Monday, February 28, 2011


1 Corinthians 4: 1-5
Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself.
I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.
Then each one will receive commendation from God.
When you play hide and seek with a one and a half year old you’re really not playing hide and seek. Our daughter Lily doesn’t like to take her bath, so when I go into the bathroom to fill up the tub after supper, Lily pulls her mama into my closet to hide.
As the water fills the tub I go try to find her so I can give her her bath.
Last month I started this ritual by saying something out-loud like, “Where’s that Lily? It’s time for her bath, but I can’t seem to find her. Is she in her mama’s closet?”
“No” escapes from the undisclosed hiding place.
“Is she under the bed?”
“No” again comes from my closet.
The poor girl just doesn’t quite understand the game. Either that or she’s just as excited about being found as she is hiding.
I want to be sure to enjoy this while it lasts, because wanting to be found won’t last forever, especially once Lily has something or has done something that she wants to hide.
The third chapter of Genesis tells that story: “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”
It’s a silly question really – God knows where Adam is, but this question is just like the one I ask my daughter. I don’t ask it because I don’t know where Lily is, I ask it because I love to hear her want to be found. God knows that Adam is in the closet; Adam knows that Adam is in the closet, but for something good to come out of this situation Adam has to want to be found.
Wanting to be found doesn’t make that much sense to most teenagers and adults – if we wanted to be found we wouldn’t hide – so the words that we read in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth understandably don’t sound like the Good News – “Therefore, do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.”
What could be good about that?
Uncovering the heart’s hidden purposes, selfishness shrouded in kindness, malice iced with benevolence, greed covered up with charity – no one wants to disclose the purposes of their heart and no one wants what they have hidden in darkness to come to light – what we do in the darkness is done there just so that it will not come to light – so no one will find out – so nothing has to change – so things can stay as they are and no one has to know.
Under the cover of darkness a crowd came to the jailhouse as Atticus Finch stood guard with only a book in one of my favorite movies, one of the only movies that do justice to the novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Mr. Finch is the kind of guy who seems to always be in control – in a Deep South courtroom full of people fanning themselves long before the dawn of air-conditioning he wears a three piece suit and never breaks a sweat. But in the dark of night as he is found by his daughter, son, and their cousin Dill a flash of plain fear goes out of his eyes.
A mob has come to the jailhouse, and a mob is one thing for a lawyer to deal with, it’s another for a father to deal with a mob while his children watch, but Scout, Jem, and Dill refuse to leave. Scout feels the tension of the situation, but she’s not old enough to understand it. She scans the crowd for a familiar face and notices Mr. Cunningham among the “sullen-looking, sleepy-eyed men.”
“Hey, Mr. Cunningham.”
The man did not hear me, it seemed.
“Hey, Mr. Cunningham. How’s your entailment getting along?”
Don’t you remember me, Mr. Cunningham? I’m Jean Louise Finch. You brought me some hickory nuts one time, remember?”
“I go to school with Walter,” I began again. “He’s your boy, ain’t he? Ain’t he, sir?”
Harper Lee, the author of this book, doesn’t explain why Mr. Cunningham ignores Scout, and she doesn’t need to.
“The Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”
Not wanting to be found, not wanting to be known, for in being known by God we come to know ourselves, where we are, what we have done, who we truly are - The things now hidden in darkness, the unspoken purposes of the heart.
We would never choose to bring to light what we’ve left to the darkness, never choose to disclose what we’ve hidden.
Last week in the Daily Herald I read about Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker who was “duped into discussing his strategy to cripple public employee unions, promising never to give in and joking that he would use a baseball bat in his office to go after political opponents.” Walker believed he was on the phone with a conservative billionaire named David Koch, but was actually on the phone with a liberal blogger, and in the course of their phone call Walker described tactics he considered using to dishonestly discredit the protestors who stood in his way, and his conversation with Mr. Koch brought to light the governor’s fund raising sources, causing much speculation that Wisconsin policy is directed more by business interest than the wishes of voters.
Of course, this kind of peek into the true intentions of this governor won’t mean much to Union Leaders who figured as much or Wisconsin Republicans who won’t be surprised and may not be disappointed. This kind of peek into the governor’s heart won’t change how God feels about him either because God already knew. What matters here is that in such an instance one man is given the rare chance to take a look at himself, and to wonder if he likes what he sees.
This was the case with Paul, who before he was the great supporter of the church, the Apostle who wrote the letter that we read from today, writes of his life before his conversion: “You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it (Gal 1: 13). But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles…(Gal 1: 15). The way the author of Acts tells it, Paul was walking down the road, “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord,” when suddenly, a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
He was caught then, found out, but what comes is not punishment, disappointment, or condemnation, what comes to Paul along the road when he comes face to face with Christ, face to face with himself, is not judgment but commendation – not the end of life but the opportunity to truly live.
We read in our lesson for today that when we are found, when what we’ve hidden in darkness is brought to light and the purposes of the heart are disclosed – “then each one will receive commendation from God.”
The Church is quite a place – the pews in here aren’t much different than the pews of a courtroom. The difference is that when we come face to face with who we are and what we’ve become, when our motives and our actions come to light, God, who has every right to strike us down picks us up, calls us by name, and gives us the commendation that only God can give.
Why would anyone stay in the closet when God’s open arms wait on the other side – not calling us to deny who we are but accept ourselves as we are?
Why would we let our lies cover up our mistakes when the chance to do something different is an ever-present opportunity?
Why hide who you are, who you’ve been, and what you’ve done when the God who created you, who breathed life into you, who already knows what you have done and why you did it – doesn’t wish you harm, but calls you to the freedom of doing something different and the opportunity to be defined not by your past but by grace.
In a world where the internet won’t allow kids to escape who they were, know that according to God, what you’ve done is nothing compared to what you will do.
What is Christ, Christ who came to earth not to condemn but to save, if not but the sure sign that there is no reason to be afraid – forgiveness, acceptance, and love are yours.
Thanks be to God.

Monday, February 14, 2011

God Gave the Growth

1 Corinthians 3: 1-9, page 167
And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.
I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh.
For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.
It’s wonderful to be a pastor, and one of the wonderful parts of being a pastor is being invited into people’s homes. A member of the last church I served invited us to her home for dinner, and over dessert we were talking about dreams.
The daughter, I guess she was 7, announces to the table – I have two dreams: to be Taylor Swift’s sister and to be in the snow naked.
There are a lot of directions this sermon could take after making that statement.
But what I want you to see is that one of these dreams makes this daughter a typical 7-year-old girl in my mind – the other makes this daughter a most unique 7-year-old girl – and I am willing to bet that if you asked me and if you asked her which dream, if it were to come true, would make her wholly unique and which would make her wholly typical – the 7-year-old girl and I would answer completely differently.
We believe that who we are identified with makes us special – even those of us who dream up the most unique thing to do in the snow ever dreamed of.
So Paul worries about the church in Corinth – people who worry about who they are identified with, some saying “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” but “what then is Apollos? What is Paul?” A good question – especially when you consider how Paul is the one writing the letter and asking the question, “What is Paul” as though he were wondering the same thing.
The human situation is one of constant change – and those who think that the heroes of their day, who believe that being associated with certain celebrities means something, often don’t realize that celebrity is an ever-revolving door.
I was honored to be invited to Kiwanis last week by Murray Miles. Over fried chicken our table was discussing the old theater, and Murray told a story about Gene Autry. Gene comes to town to perform at the old Princess Theater, but the p. a. system wasn’t working and a man named Mr. Orman was the only one in town who could fix it. The problem was that Mr. Orman was also the telegraph operator in town and he couldn’t leave his post at the telegraph machine to get down to the theater. However – it just so happened that Gene Autry himself was an old telegraph operator and he told Mr. Orman that he would man the machine if he’d go down and fix the p. a. system.
That’s how it happened, there are even pictures to prove it – but Mr. Ashley Brown who was sitting to Murray’s right pointed out the problem with the story – “It’s only a good story because we know who Gene Autry is – if you don’t know who Gene Autry was you don’t really care that this star was working on a telegraph machine.”
Some in the church were saying “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” but “what then is Apollos? What is Paul?”
“I planted,” the apostle says, “Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”
And isn’t that what matters. That in our ever-changing world – where the famous, the powerful, the elite few are an ever-changing cast of characters, isn’t the one who gave the growth the one that matters? Shouldn’t celebrities be worried less about retaining their place in society and more about the good work for the Kingdom that they can do during their time in the public eye? Shouldn’t we be worried less about our association with the powerful knowing that the powerful of today will almost certainly not be the powerful of tomorrow? Considering how short our time here on earth is – isn’t our relationship to the everlasting God the one that matters far more than our relationship with the rich and famous or their place in the public eye?
You wouldn’t think it were true by looking at television – seeing how low the likes of Meatloaf and Jose Canseco will sink on Celebrity Apprentice just to get back in that spotlight for however short a period of time – maybe they feel forgotten, their music and professional baseball careers long gone – but they certainly don’t gain back their value in our eyes by fighting other has-been celebrities to avoid being fired by Donald Trump.
And you wouldn’t think it were true by reading the paper – watching the former President of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak ever so reluctantly relinquish power only after nearly his entire country demanded his resignation through two weeks of protests.
Nor would you think it were true by listening to a 7-year-old girl who thinks being Taylor Swift’s sister would make her truly special when don’t you know that the God who gave her all the creativity in the world looks down from heaven marveling at what she has thought to do in the snow.
But Paul knows the human condition, and he knows that we have trouble believing we are valued for just being who God created us to be – that we want to believe that it’s who we are identified with that matters – and maybe Paul even knows the human condition so well that he knows himself – knows that he has been tempted to think that it’s all those eyes watching his every move, all those ears listening to his every word that make him somebody.
What is Paul, he asks – and maybe this is the question he asks himself, as though he could see into the future, imagine the towering cathedrals, universities, and popes who would take his name – picture the generations who would look back on his words for wisdom and enlightenment – that just maybe millions upon millions would aspire to be like him – and then, then Paul would be somebody.
What is Paul, he asks – what is Paul but the planter of a seed – and neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
All humans face this same problem – and I know it’s true because I face it myself.
I want to prove that I am somebody, but if I hear these words from Paul, that just being who God created me to be is enough, then I’ll know the truth and I’ll find the freedom to just be me that I seek.
It’s not my works that make me somebody – it’s the God who created me and claimed me in baptism who has made me somebody.
It’s not what people say about me that gives me my worth – it’s Christ who died on the cross for me that makes me worthy.
And I don’t need to stay up all night worrying about the words that these hands will type – as I only need to use these hands to point to the God who gives my work purpose and meaning.
For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building – and it is God who has called you great – it is God who has made you worthy – it is God who can give your life meaning.
You don’t need to be Taylor Swift’s sister to be somebody in the Kingdom of God – for God has already called you daughter – God has already called you son.
And it’s not that Taylor Swift is nothing – it’s just that in the eyes of God she’s nothing more than you.