St. Matthew’s Sermon 03-24-2019


St. Matthew’s Sermon 03-24-2019

We Are Not Alone

Isaiah 55:1-9, Psalm 63:1-8, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, Luke 13:1-9

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

Back when I was in the clock business I was an authorized service representative for several clock makers, one of which, Ridgeway, was a company in Virginia. Once, when on a warranty service call, the owner of one of their grandfather clocks told me the humorous story of her phone call to the company that preceded my visit. While the company representative was asking questions that might narrow-down the problem she asked “Is the clock on a ‘tall’ floor”?

Understandably, the owner had a problem with answering such an odd question; like… can a floor be ‘tall’; how ‘tall’ can a floor be before it’s not a floor anymore; if a floor gets too ‘tall’ does it become a ceiling?

After several rounds of back and forth, trying to clarify the question, it was discovered that the whole problem was rooted in the thick southern accent of the company rep; she wasn’t asking about the height of the floor but the composition of the floor; not asking if it was tall, rather if it was “tile”.

Even though both were speaking English, the varied dialect was getting in the way of understanding.

Another way our dialect varies is rooted deeper in the rules of proper grammar than in pronunciation; this shows up quite clearly with the word ‘you’. In “proper” English you is either singular or plural. Of course, any southerner can tell you that there is a separate word for the plural; that being ‘y’all’. In Pittsburghese, common to the Ohio River Valley, ‘you-unz’ or ‘yinz’ might be heard. In our area, in fact in most of the northern and western states, we might express the plural, when we feel it’s necessary, as ‘you guys’ unless you’re from south-Philly where everybody knows that to make a noun (or pronoun) plural you just add an ‘s’ to the end resulting, of course, in ‘yous’.

 

It’s funny, yes, but necessary thoughts to have in mind as we look at a few peculiar problems in today’s reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians; all found in just one verse, verse 13. Let me repeat that for you… “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it”.

I’m fairly sure that you have heard the saying “God will not give you more that you can bear”. I’ve heard it many times; sometimes directed toward me when I was in times of difficulty. Maybe it’s just me but I never really found comfort in that statement; it always raised the question; “Why would God do this to me in the first place”? I might respond angrily with something like “Who does God think I am, superman”! Or I might just collapse in resignation thinking “I wish God didn’t think I was so strong”. And, not just me, in times before I became a minister and even more since I entered the ministry, I have heard people, sincerely intending to be encouraging, tell a struggling person “God will not give you more that you can bear” and I have seen those struggling respond in much the same way I did.

The problem here is that saying “God will not give you more that you can bear” is a misreading of Paul’s writing. Listen again to what Paul wrote… “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength.” The verse does not implicate God in being the one doing the testing; the thought that God is the source of the burden is not there. The thought that God will not allow the burden, whatever of the source, to crush us is there; that is the comforting news!

The misquoting of the verse is getting in the way of understanding.

Another thing about this verse comes up in the translation problem that brings the Greek word peirazō (pay-raz oh) to either “test” or “tempt” / “testing” or “tempting”. The New Revised Standard Version of the bible that we use here at St. Matthew’s uses “test”. Three other common translations that I looked at; The King James, the American Standard, and the New American Standard all use “tempt”. This, mixed with the misquoting, suggests that God would not only lay burdens on us but would also “tempt” us. The difference in the original Greek is seen in the motive of the one doing the testing or tempting. Evil tempts us into failing our faith; the world might tempt us into going astray. But a friend may test our character to open our eyes to our own flaws; and God might test us to determine and strengthen our character but God would nottemptus in an effort to make us fail.

The translation is getting in the way of our understanding.

A third problem found in this verse is in the use of the word “you”. Paul begins the first sentence “No testing has overtaken “you” that is not common to everyone” and ends the last sentence with “but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that “you” may be able to endure it”. What we so easily miss is that in both cases, you is plural.

Now, in the first, it is still complicating. I could speak the words before this group, in the plural, and still mean two different things. If I say “No testing has overtaken “yous guys…” I could mean you as the group; or you, any individual in the group. But in the second there is a clear and important difference when recognizing the plural; it is an emphatic “y’all”! Think of it this way; “No testing has overtaken you, Ken; that together with us, we cannot endure” and (that is an important and) “No testing has overtaken you, St. Matthew’s Congregation, that together we cannot endure”

In grasping this, what we hear Paul telling the Corinthian Church, and us, is that if one is carrying a burden we can endure; if we are carrying a burden, we can endure! We (each one) and we (all) do not carry the burden alone and do not endure alone.

Mistaking the plural for the singular gets in the way of our understanding.

And then there’s that word “endure”. When used in the context of bearing burdens we may think “enduring” as a perpetual condition; having the strength or commitment to continue through life regardless of the added burden. But Paul, using the familiar story of the Exodus, reminds us that hard times do not last forever, and in the last sentence reiterates that fact by writing “…but with the testing [God] will also provide the way out…”

In just one verse we find all this information and all this opportunity for misunderstanding. But with it Paul reminds us that we are not in this, sometimes burdensome, life alone. He reminds us of Christ’s vision of the Church as a community living as one; each individual joined with the others, that community joined with Christ and Christ and the community joined with God; and in that union every one, God, Christ, and the people, are feeling the burden of each one, and every one is bearing and enduring the burdens together.

Let nothing get in the way of understanding.

May we all be one.

Amen

 

Isaiah 55:1-9
55:1 Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
55:2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.
55:3 Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.
55:4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.
55:5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.
55:6 Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near;
55:7 let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
55:8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
55:9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Psalm 63:1-8
63:1 O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
63:2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.
63:3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
63:4 So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name.
63:5 My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
63:6 when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
63:7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
63:8 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

1 Corinthians 10:1-13
10:1 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea,
10:2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,
10:3 and all ate the same spiritual food,
10:4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.
10:5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.
10:6 Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did.
10:7 Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.”
10:8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.
10:9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents.
10:10 And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.
10:11 These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come.
10:12 So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.
10:13 No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Luke 13:1-9
13:1 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
13:2 He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?
13:3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.
13:4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them–do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?
13:5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
13:6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.
13:7 So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’
13:8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it.
13:9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”