January 16, 2022, Living Unafraid: Facing The Challenge, by Pastor David
I Corinthians 12: 1-11  Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

Moment of silence and meditation

January 16, 2022 Living Unafraid: Facing the Challenge

My girlfriend and I decided to have a party. I think we were trying to figure out how we could contribute something to the civil rights movement. It was 1968 after all, and the civil rights movement was in full swing, or maybe, without our knowing it, had crested. We were in 10th grade in an almost all white school of over 3000 students. A party with white and Black students seemed like a way to do our part.

We didn’t even know any Black kids, though. I don’t remember how we came up with some people to invite. Kathy (all my girlfriends were named Cathy) must have found a connection, because the day of the party came and she said some people were coming. We had a record player in a basement - some records, some snacks. What more could you need?
I was nervous, scared if you want to know that truth, but we couldn’t back out now. The time for the party came and nobody showed up. I breathed a sigh of relief, but Kathy said to wait a bit. Sure enough a few minutes later the doorbell rang. The only thing I remember about the whole party is that our guests didn’t really like my music all that much, except for one song that they decided to play over and over again that I found very embarrassing. 

The whole party was pretty excruciating actually. And what do you do with something that’s excruciatingly embarrassing and scary? You try to forget about it. We didn’t have anybody helping us think about each other or about our feelings. We were feeling our way in the dark and so we didn’t even have a way to acknowledge how awkward it was, or how strange, how scared we were.

For this sermon series, one of the resources I’m using is Adam Hamilton’s book called Unafraid. Hamilton, of course, is pastor of the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, one of the largest Methodist churches in the world. He offers 2 acronyms to help think about fear.  The first is False Events Appearing Real - to recognize how many of our fears can be dispelled by more accurate information and a second acronym of the same letters offers some steps for handling fears that are more persistent:

Face your fears with faith;
Examine your assumptions in light of the facts;
Attack your anxieties with action, and 
Release your cares to God. 

We will stay aware of these steps in our sermon series, as each week we relate our faith to the task of overcoming our fears. First we have to notice how much fear actually influences our lives. Facing our fear with faith means noticing fear, confident that we have a better way of dealing with fear than just ignoring it. The Bible encourages people over and over to not be afraid, to not let fear get in the way of hearing God’s direction and calling. I want all of us to notice, learn, and deepen our understanding that faith, trust in the Living God lessens our fear and changes our lives.

Let’s look for a moment at how Paul talks to the people of Corinth. He isn’t addressing fear directly, but his advice to these people in a divided community can help us face some of the ways fear affects our lives today. Paul takes the Corinthians to task for the ways in which they are dividing into factions and starting to squabble with each other. Paul insists that all of us are part of the body of Christ, that every single person is gifted with a connection to the Spirit, a gift that we need to use in service to the Living God. 

In that time it was quite common for people to divide into clubs or associations, eating groups that had a particular reason for connecting with each other. The popularity of these associations was a key way in which the Jesus movements of the first century grew. It was easy for the close connections in those groups to fuel divisions between the groups. In Hal Taussig’s most recent book about the early Jesus movements, he speculates that Paul may have been addressing different eating groups or associations in his letter to the Corinthians, validating the different groups that emphasized speaking in tongues or healing or prophecy. 

Paul insisted to them that they all had gifts of the Spirit and that they were all connected to the One God through their connection to Jesus the Anointed and to Israel. Beyond that, he said that any of them who recognized Jesus as the Anointed One was inspired by the Holy Spirit. 

So I tell you what, I can say that that awkward party back in 1968 was inspired by the Holy Spirit. It was no great movement forward for civil rights, that’s for sure. If I could talk to the people who came, I would apologize for putting them in such an awkward position. Even so, it was a sincere attempt by a couple of naive teenagers to challenge the divisions in our society. In hindsight I can say that much. At the time, I thought it was a total failure, and I forgave myself and forgot about it. The truth was more nuanced and a little scarier. And facing fears with faith is the first step toward wholeness. Maybe I should have preached this morning using the other assigned reading for this morning - about Jesus turning water into wine for a party. Jesus knew that parties are important, connecting with each other is important. 

With a little more help, maybe those two teenagers could have figured out that it wasn’t an abject failure and it was worth trying something else. Eventually, I got there, but it took years without help. And with a little more help, we could have recognized mistakes we made and been able to talk about the mistakes, with each other and maybe eventually with the folks we thought we were trying to “help,” who didn’t really need out help. 

God gives important gifts to all children of God - all of us, every one. On this Martin Luther King birthday weekend, I thank God that there is a little more support out here to help young people connect with each other and think about the divisions in our society that are still costly to all of us. I dream of a church that could be that kind of support for racial groups, religious groups, and groups helping with every other kind of division. I dream of a church we can all recognize our fears and awkwardness and embarrassment and where everyone is welcome and we all can find a home. 

Responsive Hymn:  I Dream of a Church