DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.
May the Spirit Speak to you!
A Sermon for World Communion Sunday
5 October 2014
Click here to read the scripture first: Matthew 10:1-4 (NRS)
Matthew 27:55-56 (NRS)
With everything we’ve been up to around here these last few days; I flipped the week and was off at the beginning of it, rather than at the end. It worked out perfectly, actually, because it turned out that I was contacted a few weeks ago about attending a class offered at Montreat in North Carolina. If you’ve never been to Montreat, then you may not know about this gem of our denomination. It’s one of the PCUSA’s camp and conference centers and we’re blessed that it’s located just 300 miles from us. Nearly 200 years ago, a Presbyterian man had the foresight to get several other Presbyterians to buy land up there in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. For years; it’s been a place of beauty for rest, refreshment, and religious learning too. Workshops and conferences are scheduled year-round – in fact, I brought back cards of their line-up for 2015, which you can find out in the narthex. And the newly renovated Assembly Inn has become a very comfortable spot, with its massive stone staircase and halls filled with photos from two hundred years of Presbyterians at worship, service, study, and play.
Peak season’s still several days away up there in those mountains, but it’s starting. Hints of red dotted the view of Montreat’s Look Out Mountain. Hues of golden yellow were in the mix. It’s been a long time since I’ve used a 96-piece box of crayons, but as I sat outside for lunch one day, it occurred to me that greens come in so very many different shades. There’s that deep evergreen. Then a shade just a tad lighter. The green that looks like vibrant life. There’s some that appear as if a master painter had swirled in lots of yellow on the pallet to come up with a shade that was much lighter than the rest. It was beautiful. In some ways even more so as everything was on the verge of what we know will be a glorious transformation!
The scene came back to me yesterday and Friday here. Wherever I looked in the Fellowship Hall, in the conference room, out in the yard: one was bagging ice. One was making signs. One was sweeping the floor. One was blowing leaves off the driveway for that added touch of welcome at the entrance to the fair. One was organizing. One had the big picture vision in mind. One was communicating tasks that needed to be done. Several had arrived with baked goods. One was handling money. A few of you had created pickles and jams and children’s crafts. And someone had known how to put up that great big tent. I even saw two of you sitting together, just talking about what was going on in each of your lives. At the Presbytery meeting in Franklin yesterday morning, I saw a few of us sitting for to listen and discern directions for our more collective ministry. And I happen to know two of you offered kind hospitality to our CAT interpreter who has traveled from out of town to be among us today. These are just a bit of all the amazing gifts on array among us this weekend. Like that glorious sight from Montreat’s Assembly Inn: the reds and yellows and multitude of greens were on magnificent display!
It’s exactly how it is with the folks Jesus calls to come follow. We don’t know huge amounts of personal information about all of Jesus’ named disciples; but we know they each were unique. From the boldness of Peter to the curiosity of Andrew. The enthusiasm of young John and the willingness of Matthew, the one who had been a tax collector. Thomas who needed a first-hand experience to believe. And Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee: the women who had the courage to watch the agonizing crucifixion of one who they supported in his mission to change the world. . . . So often we forget that it takes every kind in order to be about what God’s up to through faithful followers of Christ. Every single one of us has at least one gift – one ability – one talent like none other which is needed in God’s kingdom work.
A little skit is out there, which also is capture in a children’s book as African folklore. It’s the story of five actors trying to get a sixth into place. Two of the five actors are ears. Two are eyes. One is a mouth. And the sixth that feels unneeded by the rest of them is a nose. Somehow or another, the nose got it into her head that she wasn’t as important as the rest of the face’s characters. She had decided she no longer was needed. She couldn’t hear beautiful sounds like the two ears could. She wasn’t able to bring amazing visions into the body as the two eyes could. She couldn’t string words together like the mouth – who also could do everything from eat to sing to smile. Nose was convinced she wasn’t needed. She couldn’t do any of these other wonderful things that Ears and Eyes and Mouth could. In all honesty, Ears and Eyes and Mouth wondered if Nose was of any use. Sometimes they weren’t as considerate about her purpose as they should have been. Until one day; allergy season came round. Can you guess what happened? Ears and Eyes and Mouth and Nose all learned that without Nose, they weren’t able to sneeze. It was awful – painful as the pressure mounted. Messing up all the others so that they couldn’t work right either. The gift alone that Nose could bring desperately was needed. Finally, they all got into place and convinced Nose of her worth. The skit ends as, in one accord, at last there comes a great big “A-CHU!” . . . Let those who have ears to hear, listen, right?
Because it takes each one. . . . The Apostle Paul tried desperately to teach that in his writings to the early church. There are varieties of gifts and services and activities. And each one is a manifestation of Spirit, Paul writes, for the common good (1 Cor. 12:4-7). In other words, we’ve got to have all sorts of colors for our glorious autumn view. We’ve got to have ears and eyes and mouths and noses if we’re going to be about the purpose for which God created us as a church. Right before our eyes this fall and in front of us each day in the mirror, God gives us this most important lesson.
On the Lord’s Table today we have breads representing children of God from around this world. Because we’ve got to have followers of Christ in India, Greece, Mexico, and Israel if the work of God’s kingdom is to be brought to fruition. It shouldn’t take a World Communion Sunday celebration to bring us together to an appreciation of our brothers and sisters around the world, but we can give great thanks for the early efforts of Presbyterians who called all Christians to unite in an act at the Table the first Sunday of every October. Today we uniquely are reminded that each of us is precious to our God. Loved by our God. And sustained by our God to be about the way of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . As we prepare ourselves to come to this great feast – the meal of our Lord that is celebrated around the world this day – let us ponder the gift we alone bring.
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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