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Coach Comes Calling

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For January 23, 2022:

Dean FeldmeyerCoach Comes Calling
by Dean Feldmeyer
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

Besides serving as a full-time pastor, I spent a great deal of my career teaching on the adjunct faculties of nearby high schools or colleges.

It was in that capacity that I learned, early on, of a phenomenon that teachers often referred to as “Coach Comes Calling.” Thankfully, it never happened to me, but I heard of it from enough colleagues to believe that it was a real phenomenon in both high schools and colleges.

You, the teacher, receive a message from an assistant coach (never the head coach) of one of the school’s athletic teams. They are syrupy polite and deferential when they ask if you could spare a few minutes to chat so, of course, you make the time.

The assistant coach arrives at the agreed upon meeting place, your office or some neutral location, and after a few niceties, they introduce the real reason for this visit.

A certain student in your class, one who is about to receive a failing grade, is a gifted athlete and if they fail the class, they will be ineligible to play their sport for the rest of the year. Might there be some “wiggle room” where the student’s grade is concerned?

All kinds of gentle pressure is applied, never with any acknowledgement that there are other students, non-athletes, in the same position who would benefit from the same “wiggle room” being lobbied for on the athlete’s behalf.

The message is clear: Because the student is an exceptional and gifted athlete, they should receive privileges that are not afforded to other, less gifted students.

In today’s Epistle lesson, when Paul speaks of gifts that are given to us by God, nowhere does he mention the word “privilege.”

In the News
This year began with a lot of sports news and I suppose that’s not surprising, given the weight of the other news we see every day:

There’s the rise of the omicron variant of the Coronavirus, of course, and all of the hospital admissions and deaths attendant thereto; the failure of our elected leaders to find a way to compromise and come together for our common good; Russia and the USA rattling sabers at each other, threatening war across the Ukrainian border; inflation and the increase in prices even as we see the decrease in available goods and services; more than 30 people killed in two apartment fires; the increase in violence across America with people attacking flight attendants on airplanes and Walmart greeters who ask them to wear masks and, as if that isn’t bad enough, the news that the number one cause of death for American children age 1-19 is gun violence.

That’s a lot of heavy weight to be carrying around as the days grow shorter and darker and colder.

So, we looked to something we can cheer for, something that can entertain us and give us a sense of hope and positivity. We watched our favorite teams making their way toward the NCAA college football championship. We cheered our favorite college basketball teams vie for a place in the top 25 that will insure them an invitation to the “Big Dance,” the NCAA tournament. We watched the NFL playoffs and, now, in a couple of weeks the granddaddy of them all, the game we watch as much for the commercials as for the athletic competition, the Super Bowl.

And, as long as we didn’t look too closely, sports gave us the diversion that we needed. But then, along came those athletes, coaches, and reporters who insisted on pulling back the curtain and revealing the real truth behind the glitz and the spangle of sports.

There was Serbian professional tennis player, Novak Djokovic, who has spent a record 6+ years ranked as the number one tennis player in the world, refusing to be vaccinated and then, apparently, lying about his vaccine status to get into the Australian Open. As a gifted athlete he was expecting to be given special privileges because of his gifted status.

And there was gifted football coach Brian Kelly, former coach of the University of Cincinnati Bearcats and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, leaving before the bowl game to become the head coach at Louisiana State University (LSU) for a record 10-year contract worth $90 million, which, most observers allow, will become $100 million with bonuses and endorsements.

And lest we shrug our shoulders and close our eyes to the skewed values represented by that salary, let’s remember that he will be coaching college football in a state where 20% of the residents live below the poverty line, on a campus where the football team’s player workforce is unpaid, and in a city where the predominantly Black state house district that includes Tiger Stadium has a median household income of $24,865 a year, just $208 more than football coach Brian Kelly will be paid every day ($24,657) for the next nine years.

Then there’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Antonio Brown who was earning $3.1 million per year when he was called out for lying about his vaccine status and using a forged vaccine card. During a game where his team was losing in the third quarter against the New York Jets he got angry, stripped off his jersey and shoulder pads along with his t-shirt and gloves, tossed them into the stands and left the field. (The Bucs eventually won the game 28-24 without his help.)

Of all the people in the United States, professional athletes are, unarguably, among the most gifted. Their abilities transport us, their performances mesmerize us, their accomplishments enthrall us. They are able to do things that most of us don’t even dream of being able to do. And, because their careers are often very short, sometimes tragically so, no fair-minded person would begrudge them a good, even a very generous payment for their services.

But so often we see those athletes, starting in high school, continuing through college and onto the professional playing field, acting as though their athletic abilities have earned them special privileges which we, mere mortals, don’t even understand, much less receive.

They forget that even while they have, in many cases, worked hard with the talent with which God has gifted them, the talent itself was, in fact, a gift that they did nothing to earn. To claim special privileges for such a gift is to betray and dishonor the one from whom it came.

In the Scripture
Last week, Paul spoke to the Corinthian Jesus-followers about “spiritual gifts,” those gifts that come to us via the Holy Spirit. To quote Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, those spiritual gifts include “wise counsel, clear understanding, simple trust, healing the sick, miraculous acts, proclamation, distinguishing between spirits, tongues and interpretation of tongues.”

These gifts all come from the same place, namely, the Spirit of God who decides who gets what and when.

And (this is important) they are given to us “FOR THE COMMON GOOD.”

That is to say, not for our own personal good or even for the good of our faith community alone, but for the good of all. All people. Everywhere.

They are not given to us to make us rich, happy, important or even content. They are given to us to equip us for service to all of God’s children.

In today’s passage, Paul takes his explanation to the next level, using the human body as a metaphor.

Think of Jesus Christ, resurrected as a human body, he says. We, Jesus followers, are all parts of that body and, like the parts of our own bodies, every part is important. Every part is honorable.

We tend to judge the parts of the human body by how visibly attractive they are. But what good would those beautiful eyes, that lovely hair, those big guns be if the body had no stomach, no liver, no pancreas? Some parts of the body are put on display while others are hidden inside, clothed in skin. And here’s the irony. Even though we talk about how beautiful people’s eyes are or hair is, we can live without an eye, or even both eyes. We can live if we’re bald. But we can’t live without a stomach or a pancreas, can we? Yet we never compliment a person on how lovely their pancreas is.

Too bad, because the pancreas is one of the most important parts of the body even though we never see it and if we did, we’d probably be totally grossed out.

So, now translate all of that into how we think about the body of Christ, the faith community. Some of its members are beautiful to behold, they have lovely eyes or great singing voices. They can teach in ways that leave their students mesmerized and eager to hear more. They can preach the wall paper right off the walls. They can organize a rummage sale or a pot luck dinner or a mission trip to within an inch of its life and everyone will be awed and say, “Wow, that person has a gift for this or that.”

But what about the person who changes the light bulbs high in the ceiling of the sanctuary, or the person who makes the coffee every Sunday morning, or the person who mows the grass and mulches the shrubs. What about the lady who sits in the nursery alone, week after week, in the hope that someone will bring a baby to church for her to rock, or the guy who dutifully prepares a lesson every week for the middle school Sunday school class as though there were dozens of kids when, the fact is, there are only three and sometimes not even that many.

All of these people are parts of Christ’s body — the eyes, the ears, the hair, the arms, the legs, the hands and feet, the liver, the stomach and the pancreas of that body that is the community of faith, equally important to the life and task of what we have come to call the church.

And in all of that, Paul never once mentions the word privilege. There is no privilege in being an eye, no matter how beautiful. There is no privilege in being a pancreas, no matter how vital. There is no privilege in being an ear, a hand, a foot or a tongue.

The only privilege we get by being a member of the body is, well, being a member of the body. We get to live, fellowship, work, participate, and coordinate with other members of the body.

All for the common good.

In the Sermon
There are, of course, many gifted persons, athletes and others, who use their gifts for the common good — the good of all.

Serena Williams and Venus Williams have opened a community center in their home town of Compton, California, to support residents affected by gun violence. Serena has served as an ambassador for the Allstate Foundation’s Purple Purse, which provides domestic violence survivors with financial assistance. This past year, she and Colin Kaepernick donated $10,000 to a Los Angeles-based organization called Imagine LA, which helps homeless families.

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt paid for the funerals of the 10 people killed in the Sante Fe High School shooting in May, and visited the survivors and nurses at a local hospital. After the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, he invited a group of students from the school to play with him at the Texans’ stadium. He was also instrumental in raising over $37 million for those affected by Hurricane Harvey — an effort that won him the NFL’s 2017 Walter Payton Man of the Year award. He made sure the money went to organizations that would distribute it appropriately. He also started the Justin J. Watt Foundation, which has given $3.4 million in funding to after-school athletics programs for sixth- through eighth-grade children in Wisconsin.

Arianna Huffington, writing a blog post for the Huff Post tells of the charitable work of people in the arts:

Monica Yunus and Camille Zamora, who met while studying singing at Juilliard, founded Sing for Hope to share their love of music with their community. They have been planting dozens of "pop-up pianos" in the middle of parks and street corners in New York City so passersby can play music or simply listen to it and build connections with strangers they would have otherwise silently passed by on the street.

Robert Egger took the skills he honed from running music clubs to found the DC Central Kitchen, which redirects leftover food from local businesses and farms, prepares the food in kitchens that employ the homeless, and then delivers it to feed the needy. He is now working to launch the L.A. Kitchen. "My attitude," Egger says, "is that food isn't just gasoline for the body; food is community."

She concludes her essay with this story: "My sister graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London with many awards and accolades. But after years of auditions and not getting the parts she hoped to get, she began to feel lost and discouraged. In her book Unbinding the Heart, she describes a moment of epiphany on a New York bus:

“After auditioning for a six-hour play adaptation of many Greek tragedies combined, and not getting a part — not even in the chorus — disappointed and distraught I got on the bus to go to my singing lesson on the Upper West Side when I started to notice the faces of the other passengers. Each one of them looked burdened, their worries the only thing showing in their expressions. As I looked at everyone around me, I was filled with compassion, and the understanding that their disappointments were probably much bigger than mine. If only I could bring some joy onto this bus, I thought.

“And then I realized that I could. I could act right here! I could entertain these people for a brief moment. I could do a song and dance right here and now!

“And with that thought, I broke down the barriers. I reached out to the woman next to me, struck a conversation, and asked her if she liked the theater. We started talking about our favorite plays and characters, and I told her that I had just performed the part of Saint Joan for an audition. She knew the play, and we had an unexpectedly wonderful conversation. In my enthusiasm, I said to her, ‘Would you like me to do Joan's monologue for you?’

"‘I would love that,’ she replied.

The first words of the monologue are: "You promised me my life, but you lied. You think that life is nothing but not being stone dead." As I said the words, the woman's face started to change. I could see that she was being touched; I was being touched as well, sharing my talent for a moment, on a New York bus.

“By the time I finished, the woman on the bus had tears in her eyes. As she got off at her stop, she thanked me. I felt elated. I felt a release, as if a door had opened that I didn't even know was there. Here I was thinking that I had this wonderful gift that was not being recognized by the world. And then it dawned on me how many conditions I had put on my gift. That moment of sharing without an agenda of getting a part wasn't about the outcome but about the joy of touching others and giving unconditionally what was mine to give. And that brought with it a tremendous sense of fulfillment.”

Your gift may simply be making a beautiful meal for someone down the street who is sick or has suffered a loss. The phrase "To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived" crystalizes giving.

And, I would add, loving.



Tom WilladsenSECOND THOUGHTS
A Healthy Body
by Tom Willadsen
Luke 4:14-21, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a, "Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10", Psalm 19

In the Scriptures
Jesus is in his hometown, he doesn’t have any disciples yet. He’s a good boy, he goes to church. He is given the honor of reading from scripture. He picks Isaiah 61:1-2 and does a little editing. He does not mention binding up the brokenhearted as Isaiah did, but he adds the restoration of sight for the blind. He makes a good impression. The lectionary stops there, but the good impression the carpenter’s son has made soon turns the congregation into a lynch mob. Preacher, you have to decide how much of this story to tell.

Psalm 19 has a jarring (lack of) transition. Right after the psalmist’s heart is filled with awe and wonder at the beauty of the sky and its voice/voicelessness, verse 7 starts an ode to God’s instruction. In good Hebrew poetic style the psalmist uses five synonyms for Torah. He must have suffered whiplash when we tore his eyes from the sky to the scroll on his table. Verse 14 was most likely tacked on from a different source — not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The lectionary begins the Nehemiah reading at 8:1, but that’s wack. Give it context by adding the last clause of chapter 7, “When the seventh month came — the people of Israel being settled in their towns — ” (NRSV). The start of chapter 8 sounds like the people formed a flash mob, calling on Ezra the scribe to read the law of Moses. Verse 4 says that Ezra stood on a platform that had been built for the occasion. While it’s possible that the flash mob included some speedy carpenters, it’s more likely that the reading of the law had been scheduled.

The lectionary text omits vv. 4 and 7. If you’ve got a bold lay reader, consider putting them in. The Interpreter’s Bible (volume 3, p. 735, 1954) says, “The names have been regarded as worthless,” but perhaps they are not. Here are 13 lay people standing on the platform next to Ezra, could they represent all of us? The hard names in v. 7 are those of Levites, that is, religious officials who presumably spoke to subgroups of those gathered for the reading and helped them understand what they were hearing.

The profound significance of Ezra’s reading is shown by Ezra’s blessing the Lord. (Note, Ezra did not bless the scroll or the words, but the Lord, the source of the words. Jesus did the same thing with the bread at the Last Supper; He did not bless the bread, he blessed the Lord.) The people prostrated themselves, that is, worshiped, before the reading began. The reading caused the people to weep, and the text makes it clear these are not tears of joy. Were the people in anguish because they recognized their sinfulness?

The lectionary edits “And I will show you a more excellent way” from the Epistle reading, but why? Who doesn’t want to be “more excellent?” Paul’s analogy of the human body and the Body of Christ follows last week’s discussion of spiritual gifts. All gifts are given for the common good, not to call attention to oneself, but for the good of the whole. As Paul discusses the various body parts and those that are accorded more honor he seems to say that it’s the parts that are least “honorable” that we clothe with the greatest care. So should it be for the church, the Body of Christ. Have you ever attended a church where the most marginalized members are given special attention and honor?

One Sunday I filled in for a colleague who was away. It was a communion Sunday and the worshipers filed forward and received the bread from an elder while I held the chalice. I had forgotten to turn off the microphone on my belt so everyone heard me say, “The cup of the new covenant” over the sound system. In the middle of the pack a developmentally delayed woman was led to communion by her brother. She took a piece of bread and stood before me and the chalice. She reached forward, not to dip her bread into the juice, but to show me her newly polished finger nails! “The cup of…they’re lovely!” I said over the microphone for all the worshipers to hear. At that moment communion became the joyous feast of the people of God, thanks to a Christian whom many would consider marginalized.

In the News
Ο I know that looks like a capital O, but it’s an Omicron, the latest Greek letter to become newsworthy. While it appears that this Covid variant is more contagious, its symptoms seem to be less severe. Still, the dramatic spike in Covid cases due to the Omicron variant is overwhelming health facilities in many communities. Some contend that Omicron’s prevalence will speed the achievement of herd immunity — a silver lining to the most recent upsurge in cases.

Omicron’s emergence coincides with the Biden administration’s effort to make at home Covid tests available to every American. Even Democrats are criticizing this effort as too little too late.  

Inflation is at its highest level in 40 years, while record numbers of people are simply walking away from work.

Resistance to vaccines and masking has made many health care providers frustrated and angry. Some have wondered, on the record, whether they will be able to care for people in the hospital who have chosen not to be vaccinated. As early as last August some health care providers confessed to something like compassion fatigue for those who have refused to be vaccinated against Covid.

This 1:33 video nicely captures the frustration of many people with those who have refused to act in the interest of others.

In the Sermon
Imagine being able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the other members of your church to hear the word read aloud.

Imagine sitting in the synagogue, welcoming a young man who grew up there, listening to him read and interpret scripture.

Imagine the whole church being able to act in coordination, as a healthy body, because everyone recognizes the collective, communal health depends on the responsible choices individuals make.

It is even more shameful for a person to pay no heed to his own body and fail to protect it against the plague the best he is able, and then to infect and poison others who might have remained alive if he had taken care of his body as he should have. He is thus responsible before God for his neighbor's death and is a murderer many times over. — Martin Luther, Luther's Works, Vol. 43: Devotional Writings II, "Whether One Should Flee From a Deadly Plague"

Get over yourself and get vaccinated.



ILLUSTRATIONS

Mary AustinFrom team member Mary Austin:

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Working Together as One Body

Paul writes to the churches in Corinth about spiritual gifts so they can live together with greater harmony. He wants the believers to work together using all the gifts of the body to serve God. The same truth applies in our time. Organizations where the members work together thrive. 

The Toyota corporation is famous for seeing that any employee can have an impact on the business, no matter how high or low they are in the organization. “Toyota Corporation employees globally generate 2 million ideas a year. And they come from all over — more than 95% of the workforce contributes these suggestions, with each person submitting over 30 ideas each. Even more importantly, over 90% of these ideas are implemented. Leaders who understand how to unleash this kind of creativity build systems that support idea generation. But this kind of empowerment is also grounded. Servant leaders promote learning by doing and testing iteratively in a scientific way, and they demonstrate accountability. It's a great example of assuming value in all people, which soon translates into a scientific, transparent system for everyday improvement, which in turn fosters a culture of continuous perfection.”

As Picasso said, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”

* * *

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Finding Value Everywhere
Paul asserts to the churches in Corinth that every member of the body has a value to the whole, even when we don’t see it. Non-profit leader Viral Mehta says that his young cousin taught him this lesson. When he was a teenager, the cousin and his friend “decided, of their own accord, to spend much of their summer creating spontaneous and mostly anonymous opportunities to grow in kindness. So at summer camp, he was on the lookout. He's a popular kid, and being kind is not always “cool,” so that made his reflection afterward all the more poignant: “I noticed that there was one kid who no one was really talking to. He had a serious kind of disability, and some of the kids were kinda scared to approach him. So I went up and introduced myself. And you know what? He taught me some amazing dance moves!”

Sharing his presence was a wonderful thing to do, in and of itself, but his perspective was even more remarkable. Someone asked him, “What if he wasn't able to teach you anything? Would you still have done it?” “Well, everyone is good at something. You just have to listen long enough.” It's a profound lesson coming from an early teen: Assume value everywhere.”

* * *

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Your Mind Needs Help
Writing to the churches in Corinth, Paul says. “But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be?” In our culture, we’re accustomed to thinking of our brains as a single member, separate from the others. Science writer Annie Murphy Paul says that Paul had it right — even the brain can’t function independently. In her book, The Extended Mind, she says, “Our culture insists that the brain is the sole locus of thinking, a cordoned-off space where cognition happens…[but instead] the mind constructs our thought processes from the resources available outside the brain. These resources include the feelings and movements of our bodies; the physical spaces in which we learn and work; and the other minds with which we interact — our classmates, colleagues, teachers, supervisors, and friends. Sometimes, all three elements come together in especially felicitous fashion, as they did for the brilliant intellectual team of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. The two psychologists carried out much of their groundbreaking work on heuristics and biases — the human mind’s habitual shortcuts and distortions — by talking and walking together, through the bustling streets of Jerusalem or along the rolling hills of the California coast. “I did the best thinking of my life on leisurely walks with Amos,” Kahneman has said.

In fact, walking can solidify memory, as the parts of the body work together in the way Paul describes. “Moving our bodies can help us express, and even to understand, an abstract concept.” Moving around can help us you understand a concept more deeply than would sitting still and “using your head.”  We are wired to work together — in our individual bodies, and as a community.

* * *

Luke 4:14-21
Smells Like Home

As Jesus comes to his hometown, he enters the familiar synagogue, and sees familiar faces. Writer Phil Cousineau, author of The Art of Pilgrimage, says that any homecoming involves all of our senses. “I call it the five senses approach. When was the last time any of us walked around our neighborhood and didn’t touch our cellphones, but instead just smelled? I live in North Beach here in San Francisco, and I’m lucky in that way. I can walk around the neighborhood. Of course I’m watching, but I’m also smelling because we have real bakeries here. We have many coffee shops. If I can smell, that is actually bringing me home again. James Hillman has the notion that that smell is the strongest and the most transportive — the most mythic of out of our senses, especially in the Underworld.” He adds that smell can transport us home in unique ways, saying, “A single smell of castor oil, of all things, takes me there, because my grandmother lived with us for a while. Grandma Dora used to pinch my nose and pour castor oil down my throat and say “Someday you’ll thank me for this, Philip.”…I suggest that if we are trying to reinvent the home, we revisit our senses.”

I wonder what Jesus smelled, or tasted, or touched, on this trip to his hometown.

* * *

Luke 4:14-21
Home That’s Not Home

When Jesus returns to Nazareth, it’s both his home and also no longer his home. He’s not staying there for any length of time, and his home is now on the road with his disciples. Novelist Isabel Allende speaks of a similar feeling, when she was forced to leave a home she loved in Chile after a coup. She recalls, “I loved my little home, it was a tiny prefab house with thatch on the roof, everything was like a dollhouse. There I had my children. It was the first years of my marriage when I was in love with my husband. I thought that my life was perfect. I adored my job as a journalist. And then we had the military coup and in 24 hours everything changed in my country. And soon after that, I had to leave because I got involved in some resistance that was of course very dangerous at the time and so I eventually left without my husband. He closed up the house with everything it contained and left with the kids. So with the idea that we had the key, we would go back to our home. And this is interesting because many refugees leave with the key to their homes with the idea that one day they will go back. And the average time a refugee spends away from home is between 17 and 25 years. Many never return, and they always keep the key.”

Allende says there are a few essentials to feeling at home in a new place, for her. “Well, first photographs. I want photographs of the people I have lost and the people that are far away. And I always want to have a good bed. That’s important for me and not much more, you know. I have lived in very small spaces with very few things and in a large, large house…” Perhaps like Jesus, she can feel at home almost anywhere, with these essentials.

* * * * * *

Chris KeatingFrom team member Chris Keating:

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
All heard with understanding
As Ezra reads from the Torah, joy spreads as the word of God is rediscovered and heard anew. During the World War II Nazi Holocaust, a similar experience happened inside a barracks of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Well-before dawn one day in March, 1944, a group of Jewish prisoners garnered what little strength they had to hang blankets in windows so SS guards would be unable to see the ritual taking place inside. Candles were lit so that a rabbi could open a tiny Sefer Torah to read from the law of Moses. The handwritten scroll was only 4 ½ inches tall. Then, as instructed by the rabbi, a 13-year old named Joachim Joseph chanted blessings and Hebrew songs as he had been taught.

"There were people listening in the beds all around," recalled Joseph in 2003. "Afterward, everybody congratulated me. Somebody fished out a piece of chocolate that he had been saving, and somebody else fished out a tiny deck of playing cards. Everybody told me, 'You are a bar mitzvah boy now. You are an adult now.' And I was very happy.”

The rabbi gave Joseph the miniature scroll, on the condition that he tell the story. “This little Sefer Torah is yours to keep now,” the Rabbi said. “Because I'm sure that I will not get out of here alive. And you maybe will.”

Sixty years later, Joseph, then an Israeli physicist, had become friends with Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon. Ramon had been chosen to be one of the astronauts to fly aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003. He had noticed his friend’s Torah and asked him if he could take it with him during his mission. Joseph agreed, realizing that this would a wonderful way of keeping his promise to the rabbi.

Ramon was one of seven astronauts killed when the Columbia exploded as it was reentering earth. Along with everything else on board, the Torah is presumed to have disintegrated. Days before the explosion, Ramon held the scroll during a televised press conference aboard the spacecraft.

"This was given by a rabbi to a scared, thin young boy in Bergen-Belsen," Ramon, whose mother survived Auschwitz, said from the space shuttle. ". . . It represents more than anything the ability of the Jewish people to survive. From horrible periods, black days, to reach periods of hope and belief in the future."

And all the people said, “Amen, Amen.”

* * *

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Unity is more than teamwork

Given the proximity of this Sunday’s readings from Paul and the NFL playoffs, more than one sermon is likely to compare Paul’s theology of the body to the functioning of a team. While it sounds good and may play well with sports fans, the truth is Paul’s metaphor bears little resemblance to an NFL huddle. Given the long list of the NFL’s problems (see “Brown, Antonio” as one example), it feels like Corinthians deserves more nuanced reflection.

First, according to Paul, is the injunction that the weaker parts of the body, or perhaps the “less honorable” parts are to be treated with the greatest respect. And while teamwork is certainly an indispensable aspect of athletic success, no professional coach would afford an untested rookie more honor than a reliable veteran. (Exceptions, of course, exist.)

A long-serving football coach of a small Los Angeles area university was one of those exceptions. Roland “Ort” Ortmayer, who died in 2008, spent 43 years as head football coach at the University of La Verne. With his crewcut haircut and large, booming voice Ort almost seemed to have been a coach straight from central casting. But the truth is Ort was an educator first, and a man with a rather unorthodox approach to college football.

“When you’re coaching a group of college students, the game should be played for fun,” Ortmayer once told the Los Angeles Times. “Don’t get me wrong, I still want to win. But winning shouldn’t override having fun.”

Ortmayer never held coaches meetings and never wrote a playbook. His life-time record at the school was 176-170-1. Every now and then, Ortmayer was confronted by the realities of his unconventional approach.

One time a young quarterback was having problems getting control over the older players. Ortmayer told the player to tell whoever was talking to shut up. A few minutes later, Ort walked over to the huddle and started interjecting his own opinions — and was summarily told to shut up by the quarterback.

“I probably had something important to say, but I didn’t speak,” Ortmayer said. “I had to keep with what I had said earlier.”

* * *

Luke 4:14-21
The Spirit of the Lord meets the Great Resignation

The lectionary reading stops us from hearing the crowd’s response to Jesus’ inaugural sermon. That part of the story comes next week, but Jesus only had to read the faces of the crowd to get a sense of how things might turn out. Contemporary pastors might understand a bit of the rage Jesus faced. For many pastors, the combination of blank looks, pandemic stress, and the withering stresses of pastoral ministry have led them to become part of the “Great Resignation” of 2021-22.

A Barna survey published in late 2021 showed that about 38 percent of American clergy had pondered resigning full-time ministry in the past year. After three years of adapting to the ever-changing realities of Covid-19, many clergy are simply done.

Terry Knoll, who served as a Lutheran pastor in Washington, DC for decades, understands. He watched as membership in his church continued to dwindle during the pandemic. First it was younger families, but then persons with mental and intellectual disabilities stopped attending virtually. He tried different strategies, but began questioning his usefulness. On Christmas Eve, he preached his final sermon before taking early retirement.   

“I felt, I’m just not doing what I should be doing,” Knoll told the Washington Post. “ I know that’s not true, I’m trying my best. But for those who really care for their people, you feel: What other things could I do?” he said. “You did kind of question: Why is this all happening?”

* * *

Luke 4:14-21
First-time jitters

As Jesus demonstrates, there’s a first time for everything, including preaching a sermon. Fortunately, most young preachers do not face an angry mob following their sermon.

As an old-preacher’s joke goes, a young seminary student was preparing for his first sermon. He asked his pastor what he should preach about. “Well,” said the pastor, “You should preach about Jesus.” He paused to let the words sink into the seminary student’s imagination. “And you should preach about 15 minutes.” (Thanks to Gary Neal Hansen for this story.)

My first sermon at the church I’m serving now proved to be an especially memorable moment. On the Sunday that the congregation was gathered to vote on my call, my wife took a serious fall during worship. At the time, our son was a newborn, and his sisters were 10, 8, and 6. As the children’s choir was singing “Here I Am, Lord,” our son started to fuss in his aunt’s arms, so my wife attempted to get him. Unfortunately, she tripped on a strangely angled jutting out from the platform that held the pulpit, falling flat on her face. A nurse ran from the chancel choir to help, but it was clear my wife’s knee wasn’t going to cooperate. Our little girls watched in horror as their mother was taken out of the sanctuary strapped to a stretcher. The ambulance rolled away, and I stood up to preach. Knowing I had to address the situation, I looked at them and joked “So, do you want to talk about the medical benefits first?” Fortunately, there was no serious damage to my wife’s knee, the congregation voted enthusiastically to call me, and her accident remained the only claim on the church’s insurance for about a decade.

* * * * * *

Katy StentaFrom team member Katy Stenta:

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Not a Pandemic of the Unvaccinated
The only way we are getting out of this pandemic is together. We have tried to blame this pandemic on China, say it only severely effects the elderly, call this the pandemic of the unvaccinated, talk about how it only effects the immunocompromised, etc. The truth is the only way we are going to get through this pandemic is together. Because one part of the body cannot say to another, I do not need you. One human being cannot say to another, you are not worth saving — we are all a part of God’s body. We all are worth saving, even those of us who do not believe in the pandemic or vaccination. The truth is, we are not all safe until our neighbors are safe. My health is wrapped up in your health. So, we are only getting out of this pandemic together.

* * *

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
One Body
“Mom she’s breathing to annoy me.” My brother complained about my sister in the car. (My sister did annoy my brother on a pretty regular basis.) They were pretty much Bert and Ernie when it came to personality types, but I was pretty certain that she was not breathing to annoy him. In fact, my mother confirmed it a minute later, saying, “that’s just her allergies, she isn’t trying to annoy you.” As we think about the 1 Corinthians passage and how we cannot just disown one another over annoying each other — so too it might help us to think about — is the other person even trying to annoy us? Or are they perhaps trying to survive and thrive in their own way and it happens to be annoying. Because when you are the sibling to a Bert and Ernie of personalities, you start to notice that both people are doing the best they can, and neither of them are going to change that much even if they wanted to, nor should they, and not breathing is definitely off the table.

* * *

Luke 4:14-21

The Good News
Jesus tells the good news and everyone is ready for their piece of it. Is this good news for me? But on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend when we are all quick to grab a nice sounding quote from his body of work, we need to think that perhaps, not all the nice words are for us. Perhaps the words of hope are for the more marginalized. Maybe Jesus has not been sent to the privileged, or even to bring greatness to the world, but to raise up those who have never felt all that great to begin with. As Jesus says, the good news is for the poor. As Martin Luther King Jr, toward the end of his life, called upon a radicalization of education and economy. It is important to remember that the good news is for everyone, and what is good news for the privileged better be great news for the poor and suffering and marginalized, or it is not good news at all.


* * * * * *

George ReedWORSHIP
by George Reed

Call to Worship
One: The heavens are telling the glory of God.
All: The firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.
One: The law of God is perfect, reviving the soul.
All: The decrees of God are sure, making wise the simple;
One: More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold.
All: They are sweeter than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.

OR

One: Come and receive that gifts God brings for us.
All: We rejoice that God is among us, to bless us.
One: God is richly blessing us and through us, God is blessing others.
All: We gladly welcome the chance to be God’s blessing.
One: The gifts of God are for the healing of creation.
All: We will use God’s gifts so that all may be made whole.

Hymns and Songs
All Creatures of Our God and King
UMH: 62
H82: 400
PH: 455
AAHH: 147
NNBH: 33
NCH: 17
CH: 22
LBW: 527
ELW: 835
W&P: 23
AMEC: 50
STLT: 203
Renew: 47

Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty
UMH: 64/65
H82: 362
PH: 138
AAHH: 329
NNBH: 1
NCH: 277
CH: 4
LBW: 165
ELW: 413
W&P: 136
AMEC: 25
STLT: 26
Renew: 204

How Great Thou Art
UMH: 77
PH: 467
AAHH: 148
NNBH: 43
NCH: 35
CH: 33
LBW: 532
ELW: 856
W&P: 51
AMEC: 68
Renew: 250

I Love to Tell the Story
UMH: 156
AAHH: 513
NNBH: 424
NCH: 522
CH: 480
LBW: 390
ELW: 661
W&P: 560
AMEC: 217

Tú Has Venido a la Orilla (Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore)
UMH: 344
PH: 377
CH: 342
W&P: 347

I Surrender All
UMH: 354
AAHH: 396
NNBH: 198
W&P: 474
AMEC: 251

Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us
UMH: 381
H82: 708
PH: 387
AAHH: 424
NNBH: 54
NCH: 252
CH: 558
LBW: 481
ELW: 789
W&P: 440
AMEC: 379

O Jesus, I Have Promised
UMH: 396
H82: 655
PH: 388/389
NCH: 493
CH: 612
LBW: 503
ELW: 810
W&P: 458
AMEC: 280

O God of Every Nation
UMH: 435
H82: 607
PH: 289
CH: 680
LBW: 416
ELW: 713
W&P: 626

Lord, Speak to Me
UMH: 463
PH: 426
NCH: 531
ELW: 676
W&P: 593

Make Me a Servant
CCB: 90

They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love
CCB: 78

Music Resources Key
UMH: United Methodist Hymnal
H82: The Hymnal 1982
PH: Presbyterian Hymnal
AAHH: African American Heritage Hymnal
NNBH: The New National Baptist Hymnal
NCH: The New Century Hymnal
CH: Chalice Hymnal
LBW: Lutheran Book of Worship
ELW: Evangelical Lutheran Worship
W&P: Worship & Praise
AMEC: African Methodist Episcopal Church Hymnal
STLT: Singing the Living Tradition
CCB: Cokesbury Chorus Book
Renew: Renew! Songs & Hymns for Blended Worship

Prayer for the Day/Collect
O God who gives gifts to all your children:
Grant us the grace to accept your gifts with humily
and to use them in service to you
as you bring about the wholeness of creation;
through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

OR

We praise you, O God, because you are the giver of all good and perfect gifts. You bless us with gifts so that we may be part of your work in bringing creation to completion. Help us to use your gifts wisely as you intended. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

One: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins and especially the selfish ways we use your gifts for only our own gain.

All: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. You have made us in your image and given us wondrous gifts so that we may be co-workers with you in bringing creation to its full completion. But we see these gifts as signs that we are special and deserve privileges denied to others. We want the benefits of these for ourselves alone. Forgive our selfish, self-centered ways and renew your Spirit within us so that we may give glory to you and service to all your children. Amen.

One: God is generous with gifts and with grace. Receive God’s forgiveness and share that graciousness with others as you use God’s gifts to bring all to wholeness.

Prayers of the People
We give glory to you, O God, because you are the one whose generosity extends to all creation. You offer your love and your gifts to all your children.

(The following paragraph may be used if a separate prayer of confession has not been used.)

We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. You have made us in your image and given us wondrous gifts so that we may be co-workers with you in bringing creation to its full completion. But we see these gifts as signs that we are special and deserve privileges denied to others. We want the benefits of these for ourselves alone. Forgive our selfish, self-centered ways and renew your Spirit within us so that we may give glory to you and service to all your children.

We give you thanks for all your blessings and for all your gifts. You have given us all that we need to live fully into your realm. You have given us prophets and seers; priests and kings. You have given us your own Son that we may know your great love. You have blessed us with gifts so that we can share that love with others. For all our blessings we give you thanks.

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We lift up to you those who are on our hearts. We know your love reaches out to them and all your children but we want to share our hurts and cares with you. We want our prayers and our love to be part of your healing presence in their lives. Where ever and whenever possible, help us to your words and your acts of love for those around us.

(Other intercessions may be offered.)

All these things we ask in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ who taught us to pray together saying:

Our Father....Amen.

(Or if the Our Father is not used at this point in the service.)


All this we ask in the name of the Blessed and Holy Trinity. Amen.


* * * * * *

Quantisha Mason-DollCHILDREN'S SERMON
Body Autonomy and God
by Quantisha Mason-Doll
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
  • This is something that can be carried over into Christian Education if there are people willing to tackle the subject and are educated in teaching consent to children.
  • Consent to something that should be taught from a very young age. Empowering our youth to understand that they have ownership over their own bodies helps them to identify that they are made perfect in God's image.
  • Star Bright books has an excellent page on teaching consent language to children as young as preschool age.
  • Understood.org Provides an extensive database for parents and educators alike, giving them tools and other elements to talk with their youth about a list of topics.
Can someone show me a hand? Can someone show me a foot? Can someone point to their ear? Can someone point to their nose?

What if I had a different color hand? Would it still be a hand? What if a person had one foot or no feet? Would they still be a person? I think the answer to these questions is yes!

Would they still be a person even if they looked a little bit different?

Do you know what that means to be made in the image of God? (At this point it would be best for the pastor to go into their definition of what it means to be made in the image of God. Specifically, we are trying to assert that all bodies, no matter how different they might appear, are perfect and are worthy of God's love.)

In the letter to the Corinthians, the author is stressing that our body is important and that our body is sacred. This means that our body is ours and ours alone. If someone wants to give us a hug or kiss we can tell them no. I do not want you to touch me. My body is a gift from God that is mine and mine alone. (At this point, if comfortable, we can go into a little more depth about consent and body autonomy. As stated at the beginning, this can be brought into Sunday school.)

Prayer
Dear God, We want to thank you for our bodies.
Thank you for the ways you have made us different. Our differences makes us special. Help us Lord to take ownership of our bodies and to rejoice in how perfect you have made us. We pray this in your Son's name.
Amen.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *


The Immediate Word, January 23, 2022 issue.

Copyright 2022 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to The Immediate Word service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons and in worship and classroom settings only. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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