02/12/2023 ~ Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany ~ Deuteronomy 30:15-20 or Sirach 15:15-20; Psalm 119:1-8; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/798775356
“For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.” — 1 Corinthians 3:9.
A few of you know this but certainly not everyone. As these things go, Bonnie and I got married late in life. I was 40. She was 39. It was the first marriage for both of us. I sometimes say, getting married for the first time at those ages makes us demographically unacceptable.
Bonnie, of course, lived in Brunswick and I lived in New York City. We lived not just states apart. We lived worlds apart.
I’ve said this here: my motto was, “If the Subway doesn’t go there, it’s too far.” I didn’t learn to drive until after I moved to Maine, so I didn’t learn until I was 40.
To be clear, it was unlikely Bonnie would be comfortable with big city life. So yes, it was the classic case of country mouse, city mouse, was it not?
We got married in September but it was around this time of year we decided to make that commitment. Back then I was attending an Episcopal Church in New York City. In the course of a Sunday service the usual request for joys and concerns was raised and the congregation was invited to pray about those requests.
I stood up, announced I would be getting married and moving to Maine. To say I thought it was a good idea to ask for prayer because of that news is something of an understatement.
The priest— Episcopalian clergy are called priests not pastors— the priest serving the church at that point was an interim and he and I had become friendly. After the service he took me aside and asked this: “Are you scared not about the move but about getting married?” I hesitated a moment and then said: “Well, yes. I guess I am.”
“That’s good,” he replied. “If you weren’t scared I would have taken you to the woodshed to give you a good whoopin!” (Slight pause.)
Perhaps the surprise about marriage is so many are so willing to give it a shot. It is, after all, unquestionably a life changing event. Whether or not we realize marriage as a life changing event, because it is a life changing event, marriage can and should also be a time for growth.
Both marriage and growth are serious subjects. And I think if we labeled the married state as an opportunity for growth, a time for growth, perhaps a lot of people would stop and give marriage some long and serious thought before signing up. I suspect too often people don’t put the two together, understand marriage is not just a time for growth but demands growth. (Slight pause.)
Now, Mark Twain is reputed to have said (quote): “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
But we also need to understand that catching the trade winds in our sails requires something. It requires risk. (Slight pause.)
Here’s a trick question about risk. Let’s say you have $1,000 to invest and several choices for that investment. One investment says you are 100% sure you will lose that $1,000. With another there is some assurance— but not total assurance— that you will either lose or make back the $1,000, but nothing more. You will break even.
There is yet one more possibility where there’s a chance you will lose the $1,000, a chance you will make the $1,000 back and an equal chance you will make $1,000 on top of the $1,000 you invested. Which one of these investments has the least risk— the least risk? (Slight pause.)
Like I said, this is a trick question. If you are 100% sure you are going to lose that $1,000, your risk is… zero, nada, zilch, nothing. There is no risk involved since you know exactly what is going to happen. You are 100% sure you will lose the money.
Yes, we do have a hard time separating losing money from there being no risk. But certainty means there is no risk. It’s when you don’t know what will happen, when things are uncertain, that’s when risk enters the picture. (Slight pause.) And we don’t know what will happen when we get married, do we? Risk— real risk. (Slight pause.)
These words are from the work known as First Corinthians: “For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (Slight pause.)
Paul writes about being ruled by the flesh. As this passage indicates, what is being addressed is not an inherently evil flesh. Indeed, many make the claim that a negative attitude toward the body is a central topic of Paul.
But the body is not the topic here. The Apostle is addressing not the body but the flawed perspectives that characterize human values and human decisions. Paul is, in a quite neutral way, simply referring to the fact that human beings, in their existence, are finite.
In short, the divide about which Paul speaks is not the divide between spiritual as in ethereal and human as in carnal. The divide is also not between evil and good.
The divide is not even between finite and infinite. The divide is between perspectives— a perspective as seen from human eyes and a perspective as seen from the eyes of God. (Slight pause.)
We— humans— we do tend to be risk averse. We like to reduce risk. So, what might it require for us to be (quote): “…God’s servants, working together;… God’s field, God’s building”? (Slight pause.)
I think one of Paul’s main themes in this section of First Corinthians is growth. Indeed, Paul calls the Corinthians (quote): “infants in Christ.” Paul understands in order to strive to see things in a spiritual way, one must grow, in order to stop looking at the world in a limited and very human and risk conscious way, growth— growth which always means taking some risk— is necessary.
Why is growth and therefore risk necessary? God is inviting us to participate in doing the work of God in the world. (Quote): “you are God’s field, God’s building.” And so, what is the work of God? (Slight pause.)
This morning we heard a reading from Deuteronomy and some of you may have wondered why that is a part of today’s lectionary reading. Well, the 30th Chapter looks back on what has already been said in Deuteronomy between the 14th and the 25th chapters. In those chapters what I am about to recite is outlined as being the work of God. It is a list which might surprise us all.
This work, God’s work, listed in those chapters includes the sharing of feasts with those who are hungry; canceling the debts of the poor; organizing government to guard against excessive wealth; offering hospitality to refugees; not charging interest on loans; prompt payment for those who work; leaving the harvest residue for the disadvantaged; limiting punishment in order to protect human dignity. All these aspects of God’s work— work to which God calls us— are in those chapters of Deuteronomy.
That list is not simply a vision God has. That list is an invitation to us to see the world in ways we have never even tried to see it before.
And I think that is what Paul addresses— God’s vision for the world. And so Paul invites us to be God’s field, God’s building, God’s servants. Paul invites us to growth. Paul invites us to a life changing way of seeing the world. Amen.
Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine
ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “To reiterate— the sharing of feasts with those who are hungry; canceling the debts of the poor; organizing government to guard against excessive wealth; offering hospitality to refugees; not charging interest on loans; prompt payment for those who work; leaving the residue of harvest for the disadvantaged; limiting punishment in order to protect human dignity— quite a list. It should give us some notion of how different the vision is which God might have for our lives. And that vision is an invitation to us to grow.”
BENEDICTION: God heals and restores. God grants to us the grace and the talent to witness to the love God has for us. Let us be ready as we go into the world, for we are baptized in the power of the Spirit. And may the peace of Christ, which surpasses understanding, keep our minds and hearts in the companionship and will of the Holy Spirit, this day and forever more. Amen.