Sermon
September 24, 2000
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
Write to Rev. Hamilton

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Scripture Reading

Mark 9:30-37

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want

anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them,

"The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and

three days after being killed, he will rise again." 32 But they did not

understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked

them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" 34 But they were silent, for

on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat

down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must

be last of all and servant of all." 36 Then he took a little child and put it

among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 "Whoever welcomes

one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not

me but the one who sent me." (NRSV)

Proverbs 31:10-31 10 A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious

than jewels. 11 The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no

lack of gain. 12 She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.

13 She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. 14 She is like

the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from far away. 15 She rises

while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for

her servant-girls. 16 She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her

hands she plants a vineyard. 17 She girds herself with strength, and makes

her arms strong. 18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her

lamp does not go out at night. 19 She puts her hands to the distaff, and

her hands hold the spindle. 20 She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out

her hands to the needy. 21 She is not afraid for her household when it

snows, for all her household are clothed in crimson. 22 She makes herself

coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple. 23 Her husband is known

in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land. 24 She makes

linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchant with sashes. 25

Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.

26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her

tongue. 27 She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat

the bread of idleness. 28 Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband

too, and he praises her: 29 "Many women have done excellently, but you

surpass them all." 30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman

who fears the LORD is to be praised. 31 Give her a share in the fruit of

her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates. (NRSV)

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Sermon:  Martha Stewart doesn't live here.

A year or 2 after we moved to New Milford some friends from California

called to say they were going to visit us. We had been in the same gourmet cooking

group at our church in Bishop. We were very excited - and planned a really

special dinner for them - and then decided to take them to see the Silo, as

a special treat. We knew that there was nothing like it in Bishop. The

day they were to arrive I slaved in the kitchen trying to make sure that

everything was perfect - I was really out to impress them - I was consumed

with putting together a real gourmet meal.

After the trip to the Silo and the meal that had taxed all of my energies,

We sat back to just visit. The husband said, "well this was certainly a

nice meal - thank you. (I beamed) then he added " you know we were just

down visiting Kathy's roommate from college - she is a good cook too - and

you should see her house. Wow - we had a great time - it was like staying

in a fancy bed and breakfast - maybe you've even heard of her - Martha

Stewart?"

It wasn't long after that that I decided to into the ministry. Obviously,

my calling was not going to be leading the women of the world to greater

entertaining heights.

Our amazing woman from Proverbs always reminds me of Martha Stewart. But

the passage is more about function than it is form. It is more about motives

than roles. It is more like poetry than a job description.

Proverbs opens with Woman Wisdom crying out in the streets… telling all who

would hear - to heed the call of wisdom on their lives, she says: if you

live within the commandments of wisdom you will understand the fear and the

knowledge of the Lord. Our passage closes the book of Proverbs and

illustrates the fulfillment of that promise. Our amazing woman is

living within the commandments of wisdom. All of her efforts are the embodiment of

God's call on her life. She understands the fear and the knowledge of the

Lord. She is doing her best to live faithfully.

Yes, she is a great woman, but not because of what she is doing, The

motivation behind the form is the issue: what compels her to do it. There

is a difference between a person who outwardly does what they know looks good.

They do good works to benefit the self. Those who live faithfully work to

the benefit of others.

The question for disciples of Jesus is: What is greatness?

It was the question that tripped up the disciples who were traveling with

Jesus - when they found themselves arguing about who was the greatest.

Jesus challenges them on the nature of true greatness… Greatness - Jesus

says - looks like this - a welcoming of those who are considered the least in

society - children. In his world children were not considered to be a full

persons - worthy of respect - until they reached the age of maturity because

so many of them died before they grew into maturity.

Jesus says: greatness is measured by faithful living. It is the motivation

that denotes the heart of faithful living.

Consider this life. A woman with young children - abused and neglected as

a child she had vowed to make their home a warm and loving place at all times.

She wanted them to have everything that she didn't have, security,

constant attention, the right clothes, and all of the opportunities that she missed

out on. She did her best, constantly busy, driving them from activity to

activity, setting up the best play dates, she became super mom - She was a

servant to her dream for her kids - yet, there was still a lingering ache

in her heart. Each time someone slighted her child, she was hurt beyond

belief. Jealousy and anger began to consume her… She knew that she wasn't

happy, but she kept up her frantic pace to create a perfect life for her

children. When suddenly she woke up - and noticed that her children weren't happy

either. Had she failed? Well - she had provided them with all that she

never had - but something was missing. Outwardly it all looked wonderful - but

inwardly something was askew. That was the year that she signed up to be a

mentor for underprivileged children in the school district not far from her

home. She planned to fit it in between all of her family obligations… one

hour each week - not a problem. Soon she was there one hour, for each of 5

children. Then she found herself picking up a needed toothbrush, or a new

pair of socks, soon she was arranging much need visits to the eye doctor…

finally she was responsible for arranging for a huge group of these kids to

attend camp this past summer… she raised the money to buy camp clothes,

sleeping bags and back packs. She found a way to pay their camp fees.

And she says - I never intended for all of this to happen… it just grew out

of my own pain and suffering. I identified with those children - and I knew

that no one was happy when I was trying to create perfect life for my own

children. They already had my devotion. I was called to use my pain and

suffering to bring some relief into the lives of those who were truly

suffering. God found a way to use the sorrow of my childhood to create joy

for the children that I can help. And that gives me great joy. Faith -

full living. I love the term Faith full. A life filled with faith - everyday - filled to

the brim - like a cup filled to overflowing - so that it runs over,

splashes onto all everyone around. Faithful living effects all those who

even get in the vicinity. It flows outward - it creates new possibilities -

It creates new life.

Faith full living isn't about doing what looks good, it isn't about

greatness. It isn't even about what you should do or ought to do. God

embraces us in our struggles, just as Jesus embraced the children.

Faithful living is giving God a chance to embrace you, to transform the pain,

sorrow, disappointments, and challenges of your life into gifts… and then finding

away to exercise them as gifts. Faithful living is about doing what feels

right -what feels authentic. When you are faithful to God you are also

faithful to yourself.. Faithful living is what brings you long lasting

joy.

We say that we are disciples, but what is a disciple? A student - we are

students of Jesus Christ. We are all in the process of learning how to live

faithfully. Think of this time as our internship. We will be presented

with many opportunities to live faithfully - that is our constant challenge:

to practice living near God and within the commandments of wisdom so that

our efforts become the embodiment of God's call on our lives. For we are much

like that amazing woman, for we also seek to understand the fear and the

knowledge of the Lord. Amen.

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