STIR THE POT
Stir the Pot
Thank you for the invitation to be with you on this, St. Andrew’s anniversary Sunday. Anniversaries are a great time for celebration and that’s what is happening today. It is good to celebrate – to come together, brothers and sisters in Christ, together in worship – to make a joyful noise to the Lord…as the Psalmist puts it…for the Lord is good and his steadfast love endures forever. On days like today we look back over the years and remember gatherings, other special occasions, and of course the people who we shared them with. Anniversaries though not only provide an opportunity for reflection on the past, but remind us to look around, to give thanks to the Lord our God who has gathered us here today, and to look down the road as a congregation, encouraging one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.
As we look back we know that throughout the years this congregation has been a place where many families have gathered to worship…to pray…to sing…to study…and to enjoy fellowship together. Families have gathered for baptisms…for weddings…and for funerals. Some of those memories are shared by just a few people…others by many families. Some memories are precious…some bring a tear…a sigh…and some bring a smile to your face. But whether the memory is special for one or many…the link for all memories is that they are a part of the story of St. Andrew’s…a branch of the fellowship of Christ’s people. And if it was not for Christ, we would not be gathered here this morning. If it were not for Christ’s death and resurrection we would not be here. It is not what we have done in the past…as good as those deeds were. It is not our relationships with one another…as cherished and as caring as they are. It is Jesus Christ that has loved us and chosen us and given us life…and without him this building is nothing but an empty shell.
But thank God, this building was built with the desire to share the gospel message in this community… and that it was built with Christ as its cornerstone…and it is Christ’s message that continues to be its reason for being today. And we must not forget that.
The words we read earlier from Proverbs remind us to not forget. “My child, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
Trust in the Lord. In all ways acknowledge him. Words that we should heed as we look down the road. We know that the road a congregation travels is not always easy. The challenges of being a congregation today are many. It is easy to become discouraged. But the challenges of being the church are certainly not new. Read through the New Testament letters and you quickly see the many challenges that the early church faced…way back when. And even in the Presbyterian Church in Canada there are challenges. I found an old article that speaks to some of those challenges…challenges that even 100 years ago, congregations faced. The following article appeared in the April 1910 edition of the Presbyterian Record. The article bemoans the trend towards a lack of religious obligation.
“Escaping from God would fittingly paraphrase the notion that some people… especially young people… seem to have… if one may judge from their lack of any evident feeling of religious obligation… when, on week end parties… they spend Sunday in the country. There is nothing more startling to any thoughtful… not to say religious observer… than the way in which Sunday is being made a day of strenuous pleasure taken by ‘Saturday to Monday’ city people invading quiet country haunts or lakeside watering places, with noisy disregard to the hours of the day of rest and worship.”
So even a hundred years ago, church attendance was a concern… and the distractions of other activities being undertaken on Sunday… and the misplaced priorities of the youth… my goodness that all sounds so familiar. If only stores weren’t open on Sunday… if only hockey practices were scheduled for other times than Sunday morning… if only people didn’t head off to the country and make Sunday a day of strenuous pleasure as apparently was the case 100 years ago… if only… then our churches would be filled. 100 years ago the expectation was that people would just come to church. They would attend the church of their fathers and forefathers. Church buildings were geographically located so that they people could get to them with horse and buggy. Times have changed, and no longer is the church building the focal point of a community. And for some it is not a part of life at all.
How many of you have heard of the ‘Nones’? Not ‘nun’…but ‘none’. The Nones are the non-religious, who when asked to identify the group they belong to, they opt to tick the box for ‘none’. According to the Pew Research Council in the USA, 1/3 of adults under the age of 30 identify themselves as ‘nones’. In Canada, the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences states that one in four adults declare no religious affiliation. The reasons are varied, including bad experiences and negative undertones, but for some they simply just don’t see any need of it. They haven’t totally thrown out belief in God, but don’t want the trappings…the perceived negative trappings…associated with organized religion. The nones are known as believing without belonging. Or as one writer put it, rather than referring to the group as ‘nones’ we should say ‘somes’…for some of the nones are seeking more. They are caring and compassionate, but they just aren’t participating. Diana Butler Bass in her book “Christianity After Religion” calls this trend ‘participation crash’. There is a weariness with the institutional church. The church – whether it means to or not – is driving away those who care about the faith but have grown to dislike the organized church. If the current trend continues, today’s church will be remembered not for evangelizing the world but for creating the largest religious group known as the ‘nones’.
Well that’s a bit of a downer message for an anniversary service. Or is it? The church is Christ together with his people. All people. The gospel message that the church proclaims is for all people. The challenge for the church is to keep its focus on Christ and the gospel message. Too easily the church gets distracted by many things. Just like in that wonderful, challenging gospel story of Martha and Mary. Not a traditional anniversary reading, but a story that reminds us to keep focused on the better part.
When looking at the story of Martha and Mary, we often see it as a story about the merits of doing or not doing tasks. Of action versus contemplation. But we know that there is merit in action and merit in contemplation. Both are important. And Jesus never says to Martha, your gift of hospitality…of stirring that pot of soup…is not important. His words to Martha are said in response to her words of judgment against Mary and the implication that Jesus himself didn’t care that Martha was left to stir the pot all by herself. Martha was weary of stirring the pot…and her weariness distracted her from the reason she was stirring the pot in the first place. Martha welcomed Jesus into her home. She saw that he was tired and hungry and so she went to prepare some food for him. But her gift of hospitality went from being an offering to a chore when she looked at her sister Mary…then put her expectations onto Mary…and then finally told Jesus to tell Mary what for. With every passing moment Martha was becoming more and more resentful of her sister Mary… and rather than ask Mary herself, she asks Jesus to intervene. From Martha’s perspective Jesus should have seen that she was becoming overwhelmed and then responded to her need by telling Mary to stop sitting there and do something useful. She wanted Jesus to get on Mary’s case. Why Jesus can’t figure it out is beyond Martha’s reasoning at the time and instead of asking Mary directly, she goes to Jesus and says: “Can’t you see what’s happening here! Do something about it. Lord, don’t you care?” Martha was tired of stirring the pot…and so rather than stir the pot of soup she was cooking…she decided to stir the pot of resentment.
But Jesus doesn’t do her bidding for her. Jesus doesn’t tell Mary to get up and go help her sister Martha in the kitchen. Nor does Jesus scold Martha. What he does is gently correct her. He says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.” The one necessary thing was fellowship with Jesus. Time with Jesus… listening to him… and Jesus was not going to take that away from her.
When we think that the better part is what we are doing, and the accolades we will receive from doing…over and above who we are doing them for…then we have not chosen the better part. The busyness is a distraction from the better part. As the writer of Hebrews put it: “Let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” The better part is not judging the actions of others by how we would act and then by extension putting that action…or lack of action…on another. The better part is keeping the focus and remembering why we stir the pot.
How does the writer of Hebrews put it: “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” Provoke. Not usually a positive word. Nor is stir the pot usually used in an encouraging way. Provoke…stir the pot…and do so, not with distraction, but with encouragement to love and good deeds. Provoke one another to love and good deeds. Stir the pot to love and good deeds.
Encouragement is a powerful tool that we should embrace as Christians. I believe that encouragement can transform the church and our relationships in amazing ways. Way back when the letter to the Hebrews was written, encouragement was at a short supply. The people had become discouraged and default setting was to not bother showing up for worship. If you read further on the 10th chapter you get a pretty good sense that life as a Christian had been anything but easy. The congregation had endured abuse…persecution…suffering…and the loss of property…and now they were plain weary. They were weary in well-doing. They were weary of the demands put upon them. They were weary of following the Christian way. And in their weariness they started to drift away. They started to neglect their faith. And as the years went by the weariness grew.
The early church had challenges. The church today has challenges. But when we keep the focus on Christ and Christ’s message. When we stir the pot to love and good deeds…then we are heading in the right direction.
On this anniversary Sunday as we reflect on the church…as we remember the stories…and we ponder the challenges…I want you to look around this sanctuary. Today the pews are full. But we know that is not always the case every Sunday. My challenge to you today…on this anniversary Sunday…is to take time this week to pray asking God to bring someone to mind who you can then invite to church. Perhaps that person is a ‘none’ or a ‘some’. Invite them to church…for worship…for fellowship. Invite them to come and see. Invite them to come and be a part of this community. They will be every bit as much of a part of our congregation as we are…if we invite them in. Some will come without any church background. Some will come with a church memory from childhood. Some will come from different faith traditions. Some will challenge us to stretch ourselves…to see the world through different eyes. Some will challenge us to change…if we let them. It is not up to us to grow the church. But it is up to us to plant the seed…and water the soil. As the apostle Paul put it so well when writing to the Church in Corinth: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.’ God gave the growth.
So as we celebrate St. Andrew’s anniversary this day…may we all rejoice in the blessings of God. Blessings that God has poured out on this congregation over the years. And as we move into the future, may God continue to bless this congregation as we stir the pot of love and good deeds, doing so always in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.