"Just Doing It Doesn’t Require a New Pair of Shoes”


Here is the message that I presented at Walker Valley UMC on the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, 14 January 2001.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Isaiah 62: 1 – 5; 1 Corinthians 12: 1 – 11, and John 2: 1 – 11.

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When I started attending Truman State University back in 1966, the first thing that I did was transfer my membership from Wright City United Methodist Church to First United Methodist Church of Kirksville. Now, in retrospect, that may have been a little presumptuous of me to do so. Neither my family nor I had any idea at that time that I would stay in the Kirksville area beyond those first three summer months of my college career. But at the time, it seemed a most reasonable decision.

It should be noted that my decision to join 1st UMC was also a practical one. Given a choice, I would have rather attended Faith Evangelical United Brethren Church. Remember this was two years before the merger of the Methodist and EUB churches and though I was a Methodist, it was because I had transferred my membership from the Evangelical United Brethren church. In my heart I was still an EUB and that was where I really wanted my membership.

But as a fifteen-year-old without a driver’s license, let alone a car, if I wanted to go anywhere in the town of Kirksville, I had to walk. And from what I knew about the town of Kirksville, the walk from the dormitories on campus to Faith church was more of a country hike. So, for practical reasons, I attended 1st UMC, even if my heart wanted me to go to the smaller country church.

Some twenty years later, when I was living in Minnesota and just beginning my lay speaking activities at Grace UMC, I had the opportunity to preach at Faith Church, now a part of the UMC connection. I pointed out at that time that I was able to come to Faith through Grace and then I related the story about that first summer. After the service, a member of the congregation who had been a member back then came up to me and said, "You could have called. We would have been glad to come and get you."

It may seem like a little thing but the simple act of choosing a church to be a member of can have lasting consequences. Going to 1st Church gave me the opportunity to meet Dr. Meredith Eller, who along with his wife sponsored me as I joined the church. Dr. Eller was the professor from whom I would take all of my history courses and later serve as a councilor during times of crisis. When I got to see him in his academic robes, I kidded him about how frayed and worn they looked especially when you compared them with the robes of his other academic colleagues. It was then that I learned that Dr. Eller was not only a history professor but also a member of the United Methodist Clergy, serving many of the smaller churches around Kirksville. His robes were frayed because they were working robes, not the traditional ceremonial robes of academia. And today you know what the results of that first encounter with a Methodist circuit rider back then, subtle and unstated as it was, are.

We all have choices to make. Our whole culture is based on the idea of the choices we make. And it is implied in the messages we hear that the choices we make will decide the type of life we will live. To many in school today, life is not about the grades you make or what you learn but rather what you are wearing or what you listen to.

Even Jesus had to make choices. After John baptized Him, Jesus spent the forty days in the wilderness where the devil tempted Him. It would have been quite easy for Jesus to have forsaken all that was before Him and taken the devil’s offer of power and glory. But the power and the glory that devil offered could never match the power and the glory of God’s kingdom and Jesus chose to take the path that lead to Calvary.

At the wedding feast in Cana, the subject of the Gospel reading for today, Jesus had to make a choice as well.

Mary’s forwardness in asking Jesus to help when the wine ran out would suggest that she was in some way related to the family holding the wedding. Jesus and the disciples were there probably because Mary was there..

Hospitality then was a sacred duty. A wedding feast often lasted for a week and to run out of wine at such an important event would have been humiliating for both the bride and the groom. It is likely that neither they nor their families were wealthy and thus, the feast was a "low-budget" one.

Though at first reading it doesn’t seem so, Jesus’ response of "Woman" was one of respectful address. But He was simply stating that now was not the time for public miracles. But while His response would seem to have indicated that he wasn’t going to do anything about it, her actions seem to say that she did expect Him to do something.

This is an interesting passage. It is one of the most frequently mentioned, yet most neglected, stories of Jesus. For one thing it gives us an insight into the relationship between a mother and her son. She asks him to help. He at first hesitates and seems to refuse. She persists, and in the end, Jesus chose to perform his first miracle.

Isaiah’s message was also about choice. Isaiah pointed out to the people of Israel that God chose them. They weren’t picked out because they were the most wonderful people on the earth but rather because they were among the lowliest. And in a time of the Babylonian exile, a time of rejection and humiliation, God reminded them that there would be a time of great celebration and rejoicing.

Paul wrote about choosing and the results of those choices. Paul indicated that if the Corinthians chose to worship other idols, they could not expect much. For the idols that they might pray to were incapable of answering. But if the Corinthians chose to follow Jesus and to accept the Holy Spirit, then many gifts could be expected.

The gifts that Paul refers to are the capacities, spiritual and otherwise, that God gives each of us. It is important to note that Paul speaks of the many ways that the Spirit can be used in us, yet it is the same Spirit that unifies us. But the skills and gifts that are given cannot be given unless we allow the Spirit to come into our lives.

One of the early Nike advertisements for their "Air Jordan" shoes implied that it was the shoes that gave Michael Jordan his wondrous talents and abilities. And it seemed like every kid in America had to have those shoes, no matter if they could afford them or not. But it wasn’t the shoes that enabled Michael Jordan to play the level of basketball that he did. His gift of playing basketball was a combination of talent and drive, things that come from other sources. The problem is that we are never asked to utilize our own talents but rather what others think our talents might be.

Each of us has a gift and each gift adds spice to life and enhances the flavor of the church. One of things that I never quite got used to while living in the dormitories at Truman, and I am sure that you all would agree with this, was the food. It wasn’t always that bad but it was never something that you really looked forward to eating. It was institutional food and always seemed to lack something.

The same is true about the church today. A church that demands the same from all of its members will not be a vital church for it will be missing something. The gifts that each of us have because how the Spirit has filled us are those missing parts.

The world around us asks us to make choices. We have chosen to be here this morning. I know that I am a Methodist today not only because I saw in the Methodist movement how society could be affected because of how it allowed me to related to God. There came a time when I found it difficult to get up on Sunday and make that walk of ten or fifteen blocks from the campus to First Church. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to go but rather that I didn’t want to dress up. And back then I thought that wearing a coat and tie were an integral part of church attendance. Now, of course, I do it without hesitation but back then, I was looking for ways to go to church in blue jeans and tennis shoes.

I could have gone to the Newman Center for morning services for I need that priest there was, in the vernacular of the time, "cool" and he wasn’t offended by casual attire. But I also knew that he wouldn’t let me take communion because I wasn’t Catholic. And somehow I thought that was wrong. But those were the rules that he worked by and, if I wanted to attend his services, I had to play by his rules.

Those aren’t the rules of the Methodist Church and I hope they never are. As will be said shortly, communion in the United Methodist Church is an open table. You come to the table of your own choice and only you can prevent yourself from coming. All that is asked is that you open your heart to Christ.

If we are to be true to our heritage as Methodists, then we need to realize that the words that Mary said to the servants that day in Cana apply to us today.

Mary told the servants at the wedding to "Do what he tells you." The early Methodist movement also produced a community that transformed their world, "doing what he told them." They visited the prisons of their day, formed schools, fed the hungry, opposed slavery, and prayed unceasingly because that is what they felt was the way to spread the Gospel.

The call for us today comes in part from the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. From the Book of Worship comes the following prayer,

We remember the conviction of Martin Luther King, Jr. that "freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed." Therefore, let us pray for courage and determination by those who are oppressed.

We remember Martin’s warning that "a negative peace which is the absence of tension" is less than "a positive peace which is the presence of justice." Therefore, let us pray that those who work for peace in our world may cry out first for justice.

We remember Martin’s insight that "injustice anywhere is a treat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly." Therefore, let us pray that we may see nothing in isolation, but may know ourselves bound to one another and to all people under heaven.

We remember Martin’s lament that "the contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the Church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the Church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are." Then let us pray that neither this congregation nor any congregation of Christ’s people may be silent in the face of wrong, but that we may be disturbers of the status quo when that is God’s call to us.

We remember Martin’s "hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty." Therefore, in faith, let us commend ourselves and our work for justice to the goodness of almighty God. (From The United Methodist Book of Worship, page 435-436. The quotations were "Letter from the Birmingham City Jail" by Martin Luther King, Jr. The litany was written by W. B. McClain and L. H. Stookey.)

The choices that we make have lasting consequences on our lives. The effects that we have on others are felt long after we are gone. We don’t need a new pair of shoes in order to do the work of Christ in this world. All we need is an open heart and a willingness to let Christ in.

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