By Rev. John Spicer
Church of the Good Shepard, Springfield MO 65807

A Rabbi's Gift Sermon
Given Jan. 30 2005

This is a day, in our readings at least, when we hear about truth that just doesn’t seem to make sense. In that reading from 1 Corinthans, Paul is trying to explain the logic of the Cross, the astounding claim we make as Christians — that God would go about saving all humanity by coming as a human, as Jesus, who then completely empties himself of everything the world would understand as power and wisdom. What seems to be the worst possible outcome — Jesus’ brutal death — turns out to be the way God chooses to show the world God’s power and wisdom. God takes brutal death and uses it to give us new life. The world would think salvation would come from gaining deep wisdom or achieving great power. Instead, Paul says, salvation comes where you’d least expect it — from the Cross.

And then, in the Gospel reading, we heard Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes — again, the world turned upside down. The disciples could easily look around their society and see who was blessed. The religious authorities seemed to be blessed, for they had privilege and respect. The Romans seemed to be blessed, for they had power. The wealthy seemed to be blessed, for they could always haul in more and more from the toil and taxation of the poor. You didn’t have to be a rabbi to understand who was blessed. But Jesus was teaching them something different: No; things aren’t always what they seem. Blessed are the broken in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek, the powerless, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. (Matthew 5:3,5-6) Those who seem hopeless, aren’t. Instead, Jesus says, salvation comes where you’d least expect it — to those who seem to be at the end of their rope.

They say that God works in mysterious ways. It might be more honest to just tell it like it is — God works in ways that don’t seem to make any sense at all. God has a way of taking what seems ridiculous, what seems impossible, what seems foolish, and then using it to bring about new life and accomplish God’s purposes in new ways. God doesn’t usually do things in ways that fit our expectations. God prefers to follow God’s own logic rather than the logic we’d like to see.

We’re living that right now. In a little while, we’ll have our Annual Meeting, where we’ll talk about things that may not seem to make much sense. What sense could it make to have lay people leading most of the ministry that happens here? What sense could it make to close our congregation? Based on the logic we know, based on the rules of the world, either of these options is nothing but failure. You don’t have to be a church-growth expert to know what a successful church looks like, right? Successful churches have full-time pastors, the world tells us — and the more pastors they have, the better. Successful churches have thousands of people, the world tells us — and the more people they have, the more successful they are. We know what success is supposed to look like, at least on the world’s terms. Success doesn’t look like a church led by lay people. And it certainly doesn’t look like a church that closes down.

But I submit to you that the logic of the world doesn’t necessarily apply here. The logic of the world would never allow for a Messiah who saves us by being beaten and crucified. The logic of the world would never agree that the meek will inherit the earth, or that the persecuted will be the truly blessed. Christ has a logic all his own, and we only get glimpses of it now and then. In the rules of Christ’s logic, emptying yourself is the ultimate power; and new and better life always springs up from what seems old and dead.

What I hope we’ll take into the Annual Meeting is an openness to being surprised by the logic of Christ, the logic of the Cross. I hope we can go into this meeting ready to hear something that will open a door for us. I hope we can go into this meeting ready to let God do something unexpected with us. I hope we can go into this meeting ready to let God work new creation in us and through us, the Body of Christ in this place.

To help us open ourselves to what God might be up to here, I’d like to read you a meditation. It’s a story you may have heard before, but I think it carries a new power each time you hear it. And after I read this, I’m going to sit down and stay there for a while. We’ll observe a few minutes of silence. This will be an uncomfortable few minutes for some of us, but we’re going to do it anyway. And in that silence, I invite you to let the story work on you. Let it shape how you see yourself, and how you see this congregation, and how you see God at work here. The story is called “The Rabbi’s Gift.”

See Rabbi's Gift Story Here (click)

or here (click)

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“The Rabbi’s Gift.” Adapted from a version quoted in Peck, M. Scott, MD. "The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace". New York: Touchstone, 1987.

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