1 Corinthians 1:4-9
Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
The church is a community of people who (along with the community of Israel!) are called out of the world to be God's people. The purpose of their coming together is twofold. First, it is to receive God's judging, forgiving, renewing grace. Second, it is to be sent out again to be agents of God's judgment, forgiveness, reconciliation, and renewal in the world.
S. Guthrie, Christian Doctrine Rev. Ed.
We’ve Got What It Takes!
Our text this morning is from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church. These are the opening words of this letter, which show us something of what it means to be the Church. Listen to God’s word. “1 Corinthians 1:1-9”
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Paul starts this letter in his usual way. After introducing himself he identifies the people he is writing to; the church in Corinth. He uses three phrases to describe the church. First, the church is made up of people who are “sanctified in Christ Jesus.” In Greek, the word sanctified is agios (hagios), which is the basic word for holy. Through the work of Jesus Christ, Christians are holy. Second, Paul tells us that members of the church are “called to be saints.” The word saint is also the word agios (hagios), holy. Through Jesus Christians are already holy, but we are also called to live out that holiness in our everyday lives. Third, the church is made up of people who “call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We are people who pray to the one who is the center of the Christian life and our only hope. This is Paul’s glorious image of the Church.
I wonder how Paul’s image of the church matches our own. Dorothy Sayers wrote about the third humiliation of Christ. The first humiliation was the incarnation. Jesus was fully God, yet he let go of his divinity, his eternal glory, and took on all the limitations and struggles of human life. The second humiliation was the cross. Jesus never sinned, yet he died on the cross, paying the penalty for the sins of the world. The third humiliation is the church. Jesus entrusted his reputation and his message to ordinary, sinful people.
For most of us that is an idea that is hard to grasp. Sharon Church is celebrating its 200th anniversary. Obviously, no one has been here the whole time, but many of you have been here for a long time, 30, 40, even 50+ years. Many of you were part of this church in its glory days – 1400 members, two worship services on Sunday and several pastors, Youth Club with hundreds of children. Most of us grew up with the idea of the church as the glory of Christ. The church was the center of our culture and one of the most important institutions of our communities. Everybody belonged to the church. It was respected and honored.
In the past forty years or so that has started to change. In today’s world the church is irrelevant. That is where the phrase “spiritual but not religious” comes from. People believe that they can be Christians without belonging to a church. Presbyterians used to be called a mainline church. Today we are a sideline church. Our culture doesn’t care what we say or think, or do, unless there is a scandal of some sort. I imagine that if you did a random survey of people in Moon Twp. and asked them about Sharon Church, most of them wouldn’t even be able to tell you where it was, much less anything about our church. That would be even more true down in Coraopolis or Imperial or Aliquippa. Being the church in the 21st century is so much harder than it was fifty years ago.
Add to that the struggles that Sharon went through a few years ago, the conflict and the loss of staff and members, and my guess is that deep down many people here question the future of the church. I still remember the scared look people had my first few weeks here, wondering if Sharon Church was going to survive. And if it survives, wondering if it can really do significant ministry. Can Sharon Church thrive and have a healthy and exciting future? Do we believe that we have everything we need to be effective in ministry?
The church in Corinth probably had similar questions and struggles. It was a small group of people and they were not the elite members of the community. They were at the bottom end of the social order. They had a variety of struggles in the church that must have made them wonder if they were of any value. There were divisions in the church. They were fighting each other over a variety of issues, everything from what they thought about Paul to worship to theological questions about the resurrection. There was sexual immorality and idolatry. Some of the people thought that they were more spiritual than others. The Corinthian church was a mess.
Yet Paul’s first words to them are words of thanksgiving for all that they have and all that they are. “Every time I think of you, and I think of you all the time, I am thankful because you have what it takes to be a wonderful and healthy church.” That is Paul’s message to the Corinthians. That is Paul’s message to Sharon Church.
Look at verse 5. “In every way you have been enriched. In all your words and in all your knowledge you have what it takes.” In this short sentence Paul uses the word “all” three times. He also uses the word “enriched,” which means to be filled up. This church is overflowing with everything it needs to be a healthy and vital place.
In verse 7 Paul tells that Corinthians that they don’t lack any spiritual gift. The word “you” is in the plural. It isn’t that one individual has all the gifts. The church as a whole, including all the members, have the gifts that they need. In good Pittsburgh language, “Yinz got everything ya need. If everybody works together and uses their gifts, you’ll be just fine.”
The word Paul uses for spiritual gifts is charismata. It is a word that comes up again later in the letter, as one of the problems in the church. Sometimes charismata is used in a general sense of the gift of God’s love. The root word behind charismata is grace, God’s free gift of love. Sometimes charismata refers to specific gifts or abilities that people have for ministry. Paul tells the Corinthians, and he tells us, that God has given everyone a spiritual gift, or several gifts. If we all use them for ministry, we have all the gifts that we need to do the ministry that God wants us to do.
It’s important to note that Paul’s hope is not that the Corinthians are such wonderful people or super talented. His hope is in God. The gifts that they have are from God. Verse 8 reminds us that it is God who will strengthen them so that they can carry out their ministry. “He will strengthen you to the end” (1 Corinthians 1:8a). Verse 9 tells us that God is faithful in keeping his promises. Our hope is in God, who has called us, who has given us gifts for ministry, who gives us the strength we need to carry out our ministry and whose love never fails. We can be the church that God wants us to be because our God is a god who can turn the greatest tragedy into a future of hope. Our God can turn conflict into compassion, the cross into resurrection, death into life.
I’ve been a pastor in six different churches and around a number of others. All of them used to be bigger and now are smaller, or they’ve always been small. In the communities around those churches there are other churches that seem to be “successful.” They have more people and incredible programs, bigger staffs and more exciting things happening. The people in the churches that are struggling often make comments something like this: “If only we had more people here; if only we could get a charismatic pastor who was a great preacher; if only we had a praise band that could play contemporary Christian music; if only we had more money; if only we had a bigger building in a better location; if only we had more young people, or more children; if only… then we could be a successful church.”
Friends, Paul’s message to us is a word of hope. We don’t need “if only.” Sharon Church can look to the future with hope and excitement, for God has given us everything we need to be a healthy church!
Philippians 3:12-14; Luke 3:1-18
By Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
Although spiritual formation is not a matter of religious performance, neither is it a passive, “couch potato” contentment in God. God, in his grace, has taken hold of us. Our response is to take hold of God in hope. There is a kind of aggressiveness about authentic Christian spirituality. Serendipity Bible
The Pointer Finger Job
Growing up, I was often told that it isn’t polite to point. “Don’t point your finger at someone else, young man.” That never made sense to me. How do you talk about someone who is “over there,” if I can’t point to “there?” I love the way parents give instructions to their children. They point a finger and say, “Don’t point at other people. It isn’t polite.” This morning I would like to suggest that God gave you a pointer finger for a very good reason. In fact, as Christians, we are called to point our finger. John the Baptist is probably the best example of this.
Luke describes the ministry of John the Baptist. God’s word came to John and he began to proclaim the message. It was not a particularly nice message. John didn’t try to make people feel good. His first words were, “You’re a brood of vipers. You’re despicable people. You are a bunch of sinners who deserve God’s punishment.” It’s not the type of message you use to get people to like you. What is amazing is that John was popular. All sorts of people came out to hear him. Everyone got excited and began to expect God to do something. They even began to think that maybe John was the Messiah, the one who would save Israel from all her problems.
John knew that he was not the Messiah. He told people, “I am not the Messiah. What I’m doing is nothing compared to what the Messiah will do. He will be far greater than I am. Look to him for your salvation.” John did what I believe all of us are called to do. He pointed to Jesus.
Today we are ordaining and installing new elders and deacons. Others of you may be starting new jobs in the church, or just thinking about trying something new in the church, maybe singing in the choir or teaching Sunday school or serving on a committee. I remind you that every Christian is expected to be involved in some type of ministry. That is especially true for members of the church, whether it’s helping on one of the projects on our building or visiting one of our home-bound members.
No matter what type of ministry you are doing, I remind you that our primary job as Christians is to point to Jesus. We are to tell people how Jesus has made a difference in our own lives and invite them to follow him.
Let me share with you one other thought that comes out of our passage in Philippians. It is especially important for elders and deacons, but is true for all of us. Not only are we all called to be involved in some type of ministry, pointing to Jesus. We must also be in a growing relationship with Jesus.
As Paul said in the passage that Grace read, “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12). Think about that. Paul was one of the greatest Christian thinkers and had faith beyond what most of us can imagine. Yet he knew that he still needed to keep growing in his faith, to keep Jesus at the center of his life. When we don’t do that the church ends up with great problems.
It was a cold winter morning. The pastor arrived at the church and discovered that the furnace had gone out. The building was cold. He called the Property and Maintenance committee and they came to try to get the furnace running, but they couldn’t get it to work. They called heating company to come and fix it. A repair man came and looked at it and worked on it for a while, and then said, “I see the problem. The blower is fine but the fire is out.” The committee members looked at each other. One of them voiced what they were all thinking, “I wonder if he is talking about the furnace or the preacher.”
As a preacher, as an elder or deacon, as a Christian, we all need to keep the fire of Jesus’ love burning deep inside our hearts. We need to be in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. We need to keep Jesus at the center of our lives. We need to listen to Jesus, so that our words will be his words and our actions his actions.
The ministry to which all of us are called; pastors, elders and deacons, and all who claim Jesus as Lord and Savior, begins with listening to Jesus and pointing to Jesus.
Lord, speak to me, that I may speak in living echoes of Thy tone;
As Thou has sought, so let me seek Thine erring children lost and lone.
Psalms 72:1-7, 10-14; Matthew 2:1-12
by Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart. Howard Thurman, “The Work of Christmas”
Searching For Something To Worship
Friday was Epiphany, the day after the 12th day of Christmas. Traditionally, Epiphany is connected with the story of the Wise Men. This morning I want to look at that story and see three different ways that people react to Jesus. Let me read it for you. “Matthew 2:1-12”
Let me start with Herod. He is usually called Herod the Great, not because he was a great person but because he was so powerful. He controlled Palestine, which included modern day Israel, as well as Jordan, Lebanon, and parts of Syria. What stands out most about Herod is that he was insanely suspicious. If he thought that a person was a threat to his power, Herod would have that person killed. During his life he murdered one of his wives and her mother, three of his sons, and countless other people. Augustus, the Roman Emperor, said that it was safer to be Herod’s pig than his son.
When Herod heard about the birth of Jesus he was afraid. The announcement of the birth of a Jewish king was a threat to Herod, so he set out to try to kill Jesus. The story that follows the one I read in Matthew is the story of Herod massacring all of the boys two years old and younger.
I can’t imagine anyone here reacting that way to Jesus. Yet, like Herod, I sense that we are often threatened by Jesus’ claim on our life. Right after the September 11th attack on our country a couple was interviewed on TV. Their daughter had been killed on that terrible day. As the interviewer was wrapping up he said, “Well, I guess you’ll be going to your place of worship this weekend to receive some consolation.” The mother replied, “No! You see, our religion teaches that we ought to forgive our enemies. And we are just not ready for that right now.”
Jesus came into the world not just to forgive us and get us into heaven. He also came to transform our lives. He wants control of our jobs, our relationships, how we use our free time and spend our money, and everything else in our lives. Jesus wants control and we don’t like to give up control. Jesus is a threat to us and we had best not scoff at Herod until we have confronted and rejected the Herod within each of us.
The second group who responds to Jesus is the religious leaders. When Herod asked them about the Messiah they knew exactly where he was going to be born – in Bethlehem. Yet they didn’t go to Bethlehem to see Jesus. Bethlehem is only 5-6 miles from Jerusalem. They could have walked to Bethlehem in the morning, had the lunch special at Bethlehem’s Bob Evans, found Mary and Joseph with baby Jesus, and been home in time to eat dinner while they watched The Price is Right. Yet they didn’t do anything. Their response was indifference and apathy.
One of the greatest problems in the church today, especially in mainline denominations like the Presbyterian Church, is indifference and apathy. One preacher put it this way:
The more comfortable our society is, the more likely we are to be assimilated to it… The danger is not so much that our people will openly defy God. It's that we'll drift comfortably away from the deep call to follow Jesus.
The Christian life was never intended to be convenient and comfortable, something we do on Sunday mornings when there is nothing else to do. For Sharon Church to become the place that we all want it to be, a place of life and energy, a place of love and hope and faith, we all need to be passionately in love with Jesus, seeking his presence and will for our lives. We need to confront the tendency to be apathetic and confess our indifference as we follow Jesus. We are all called to worship, to pray and study God’s Word. We are all called to use our gifts by serving God’s people and sharing God’s love.
The third reaction to Jesus is that of the Wise Men. We don’t really know much about the Wise Men. There were three gifts, but we don’t know that there were three Wise Men. Matthew calls them “magi,” magicians. Sometimes we call them kings, which is an idea that developed in the 4th century as Christians reflected on passages from the Old Testament, like Psalm 72. What we do know is that they left their homes and went on a journey to find Jesus. When they found Jesus their journey was still not finished. Bethlehem was not the final destination. They went home, though a different way.
I believe that one of the best metaphors for the Christian life is a journey. Jesus’ call to the disciples is “follow me.” We are called to follow Jesus, as faithfully as we are able, joining in the journey.
Most of you know that in March I am leading a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. If you are interested in going please let me know. We still have room for more people. After worship and Sunday school today we are having a meeting about our trip. You are welcome to join us. One of the things I will talk about is the difference between a pilgrimage and a vacation, the difference between being a follower of Jesus and a tourist.
Most of us have seen advertisements that offer wonderful experiences; “See Europe in ten days,” or, “England in a week.” There is nothing wrong with those types of trips. You see the beautiful sights of the world, taste a little bit of the food of a region, buy a few souvenirs to take home, and return home essentially the same as you were when you left. On a pilgrimage you will probably do all those tourist activities, but hopefully you will also take the time to get a glimpse of what Jesus is doing. A pilgrimage involves journeying with Jesus, seeing where he is working and experiencing his love, and being transformed by his presence.
There is a second way that the Wise Men are a model for our lives. On their journey they got lost and had to ask for directions. I don’t know why men are usually the ones who get a bad rap for not asking directions. Not admitting we are lost, that might be true. We just drive around, pretending we know where we are, until we recognize something. The Wise Men had no problem admitting that they were lost. They recognized that they needed help from other people.
Getting lost on the journey of faith happens to everyone. Sometimes it happens because we sin and turn away from Christ. Sometimes it happens when a tragedy hits our lives. Sometimes there is no obvious reason that we got lost, it just happens. When it happens, when we get lost, we need to stop and ask for help. Just as the Wise Men needed the help of others for their journey, we need each other to help us on our journey of faith.
Finally, notice what the Wise Men did when they finally saw Jesus. Matthew tells us that when they realized that the star stopped “they were overwhelmed with joy.” They knelt down and worshipped. The gave their gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Wise Men remind us that joyful worship is an essential part of the Christian life.
One of the basic human characteristics is the desire to worship something. We all long for something to worship, something greater than ourselves. We seek something worthy of our adoration. We look for something to fill our empty lives and to satisfy our anxious hearts. I would suggest to you that the longing and emptiness that we experience is created by God for the purpose of getting us to seek God. When we find baby Jesus, when we experience God’s grace, we naturally want to worship.
by Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
The Christian life is more than finding Jesus – it is following Jesus. Following, it turns out, is not a one-time spectacular act of faith, but a one-day-at-a-time, ordinary, unspectacular following; a daily act of fearlessness that takes us through the most frightening and rugged terrain to a place of peace, joy and abandon.
Yaconelli Dangerous Wonder p57
Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Story
Our Scripture lesson this morning is from Matthew’s gospel, chapter one, the first 17 verses. Listen to God’s word.
“Matthew 1:1-17” This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
However, I hope you don’t feel too guilty if you aren’t excited about this passage. It is God’s word but it is about as inspiring as reading through a phone book. It’s a genealogy, just a list of names.
The Bible is filled with genealogies. What do you do with them? To be honest, most of the time when I come to a genealogy I just skim over it, seeing if I recognize any names. If I have counted correctly, this genealogy has 47 names in it. 10 of them are probably familiar to most of us – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, David and Solomon, Joseph and Mary. If you are a biblical scholar there might be 5 or 6 other names that you recognize. The other names are ones that we don’t know much about. For the most part, it is just list of names. They were ordinary people, just like you and I.
Fred Craddock tells about the time he was summoned for jury duty to the Superior Court of DeKalb County, Georgia. On Monday morning at 9:00 AM he showed up at the courthouse with 240 other people who were also summoned. The deputy clerk stood up and read the list of names. They weren’t in alphabetical order, so he had to pay attention. Dr. Craddock said, “As I listened to the names, I began to listen.”
There were two Bill Johnsons. One was white, and the other was black. Same name, but very different lives. There was a man named Clark. The clerk called out, “Mrs. Clark.” and the man said, “Here.” The clerk looked up, and again said, “Mrs. Clark.” Again the man said “Here.” A third time the clerk said “Mrs. Clark.” The man said, “I thought the letter was for me so I opened it.” The clerk said, “We summoned Mrs. Clark.” Mr. Clark responded, “I’m here, can I do it? She doesn’t have any interest in this sort of thing.” The clerk replied, “How do you know? She doesn’t even know she’s been summoned.”
The clerk continued on through the list. One of the names was Zerfel Lischenstein. It was mispronounced 5 or 6 times, and each time Mr. Lischenstein insisted that they say it correctly. Finally, he stood up in a huff and said, “I see no reason why I should serve on a jury in a court that can’t pronounce my name.” The woman sitting next to Dr. Craddock said, “Lischenstein, I wonder if he’s a Jew.” Dr. Craddock said, “I don’t know. Could be. Does it matter?” The woman said, “My name is Zeller. I’m German. I might have to sit next to him on a jury.” Dr. Craddock said, “World War II was more than 40 years ago. You were probably just a child then.” The woman replied, “I was 10. I remember visiting my Grandma’s house. She lived 4 miles from Buchenwald. I smelled the odor from the ovens.” It wasn’t just a list of names to her.
Down in Washington D.C. there is a list of names, written on a wall. It’s called the Vietnam Memorial. 58307 names of men and women who died in Vietnam, or who are still missing. To the best of my knowledge I don’t know anyone whose name is on the wall, but when Tanya and I visited the wall 30 years ago it was a powerful experience, very emotional. Don’t tell me it is just a list of names. To those who know someone whose name is etched in the granite, it is far more than just a list. Watch people as they caress the letters of a name, as they pray and weep, look at all the flowers, the flags, and other presents that are left, in memory of those they lost. It is not just a list of names.
On December 18th there was a list of names in our bulletin. 58 poinsettias were given in honor or memory of a variety of people: Gail Zalucky, Betty Stewart, Anneliese Endress, Perky Campbell. Don’t tell me it’s just a list of names.
Ten years ago was the first time I had ever given a poinsettia in memory of someone. Lorraine Hryskanich is a name that doesn’t mean anything to you, but she was a close family friend and like my second mom. She had died a few weeks earlier. And for the first time ever I looked very intentionally at the list of names connected with the poinsettias. It is a list of names of people who touched our lives, whose death has left an empty place inside of us.
Most of us will never be famous. People aren’t going to hear the name Doug Marshall, or Wayne Schuliger, or ????, and think, “Wow, they are right up there with Abraham and Ruth and David.” If our names are on a list most people in the world will skim right past them. We are ordinary people. But we have an extraordinary God who has included our names in the list of those who belong to His people. Because we have an extraordinary God, we are all part of an extraordinary story.
Our names are not on the list because we deserve it. If you look at Matthew’s genealogy there are some very unlikely names on it. One man gave his wife to another man, simply to save his own life. Another man committed adultery and covered it up with murder. One lied and stole from his family. There are 5 women on the list, and when you remember how male dominant the Hebrew society was that is an amazing fact. This list reminds us that God works in strange ways through some very ordinary people. That is good news, because it means that we are part of the list through God’s grace. We don’t deserve to be on the list because of what we have done. It isn’t “just a list.” It is a list of ordinary, sinful, human beings, people just like we are, who have been included among God’s people through the grace of Jesus Christ.
Today is January 1. The beginning of a brand new year. The passage I read is a reminder that through the grace of God in Jesus Christ all of us have a new beginning. Some of you may know that the first word in the Old Testament is “genesis,” the name of the book. It means beginning. Genesis is the story of the beginning of God’s creation and the beginning of God’s relationship with the people of Israel. What you may not realize is that the second word in the New Testament is “genesis.” Most translations use the word generations or genealogy, but it is the same word as genesis, beginning. The New Testament is the story of a new beginning, a new relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Many people make New Year’s resolutions. You’re going to spend less money and save more, or give more to the church. You’re going to read your Bible or pray every day. You’re going to start that diet, or that exercise program to lose the pounds you gained during the holidays. You are going to drive slower and be more patient. Whatever it is, if you keep your resolution through January you will be doing better than most people. I’ll be lucky to make it through tomorrow. We work hard at keeping our resolutions, but so often we fail. Maybe it’s not failure at our resolutions but failing at our jobs, or our relationships. Maybe it’s a failure through our sin.
The reality is that we all fail and need second chances. We all need new beginnings. The good news of Jesus Christ is that God gives us a second chance, a new beginning. No matter what our past is or how badly we have failed, God picks us up, brushes the dirt off us, heals our wounds and says, “Try again. I know that you can do better.”
You and I are ordinary people, people who need a new beginning. Through the grace of Jesus Christ ordinary people are included in God’s story and given a new beginning. That is who Jesus is and what Jesus does. Thanks be to God.