I don’t know about you, but I’m still in Thanksgiving mode even though I know today is the first Sunday in Advent.
So I was reading this passage from I Corinthians this week with Thanksgiving on my mind, and it got me thinking about my childhood, specifically my dad.
I’m to the age where I’m starting to be thankful for my parents in different ways than I was earlier in my life. There are things about my father that I just didn’t appreciate when I was growing up, but now that I’m old enough to notice the ways that I’m like him, I have a new appreciation for how he and my mom raised us.
For example, sometimes we’d be driving along the highway early in the morning.
I’d be half-dozing in the passenger seat of our little pickup truck, and he’d point out the beauty of the morning mist that was hanging low in the valleys between the rolling hills of the countryside.
Or we’d step outside in the middle of winter, when it was cold enough that you felt like you were getting slapped in the face…and before we’d get in the car, he’d stop us just to make sure we appreciated the beauty of the unbroken snow and the piercing cold that filled our lungs as we took a deep breath.
He had a knack for noticing beauty at unexpected times, in unexpected places…and he liked to draw our attention to it when he saw it.
Sometimes I didn’t see the beauty at all. I would just play along like kids do when their parents are being weird. 🙂
But, on the other hand, I have a whole memory bank filled with mental snapshots of beauty even today because of my dad’s insistence that I stop what I was doing and look.
Like I’ve already said, I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time.
But looking back on my life, I can see I’ve got this same trait, and I am really thankful to my dad for passing it along.
I’ve come to appreciate unexpected beauty.
You know, like the way the sunlight hits the books on my desk when I’m working on a sermon sometimes. Or the smile on the face of someone who has no idea they’re being watched in conversation.
Or, less obvious, the way a cold October rain slaps you in the face and soaks into your shoes when you’re running to your car.
It’s a different kind of beauty, I know…but it’s all a part of life, right?
…I know that the moments I’m describing to you don’t seem all that special on one hand.
They’re just regular moments in regular days.
But on the other hand, they’re exceptional moments, filled with beauty.
The biggest difference is a matter of perspective.
Now, 15-20 years ago, I was on the receiving end of these moments. My dad would stop whatever it was we were doing, and he’d make me notice whatever it was he wanted me to notice.
I got in the habit of giving lip-service to the beauty, because sometimes he wouldn’t let us get going again until one of us kids would say something like “wow, that’s great …”.
You learn to say “wow, that’s great” pretty quickly when you’re standing outside in the bitter cold waiting to start stacking firewood again.
But now I’m old enough to catch myself in those same moments.
Only now, I’m on the other end.
And I can understand my dad a little better now.
When your eyes are opened to the kind of beauty that just fills the present moment wherever you’re at…you just can’t help but try to point it out to whoever you’re with, you know?
Well, I think that’s what Paul was trying to do here in the first chapter of first Corinthians.
In fact, I like to think that’s what Paul was trying to do in all the ‘Thanksgiving’ portions of his letters.
He was trying to get his readers to understand the fullness of what he was feeling towards them, the fullness and the beauty of what he saw with his spiritual eyes turned to Jesus.
I’ve been calling it the fullness of that moment, but there’s another, more biblical way to talk about it, and that is ‘fullness of life’.
It’s available to all of us.
It’s just a matter of perspective.
Paul writes to the Corinthians, saying “I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way–in all your speaking and in all your knowledge.”
We read that and it’s easy to kind of gloss over it, because this is language he uses frequently in his letters. In most of the letters Paul writes, he includes a section towards the beginning where he gives thanks to God for the recipients and their faith.
And if you’re like me, you’re naturally suspicious of what he’s saying because you see it as a way of buttering them up.
At least I know when I’m going say something that will hurt someone, I’ll start with the good stuff. I’ll butter them up a little first so they can hear what I want them to hear.
But you know, from what I read about the city of Corinth, and knowing the kinds of problems the church there had…it makes me read this section in a different way.
What if Paul really meant what he said?
What if Paul was kind of like my dad, trying to point out this awesome beauty without really having words to describe it?
What if he really meant it, when he told the church at Corinth: “you have been enriched in every way–in all your speaking and in all your knowledge–because of the grace given to you in Christ Jesus?”
From all accounts, Corinth had a reputation maybe like Las Vegas has for us today.
We’ve heard Las Vegas referred to as “Sin city”.
Well, in ancient times there was a saying recorded in some ancient poetry, “to live like a Corinthian.” It was a saying that was used to express an especially immoral way of life.
And not surprisingly, the church there had some problems.
For starters, they were beginning to break up into factions, or ‘cliques’.
Some of the people liked a guy named Apollos, and claimed to follow him.
Others liked Peter and claimed to follow him.
Others remembered Paul with fondness, and claimed to follow him.
Still others said “a plague on all your houses! I belong to Christ!”
And so Paul writes this letter, and he opens with such grace and peace, that it’s almost hard to hear what he’s saying.
Our ears have been so poisoned by cynicism, sarcasm, and judgmental rhetoric that it’s hard to hear anything simply for what it is.
We don’t know how to listen anymore. Unless someone is spouting venom, we think their message must not be important.
Especially if what they’re saying is as simple as “In Christ you have been enriched in every way.”
And that’s the only message I really want to give you this morning.
Pay attention and notice the fullness of life that has been given to you as a gracious gift from God.
Pay attention, you who follow Apollos. Pay Attention, you who follow Paul.
Wake up, you who read Marcus Borg, and you who read N.T. Wright.
Wake up, you followers of Beth Moore, and you followers of Karen Armstrong.
Shake off your slumber; … You pink mennos and you blue mennos and you comfortable middle class.
Wake up and pay attention! There is beauty all around you.
Fullness of life lies beyond the cumbersome agendas we so faithfully follow and carry and promote!
We have been enriched through Christ! That’s all there is to it!
The thing is, unless we learn to watch for it, we won’t notice it.
I thought my dad was odd when I was a kid.
I thought it was odd when he’d make us look at a snow-covered field, or a river gently bending through the woods.
But I’ve come to believe there’s a fine line between ‘odd’ and ‘awesome’.
The difference is your point of view.
Where are you looking? Are your moments filled with eager anticipation, or general boredom?
Do you spend more time in imagining a new future, or in your memories of the past and how things used to be?
We need to become faithful observers of our surroundings, and we need the ability to draw attention to the beauty we find.
Not just when it’s obviously awe-inspiring, like a sunset or a sunrise; but also in the thousand moments of our days when the veil between heaven and earth seems as thin as tissue paper, and the glory of God presses in so close we can almost feel it.
It’s not always easy. When you’re going through difficult times it can be really hard to find any beauty at all. And trying to force it doesn’t really help anyone.
We are the people of God.
To embrace the fullness of life that God offers is to embrace both the beauty and the pain; and not to shrink from either.
You can’t fully appreciate the beauty of our world until you can respect the darkness as well.
But that’s a topic for another sermon.
You have been enriched through Christ.
Brothers and Sisters at Millersburg Mennonite Church, you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for Jesus to be revealed.
So wake up!
Pay attention, and turn your eyes to the cracks in the veil, where God’s fullness if bursting upon you!
God, who has called us all into fellowship, is faithful.