This was one of my first sermons. I was living in Pittsburg, Kansas, and was asked by the Parsons District Superintendent, Andrew Gardner, to cover three churches (Elk Falls, Longton, and Elk City) while he found a regular pastor for the charge.
At the time I began this assignment, I was still learning what it meant to be a lay speaker. I quickly found out that preparing a sermon every week was a little different that what I was used to. Hopefully, over the past fifteen years, I have begun to figure that out.
I used the New Common Lectionary while preparing this series so the Scripture references are slightly different. The Scriptures for this 6th Sunday in Pentecost, 9 July 1999 were 1 Kings 21: 1 – 3, 17 – 21; Galatians 6: 7 – 18; and Luke 10: 1 – 12, 17 – 20.
In my prayer guide is the following passage:
And so when we had a decision to make, we would open the Gospel at random, after having said a prayer, and then we did whatever was written, without adding anything.
This manner of action gave us a boundless liberty, and nurtured simplicity of heart with some solid food.
Another important element taking shape in the community we were forming was the primacy of faith instead of structures.
We felt ourselves to be a community in search of God, not a seminary for the priesthood.
What made us one was Christ, and the imitation of him gave meaning to the manner of living of each one of us.
There was the whole expression around us of the life of a simple Christian. (from I, Francis by Carlo Carretto, page 226 of A Guide to Prayer)
I think the writer was telling us that when we work in Christ and together, what we accomplish will be successful. This is the point made in today’s scripture. When we do something, we do it for the Glory of God. And we do it as a community working together for God.
When we work without God in our lives, we must be prepared for the consequences. Ahab was given the throne of Israel by God. His actions in taking Naboth’s vineyard went beyond the boundaries of the power of the throne. He used the power of the throne without realizing that it wasn’t his throne or his power to claim and he had to face the consequences. We all know of those who have let the power of the office they held blind them to their responsibilities. The same is true for each of us. When we do not recognize from where our skills and powers come from, when we do not acknowledge from where our resources come, we too will fail.
I think of two other situations that illustrate this idea. The first was a young Baptist preacher who described the first sermons he ever preached. He went into great detail about the preparation he put into the first sermon he was going to preach and how his congregation readily accepted those words of wisdom. So well did that sermon go that he said that he thought he had all come from him. So he did not work as hard on the next sermon which was a total disaster. Then he realized that it was not he who prepared the sermons but God and that when he forgot that, the result was failure.
The second preacher was John Praetorius, the pastor of the United Methodist Church in St. Cloud, Minnesota where I was a member. Throughout the year, John jots down ideas about sermons and scriptures that he wants to use and then in August, after much prayer, thought, and work, he hands out a worship book listing the scripture, sermon title, and hymns that he will use for the coming year. He might not work on the actual sermon until it is time but this approach gives him some ideas to work with during his preparation time. The amazing thing to all of this preparation is that when it comes time to actually prepare the sermon, the scripture and the ideas written down over the previous weeks fit into the situation that Grace Church was dealing with that week.
People would always comment on how the sermon really hit the point but John would always say that this is what God wanted said that day.
God is always there, working in our lives. And we must acknowledge that presence. Paul reminds the Galatians of that very point. In Galatians 6: 7, Paul writes "God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit." Paul follows this with an exhortation to work for the good of all and a warning to those who try to get you to work for Christ so that they may take all the glory.
The hardest thing in the world today is working for Christ. The essence of Paul’s letter to the Galatians was that first, one cannot work for one’s own glory but for the glory of God. Second, it was the responsibility of the community to support each other in times of trouble and need. Paul was writing to the Galatians because their community was divided about how one worked for God.
In sending out the seventy, Jesus expanded the ministry beyond what He physically could do. He noted to each one of them to take nothing but to depend on the community in which they were. If the community were not to support them, they should go on. And note that when they returned, they rejoiced in the success of their mission because it had been in the name of Jesus. But as Jesus noted, they needed to be careful and understand that their success came through Jesus and if they celebrated as if it were there success, then they would be in trouble.
Though I have no way of telling, I am sure that the words community and communion have a common root. And in our celebration of communion we are celebrating that we are in the community of Christ. We also come knowing that our place at this table is through the grace of God and gift of salvation offered by his Son, our Lord, not by anything we have done on this earth. Our hope and prayer are that what we do today and tomorrow will focus on the celebration of Christ in our lives.