First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Dr. Jane Florence
June 10, 2018
Scripture: 1 Corinthians3:1-11, 21
Sermon: “Take Me To Your Leader”
Once upon a time, in a land far far away, there was a fuss going on in the church. There was jealousy and quarreling in the church. There was gossip and bragging and back-biting happening in the church. Some were saying they were better than others in the church. Some had been members longer and they held it over the new comers. There were factions and frictions in the congregation. It’s hard to imagine, but true. It was a long, long time ago at the church in Corinth in Greece, half a world away, 2,000 years ago.
Some people were bragging because they were part of the founding members who join when the Apostle Paul started the church. Some people were bragging because they came during the golden years when Pastor Apollos was building the church. Some loved and were loyal to Paul and some loved and were loyal to Apollos. The Paul people thought his way was the only way, and the Apollos people thought his way was the right way.
Some of you have been here since Dr. Borland was the authority. Some of you came here when Denny was pastor. Some when Chad was here. For some of you, I’ve always been here. I’m the only one you’ve known here as senior pastor.
Paul writes a letter to the quarreling folks at Corinth. Paul writes something like: Apollos or Paul, Roger or Denny, Jimmy or Don, Chad or Jane they were just servants through whom you came to belong as the Lord assigned to each. Some planted, some watered, some weeded, some spread manure all over the place, but remember, it was God who gave the growth.
Last week, I finished packing my books. When the shelves were bare, it was hard. This thing I am about to do became more real. This week, I had done everything else, so it was time to clean out my desk. I opened the first drawer, the top, right hand one- the Go-To drawer. There were piles of pens and markers. I have a tendency to pick up a pen and walk away with it. If you’ve lost a pen in the last eleven years, I put them back in the workroom.
There were old red hot candies that had escaped my sweet tooth. I have a tendency to eat candy while writing sermons. These had rolled away into the drawer and melted into paper clips and rubber bands and desk dirt. I threw them out. Most of them. The ones I couldn’t brush most the ick off.
There were safety pins, a needle and thread. I packed them.
There was a bottle of Tylenol and Tums- both rattled with a lonely last remnant. So I swallowed them for good measure.
I found extra panty-hose, hair spray, and lip gloss. You know, the emergency items that are in all pastor’s right hand drawer. Right, guys?
Then there was the drawer of funeral bulletins. I looked at the pictures of all those loved ones whose lives we have celebrated these last eleven years. I found copies of marriage licenses indicating young people starting life together.
The archeological digs of the desk revealed pictures. I found a book that the youth Sunday School class made on my first Sunday here to help me get to know them. Those then high school seniors are now approaching their 30s! There were pictures of block parties and Silent Night Christmases, and Confirmation classes – how we have all grown up.
Way at the bottom, I found a scrap book from my very first church, when I was right out of seminary. There were cards from my ordination almost 20 years ago- oh my how reality bites!
While serving my first church, we built a new sanctuary. It was a big leap of faith for my little rural congregation tucked into a corner of a large corn field. We watched every day of construction as our new building took shape. I have pictures of the day they poured the foundation of that church. It was still dark when the line of cement trucks arrived. Not much shows in those first pictures but headlights and a dark morning sky and a promise of red dawn along the horizon. As truck after truck emptied its contents first the narthex was poured, then the main floor where the pews would later sit.
I was standing next to the contractor and a few early bird church folk. We were watching the sun rise and waiting for the last line of concrete trucks to arrive with their load to finish the foundation of the chancel area. I had an idea, “Don’t do anything!“ I yelled as I ran across the field to my office. I had a wall of crosses decorating it. I grabbed one and ran back to the foundation pouring. I asked permission, then, I stepped across rebars and 2×4 forms and placed the cross on the spot where I estimated the communion table would sit. Slowly oozing concrete enveloped the shiny silver cross.
When I left my assignment there a few years later, I wrote a letter to let the incoming pastor to let him know, the foundation of that church would hold strong.
Now, I was not here when the foundation of this church was poured in 1957. But I’ve been beneath this communion table. Below the sanctuary from end to end are the basement tunnels. There’s lots of concrete poured down there folks. I do not know if a silver cross is imbedded in it anywhere, but there is still the twisted remains of the steeple cross hit by the tornado of 1975. The building stood firm. The archives are below us also, containing the history of this congregation’s work for justice since the beginning. There are records of the clergy who have served here. Wes Perry in the 50s. Robert Naylor in the 60s. Roger Bourland in the 70s. Pastors who came, gave what they could and passed the privilege to the next. Each choosing with care how to build upon the previous.
As this church was being built in the late 50s, a new catchphrase entered sic-fi cartoon culture, “take me to your leader.” The United States was locked in a race with the Soviet Union for dominance in space, I guess the thought arose, “if we might reach ‘them,’ they might reach us.” So the space creatures (little green men) were depicted in cartoons talking to a horse or a pig or a tree, saying “take me to your leader.”
It has been my privilege to be your horse, pig, tree, pastor and leader for the last eleven years.
The last few months, your outpouring of affirmation as been overwhelming and a bit surprising. It’s not that you had not said it before, but I don’t think I quite heard it so well. Your kind words speak to my heart. You have also extended an invitation to my ego as well.
The Apostle Paul was wise in writing what he does. In case any of us pastors begin to think it’s all about us, Paul keeps our egos in check writing, ‘let no one boast about human leaders.’ It’s not about us. The foundation of the church is not about Perry, Naylor, Bourland, or Florence. The early church was not started on Paul or Apollos or Peter. It is the one who sends us here and sends us on that builds the church. No, it’s not the bishop.
Paul writes: All of us are God’s servants – working together, with each other, with you – with Cynthia, with Kent as they continue to build. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. The foundation is Christ.
When the visitor asks, “Take me to your leader.” don’t take them to the pastor’s office or show them the pictures down the hallway of previous pastors- all the old guys and the one woman. Your leader is not on that wall. Your leader is a Jewish mystic who studied and prayed and found union with the holy, sacred God that is within and beyond all. Your leader is a master of consciousness and offered a path through which all can find enlightenment as well. Your leader is a wisdom teacher intent on transforming people into realizing our full personhood created, lived and shared in the Divine. In vision of union with God, his passion of justice and mercy and grace and forgiveness and care and compassion became known. Your leader taught “the kingdom of heaven is within you”
Practice waking up and you will flow into God and God will flow into you and God will flow through you as we realize all are one.
Your leader is not leaving you.
I wrote Kent a letter to let him know, the foundation of this church will hold strong. It is built on a foundation that will stand into eternity. That’s the leader that you and I follow, the leader Kent Little knows and the one he will choose carefully how to build upon, for we are all God’s servants, working together, now and always.
May it be so.