Thursday, September 14

Stir What Ya Got!

Stir What Ya Got!
2 Corinthians 4:1-12
September 10, 2006
Service of Installation for Rev. Tripp Hudgins and Community Church of Wilmette

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I bring you greetings from North Shore Baptist Church, though I am far from the only representative from North Shore here tonight. (Ask NSBC folks to raise hands.) Tripp, it is hard to overstate the joy of this moment for me and Doug. To watch God use North Shore to awaken your call and form your pastoral identity, and to be engaged in lively reflection with you throughout that process, has been one of the most gratifying experiences of my ministry. You are a child of North Shore; you’ll never escape it!

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 2 Cor. 4:7

I think Tripp would agree with me that Southerners are the best story-tellers. One of the elderly saints at the First Baptist Church of Detroit during the time we were pastors there was Red Lundsford. He was from Georgia. He told many wonderful stories, but one in particular he told to me over and over again. And it was a very strange story. He said: “Me and my friends were playin’ church down by the ole farm pond. It was time to have a baptism. So we grabbed us an ole cat and tried to dunk it. Well that durn thing was a-squirmin’ and a-hissin’. It like to tore my arms to pieces. So I said ‘Aw, jes sprinkle it like the Methodists do an’ let it go to hell!”

I told you it was a strange story; an embarrassing one even. It took me several years to figure out the point of the story and why he kept telling it to me. I believe that Red was trying to put his finger on a fundamental difference between his past (in the beginning decades of the 20th century) and his present. He was describing a time when church was central to everyone’s life. So much so that little boys would play “church” the way they play soccer or video games today; a time when theological differences among the various brands of Christians were considered life or death issues; a time when churches held a premier place of authority for the culture at large. Red looked around Detroit of the 1980’s and 1990’s and knew he was living his Christian life in a profoundly different era.

The community of my childhood was much like this one. It was a genteel, well-groomed suburb of Detroit. Even there, even then (in the 50’s and 60’s) the church had a central place as a legitimizing, meaning-making institution. We lived in “Christendom.” There was nothing to do on Sunday but go to church. Everything else was closed! I can remember my father saying that young men entering the auto companies would be subtly told that to get ahead, they must be active in a church. And so, the churches were full. All you had to do was open the doors and people came. They came for worship, they came for Sunday School, they came for potlucks, they came for choir. If you don’t remember that time here at Community Church, I’m sure you’ve been told about it. But you don’t need to be told, Community Church and Tripp, that you are beginning your journey together as pastor and people in a different day, in a different time. Our Christian identity is no longer at the center of culture. It has been relegated to the margins.

Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, defends his ministry to a small, struggling band of Christians. They were on the margins too. Their relationship to the world around them was more similar to ours today, that that of mainline Christianity in its glorious heyday. The Corinthian church lived as a mission outpost in the midst of a host of belief systems, including unbelief, and so do we.

Paul was speaking of his own ministry when he said we are persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. He was talking about himself when he said “we have this treasure in clay jars…” But it’s not just Paul. If every believer has gifts and responsibility for ministry (as Paul himself says)… if we affirm the Baptist principle of the priesthood of all believers…then we can find ourselves in these words. I invite especially you Community Church folks and your new pastor to put yourselves in Paul’s “we” this evening. “We have this treasure in clay jars.”

Let’s face it. To the majority of residents of Wilmette, your building, your organization, your programs are like so many mason jars in my grandmother’s cellar: quaint, but rather pointless. Never have our jars of clay seemed so fragile. We are afflicted… with empty pews, shrinking budgets, flooding basements. We are perplexed…we wonder what happened. Did we do something wrong? “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” We are afflicted…but not crushed! We are perplexed…but not driven to despair! To wring our hands over the fragility of our jars is to overlook the treasure. The treasure is “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” The treasure, sisters and brothers, is the good news of God’s saving love in Christ Jesus. And that Good News is anything but quaint or pointless.

As I said, Southerners tell the best stories. This one is from a Biblical scholar and college president, who also apparently has a sweet tooth. Traveling late on a Sunday night, he stopped at a roadside diner in Texas hill country for a cup of coffee. As was his habit, he quickly used up all the sugar packets the waitress had left on the table for him. As she passed by he said, “Excuse me, may I have some more sugar, please?” Being a no-nonsense all-night diner waitress, she put her hands on her hips, leaned over him and said, “Stir what ya’ got!”

You all may be clay jars….but you’ve got treasure. “Stir what ya’ got!”

--It’s no use sitting around wishing for something more, or something else, for some gimmick or magic trick to bring back the good old days.
--It’s no use waiting for more people, more money, more influence. You’ve already got what you need: the Gospel of God’s redemptive love. “Stir what ya’ got!”
--It’s no use trying to attract people by being like every other group in Willmette… “See, we’re just nice people, look what good friends we are.” When that’s your main message, you let your treasure sink down to the bottom of the cup. “Stir what ya’ got!” Stir it up for all to see. Tripp, I’ve heard you say “We’ve got the best story anywhere. Why aren’t we telling it?” When newcomers walk through that door, they’re not taking that risk, they’re not venturing into a new place, just to find friends. They’re coming seeking an encounter with the redemptive power of God. And that power is among you, no matter how frail you feel. “Stir what ya’ got!”

And it’s no use looking to Tripp to be your Savior. We have only one Savior. And his name sure as heck isn’t “George”! No, Tripp’s job is not to save this church. Tripp’s job is to keep on handing out spoons so you all can “Stir what ya’ got!” And while I’m at it, saving this church is not the point. The point is to live as a mission outpost, a Christ-like community with a call from God. That’s what I mean when I say “Stir what ya’ got.” By God’s grace you already have everything you need to be effective from the margins.
You have the Gospel.
You have the power of God’s Holy Spirit.
You have a God-given mission.

Community Church of Wilmette and Tripp, pastor and people, there’s treasure in your old mason jars. Stir it up. Stir it up until you are grabbed by that unique part of God’s great mission that is yours…
…and carried by the power of God into the future.
Amen.