January 19, 2014
Texts: Isaiah 49:1-7; I Corinthians 1:1-9
So I am wearing an unusual tie. Though you might label it “ugly,” I want to tell you that it is not. The colors on this tie are the colors of the Ugandan flag, and my daughter bought this tie for me when she was in Uganda. That I received this tie as a gift from my daughter makes it impossible for it to be ugly!
But it is bright. It does catch one’s attention. It is the kind of thing to which we here in northern Minnesota might say, “well, that’s different.” Ugly tie Sunday – well that’s different.
An Australian man wanted to surprise his girlfriend, so he disrobed and climbed inside a top-loading washing machine. The police had to use olive oil as a lubricant to get him out of the washing machine. This was in the section of The Week magazine under the heading “bad week for hide and seek.” One could say, “well, that’s different.”
A woman goes into a pharmacy and asks for the pharmacist. When he comes to the counter she asks for some cyanide. He is surprised and says, “That’s a little unusual, and it isn’t something I can just hand out on request. What do you want it for?” “I want to give it to my husband,” she says. “Madam,” he says, suddenly quite formal, “I cannot give you anything that you might use to poison anyone, no matter what you think they have done.” She says, ‘I don’t think it, I know it,” and she pulls a photo from her purse and shows it to the pharmacist. “Here’s a picture of him out with your wife.” “Oh well, that’s different,” the pharmacist says. “You didn’t tell me you had a prescription.”
That’s different. I discovered this story on the web site of The Nebraska Fish and Game Association. Now that’s different.
Today is our church conference, a time for us to consider together who we are and where we are going as a congregation. It is a time to consider and celebrate how we are making a difference in people’s lives and in our community.
“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him.” Paul’s words in I Corinthians are words I can say about you. I give thanks to God for you all, and for the good work we are doing together in the grace of Jesus Christ. Thursday night was Ruby’s Pantry. We are in our fourth year of this ministry, and every month it is a small miracle. We never know what the weather is going to be like. Thursday it was brutal with the wind. We never know what food is going to arrive. We never know how many people are going to come for the food. We never know how many volunteers we are going to have. Yet month after month food is distributed. Lives are touched. Community is created among the volunteers and among the guests. Our roast beef dinners are an important fund raiser. More important to me is the community they create for us, and the welcome they provide for the wider community. This year a couple of our members organized a “prayer shawl” ministry. People come together to knit or crochet shawls that are blessed and given away to people as requested, or as the group initiates this. Our daughter Beth received a shawl, and I know how much that meant to her and to us. I have had the delight of participating in other shawl sharings. What a wonderful ministry, and it didn’t happen because of a staff initiative, or by the action of an official committee. It happened because people share some interest, because they saw an opportunity to share God’s love and we found some space for that. There is room here for your ideas, too.
Sunday after Sunday we are blessed and delighted with incredible music coordinated by our gifted organist Velda with the wonderful music staff of Bill, Cynthia and Mike. We have so many with so many musical gifts who are willing to share those with us. Thank you. Worship without your music would just be me, and I don’t want to carry that load. Sunday after Sunday, children come and learn in our ministry area coordinated so well by Laura. And children who are interested in music have a new opportunity on Wednesday evenings with JAM and the Peanut Butter Band which Cynthia leads with help from others. That has provide a great time for children and their families to connect. Wednesdays are also when our youth connect together under Morgan’s direction, though this week they were here last night for a lock-in. Thank you Morgan!
We have a wonderful caring ministry, which Linda, our parish nurse coordinates, and which involves a lot of people visiting, praying, and bringing communion. We want to make a difference for those who are a part of this congregation by the quality of our caring for each other. We will all be helped in this when our new directory is ready in the coming weeks, and thanks to Cindy for all her work on that and for all that she does in communications to keep us connected.
I could go on, and you know I can. So many people doing so many things that keep our ministry going. Our space is well-used, and we are often a front porch for the community – a place where people gather together to discuss significant ideas and issues. We make a difference in people’s lives and we make a difference in this community and beyond. Thank you. We have a lot to celebrate.
We are not perfect. We don’t succeed all the time. There may be times when we can understand the words in Isaiah, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.” I hope those times are few and far between! And what is God’s response? “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
That’s God call to each of us today, and to us as a community. God calls us to continue making a difference by being different. God invites us to be a different kind of people – people not caught in greed or trapped by cynicism, but people concerned for justice, reconciliation, compassion, kindness, and peace. I have said with some frequency that I want this church to help us be passionate, compassionate, and thoughtful followers of Jesus. I have with some frequency said that I think God is at work in our lives forming us as joyful, genuine, gentle, generous people concerned for justice. We will make a difference as we let God’s Spirit make us different. We will make a difference as we live out our difference in the world.
In addition to being the day of our church conference, it is the Sunday of the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, and I want to wrap this morning up with some thoughts from him about being different and making a difference. In one of his slightly less known sermons King preached about a complete life (“The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life”). In that sermon King said that a complete life was a life of length, breadth and height. Here is how he spoke:
Go out this morning. Love yourself…. You are commanded to do that. That’s the length of life. Then follow that: Love your neighbor as yourself. You are commanded to do that. That’s the breadth of life…. There’s a first and even greater commandment: “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy strength.” I think the psychologist would just say “with all thy personality.” And when you do that, you’ve got the height of life. And when you get all three of these together, you can walk and never get weary. You can look up and see the morning stars singing together, and the children of God shouting for joy. When you get all of these working together in your very life, justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream….
When you get all three of these together, you look up and every valley will be exalted, and every hill and mountain will be made low; the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh will see it together.
This is the kind of light God wants us to be, people moving toward that complete life. This is the kind of light Jesus brings us together to be, a place where people’s lives are made more complete. When we are made different, we make a difference. We can be a place where people say, “Well, they’re different” and say it with joy, because God’s Spirit is at work on us, in us and through us. They’re different and don’t they make a difference. May it be so. Amen