First Congregational Church
October 27, 2019
20th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
One of the things for which I’m thankful is that I was born when I was born, so that I am able to do my job as a pastor with the aid of the internet and modern technology. Not only do I write faster with a computer than I would ever have done on a typewriter, and we won’t even mention paper and pencil, but oh, the ease of finding material for illustrations. And yes, there is some really good stuff “out there.”
For those who don’t know Facebook, just know that people can write little, simple principles that are so true.
I just read that last year 4,123,651 people got married. I don’t want to start any trouble but shouldn’t that be an even number?
Good news for people that wear glasses. Next year you’ll finally be able to see 2020.
We keep a potato masher in a drawer because sometimes it’s fun to not be able to open that drawer.
I accidentally took the wrong medicine, but I’m covered for heart worms and fleas for 3 months.
I don’t always go the extra mile, but when I do it’s because I missed my exit.
As I watched the dog chasing his tail, I thought dogs are easily amused. Then I realized I was watching the dog chase his tail.
As we get to the reading of today’s Bible passage, to be fair, let’s say I’m a Jewish tax collector in Jesus’ day, and the Roman government requires $25 from each of you for the year. Because tax collectors aren’t salaried or given any kind of payment per hour for their work, when I go to you to collect your $25, I might charge you another $10 to cover my “wage.” Or I might tack on an extra $25 or even $50 to your Roman tax. And I don’t have to be fair in charging you all different amount. I don’t know if there was a cap on the amount I could add, but generally, whatever I ask that is over and above reasonable, too bad.
To be fair, we should be reminded that someone had to collect the taxes, and it would seem to soften the blow of a Roman tax if one of your own people collected it. And, regardless of nationality, amount or any other designations, whoever was to collect the tax should receive compensation for their work.
To be fair, let's say that my ancestors were Pharisees, had been for nearly 200 years. Pharisees were originally common people - scribes and lay people who believed that God gave the Jewish people both the written law - called the Torah - and the oral law - called the Talmud. The Sadducees - who were comprised of Priests and aristocrats - believed that only the written law was sacred. Sitting at the feet of elders and teachers prepared Pharisees to apply the priestly laws to non-priests. If there was a dispute, the Pharisees applied both written and interpretive understanding of God’s law and were more religious judge and jury.
To be fair, we should be reminded that a Pharisee didn’t get to apply for a license that made him an automatic law applier. Nor were they above any laws. They had to know the rules as well as abide by them, practicing them like doctors and nurses practice medicine. All that being said to level the field, now we’re are ready for today’s Bible passage.
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Interesting that Jesus gave this parable in response to “some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.” I wonder how often we might read this and sort of skip over the middle part about our righteousness - going right to the end. We might be tempted to tell ourselves, ‘I don’t look down on other people,’ so I’m good. And yet, just as those words come to mind, we have already forgotten the people we passed in the store last week, people we may not have looked down on, but we probably didn’t do anything that lifted them up, either.
That middle part - being confident of our own righteousness - that’s dangerous territory. There is a visionary and research group, started by a guy named George Barna, that looks at the intersections of faith and culture. In 2013, the Barna group did a study asking the question, were self-identified Christians more like Jesus in their attitudes and actions - or more like the beliefs and behaviors of the Pharisees. Now any such poll can have a multitude of interpretations. But, Barna’s take-away was that 51% of those North Americans polled possessed attitudes and actions that are more like the Pharisees than they are like Christ. Well, thank God I’m not one of those 51%, she said, dripping with sarcasm.
There is no better karate instructor than a spider web in your face.
Only during a hurricane can you purchase a shovel, duct tape, rope and a tarp and on one questions your motive.
What’s the difference between bird flu and swine flue? One requires tweetment and the other requires oinkment.
Sometimes you might feel like no one’s there for you, but you know who’s always there for you? Laundry. Laundry will always be there for you.
Try to remember, the greener grass across the fence may be due to a septic tank issue.
It is interesting that as human beings, we tend to do better when we know where our boundaries are. I don’t remember the specifics, but I remember the “test” done years ago with children in a public park, surrounded by busy streets. When there was a fence around the park, the children played out to the edges in their games and races. When the fence was taken away, the children tended to stay huddled in the center of the park. We like knowing where the edges are. And most of the time, I’d bet that we love a list that has checkboxes for one thing or another.
When I looked up that Barna report, there was a page that basically gave the lists.
1. I tell others the most important thing in my life is following God’s rules.
2. I don’t talk about my sins or struggles. That’s between me and God.
3. I try to avoid spending time with people who are politically and physically different than myself.
4. I like to point out those who do not have the right theology or doctrine.
5. I prefer to serve people who attend my church rather than those outside the church.
1. I find it hard to be friends with people who seem to constantly do the wrong things.
2. It’s not my responsibility to help people who won’t help themselves.
3. I feel grateful to be a Christian when I see other people’s failures and flaws.
4. I believe we should stand against those who are opposed to Christian values.
5. People who follow God’s rules are better than those who do not.
Actions like Jesus:
1. I listen to others to learn their story before telling them about my faith.
2. In recent years, I have influenced multiple people to consider following Christ.
3. I regularly choose to have meals with people with very different faith or morals from me.
4. I try to discover the needs of non-Christians rather than waiting for them to come to me.
5. I am personally spending time with non-believers to help them follow Jesus. (I have to add a comment here, that these actions like Jesus, as stated here - sound a little like the Pharisee, too.)
Attitudes like Jesus:
1. I see God-given value in every person, regardless of their past or present condition.
2. I believe God is for everyone.
3. I see God working in people’s lives, even when they are not following him.
4. It is more important to help people know God is for them than to make sure they know they are sinners.
5. I feel compassion for people who are not following God and doing immoral things.
To be fair, we do well in knowing our own boundaries, and that includes the amount of energy, time and treasure we have to put into living with attitudes and actions of Jesus. To be fair, sometimes we are good, upstanding, well behaving, moral people – like Pharisees. Sometimes we luck out with impeccable behavior and eloquent and genuine thankfulness, because we realize we have much. But sometimes, we become so successful in loving God that there’s little we need God to do for us, because we’ve done it ourselves.
And to be fair, sometimes we fail to do the good that we could do. We allow failures to have lives of their own and we do not do much in the way of praying except for asking for God’s mercy. Sometimes we need a gift so badly that we don’t know how to ask for it. Sometimes, in thinking that we are doing so well for ourselves, we forget our need for God’s gifts, and so we don’t get them.
So in Luke 18:9, it’s easy to see this as a parable about two different sorts of braggers - the self-righteous and the self-effacing. But really, I think it’s a story that missed the real point about bragging, that it’s not about either of the men, but about bragging and God.
God is the one who gives us the ability to discern our own hearts, to seek the balance and tension between God’s gifts of appreciation and humility, mercy and forgiveness, confidence and dependence on the Giver of Life. If we’re going to be doing any bragging, let us be reminded that our right to brag comes not from ourselves, but from God’s grace, God’s love and God’s faithfulness. Let us be reminded that the One who gives us all and more than we need is the same One who gives it to us. And let us be reminded that we enter into the better embracement of Bragging Rights when we realize our actions and attitudes are those that seek to allow others to see God, Christ and the Holy Spirit - not just in us - but through us - as we prayer.
Loving and Forgiving God, thank you for creating us - people belonging to you. We confess that at times, God, we don’t do well at allowing you to shine through us. There are times when our desire for recognition is greater than our need to allow for transparency. Help us in the minutes, hours and days ahead, to step back from those moments that are less than humble and to step up to giving you the glory for that which you do through us. Even if it be only in our own mind, help us to step off pedestals of self-righteousness and step on to the rock of your righteousness and rightness. For the grace you have given each of us, through those who allowed such love and beauty to shine through them to us, we thank you. In gratitude that you never stop leading us, never stop loving us, all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
October 20, 2019
19th Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 18:1-8 & 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
“Always Pray and Not Give Up”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A young pastor was sitting in a restaurant eating lunch. He opened a letter he'd just received that morning from his mom. As he opened it a twenty-dollar bill fell out. He thought to himself, Thanks, Mom, I sure needed that right now. As he finished his meal, he noticed a beggar outside on the sidewalk leaning against the light post. Thinking that the poor man could probably use the twenty dollars more than he, he crossed out the names on the envelope and wrote across the top in large letters, PERSEVERE!
So as not to make a scene, he put the envelope under his arm and dropped it as he walked past the man. The man picked it up and read the message and smiled. The next day, as the pastor enjoyed his meal, the same man tapped him on the shoulder and handed him a big wad of bills. Surprised, the young pastor asked him what that was for. The man replied, “This is your half of the winnings. Persevere came in first in the fourth race at the track yesterday and paid thirty to one.”*
If you are ever feeling lonely, Google - or have someone Google for you - lonely quotes. Or if you are ever feeling joyful, Google joyful quotes. Same with sorrow or antipathy or any other feeling you might want to explore. You will undoubtedly find far more than you bargained for, and that you are in good company.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, an English Particular Baptist - Particular with a capital P - was known as the Prince of Preachers. He wrote commentaries - word by word or line by line explanations of the Bible, books on prayer, poetry, hymns and preached for 38 years. In regard to the idea of this morning’s topic, Spurgeon said, “By perseverance the snail reached the ark.” The famous Green Bay Packers football coach, Vince Lombardi, said, “Football is like life - it requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority.” 19th-century American humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw, who went by the pen name, Josh Billings, said, “Consider the postage stamp: its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing till it gets there.”
Today’s scripture passages continue in their respective books, Luke and 2 Timothy. Luke carries on with the string of teachings Jesus gave to the disciples during his 3 years of ministry and 2 Timothy continues the letter that Paul was writing to his young colleague. Paul was in prison and the missions he had started, taken over by Timothy while Paul was in prison, had begun to fall apart and away from focus on Christ. An interesting tidbit is that Luke was a faithful companion and co-worker of the apostle Paul for years, even going on Paul’s second and third missionary trips.
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
4 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
Thank you, Bill. An out-of-towner drove his car into a ditch in a desolated area. Luckily, a local farmer came to help with his big strong horse named Buddy. He hitched Buddy up to the car and yelled, "Pull, Nellie, pull!" Buddy didn't move. Then the farmer hollered, "Pull, Buster, pull!" Buddy didn't respond. Once more the farmer commanded, "Pull, Coco, pull!" Nothing.
Then the farmer nonchalantly said, "Pull, Buddy, pull!" And the horse easily dragged the car out of the ditch. The motorist was most appreciative and very curious. He asked the farmer why he called his horse by the wrong name three times. The farmer said, "Oh, Buddy is blind, and if he thought he was the only one pulling, he wouldn't even try!”
This is one of those parables that really needs a second and third glance, because our initial glance may not be all that helpful. Pastor and poet, Steven Garnaas Holmes made the point that “Our gender and power stereotypes told us to assume the judge is God, which would make us the poor widow. But wait. Who judges? Who cares neither for God or people? That would be us. And who continually demands that we do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God?”
To make better sense of it, I went back and substituted God for the widow and “a certain individual” for “a judge,” and read it again, understanding that I - you - any one of us - as the certain individual.
“there was a certain individual who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And God kept coming to him/her with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ When we read it that way, God becomes the one asking for justice. When we read it that way, we discover the ball is in our court, not God’s. Then Jesus’ warning reminds us that God can outlast us. But when God comes, will God find us listening?
One Sunday a cowboy went to church. When he entered, he saw that he and the preacher were the only ones present. The preacher asked the cowboy if he wanted him to go ahead and preach. The cowboy said, "I'm not too smart, but if I went to feed my cattle and only one showed up, I'd feed him." So the minister began his sermon.
One hour passed, then two hours, then two-and-a-half hours. The preacher finally finished and came down to ask the cowboy how he liked the sermon. The cowboy answered slowly, "Well, I'm not very smart, but if I went to feed my cattle and only one showed up, I sure wouldn't feed him all the hay."
United Church of Christ minister and story teller, Jean Ann Ferguson, commented on the 2 Timothy passage of encouragement to keep on keeping on. She said, “God’s very nature is to be persistent in relationship with us, with God’s people. The character of that relationship is unconditional love, abundance and unremitting justice for all people. God shows up and we meet God. That amazing pastor over there at Frankfort Congregational Church thought, “congruency in our lives comes when we reflect - like a mirror - that ‘unconditional love, abundance and unremitting justice for all people.’” Where God is faithful - we can reflect back faithfulness - even when life is hard or exhausting or uncertain or nonsensical - even if our faith is as small as a mustard seed. Even when we feel small or inexperienced in this persistent faith part of our lives, we don’t even do that alone.
The famous Polish composer-pianist, Ignace Jan Paderewski, was once scheduled to perform at a great American concert hall for a high-society extravaganza. A mother, with her fidgety nine-year-old son was in attendance, and naturally, weary of waiting, the boy slipped away from her side, drawn to the Steinway on stage. Without much notice from the audience, he sat down at the stool and began playing "chopsticks." The roar of the crowd turned to shouts as hundreds yelled, "Get that boy away from there!" When Paderewski heard the uproar backstage, he grabbed his coat and rushed over behind the boy. Reaching around him from behind, the master began to improvise a countermelody to "Chopsticks." As the two of them played together, Paderewski kept whispering in the boy's ear, "Keep going. Don't quit, son...don't stop...don't stop."
What a vision of persistent faith! God’s arms, coming around us, making so much more of our simple offerings and situations. Even when we wander into areas in which we have no business, God’s arms surround us, faithfully, perseveringly, giving us not only the vision but the energy to play just one more note, to take just one more step, to pray one more prayer, to hang on for one more day.
There are times when God needs us to not feed all the hay to the one cow, and we certainly need wisdom for those times. But I wonder how many other times what we need to hear is “Keep going. Don’t quit, beloved. Don’t stop. Don’t stop.
The great Methodist preacher, John Wesley kept a diary, and over the course of a month, he recorded the following.
Sunday, A.M., May 5: Preached in St. Anne's. Was asked not to come back anymore. Sunday, P.M., May 5: Preached in St. John's. Deacons said "Get out and stay out.”
Sunday, A.M., May 12: Preached in St. Jude's. Can't go back there, either.
Sunday, A.M., May 19: Preached in St. Somebody Else's. Deacons called special meeting and said I couldn't return.
Sunday, P.M., May 19: Preached on street. Kicked off street.
Sunday, A.M., May 26: Preached in meadow. Chased out of meadow as bull was turned loose during service. Sunday, A.M., June 2: Preached out at the edge of town. Kicked off the highway. Sunday, P.M., June 2: Afternoon, preached in a pasture. Ten thousand people came out to hear me.
Let us persist in our quest to be the best followers of Christ that we can be as we pray together. Heavenly and Eternal God, thank you for the food you have provided this day, reminding us of those who persevered before us, in this church family and community. We know that you know it is sometimes hard to be human, that sometimes we get tired and sick and sick and tired and it would be so easy to bag this whole faith thing. Help us, when we are in those low places, to remember that you are also in those places with us, your arms around us, encouraging us to reflect even the smallest grain of faith back at you. Inspire us with just the right amount of examples of persistence, that we not be overwhelmed, but encouraged to do the next right and good thing. In all our days and ways, give us the determination to do the next step, prayer, note or even breath, knowing that you will give us the ability to do so. For all the previous moments of perseverance, all the present encouragement and all the future motivations, all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
October 13, 2019
18th Sunday after Pentecost
“And as they went,”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
When I was a little girl, when the boys were sitting at the feet of the rabbis, I tried to sit as near as I could, for those occasional moments when the noise lessened, when I could hear the rabbi’s teaching. I knew I shouldn’t have done it, but I so wanted to learn. I still want to learn.
It was while I was secretly learning about the history of my people that I learned about a commander of an army, a man by the name of Naaman. It is said that he was a great soldier, valiant and brave, but he had leprosy.
Where we live, there are many skin conditions that fall under the name of leprosy. Even mold and mildew can be called leprosy. Those with this affliction are usually secluded from the rest of the population, just in case their disease is contagious. To the afflicted and unaffected alike, it is a terrifying disease.
Probably every rabbi teaches the story about Naaman, the man who had stolen a young Hebrew girl to become his wife’s slave, a girl who suggested that Naaman go to the prophet in our country of Samaria for healing. Somehow the king got the letter and thought that he, himself, was the prophet. How foolish we humans can be sometimes, thinking that we are so much more than we are, because the prophet wasn’t the king, but Elisha.
The story about Naaman is important, because Elisha told him to go to the filthy, smelly, foul Jordan River and wash himself seven times in it, and he would be restored. Who, in their right mind, would do that? Everyone knows that keeping wounds clean is the way to treat them. Naturally, Naaman tried to get out of such a “cure,” suggesting that the clean and clear waters north of the Jordan, in Damascus, would be more logical for healing.
Isn’t it true, that sometimes our lives would be so much simpler if we just did as God requires of us, rather than trying to wiggle out of what seems strange to us? Naaman learned that lesson, when he dipped himself into those dirty waters. And who can know the mind of God? Perhaps it wasn’t the waters that cleansed Naaman, but the act of doing what he heard the prophet of God tell him.
I bring up that story, because it has great bearing on the story you’ve just heard, about the ten lepers. My brother was one of them; the one who went back to give thanks. This holy book doesn’t tell you, but between you and me, my brother’s name is Dathan. Dathan and I have always been close, and what happened to him that day has had an impact on our lives ever since.
As Samaritans, we’ve always worshiped the same God as the Hebrew people, using the same first five books of your Bible, even though our people disagree about the place where God wanted the holy temple built. Jews said the place was on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Samaritans say it is Mount Gerizim. This disagreement has been one of the fundamental reasons that the Hebrew people look down on us Samaritans.
Regardless of the faith of the people, there have been specific rules to deal with leprosy, rules and traditions intended to keep fear and rumor from becoming the greater evil. Back in the book of Leviticus, if a priest declared a person to be unclean, that person was to live alone, outside the camp, estranged and apart from those who loved them and knew them. Only a priest could declare the person clean and able to rejoin life. That is where your Bible described Jesus meeting the lepers - outside Jerusalem.
When Jesus told the ten to go and show themselves to the priests, the ten would have to enter the place where they had been banned - to go to the temple, where the priests were. They would have to convince the guards at the gates to allow them entrance into the city that had scorned them. Did Jesus really know what he was asking of the ten?
And here is the incredible thing: “And as they went, they were cleansed.” They didn’t have to wash themselves any particular number of times, or perform any certain cleansing rituals. They didn’t have to mix up any mud or dirt for smearing and they didn’t have to say any particular chants or words. The ten men must have been rather confident in Jesus. They must have been, or they wouldn’t have been going.
So here’s the thing. My brother was the only Samaritan. The others could have anticipated Jesus healing them, would have felt deserving, because of who they were. But Dathan was the outsider, the one with no expectation of entitlement.
Regardless of a person’s make-up, anyone can come to feeling entitled. Even one’s own people can fall into the trap of entitlement, with expectations of being treated well - in one way or another. Regardless of skin color, gender, nationality, or any other potential dividing characteristics, at any one time or another, we can fall into the trap of thinking that life should go well because I’m a good person and I deserve life to go well. No matter how much money we have or don’t have, how smart or talented we are or aren’t, we can fall into the trap of taking our blessings for granted.
I would love to think that because my brother returned to Jesus, to thank him, that Dathan is a superior being. But he’s not. He’s still the same brother who knows how to pull my chain, irritate me and warm my heart to its core - in just the course of a few words.
But I wonder: what if we were to shed that arrogance, laying it down and greeting every grace and bonus and gift with wonder and amazement? What if we faced that which seemed ridiculous and trivial and counter-intuitive as something that has been set before us for that which would make us whole, restoring us to inclusion?
Because exclusion is the insidious part of leprosy, isn’t it? Separation of the heart and proximity from those we love and care about - even if it isn’t phyical. Because if we embraced every moment as miraculous, practicing viewing the world that way, we might become more impervious to heartache. Yes, hearts would still get broken, but they could heal so much easier and better. If we shed our arrogance, and laid down the burden of expecting everything to be fine, it would be easier to see God’s leading and the lessons God has for us. With every breath, we could begin the process of being glad, taking in the confidence that God wishes us well and that it shall be so.
If this is our approach to the world, arrogance can turn into hopeful hope. I truly understand that it seems impossible that the world could be so changed. But look what happened to my brother. Dathan was undeservingly afflicted. But he was also made whole as he made his way to the the priests - before he got to the priests. His fullness of heart and gratitude took him back not only to thank Jesus, but to praise God. Dathan’s wholeness was full when his thanksgiving and praise were completed.
It is my prayer that Dathan not only continues to be an example for me, but for all who hear his story. So shall we pray? Holy and Eternal God, we thank you for your leading and guiding, even when we deem it to be beneath our human dignity. We ask for your forgiveness for those moments when we think we know so much better than you. Thank you, too, that that which afflicts us doesn’t define us, and that you decree your blessing on us even in this moment and the next one to come. Help us to work through the things we think would grieve us, to see our life in your presence as flames of glad thanksgiving, alight with your love, healing us as we go. For these and all your blessings, all your people say, Amen.
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.