By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: John 6:1-13
This morning at Trinity we continue with our Stewardship series entitled: Building, Growing, Connecting: Living God’s Vision for Trinity. This morning we begin to look at what is necessary for growth. I can only assume that all of us want Trinity to be a growing faith community: growing numerically, growing spiritually (bearing spiritual fruit), growing in our outreach to our community. Growth, for any living organism – including the Church, is normal and healthy. But, growing requires resources. When I was a child, we had dogs; but they were small, generally under 30 pounds. A few years after Britt and I got married, we adopted a puppy. We got her from the pound and she’d been found on the streets. She was scrawny. As best we could tell she was a shepherd, setter, Collie mix and her paws were enormous. The first six months we had her, we could not believe how much food Charis required. Eventually, she would grow to be about 78 pounds. When she lay on the floor and stretched out, end to end, she was longer than I am tall. That girl could eat! Charis required enormous resources to fuel fer growth. Some of you have had this experience with children; particularly, a teenage son in the throes of a growth spurt. Mom or dad has barely finished loading the dinner dishes into the dishwasher and wiping down the counters. They turn to leave the kitchen and their teenage son is in the doorway: “I’m hungry. What do we have to eat?” And you think, “You just ate. How can you possibly be hungry?” It takes enormous resources to keep a teenage boy healthy and strong. In any situation, growth requires resources.
This morning’s gospel story is about how life can be sustained, fueled, when we are willing to offer up our resources to Jesus… even if it seems we have little to offer and the need exceeds what we have to give.
But before I unpack the bible story, it might be worthwhile to ask the question: “Why is it important to give our resources to the Church anyway? After all, there are a lot of good and helpful organizations in the world. What’s so special about the Church?”
Well, the Church is the organization entrusted with continuing Jesus’ work, Jesus’ mission. In the gospel of John, Jesus explains his mission, the reason for his coming: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”[i] There is insufficient time this morning for me to point out all of the places in John’s gospel that relate to this message of life and the description of the nature or character of this life. But in a nutshell I can say this: the life Jesus came to give has to do with intimate relationship, a connection, with God through Jesus that completely changes the way we live; the way we do life. And it changes not only how we live, but what we give. It replaces fear with courage. It replaces sorrow with joy. It replaces death with eternal life. It replaces anxiety with peace. It is a life that is characterized by abundance, not scarcity. Think for a moment of all the dreadful things happening in our world today: wars, famine, broken relationships, political bickering, addiction, abuse, poverty. I believe we can trace the origin of most of those things back to the way in which those that hold the majority of resources view life and how their view impacts the way they manage (or steward) their resources. One nation fears another nation will take something from it; get the better of them. This concept of scarce resources is the theology behind sanctions, right? Take resources away from people in order to force good or compliant behavior.
When food is in limited supply, the powerful hoard and control it resulting in – or at least contributing to – famines.
People refuse to offer forgiveness to someone who has wronged them out of fear that, in that gesture of grace and vulnerability, something more will be stripped away from them.
I think sin can be boiled down to this: Choosing to live in a way that reflects a lack of trust in God’s willingness and ability to provide for us and to be generous with us, especially in times of need. We fear immigrants because we think they will steal our jobs. We fear opposing political parties because we think they will rob us of our values.
But John’s gospel proclaims a different experience of life. Jesus came as an expression of God’s grace: grace upon grace, grace stacked on top of grace, as John’s prologue tells us.[ii] This is not a story of scarce life, but abundant life. Jesus demonstrates the heavenly Father’s love by offering up even his own life which results, ultimately, in his resurrection and ours. The way to experience life in abundance is not to fearfully guard what we have but to generously give up what is in our grasp – to release it – so that we and others might experience abundance of life. That is the message of resurrection. So Jesus says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”[iii]
So, what about this morning’s story? The feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle told in all four gospels. We often forget that Jesus lived in a culture where food security was a significant problem. A very small number of people controlled most of the land. Roman taxation was a brutal burden. Most of the population was peasants. So it is easy to understand why preserving the story of this miracle was of such critical importance to the early Church. But John’s account of this story has some unique and significant details. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, the disciples report to Jesus that all that they have to work with are five loaves of bread and two fish. But, we don’t know where that food comes from. John, however, tells us that all of it, 5 loaves of barley bread and 2 fish, all come from a child. So we learn that one person, a boy, will need to surrender everything he has – while others contribute nothing – in order for this miraculous feeding to take place.
Now, keep in mind: children had little worth in the ancient world. They were not adored as we adore children in our culture today. They were seen as bundles of chaos that needed to be beaten into submission. They were a blessing only in that they had the potential to grow up to be productive adults. Also, this boy’s bread is made of barley flour. Barley, in ancient Palestine, was the grain of the poor. So, Jesus’ partner in this miraculous work is not someone wealthy, important or powerful. It is someone who is socially insignificant and someone who has few resources of their own. But, what little this boy has, he surrenders. And that, my friends, was an enormous risk. Most of us would have been tempted to hide one loaf under our tunic just in case things didn’t work out. But, this boy hands over all that he has; and his willingness to risk it all results in a miracle of abundance.
And there is one more thing unique to John’s telling of this story. In John, it is Jesus, not the disciples, who distributes the bread and fish. People of God: whatever we have in our lives, we have received from the hand of God. We might think it comes from our employer, the government or a generous relative, but in truth “every good and perfect gift is from above.” Jesus is our provider and he is an abundant, lavish, provider at that. Jesus doesn’t multiply this food so that there will be just enough. Jesus gives so abundantly that there are twelve baskets full of leftovers.
And that, my friends, is in keeping with the message of John’s gospel. In John’s gospel, the very first sign or miracle Jesus performs takes place at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.[iv] When the wine runs out at the reception, Jesus turns water into the very finest wine. When the steward taste tests the wine, he is amazed. The general practice was to serve the best wine first and then serve the cheaper wine… after the guests had already had too much and weren’t so discriminating anymore. Jesus could have gotten by with turning that water into something economical – 2 buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s. But instead, he turned it into something you’d find aged and auctioned off for thousands of dollars from a French wine cellar. When Jesus gives, he gives abundantly and lavishly.
The last miracle Jesus performs in John’s gospel is also a miracle of abundance.[v] It is after his resurrection, but before his ascension. His disciples are out fishing all night, but they haven’t caught a thing. By morning they must have been pretty frustrated and hungry. Jesus appears on the shoreline, but they don’t recognize him. He calls out to them and tells them to cast their net on the other side of the boat. When they do, they catch so many fish they can’t even hoist the net into the boat. They have to drag it along behind them. Now scripture tells us there were seven disciples in that boat. So, they certainly didn’t need that much fish. But it is in the nature of our Lord to provide for our needs in an abundant, even excessive, fashion. Our God is not a stingy God. Our God is generous beyond our wildest imaginings if we can only learn to trust him.
Friends, our God is a generous giver: “God so loved the world that he gave…” And when we are willing to give and share generously of our resources, God uses those resources to sustain and to nurture life; God uses those resources to make things grow. The resources God has entrusted to us as stewards hold the potential to bring life to the world if – if we are willing to trust Jesus enough to offer them up in bold and risky ways like that boy gave up his fish and bread.
And it’s not just physical stuff that we’re called to share. Resources are more than physical objects and money. Each and every one of us has valuable resources in the form of our experiences, our time (an increasingly precious commodity), our skills, our knowledge, even our passions. Even painful and difficult experiences you have had in your life can be transformed into a meaningful, life-giving resource to benefit others. Now please don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting God inflicts tragedies on us so we can learn something. I’m not saying that. We live in a sinful, broken world. Sometimes bad things happen and, when they do, we have a choice. We can choose to become bitter; angry at God and the world. Or, we can seek to learn and grow through our experience. We can offer that experience back to God so that it can be redeemed and used to help someone else. Catholic Father Richard Rohr, like the apostle Paul,[vi] reminds us that nothing that we experience is wasted by God.
Friends; Trinity has the resources we need to do the ministry Jesus has called us to do. The money, the talents, the knowledge and experiences, the passions and skills needed to do what Jesus asks of us is already here. But the ministry can only happen if we, like that boy with his bread and fish, can find the courage and take the risk of offering what we have to Jesus. Initially, Jesus’ disciples could only see scarcity. They were in the presence of the embodiment of God’s grace and life-giving abundance; they just didn’t see it. They’d taken inventory and named their resources as inadequate. But, in the hands of Jesus, the inadequate becomes miraculously abundant.
Friends; at the end of October, you will be asked to bring forward your commitment card, your estimate of your 2018 financial giving to the church. But I hope that over the next few weeks you will be praying and reflecting not only over what you can contribute to the church’s ministry financially; but about the wealth of your talents, your skills, your life’s experiences; giving of your time and sharing your passions…. All those things are the resources Jesus has already given us. And all those things – placed in the hands of Jesus – can feed a hungry world; bring growth and life; and fulfill our God-given vision of growing in love and service through relationships with God and community.
[i] John 10:10.
[ii] John 1:16
[iii] John 12:24
[iv] See John 2:1-11.
[v] See John 21:1-14.
[vi] See Romans 8:28.
The Faith of Our Elders
By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: 2 Timothy 1:1-9
This morning we continue our Stewardship series entitled Building, Growing, Connecting: Living God’s Vision for Trinity. Over the past two Sundays and concluding this morning, we’re considering how Trinity’s building and history as a community of faith play a critical role in our living out our vision of “growing in love and service through relationships with God and community.” We are the oldest Christian congregation in Tippecanoe County; we’ve been blessed with a rich heritage of faith and today – in 2017 – we are the stewards of that rich legacy of faith. A steward is one who has been entrusted with managing another’s resources. The Church belongs, ultimately, to Jesus. Jesus calls his followers in all times and places to use the resources he has entrusted to us to accomplish his mission of making disciples. This building and our long heritage of faith are valuable resources we manage or steward on Jesus’ behalf in order to do his work; in order to fulfill Trinity’s mission statement (to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world) and to fulfill Trinity’s vision statement (growing in love and service through relationships with God and community).
At a recent workshop I attended, the facilitator spoke about the distinctions between a mentor, a coach, and a spiritual director or guide. Mentoring, in particular, has been a buzzword in recent years. Likewise, we’ve returned in recent years to seeing the value in apprenticeships… a very old concept back in vogue. And discipleship, as I’ve already mentioned, is at the core of what it means to be followers of Jesus who, during his earthly ministry, was most frequently referred to as rabbi, teacher. Now, all of those terms – apprentice, disciple, mentor, rabbi, coach, spiritual director – all focus around learning that is directly tied to relationship. So living out the heritage of our faith is not something we achieve by simply studying history. As important as scripture is, we cannot mature as followers of Jesus strictly by reading about Jesus. We learn through relationship as our faith and our heritage are passed down from generation to generation. We develop Christian competencies – so to speak – within the context of relationship.
I wonder: who handed faith down to you? If you grew up in the church, perhaps you can recall a special Sunday School teacher whose creativity made the bible come to life. Or perhaps it was a youth pastor or volunteer who, during those tough adolescent years, embodied for you how to follow Jesus when life was hard or confusing. Perhaps it was your parents who would say a prayer as they tucked you into bed at night. Who handed faith down to you? When I was seven years old, my dad – who was a pastor – moved to a little church on the outskirts of Johnstown, PA. My mom loved to sing but, back in those days, there was no such thing as Children’s Worship so my mom could only sing in the choir if someone else looked after me on Sunday morning. Not long after our arrival at that church, a couple named Dot and Bill Miller invited us to their home for dinner. Sometimes going to people’s homes for dinner was dreadfully boring… just sitting around the table, trying not to spill anything, while the adults talked and talked and talked. But when we got to Dot and Bill’s, Dot had purchased a sticker book for me. Now, you should know, my family didn’t have much money and I didn’t get sticker books and I loved stickers. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. At the end of the evening, Dot let me take my sticker book home with me. And that was just the beginning. Dot became my Sunday morning “mom.” Every Sunday she kept me appropriately occupied during morning worship. She always asked about how my week went and listened carefully to everything I said. Sometimes other adults at church laughed or chuckled at silly things I said, but Dot never laughed… except when I told her a joke… and, looking back, I think I messed up the punch lines at least half the time. But Dot somehow knew exactly when to and when not to laugh at something I said. Her purse was like a miniature playroom – stuffed full of coloring books, crayons, stickers, candy. She was amazing! Before I ever got old enough to go on a mission trip or work on a service project, Dot Miller taught me what it meant for Christians to take care of one another. Dot Miller taught me the value of listening to others with respect and compassion – even if what they say is a little silly as my words to Dot no doubt often were. When I am fully attentive to the words and the presence of others, I am living out the heritage of faith Dot handed down to me. Who handed faith down to you?
This morning’s scripture from 2 Timothy is a short passage that packs a big heritage punch, so to speak. Within these few short verses, the apostle makes mention of his own ancestors in the faith; he speaks of Timothy (not a blood relative) as his beloved child; and he reminds Timothy of how faith has been passed down through Timothy’s family of origin. In a culture dominated by men, it is the women in Timothy’s family who are named and praised. The faith that the apostle sees in Timothy is a reflection of what he has seen in Timothy’s mother and in his grandmother. The name “Timothy” in Greek means “one who honors God.” His name clearly expresses the desires of his family that Timothy might grow to live in a way that would bring honor to God. For better or worse, certainly no context or arena exercises a stronger influence over a child than the home in which they’re raised. What we learn, as children in our homes, we will carry with us for the rest of our lives. Children learn to live as people of faith by observing how that faith is lived out in their homes within their families. But that’s not all there is to it because, within the Church, family goes beyond blood relatives or even those who live under the same roof. It’s interesting to note that nothing is said of Timothy’s father in this passage. The apostle speaks of his mother, named Eunice; and of his grandmother, named Lois. Yet there is no mention of dad. But that does not mean Timothy is fatherless for he is addressed by the apostle as his beloved child, his beloved son.
Numerous passages in the New Testament give witness to the close bond between Timothy and the apostle Paul. They were truly like father and son. Paul, from all we can discern historically, never married or had a biological family; yet he did not die without progeny. He had a son, a beloved child in the faith, one whom he taught and mentored, traveled with, loved and encouraged: Timothy. Timothy worked side by side with Paul in carrying out his ministry. He is referred to as Paul’s official representative and as his co-worker. In a letter to the Christians in Thessalonica, Paul writes, “we sent Timothy, our brother and co-worker for God in proclaiming the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you for the sake of your faith…”[i] So closely intertwined were the ministries of Paul and Timothy, that Paul includes him as a “co-author,” so to speak, as he opens his letter to the church in Corinth, saying: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is in Corinth…”[ii] To the Christians in Philippi, Paul writes, “I have no one like [Timothy] who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. All [the rest] are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But Timothy's worth you know, how like a son with a father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.”[iii] It was Paul who had “ordained” Timothy to the ministry. Paul “laid hands” on Timothy; a gesture that symbolized the pouring out of God’s Spirit. He reminds Timothy to be diligent in using the spiritual gifts God has given him and not to be shy, timid or fearful. Paul encourages Timothy, taking him under his wings as both a son and an apprentice in the ministry. Paul passes on to Timothy all that Paul has learned and experienced. He apprentices him.
As a pastor, people sometimes feel compelled to share with me their assessment that one can be a Christian without being part of a church. Now, I don’t doubt that people outside the Church believe in Jesus; many no doubt pray and try to live good, moral lives. But if we truly want to grow and mature as Christians – if we want to develop the spiritual gifts God has given us – we’re going to need a little more help, a little more support beyond our own rugged determination. To mature, you will need a community; you will need a place to grow… a place that is a “depository” for a rich heritage of faith that you can draw out and draw upon for your own spiritual development and maturity. Christians need community. We need one another – from one generation to the next – in order to grow and mature.
Who handed faith down to you? Perhaps you can take some time this week to call them or write them a note and thank them for raising you up as a child of God; for apprenticing you; for helping you get “fired up” about using your gifts and talents to support the ministries of the church. Who has been your “Paul?” Who has been your “Dot Miller?” Who handed faith down to you? Who has helped to grow your faith and your gifts?
Or perhaps, an even more important question is this one: to whom will you hand down the faith? Whose faith and gifts will you water with your words and your wisdom that they might grow and bear fruit? Who will be your “Timothy?”
[i] 1 Thessalonians 3:2
[ii] 2 Corinthians 1:1
[iii] Philippians 2:20-22
Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 11:17-22
I want to start off my sermon this week with a little “audience participation.” I’m going to say a word and I want you to shout out its opposite. OK? Are you ready?
We are living in a time of great pluralism and diversity. But, just in the off chance you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, America’s increased diversity has not yielded an increase in tolerance. In fact, political psychologist Karen Stenner reports that, among those who desire oneness or sameness, such diversity moves them not toward their greatest level of tolerance, but rather, to their most intolerant extremes.[i] And sadly, the Christian Church has not presented a counter-cultural perspective. It was April 17, 1960, when Martin Luther King, Jr., on Meet the Press said: “I think it is one of the tragedies of our nation – one of the shameful tragedies – that 11 o’clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours – if not the most segregated hour – in Christian America.” And more than 57 years later, little has changed.
What is it about our human condition that causes us so often to gravitate toward those most like us and to so often fear those who are different?
Often sermons must bridge a great cultural divide. Often when I preach I point out differences or distinctions between 1st century Mediterranean culture and our post-modern American culture. But today’s scripture from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is remarkably “on target” for post-modern America.
Corinth was a Roman city. In 44 BCE, Julius Caesar re-founded the city as a colony for veterans, slaves, freed persons and entrepreneurs. Location is everything, as any good real estate agent will tell you. And Corinth was an ideal location. So it grew quickly. By the middle of the first century CE, it was a hub for business, trade, manufacturing and tourism. It was a magnet for those who hoped to rise quickly in their financial or social status. It was the cradle of upward mobility; yet, not everyone made it. There were also many who were poor and struggled to eke out an existence. Corinth was a remarkably cosmopolitan city; yet it revealed tremendous social, cultural and economic segregation. Its way of life encouraged competition and comparison.
And there, in the midst of such social, cultural and economic competition, Paul had come to proclaim the gospel of a Jewish messiah who became savior and lord through something as humiliating as crucifixion… capital punishment reserved for the most despicable criminals. There, in Corinth, in the midst of such social, cultural and economic segregation, Paul had come to proclaim a gospel of equality and unity. And let me tell you, it was not an easy sell.
In this morning’s scripture verses, Paul’s attention has turned to the shameful way in which the church in Corinth is celebrating Holy Communion. In the first century, the Lord’s Supper was set within the context of an entire meal. And dining, in the ancient Mediterranean world, was an extremely segregated and biased practice. Generally, those who were wealthy enough to afford meat and high quality wine only served such delicacies to those who could return the favor and were counted as social equals. That’s why Jesus in his own dining protocol and in his parables is so offensive. He eats with sinners and tax collectors and encourages dragging diners in off the street. Bible scholar Robert Karris writes that “Jesus got himself crucified by the way he ate.”[ii] Lucian, an ancient rhetorician known for his satire pokes fun at this practice of culinary belittling, asking of one dinner host: “Since I am asked to dinner… why is not the same dinner served to me as to you? You eat oysters fattened in the Lucrine Lake while I suck a mussel through a hole in the shell. You get mushrooms while I get hog funguses… Golden with fat, a turtledove gorges you with its bloated rump, but a magpie that has died in its cage is set before me…”[iii]
Meals, in the ancient world, were an opportunity to reinforce the social pecking order and that is exactly what the Corinthians are doing. The congregation in Corinth had a few wealthy members and it’s likely those folks didn’t need to work long hours. They would have had nice homes and ample food to eat. But there were others in the congregation who were quite poor, who likely found it necessary to work long hours and couldn’t have afforded a very well-balanced, healthy diet. In those days, there were no church buildings. Christians worshipped in homes and those homes would have, by necessity, belonged to the wealthier members of the church with houses big enough to hold a lot of people. So when the Corinthian Christians came together to celebrate the “Lord’s Supper” within the context of a meal, here’s how it likely played out: the wealthy folks would show up early since they weren’t the kind who needed to punch the time clock. And, right away, they’d start to eat. They’d over-indulge in rich food and meat and a lot of wine. By the time the poorer folks arrived late from work, the best food and drink had already been gobbled up and there wasn’t much left.
But, Paul makes quite clear to these Corinthians, they all belong to the one body of Christ. No one part, no one individual, is more important than any other. All are bound to one another in one body. The more affluent members of the congregation had been seduced by the culture around them to construct a self-affirming, self-centered, affluent version of the gospel; a cultural adaptation that was an aberration, a gross distortion of the good news; one that rejected the lifestyle and teaching of the humble, crucified messiah they claimed to know.[iv] So Paul admonished them to look beyond themselves and their own recognition and honor and to seek the good of others. This Lord’s Supper is the meal recalling Jesus’ sacrificial death, the voluntary pouring out of his life for those whom he loves, and these Corinthians have distorted it into a fancy dinner party designed to draw attention to their social affluence and influence.
But, the Church is never meant to reflect the world’s social groupings and values. If we succumb to such worldly distinctions, we make a mockery of the gospel and disrespect our Lord. The Body of Christ is to be a body of diversity that honors and celebrates and respects our social, ethnic, cultural, educational and economic differences.
In Corinth, in the midst of such segregation, Paul had come to proclaim a gospel of equality and unity. It was not an easy sell and it still isn’t.
Friends; our Centennial neighborhood, the neighborhood in which our church resides, is a diverse community… particularly, revealing economic, social and educational diversity. We have Ph.D. students living in cheap apartments. We have wealthy folks who have purchased historic homes and spent significant amounts of money to restore them to their former glory. We have “urban nomads” who have no permanent housing of their own but sleep on park benches or LUM’s shelter or hunker down with friends. We have women living quietly in the confines of a domestic women’s shelter. We have empty nesters that have moved downtown and purchased expensive, new condos. We have families – a remarkably high percentage of single dads – living in cheap, often sub-standard, apartments or houses – struggling to provide for their children and keep a roof over their heads. We have section 8, government subsidized apartments. We have folks who have selected this location because they go easily back and forth across the river, taking advantage of our abundant cafes, coffee shops, boutiques, community forums and Purdue sporting events. We have folks who have selected this neighborhood because they rely on the public bus, St John’s food pantry, or the 12 step meetings hosted here and at St John’s. If we look around our sanctuary this morning, we have some diversity here; but not enough. We can do better and that’s what our Ready Set Grow plan is trying to address. This summer we started a community garden. If you didn’t have a chance to work in the garden, I hope you will next year. Talk with our garden guy, Mel Shoaf, and he can tell you about some of the conversations he had with folks here in our neighborhood who came to pick fresh, free, healthy produce out of the garden. This summer we had Garden and Grill meals and they brought together on our lawn people who represented different social groupings to sit together around the table and break bread with one another. This month, we’re launching several new small groups and if you think those groups are just about Trinity, that’s a mistake; a misunderstanding. We want you to invite people to those groups, invite them to come with you, to join us. This summer we redesigned our unused chapel to become a conference room and one summer small group already has included people outside our Trinity congregation and that’s how it ought to be. At least once now – sometimes twice – every week, people gather around the table in that conference room to learn, to converse, to plan ministry, to get to know one another; to encounter the image of Christ in one another.
Tomorrow evening at 7 pm, Ruth Smith, our community engagement coach, will offer a community discussion group to learn more about how we can create a stronger, more compassionate community. Starting Sept. 19, Ruth will host once a month dinner groups comprised of folks from our congregation and our community – a diverse group – to talk together about our neighborhood and strengthening and serving our neighborhood. If you want to know more, talk with Ruth or me. Over this next year, Trinity’s primary focus will be on building community; reaching out to new people; finding the courage and learning the skills to strike up dialogue with people we don’t know; walking around our neighborhood and initiating conversations; even hosting training opportunities so folks can learn more about our community’s needs and how to respond to them. Our office is now in the Lily House. Have you sat on the porch there? Do you know how much foot traffic is in the alley between the church and Lily House? Pack a sandwich and come eat lunch on the porch and greet our neighbors.
Friends; we can’t simply say that we will unlock our doors on Sunday morning and warmly greet anyone who crosses our threshold. That’s not enough. That’s not counter-cultural. We have to all – and by all, I mean ALL – begin to gather around the table with people who might not be like us; people whose differences might cause us some anxiety. But that’s OK. Church isn’t supposed to be easy or comfortable; it certainly wasn’t for the Corinthians. Church is supposed to challenge us. Church ought to be as counter-cultural and wildly hospitable as Jesus was. And that’s why this building is here; that’s why we’re here: to be the Church in radical, counter-cultural ways.
And this fall as we talk about stewardship, we want to focus your attention on the opportunities we have over the next year to develop new programs, new outreaches; to redesign the space within our building – spaces like our parlor – to become spaces of radical hospitality and fellowship. And that will cost money; that will require generous giving. It’s not about how well this space and our current programs serve us. It’s about how well this sacred space and our programs serve the people outside our walls who haven’t yet walked through our doors. We want to prepare our hearts, our minds, our programs, and our facilities to welcome them and proclaim the radical good news that Paul proclaimed to the Corinthians: that social, cultural, and economic segregation may very well be the way of the world; but it is not the way of Jesus and it is not the way of the Church. Paul reminded the Corinthians and he reminds us: the gospel of Jesus is one of humility, vulnerability, sacrifice, radical hospitality and unity amidst diversity.
So this morning I want to end my sermon in a very clear way and be perfectly frank: I am asking three things of you for the sake of the gospel. One: your talents. In just a few moments, Bob Lilly will be talking about our building maintenance team. Our building needs to be safe, well-functioning and hospitable and it takes the skills and efforts of many people to accomplish that.
Second: your time. Please pull out the insert in your program that lists this fall’s new groups. I would ask you to pray over that page and to make a commitment to become engaged in a group AND… AND… to invite someone else to come with you. Offer to pick them up and bring them with you.
Third: In a few weeks, we will ask for your estimate of church giving for the 2018 calendar year. Please begin praying about that now. It will take not only time and talents, but also money, for our church to grow in our ability to reach beyond our walls. I hope, I pray, you find that of great value; of so much value that you will be willing to give sacrificially of your time, your talents, and your treasure so that, together, we might live out God’s vision for Trinity of growing in love and service through relationships with God and community.
Finally, this morning, I want to invite you to do one thing to expand your experience of Christian community today. Look around the sanctuary and look for someone you don’t know; maybe someone who seems a little different from you. And when worship ends, invite them to join you for lunch. Now, they might have somewhere to go right after church so, don’t be pushy; just issue a gracious invitation that they have the freedom to accept or decline. Take them somewhere simple (Pete’s Diner, Panera, Fuel, MCL) because if you keep it simple, you can buy their lunch.
[ii] Robert Karris: Luke: Artist and Theologian; New York; Paulist Press; 1985; p. 47.
[iii] Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians; Ben Witherington; Eerdmans Pub; 1995; p. 242.
[iv] For further discussion of this, see The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 1; Abingdon Press; 2006; pp. 743-744.
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