The First Fruits of Worship Core Value #4 May 16, 2010 Romans 12
In the church I grew up in, there was an elderly woman who would take the microphone during sharing time just about every Sunday. She owned a small bookstore, so she had the chance to talk to the people that came and went through her business.
Then on Sundays she would take 5-10 minutes to ask for prayer for the various people she had met and the situations they were in. Or she might share about and ask for prayer for different things that were happening in her personal life. Or she might bring back to the congregation’s attention more general concerns about health situations or other issues that were facing the church at the time.
Sharing time at that church came towards the end of the service…and our Sunday school happened after the worship service… So every Sunday I watched the clock on the wall, to see how much longer I had to sit there before going to Sunday school.
And whenever Katy got the Microphone I would inwardly groan and slouch in my pew because I knew it meant we had to patiently sit there quietly for another 5-10 minutes.
I wasn’t a very patient kid.
But Katy helped to teach me patience.
…At the church we attended in Harrisonburg, there was an older gentleman who would take the mic every Sunday. He was developmentally disabled, so it was difficult to understand him.
For the first few months we attended that church, I could never quite make out what he was saying when he shared. His words kind of slurred together and it took a little bit of time to adjust the way I listened so I could understand him.
But after awhile, I learned how to listen. I got used to hearing him share in his way—just a brief sentence or two, praising God for how well he did bowling that week or asking for prayer for the occasional Special Olympics event that was happening.
He also would consistently share his concern about the people who don’t come to church, asking for prayer that they could come to know Jesus and be saved.
But what sticks in my mind the most about his sharing is how he would end. It was like he was writing a letter when he shared, and he’d always end by saying “your friend, Ward Leigh”.
Both of these individuals became really important to me—not because I really got to know either one well—but rather because they helped to teach me important lessons.
Ward taught me how to listen in the same way that Katy taught me patience…not by sitting me down for a lesson—but rather by giving me opportunities to listen and to wait.
There are plenty of other people I could share about this morning—lots of people from both of those churches who taught me and shaped me—for the better or the worse—into who you see standing here this morning.
But those two people in particular stand out in my memory.
I hated it when Katy Green got the microphone during sharing time. I wished sometimes that the usher would have just pretended not to see her hand.
I wished they might just keep moving past her pew.
But looking back, I know I learned at least some patience listening to her share from her heart Sunday after Sunday.
The same with Ward—at first I couldn’t understand a thing he said.
It made me uncomfortable.
It made me nervous for the worship leader. I knew they would have to say something about his prayer request from the pulpit, and I knew that if it was me, I’d have to make something up or skip Ward’s request altogether!
But looking back, I know I learned better how to listen by taking time to adjust how I heard him week after week.
So Katy taught me patience, and Ward taught me how to listen.
These two people gave me gifts of patience and understanding, and I’m sure neither one had any idea.
They symbolize in my mind, the heart of the fourth core value of this church…which says
We value praising and worshiping with all our gifts.
Even the ones we fail to appreciate. J
Romans 12 says that the renewal of our minds leads to the transformation of our lives, so that we no longer conform to the pattern of this world.
And the pattern of this world values some gifts more than others.
Ward and Katie got under my skin. They irritated me at times with their behavior—because they weren’t conforming. They weren’t conforming to the pattern of the world, where you don’t take time to share when a service is going long—or the pattern of the world where people with speech impediments and disabilities are seen and not heard.
And in their stubborn refusal to conform, my mind was transformed!
That’s what it means to value praising and worshipping with all our gifts!
Even if it takes 10-15 years for that gift to be recognized!
We all have different functions, and we can’t even know the difference that we make when we just offer that function to the service of the body.
What’s your function? What’s your gift?
According to our core values, we are a church that values all of it.
That means that Music, drama, and other arts are important ways to worship together and serve as opportunities to offer our first fruits to God.
Some of us are gifted with musical abilities, or dramatic abilities. For some of us, we are gifted with the ability to create or simply enjoy beautiful artwork.
Those are gifts.
Others of us aren’t so gifted!
Ward and Katy weren’t the typical people you see involved up front on a Sunday morning. I never saw either up front leading music or offering artwork or being in a skit.
Nevertheless, the gifts they gave the gathered body of Christ—I can say it transformed us.
We are one body, with many members. Each of us has a function. What’s yours?
Romans 12 isn’t the only place Paul uses body imagery to talk about the church. He comes back to it in 1 Corinthians, and references it at various points throughout the letters he wrote to the different churches.
It’s an easy metaphor to use, since we all have a body we know what he means—that each part has a function and can do that function better than any other part.
For example, some people can walk on their hands, but that’s really what the feet are designed to do. Eyes can’t smell, and a nose can’t see.
But you know, every ‘body’ has a mouth that can eat food that makes the stomach hurt.
(don’t worry, I’ll stop there) J
So this idea that we are all members of one body—it means that we might be really uncomfortable at times! It means that we’re all connected, and that one part can cause some pain and discomfort within the whole, even when it’s just doing its job.
For an example, I have another story about the church I grew up in.
There was a girl who went there who wasn’t much older than I was, and she started playing the trumpet sometime around Junior High.
I remember her first playing her trumpet during the prelude when she first started.
It wasn’t very good. In fact, in my Junior High appreciation for music, I thought it was awful.
It was loud and brassy and irritating, especially at 9:30 on a Sunday morning.
I didn’t like it. I thought for sure the adults would put a quick end to this girl playing the trumpet in church.
But she didn’t stop. In fact, she was encouraged!
She was just offering her gift—her first fruit still green on the vine.
Thank God she had the church that she did—that church that could receive that gift, that church that could deal with the stomachache and not spit her trumpet out.
She kept playing.
Maybe every other month or so, she’d play her trumpet.
And she got better. And we enjoyed it more.
And she went to college—and she kept playing. And she got even better.
And I might be wrong about this—but I think she went on to grad school, to learn how to play that trumpet even better.
And the last time I heard her play that trumpet in my home church, it was a sound as rich and smooth as honey. I can’t describe how when you hear it, you can’t help but be drawn into worship.
That trumpet is her first fruit. And as all fruit does, it ripened with time and practice and it needs a body that’s there to receive it like a stomach ache at times and like a soothing balm at others.
I know very few things for certain—but one is this—that the kingdom of God comes in power when people simply offer what they have to Jesus and to his Bride, the church.
It might be as simple as a few loaves and fish. It might be a trumpet solo.
It might be a simple story about that weeks bowling game, spoken with a speech impediment and ended like a letter. So I’ll ask again—what’s your function?
What’s your gift?
What makes this a church isn’t the preaching or the worship leading or the work that Christine and I do every week. What makes this a church isn’t the building that we’re in or even the music that we sing or the stories that we tell each other.
What makes this a church is the coming together—the sharing of our lives using all the gifts God has given us to express the glory and the grace of Jesus, the Living Word who came and dwelt among us, who redeems us and walks with us from now through eternity.
It’s the coming together, the giving and receiving of gifts not just for our own benefit, but for Christ and His glory.
But it can’t stop there! Our worship needs to reach beyond the people in this room. Offering what we have can’t just happen once a week on Sunday morning.
The core value continues, saying
We value drawing both young and old, established Christian and seeker into adoration and praise. We understand differences in worship style to be part of the richness of our life together, and attempt to experience that richness each Sunday.
Or, as Paul would say it in the passage this morning, love must be sincere.
It’s not enough to merely tolerate your brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s not enough to just endure the gifts they offer, or to put up with different expressions of worship than you might be comfortable with.
It might be enough at the beginning…but we need to be moving forward, towards embracing the gifts and the people who offer them—whether it’s Sunday morning or Thursday afternoon.
We each have a gift—but the question is whether we are willing to offer it like Ward did, like Katy did, and like Anna does? Can we be the church that sits through a stomach ache as the un-ripened fruit matures among us? I know that we can and we do.
There’s no question in my mind.
But can you, individually, trust us to take your gift and receive it gently? Are you willing to offer your gift—your first fruit—as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God?
I know it’s a scary thing to do.
Offering yourself comes at the risk of having your mind and your life transformed.
But isn’t that what church is about?
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.