July 7, 2013
7th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
So for those of you who aren't into computers, I want to tell you about this new "fad" called Pintrest. I don't know much about it, but it's sort of like an invisible bulletin board, where you can "pin" things you like - from recipes to furniture pictures, kinds of music to hobbies,
In working on the introduction for this morning's message, I Googled up "encouragement jokes." One of the first results was a person's Pintrest page. I've never heard of this Debi Malerba, but part of the beauty of this phenomenon is that you can look at other people's Pins and put them on your board if you'd like - for future reference. So under the category of "lunch box jokes and words of encouragement," I found a gold mine. There are little tags you can print, to stick in someone's lunchbox or bag. There are graphics you can print on label paper for a person's name that carries a sort of encouragement or smile-maker.
And then there are the lunchbox jokes you can print. So with all the preparation, what do elves learn in school? The elfabet. How do you get straight A's? With a ruler. What's a pirate's favorite subject? Arrrrrrt. And what do you get when you cross a pair of pants with a dictionary? Smarty pants.
Being that it is High Summer here in paradise, we finally got the warmth so many were wanting, the sunshine so many needed, and the visitors for whom others were longing. There are places to go, people to entertain, bedding to change and meals to plan. For those who are retired, this routine may feel re and tired. For those who are working, the days are already long, and the customers that are polite and sensitive seem too few. In the middle of our busy lives, it seems most appropriate to be reminded of the importance of encouragement.
I wonder how many people - all of us included - hear this "encouragement" of "encouragement" and we droop our shoulders just a bit, because it means extra effort, extra thought on our parts. Except that it doesn't always happen that way.
Mercedes Ruehl is one of the few actresses to win a Tony and an Oscar in the same year, and is 65 years young. Her Tony was for Lost in Yonkers and her Oscar was for The Fisher King. When she was in grade school, her family was in New York visiting relatives when they drove through Times Square. On the spur of the moment, her parents decided to see if they could get tickets to "The Unsinkable Molly Brown."
"I remember waiting in the car," says Mercedes, "while my mother ran up to the box office. The only tickets left were for box seats. Box seats! To me there were no better seats, and I remember my father saying, sure, go for it. One of the best qualities of my parents was that they liked to have fun.
"As we watched the play, I could not take my eyes off its star, Tammy Grimes. She must have felt my adoration, because at one point she looked up and held my eyes. It was probably for no more than one second, but it seemed like ten seconds. I always felt that was my official invitation to be an actress. With her gaze I was touched like a knight on both shoulders with a sword." How often we forget the power of a look, the magnitude of a recognition of a person's soul.
Last Sunday's scripture passage came from the book of Galatians, and this week we continue with that same book. Galatia was a highland area in our modern day Turkey. From what I can tell, the Galatians were originally Europeans who invaded the native people called Cappadocians. The native people were allowed to keep their lands, but had to tithe their property to their Galatian overlords. That little "arrangement" allowed many Galatians to continue their military lifestyle at that time - one that didn't necessarily have an interest in becoming a forgiving, gentle, peace-loving body of people.
The great apostle Paul made three mission trips during his lifetime. All three had him traveling through Galatia, so he knew the people and their situations. He knew of the Christians who lived in Galatia, especially the ones who were getting "overzealous" in how they thought Christian converts should be acting. These Christian fanatics were living far more by the Law - capital L - Old Testament, black and white "thou shalt" and "thou shalt not", rather than by the love and grace and mercy that Christ preached, demonstrated and lived. It is against that background that we hear this morning's scripture passage, read from Eugene Peterson's translation, The Message.
Galatians 6:1-10 The Message
1-3 Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.
4-5 Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.
6 Be very sure now, you who have been trained to a self-sufficient maturity, that you enter into a generous common life with those who have trained you, sharing all the good things that you have and experience.
7-8 Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.
9-10 So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.
Thank you, Peggy. Although it is Eugene Peterson's translation, there still is a lot of Paul in that first - very necessary - sentence, "Live creatively, friends." A long time ago, back in the days before I even knew that Frankfort, MI existed, I had done some work in and with the then 7 or 8 Congregational churches in Minnesota. (There are now 9 churches in Minnesota that have grown from the same National Association roots that we have. By the way, Michigan has 60 NACCC churches.) There was a minister working in one of the larger churches that decided to "borrow" some funds from the Missions account to cover some of the expenses of remodeling their home - at least that's about what I remember.
That minister was tried, found guilty and after a little time in jail or prison, went home with an ankle bracelet, as would be "normal." I remember the shock and wrestling that we did as a state Association - and as individuals. With just nine churches in the state Association, everyone pretty much knew everyone else. The wrestling came over the idea that the great Paul says so pointedly. "If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself." It's at that point in Minnesota that they say, "uffda!"
"Forgivingly restore him" - or her. We've spoken about this concept at our Benzie County Ministerial Association meetings, how we would do such a thing in various situations - to protect all parties involved - and we never hold those conversations without a great deal of seriousness and a dash of "but for the grace of God" thrown in. I don't know about any of you, but there sure are a number of names running through my head when I hear these words - from the Bible - forgivingly restore them. There would need to be great "creativity" in restoring people whose names find themselves at the front end of a newscast or the front page of the paper.
I still don't know about anyone else, but I am tempted, in just that much of "God's Word" to put my foot into my "high horse" saddle, because I do know the difference between right and wrong. Except that the wise Paul followed up those first two sentences with this one: "You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out."
Sometimes, somehow, life just happens, and right or wrong, we need forgiveness - to receive it and to give it. It is a hugely precious gift that we don't hear much about these days. And yet, while it would be easy to stick with just these three sentences from this book of Galatians, wise - and practical - Paul encourages us with verse 9. "So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good."
One of the television shows I've really grown to love is one that often - like Duck Dynasty - ends with the family sitting around the dinner table. What I love about Blue Bloods, after having to watch the very handsome Tom Selleck, are some of his lines as the New York City Police Commissioner. More than once I've tried to write down a line that he spoke, because it was just plain good. In season 3, Commissioner Reagan said, "Doing the right thing may be hard but it sure as hell (heck) isn't complicated." In a very Paul-like manner, Commissioner Reagan also said, "It takes guts to stand by your principles, not just when it's easy but when it can cost you something."
There have been a lot of people that have said a lot of good (encouraging) things about encouragement over the centuries. I wouldn't doubt that most everyone here - given a minute or two to think about it, could come up with a line or phrase that has been important in your life or someone you know.
Even at that point, Paul has excellent advise for us. "Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life." For that, we do our very best when we remember to include God in the creativity and restoration and reaching out and everything else Paul encourages us to do in this morning's passage. So let us go back into our world with some of God's creativity and words.
Gracious God, help us to live creatively. Help us to forgive and restore those who "fall." Help us to hold our tongue, and to remember that forgiveness is a give and take thing. Help us to reach out to the oppressed and to share their burdens. And make us mindful that we are not too good to do so.
Remind us not to be impressed with ourselves at the right times, and at the other right times, to be proud of jobs well done because of the abilities you give us. Remind us that life is not a comparison race, but that our test is only with our own self. Remind us of what we learned in or before Kindergarden, that sharing is a good thing - in our burdens as well as our joys. As we are so blessed with good fruit from your earth at this time of year, remind us that what we reap what we sow - for good or ill. When we are weary, Lord, or overwhelmed, remind us that the world is not dependent on us, but on you, so our best is good enough. And when we have the opportunity, Lord, nudge us to offer the smile or glance that can make a change for greatness. For all the answers to our prayers, and in thanks for all your blessings, all your people say, Amen.