Creekside Church
Sermon of November 22, 2020

"Pipes and Buckets"
1 Corinthians 14:11-17

Rosanna McFadden


Good morning! There has been a lot about the last eight months to be distressed about, including the fact that hardly any of you are allowed in the Worship Center this morning. I am so grateful for your presence at Creekside and the technology and assistance of our Media Team to allow us to continue to gather together. I’ve had to look hard for positive outcomes from our present reality; one for me is that I’ve had more opportunity for reading. I am an eclectic reader -- and my smorgasbord will be even more varied if Tim Lund talks me into some science fiction -- and I want to share a sampling of some of that reading this morning.

The first book is one of my favorites -- one I go back to often. It’s called the Bible. The text which Lynne read for you is not a traditional Thanksgiving text -- it talks about speaking in tongues--but it’s notable for a couple reasons. First of all, 1 Corinthians chapter 14 comes right after 1 Corinthians chapter 13. You might have figured this out on your own, but let me remind you that 1 Corinthians 13 begins, “If I speak with the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” In chapter 14 Paul is continuing the discussion about spiritual gifts -- in particular the gift of speaking in tongues, and in particular the fact that some of the people to whom he’s addressing this letter are keeping this gift for themselves and using it to boast about how “spiritual” they are, by not letting anyone else know what the Spirit is inspiring them to say. Paul is telling the folks at Corinth that spiritual gifts are not meant to be private property. He writes in verse 14, “If you say a blessing with the spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outside say ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving, since the outsider does not know what you are saying?”

Something else I read about 6 weeks ago was Larry Ford’s notes from a webinar he attended on building up the church. That presenter used the image of pipes and buckets. A bucket is used to catch or collect liquid so you can hold on to it. A pipe allows liquid to flow through it so it can get somewhere else. That presenter suggested that one of the roles of the church is to be a place where blessings flow: where we take the good gifts, both material and spiritual, which we have been given by God, and instead of holding on to them for ourselves, we let them flow through us and channel those blessings to others. I have no doubt that Paul would agree. In verse 12 he writes, Since you are so eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church.” We have received so many blessings from God -- I’m not going to begin to try and list mine, let alone yours. But these are not meant to be kept in a bucket for our use, or to brag about how big my bucket is, “Look, she has a little sand pail, and I can hardly lift my 5 gal. bucket.” The things which we should be the most grateful for are the things we’ve been able to give away to build up others, or to build up the church. We praise God from whom all blessing flow -- not God where all our blessing stay.

I read an amazing book in September called Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. The author, Robin Wall Kimmerer is Potawatomi American, and she has a PhD. in botany. The chapter, “Allegiance to Gratitude,” has made me re-think my grade-school version of Thanksgiving, which goes something like this: the Pilgrims came to America and had a very hard winter and almost died. A friendly Indian named Squanto taught them how to plant corn with a dead fish, and there was such good harvest and hunting the next year that the Pilgrims and the Indians had a big feast together to celebrate. The Pilgrims gave thanks to God, and that’s why we have Thanksgiving. Is that something like what you learned -- or taught -- in fourth grade? That may all be accurate, but it’s pretty exclusively from the European point of view: helpful savages, generous Pilgrims.

Here’s what I learned from Wall Kimmerer: native Americans had a sophisticated and sustainable method of agriculture way before the Pilgrims arrived. They relied on the Three Sisters -- corn, beans, and squash -- which were planted in a mound together. The corn would sprout first and start a sturdy stalk; the bean sprout would put out a few leaves and then focus its energy on a stem which wound around the corn for support. The squash would sprout last and spread out along the ground, and its leaves would shade the base of all three plants to help keep water from evaporating and keep competing plants from growing up. Beans help fix nitrogen from the air and replenish the soil. Together, these Three Sisters provide nutrients which can sustain humans: the corn is mostly carbohydrates, the beans have protein, and the squash has other vitamins like beta carotene. I have corn and squash on the chancel table -- no beans -- but most, if not all of these Three Sisters, are part of our traditional Thanksgiving meal. European immigrants saw this elegant and sustainable agriculture and assumed Indians were ignorant because they didn’t plant a single crop in straight rows.

Wall Kimmerer talks about the Onondonga Nation school by her property in upstate New York. The students there learn something called the Thanksgiving Address. This is not related to the fourth Thursday in November, it is something each grade learns and leads each week -- much like kids in public school recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Only the Thanksgiving Address is more participatory and lot longer. The actual words vary with each speaker, but the Thanksgiving Address begins something like this:

Today we have gathered and when we look upon the faces around us we see that the cycles of life continues. We have been given the day to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now let us put our minds together as we give greetings and thanks to each other as People. Now our minds are one.

And then the speakers go on to thank the Earth, the Creator, waters, fish, plants, animals, trees, birds, weather, teachers, and the Great Spirit. At the end of each paragraph, the speaker says, “Now our minds are one,” and the listeners murmur their assent. The Thanksgiving Address is spoken by adults at the beginning of tribal meetings and events, as well as by schoolchildren. It made me realize that Thanksgiving was deeply ingrained in native culture -- which understood blessings as something which are to be shared for the benefit of all of creation, by those whose minds are one. At least some of the European immigrants saw their charge from God as coming to a new world and getting as much as they could -- and giving thanks to God for blessing them with such a good haul. Pipes and buckets.

I want to close with a reflection from American poet Wendell Berry. I took his collection of Sabbath Poems with me on retreat earlier this month. His name had been familiar to me for a long time, but this was the first time I had read his poetry. Here is a stanza from his long poem “The Farm,” written in 1979:

Be thankful and repay
Growth with good work and care.
Work done in gratitude,
Kindly and well is prayer.
You did not make yourself,
Yet you must keep yourself
By use of other lives.
No gratitude atones
For bad use or too much.

We did not make ourselves -- we are the work of God’s hands, and yet we are sustained by the plants and animals of this good earth, who are also the work of God’s hands. May our work be done in gratitude so it becomes a prayer of thanksgiving; may we give God our thanks for all the blessings which have flowed to us -- not so that we can keep them, but so that we may allow them to flow through us and be a blessing to others. Give thanks with a grateful heart. Now our minds are one. Happy Thanksgiving. Amen


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