Sunday, September 22, 2019

Homecoming Worship!

Sermon of Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton VA   
September 22, 2019
Pastor Robert McCarty

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 
Galatians 5: 22-23

My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 
John 15: 8

Our Galatians passage sounds like a recipe for a church: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Recipes are tricky. When Anita asked us to choose dessert recipes from one of the church’s old cook books. I had this recipe from Fredericka, our sister, who died a little over a year ago.

Southern Style Apple Pie: Beat 1 egg. Add 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup sifted flour. Mix well. Add 1 tsp vanilla, pinch of salt, 1/2 cup pecans, 2 1/2 cup cut apples. Bake 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

I wanted to honor Fredericka with her recipe, so I wanted to make sure I tried the recipe before I brought it here. So I made it Friday night. It was edible.  But this is our Freddy’s recipe.

Sometimes that happens with new recipes. Sometimes that happens with new churches. A Mission Starting pastor comes to a place without a Lutheran Church. Thirty years ago, Florida was a great place to mission start a Lutheran Church. A lot of retirees from Pennsylvania who did the snowbird thing. They live seven or eight months in Pennsylvania and four or five cold months in Florida. Some mission churches worked, some did not. Recipes are tricky.

I tried a piece of my test pie with a generous amount of vanilla ice cream. It felt like something was missing. Have you ever done that? Left an ingredient out of a recipe. My mother made her sugar cookies for years without orange peel. She didn’t have orange peel in her spice rack. The sugar cookies were okay. Then one year before Christmas, she was at the grocery store and decided to buy orange peel. And the cookies were so much better, she never made them without orange peel again.

Sometimes mission churches, being new are missing an ingredient. Some ingredients you will know right away if you forget them. Chocolate chip cookies without chocolate chips, you still have some sort of a cookie. Cake without sugar is something more like bread. A sandwich without bread is something altogether different.

Same is true with churches. You cannot make a church without love, and a church without kindness is something other than church. What about patience though? I can see new churches lacking patience, wanting to get off to a running start. I can see old churches lacking patience as well. You still have what you need for church, but an ingredient is missing and something is off. Like my mother’s sugar cookies without the orange peel. Lacking patience allows eagerness and anxiety to rub off some of the joy and the peace. All these ingredients work together, blend together.

Our church recipe again includes joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, a pinch of self-control and a generous cup of love.

I remember once when my sister made muffins fifteen years ago. Out of college, just moved into her own place, she made muffins from scratch. She followed the recipe. They also did not turn out pretty. Nothing like the picture, nothing like muffins out of a mix. The muffins tasted okay, looked a bit flat. Elizabeth and I took a guess that her baking powder was old. Turns out she moved her baking powder from her college apartment. New baking powder, voila, her muffins rose up, looked like muffins tasted better.

Let’s take generosity for example. Because this congregation has the benefit of the generosity of many of our previous members. D— H— taught J— B— how to tithe. Several members over the years—(list some names)—have left donations to the endowment. For best results you can’t live on old generosity, instead we mix together new and old generosity.

Does anyone here watch Guy’s Grocery Games on the Food Network? This week, Guy had four California Fire Fighters battling it out in the Flavor Town kitchen. He wanted to do a benefit, remembering all those wild fires that plagued California last year. And he knew that firefighters have to prepare food for each other, so his producers found some of the best firehouse chefs in California and let them each play his game for a different charity. Guy Ferrari challenged the chefs to make a family favorite, but each chef chose a mystery can. They took the labels off of five cans and they each had to choose one not knowing what was inside. 

One chef got mushrooms. So when she made Spicy Habanero Burger with Sweet Potato Chips, she picked up some fresh mushrooms from the produce table and mixed them with her canned mushrooms. One of the judges said to her, “that is exactly what I would want someone to do with an ingredient like mushrooms, mix in some fresh ones as well.” (paraphrased)

We in the church do just that, we mix old love with new love, grandparents and grandbabies; old friends and new couples and new friends. We do the same with kindness, like remembering when you hosted and sponsored and immigrant family a dozen years ago and then new kindness that picked up trash along the Middle river last month and helped pack 30,000 meals to go wherever there is need, like the Bahamas, just two weeks ago. Also, as I mentioned previous generosity preserved in an endowment and new generosity received in the offering plate. 

[Hold Up Recipe Card] My ingredients were good. I made two changes. The first attempt, because I made it for my family, I made with Gluten Free flour. Because I made the second pie for you folks, I went back to regular flour and I ran it through a strainer, because I don’t own a sifter. I would guess that helped. But the real game changer was the salt. My first attempt I threw the salt in with the flour and sugars and mixed it in. Because I thought the salt would help things bind together. The second time, I threw the salt on the apples because I knew the salt on the apples would bring out, pull out, the moisture and their juices. And I let the salt sit on the apples five minutes. This time when I stirred it all together, the moisture just totally changed the consistency of the batter and the mix and I knew that this would work.

I thought an ingredient was missing, but everything is right here. We have all the ingredients for our Southern Style Apple Pie on this card. Also, we have all ingredients for a great church: joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, a pinch of self-control and an overflowing cup of love.

By right here, I do not mean just mean right here in this scripture verse. I mean all the ingredients for a great church are in this room today. All the ingredients are here. I am looking at a cupboard full of joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control and love. Christ is like the salt that pulls the moisture of love and joy and kindness and generosity out of your hearth. [Bring out the chalice for Holy Communion] Christ is the ingredient that binds us all together, an overflowing cup of love. 

Just like you overflow with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control and love. This cup overflows with God’s love into you.

We have a great recipe, a great church, a great God. 


Sunday, September 15, 2019

Rejoice with Me

Sermon of Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton VA   
September 15, 2019
Pastor Robert McCarty

Preaching Texts: Luke 15: 1-10

And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15: 2

Grumble, grumble, grumble. I trust that you have heard people mumble under the breath. Grumble, grumble, grumble. And you are wondering if they are talking about you. Grumble, Grumble, Grumble. Maybe you have done it yourself, muttered something under your breath about someone there in the room with you.  Grumble, mumble, muttering, it is all the same.

I did not choose “O Christ the Same” out of the blue hymnal supplement to make you grumble today. I know some of you find it frustrating when you have to juggle between two hymnals. So you know, you should be thankful you are not Episcopalian, because they have both a hymnal and a separate worship book, so they often juggle between two books. So you know, I love the With One Voice rendition of “O Christ the Same” that we sing to Londonderry Aire. You will recognize it as the tune of “O Danny Boy.” So of course, your Lutheran pastor with the last name of McCarty loves this song and this tune. Knowing that this tune is one of my favorites, I hope makes it okay that we sing it, even if we have to sing it out of an extra hymnal. 

Jesus catches the Pharisees grumbling. Have you ever muttered something under your breath, only to have someone catch what you said: “What did you say?” People hear you when you mumble. I know because Elizabeth and I will whisper something in the kitchen, and one of our sons in the living room will shout, “I heard that.” Elizabeth and I will then laugh and grumble all at the same time. We have to explain to them, “if we wanted you to hear us, we would not have whispered.” I bet that has happened in your house as well.

The Pharisees grumbled and in this case, I suspect the Pharisees wanted Jesus to hear them grumble. And I betcha that Jesus knew exactly why the Pharisees grumbled. I bet you they had this conversation before. “Why Jesus, why are you eating with those people? Why do you take time for them, when you have us here?”

You recognize the jealousy, envy, possessiveness, especially if you ever had the challenge of keeping two friends happy who did not get along with one another. Friends who often grumbled against one another. So, Jesus shares a couple of parables, one about the lost sheep and one about the lost coin. And we know the lost sheep points to the sinners and the tax collectors. But guess what, I tell you the lost sheep also points to the Pharisees. We have the same truth regarding the lost coin that could be the tax collectors and riffraff as well as the Pharisees and scribes. 

You know the cliche: two sides of the same coin the Pharisees and the riffraff. Jesus came to save both, and us too. Jesus loves both, and you too. I do not know that he likes both groups at times, but I know that he loves both. Jesus loves both. You know how I know Jesus loves the Pharisees. He seems to spend a lot of time with them. He goes to their banquets, and listens to their complaints. Jesus patiently says the same things to them about God’s love, and forgiveness, and the sabbath. I would imagine that the tax collectors grumble about the Pharisees, but maybe not in front of Jesus. I know I have said a few grumbles about modern day Pharisees, but I have learned over the years to be thankful for their faith and their witness.

And frankly we have all shared the Pharisees grumble: “It doesn’t seem fair.” That is all the Pharisees are saying. “It doesn’t seem fair” that we invite you to our banquet and you bring them along.” Or “it does not seem fair that when we do not invite you to our banquets, you go out and party with them.” Forget about the polite phrase, “It does not seem.” Let us take their words a step further, “It is not fair…” fill in the blank. I will speak for the Pharisees. I will risk putting words in their mouth. “We get it Jesus,” they must be thinking, “We get that you are wiser than us. We get that God has blessed you. We are here trying to do our best to be faithful. We understand, we do not always get it right, but we try and it is like they are not even trying.”

That is part of the celebration. I know I have shared this story before. It may have even been recently. A church in a Pittsburgh neighborhood was blessed with a church building, and a parking lot and an outdoor pavilion. They had their big annual picnic after worship. This congregation also had the blessing of a member who worked for a food distributor and he got a couple of cases of Klondike bars. Not six pack case that you buy in the store, but the case of multiple six packs that the stores get. They had plenty of Klondike bars. Even as they were cleaning up they still had plenty of Klondike bars in the freezer. So a member turns on the PA system. They had speakers on top of their pavilion just like on the TV Show MASH.  The 4077 had speakers that made announcements as they cut from scene to scene. Remember Radar announcing. “Attention. Attention. Here’s the announcement you’ve all been waiting for: Lt. Col Henry Blake is the proud father of a bouncing baby appendix.”

So a member of this Pittsburgh Congregation turns on the PA system atop the church pavilion and cranks up the volume and announces to the neighborhood, “Hey kids, Do you like Klondike bars kids? Well we got plenty, so why don’t you come on down to the church pavilion and get yourself a Klondike bar.” And the kids came, riding their bikes, and walking and running. And members cleaning up afterwards grumbled. “They are eating our Klondike bars.” Grumble. “It’s not fair. They were not at worship. They could have come to the picnic.” All while a celebration is going on at the pavilion. What a gift it is to be that person who sees those Klondike bars and says, “I am going to give these away!” and makes that announcement into the neighborhood. And what a gift it is to be that person with six pack of Klondike bars in your hand placing them into the hand of a child who is excited to receive it. (Or or Or) I have done this before, maybe you have too: like on halloween someone comes that you know without their younger sister, and you give them their halloween treat and then you give them an extra halloween treat and you say, “Take this one to your sister.” You share the joy. That is who Jesus is in this gospel lesson. That lucky person who gets to say bless you and come to my celebration.

You, you folks let me be that person, that person who announces we have plenty of Klondike bars. Or the person who hands them out. You let me be at the center of the celebration.

We had a dinner last winter and a couple of my friends from the community came. K—— has worshipped with us before but J—— never had worshiped with us before. They came down to dinner and were sitting at a table without any food. Everyone else is in line, and I was talking to J—— and K—— thinking this won’t do. So, I told them come with me, and I walked our guests past the end of the line. I found S— and B— in the middle of the line. I introduced our guests and placed them in the middle of the line with S— and B—. No one is going to grumble because you let me do that. It is like choosing a hymn from the blue hymnal. What a blessing it is to be that person.

Another example, S— W—— died. S— use to be a member of this congregation. What a gift it is that I still visited her on your behalf (and my own as well). So I get to see her two weeks ago and have a nice conversation with her at King’s Daughters. I visit last Wednesday and see her and her husband at Augusta Health. I meet her brother on Friday. What a gift! And what a blessing it is to know that the men of our Men’s Group will reach out to her husband and say to him, “How are you doing brother?”

What a blessing it is to be Jesus and eat with the Pharisees and eat with the tax collectors. Because sometimes you are the lost coin, but sometime you are just part of the celebration that the woman throws when she finds the coin. And Jesus is the one throwing the celebration. 

The story that follows the lost coin is the prodigal son, which has the older brother working out in the field and avoiding the party. I tell you though, I do not care who it is for, if Jesus is throwing a party, I do not want to miss it. And I don’t want to be caught grumbling at the party Jesus is throwing. I want to celebrate with joy in my heart.

You get a chance to be that blessed person next week at our homecoming celebration, when someone comes to worship and sits near you and that person or people has no RSVP, that you get to say to them, come join us for dinner. 

Or what a blessing it is to be M——. I mentioned her last week; she coordinates meal packing events for Rise Against Hunger. What a blessing it is to be her and to say to those gathered “these meals that you pack…” and ones like them, “these are going to the Bahamas.”

Do not worry, do not fret. When you worry or when you fret, you might end up grumbling. Do no worry about who is first or who is last. Do not fret about who might be kind of like a tax collector, do not fret about those who seem pious like a pharisee. Do not worry about who is the lost sheep or whether or not you are the lost coin. I do not care whether the tax collector or the Pharisee throws the banquet that Jesus is attending. Because I know that Jesus is the banquet. Jesus is the woman throwing the celebration because she found the lost coin. God the father is the one who killed the fatted calf because his son who was dead has been found alive, And we are the ones who proclaim the blessing to those willing to listen. To rejoice at the lost coin. To celebrate. What a gift.