Sunday, January 16, 2022

Second Sunday After Epiphany

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INTROIT
Lift Every Voice and Sing
by Committed Sings

CALL TO WORSHIP       
God has made us to be one body with many members.
United and uniting. This is our calling.
God calls us to share our diverse gifts given by the One and same Spirit.
United and uniting. This is our redemption.
God longs for us to be united in love and to manifest the Spirit in our different ways.
United and uniting. This is our worship.
Let us gather in this hour to offer praise to God, who challenges us and calls us to create the Beloved Community.

PRAYER OF INVOCATION
God of Redemption, you reign on earth as you do in heaven. You call us into your unending work of justice, racial and social equality, and radical love. Let us know your presence among us now. Let us delight in our diversity and continue the march for civil rights and the fight against poverty. Strengthen us with your steadfast love, and transform our despairing fatigue into hope. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Gracious God, we confess that we can be uncertain about following you. We confess that in a world that seems so broken, living as your faithful disciples can be exhausting. Some of what we have tried to do has disappointed those we love, failed to help our neighbors in need, or drained us of conviction and hope. Deliver us, O God, from all that is empty and vain. Set our feet upon solid rock. Open our ears to hear you. Drench us in your courage, and strengthen our determination to live your mercy and your love for all, not just for some. We pray in the name of the One who calls us forward, Jesus our Christ. Amen.

WORDS OF ASSURANCE
Hear now these words of assurance:
Jesus Christ is our ark! God’s power is unequaled, God’s grace is unrestrained, God’s strength is steadfast, and God’s embrace is sufficient to carry all that we are and hope to be. In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven.

GLORY PATRI
Glory be to the Father, and to the son, and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.


All readings are from the New Revised Standard Version bible.

PSALTER LESSON ………………………………………………….. Psalm 36: 5-10
Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your judgments are like the great deep;
you save humans and animals alike, O LORD.
How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.
O continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
and your salvation to the upright of heart!

NEW TESTAMENT LESSON ………………………………………………….. 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

GOSPEL LESSON ………………………………………………………… John 2: 1-11
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.


SERMON ……………………… The Giftedness We Share …………………………Rev. Mike Daly
James Glasse, who was president of Lancaster Theological Seminary of the UCC, in PA, has a very interesting approach to this letter by Paul to the Corinthians. He paints it this way: Imagine, if you will, that you enter, for the first time, the fellowship hall of the First Church of Corinth for an annual meeting in those early days. You notice the congregation clustered in four groups, each in its own corner. You decide it would be interesting to mingle and check out the scene – meet these groups face-to-face before the big meeting begins.  

Gathered right inside the entrance is a group we will call the enthusiasts. Someone says, “Hello! Welcome. You must be new; come in. You may notice that we are all Christians here. We all believe, read the Bible, and try to do the best we can. But you and I know that enthusiasm is the most important thing in Christian life. Those of us who are really full of the Spirit know that. Sometimes when we’re talking about our faith, we get carried away and start talking in languages you don’t even understand. Now it’s the people who have that kind of faith who are the first-class Christians around here.”

Diagonally across the room, sitting in a cluster of tables, is another group, a quiet group we will call the thinkers. They look up from their books for a moment and say: “That’s very interesting, the way they are acting over there. We also believe that there is a place for emotion in religion. We are not at all sure what that place is, but isn’t it really more important that we understand our faith?  Its biblical basis, theological shape, historical development, and modern interpretation, and contemporary ethical relevance? Isn’t it more important that we be able to make, on behalf of the faith, not scrambled, babbling statements of enthusiasm, but clear, persuasive, and responsible statements. Now it’s those of us who have this kind of understanding that really are the first-class Christians.”

Across the room, standing next to the wall is a group praying, the prayers, with their heads bowed low, a few on bended knee. They look up just long enough to look down their noses and say, “Yes, enthusiasm is fine, and all those theological ideas are interesting, but you and I know that it is prayer that matters.  When the church moves forward, it moves forward on its knees. Those of us who have mastered the art of prayer are onto the real thing. When we pray, God hears us and answers us. Where would the church be without the spiritual empowerment of our kind of praying? We are the ones who really understand what faith is about. We are the first-class Christians.”

In the other corner, by the door near the kitchen, there are some people in aprons, with their arms folded, shaking their heads at the rest of us. They are the workers. They say: “All that other stuff is fine. Enthusiasm has its place, and we get worked up once in a while. Yes, theological/philosophical discussion is occasionally interesting, and we appreciate the preacher making us think now and again. We, too, believe in prayer, but we think it is far-reaching and long-lasting, so you don’t have to do it morning, noon, and night. But you and I know that when there is a job to be done at the church, something real, something important–like cooking a meal, or painting a wall, or organizing an event–things that really matter in the church–we are the ones who are there. We are the ones who understand what is really important. We are the first-class Christians.”  

Who knows the exact situation at Corinth? Maybe they really were divided into the motivational speakers, the theorists, the prayers, and the casserole crew. It’s hard to be sure, but we do know that this was a divided congregation –in full debate – where some had prided themselves on being given more important gifts – special gifts – which they thought made them superior to the others.  

So Paul writes to correct their assumption that some abilities and gifts of the Spirit are more important than others. Paul admonishes those who think that only the true believers are given the very best gifts. Paul is not asking them to consider this. He wants his readers to understand that there are a variety of gifts given to Christians and that this variety is the real strength.  

The purpose of these gifts is not personal enhancement but to serve the body of Christ, the church. The gifts are not designed to draw attention to those who have them but to the one Spirit who gives them. And, ALL the gifts are equally important. The true sign of God’s Spirit dwelling within the church is that it leads to cooperation, mutual love, and common service in Christ’s name; and should never create friction, superior attitudes, or jealousy.

Paul goes through a list. One person’s gift by the Spirit is to speak with wisdom, and another’s to speak with knowledge. The same Spirit gives to another person faith, to another the ability to heal, to another the power to do great deeds. The same Spirit gives to another one the gift of preaching the word of God, to another the ability to discern in spiritual matters, to another speech in different tongues and yet another the power to interpret the tongues.

Paul’s claim is that every Christian is given some gift to be used for the common good. I know this can sound a little idealistic and utopian, right? (Like at Lake Woebegone) where “all the women are strong, all the men good looking and all the children well-above average.” It’s not meant to be understood that way.

Nowadays, we are used to using the expression “gifted” as a reference for exceptional talents. We think of certain professional writers or athletes (etc.) as gifted even above their own professional peers. Michael Jordan. Tom Brady. Ernest Hemmingway. Mark Twain. In children, we look for early signs of giftedness–academic, athletic, artistic, musical–evidence that our child or grandchild will be exceptional in some way.  

Paul speaks about the kind of giftedness not restricted or confined to those categories and abilities. Furthermore, every Christian has a gift–not just certain believers with certain talents–and so every person is, in some way, exceptional and valuable in the community of faith.

Pastor and writer William Willimon suggests that if we were to ask him to name “saints” from one of his last congregations, he would name two people we might think unusual. Both are recovering alcoholics. Willimon says that whenever anyone in that church was afflicted with alcoholism or had a loved one who was addicted to alcohol, he could put them in touch with one of these two folks.  

He would often say, “I don’t know much about this problem, but we have someone in the church who has learned a great deal about alcohol the hard way. I’ll have them call you.” Only in the church would those whom the world considers to be “addicts” be considered to be saints – wounded healers whose wounds are the source of someone else’s healing.

Two of the most gifted teenagers I have ever been a pastor for had the wisdom to build up a positive community beyond their years, tenfold. One has Tourette’s, and the other is autistic. They simply knew how to be present in their own way and then had some deep positive perspective. 

Everyone has the gift of humor, or listening, or poetry, or baking, or knitting, or leading….. And just like Paul suggested, we use it for the common good. Common gifts…unique gifts to celebrate our humanity and glorify God. 

All churches around the world today recognize this and struggle with this. Gifts for the common good are powerful, but they can also carry power. It’s human nature. Human nature to be prideful. Perhaps the best measure is how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr puts it: Unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is powerful because it makes us vulnerable. 

There was a fellow named Tom, and Tom had a gift for reconciliation. One time, after a difficult town hall meeting one Wednesday night, he spent his Thursday calling people to keep them talking to each other. “We can disagree,” he would say, “but we have to disagree in love.  

Jesus didn’t command us to agree, but he did command us to get along “in love.” His pastor wasn’t sure which specific Bible verse Tom had in mind when he remembered Jesus telling us to “get along in love,” but everyone knew he was right. Unarmed truth leaves us vulnerable, and we are reminded that sometimes the circumstances of this world aren’t really about us but instead about letting the Spirit loose. 

As we fondly honor and celebrate Dr. King this weekend, we lift up how he was able to hold us to our responsibilities while at the same time empowering us to use our God-given gifts for the common good of everyone. Dr. King once said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal. When we hear and witness actions that intimidate, degrade, make fun of or cause harm and choose not to speak up, we are equally complicit in the action.” 

In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King wrote, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” In his last speech, Dr. King said, “Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.” 

The Apostle Paul tells us that we all have gifts given to us by the Spirit of God. 

According to today’s scripture from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the test for whether or not a gift is of the Holy Spirit or not is whether or not that gift builds up the people of God.

In the very next chapter of his letter, Paul says that in addition to our individual, unique gifts, we are all given a common gift. Paul called that gift love. Jesus commands us to make love our distinguishing characteristic. 

In our diversity, we are unified by our love for each other. As the ancient hymns goes:
“Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love;
  the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.
We share our mutual woes, our mutual burdens bear;
  and often for each other flows the sympathizing tear.
When we asunder part, It gives us inward pain,
  But we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again.”

Amen.

THE LORD’S PRAYER
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

SPECIAL MUSIC
Rejoice, The Lord is King
by Emu Music

DOXOLOGY
Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him all creatures here below;
Praise Him above you heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen

Benediction
May the Lord watch between me and thee, while we are apart one from the other, Amen.

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