Adding to the pot

1 Corinthians 4:1

On this first Sunday of the half of the Church Year in which the Bible readings lead us on a journey of exploring all different facets of our lives in relationship with God isn’t it wonderful to have an Old Testament reading in which God says, “I could never forget you!”?  And a Gospel reading in which we are encouraged to always remember that we have a heavenly Father who knows our every need, and is generous with his blessings to us?  So…with that in mind I want to think about the opening sentence from the Epistle reading: 
Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.”

Today I want to simply share with you a testimony and a story…about individual and community in the church.

First, a testimony:  Sometime during my year twelve at college I decided to study for the ministry.  I don’t think I understood clearly, at the time, all of the factors that led me to that decision, but I do remember that, among many other things, I had a sense that I thought I knew a lot of ‘theology’ and was pretty good at winning theological arguments with my peers.    So when I headed off to the Seminary I headed off thinking that I knew a lot.

Having begun my studies thinking that I knew a lot, when I graduated after seven full years of full-time study of theology, I was sent out as a pastor rather more concerned that I knew very little! 

Now, twenty-six years later, after more study, more learning and, more importantly, the chance to experience ministry to thousands of people, I am confident that I do, in fact, know very little.

I guess it’s not simply that I know so little, it’s that I have gradually realised how much there is to know; and my knowledge, my insights, and my abilities are proportionally ‘tiny’ compared with everything that is presented to me, to my church and schools, to my world…to think about…as pastor.

I am increasingly of a mind that while I have learned lots, and developed skills, and accumulated experience, in the end I mainly hold on to the thing I have received, the one real gift—I have only one thing of real significance and consequence that has enabled me to carry out ministry to others.  I am theologically rather ‘naked’ and ‘empty handed’ except for the Gospel given to me in God’s Word.

Now a story:  I remember a picture book that was read every once in a while on a children’s TV show I watched as a child.  It was a book of the story of “Stone Soup”.  Some of you may know the book; many of you will know various versions of the story.  I only know the story from my memory of that TV show many years ago, so I may get it ‘wrong’ in some detail….

A man comes to a town during a time of famine.  He is hungry, but no one offers him anything to eat.  The villagers all have so little themselves that they keep quiet, and keep to themselves.  But he invites the whole town to a meal which he will cook and provide for everyone.  He begins cooking with a huge pot of water into which he places a large stone.

The people in the town, as you might expect, ask him what he is cooking.  He tells them that he is cooking stone soup.  He has quite a good stone for cooking, and it should make a good soup.

It would make a better soup, of course, if he could add other ingredients, but he only has the stone, and he will enjoy the simple stone soup, and is happy to share it with others.

Intrigued as they are by the prospect of the stone soup, one by one the villagers slowly offer a potato, a leek, a ham bone, a carrot, some cabbage, and whatever other little offerings they have, thinking that their offering might make a simple stone soup taste even better.  Before long everyone in the village has contributed to the soup and, when the visitor announces that it is ready to eat, they all eagerly receive their portion.  And eat heartily!

At the end of their communal meal they remark that none of them ever would have thought that you could make such a tasty soup out of a single stone.

I believe, very strongly, that as one of Christ’s servants, as one steward of the wonderful things that God gives, in the end I can only really offer you a ‘stone soup’.  Like I said a little earlier, after 33 years of full-time theology, the single thing that I feel really, absolutely confident about offering you in a significant way is the Gospel of God’s grace in Jesus, as revealed through the Word.

And that, in itself, makes for a very fulfilling and rewarding ministry.  And I am happy to commit to that ministry.

And, to be fair, even that stone, that rock of the Gospel has a shape and texture, when I put it into the pot, that perhaps brings some of the flavour of who I am as a person, and what I have learned over the years.

But the ministry of our community—as church, as congregation and schools community, as ‘body of Christ’—that ministry, I believe, allows each one of you to add something to the pot.
When Paul writes to the Corinthians and says, “Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries,” he then goes on to talk about his desire to be faithful in that stewardship—to be faithful to God in taking what he has been given and using it in ministry.  Earlier in the letter he said, with respect to what he could offer them in ministry, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.”  He then went on to note about the way his ministry panned out, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”
Think of [all of] us in this way:  as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.  The mystery of his love—the Gospel—he has revealed to us, made it known, made it real, made it a part of our living and believing and loving each day.  It is the same gift to each of us, but it is different in each of us.

Each time any one of us takes that gift and throws it into the common pot, we add something to our shared experience of God’s grace through the Gospel, and to our shared ministry of his grace.

Stone soup is a simple recipe—the stone makes the soup—you and I each add what we have been given.

In his next letter to the Christians at Corinth Paul writes this:
“You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and…your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.  This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.  Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.  And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.  Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

Thanks be to God for you—his indescribable gifts!  Amen.