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God Activates

Children's sermon
Illustration
Preaching
Sermon
Worship
For January 20, 2018:
  • God Activates by Tom Willadsen — Perhaps God wants us to delight in each other and in the magnitude and depth of divine love. Perhaps the Lord wants to activate our gifts of the Spirit, to use them for the common good.
  • Second Thoughts: The Thing About Gifts by Dean Feldmeyer — The thing about a gift is that it’s a gift. It’s free. You don’t have to earn it and you don’t have to pay for it, not in any way. It’s a gift. All you have to do is accept it and use it.
  • Sermon illustrations by Bethany Peerbolte, Mary Austin and Ron Love.
  • Worship resources by George Reed that focus on gifts and their use; participating in God’s gifts.
  • Children’s sermon: Don’t Keep Quiet! by Chris Keating — The prophet is determined to keep speaking and not be quiet until all people know that they are valued and loved by God.



God Activates
by Tom Willadsen
John 2:1-11, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, Isaiah 62:1-5, Psalm 36:5-10

Out of silence, the Lord promises a new name for Zion/Jerusalem. The Lord promises to delight in the chosen people as the groom delights in the bride. The marriage imagery continues throughout this morning’s reading from Isaiah. The depth and strength of God’s love is given full expression in the psalm reading. The Lord’s love is beyond abundant — it is as vast as all creation. Mighty like the mountains, encompassing people as well as animals. Face it, the Lord’s crazy about the people. And speaking of marriage, there’s this scene in Cana when Jesus sort of steps in — in place of the caterer — and comes through with wine. Really, really good wine. Perhaps the Lord wants us to delight in each other and in the magnitude and depth of divine love. Perhaps the Lord wants to activate our gifts of the Spirit, to use them for the common good.

In the News
As I write (Saturday, January 12) the federal government is in the midst of its longest shutdown on record. It feels like there is no other news, but lots of different news stories to tell about the difficulty the shutdown is causing to federal employees, their families and — at this point, at least, less dramatically — the citizens served by the federal government. The effects on the lives of individuals are only becoming more severe. And these effects are cumulative; one can only guess at the effect the shutdown will have on the national economy. At the most personal level, I wonder whether the peanut butter I start every day with will be safe to eat without USDA inspectors assuring the factory is up to code.

When I was leading worship services I found that one could always include “those caught in war’s crossfire” in intercessory prayer. It is always unwise to pray for one side in a conflict, but everyone can agree that people who are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, between warring factions, but not partisans, are worthy of being commended to God’s care in prayer. It can get contentious and pastors can be accused of being “political” by getting even a little more specific. Wars, famines, natural disasters and civil unrest all drive people from their homes. Calling such people “internally displaced,” “asylum seekers” or “refugees” can get dicey for the pastor leading a “purple” congregation. Each of these terms has a particular valence that sets off some worshippers’ minds — especially those eager to disagree with the content of the sermon, or the stance the denomination has taken on the issue of immigration and refugee resettlement.

Today, we find ourselves in an unusual, perhaps unprecedented, situation — the need to pray for “those caught in a stalemate’s crossfire.”                   

Of course we must also pray for our elected officials that they may work for justice and security for the citizens. I am considering the readings for January 20, 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, with a feeling of powerlessness and frustration. The shutdown is the opposite of a natural disaster; it’s a disaster wholly created by people. While natural disasters unite communities, the current disaster will likely only deepen divisions and distrust.
 
In the Scriptures
1 Corinthians 12:1-11 — The Common Good. God activates.
It’s a good thing Paul is not on the nominating committee of a Presbyterian church. The gifts of the Spirit he lists to the Corinthians: utterance of wisdom; utterance of knowledge; faith; gifts of healing; working miracles; prophecy; discernment of spirits; tongues; and the interpretation of tongues are not the qualities that our congregations recognize as lacking. We’re looking for someone willing to write the annual stewardship letter and change the bulletin board in the Sunday school wing. Oh, we’d do all right with “faith,” and it would be hard to discourage someone uttering either wisdom or knowledge, but overall these are not gifts that we recognize as essential for the orderly running of a congregation.

We are all over the idea of there being a variety of gifts. What pastor hasn’t felt the liberty of saying, “That’s not my gift,” when recognizing that there are other believers who are better equipped for a particular task? Someone needs to do the bookkeeping. Someone else. We have other gifts.

That is, we have been given other gifts. And all of these gifts are given to the church for the common good. It’s easy to forget that part. God didn’t give you the ability to make music or sing beautifully just for your sake; God gave that gift for you to use it for the common good.
Everybody stands to benefit from the gift you have been given.

Paul tells the Corinthians — and us — that gifts are not just given by God for the good of the community; God also activates those gifts by the same Spirit. The ongoing presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit can be regarded, perhaps, as a divine “on” switch. Are your gifts lying dormant? Maybe God simply has not activated them yet. Remember, God is free and will allot “to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”  

John 2:1-11
“They are out of wine.”

Mary could be my grandmother. Gram would never say, “Don’t wear that shirt to the concert,” but she would say, “You have other shirts.” Repeatedly and with increasing decibels. She would not ever say, “Yes,” if I asked, “Gram, would you like me to put on a different shirt?”

“You have other shirts.”

“They are out of wine.”

Jesus knows what Mary’s getting at, but it really isn’t his, or her, problem. He’s chillaxin’ with his new pals. Can’t Mom give it a rest?

Jesus and Mary do not speak again until he is on the cross (John 19:26). Mary speaks to the servants. Jesus speaks to the servants. The miracle — though John refers to it as a “sign” — is well known, the water in the ceremonial washing vessels is turned to good wine. In the Christian Century (December 19, 2018, p. 21) Joanna Harder points out that there is usually a fair amount of work around miracles/signs. Those water vessels were huge — too heavy to carry easily. And there were no spigots. It would have been a lot of work for someone to fill them to the brim. The sign did not just happen. Mary pointed out the situation; Jesus told the servants what to do; the servants did it; one of them took some of the wine to the steward; the steward went and told the groom how impressed he was. It appears that only the servants, Mary, Jesus and the disciples (at this point in John’s gospel there are five) knew about Jesus’ role in this sign. And it was Mary who activated it.

Isaiah 62:1-5 and Psalm 36:5-10
The portion of Psalm 36 that is today’s reading is filled with images from nature that point to God’s sovereign power and deep love for creation. Images of a feast and drinking from the river of delight echo the joy that one finds at a wedding.

The reading from Isaiah begins with God’s initiative. God speaks, God can no longer be silent. The Lord promises to be a devoted husband as though marrying the people of Israel.

In the Sermon
There are moments when things are perfectly balanced. The immovable object meets the irresistible force. Something has to give. Somebody has to make the first move. It may be, “I’m sorry,” that initiates the action. It may be, “You go first.” It may be, “We’ll vote for fortifying the borders (call it “a wall” if you must.) if you’re willing to bend on DACA.” At some point, someone sees how untenable a stalemate is; someone acts; the North Going Zax and the South Going Zax (face it, Dr. Seuss was one of the mid-20th century’s leading theologians) each give a little, just a little.

Maybe it won’t take much; just a whisper might do it. While Paul did not list “willingness to compromise” as a gift of the Spirit — and one could say that what our current gridlock truly needs is a worker of miracles — we’ve all been given gifts of the Spirit to use for the common good. All of us.

It takes the Spirit, however, to initiate them. The word we find in scripture emerges out of silence. The first miracle is an abundance of high quality in a moment of scarcity. The first miracle is set in motion by a bit of oblique, indirect communication. It did not take much to start it.

Are there small things that we can get started? Small steps we can make that will lead, with the guidance of the Spirit, into new, deeper avenues of faith?

How would you be different if you believed, really believed, that everyone you meet has a gift of the Spirit? Everyone you meet has a gift for you? Would remembering that gifts need to be activated make you more open, more patient, allowing time for the particular gift to be manifest?

Would remembering that gifts of the Spirit are to be used for the common good encourage you to seek a way beyond political differences rather than regarding them as battles to be won?



SECOND THOUGHTS
The Thing About Gifts
by Dean Feldmeyer
John 2:1-11, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

See, the thing is, she was ten years old.

And it was a nice gift and all, and she should have, she really should have sent a thank you note.

But she was ten years old. And she forgot.

And yes, her mother should have reminded her and even hounded her but her mother said it wasn’t her responsibility, so she reminded her once and then it was up to her.

And she forgot. Diana forgot to send her grandmother a thank you note.

And grandma was offended. Seriously offended. She wanted, she expected, she was owed, a thank you note and she didn’t get one.

And because she didn’t, she never sent Diana another gift. Ever. For the rest of her life, until grandma died, she never sent Diana another gift.

Did I say gift? Wrong word. Turns out it wasn’t really a gift after all. If there was a condition attached to it, an expectation, a required response, indeed, a requirement of any kind, it wasn’t really a gift. No, it really wasn’t. It was a service rendered for which payment was owed in the form of a thank you note.

That’s the thing about a gift: it’s a gift. It’s free. You don’t have to earn it and you don’t have to pay for it, not in any way.

It’s a gift.

And the only thing you have to do with a gift is accept it and use it. Or you lose it. And that is just a natural fact.

The Gift of Talent and Effort
Let’s talk about talent.

Most people agree that talent is a gift. But what, exactly, is talent? Is it a gift? Well, yes. If you have an innate ability to do something without having to learn it, I’d say that’s a gift.

For instance: I can hear harmony in my head. And I remember when I realized that I could do it. I was about 12 years old and standing next to my dad and we were in the sanctuary of our church at a normal, traditional, white-bread, suburban Methodist Church worship service, singing a hymn (All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name, Diadem melody). Dad was singing the bass part and I realized that I could sing the tenor part without looking at the notes on the page. I just knew what notes to sing. And I sang them. He looked down at me and winked. It was one of the greatest days of my life.

I have four siblings and I’m the only one who inherited my dad’s ability to do that, to hear harmony in my head and produce it.

For the past 60 years I have used that talent. Not professionally. More as an avocation or hobby than as a career, but I have used it. I can play a number of musical instruments by ear, several fairly well, if I practice. And my favorite instrument is second fiddle.

See, if you play first fiddle, you play the melody and there’s only one note that is correct in any given instance. But if you play second fiddle, you play harmony and there are any number of notes that can sound good and right when played with the correct not that the first fiddler is playing.

You may have noticed an important word a couple of paragraphs up from here.

Practice.

If you don’t practice, it doesn’t really matter how much talent you have, how big a gift you have for music, it will do you no good whatsoever. Talent will get you only so far.

Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania has this to say about talent: “…when I use the word, I mean it as the rate at which you get better with effort. The rate at which you get better at soccer is your soccer talent. The rate at which you get better at math is your math talent. You know, given that you are putting forth a certain amount of effort.”1

This definition allows that improvement is a product of both innateness and effort. Talent helps you improve faster when you practice. The more talent you have the faster you improve. But, and this is important, the other side of the scale applies as well: effort. The more effort you apply, the faster you improve, as well.

If you have lots of talent and you apply lots of effort, you will improve very fast. But you can also improve, maybe not so quickly, but still improve, if you have more talent than effort or more effort that talent.

In fact, studies show that, if you have a talent and don’t apply effort to it, you will probably, eventually, lose the talent. It will disappear, just fade away.

Perfect Pitch
About one in 10,000 people in the United States has perfect pitch, or, what is also called, absolute pitch. Most people believe that perfect pitch is the ability to identify the name of a note upon simply hearing it.

They hear a C sharp and they know it’s a C sharp, for instance.

The reality is a little more complicated.

A person with perfect pitch has to learn the name of the note they are hearing. They don’t just automatically know it. It has to be taught to them: This is “B.” This is “B flat.” And so on. Perfect pitch is actually the ability to learn how to identify notes by hearing them.

And if a person with perfect pitch doesn’t learn how to do that, they lose their perfect pitch. It just goes away. Training, most experts believe, has to start around five years old, to be really effective.

But even if they do learn how to identify the notes aurally, perfect pitch isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. Some musicians even refer to it as the “useless gift.” They report that it doesn’t really make it any easier to be a musician and, in some cases, perfect pitch can make it harder.

Science has determined that, for most people, the human ear does not really appreciate a perfectly tuned instrument. In fact, we tend to find music more enjoyable if it is — and we’re not kidding, here — just slightly out of tune. Not much but just a little teeny bit. People with perfect pitch find that little bit of ‘out-of-tune-ness” to be torture.

William Lee Adams observes in Psychology Today, that “The gift isn't always a blessing. Awareness of pitch can distract listeners from enjoying music, and playing a melody in a transposed key can be a downright nightmare…when it comes to musical greatness, absolute pitch is irrelevant. For every Mozart who has it, there are several Tchaikovskys who don't.”2

Leonard Bernstein had it; Neil Young doesn’t. Stevie Wonder does; Steely Dan doesn’t; Julie Andrews has it; Joni Mithell doesn’t.  Ludwig van Beethoven had it but it did him absolutely no good after he went deaf.  Celine Dion, Ella Fitzgerald, Vladimir Horowitz, Michael Jackson, and Yo-Yo Ma, yes, k.d. lang, Gwen Stefani, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie? No.

Not only did Irving Berlin (“White Christmas”) not have perfect pitch, he couldn’t even read music and he could play the piano only by ear and only in the key of C. (White keys only.) And he became one of the most successful and famous composers in American musical history.

We could go on and on, but you get the point. Some of these people used their gift of perfect pitch to make careers in music for themselves. They took their gift and added a healthy dose of effort and became successful. Some, however, had other musical gifts like a good ear for pitch or harmony, or the ability to sight read, or interpret or who knows what. But they all applied a healthy dose of effort to whatever talent God gave them.

If one in every 10,000 has the potential for perfect pitch, that means that there are probably tens of thousands if not millions who were born with the talent but never put in the effort, or had the opportunity to do so, who never developed their talent, their gift, and, eventually, lost it.

Gifts of the Spirit
My father used to say that talent was God’s gift to you. Practice is how you say, “Thank you.”

This Sunday, the epistle lesson from 1 Corinthians speaks to us about “spiritual gifts,” gifts which God distributes among God’s people. The Gospel lesson tells us the story of the wedding in Cana where Jesus first demonstrated his gift for miracles.

In 1 Corinthians Paul reassures us that there are many spiritual gifts which God bestows upon God’s people and we are not to be afraid of using them if God has seen fit to give them to us. Neither should we criticize our brothers and sisters who have been given certain gifts, nor should we argue about which gift is greater than another.

They all come from God and, because they are gifts, they come with a “use it or lose it” clause. Did God give you the spiritual gift of speaking wisdom? Well, then you better stop doubting yourself and start honoring that gift by speaking wisdom. Did God give you the gift of faith or healing or miracles or discernment? Well, get up off of that couch and start faith-ing, and healing, and working miracles, and discerning!

Jesus is our role model, here.

Just as Jesus used his gift of miracles at the wedding, so we are called to use the gifts we have been given.

Oh, and none of this business about, “I don’t have any spiritual gifts.”

Can you cook? Do you know how for people who can’t cook, the ability to do so is the ability to perform a miracle?

Can you write poetry? Have you ever talked to someone who can’t write a complete sentence without stumbling? They know what a powerful gift you have.

Does public speaking come easily to you? Can you sew? Can you draw, or build, or carve, or solve problems? Can you make complex things simple so children can understand them? Do you see possibilities where others see problems?

Do you know, just automatically know, how other people feel when they are grieving, or when they are happy, or when they are frustrated or mad or filled to bursting with joy? Do you know how to drive a stick shift, or make vegetables grow, or arrange flowers, or teach an old dog new tricks?

Those are all gifts, brothers and sisters.

And they may just be gifts of God’s Holy Spirit.

Don’t scoff at them. Don’t belittle them. Don’t dismiss them as small and insignificant.

Because to those who don’t possess them they are the things dreams are made of.

Take up your gifts, carry them into the rehearsal halls or onto the practice fields and work at them with gratitude in your heart, for it is only then that you will develop them into true abilities, abilities worth having and worth teaching to others, abilities which shout “Thank you,” to the God who gave them to you.

The great golfing pro, Lee “Supermex” Trevino, is retired now, but he is still remembered as one of the greatest players in the history of the game and one of the greatest Hispanic golfers of all time. He was inducted to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1981.

Trevino won six major championships and 29 PGA Tour events over the course of his career. He is one of only four players to twice win the U.S. Open, The Open Championship and the PGA Championship.

Born in Dallas, Texas, into a family of Mexican ancestry and raised by his mother and his grandfather, a gravedigger, he first went to work at age 5 in the cotton fields near where he lived.  

Trevino was a completely self-taught golfer who was introduced to golf when his uncle gave him a few golf balls and an old golf club. He found that he had an innate ability to put the ball where he wanted and spent much his free time sneaking into nearby country clubs to practice. Hitting off of bare ground required him to develop a unique and unorthodox swing that he used his entire life.

“The Merry Mex” was always a crowd favorite. He joked with fans and never failed to sign autographs when he could. He talked good naturedly with his fellow golfers until they often had to ask him to stop talking so they could concentrate on their game.

One story told of him is that a fan once said to him, “I’d give anything to be able to play golf like you do.” Lee was, of course, gracious and funny with his response but he allegedly later told a friend that what he wanted to say was something like this: “You’d give anything? Well, how about eight hours of practice a day, every day for twenty years? How about hitting 50 balls a day with every club in the bag until your shoulders and arms are screaming in pain and you have to bandage the blisters on your hands and fingers so you can put in another two hours on the putting green and the pitching apron? How about being away from your family weeks on end because the tour demands it or you won’t keep your standing? How about finishing a round with the losing score and then going back out when everyone else has gone to dinner and playing the course again to try and figure out what you did wrong? Because that’s what ‘anything’ looks like and there aren’t many people who can or will give it.”

He didn’t say it, of course. He was, after all, the “Merry Mex” and he had a reputation to uphold but he was also very clear about the limits of talent and the efficacy of effort.

He knew about the “use it or lose it” clause that comes with every gift from God.

1 Smerek, Ryan, What Is Talent?, Psychology Today, Aug 08, 2018.
2 Adams, William Lee , The Mysteries of Perfect Pitch, Psychology Today, July 1, 2006.




ILLUSTRATIONS

From team member Bethany Peerbolte:

1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Being Good Stewards of our Gifts
People, you can’t live with ’em and you can’t live without ’em. With the government shutdown reaching historic lengths, the national parks and federal employees suffer. In the parks, there have been reports of damage, trash build up, and backed up bathrooms. At the Joshua Tree National Park vandals have taken the time to roam the ranger-free park and are causing irreparable damage. The park is now closed to protect the resources inside its borders. There are heartwarming stories coming from the parks, too. In Michigan, a group of residents have volunteered to maintain the Sleeping Bear Dunes. They have cleaned trash, maintained paths, and restocked bathrooms. No matter what kind of stories are coming out of the parks everyone wants to have trained rangers back to work to maintain our national treasures.

Paul wants all gifts to be nurtured. They are from the Spirit, entrusted to humanity so that we might flourish and make use of the gifts. In 1 Corinthians he talks about our personal gifts, but we have also been entrusted to be good stewards of the earth. Our park rangers have done their job to nurture their calling but the shutdown is impeding their ability to act on their call. While Isaiah calls for voices to be heard, one should be cautious about the tactics used to have a voice heard. Forcing someone off the path and away from using their gifts is more harmful than helpful.

* * *

1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Being True to our Gifts
The new Mary Poppins movie does make the life of a chimney sweep look awfully fantastic. In fact their new theme song is all about “tripping the light fantastic.” The reality of the chimney sweep profession is a little less glamourous and musical. That does not bother Luisa, an 18 year old girl in Germany who is finishing her internship as a chimney sweep. In the video interview she acknowledges how odd it is for someone her age to be taking this path. With most of her friends heading to college and fighting for top picture on Instagram, Luisa has chosen a different life. She is not ashamed of working with her hands and recognizes her calling into the chimney sweep world.

1 Corinthians encourages believers to recognize their gifts and honor what the Spirit has gifted them. There is an obvious tone in the passage to suggest that people had been fighting about whose gift was better and which gifts were most needed. Paul cuts through the argument and lays everyone on the same level. Every gift is needed, every gift is important, and everyone must do as they have been gifted.

* * *

Isaiah 62:1-5
If You Can Read This, Thank a Protester
Teachers in Los Angeles are going to strike. There are several issues on the table, but the story is one we have seen on repeat for a while now. Teachers are struggling to make ends meet at home and want more support resources for the children they serve. They have a bright and glorious plan for the kids. They see a future with more nurses, counselors, and librarians to keep the students safe and supported. With less standardized testing and less students per classroom to lower stress levels. The teachers have struggled on their own for long enough, they now fight for the sake of the students.

In the Isaiah passage, the writer does not speak up and act for his own sake. They are now fighting for the greater good, for Zion and Jerusalem. We often can put up with injustices done to us longer than we can when we see them done to others. Just like this writer the teachers in Los Angeles have found their cause and are ready to fight for their voices to be heard and for changes to be made.

* * *

Isaiah 62:1-5
Having Our Voice Heard
There is more to equality in the workplace than equal pay for men and women. The deaf community has been struggling to get a fair shot at jobs. Only forty percent of people who are deaf have full time employment even with the technological advances that have made it easier for them to communicate. Amanda Koller has two master’s degrees but still gets denied face to face interviews and gets hung up on by employers who “don’t have time for this” when they insist on having phone interviews. Despite the challenges, some communities, like in Maryland, are finding ways to beat the odds and encourage individuals who are deaf to start their own businesses. By teaming together and creating networks of support they have opened more than 75 deaf owned businesses that serve the deaf community and hearing community simultaneously.

Isaiah’s call to action is being seen by the deaf community. When we preach about a call we reference the voice of God, but insinuate that it may not be physically heard. What if the call was strictly visual? To see something that needs changing or to influence injustice not by words but by action. The deaf community understands the turmoil of speaking but no one responding because of the language barrier. They have had to develop technology to bring the rest of the world to their level of communication. Even with those tools they are denied basic rights. Maybe the call to action is Isaiah has nothing to do with words, but everything to do with action.

* * * * * * * * *

From team member Mary Austin:

John 2:1-11
The Unseen Servants
The interesting figures for me, in John’s story of Jesus changing water to wine, are the almost invisible servants. They move the huge stone jars around at Jesus’ direction, and, presumably, are still there when the steward tastes the wine. Their labor makes the miracle possible, but we hardly notice them.

The same is true for the federal government employees who aren’t working during the shutdown. We don’t see what they do, until they’re not doing it. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees are working without pay, thankfully for the traveling public, but the strain is showing. The Miami airport plans to close a concourse because of the numbers of employees calling in sick. People are missing court dates in immigration courts, and being returned to the end of the line, with rescheduled dates as far off as 2022. Other federal courts are also struggling. “From furloughs at the Justice Department to confusion in the courts, to prison officers working without a paycheck, the shutdown has challenged the nation’s courts and criminal justice system and those whose livelihoods depend on them, slowing some cases while throwing others into disarray.”

Cybersecurity for federal agencies, including Homeland Security, is a growing concern, as contractors who provide security services aren’t working. Investigations of fatal accidents by the National Transportation Safety Board are on hold.

Invisible work, taken for granted, like that of the servants in John’s story, has more impact than we see, and we never notice until it isn’t there.

* * *

1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Different Gifts
We know that Paul is absolutely right, and there are people with different gifts in every church, office and family. And yet, we are swayed by the loudest person in the room. Our brains take a shortcut instead of valuing every kind of experience. “People often pay closest attention to the person who talks most frequently, or has the most impressive title, or comes from the CEO’s hometown. And that’s because of how our brains are built. The group decision-making process, rather than aligning with actual competence, habitually falls for messy proxies of expertise, a phrase coined by University of Utah management professor Bryan Bonner. Essentially, when our brains are left to their own devices, attention is drawn to shortcuts, such as turning focus to the loudest or tallest person in the room. Over time, letting false expertise run the show can have negative side effects.”

We have to work hard to allow everyone’s gifts to flourish. For example, we can structure a church meeting or work project differently. Bonner, the Utah psychologist, says to “take the humanity out” when you can. “Set up situations where people exchange information with as little noise as possible,” he says. If you’re brainstorming, have everyone write down their ideas on index cards or on shared documents, then review the ideas anonymously — that way the strength of the idea, rather than the status of the source, will be the most powerful thing.

There are many gifts that build up an organization. We cheat ourselves out of God’s diversity if we don’t work to make a place for all of them.

* * *

1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Loving All the Different Gifts
Paul’s reminder that there are varieties of gifts is both inspiring and dismaying. In theory, we love variety. In practice, it would be so much easier if everyone thought like we do. It turns out that there are spiritual habits that will teach us to value the whole panoply of ways people give, act, think and play.

Experts suggest that we try some of these practices.  If we can afford it, travel. Author Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton remembers, “I vividly remember the experience of traveling in Beijing 20 years ago, on the hottest day of the year, and discovering that one could simply not find cold drinking water anywhere (this is no longer true). Hot tea, I learned, was the answer to scorching thirst. It was a relatively minor event, but from then on I was less inclined to scoff in disbelief at people’s diverse taste preferences. It helped me realize that there is nothing biological or innate about the need for a cold drink on a hot day, or for the “naturalness” of any of the habits or customs we follow.”

Also, “Acknowledge differences, rather than try to fight an uphill battle to ignore them. This strategy is known as multiculturalism, and differs from colorblindness in that it embraces diversity and difference. In the battle of the “melting pot” versus the “salad bowl” ideologies, the research is clear: The salad wins by a long shot.”

We can learn to value the differences Paul highlights, and see them as a gift from God, if we try.

* * * * * * * * *

From team member Ron Love:

Isaiah 62:1 “her vindication shines”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian who resisted the Third Reich. Realizing that Adolf Hitler was an evil man who had to be stopped, Bonhoeffer wrestled with the theological concept that would  permit a Christian to stop evil, even if it meant being a part of an assassination plot. Bonhoeffer concluded that Hitler was so very evil that a Christian was justified in violating the Ten Commandments, participating in Hitler’s murder. The Bunker Plot did not succeed, Hitler survived, and Bonhoeffer was arrested for his participation and sentenced to be executed.

Bonhoeffer preached his last sermon on Sunday, April 8, 1945, in a little schoolhouse that served as a temporary prison in Schonberg. When he concluded his message the guards said, “Prisoner Bonhoeffer, get ready to come with us.” Everyone gathered in that makeshift chapel knew the meaning of those words; that is, Bonhoeffer was being taken to be executed. On the next day, Monday, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hung.

As he was leaving the schoolhouse, Bonhoeffer said to his fellow prisoner, Payne Best, these immortal words: “This is the end — for me the beginning of life.”

* * *

1 Corinthians 12:1 “uninformed”

Herbert Brokering (1926-2009) was a Lutheran pastor. He wrote 30 books as well as hymns, poems and plays. Besides pastoring churches, he was a promoter of healing, justice and peace. He made more than 100 pilgrimages in his lifetime to places in Europe, the Middle East, China and India.

One of his better-known poems is titled Sermon. He began the poem by sharing that he was listening to a sermon, not the best sermon, “but the only one for this day.” He didn’t sleep during the sermon because “I always come to hear all of it for the sake of the one sentence.” The poem then discusses the faults of the sermon he is listening to. But then the preacher, “He does not know when he says his big sentence. I know. It’s when all the words become one word. When all the thoughts become one thought. It’s when the words become like flesh and blood to me.”

***

1 Corinthians 12:1 “uninformed”

My family attended Ingomar United Methodist Church after my dad was relocated to Pittsburgh. Ingomar was one of the flagship churches for Methodism in Pittsburgh and the pastor, Dr. Elmer Parks, was respected for his preaching. But, as a high school teenager, I doubt if any preacher could capture my attention. When Dr. Parks stepped into the pulpit, I would look at my watch, knowing the service had to conclude exactly at 12 noon. I knew how many minutes the closing hymn and benediction would take. I would then subtract that from 12 o’clock to know exactly how long the pastor would be preaching.

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1 Corinthians 12:1 “uninformed”

My childhood church in Lorain, Ohio, was Delaware United Methodist Church. The church had a number of pastors while I was in elementary school. I remember them now only by personality, not by name. We had no children’s church, so I sat with my brothers and parents during the entire service, which included the sermon. The one pastor I do remember is Reverend Avery Butler. This is because his son and I were the same age and were playmates. Of all those sermons from all those ministers I can remember only one tidbit, but that one tidbit has stayed with me for over a half century and has on more than one occasion inspired and sustained me. And that tidbit was preached by Reverend Butler. At one time he was a Navy chaplain. He shared that the ship he was on was confronting a huge storm. The captain ordered that the ship head directly into the waves to keep it from capsizing. And the message of course, is that we are to confront our problems head-on.

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Psalm 36:7 “refuge”

Colin Harbach is a retired minister in Scotland. He shared in the September issue of The Upper Room this inspiring story:

He and a young companion were walking when they came upon a huge sheepfold in the hollow on the moor. It was built in a circle from nearby rocks. The purpose of the sheepfold was a place for the sheep to seek refuge from the wind and snow. His young friend asked why it was built in a circle and not a square. This caused Harbach to pause and think. He then shared that there are no corners in a circle, and corners can be cold. A circle is more resistant to the wind. Harbach then wrote, “The whole purpose of a sheepfold is to be an enfolding embrace — a wrap-around of warmth and security.” Harbach then made this analogy: With God’s love there are “No corners!”

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Psalm 36:7 “refuge”

Elaine Pagels is a religious historian who is best known for her writings on the Gnostic Gospels. In 2018 she published a book titled Why Religion? A Personal Story. In the book she shares that her first child, Mark, was born with a heart defect. At the age of five he died from this. His death came while Elaine and Mark were in the hospital for tests since his condition had become worse. She always felt that death was the end, that there was a finality to it. But, after Mark died, she could feel his presence in the hospital room. As she and her husband Heinz talked, consoling one another, she wrote, “At that moment I somehow felt that Mark could hear us; I felt his presence near the ceiling of the room.” Pagels went on to write, “Before that moment, I’d taken for granted what I’d learned, that death was the end, any thought of surviving death only fantasy. Although that may be true, what I experienced that day challenged that assumption. I was astonished, seeming to sense that Mark was all right, wherever he was, and that he was somewhere. But that didn’t help change what we felt: utter desolation.”

* * *

Psalm 36:5 “steadfast love”

In the newspaper comic Peanuts by Charles Schulz, we have Sally and Snoopy sitting together on the grass. Sally begins to share, “Snoopy, this has been a bad week for me…” Then with a very distraught look on her face, she continues, “What can you do when everything seems hopeless?” In the next frame we see Snoopy giving Sally a big kiss on the cheek, with a small heart fluttering above it. In the last frame of the cartoon, Sally, with a huge and happy smile on her face, says, “That’s good advice!”

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1 Corinthians 12:1 “spiritual gifts”

Nick Saban has been the head football coach of the University of Alabama since 2007. He is known for making “gutsy” calls to win a football game. One of his two more famous gambles was in January 2016. He called for a fourth-quarter onside kick against Clemson, that gave him a 45-40 victory. His more controversial call was in a championship game against Georgia in 2017. At the beginning of the second half he benched two-year starting quarterback Jalen Hurts, and brought onto the filed the freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa brought the Crimson Tide from a 13-0 deficit to a 26-23 victory. In speaking why he would call a gusty play, Saban said, “Well, I think when you’re playing against a very good team and you anticipate that it’s going to be a really tight game, that you’re always looking for somewhere or someplace in the game where you can create an advantage for yourself and try to put your players in the best position to have a chance to be successful.”

* * *

Isaiah 62:1 “vindication shines”

Crimson Tide does not sound like an imposing football team when confronting the Clemson Tigers or the Georgia Bulldogs. But, the name does identify the University of Alabama. In 1907 Alabama played Auburn in the Iron Bowl. The game was played in the pouring down rain. Hugh Roberts, the sports editor for the Birmingham Age-Herald, wrote that “a sea of red mud” turned Alabama’s white jerseys crimson.

* * *

Isaiah 62:1 “vindication shines”

William Prusoff applied to Yale. The university thought so little of Prusoff’s qualifications that the institution returned his application, and in a gesture of sympathy his application fee as well. Prusoff then applied at Columbia, and was accepted. Shortly after graduation, Prusoff was hired in 1953 as a pharmacologist at the Yale School of Medicine. In that position he developed the first treatment for AIDS. Prusoff always kept framed in his office the original rejection letter from Yale.



WORSHIP
by George Reed

Call to Worship:
Leader: Your steadfast love, O God, extends to the heavens.
People: Your faithfulness to the clouds.
Leader: Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains.
People: Your judgments are like the great deep, O God.
Leader:   How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
People: All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

OR

Leader: Come into the presence of our great gift giver.
People: We come to rejoice in the generosity of our God.
Leader: God delights in giving gifts to each person.
People: We are thankful that all of us receive gifts from God.
Leader: God gives them to us but they are for all.
People: We will share our gifts with all of God’s people.

Hymns and Songs:
Many Gifts, One Spirit
UMH: 114
NCH: 177

Many and Great, O God
UMH: 148
H82: 385
PH: 271
NCH: 3
CH: 58
ELA: 837
W&P: 26

Holy Spirit, Come, Confirm Us
UMH: 331
NCH: 264

I’m Gonna Sing When the Spirit Says Sing
UMH: 333
NNBH: 134

The Gift of Love
UMH: 408
AAHH: 522
CH: 526
W&P: 397
Renew: 155

Make Me a Captive, Lord
UMH: 421
PH: 378

Be Thou My Vision
UMH: 451
H82: 488
PH: 339
NCH: 451
CH: 595
ELA: 793
W&P: 502
AMEC: 281
STLT: 20
Renew: 151

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

Give Thanks
CCB: 92
Renew: 266

For the Gift of Creation
CCB: 67

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
ELA: 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 showers your children with many gifts:
Grant us the wisdom to use our gifts wisely
so that all your people may benefit from them;
through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

OR

We praise you, O God, for the abundance of your gifts to your children. We thank you for the variety of gifts and for you Spirit that makes them active. Help us to always use your gifts as you intended for the good of all your people. Amen.

Prayer of Confession
Leader: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins and especially our failure to appreciate and use our gifts for the common good.

People: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. You have poured out a multitude of gifts upon us. Your Spirit waits among us to use those gifts for the salvation of your people and yet we ignore your gifts. We fail to appreciate them or even to be aware of them, at times. We don’t cherish them and polish them with our efforts. We don’t use them for the good of others. When we do use them it is too often for our own amusement. Forgive us our selfish ways. Open our hearts to your Spirit that calls us to reach out with our gifts to others. Amen.

Leader: God gives us gifts because we are God’s beloved. God joyously grants us grace as part of our gifts. Share all God’s gifts with all God’s people.

Prayers of the People
We praise you, O God, for the gifts you have given. Your love is seen in abundance in the multitude of gifts you have presented to us.

(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 poured out a multitude of gifts upon us. Your Spirit waits among us to use those gifts for the salvation of your people and yet we ignore your gifts. We fail to appreciate them or even to be aware of them, at times. We don’t cherish them and polish them with our efforts. We don’t use them for the good of others. When we do use them it is too often for our own amusement. Forgive us our selfish ways. Open our hearts to your Spirit that calls us to reach out with our gifts to others.

We thank you for those who have used your gifts so that we have learned of your love and grace. We thank you for those who have made this world a better place through the use of the talents you have given them. We thank you for the gifts and talents you have shared with us.

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We pray for all your people in our common needs. We pray for the strength and the will to use our gifts for the betterment of others.

(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.

Children’s Sermon Starter
Bring a bag of candy (or a tray of carrot and celery sticks) and tell the children it is a gift that you have received. You could eat it all yourself but you have learned that gifts are more fun when we share them. Share with the children. Then tell them actually you received even more. You want them to have the fun of sharing as well. Give them candy (or veggie sticks) to share with all of the congregation.



CHILDREN'S SERMON
Don’t Keep Quiet!
by Chris Keating
Isaiah 62:1-5

Gather ahead of time:
A photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Copies of “We Shall Overcome.”

Today’s reading from Isaiah 62:1-5 provides an outstanding opportunity to help children reflect on the 90th anniversary of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. While many children will have learned some aspects about Dr. King’s life, they may not understand that his advocacy and commitment to nonviolence flowed from his experience as a pastor. Most public schools will spend time focusing on Dr. King’s accomplishments as a civil rights leader while not describing his pastoral presence. (This connection could also be drawn from the 1 Corinthians text for today as well.)

Ask the children if they have ever heard someone say to them, “Use your words.” In our house, we often said that as a way of stopping a fight between siblings. Instead of grabbing a toy from your sister’s hand, we would say, ask for it instead. “Use your words” became a way of talking about feelings of anger and disappointment.

In many ways, the prophet Isaiah is using his words today. The prophet knows that even though God’s people are experiencing a tough time, God’s love is real. She or he will not be silent! The prophet’s passion for God’s people is strong, and so he or she speaks words of comfort, hope, and longing to people who are hurting.

On this weekend, we remember a man who used his words to help others know of God’s love. As you encourage the children to share what they might have learned about Dr. King and the Civil Rights era, remind them that he was first (and foremost) a pastor. He preached sermons that challenged and comforted. He visited people who were lonely and scared. He helped inspire faith in those who worshipped in his churches — in other words, like the prophet Dr. King could not keep silent.

Dr. King and others helped us remember that all persons — no matter the color of their skin — are equal. Help the children understand that there have been times when black persons, Asians, Hispanics or other groups have been treated poorly by others. Dr. King’s dream was that one day all people would be free — in our country, and in the world.

Sometimes, the words we speak are not enough. While Dr. King was a powerful preacher, he also knew and understood the value of singing. Wherever he went, he helped people to sing of God’s promises of peace and freedom.  His words, whether spoken or sung, were reminders of Isaiah’s bold declaration that God delights in us.

Just days before his died in 1968, Dr. King said this:

There's a little song that we sing in our movement down in the South. I don't know if you've heard it," King told the Memphis crowd. "You know, I've joined hands so often with students and others behind jail bars singing it: 'We shall overcome.' Sometimes we've had tears in our eyes when we joined together to sing it, but we still decided to sing it: 'We shall overcome.' Oh, before this victory's won, some will have to get thrown in jail some more, but we shall overcome.

Lead the children and the congregation in singing this simple, yet beautiful reminder of the way God delights in us.


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

The Immediate Word, January 20, 2019 issue.

Copyright 2019 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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