The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph
I Corinthians 12: 12-31
Plymouth Congregational UCC,
Fort Collins, Colorado
Will you join with me in prayer? May the words of my mouth and the sparks of joy of all of our hearts be good and pleasing to you, O God, our rock and our curator. Amen.
Happy Congregation-Reorganization Day! I think of Annual Meeting as when we decide to be congregation again. Since this is our 116th organization day for Plymouth as church, I want to borrow some best practices from a different industry to help us better understand own commitment as the Body of Christ.
Now, I am a self-proclaimed “conference escape artist!” Do any of you know what I am talking about? Whenever I get the advance schedule for a conference I will be attending, I always look for the gaps, the unscheduled lunches, or the “optional” evening plenaries. I do this for one very specific reason—I need to find time in the schedule to visit the local art museums. Out of principle, as a matter of traveling ethics, I refuse to visit a new city and only see the inside of hotel meeting rooms. While I will always attend and be totally present for all of the meat and potatoes of the conference as the reason for being there, I make a point to find the time somewhere in the schedule that allow me to visit the most sacred space in any major city—the art collections and flagship museums.
Think about this with me. Even when Detroit was bankrupt a couple of years ago, the citizens of that city refused to talk about liquidation the Detroit Institute of Art. Denver is renovating its art museum as a way to communicate to the world the value it places on art. The Walker or MIA in Minneapolis, The High Museum in Atlanta, The Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City (even saying its name makes me weak at the knees), LACMA or the Getty in LA, the Met in New York, The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, The Art Institute of Chicago... are all the Sacred Spaces/Chapels in their respective communities. They represent community spirit, organization, and hope.
I learn important lessons about God, ministry, and how to do the work of church well from art museums. Next time you visit one, see how these very old institutions are doing cool programing, changing their hours, and reinventing themselves to be relevant and attractive to everyone in ways that the Church hasn’t yet! There is no institution the Church can learn more from than the field of art museum management.
I have already shared this analogy with the three boards I work with, but I want to share it with all of you on this our Annual Meeting Sunday. I view being a minister like being a curator of a prominent art museum (or in my case one of the assistant curators responsible for certain rotating exhibits). I understand you, the members, as the artists through whom the Holy Spirit works, expresses God’s will, and communicates the needs in and of the community here at Plymouth, in Fort Collins, and around the world. You are the Holy Spirit-artists painting and sculpting with every color and medium imaginable (social justice, worship, fellowship) to form an oeuvre or a Body of Work that we call the Body of Christ. You are the Body of Christ forming a great body of spiritual art.
As a minister, my role is to curate. This is the act or process of organizing and looking after the art of the people. It is to organize, to promote, to systematize, to find the right lighting or the funding or the arrangement to showcase and make your Holy Spirit artwork visible, known, and possible. Yes, ministry at its best is the art of curation of community.
Let’s start over this morning: “Hi, I’m Jake. I am one of the assistant curators here at the Plymouth Gallery of Fine Spiritual Art!”
Describing my job as spiritual curation has changed how I relate to you and your vision. The way in which you define your job for yourself, changes how you approach and execute the work, right? Being clergy in terms of curation has given my visits and escapes to art museums a new theological purpose. It begs me to ask: What are the best practices or the promising practices out there in the curation industry, in the organization world, in the tidying industry that I need to pay attention to as I care for this Body of Christ and help make it even more visible and understood in 2019? How can we as church do a better job of making the artwork of the spirit visible and known and well preserved?
How can we better curate your incredible Spirit-Driven artwork as a congregation?
Our Scripture today, in my opinion, is Paul’s way of telling the Christians in Corinth that all of their gifts, their different skills and styles of Spiritual Artwork are welcome, needed, and positively contribute to the masterpiece collection of Christ. A good art museum, as I have learned through my travels, is a well-diversified collection. The Christians in Corinth had been fighting about who was the greatest and who had the most important gifts for Christian ministry. Is it the Egyptology Collection, Impressionists, or the Expressionists… certainly not the Surrealists?! Friends, they were fighting over which ministry teams had first right of refusal for the Corinthian Fellowship Hall, right? Whose artwork of the spirit should be exhibited most prominently in the space provided. Paul comes back to them with this magnificent letter that has set the tone for the last 2,000 years of Christianity: All are needed and, in fact, essential. It is one body of work in Jesus Christ. Just as the body is one and has many members, so is it with the Body of Christ. The collection that is the Body of Work in Christ is as indivisible as the Detroit Institute of Art’s collection—it constitutes a Sacred Whole in diversity.
One Scholar wrote, “The well-known analogy between the human body and the body politic illustrates his argument for the diversity of the Spirit’s manifestations for the common good…The argument opposes the ‘honor’ values of hierarchical aristocratic Greek and imperial Roman culture, in insisting on the solidarity of the interdependent and equally valued members.”
Paul is a curator of the Spirit in a living art gallery of Christian Community! And this act of treating power, leadership, and authority of community with a sense of equality, which we continue here in the United Church of Christ, is radically countercultural. It is an act of rebellion both in Paul’s time and today.
As your one of your ministry curators and organizers, I would like to point out that today is very special in the life of our Body of Christ. Today, we gather to decide to contribute our masterpieces to this Art Gallery of the Holy Spirit again in 2019. Today, we agree as a congregation, to do this whole thing over again for what…the 116th time? Every year on my wedding anniversary, I get down on one knee and re-propose to Gerhard. He always says, “yes,” but the point is to reaffirm the covenant. That is what we do, as community and congregation, at Annual Meeting.
This is the Sunday when we do more than pass budgets and follow Robert’s Rules of Order (much to the joy of our former Presbyterians), but we also reaffirm our desire to be artists together, a Body of Christ, a gathering of Spirit-artists together for another year-long art show. Today, we claim the calling of Paul in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 12 as our own calling to be community in diversity. Today, we say “yes” again.
So, as we organize today, as a living art gallery of spiritual art, I would like to draw your attention to a pop-culture, worldwide phenomenon on the topic of personal curation and organization: Japanese Organizing Expert Marie Kondo.
How many of you already know who I am talking about?
Marie Kondo has become my favorite modern theologian in over past couple of weeks as I have read her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. First with her books and now with her Netflix Series, Marie Kondo is changing how people and communities place value on things and learn to treasure what actually matters. I believe that Paul and Jesus would approve! The KonMari Method, as she calls it, is a doctrine of rebellion against a society that tells us to hold onto everything: resentments, revenge, rage (the three R’s), stuff, junk, and belongings. We are conditioned to hoard out of fear. We fear forgetting, not having enough, or being in a state of needing something we once had and have lost or given up. In this age of selfishness and monochromatic (look-alike) printer ministries, this is a reminder to our call to let go of habits of hoarding so we may rediscover the full palette of possibility.
Today, as we reorganize our life of church, as we prepare ourselves for a year’s worth of new artistic ministry curation and gallery openings, I would like for us to think of 2019 as the year of KonMari Christianity.
As the Body of Christ, we owe this to ourselves as community. Here are a couple insights from Marie Kondo that are relevant to our organization day as a Body of Christ and maybe also have resonance for you in your own lives.
1. Lesson 1: Don’t live for yesterday or fear next year! “We can only transform our lives if we sincerely want to. Small changes transform our lives. There are two reasons we can’t let go: an attachment to the past or a fear of the future.” Friends, as we assemble as a congregation again for 2019, how do we hope to transform Plymouth, Fort Collins and the world? In your own lives, friends, what are you holding onto that is an attachment to the past but doesn’t give you life right now? “There are three approaches we can take towards our possessions: face them now, face them later, or avoid them until the day we die. The choice is ours…If we acknowledge our attachment to the past and our fears for the future by honestly looking at our possessions [or systems] we will be able to see what is really important to us…If you are going to put your house in order do it now.” The first lesson on community curation is face stuff directly and don’t hang onto stuff or structures because of an unhealthy attachment to the past or a fear for the future. To be the best church we can in 2019, we need to live fully for ministry in this year!
2. Lesson 2: “Cherish who you are now!” How many of us use the word cherish mostly in reference to memories, to keepsakes, or to that which we no longer think we have? Do you cherish who you are now? Do we as a congregation cherish (adore and celebrate) the amazing, generous congregation we are on this very day? As your associate curator, I cherish who you are now. Marie Kondo brings up this topic in terms of those boxes of pictures of unopened photo albums we all have at home and here in the archives. She observes that most of the joy of having pictures is mostly found in the moment of taking the picture not in the storing of the pictures. This gets at a bigger and deeper spiritual point: “Cherish the things you love. Cherish yourself: Find what you truly cherish in life. Cherish who you are and what brings you joy and fulfillment.” As congregation, let us learn to cherish all of the Body Parts of Christ and celebrate them in the now.
3. Lesson 3: “Spark Joy!” The idea of "spark joy" is by far the most popular and most important contribution of Marie Kondo. And it's why I think, no matter if you have Netflix or not, all of us need to become KonMari Christians. In a time of darkness and fear, Marie Kondo has brought millions of people two important theological questions. What is joy? & What does joy mean to you? She doesn’t offer a definition of joy, but she demands that we answer this question in the deepest part of our hearts. Where is your joy? She then asks, “What sparks joy in your life?” You are Holy Spirit artists, but you need more creative freedom! Marie Kondo tells us, “When you do this, you will be surprised at how clearly you can tell the difference between those that touch your heart and those that don’t. As always, only keep the ones that inspire joy!” (Or see this New Yorker cartoon...)
As a young ministry curator in a very old and sometimes dusty art museum of ministry, the United Church of Christ, I am almost daily asked in one form or another why young people aren’t in church and to diagnose what is wrong with Church in general in 2019. That is almost fitting since the etymology of “to curate” comes from the same root as “to cure” meaning to attend and stay vigilant to those who are ill. The world eventually evolved from healthcare to vigilance in attending to art collections…and today we extend it to ministry.
It does make me wonder how my age (30 years old) is somehow a credential to wisdom on this important topic? I have struggled to answer this question until now. The number one thing that church has forgotten, especially in the midst of our campaigns of all sorts and systemic internal anxieties is that our primary purpose is to help people learn how to find joy again! We are called to help re-spark joy in living in the midst of death, depression, loss, and fear. It is the Church’s job to always spark joy in in community in the midst of toxic politics. It is our job to spark joy and ALWAYS point to the dynamic-artistic-creative relationship with Jesus Christ and God. The Christian Church should, at its best, spark joy everywhere it is found and every time anyone encounters our touchpoints or presence. This is the primary call of Church Community: Spark Joy!
The world, friends, needs a macro organizing expert. Our systems for categorizing, ethics for doing collective laundry, our patterns for decision making are not working. Christianity and all of the big world religions need a revamp and a KonMari Closet Emptying! Like our Sabbatical Interim Senior, The Rev. Ron Patterson, said in his sermons last year for Reformation Sunday, we need a giant garage sale as church! We need to ground ourselves again in the sparking, lit, burning joy of communities of sparking joy in a depressed world.
In the words of Marie Kondo: “If we acknowledged our attachment to the past and to our fears for the future by honestly looking at our possessions, we will be able to see what is really important to us. This process in turn helps us identify our values and reduce doubt and confusion in making life decisions…
"If you can say without a doubt, ‘I really like this!’ no matter what anyone else says, and if you like yourself for having it, then ignore what other people think…All you need to do is get rid of anything that doesn’t touch your heart…As for you, pour your time and passion into what brings you the most joy, your mission in life.”
It is one of the greatest honors to be an associate curator here in your Art Gallery of the Holy Spirit called Plymouth. Today, as we reorganize for yet another year, my prayer is that we truly remember our purpose to be a place that we all say, ‘I really like this’ no matter what anyone else says and to spark joy in the hearts of our members, our visitors, our community, and the world. Mostly, we Pray that, as always, we Spark Joy in the heart of God the Creator and Great Curator of life.
Spark Joy, friends! Let’s do this 2019 thing!
The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph ("just Jake"), Associate Minister, came to Plymouth in 2014 having served in the national setting of the UCC on the board of Justice & Witness Ministries, the Coalition for LGBT Concerns, and the Chairperson of the Council for Youth and Young Adult Ministries (CYYAM). Jake has a passion for ecumenical work and has worked in a wide variety of churches and traditions. Read more about him on our staff page.
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning,
Plymouth Congregational UCC
Fort Collins, Colorado
I spent much of the day on Thursday reading a volume of sermons by an eminent mid-century theologian. And though these sermons were written 50 or 60 years in the past, there is still a freshness and relevance to them. And that is unfortunate in some ways, because the moral and religious failings these sermons address are still with us.
When we celebrate Martin Luther King Day tomorrow, most of us in America will think of Dr. King as a great civil rights leader, which to be sure, he was. But that is not all he was.
Clayborne Carson, a professor of history at Stanford, writes, “The world saw him as a marching protest leader, but Martin Luther King, Jr., was first and foremost a preacher. ‘In the quiet recesses of my heart,’ he once remarked, ‘I am fundamentally a clergyman, a Baptist preacher.’”  And we know that Dr. King was a great preacher, but when you begin to read his sermons, you come to an understanding of the theology and the faith that informed who he was as a leader.
“As a young man with most of my life ahead of me,” King proclaimed, “I decided early to give my life to something eternal and absolute. Not to these little gods that are here today and gone tomorrow…. I’m not going to put my ultimate faith in the little gods that can be destroyed in an atomic age, but the God who has been our help in ages past, and our hope for years to come, and our shelter in the time of storm, and our eternal home.”  No one knew that King would not grow past middle age before being killed by an assassin’s bullet.
The other thing that was new for me was to understand his theological progressivism. I knew, of course, that he was steeped in the experience of the African-American church and its commitment to social and economic justice, but when you read Dr. King’s sermons, you learn that it really was about justice…not “just us.” His concern was not only for African-Americans, but for all people. Dr. King was also shaped by Colgate Rochester Divinity School, where a half century earlier the theology of the Social Gospel was enunciated most clearly by Walter Rauschenbusch, standing as a counterpoise to fundamentalism, and in many ways, King was the transmitter of the Social Gospel in the mid 20th century.
Like progressive Christians now, King identified a “widespread belief in the minds of many that there is a conflict between science and religion. But,” King writes, “there is no fundamental issue between the two.”  He was in no way a biblical literalist; in fact, many white Evangelical preachers in the South who stood against the civil rights struggle were literalists who used the Bible as a bludgeon, rather than as a source of grace and light.
King speaks in his sermons against materialism and in favor of a lived faith. “It’s possible to affirm the existence of God with your lips and deny his existence with your life,” King claimed. “We say with our mouths that we believe in him, but we live our lives like he never existed.”  You probably aren’t going to hear that quote on the news tomorrow, because it’s “too religious” for our secular society. But if you don’t understand Dr. King’s faith, you cannot understand Dr. King in any deep and meaningful way.
“We just became so involved in getting our big bank accounts,” King preached, “that we unconsciously forgot about God – we didn’t mean to do it. We became so involved in getting our nice, luxurious cars, and they’re very nice, but we became so involved in it that it became much more convenient to ride out to the beach on a Sunday afternoon than to come to church that morning. It was an unconscious thing – we didn’t mean to do it. We became so involved and fascinated by the intricacies of television that we found it a little more convenient to stay at home than to come to church. It was an unconscious thing – we didn’t mean to do it.”  Thank God his parishioners didn’t have the temptations of the internet, Netflix, and skiing! Seriously, he was calling his congregation out to remind them of what it means to be faithful. In another sermon he claimed, “You are more concerned about making a living than making a life.”  Think of the contrast between Dr. King’s theology and today’s “prosperity gospel.”
I also discovered a short sentence that hit me like a rock. I want you to listen to this sentence and don’t think about the situation in the late 1950s…I want you to think about what it means today. “Social problems and racism in particular are moral and spiritual problems that create political and economic consequences.” Listen to that again: “Social problems and racism in particular are moral and spiritual problems that create political and economic consequences.” 
That we have a president whose administration imprisons children on our border…that is a moral and a spiritual problem: his and ours. That we have a shut-down government denying work to federal employees and contractors…that is a moral and a spiritual problem: his and ours. That we are witnessing a rise in hate crimes…that is a moral and a spiritual problem: his and ours. Do we have a moral and spiritual problem to address in this country?
Dr. King said, “One cannot worship the false god of nationalism and the God of Christianity at the same time. The two are incompatible.” We call the worship of false gods idolatry, and it is a violation of the first commandment. Can you say “America First” and call yourself a Christian?
The economic and political consequences that we live with today are the manifestation, the consequence, the result of the undealt-with moral and spiritual problems that haunt this nation. We need to deal with our national obsession with material things, with the avarice that drives our economy, with ongoing racism that eats away at our nation. These are moral and spiritual problems.
And one of the consequences that Dr. King didn’t live to see is that we are killing God’s planet as well as God’s people. We need a church that is willing to speak out as the conscience of our society, and we need a government willing to get tough, work across the aisle, and make hard choices that address the moral and spiritual problems that cause such suffering. “The church must be reminded,” King preached, “that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.”  Congregations like ours must claim that mantle, but it means we need to focus not just on charity, but on the work of systemic justice, as we are doing on the border, with our police, with affordable housing.
One of the things that Dr. King knew and experienced is that doing the work of social justice requires risks and is incredibly taxing. It exhausts those who stand up for the oppressed. And he knew in the depths of his soul that his faith in God was what gave him and the movement the kind of spiritual resiliency that made change in the long term possible. Without roots extending deep into the soil of faith, the tree of social justice will wither and blow over in a strong wind.
When Mary tells her son that the wine has run out, Jesus says to his mother, “My time has not yet come.” In other words, his time to die is not yet arrived. But then he asks the steward to bring the jars and fill them with water. And he changes them into wine.
Jesus shows up at just the right moment, and even though time seems out of joint to him, he proceeds because he sees what is needed: the people need to taste and see that God is good. Sometimes situations call forth leaders who are needed in the moment, and I sense that God called Martin Luther King, Jr., into the moment when America needed him most. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a mystic, scholar, and activist said, “The whole future of America will depend on the impact and influence of Dr. King.” The man had incredible gifts, talents and abilities that were ripe for that Kairos moment of American in the 1950s and 60s. He was not Jesus turning water into wine, but he was a prophet, showing this nation and the world a third way, a nonviolent path toward spiritual, moral, and social transformation.
Who will turn water into wine for our nation today?
There is much we can do today as the heirs of Dr. King’s spiritual legacy. We can use our faith as our bedrock as we lift our voices to speak out against racism, police violence, white nationalism, jingoism, economic injustice, and unjust immigration policy. But we need to lift every voice and sing…we need to stand up and let our voices be heard, in the halls of Congress, in the voting booth, in the public square.
“Taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him. O fear the Lord, you, his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want.” 
© 2019 Hal Chorpenning, all rights reserved. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.
Sermon podcasts (no text)