First United Methodist Church
October 16, 2022
Rev. Lauren Hall
Finding a Way to Worship
On June 30, 2015, Copeland became the first African-American woman to be promoted to principal ballerina in American Ballet Theater’s 75-year history, which is one of the three leading classical ballet companies in the United States. Copeland's achievement was groundbreaking, as there have been very few African-American principal ballerinas at major companies, and she was the first at a major international company.
What’s most remarkable about Copeland’s achievements, however, isn’t that she is African American, rather it is that she got there at all.
The odds were against Misty from the time she began ballet. She overcame many obstacles. Although most professional ballerinas start dancing as toddlers, she was from a poor family and participated in her first ballet class at the Boys and Girls’ Club at the late age of 13. She had an extremely athletic build and did not have the typical look of a ballerina. However, she didn’t let any of that stop her. She worked hard every day, and she endured long hours at the studio to make up for lost time. She was told over and over again that she would never become a professional dancer. But she was persistent – she never gave up and in addition to her achievements in ballet, Copeland has become an author, a public speaker and stage performer.
Let us pray…
Loving God, we are blessed with many things, some of us have financial resources and some of us have remarkable talent. As we meditate upon your Word today, reveal to us how we are called to use and share these blessings. By the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to the message you have for us today. Amen.
As we begin our journey toward Commitment Sunday, let’s start with a check-up. Find your heartbeat – you can find it on your wrist, or you can find it on your neck. Did everyone find a pulse? If we checked our spiritual pulse, what would we find? Over the next couple weeks, we will find some ways to check our spiritual health. Some of you have already begun that process by completing the card you received with your bulletins, identifying what you love about our church. If you haven’t filled it out yet, think some more about it, and drop it in the offering plate on your way home. Meanwhile, let’s consider how our Scriptures begin to address the subject of spiritual health.
Our Jeremiah passage speaks to many of the things we are experiencing today. Think about it. As Jeremiah often does, he begins with a bit of a warning, and then leads into a statement of hope. And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. (28)
When Jeremiah spoke these words, the Israelites were in exile. They were scattered across the nation having no idea when they might return to their spiritual center – Jerusalem. Does this sound at all familiar? What we have been through over the past three years has been a bit of a struggle, and though I’ve only been a part of it for a couple of months, I’m sure God knows and senses our frustration. But how does this scripture speak to our situation? The parents have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge. (29) Don’t get bitter, he says – don’t feed each other sour grapes. Instead have hope, because a new covenant is coming. The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. (31) What does that mean for us?
In an earlier passage, we should have read this one last week, Jeremiah told the people to “build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” (29:5) Build up your families – multiply, do not decrease. Stay stronger together. And the most important verse, I think, comes at the end: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (29:7)
When you first discovered that the Sanctuary was unsafe to be in, you found a way to worship anyway. And then when the pandemic hit us, and we were told that we couldn’t even gather, we found a way to worship anyway. And then when it was ok to worship, and our Fellowship Hall wasn’t big enough for Social Distancing, we found a way to worship anyway. And during all of that, ministry with the community continued. It’s frustrating, and it’s not necessarily what we want, and it certainly isn’t where we want to end up, but that’s the thing, Jeremiah was telling his people that they shouldn’t give up hope, to pray for the welfare they received – in other words, be patient, look for the good that is happening around you and embrace it. Pray for it. Get involved. And multiply.
If the Israelites forgot who they were and simply faded into nothingness in exile, dying out family by family, Mary would not have existed to bear Jesus. There is a difference between just living in our culture and living a Christian life. Christ has called us to build the Kingdom. No matter where we find ourselves, the more we focus on where we want to be and start developing the building blocks for that future, the more fruit we will produce.
We do have some seeds planted in some really good soil. What I’m asking you to do today is to remember and share some of those seeds. If you haven’t already done so, write down what you love about our church or where we see Christ active in our lives and in our church. Some of you might even share illustrations of the ways we do good as a church and how this “good” impacts the community.
A few years ago, Bishop Robert Schnase published a devotional called Practicing Extravagant Generosity: Daily Readings on the Grace of Giving. In one of the readings, he recalls a springtime when he saw various birds preparing to build their nests. He writes:
The notion of building nests is often used as a metaphor to describe people successfully providing for their own comforts. If someone arrives at a career position of some ease and security, friends say, “You’ve built quite a nest for yourself here!” . . . The word nest often connotes shelter, coziness, homelike, comfortable.
In actual fact, the nests which birds build are not for the birds who build them, but for their young, for the next generation, for the future of the species. The hours of carrying straw, sticks, and mud; the days of defensive watchfulness; and the weeks of endless feeding are all for the benefit of the new ones, the young, the future.
Now consider “nests” we build in our churches. The buildings, programs, ministries, job descriptions, and services we build—are they for our own comfort and coziness? Or are they to further the faith and provide for future generations? Does our giving serve us and our needs or serve God by serving the mission of the church to reach new people? Vibrant, fruitful congregations focus as much energy, prayer, and planning on those who are outside the congregation as they do on those who are already active in the congregation. (pp. 14–15)
Our gospel reading encourages us to be persistent in our prayers. While there are many ways we can interpret this particular scripture, what stood out to me is that because the widow kept asking for justice, the judge finally noticed her and took action. Misty Copeland didn’t just start taking ballet lessons and then rise to the top. Someone noticed her grace and movement on a school drill team and convinced her to try ballet. Most of us don’t have the talent that Misty Copeland was blessed with, but we do have the ability to notice talent in others and to take action. Perhaps the message here is that Jesus is calling us to notice the good things we see happening in our congregation, to make connections and share our resources, and to develop that “good” into meaningful and Kingdom building ministries.
There is much to love about our church, and we don’t celebrate those things enough. I invite you to join this time of celebration over the next three weeks. Next week we will identify a person in the church who has made a contribution to your spiritual growth. Put some thought into that. Come next week prepared to share and to celebrate. Let us pray…
Faithful God, help us to see how blessed we truly are, both in material possessions and in the blessings you shower upon us each day. When our prayers are absent, speak to us and return our attention to you. When our prayers and attitudes are self-serving, humble us and bring us back to compassionate and caring ways. God of faith and God of glory, give us confidence when our faith falters. Empower us with your Spirit, that we may pray with confidence and faith, and with tenacity and courage, all the days of our lives. Amen.