August 27 Sermon by Rev. Dr. Galen Schwarz

August 27 Sermon by Rev. Dr. Galen Schwarz

What a Gift,   Ephesians 4:1-16

It is a bit difficult for me to put into words the struggle that I had this past week with this particular passage of Paul, for some of it seems to fly right in the face of all that we know about the theology of Paul.  Sure there are common themes here that we have heard before, and there is the introduction of a new element of  the graciousness of God when it comes to our faith, but to use the word “Worthy” and say that Paul hopes that we lead a life that is “Worthy” of the call to which you have been called, seems to take us down the road of throwing off the balance between work and faith.

In one sense to say that we should be worthy of the calling to which we have been given seems to imply that if we work hard enough and we practice the characteristics of humility, gentlenesss, patience, forebearance and love then these behaviors will make us worthy of God’s love and God’s calling.  And that if we do not show those characteristics then we are not worthy of God’s calling.  For someone who believes that God calls all people to faithfulness, obedience and witness, this is a very difficult statement.

But then perhaps I was over pondering this particular predicament.  Perhaps it was being taken out of context and I was thinking about it as if it were a single statement, not connected to the words that follow.  So let’s start by working backwards, and looking at the people in our lives who have been for us “Worthy” of the calling of Christ.

You have  heard me mention the man whom I visited while I was a sudent in Germany, having spent my Christmas vacation in Prague.  Well you do not kow his full story.

Vaclav Kehjr was his name and he had come to McCormick Theological Seminary in the early 1930’s, the same time that my father was a student there. Both he and my father loved to play volleyball so they became close friends on the court as well as in the classroom. My father called him Beaver for some reason.  While the great depression was just over the horizon, it was a good time for Vaclav, as his country had been under self-rule for 16 years, for the first time in their history.   During his three years of seminary he met the woman who would be his wife and who was part of the large Czech community in Chicago.

When graduation came in 1932 he was glad to start his family while serving as a minister in a small country congregation.  In March, seven years later the Hitler’s army rolled into Czechoslovakia, and his country was free no more.  However as a Christian he could not tolerate what was happening in his country, so he became part of a local resistance cell. But my faith he would not bear arms, so he became the treasuarer is what he called “His little Cell”.    And just like in Hogan’ Heroe’s he hid the funds for the resistence under his pot belly stove in the church manse. (I often wonder if the session or trustees knew that.)

When the war ended in 1945, the people welcomed their slavic brothern and opened their arms and their records to them. When the communist government discovered Vaclav’s activities during the war he was forbidden from leaving the country at the same time as his wife.

More than 20 years later during the liberalization period of what is called the Czech Spring he was granted permission to leave with his family and take up a teaching position at DeBeque Seminary. But quess what?  He turned the position down, quoting the words of Dietrick Bonhoeffer saying, “If I leave my people now, I will have no say in the church that they will build.”

There was a person worthy of the calling which Christ had made. Because he redefined what all of those characteristis listed by Paul can mean.  I don’t know how many times I have read through those qualities listed by Paul as being held by people who are worthy of God’s calling and thought that they were describing weakness.  But I don’t believe that they really are.  Society may want to do that but not people of the Lord.  When you get right down it, these are attitudes that really exhibit great strength.  Beaver was really a very gentle and patient man, to whom one listened with he spoke. And one can only recognize his great forebearance for his people in the positions that he took in his life.

Now I have no idea who is or was a person worthy of the Lord’s calling that you have seen in your life, but I know that they are out there.  Maybe they were a teacher, an athletic coach of some kind, or a pastor or a youth minister, who knows?.  Perhaps they were people of history that we all know like Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks, or Martin Luther King Jr. For when all is said and done they are the people who wow us by finding a way to do what is right in both the simple and the complex situations in life.  That is what makes a person worthy of the calling that they have been given in Christ.

I don’t know about you, but I have been fascinated by all the goings on in Washington D.C. this past summer. From the discussion on the Affordable Care Act to the staff turn overs in the White House, I have been watching for who is doing the right thing.  And I believe I found something.  Now I need to warn you that I know that it is risky to use current political situations or figures as illustration, but this account is not about a policy, but about a decision and an action.

On the late hours of July 28th the U.S. Senate was voting on the third proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Everyone knew that it would be close.  The major political parties had put pressure on their member to get their act together and vote in one block.  The vote was carefully timed in true political fashion so that the majority party would have all of their delegates there.

One of the last to arrive was the senior senator from Arizona, who a week earlier had undergone surgery for cancer.  It was important that he be there to swing this vote into the direction that his party wanted.  Things were down to the wire.

When the verbal roll call was made for the vote, the senator from Arizona walked toward the center of the senate floor and turned his thub down in the style of a Roman ruller and said no!  Those in attendance made an audible gasp that was like the air coming out of a tire all at one time.  Because with that vote the reform of the Affordable Health Care Act was defeated.

Now it is always hard to place oneself in the mind of another person.  But in his remarks that followed it became clear that his “ No” vote was not a vote either in favor or against providing health care.  His vote was about the need to continue to talk about it until a solution could be found that was good for all of the American people.  He wasn’t for or against the bill, rather he believed that the process that was used to formulate the bill would not and could not accomplish the goals that were behind the repeal and reform.  For him, bucking the political system and standing up for what he thought was right for himself and the American people is what he did.  Did it cost him?  Probably he lost some political clout, but I think that it also gained him some repect, if not within himself, then throughout the policy making commuity.  That is what makes a person worthy.

Now Paul never says that this task of doing the right thing is going to be easy. There are two other steps needed in getting there and neither one is a stranger to the thought or writings of Paul. The first is the recognition that we are not in this struggle to do what is right alone.  This says a lot about our natural inclanations, for Paul is asserting that one of the basic tenants of humanity is that they serve themselves first and consider what is right only as it affects their lives.

So to counter that notion Paul says that a person of faith lives within a community that is like a weaving, where the skills and talents of different people make for a whole.  That is why he give the list of different callings: prophets, teachers, apostles, etc.  I don’t think that is supposed to be an all inclusive list at all.  Nor is it meant to make people feel that they are some kind of a second class citizen if they don’t fit into any of those categories.  He is merely trying to say that because we have a variety of people around us and with us, we can find the support to do the right thing when it seems difficult to do.

In 2008, the Los Angeles Time records this story:  a few days ago a landscaper by the name of Eli found $140,000 cash in the street on his way to work. The $20 bills were unmarked, bundled into wads of $20,000 and in a bag in the middle of Gridley Road in Cerritos, Califoria.
The 40-year-old Highland Park man’s first thought was: “I’m rich.”
But he immediately decided to turn in his find. The money would go a long way, he thought, but keeping it would be wrong.

“That’s just your first reaction,” Estrada said, “but it’s not yours and you feel nervous and you feel like you did something wrong, even though you didn’t.”  It’s not that he didn’t need it.
About six months earlier Estrada opened a landscaping and artificial-grass business, Tuff Turf, and is in debt. He said his child support payments are tough to make and he supports his mother, who moved in with him last year after she lost her house to a fumbled refinancing plan and declared bankruptcy.
Estrada found the bag of money the morning of March 11. He talked his discovery over with one of his frients then drove to a landscaping job in Long Beach.
Being with the cash was “a weird feeling,” Estrada said. “It’s not like you would expect it, it’s surreal.”  After work he decided to turn in the money, and he called the Long Beach Police Depatment.
Estrada said he was content with his decision, though admitted “it was hard to give up.”  Authorities said the money was lost by Brinks armored truck drivers.
Long Beach police spokeswoman Dina Zapalski said she had never heard of someone turning in so much cash.
“I’ve had people come to me with purses and wallets with cash in it and they’ll turn it in,” Zapalski said. “But not like this.”
Zapalski said officers were surprised that Estrada didn’t ask for a reward.
Instead, he went right back to work. ( Los Angeles Times,April 10, 2008)
And finally Paul says that we BECOME worthy. It isn’t something that happens automatically or all at once. He has talked about this many times before calling us Children and asking us to become mature in our faith.  You see all these people whom God has given to be around us are there so that we can “Come” into the unity of the faith and the knoweldge of the Son of God.

A small group of tourists were once leaving the town of Bassano del Grappa, a few miles outside of Venice.  They had been quite impresssed with the long list of famous people who had come from Venice.  So when they left a local winery with their bottle of locally fermented Grappa, they passed an older gentleman resting on the ledge of a fountain.  As they walked by, one of the tourist asked this older gentleman if there had been any famous people who were born in Bassano del Grappa.   He thought for a while, rubbed his beard and looked up at the tourists and said, “nope. Only babies.”

You see even a beautiful flower or a mighty oak has to start as a seed.  It only becomes strong or beautiful as it grows, and that is grace folks, in the time when we have difficulty doing the right thing.  If you keep at it, it  will become easier and easier and eventually you will grow into the unityof the faith and the knoweldge of the Son of God.  Amen

 

 

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