Be Alert: Moving Parts

A sermon by Bart Dalton, Minister to Students
Richmond’s First Baptist Church
Richmond, Virginia
January 27, 2013

All I really needed to know, I learned in kindergarten. 

Have you heard this phrase before?  I remember hearing of this book by Robert Fulghum for the very first time when I was a graduating senior.  It was graduation, and the student who was charged with speaking the the students rattled off a list like, be fair, and don’t hit people, and share everything.  And as I listened to this list of things I was thinking, really?  Everything I needed to know I learned in kindergarten?  And so I started putting this together, and I was thinking, wow!, my kindergarten teacher Ms. Tume really does deserve a pay raise. 

And I thought, if I just learned everything I needed to know in kindergarten, then I just wasted the last twelve years of my life in school. 

But as I went on to college and then on to grad school, and then full-time employment, I learned that while Fulghum’s advise is very good and  heartwarming, there are lessons that we need to learn that they just don’t teach us in kindergarten.  For example, compound interest.  It can be a blessing and it can be a curse. The don’t teach you how to drive a stick shift, a manual transmission in kindergarten.  And they don’t teach you that if you can actually learn how to do that, then you can learn to do just about anything well. 

They don’t teach you the lessons about the opposite gender, about how to listen to them, and how to try and understand them, how to respect them and genuinely appreciate them, what to do when your heart is broken, and how to convince someone to marry you. 

There are things that you need to learn that they just don’t teach you in kindergarten.  And another important lesson that they didn’t teach in kindergarten is from the letter that Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, and it’s found in, it’s 1 Corinthians chapter 12.  It’s a lesson that every single person in this room today needs to pay attention to.  And this is the short version, it goes like this: 

You are important, you are needed, you have a specific place and a specific job and purpose for being here.  When you’re here, things are better, when you’re here things run better, things work better and this church is a better place because you are a part of it.   This is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians chapter 12:  Just as a body, the one, has many parts, but all of it’s many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.  For we were all baptised by one Spirit as so to form one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free, and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.  Even so, the body is made up of not one, butof may parts.  Now, if the foot should say,’because I’m not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being a part of the body, and if the ear should say, ‘because I’m not an eye, I don’t belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?  And if the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?  But, in fact, God has placed the parts of the body, everyone of them just as he wanted them to be.  If they were all one part, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, but one body.  The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you,’ and the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you.’  On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indisepesable, and parts we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.  And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty while our presentable parts need no special treatment.  But God had put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body.  But that it’s parts should have equal concern for one another.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.  If one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.  Now, you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a member of it. 

When I was going to seminary at Baylor University, I spent part of the time there working at Cracker Barrel, to serve tables and earn tips so that I could pay for tuition and for bills, and I was training so that I could one day be a servant leader in a church.  And I really enjoyed working at Cracker Barrel. 

When I was there Marianne and I became engaged.  She was living in Nashville, Tennessee, I was living in Waco, Texas going to school, and so I got a second job so that all of the tips that I earned while I was working the tables at Cracker Barrel could go in this little wooden box in my room.  And everytime I earned tips I would go home at the end of the night and I would throw the money in that little box, and over time I collected enough money so that we could go on this amazing honeymoon to Colorado Springs.  And the fun part about it is that I spent everything, we would pay for everything in cash.  And so it was funny to see the look on the Bed and Breakfast man’s face when we showed up to pay for five nights in fives and tens. 

And I enjoyed serving the tables at Cracker Barrel, and working with the people at Cracker Barrel was really challenging and it was rewarding, and definitely took some of Fulghum’s advice about the kindergarten stuff, especially the wash your hands part. 

I decided that if I were going to write a book I would call it, “Everything I Need to Know About the Church, I Learned at the Cracker Barrel.”  And in the front cover of the book there would be a gift card so that you could go and eat at the resturant, and in the back cover of the book there would be an application so that you could fill out and hopefully get a job there. 

And here are the lessons I learned while I worked at the Cracker Barrel. 

Serving people is hard work.  It might seem like serving tables is an easy job, but for those of us who have done it and actually tried to do it really well, it can be pretty stressful, and at times it can be overwhelming.  I remember some nights on my way home driving and thinking, ‘Oh no, I forgot to give the woman extra napkins,’ but it was too late to turn around and take care of that.  Some nights I would go home and I would have stress dreams that I was still at the restaurant, I was the only one working there and I was busy trying to put food on the plates, and I would wake up in my bed and I was re-arranging the pillow and covers in different stacks.  It’s really hard work! 

I learned that people have a tendency to get frustrated with those who are serving them.  If the restaurant takes too long to get the food out to you, or if the people feel rushed, if the food is undercooked or overcooked, if it’s too hot or too cold, people get mad.  If you hover on the table that’s not a good thing, but you have to make sure that they don’t feel ignored.  If the restaurant itself is too hot or too cold, or if it took too long for them to get to their seats, or if they are sitting in a place they don’t like, they’re already in a bad mood before you get to the table. 

And sometimes people are just rude.  I remember one table with three businessmen, they were rude the whole time, and when they left they did leave me a tip but they poured honey all over the money.  And I was thinking, ‘People are rude!’  Now let me be clear, I never saw anything ever bad happen to the food in the kitchen before the server took it out, but I do remember thinking from time to time, why would you be rude to the person who sees your food before they give it to you?  Never, anything ever, ever bad happened to the food, and I still eat there now, it was really good. 

One lesson I learned at Cracker Barrel is that we need each other.  We really do need each other.  There were many servers on the team that I was working with at Cracker barrel, and a lot of them were friends mine and through time we started hanging out after work, and we’d go bowling or play pool or just spend time and have a good time, but there were some servers on the team that I didn’t like, and I didn’t see eye to eye with, and there were some servers on the team that didn’t like me, that didn’t agree with me, but I found that even the servers that didn’t like me would help me when I was overwhelmed.  They would go to a table and take a drink order, or they would go and deliver food to a table when I was really, really busy, and I found that even if I didn’t see eye to eye with them, that I would in turn help them when they were overwhelmed.  And we just did this for each other because we needed each other, and we relied on each other, whether we liked each other or not. 

And there were lots of people that worked at Cracker Barrel besides the servers, people who had different jobs than I did, but we were all working towards the same purpose.  There were managers, bussers, dishwashers, cooks, and don’t call the cooks, cooks to their faces.  They’re chefs, and they carry big knifes and they have big attitudes. 

There are people at Cracker Barrel who take the money, there are the prep cooks, and those are the people in the very back of the restaurant, you never see them but they are busy all day putting ingredients together to make the biscuits and the hot cornbread muffins and the gravy and the hot soup.  They’re always back there working. 

And then there are people who come to work when everyone else leaves, even when the manager leaves at the end of the shift.  There are people who come and work at the restaurant all night cleaning the kitchen, cleaning the floors, getting the restaurant ready for the next day. 

I remember thinking as I was working there, “Wow, this place really does work well when everyone is doing their job.”  And I remember thinking, “Some genius put this whole operation together.”  I was very impressed, so if I do write my book, please buy it on Amazon or please check it out of the church library, because there are important lessons in that book that we need to know for the church today. 

I’m not talking about getting in the car and driving to Cracker Barrel right now to get a hot bowl of soul, I’m saying that these lessons are lessons that we need to know as a church, and I believe that that’s what Paul was getting at when he was talking about the body of Christ. 

Let me explain what I mean. 

We were created, we were put here on this earth in part to work.  In Genesis 2, after making the garden, God leans down and uses God’s hands to form the first person out of the dirt, and he makes the person exactly like he wants, and then God takes in a deep breath, and He breaths into that pile of dirt God breath.  And the person becomes alive.  And the first thing that God did after He made humanity was to put him to work in the garden taking care of God’s creation. 

Part of being made in the image of God, part of being filled with that unique God breath means that we get to join God in God’s work in the world.  Because our God is a God at work, our God invites us to be a part of that work. 

In today’s gospel reading Jesus says, “I am here to proclaim the good news, I’m here to proclaim freedom to the prisoners, I’m here to give sight to the blind, and I’m here to set the oppressed free.” 

Jesus didn’t say he was here to relax and to take it easy and to waste his time.   And so believers in Jesus today make up the body of Christ right here in Richmond.  And that means that we, the people in this room have a big job to do.  We go to people in need, and we help people who need help, and we are the presence of God wherever God leads and we do whatever God tells us to do. 

And in my opinion, because of God, we have the best job in the entire world. 

Since I graduated from high school I learned that there are two different kinds of work.  There’s the kind of work that drains you, and there’s the kind of work that fills you. 

There’s the kind of work that drains you of energy and you’re really tired when it’s over, and then there’s the kind of work that as your working it fills you with energy. 

After those long nights at Cracker Barrel I would go home, I would put my feet up on the table, I’d sit down on the couch, take off my shoes and even though I was tired and exhausted I couldn’t fall right to sleep because I knew those stress dreams would come, so I had to watch TV, or I had to do homework, or spend time with friends, or call Marianne in Nashville.  I was exhausted, and you know this just as much as I do, that there’s work that drains us, and when it’s over we’re left needing a really big rest. 

But there’s another kind of work.  There’s the kind of work that fills us up.  It was my first year in student ministry and I had just planned one of the craziest summers that I ever experienced in my life.  I call it the “The Three Week Youth Ministry Marathon.”  And in that summer, the first week of this marathon we went to Maryland and we did this week long construction mission trip where we were outside in the hot building wheelchair ramps, painting houses, taking care of people who needed help.  We came back and then the next day after we had washed our clothes and gassed up the bus we went back out on another trip.  It was a week-long youth camp.  And we spent all day outside, from early in the morning to late at night doing activities and having fun and spending time worshipping and hanging out with each other.  And we came home in that morning, and then later on in that same afternoon, we got back in the busses and went to the Appalachian Mountains where we played with rambunctious children for two to four Vacation Bible Schools a day.  The work that we did building wheelchair ramps, painting houses, helping people in need, running around busy outside in the heat, was just as much work, or even more as an 8 hours shift at Cracker Barrel, but at the end of the day we had energy to keep on going because we were at work with the body of Christ. 

Two years ago here at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, we took a large group of students to Nashville, and we spend all day digging in the dirt, in the 100 degree weather, we were digging out 30lb. rocks, 50lb. rocks, and were moving them across the field, and if you asked most of the students today, “Remember that trip?” they say, “Oh, that was great!” Remember that?  So when we’re a part of the body of Christ, God puts us to work, and it’s a work that fills.  And it makes us strong, and the work keeps us going. 

And we actually need one another.  It doesn’t take long when you’re at work in the body of Christ to realize that we really do need one another.  One person can’s say to someone else, “You know, because you don’t look like me, or talk like me, or act like me, we really don’t need you around here anymore.”  And we can’t even say, “Because you disagree with me on this and on that, then you need to find another place to worship.”  And at the same time we can’t look around and say, “You know, I’ve looked around and no one here needs me, and there’s no place here for me to get to work.”  Whether we like it or not, whether we like one another or not, we actually need one another.  God says, just like our feet need our eyes to show us where to walk, in the same way those of us in the body of Christ who are different from one another need one another. 

So what does this look like in real life?   How do we see this playing out every day?  In our church we have teachers, servers, deacons, we have people that serve on teams and councils, musicians, ushers, communication people, we have those that work with preschoolers and children, and youth and college students, and adults.  We have people working with men and women, we have those that work with the home bound, we have people that work with the homeless.  We have people that focus on those inside the church, we have people that are focusing outside of the church. 

We have sent out a challenge to the membership this year so that every single member of the body of Christ gets to work on a mission project, and every part of the body start to work together, and every person joining hands to help bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. 

Now hear me, you are important, and you are needed, and you have a specific place and a specific purpose for being here, and when you are here things are better, things work better, things run better.  And this church is a better place because you are a part of it. 

I wish that someone had reminded me of that when I was a graduating senior, that I was gifted, that I was included and that I was loved.  I think it’s something that we all need to be reminded of.  And if you are looking for that place, if  you are looking for a place to use your gifts, if you are looking for a place where you can live out your passions and thrive in the church, then just ask.  There are lots of things that need to be done that aren’t getting done. 

I believe that when we all get to work, and when we all start to work together, we’ll step back and say, “Wow! This place really does work well.”  I’ll bet some genius put this whole operation together.


—Bart Dalton 2013

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