August 23, 2020
12th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
I saw it posted on the internets that cellist Pablo Casals was asked why he continued to practice at age 90. He replied, “Because I think I’m making progress.”
Ole and Sven grew up together, literally doing everything together. One day Lena determined that she would go fishing with them. So they launched the boat and settled in for a nice afternoon on the water.
Eventually, Ole says 39, and he and Sven crack up. Sven throws out the number 24, and they both cackle like crows. They go back and forth, tossing out numbers and laughing like hyenas. Finally Lena can’t stand it any longer, so she asks, “What gives with the numbers?”
They explain to her, that after so many years of friendship and closeness, they simply numbered the jokes that they told, so that there was no need to tell the whole joke. Lena figured it was a pretty silly, albeit simple, game. So she said, “19.” No response. A little later she said, “54.” Crickets. Finally she asked them what was going on, to which Ole replied, “Some people just can’t tell jokes.”
It’s a thinker, but the truth of the matter is is that that is often the conversation while I’m on vacation and stories or jokes are being shared.
Crickets. I think that is one of the more humorous redefinitions in our language. Aside from Jiminy Cricket of Disney fame and the crickets on the hearth and in Times Square in other literature, crickets don’t get a lot of headlines. So most of us don’t even realize that there are over 900 sorts of crickets in the world.
Unless one has visited the markets of Southeast Asia, or perhaps Africa, the real use of crickets as a food snack is outside our ken. In a report put out by the United Nations in 2013, 20,000 farmers in Thailand were raising house crickets, with an estimated production of 7,500 tons per year. You know how little a cricket is. In Brazil, a black cricket in a room is said to foretell illness; a gray one, money; and a green one, hope.
Some of you know that instead of going to Canada to fish this year - because - covid, ya know - I went to the east side of the Upper Peninsula, to the St. Mary’s River. It was a totally different place from where I usually fish. The water in my Canada haunts is the color of tea. That from the St. Mary’s River was as clear as tap water. The current was different, the other boat traffic was different, almost everything was different, except the crickets. I don’t know if the US crickets used a different sound frequency or pitch or accent than the Canadian ones, but the memory of hot days was just as instantaneous.
Romans 12:1-8 A Living Sacrifice
12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Humble Service in the Body of Christ
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
As it was mentioned earlier, one of the modern uses of the word or sound of crickets is in identifying silence. The irony - I find - is that this symbol for silence - isn’t silent. But it’s still an answer to this morning’s Jeapordy answer: “Crickets.” Alex, what is “Who wants to offer their body as a living sacrifice for God?”
Although it sounds like I’m downplaying the point of the passage from Romans, that is not my intention. But at first reading, that was what first came to mind. Who, in their right mind, wants to lay down their life to serve God?
Scott Hoezee of Calvin College cited a study published in 2004 on the scientific American.com website. Mr. Hoezee wrote that “The article refers to national surveys that suggest that most business people believe they are more moral than other business people. Psychologists who study moral intuition also think they are more moral than other psychologists.
In one College Entrance Exam Board survey of 829,000 high school seniors, less than 1 percent rated themselves below average in their “ability to get along with others.” That means that 99% thought they got along well with others. 60 percent of those surveyed placed themselves in the top 10 percent. (of being able to get along with others.)
In a study of Stanford University students, respondents rated themselves higher than their peers on personal qualities such as friendliness and selfishness. Surveyors then warned them about the “better than average bias” that suggests that we recognize biases in others more quickly than we recognize them in ourselves.
Yet even after that warning, 63% of the subjects still claimed that their initial evaluations were objective - that the students thought themselves friendly and not selfish. In fact, 13% of them even claimed to be too modest in their initial assessment of themselves.
Frank Sulloway and Michael Shermer found similar results when surveying people about reasons for their belief in God. Most pointed to intellectual reasons such as the world’s good design and complexity for their faith in God. However, they also attributed others’ reasons for belief in God to emotional reasons such as that it’s comforting and that it gives meaning - implying that a reasoned response to faith is more valid than an emotional response to faith.
All this comes together - in a very loose manner, I admit, because numbers are numbers and studies are studies - to imply that we tend to see ourselves more positively than God, in some ways, does. This implication also applies to those who try to mask feelings of inferiority with claims of superiority or artificial humility.
Paul calls us to neither too high nor too low an estimate of ourselves, but to what he says in verse 3, is “sober judgement.” Paul’s point is that sober judgment doesn’t rest on how others judge us, but on God’s view of God’s people, and we can understand God’s view better when we understand God’s measure of faith in us.
I am sure there would be interesting answers to the question of how we understand a “measure.” Maybe some might use a ruler or yardstick, others might use a distance. For whatever goofy reason, when I think of a measure, my mind goes to a good-sized scoop, like for feeding cattle.
What’s cool is that God doesn’t give out different measures of faith. You don’t get 5 measures and I only get one. We all get deserved - and undeserved measures. The difference comes in how we receive those measures.
Paul mentions measures of prophecy, service, teaching, encouragement, leading, and giving. Those are just some of the gifts that allow us to respond to God’s measure of grace in each of our lives. There are actually too many different expressions of our measures to list on any given Sunday morning. What is just as important as the expression of our faith is our need for everyone to use their expressions as best as they are able, because it takes all of us to be God’s best individuals, as well as our willingness to serve God though through measures of faith.
I’m sure he wasn’t referring to money alone when Steven Garnaas Holmes wrote that “to follow Jesus is to spend our privilege for the sake of those who have none. The only claim of our faith is not to privilege, but to God’s grace. Our “measure” is God’s gift of faith that receives God’s grace.
Not being dyed in the wool Greek scholars, most of us miss the detail hidden in verse 2. It has to do with the word, “transformed.” The line is “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” “Be transformed” We might hear it as a command, like “go - be transformed - or else.” Actually, the way the Greek is used, it means, “go, have this done to you, let this happen to you - this grace.”
As an accountant would endeavor to continue being transformed by the magic of numbers, a carpenter can be transformed into a deeper relationship with God through the pieces that he or she builds. As a teacher feeds their faith in the marvel of a student understanding a concept, the faith of a person who prays becomes deeper and their relationship to that person becomes greater - even if they don’t know each other.
The only real problem with this passage from Romans is that we can fight it by not allowing the Holy Spirit to enlarge our embodiment of it. Oh, well, I’m not a prophet or a Bible teacher, and I’m not a very good encourager and I certainly don’t have backing to have the gift of giving. Except that none of us does what we do - especially what we are gifted in - alone. God’s Holy Spirit guides us, leads us, inspires us to do what God has need of us to do.
And we all have the ability to pray. So pick out the Kindergarten and first grade teachers today, and ask God to bless them - in this county and your county - where your children and grandchildren live. Tomorrow, pray for the second and third grade teachers. On Tuesday, lift up the fourth and fifth grade teachers. And don’t forget the administrators, custodians, cooks, bus drivers and support staff. Or pick out firefighters and police officers or surgeons or business owners. There’s a whole lot of stress these days, and we all have the ability to help relieve some of it, even if by one prayer at a time. And let us not refrain a moment more as we all pray.
Holy and Almighty God, you know well that there are days when we proclaim you a pest, constantly prodding us to reach out to others. There are days when we say you are a fool, to imagine we might take up crosses to follow you. There are days when we lament you as BrokenHeart, as your world grows more violent, more hurtful, more hateful. So, Giver of 31,000-some new days - give or take, let us start again and simply say you are our Hope, our Peace, our Comfort, our Guide, our Joy, our God in Community, Holy in One. And as we think of those who carry firehoses and trays of food, bags of blood plasma and bags of money, and all your children, may you be to them - as you are to us - this day and ever more so on our next day. And all your people say, Amen.