November 19, 2006
1 Timothy 2:1-7
We are used to seeing our pastors stand out there to preach. Pastor likes to stand up in front of the altar; Kim preferred to stand down by the front row. Jody moved around a little and Skip likes to wander all over the place. I have to admit that I much prefer to stand here, at the lectern. This is where I feel most comfortable. I suppose it is because I can hide back here. It gives me a place to set my notes and something to do with my hands. The lectern hides the fact that my knees are shaking and that my heart is pounding so hard I can hardly hear myself speak. Behind this lectern, I can appear confident, wise and reasonable.
I don’t want you to see that I’m nervous and I want to hide my fear and worry. So I stand behind this lectern hoping that it will hide my anxiety, my uneasiness and my discomfort. I hope the lectern will make it seem like I actually belong here. I feel safe back here, almost comfortable.
However, living in thankfulness means that we have to step out of our comfort zone. It means stepping away from the lectern and standing out in the open. It means exposing ourselves to the possibility of failure, of persecution, of pain and suffering. It means sometimes doing the things that make us uncomfortable, reaching beyond ourselves for the sake of others.
There was once a traveling man who was exhausted from his journey. His horse was also tired, so he turned down a lonely lane toward a small village. He was a stranger but he hoped that there would be at least one kind soul who would give him a small meal and a place to rest.
Unfortunately, he came upon a village that was suffering from economic difficulty. A drought in the land caused the crops to fail and the factory had recently closed. The people were barely hanging on to hope, frightened and unsure how they would make it through the winter. They had retreated into their homes, separated from one another by their own anxiety and fear about tomorrow.
At each door, the families were sympathetic but they did not even have enough to feed their own children. They could not offer the stranger anything to eat. He became discouraged as he wandered from door to door, seeing that each family looked more desperate than the last. Finally, he sat down under a tree and thought to himself, “These poor people. They will soon be as hungry as I.” As he rose to go on his way, he noticed a magnificent stone. It was smooth and almost perfectly round. It gave him an idea.
He went to the center of the village and gathered the villagers together. He held up the stone and said, “Your worries are over. This is a very special stone that will help you make it through the long winter. With it you can make Stone Soup.” “Stone Soup?” The people had never heard of it. The man continued, “The wonder of Stone Soup is not only that it feeds hungry people, but it also brings people together. Now who has a large empty pot?”
Someone brought a large pot to the center of the village. They filled the pot with water and lit a fire underneath. He carefully put the stone into the pot and said, “There, the pot is just big enough. Hmmm. Stone Soup is much better with salt and pepper. I wonder if there is any to spare?” Some children ran to get the spices and the man added them to the pot. He tasted the soup and said, “It is very good, but I think it would be better if there were just a few bits of carrot.” Reluctantly a farmer said he had a few to spare, so he sent his daughter home to get them. Then the man said, “It is a shame that the harvest was bad. Stone Soup is excellent with a bit of cabbage.” A lady said that she knew where she might find one or two. She came back with three.
The man went on to say that the last time he made Stone Soup he was near the home of a rich man who had added a few potatoes and a bit of beef, which made it delicious. After some discussion among themselves, the people scattered to their homes, returning with not only meat and potatoes, but also some milk, onions and barley.
As the soup cooked, it smelled so good their mouths were watering in anticipation. When it was finally done, they ate it with gusto and said that it was the best soup that they had ever had. “And to think that this meal came from a stone,” they said with wonder. The people were so satisfied and happy after their meal that they did not want the gathering to end. Some brought out fiddles to play while others sang and danced to the music. Never had the village had such a wonderful party.
The next day the villagers gathered around the stranger to thank him and to say good-bye. Just as he and his horse set off on the road a boy asked if he was going to take his stone. The man said, “No, I want to leave it with you as a gift of gratitude for your hospitality. Remember, as long as you make Stone Soup, you will never have to worry about being hungry.” In the end, not only did the stone make a wonderful soup, but it did truly bring the people together. By sharing their meager resources, they were able to make more than enough and they rediscovered the joy of being a part of a community. They stepped out of their comfort zone and found great blessings.
Have you ever noticed the banners that hang in the front of the church? We know that they are there, we see them every week, but they have been there so long that most of us have stopped really seeing them. We have become so accustomed to them hanging there that we no longer notice the words. The banners seem to have become just another pretty decoration. Yet the words are ones that we should be reading every week and taking to heart. They describe the greatest gift of all, our calling and our purpose in this world.
The first banner reads “Marked with the cross of Christ forever...” Let’s stop there for a moment. What does this mean? At your baptism, the pastor made a small cross on your forehead, probably with some specially prepared oil, while saying the words, “Child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” The words say that you are a child of God and that you are part of the eternal kingdom of heaven, inheritors of His promises. This is a most wonderful gift. This gift does not guarantee that we will never face difficulty. It does, however, guarantee that God will be with us through it all. Forever.
The second banner reads, “…we are claimed, gathered and sent for the sake of the world.” Do we look at those banners and realize how important the words truly are? We are thankful for our baptism, but do we embrace the rest of this statement? Do we really live as the claimed, gathered people who have been sent for the sake of the world?
We are here to celebrate thanksgiving, to give thanks to God for all our many blessings. Last week I attended the Preschool thanksgiving program and it is always interesting to hear the things for which they are grateful. Most of the children were thankful for their mommies and daddies, their brothers and sisters and other family members. They included important things like their pets, games and toys. Some were thankful for specific food or television shows. Some were even thankful for monsters. Others were thankful for their school and their teachers.
It is so easy for us to list the earthly blessings of our life – our material possessions, our homes and our families, our jobs, our friends and our activities. But I think what made my heart leap for joy as I listened to the words of the children is that some were thankful for Jesus. Children have a wonderfully innocent relationship with God that does not hesitate to honor Him with praise and thanksgiving. Unfortunately, I think most of us get lost in the worry and fear of living in this fallen and imperfect world that we focus on those things that we think will keep us from suffering and pain. We are thankful for those lecterns or those tightly shut doors because they keep us from being exposed. We hide inside our comfort zones, thankful that we are safe. But this is not living faithfully or thankfully. And we might just miss out on the Stone Soup.
The life of thanksgiving is one that receives the grace of God, steps out in faith and faces the uncertainty of the unknown for the sake of others. It means exposing ourselves to the possibility of failure, of persecution, of pain and suffering. It means sometimes doing the things that make us uncomfortable; it means reaching beyond ourselves. Whatever we might face we are called to share God’s grace with others. We may do so with trembling knees or fear of failure. We may not be eloquent in speech or seem to make any sense at all. Though we want to worry about what tomorrow will bring, we are called to be thankful; to trust that God will be with us in the midst of it all, forever.
Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” We are more valuable than the birds of the air and the lilies of the field in the eyes of God. He takes care of them; He’ll take care of us. Unbelievers spend their lives chasing after food, drink and clothes, but we do not need to do so. God knows just what you need. Jesus said, “Seek first His kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Is this a promise for prosperity and a life without difficulty? No, absolutely not. It is not in the comfort of our homes with satisfied bellies that we will find the kingdom of heaven. Even the walls of this building can not hold His kingdom.
God’s kingdom is found in the community of Christ and in the lives of believers who are claimed, gathered and sent for the sake of the world.
We are claimed by God and made His children by grace. This is our call to a life of thanksgiving. However, living that life is not always going to be easy. As a matter of fact, some of the things that God calls us to do are very hard. Paul wrote to Timothy, “I urge you, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” Can we be thankful for the political leaders that stand for principles different than ours? Can we be thankful in the midst of those enemies who cause us to be afraid, who persecute us and who take away the very things that make us comfortable? Can we have hope for them that they might receive the same thing that we have – salvation in Jesus Christ? Are we willing to step out of our comfort zone to offer this gift of God’s grace to those whom we think do not deserve it?
We are gathered together into this community of faith with all our ups and downs, all our good and bad, all our happiness and grief. Some of our most troublesome experiences happen right here in the community of believers. Much as we know we are to love one another, it can be pretty hard sometimes. We disagree about the silliest things and we disagree on some very important matters. We can drive each other absolutely insane – well, I have certainly had a few moments of heartache and I am sure that I have caused a few for you. Yet, we are gathered into this fellowship of fallen and imperfect people saved by God’s grace to live together and to share our meager resources so that God can make Stone Soup. We do not know when He might send a hungry stranger our way, it might even be tonight.
Finally, we are sent into the world to share God’s grace. At thanksgiving we spend a lot of time thanking God for the things that we have that make our lives better. However, those banners remind us that nothing we have is for ourselves. Marked with the cross of Christ forever, we are claimed, gathered and sent for the sake of the world. God has blessed us to be a blessing. This means living the life of thanksgiving that takes us out of our comfort zone. Living the Christian life means that we might find ourselves in places and situations that make us very uncomfortable. We are so thankful for our material possessions, our homes and our families, our jobs, our friends and our activities – as we should be because God has given us everything – but we have been given something even greater. All too often, however, we receive God’s extraordinary grace with little response. It is like those banners; we know God’s grace is there but we have become so accustomed to it that we no longer take notice.
Living the life of thanksgiving is stepping out in faith without worry or fear, knowing that God is always near. Our knees might shake and our heart pound. We think that we do not have enough to give or that we will fail. We can’t help but think about tomorrow. But as thankful children of God we can live in faith knowing that God is always near and that He will take care of us.
In the midst of our difficulties, God is with us. As we join together to sing praise and thanksgiving to God in our worship and through our ministries, we will continue to see God do miraculous things, like make Stone Soup for all to share.