Sermon January 20, 2007 : A Potluck Dinner - What nourishment are you bringing to church?

Posted in Sermons
  • Presenter: Steve Johnson
  • Date: January 20, 2007
  • Location: Congregation Lion of Judah, Boston MA

How many of you have ever been to a potluck dinner? You know, it’s one of those dinners where everyone brings their favorite dish. They bring either, you know, a main dish, or side, or something. And you bring it all together, and everyone gets to eat everyone’s different food.

Now, if you’ve been to really good ones, where people bring, you know, their favorite dish, everyone brings their favorite dish, they’re really excited about it, they’re really involved that it’s just a great feast. I mean, I don’t know, but back where I come from is probably not, it’s like … to the potluck, it would be different than what I had at home, ‘cause we had… Everyone brought fried chicken, and casseroles, and probably half the people brought lasagna, which was, you know, that was ok, but there were all these great things, and all types of cookies, and brownies, and cakes were brought, and all kinds of great side dishes, mashed potatoes and gravy, and all the stuff that we like down South. Probably here, there would be a little bit different flavor to the meal. Probably if you’re a Caribbean, you’d bring like rice and beans and some chicharón or something, and … would bring some hot, spicy food that’ll clear your sinuses in a second. You know, I don’t know, you could think of your favorite dish that you might bring and imagine that you get to taste everyone’s best dish. That’s a really neat experience if you go to a good one.

But how many of you have been to a really bad potluck? You know, half the people don’t bring anything, or they brought like chips from the store, and that was their thing they’d bring from the potluck, or they brought, you know, like I said, half the people bring a lasagna. You know, like ok, so I’m going to have four pieces of lasagna and two pieces of fried chicken, and that’s my meal, because that’s all anyone brought. I mean, I’ve been to those kinds of potlucks before. But if you think about a potluck, I mean, I bring this up, and you may be thinking why is he talking about a potluck? But what if I told you that a church service is like a potluck dinner?

The passage we’re going to read tonight talks about how the church service is kind of like a potluck dinner. And it’s in First Corinthians 14, so if you turn with me to chapter 14 at First Corinthians, and we’re going to be inverse 26 through 33. So that’s First Corinthians 14, 26 through 33. And I’m going to start reading. I might stop, or I might go through the whole thing. We’ll see what happens, and I’ll come back. But this is Paul writing to the Corinthian church. He says, “What shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. All of this must be done for the strengthening of the Church. Now, if it were a potluck, he’d say, “What shall we say then, brothers? When you come together, everyone brings a casserole, or a lasagna, or a fried chicken, or a dessert so that everyone can be fed.” You can see the correlation there. The church service should be kind of like a potluck. Everyone brings something. Again, some people will bring a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the Church. And Roberto talked last week and the week before about this word ‘edifying’ the Church, building up the Church. He says, “If anyone speaks in a tongue, two or the most three should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the Church and speak to himself and God. Two or three prophets, and the others should weight carefully what is said. And if a revelation is to come to someone who was sitting down, the first speaker should stop, for you can all prophesy in terms that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of the prophets are subject to the control of the prophets, for God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” Amen indeed.

This passage talks about how we should approach a Church service, how we should come to a service like tonight. Now, Roberto took some time for us to pray, for us to share to do some things, and that wasn’t planned, at least not by me. It’s just something that happened. And you may see that in our Church is a lot of times, we ask people to pray, we ask people to share a word, and this is the reason why. This passage right here really tells us why we do that, and if you’re from Lion of Judah on Sunday morning, then you’re familiar with this. But if you’re like me coming from a Church where we’ve never, I’ve never seen that before in Church until I came here, you may wonder why do we do that? What is the reason here? Or maybe you’ve never been to Church before, and you’re thinking, what’s going on? What are these people doing? Do we have six preachers tonight? What’s going on? But no, that’s not what it is. It’s the idea that just like a potluck, everyone should be coming prepared to give something so that everyone can be fed. That’s a really neat thought.

If you take time to reflect on that, it says a lot about how we might prepare ourselves to come here. If you come to this service expecting just to receive, you’re going to have a different approach than if you come expecting to give. Isn’t that right? So how many of us come to this service—and we don’t have to raise hands—thinking about what we might receive? And that’s kind of where we stop, ‘cause we’re going to get fed, ‘cause there’s a potluck tonight, someone else is going to bring the food, and I’m going to get to eat. And that’s how we approach church services a lot. I think not just my background, but I think a lot of different types of churches, a lot of different types of cultures, a lot of different places, we treat church like that a lot of times, that it’s somewhere where we can come and be fed, because someone else is bringing the food. You know, kind of like at our dinner, I mean, our snack time, our fellowship time tonight, we’re all going to enjoy that, because two people took the time out of their day to put that food together, prepare it, and bring it tonight. And you’re going to hear from the Word, because someone took their time to read it, to think about it, to plan for it. And you’re going to get to sing great songs—hopefully you think they’re great songs—because people took the time to plan it, to prepare, to practice, to perfect the craft that they have, a musical craft, so they can present something not just for you to be entertained, but to present something for the Church that the Church can be built up to that ministry.

But it’s these times in the front, usually in the front, these times in the midst of the service where we have opportunities to give that really open up the space for us to take the scripture to heart. Now, I do want to talk a little bit about the elements in this passage, but the key point that I want you to take home tonight is this idea of a potluck, this idea that we’re all supposed to be prepared to bring something, because I don’t think this is exhaustive. I don’t think that what Paul says here is that the Church should be doing is everything that the Church should be doing. He’s just listing a few things that could be done. He really lists four or five and only focuses on two. But I want to look at what he says and see what we can learn from each of those elements that he talks about.

So the first is, he says, “When you come together, everyone has an hymn.” That’s in verse 26. “When you come together, everyone has a hymn.” Now, he’s not saying every single person has a hymn, because there’s a list of things, but he says everyone brings something. And again, going back to this idea that we all should come prepared to give something, but he says basically some of them bring a hymn. Now, when we hear ‘hymn’, we might think of a song. We might think of the music that happens, starts up here and hopefully everyone is involved in, but that might be what we think about. But if you were here last week, or maybe it was a couple of weeks ago, you may have noticed that when we opened up a time for prayer, one of the people sang a prophetic song for this congregation. He sang what he heard God saying to him for this group, and that’s a little bit different taste, isn’t it, a little bit different flavor, because it’s just not coming with the song, ‘cause it’s not the idea that everyone should come and try to get their songs sung up here. That’s not really what he’s talking about. That’s not a bad thing to have good songs, but what he’s talking about is being prepared in your spirit to communicate with the Spirit of God, and then maybe have a song for the congregation, maybe have a word through music for the congregation. And we make space for that here. We do it intentionally. We’re not filling space. We’re not just filling time. It’s very intentional, because we believe firmly that the Spirit of God wants to speak to us through the people not just through one person who’s up here with a microphone, or with a piano, or a drum, or a guitar. That’s not how we believe to be the extent of how God wants to speak to us. Does that make sense? Do you understand that He wants to speak to us through you, and through you, and through you, that God wants to speak to us through you? So that hymn might be one way, and maybe you think, well, I don’t sing. That’s not what I do, but that’s ok. The spirit behind what he’s saying is are you bringing something from the Lord for the people?

And he says “a word of instruction.” We got our word of instruction tonight from John and from Francoise, I would say and even from Steve. It’s just giving these words of encouragement that people who share, giving words of encouragement to the Church about how we should act as the body of Christ. John’s saying we need to pray for our pastor, because he has a commission from God. Now again, no one planned that. I don’t think John even knew before he got here what he was going to say, but he came prepared to hear from the Lord. And so again, getting away from this idea that maybe we would prepare a lesson ahead of time, because if there is a space in the service, then we can go give our lesson. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about preparing your heart to listen to the Holy Spirit, to listen to the Lord and see what it is that he has for us.

It talks about a tongue or an interpretation, a revelation. All these things really go back to this idea: hearing from the Lord and speaking out of what you hear into the lives of the people that are in this place at this time, this location, this body, a specific word from God. Now again, that might be old hat to you, that might be something that yeah, of course that happens, or it might be something that’s brand new, but I think that even if we’re used to it, it can still be very easy for us to come thinking that we can just sit in a chair and listen, or watch and receive. Because let’s face it. What are the chances that we’re going to be the one up there on the mic sharing a prayer or sharing a word? What are the chances that someone’s going to call on us and make us, and if someone gives an open invitation, you know, I don’t really feel like going anyway ‘cause I’m not an upfront person? Well, yeah, I can see that. I can see that thought making sense, and it does make sense to the degree that no one’s going to force you to come up here. And God, you know, God really usually doesn’t force you to come up here, even if He has something for you to share. Usually He doesn’t force you. If you notice at the end, it says, “the spirit of the prophets are subject to the control of the prophets.” God doesn’t make a prophet speak, He gives a prophet a word, and the prophet can choose not to speak. Maybe you’ve experienced a time where you felt like God placed something on your heart, and because you were scared, and because some other reason, you chose not to say anything, you just sat down and kept it inside. So God doesn’t force you in that sense usually. He can, He might, but that’s not the standard practice.

So again, if we’re not coming ready to be used in that way, then we, I hate to say restrict God, because I don’t really believe that we can prevent God’s word from being accomplished, but he might choose to use someone else to give that word instead of you. And I bet some of us have experienced that too where we thought we felt a word from God, but we weren’t sure, and then someone else said the same thing, but maybe God could’ve used you to say it if you’d been willing to step out if you’d been prepared for that possibility. So you never know when God might want to use you.

Now, what’s interesting here is Paul gives kind of a structure for how that should work, and it should be noted, it should be recognized that in this Church that He’s speaking to, there’s seemed to have been some problems with people talking in Church. Apparently, people were talking the whole time, and we can’t really think of the Church service the way we have here exactly. It’s not exactly the same. It’s probably someone meeting in the homes, and they’ve probably spent the whole day together. It wasn’t like they had two hours, and they took their whole two hours doing, you know, everyone talking. They may have been together the whole afternoon, or the whole day spending time in the word, spending time in prayer, in song, but it seems that certain things were overriding others. And in this particular case, it just happened to be speaking in tongues.

There’s nothing wrong with speaking in tongues. Our church endorses speaking in tongues, and I’m no expert on it, but I will say that it’s a gift that God gives his people so that He can be glorified and so the body can be built up. So there’s nothing bad about it. But what happened is that this gift was overriding the other gifts. It was taking control of the whole afternoon, the whole day, these gatherings of Christians. It would be like if we did spend our entire hour and a half speaking in tongues. Or, you know, if we spent our entire hour and a half singing songs, Paul would’ve written to us and said, you know, four songs, that’s probably enough, half an hour, and then take some time to hear the word, take some time to pray, take some time maybe confession, repentance, coming up here. Sometimes we have a time for you to come before the Lord in a personal way but to prayed for by the community that’s here. So it’s that kind of idea: nothing wrong with the gift, just don’t make that the whole thing. Don’t make that the whole package.

So he says, “if anyone speaks a tongue, two or a the most three should speak one at a time, and someone must interpret. Now, if there’s no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the Church and speak to himself and to God.” So he creates this limitation, and the purpose of the limitation seems to be that we don’t override the other gifts, that we don’t override the other things that God wants to do, and that’s important. Very rarely we come in here and not hear a sermon. Very rarely will you come in here and not sing worship songs. Very rarely will you come in here and we not take an offering, for example. And hopefully you’re going to hear a word of instruction, and a hymn from God, and a prophetic word. Hopefully you’re going to hear those things in every service, because we don’t want to drown out any of the ways that God communicates to us.

So just again, the purpose of these gifts are to build up the body, and if that’s true, if the purpose is to build up the body, and we all need to be a part of it, then again you can see how it’s kind of a lot like potluck. I come back to that potluck idea, because I think it’s a very easy picture for us to grasp. I think it’s really simple for us to think about how if no one brings a meal, you know, a dish, that we’re not going to have enough to eat. I just think about a service, how it can be impoverished, if one person is responsible for feeding everyone, if one group of people is responsible for feeding everyone. Wouldn’t you rather be fed by everyone? Does that make sense? Wouldn’t you rather have a lot of different things to be feeding off of? Wouldn’t you rather be able to experience different types of dishes and different types of fare? Wouldn’t you rather have an abundance of food with food left over, spiritual food left over, than only have one type of dish and maybe not enough of it? I think the analogy is very fitting. And he goes on to say, you know, two or three prophets should speak. You know? Weigh carefully what is said. We don’t just have people come up and blindly listen. If it’s someone who decides to share a word, and we say, that’s not consistent. Of what we know to be true of God, that’s not consistent with what we’re hearing from the spirit of God. It’s not consistent with the scripture and the values that we see taught in the Bible, then we might have to say, no, I’m sorry. That’s not right. You need to stop. You need to sit down. Or to come up and say, this person shared that, and we have questions. We have questions about that. But again, that shouldn’t scare you into not allowing God to move through you to speak through his congregation.

Now, part of that really has to do with how you feel about the congregation you’re in, because usually when people feel like they’re really connected to a group, they bring their best dish to the potluck, and when it’s just something they have to go to or feel like they should go to… You know, maybe it’s this dinner at work, and you really don’t want to go, and so you’re going to pick up a bag of chips along the way. You don’t really put your all into it. You know that’s the kind of mentality that comes along with not feeling connected to a group.

Now, I understand some people come to this service, they have a church they go to on Sunday morning, and they come here on Saturday night ‘cause they want to maybe experience something different, or they want another opportunity to worship God, or they want to get a different flavor of worship, or whatever the reason. And that’s fine. We welcome you. But for those of you who really are part of this service and really are a part of the ministry, and you call this your own, you know, how much do you feel like this is your place? How much do you feel like this is where you should be putting, and giving, and contributing? Because when you feel that way, when you love something, I mean, I love this service. I love this congregation that’s here. You know, I don’t know all of you, but I love the fact that we’re here together, that I’ve gotten to know many of you, and that we’ve been able to develop a relationship, and we’ve been able to pray for each other and encourage each other, and support each other, and just get to know each other. And I love that. I love that there’s a family here for me, because most of my family is 1,400 miles away, and I need a family. I need a big family here. And this is it. This is my family, so I’m committed to it. I’m willing to prepare. I’m willing to make myself ready to give. I’m willing to bring the best that I have to the potluck. But again, I mean, that’s a challenge for you if you see this kind of as your home but you haven’t fallen in love with it yet, or you haven’t really said I have to give everything I have to this, because it’s my home, it’s my family, and I want to bring my best dish.

So Paul again talks about having word of a, a tongue, or a revelation, or a prophesy, or a hymn, but again, as I said earlier, I don’t think this is exhausted. I think there’s a lot of ways that we can come prepared to give in a service, and one simple way is being ready to worship God with all you have, because sometimes being up here is really hard. Now, this isn’t to tell anyone they’re doing something wrong, but it’s really hard sometimes when you look out, and there’s kind of blank stares. Now sometimes it’s probably ‘cause we’re doing something like we’re playing a song poorly here, or you know, we haven’t, you know, we’ve done something wrong maybe. You know, that happens, and we apologize for that if that ever happens, but sometimes it’s just the sense of each person being willing to engage with what God’s doing, and maybe if we’re messing up, to choose to engage anyway. You know, that’s being prepared to give back to a service. It might be, I mean, how many of us pray for people that we see in the chairs around us while we’re in church? How many of us pray for our pastor when he’s speaking or preaching? How many of us pray for our worship team? And that’s great. I mean, we need that. We should be coming again, prepared to give.

When I first started coming to this church, there was no English service. And I don’t speak Spanish, so I was coming to a Spanish service thinking what am I doing here? Why am I in this place? And you know, it seemed like I would decide I really don’t want to come anymore, and I would talk to Sonia, who’s now my wife, but we were dating, and she said, “You know, I think God wants you to stay here.” And then two weeks later she would say, “You know, I see you here, and I think maybe you should probably not come here anymore.” And I’d say, “No, I really think God’s telling me to stay, and we never, ever agreed that I should leave. Every time I thought I should go, she told me that she thought God wanted me to stay, and she was right. And every time she thought I should go, I said, “No, I think God wants me to stay.” And I was right. It was always like that. And then there were a lot of times that we both felt I should stay, but we never both felt that I should leave, so I didn’t. I would come to this church, and sit here, and think, oh my goodness. They’re singing these songs in Spanish. I really don’t know how to engage, and they keep singing the same song again, and again, and again, and I’m like, ugh, ok what do I do now? All right. I’m going to pray for that guy. And I prayed for that guy. And I’d be done praying for this guy, and they’re still singing the same song. Ok, well I’m going to pray for that guy.

And that was the first time in my life that I’d ever come to a worship service and prayed for other people that were there. Now, what’s wrong with that? Why is it that the only time I started praying for people in a worship service was when I was going to a service that I couldn’t understand and couldn’t engage with. And I was kind of bored. The music was great, and the sound was good. I just didn’t know what they were singing, so I got kind of bored. And it really enlightened me to the fact that I did not come to a worship service prepared to give if I didn’t have some responsibility beforehand that I knew I was going to have to do something. And how many of you can relate to that? Maybe you’ve been involved in ministry in a church before, but you’re not, you don’t have some specific responsibility now, so you don’t come ready to give. That’s what happened to me, because before what I did in the Church I was at before, I played guitar, and sang, and things like that, a little worship. So I was always ready to give in that one way. But now I had nothing that I felt like I had to do, and I was not knowing what I should be doing, so I just started praying for people. So that’s a way you can bring something to this service. And I say this service, but any service that you go to, any congregation you’re in, any church that you go to, you can give in that way. And there are really a lot of ways. And there are all sorts of means that any church has. And you can decide that you’re going to take it upon yourself to give up a little bit of your freedom so that you can serve, or that you can give, or that you can contribute. And you know, I mentioned the food. There are four groups of people every month, they take one week and bring food, so only in months that have five weeks are we kind of wondering what are we going to do now. But those people, they give up some freedom, they have to be there that night, they have to prepare ahead of time and get this food here so that everyone can be fed. And that’s really a picture of what we’re talking about.

And I keep coming back to this idea of a potluck, because in my mind it’s such a vivid picture of what it is. Now, I’ve been to some great potlucks, and I’ve been to some really bad potlucks, and I’ve been to some great services, and I’ve been to some really bad services, and I would say that one of the things that differentiates good from bad is how many people come prepared to contribute, how many people come ready to give. And you may not even know who’s doing it, ‘cause it might be something as simple as praying for other people, but when we have 50, 60, 100 people here on a Sunday morning, and then people jump out of their seats, and come here, and start laying hands on them, it’s a powerful testimony to how many people are prepared to give in a service. Now they may not be needed that week. We may not doing it on Saturday night. We may not do that, so you may not be needed in that way, but are you coming ready? Because the time will come when you’re going to be needed in a very particular way, and it’s a matter of just being ready in your heart. So that’s kind of my encouragement tonight is to be ready in your heart to come to give, to come to contribute to this service. God wants you to be a part of what He’s doing here. God wants you to be used in a powerful way in the lives of other people here. And I don’t want to say God needs you, again, because God can choose to use someone else, but God won’t use you if you’re not willing to be used, if you’re not willing to take some time, give up a little bit of your freedom. Maybe that means instead of spending the hour before the service watching TV, it might be spending the hour before the service in prayer getting your heart ready, or spending the hour before the service in the Word being said by the scripture. People may need to hear that scripture that you’re reading tonight, but you didn’t read it. And God knows what you need to be reading, so he’ll take care of that. But that’s the challenge is to be prepared, be ready to give, and I think if we’re ready to give, we’ll find that not only is our service better, but our experience of the worship service will be even better, because we’re part of it now, we’re engaged with it, we’re connected to it. It’s just like when I said that a group you feel really connected to, you bring your best dish, but you’re also getting everyone else’s best dish too, because there’s a community of people that are gathered around a common goal, a common purpose, a common unifying factor, which for us is the Gospel, is our love for each other, it’s our willingness to serve. And when we have a community like that, it’s better for everyone.


Sermon delivered by Steve Johnson taped January 20, 2007 at Congregation Lion of Judah Listen | View (100K) | View (400K)

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