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Good Intentions

Date:2/4/18

Series: Epiphany

Category: 2018 Sermons

Passage: Psalm 147:1-11

Speaker: Nicole Trotter

The apostle Paul was a preacher. But he wasn’t what the Greco-Roman world was used to when they thought of a great leader. Greco-Roman cities valued the way leaders looked, how they spoke, where they were schooled, how much money they had, the connections they held… and the city of Corinth was no exception. Paul didn’t live up to those standards and yet he did quite well there, managing to bring a very diverse group of people together; Jews, Gentiles, pagans, extremely rich and extremely poor, married people and single people…into peoples homes, …people brought together to navigate a relationship. Relationship to one another, relationship to Christ and to God. And the Corinthians were failing at it. So much so that Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is long and has whole passages addressing a different kind of problem; food practices, marriage practices, festivals and idols, competition and boasting for status and influence to name a few… People were taking sides and dividing themselves into groups and Paul saw the writing on the wall…

In the passage you heard this morning, Paul seems to be saying, here’s what I do…maybe if I tell you what I do, you can understand more of what I’m asking all of you to do…

The first part boils down to this…we do what we do…we love and serve Christ free of charge with no expectation of anything in return, except…that the doing itself will bring its own reward.

And that sounds so simple, and it’s incredibly difficult to put into practice.

Then he goes on to say,…For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. then he goes down the list…those under the law I became as one under the law….To those outside the law I became as one outside the law …. To the weak, I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people…

It’s the original How to Win Friends and Influence People

And so for fun, I looked that book up and it has a lot of good advice…in it…including these fundamental techniques in handling people…

Don't criticize, condemn, or complain.
Give honest and sincere appreciation
Arouse in the other person an eager want.

Paul could have written that…Except his motivation was not to win friends…The last line of the passage you heard reveals his motivation…his good intention…

I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

And I get that….and I know you do too…Maybe not every day…but maybe that’s why we come here each Sunday, to practice here what we’re called to do out there.

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During the ordination process to become a minister of Word and Sacrament…candidates are examined on the floor of the Presbytery and asked theological questions….based on their Statement of Faith. Somewhere in that process, I described Sunday as being simply the best day of the week, which I’m happy to report that after 14 years of working on Sundays I can still say that… and someone asked me why….and I said, because I lose myself that day…that whatever I carry, whether it’s my concerns or my ego, whatever it is, it falls away as I give myself over to the work, over to others, to children, to their parents, to visitors, to delivering the gospel through the eyes of children, to worship, to the day that asks of me to put aside myself for the sake of Christ and others…and in doing that…in losing myself I find a new version of myself…which is a gift and a blessing, but it’s not the motivation, it’s not the intention, because if the intention were to feel good, or to be blessed….it just wouldn’t work… The intention is to share God’s love, to show up for God by emptying myself for the sake of others. That’s a practice, which means I don’t always get it right… But the feeling was and continues to be a huge part of what called me to ministry, and so I share it with you because I deeply personally connect with what Paul is getting at here in this scripture….

It’s wonderful paradox…it lives at the core of our faith…in giving we receive, Paul did it free of charge…but Paul didn't live in Marin County with two kids in college.

What Paul is teaching is a practice.. a way of being I think maybe actors begin quite young. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always looked at people with a great deal of curiosity and tried to match them, trying to crawl into their skin, to try them on for size, trying to sound like them, liking what they liked, to imagine walking in their shoes….I’m sure this is why acting felt so right, I could do this not only with the people I met but I could embody others in the characters I would portray on stage…And it was so freeing because I could forget myself…by accessing parts of myself I didn’t even know were in there…and the byproduct was growth and change and self-discovery and some applause which I’m not gonna lie felt pretty good…But it wasn’t my motivation.

As a young kid, I couldn’t possibly know what my motivation in that was …but looking back I now know it was to connect with others…I craved connection, whether first with trees in the front yard of my house and later with people…

Today, I understand that connection as God… a connection between us, the Holy Spirit, the Christ in me connecting with the Christ in you…

So the first question I have for all of us, in this community that is church…is this…are we reacting to one another here and in the world as though Christ lives in each person?…are we, like Paul, trying to become all things to all people, not to please them, not even to win them over as Paul describes, but as a way to serve Jesus Christ, because that at the end of the day, is our motivation and intention.

To serve Christ is to love one another…To love our neighbors means not just the ones we like…but  loving the people we place on the other side of the fence…

As an actor, I loved playing villains. And the first thing you do when you play a villain is to find their humanity. Find where their vulnerability lies, where they are likable, to understand them so that you can play them not as a two-dimensional caricature, but as a human being with a past.

To meet people where they are…by being attentive to them, to listen with curiosity… to understand what it might be like to be them in their struggle…even if you are sure they are wrong about everything.

This is one way to understand what it means to serve….to approach all people by searching for where Christ lives in them…to understand them and in doing so trying on what it must be like to be them…That doesn’t mean you’ll want to go to dinner with them…but it means you can imagine breaking bread with them…and for moment connect with them there…

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There’s a story about a group of Christian monks who have been quarreling among themselves, so much so that the order began to diminish and more and more left the monastery. Until one day a well-known wisdom teacher came and told them that it had been revealed to him that Christ had returned and was now living among them…only he was disguised as one of them. The monks lives changed, as each began searching the faces of the others, looking for signs of Christ among them. Could it be Brother Peter, for he works so hard in the garden, or Brother Thomas, who loves children…and over time, day by day… the monastery began to flourish as more and more joined there order…

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In Mark’s gospel…Jesus is at the home of Brother Simon…And his mother in law is sick…Jesus heals and restores her in her home…and immediately she serves….she serves because that’s what one does when they are restored to wholeness… We serve. We serve Christ directly when we serve others, and that is the only motivation we should ever need. A God and Christ who has the ability to restore you again and again…to bring you back into wholeness, so that you might serve up love.

After the healing, Jesus who goes off to pray and is called upon by the disciples to come back, everyone has come to meet you at the house, come back…but Jesus says no…“Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.

Out into the world to meet people where they are…To spread the good word, like a banquet for people to feast on…to serve where they live, where they worship, where they work, where they are….

We serve as a church and we have room to expand that service…taking our service out into the community…meeting people in their neighborhoods to walk with them, be with them, serve them where they are…How might we do that better then we are today?

We can also serve in our daily interactions with the people who serve us, the ones we sometimes forget to see, the people who pick up our trash, the ones who ring up our groceries…. to look them in the eye, to meet them, where they are…and thank them.

And we can serve one another as a community here through our interactions…in committee meetings…in emails…have you asked what makes the person across the pew the way they are? Can you lose your self-righteousness even if you know you’ve been wronged, by looking for Christ who lives in them…

And we can serve our country by recognizing that God’s love spreads out across the table so wide that there is no longer Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you (we) are all one in Christ Jesus.

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Simon’s mother in law serves those in her home and some call her the Gospel’s first Deacon.

Jesus will do the same at the Last Supper…and we will share in a few moments….the same body of Christ…the same life-giving blood….with one another here…Not just for this hour, but as a way of life…because that is our intention…to share the gospel in here and out there…to serve Jesus Christ… one person at a time, meeting them where they are…

Amen.