other. Their - our - standard is “to be of the same mind in the Lord.”
It’s hard to have been in this county this week without hearing about the Kelli Stapleton trial. Now before anyone gets all excited, my point is not going to be about who was or is right or wrong. What I’ve heard - for a long time - are passionate expressions about a situation that is at its deepest roots, very, very sad. And God has given each of us the gift and capacity to have such compassions. Where we do the best good with our lives, is to make sure our passions are of the same mind - in the Lord.
My own family is as fond of putting the fun back in dysfunction as any other, and the past two weeks has been a banner stretch of that idea. Over a week ago, my only niece misunderstood an email that I had sent that probably had more sarcasm than I should have included, and I know that shocks a good many of you here today.
For whatever stupid human reason, I let my niece’s lashings get my heart into a boat-load of anger and guilt and you name the negative, I was rolling around in it. It wasn’t until one of the good people of this church family suggested that I pray about it, that I realized how wise she was, and how I needed the reminder to stop the twirling negatives and start up the positive ladder of thinking about the true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy.
I don’t put my failure or stumbling out for sympathy. I put it out there, because from time to time, we all need the reminders that we have a standard, and it is not a political standard or a social standard or an intellectual standard. Our standard is Christ. Period. We need the reminders to rejoice, and because it was so important, Paul said that word twice. We need Paul’s reminder that we can be a gentle people - because God is near - right here, in fact.
I don’t know about any of you, but I’m getting a sense that there are a good many people in this world that are afraid, fear-full, frustrated and desperately wanting things to settle down. One of the surprise revelations from yesterday’s Fall Festival for one young woman was “Boy, people are really snarky about their parking places.”
I came across the story of a woman who kept a box in her kitchen that she called her "Worry Box." Every time something troubled her, she would write it down on a piece of paper and put it in the box. She resolved not to think about her problems as long as they were in the box. This enabled the woman to put her troubles completely out of mind - sort of like using an alarm clock.
Occasionally she would take out a slip of paper and review the concern written on it. Because she had not been drained by anxiety, she was relaxed and better able to find the solution to her problem. Many times she discovered that a specific worry no longer existed. Writing our worries on paper and putting them in a box may be helpful, but how much better it is to place them in the hands of God.
One of the commentators I came across this week suggested that if we just be gentle, not be anxious and rejoice in the Lord, then we will have peace. It may be too simplistic, but when we can change the circular motion of worry into a more linear path of prayer, then sometime along that journey, we realize one day, that we have that sense of peace: and by George, if I could only explain it, but I know that my heart and mind is protected and held - in Christ.
So what is noble? What is right? What is pure? What is lovely? What is admirable? What is excellent - besides this sermon? Seriously, what is worthy of praise? What have you learned or received or heard or seen from God?
Because God reigns, God provides, Christ redeems, the Holy Spirit sustains, there is so much that is true, noble, right, pure, and so on. Seriously, think about some of those things this week. If you need to, set an alarm to remind yourself to spend a little time looking at the trees and you raise your heart closer to understanding God’s creative love of all life. Or take the coffee cup and look out the same window at roughly the same time each day, and you will begin to develop that appreciation for loveliness and admiration. Take note of the children that God has given you this week - whether they are here in this church home or in your own home - and let your mind and heart go crazy with prayers for truth and appreciation and peace. So shall we pray?
God, we know you are here among us, and we know you know us better than we know ourselves. You know as well, God, that there are times when we need the reminder to put down our burdens and worries, to retune our hearts to yours, to reset our minds and hearts to those things that nourish, rather than that which starves us into negativity and worse. So send us an extra measure of the things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. Send us those things that we can - in overflowing gratitude - send on to others. Help all of us hear your concert pitch that our lives may - together - make the symphony of life pleasing to you and all your people. For the blessings of peace and protection and gentleness of you, your son and your spirit, all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
October 5, 2014
World Communion Sunday
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
“What It Is - What It’s Not”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A preacher was completing a temperance sermon. With great expression he said, "If I had all the beer in the world, I'd take it and throw it into the river!" The congregation nodded their approval. With even greater emphasis he added, "And if I had all the wine in the world, I'd take it and throw it into the river, too!" The people clapped and were saying "Amen." And then finally, he concluded, "And if I had all the whiskey in the world, I'd take it and throw it into the river!” As he sat down, the song leader then stood up quite cautiously and announced, "For our closing song, let us sing Hymn #365: "Shall We Gather at the River.”
For the past eleven hours, beginning somewhere in Russia, Uzbekistan, Turkministan and other places in that longitude, Christian churches of all kinds have been celebrating World Communion. Not all Christian churches will share in this celebration, but probably more people than we can realize will partake of the meal that Jesus gave us to ground us and unite us - not only over area, but over time. Although I didn’t get the full gist of this sacrament then, I do remember, as a child - all those long years ago, the celebration of this day being a little different.
In my study for this morning’s message, I came across a little article by Debra Dean Murphy that caught my attention. She is a member of something called the Ekklesia Project, a network of Christians who rejoice in a peculiar kind of friendship - a sort of intellectual friendship - rooted in their common love of God and the Church. Belonging to such a group made the title of her article even more interesting: “Why World Communion Sunday Is a Bad Idea.” (For those who don’t know me, I have this love of seeing the backside of things, thinking outside the box, as it were. For those who do know me, well, there you go.)
Anyway, Ms. Murphy gave three reasons that continuing to set aside the first Sunday in October to highlight the Church’s signature rite is not a good idea. And actually, here points have some value.
One: Observing something called “World Communion Sunday” one day of the year communicates the idea that The Lord’s Supper is special. But if Holy Communion really is the Church’s signature rite, if it is indeed that which makes the Church what it is, then “special” is exactly what it is not. We don’t think of the air we breathe as “special,” the breakfast we eat as “special.” These things are gifts, of course–breath and food–but it is in their givenness, their ordinariness that they are the means for life and health.
Two: Observing something called “World Communion Sunday” one day of the year suggests that Communion is our achievement. To the contrary: Ordinary food–grain and grape–symbolize (become) the extraordinary gifts of God–body and blood–through a power not our own. Our only task is to receive these gifts: to take, bless, break, and share them. And when we do this, we learn what it means to be a people for whom the whole of our life together is “one colossal unearned gift.”
Three: Observing something called “World Communion Sunday” one day of the year ignores, quite unintentionally, the world–the world, quite specifically, of injustice and oppression, of domination and exploitation. In Pope John Paul II‘s memorable phrase, the Holy Communion (Eucharist) is always celebrated “on the altar of the world.” Jesus’ suffering (body) links us to a suffering world. All of creation is caught up in the moment of thanksgiving (εὐχαριστία), and with thanksgiving, our task, then, our joy, is to love this world, not any other world. And to love the suffering world is to be one with it in the charity of Christ.
This Debra Dean Murphy is one insightful person, although I don’t believe her thoughts are great enough to dump the whole World Communion idea. She does, however, remind us that there is something quite moving after partaking of the bread and the cup, then going home, and laying your hands on that first piece of bread, or whatever you eat that is as common as bread, and realizing that it is your reminder of your connection to God, to the earth, and to each other. Or there is that realization, while having a cup of something to drink or a bite of something downstairs after church is a symbol of what Christians have done for centuries: sharing what they had with everyone else, so that their relationships would be all the stronger for the time and nourishment together.
Being humans, regardless of era or even faith, we sometimes get things a little wrong, even if that wrongness seems right in our own minds. The Christians that lived in the ancient Greek city of Corinth had sort of fallen into that idea. They had fallen into cliques and failed to include all of those God had given to them, and so one of the reasons the apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians to to remind them of the core of their faith and what would be the best witness of their situation.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Thank you, Judy. There are a number of emphases that can be used on this day - from turning swords into plowshares, forgiveness, the unity of the worldwide church (especially in the representation of the different sorts of breads), the uniqueness and commonness of the meal, different but the same, laying down burdens or sins in order to receive grace and peace, serving one another, how we utilize all our senses in sharing this experience, and the list can go on. But for today, for this time, it may do us all more good to stop listening to my voice, so that we can all hear God’s voice.
Let us pray. Great God, Redeemer and Holy Spirit, we are mindful today of the richness of your blessing. You give us so much, so freely, so graciously, and today we are reminded of your call to follow after you, as Christ did, as best as we are able. Remind us, when we are home, where we are apt to forget, that we are yours through and through, in who we are and all the way to what we have. Help us to live in that notion of being your hands and feet to a world that is so different from us, and yet not so much. For all that we are - and all that we aren’t - your humble people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.