|| "Who do you say
that I am?" Jesus asked. Simon Peter answered, "You
are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus
answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are
Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra)
I will build my church..." Jesus then began to speak of
the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get
behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling
May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
" You are not lacking! "
Message preached January 20, 2002
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Order of Worship
A month or so ago we were seeking someone to share a good word with us during worship on the Sunday after Christmas. When we asked a certain person in our midst if he was willing, before he replied "yes," he confessed, "Iím not worthy to preach." Those of us who heard him do just that three weeks ago, I believe, would be in agreement that this young man definitely has a gift in this area that needs to be shared. He is not lacking in ability. He preached an excellent sermon. As to his concern about feeling "worthy" to do so, that is a more "internal" question - harder to get a handle on. Does anyone ever feel "worthy" to proclaim Godís Word? After many years of doing just that, I still have the same question.
This morningís message, which I pray will be a "good word" and not more bad news, is for those who may feel inadequate when it comes to whatever task stands before them, particularly those tasks to which there may be a degree of being "called" by God to fulfill them. Weíre not just talking "preaching" here, folks. Weíre not even talking just "church" responsibilities. God calls us into many areas in life, and what happens between the walls of this meetinghouse is but a fraction of the total, albeit an important fraction.
Some folks Iím thinking of just now are those who next week will be stretching their abilities, as they sing and act their way through "Amahl and the Night Visitors." This is a very demanding musical, actually an "opera," though donít let that title turn you off. Though a fan of classical music, I have not yet developed a taste for opera. I do however, very much like "Amahl." By the way, we recently learned that one of our previous pastors - Paul Groff - had a dream forty years ago of our congregation doing something like this. If all turns out, he and his family will be here Saturday evening.
"Amahl" is not an easy production, by any manner of means. With only a couple exceptions, the parts are being handled by our church folks - some of whom do not read music. Itís amazing what is coming out of these people. Be in prayer for them this coming week, would you? And those who will attend next weekend, please be more than mere observers. Think of how in the African-American church the congregation helps to preach the sermon with their outright spoken support. Well, donít shout "Amen," or "sing it, sister," or some such - this is an "opera," you know - but do undergird these folks with your prayers as they sing. Actually, thatís what we should be doing any time we gather together to somehow share or be Godís "good news." Be thankful. Be supportive.
Speaking of thanksgiving and support, let me turn now to our scripture passage from Paulís first letter to the believers in Corinth. These words begin the letter, one which has a bit of bad news enclosed. The letter, in fact, is full of challenges to a church overflowing with talent but lacking in good will toward one another. Later on, Paul will pull no punches when he speaks of how the arrogance of some persons toward others in the fellowship is hindering the church whenever they break bread together (11:17-22, 27-34); or how - when it comes to spiritual abilities - those persons who have gifts considered less worthy than the gifts of others are actually more important in the bigger picture of the body of Christ (12:22-27).
In a much loved chapter of this letter he will make a very serious statement about how every talent or ability, even though an awesome wonder to behold, is worthless unless Godís love is not undergirding and integrated into every facet of the life of these disciples (13:1-13). Love is the "more excellent way," the "greater gift," he will write (12:31). The "Love Passage" of 1 Corinthians 13 is not just a text for weddings, it is the foundation of our life in Christ. It is appropriate that our dear sister Bea Currens has requested this scripture to be read when the time comes for us to remember her earthly life and celebrate her entrance into the Kingdom of heaven. She has lived by these words, as have so many others.
Both of Paulís letters to the believers in Corinth are filled with hard hitting challenges to self-satisfied people. Even so, he begins in this morningís scripture with thanksgiving and support for these folks, whom he has come to love - though at times they have been an exasperation to him. In these initial verses are found, I believe, some important clues for those of us who may be wondering whether we are able to accomplish a task to which we have been called, or if we are "worthy" enough to step forth and just do it.
In verse 4, Paul writes, "I give thanks to my God always for you..." Now, these beginning words in this letter may be more of a formality than anything else. Letter writing has become somewhat of a lost art in this era of instant messages where "dialogue" allows little time for thought between statements, and what is on the "tip of the tongue" overwhelms what resides deep within the heart. When was the last time you began a conversation on the phone or the computer with gratitude? We still may pray that way, but often thankfulness takes a back burner. It wasnít always that way. Every culture has had its own formalities when it came to letter-writing, and Paul is, indeed, here following the pattern of his age by beginning with gratitude.
Even so, it may do us well not to so quickly run past what appears obvious. "I give thanks to my God always for you..." How often do we express that to others in the household of God, let alone actually think and feel it? My experience in the church is that women tend to pay more attention to gratitude than men. I have known many women, especially, in the church who place the concern of expressing thanks high on their priority list, sending notes, making sure people are recognized and thanked. This is very important, something I confess I donít do enough of. I also confess that I have known some individuals who have expressed thanks in a card but spoke harshly of me behind my back. "Real" gratitude is important!
"I give thanks to my God always for you..." Isnít it nice to be appreciated just for who we are, and not merely for the good things we may do? How many of us, if we are honest with ourselves, do good stuff in order to receive gratitude in some way, shape, or fashion? We may say we arenít doing it for that, but deep down we are hurt when gratitude is not forthcoming. It can become a viscous cycle within, because we donít really feel good about ourselves and need the affirmation of others. It can become a faith issue when we do good stuff for God in order to merit gratitude from our Creator when our hearts are empty. We can do good in order to receive Godís grace and mercy and salvation.
The good news is, however, that God loves us just for who we are. That is the foundation of our faith, that while we were sinners (that is, when we werenít doing all the "good stuff") God loved us anyway, just for who we are, and sent his Son to and for us. Grace and mercy are not something we earn. Itís like receiving a "thank you" before you do anything for which you need to be thanked. "I give thanks to my God always for you..." Though maybe a bit "old-fashioned," isnít that a marvelous way of putting it? Of course, notice that Paul didnít say merely, "Iím thankful for you." Itís one step beyond, for "God" literally surrounds the "you" in this statement. "I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus."
The "grace" of God is connected with all of this, which is important for those of us who wonder whether we can do what we have been called to do, or whether we are even worthy of doing it. Do I have the ability, do I have the "gift ?" we ask, often second and third guessing ourselves in life. Am I "good enough" to do it? The good news is that Godís grace is woven through all of this. Literally, in the language Paul was using, everyday Greek, "grace" is almost the same word as "gift." Itís out of Godís grace that our gifts flow, that we are able to do anything.
Not only that, but the word "thanksgiving" or "gratitude" is almost the same word. Last week we celebrated communion. Sometimes this is called the "eucharist," for the prayer of thanksgiving that precedes the eating of the bread and drinking from the cup. "The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks ("eucharistesas"), he broke it and said, ĎThis is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of meí" (1 Corinthians 11:23b-24). Eucharist/gratitude is part and parcel with charis/grace, which is intimately connected with charismata/spiritual gifts, which is nearly the same as chara/joy. Gratitude ... grace ... gift ... joy - all of this flows from the same spring.
Do I have what it takes to do something to which I have been called to do? Am I worthy to do it? The answer is "no" and "yes." The answer is "no" in that it is no longer just "I" who must do whatever it is that needs to be done. When I focus upon "me," I fall into the trap of doing what I do in order to gain something - whether it be recognition or thanks or whatever. The truth for those who believe and trust is that we have already received more than we ever can dare imagine possible. "In every way you have been enriched in Christ," Paul wrote the church in Corinth (1:5). What we do with such wealth (and weíre not talking dollars and cents here, folks) is an outpouring of sheer joy.
"Can I do this?" some of our "Amahl" singers may be wondering right now. The answer is, "Rejoice!" Itís not about you. Itís about God and what God is doing. The better question is this: Does God have what it takes to help you do something to which God has called you to do? What is the answer? "YES!" Which is what the word, "AMEN" means. "YES!" As to whether "I" am "worthy" to do it - well, none of us is "worthy" on our own, folks. As Paul elsewhere wrote, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God;" however "they (we) are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:23-24).
"You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Jesus," Paul wrote. Please note, we arenít waiting to receive what we need. It has already been provided ... to all of us. You see, that was one of the key problems among the believers in Corinth. They didnít consider every person and gift to be valuable in the body of Christ. The truth for them was that God had already provided what they needed as a church to fulfill their calling. They just didnít recognize some of the most essential components, because they viewed certain persons and gifts in a lesser light. To the contrary, Paul warned, these very persons and gifts may be the most important.
I pray we heed Paulís warning, and are filled with gratitude and joy over each person and gift God sends our way. We are each graced with the ability to do what God is calling us to do, whatever that is, regardless of whether we feel "worthy" to do it. The key question for a believer is not really, "can I do it?" or "can God do it?" No, the most important question is rather, "where is God leading?"
For commentaries consulted, see 1 Corinthians.
©2002 Peter L. Haynes
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