Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Excellent Way: Gifted People

Isaiah 62:1-5; 1 Corinthians 12-1-11; John 2:1-11
January 20, 2013
© 2013


I.                I’m sure you’ve seen the Geico® insurance TV commercials that tell us that Geico customers are happier than any number of wackily happy characters. As I’ve soaked in today’s Scriptures this week, I’ve pondered the question: How happy is God? And I’ve heard this answer: God is happier than a bride and groom on their wedding day when we delight in the diverse joy of the gifts the Holy Spirit gives the Church.

A.           I have called these four messages on the Holy Spirit between Epiphany and Transfiguration “The Excellent Way.” I took that from 1 Corinthians 12:31 where Paul wrote, “I will show you a still more excellent way.” We will get to that on February 3.

1.              Several years ago “excellence” became a buzz word in church growth circles. Everything a church did in public, especially worship, was to be thoroughly rehearsed and presented only by the best talent available. No surprises, no flubs and no amateurs. Church was not American Idol® tryouts.

2.              If you read “Beck’s Bytes” in each week’s newsletter, you know that Andy signs off with the line from the movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, “Be excellent to each other!” What a huge difference between excellence in performance and excellence in relationships!

B.            Your Search and Call committee has worked hard for months to gather information and insights from you to prepare a profile so pastoral candidates can get a picture of this congregation. This afternoon they meet with Rev. Dean Phelps to start looking at the profiles of potential candidates. I know they are going to look for excellence in preaching and teaching, care and administration, spirituality and leadership. I have a lot of confidence that they will prayerfully listen for the Holy Spirit to find an excellent pastor for you. But I can also tell you, that there are no magic pastors out there. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. In these months ahead, we’ll be attending to the Holy Spirit so you can become an excellent congregation with an excellent pastor.

C.            You have excellent lay leadership, and I have been working with Jason and Terry to further improve the leadership of the Board and Elders. Julia and Andy are two of the strongest associate ministers I’ve had the privilege to know or work with. Adult Sunday school classes are healthy and substantive. Youth and children’s ministry is creative and attractive. Your quality choir is a solid foundation from with even more music ministry can grow. Your vision and efforts for outreach to your neighbors is innovative and appealing. But you can’t coast. The interim between pastors is a time to build momentum so you’re well underway when the new pastor comes. Don’t wait! A church is much like paddling a canoe. The bow paddler must keep the canoe moving faster than the water so the stern paddler can steer. Otherwise you’ll drift in aimless circles or the current will crash you into the rocks. More important than all of this is for the whole congregation to keep growing as Andy encourages the youth: Be excellent to each other!

II.            We read the first half of Paul’s treatise on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, which emphasizes the diversity of gifts. I sometimes imagine the Church as a stained glass mosaic with the glory of God shining through gems of every color to make a full portrait of Christ. As wonderful as spiritual gifts are for us, God is happier than a bride and groom on their wedding day when we delight in the diverse joy of the gifts the Holy Spirit gives the Church.

A.           I have heard the church compared to a football game: 22 people desperately in need of rest and 50,000 people desperately in need of exercise. Not true for you! You are excellent in involving a lot of people in lots of different ministry. This increases when everyone’s spiritual gifts are actively deployed in the life and mission of the congregation. You don’t need to hang labels on the gifts or squeeze them into duty slots, just find joy where the Holy Spirit nudges and gifts you to serve.

B.            By delighting in the gifts of others you nourish the excellence of the congregation. I like to encourage “good gossip.” Be on the watch for people whose spiritual gifts are unacknowledged and tell someone you noticed and appreciated. It might be as simple as catching someone picking up trash on the way in from the parking lot. Then tell someone who won’t keep it secret. Imagine how they’ll feel when the “good gossip” gets back to them.

C.            Gifts of the Spirit are gifts! We receive them, we don’t earn or deserve them. They are a grace, just like salvation. Gifts of the Spirit are not for putting the spotlight on individuals but for proclaiming that Jesus is Lord! It’s not about me or even about us as a church; it’s about Jesus!

III.       We’ve been in Luke’s Gospel and will go back to Luke next Sunday, but today we get a delightful story from John 2:1-11. I think this is because it is also about the start of Jesus’ ministry, but John handles it quite differently than Luke. In symbolic action we see that God is happier than a bride and groom on their wedding day when we delight in the diverse joy of the gifts the Holy Spirit gives the Church. Jesus had been with John the Baptizer at the Jordan River when Andrew, Simon Peter and another disciple (perhaps John) go with Jesus to Galilee, and Philip and Nathanael join them.

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.9When 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 bridegroom10and 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.”11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

A.           John only directly wrote that the servants knew where the wine came from, yet he wrote that Jesus revealed his glory and his disciples believed in him. So those five disciples and probably his mother knew. Just because your gifts seem insignificant and hidden, but by the Holy Spirit, they reveal Christ’s glory and prompt people to trust and follow Jesus.

B.            The conversations with John the Baptizer and these 5 disciples in John 1 indicate they considered Jesus to be the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, the Messiah, the one of whom Moses and the prophets wrote. But what it meant for them to believe in Jesus developed as John’s Gospel unfolds. In our time when what people know about Jesus is sketchy at best, what it means to believe in Jesus may take considerable time to emerge. Arguing and explaining doesn’t usually get too far, but as the glory of Jesus shines through us individually and as a congregation, the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus.

C.            Though the steward and the bridegroom didn’t understand it, that Jesus kept the best wine for last points us beyond our daily struggles to the hope of eternal joy with Jesus.

IV.      God’s joy in Isaiah 62 is not for pristine, innocent Israel but for the hope of restoration from desolation. In a certain sense it interprets the spiritual significance of Jesus at the wedding in Cana. God is happier than a bride and groom on their wedding day when we delight in the diverse joy of the gifts the Holy Spirit gives the Church.

A.           Wine is a sign of joy in the Hebrew Scriptures. Isaiah 5 and Psalms 80 and 104 are particularly vivid. Jesus spared the groom the embarrassment of running out of wine and prolonged the party for the guests. But this was not a parlor trick or miracle of convenience. This was a sign of Jesus’ divine, redemptive identity intended to reveal his glory and stimulate faith.

B.            Isaiah 62 is just one of many places that present God as the husband of Israel. They point ahead to the New Testament imagery of the Church as the Bride of Christ. In a way that is unique to John, the wedding at Cana points to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb in Revelation 19, which also comes to us through John. Then the hidden host and joyful groom who is the source of joy will be revealed in full glory. And we are the joyful bride!

C.            God revels in the vast variety of our spiritual gifts. Yet we humans seem to struggle and even clash when our uniquenesses bang up against each other. Excellence for a church is not about flawless performances or institutional efficiency. Excellence is the joy of a community in which people delight to serve with their gifts and celebrate each other’s gifts. As Andy regularly encourages the youth: Be excellent to each other!

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