Sunday’s sermon: Losing Keys: Flawed but Still Following

lost keys

Text used – 1 John 1:5-2:6

 

  • So this summer, we’ve been working out way through Tish Harrison Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices for Everyday Life[1], and as we get set to tackle chap. 4 this morning – “Losing Keys: Confession and the Truth About Ourselves.” So to kick this chapter off, I want to read you a list that Warren lays out at the beginning of this chapter. It’s called “Stages of Searching for Lost Objects.” Let’s just see if any of this sounds familiar, shall we?
    • [READ “Stages of Searching for Lost Objects”[2]]
    • Well, does that sound like something you’ve ever experienced? Maybe it’s not your keys. Maybe it’s your glasses. Maybe it’s your wallet or your checkbook. Maybe it’s some essential paperwork for your job or your kids’ school. Or you watch. Or a piece of jewelry. Or, God forbid, your cell phone! Our list of Potential Lost Things could go on and on.
      • Warren calls this frantic cycle of searching “the apocalypse” in the most exact and authentic sense of the word: Apocalypse literally means an unveiling or uncovering. In my anger, grumbling, self-berating, cursing, doubt, and despair, I glimpsed, for a few minutes, how tightly I cling to control and how little control I actually have. And in the absence of control, feeling stuck and stressed, those parts of me that I prefer to keep hidden were momentarily unveiled.[3] → It is in these apocalypse moments of our days – these moments that, for better or worse, truly unveil who we are at our most frazzled, most frustrated, and most vulnerable – that we are reminded of our less-than-perfect nature as human beings. It is in these moments that we are reminded that, no matter how much comfort we find in the delusion, we are, in fact, not in control. We are, in fact, not It is in these moments that we are reminded exactly why and how and how often we are in need of God’s benevolence: God’s forgiveness, God’s mercy, and God’s grace.
  • As both the books title – Liturgy of the Ordinary – and the chapter title – “Losing Keys: Confession and the Truth About Ourselves” – suggests, Warren comes at this recognition of our imperfections and our need for forgiveness from a liturgical standpoint: confession. → 3 facets of confession … all of which we also find in our Scripture reading for this morning from 1 John
    • Brief context for our Scripture reading this morning[4]
      • 1, 2, 3 John all authored by anonymous author → “the elder” (named in the openings of 2 and 3 John)
        • Unlikely that this John is at all related to the apostle John
        • Some scholars believe writer of these letters could have been the same person that wrote the gospel of John → no consensus on this
      • Uncertain dating
      • Uncertain community to which these letters were written
      • Nevertheless, the importance of 1, 2, and 3 John to our understanding of our faith is undeniable. These letters address essential topics like the nature of God, the personhood and divinity of Jesus Christ, and what it means to be a part of the Christian community.
    • Back to our theme for this morning – (Warren) 1st facet of confession = purpose for confession → our brokenness
      • Warren lays it out pretty starkly: When the day is lovely and sunny and everything is going according to plan, I can look like a pretty good person. But little things gone wrong and interrupted plans reveal who I really am; my cracks show and I see that I am profoundly in need of grace. But here’s the thing: pretty good people do not need Jesus. He came for the lost. He came for the broken. In his love for us he came to usher us into fondness and wholeness.[5]
      • Hear this echoed in our Scripture reading for this morning: This is the message that we have heard from him and announce to you: “God is light and there is no darkness in him at all.” If we claim, “We have fellowship with him,” and live in the darkness, we are lying and do not act truthfully. … If we claim, “We don’t have any sin,” we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. … If we claim, “We have never sinned,” we make him a liar and his word is not in us. … The one who claims, “I know him,” while not keeping his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in this person.[6] → With these words, the writer of John – the elder – makes it clear that there are times when we make mistakes. There are times when we don’t think we need God. There are times when we proclaim God with our lips but neglect to do so with our hands and our hearts.
        • Sometimes it’s something we’re intentionally trying to keep from God – something that we know is wrong, some sin that we think is too entwined with our days and our lives to feel like something we can give up
        • Sometimes it’s the small things, the things we think won’t matter – Warren points out that nothing is too small or too unnoticeable for God: When suffering is sharp and profound, I expect and believe that God will meet me in its midst. But in the struggles of my average day I somehow feel I have a right to be annoyed. The indignations and irritations of the modern world feel authentic and understandable. → Oh, how we like to feel justified in our frustrations and brokenness, righteous in our anger and irritation. But Scripture makes it clear that proclaiming God with our lips must line up with proclaiming God with our actions and our hearts as well … and when that doesn’t happen, we find ourselves broken and in need of confession.
    • Leads us to 2nd facet of confession = attitude of confession → repentance
      • Ps 51 (passage that we read during our Ash Wednesday service which ushers us into the season of Lent every year) = ancient Hebrew hymn of repentance: Because I know my wrongdoings, my sin is always right in front of me. I’ve sinned against you – you alone. I’ve committed evil in your sight. That’s why you are justified when you render your verdict, completely correct when you issue your judgment. … A broken spirit is my sacrifice, God. You won’t despite a heart, God that is broken and crushed.[7]
      • This morning’s NT Scripture passage – the 2nd half of each of the phrases we just read about confession: If we claim, “We do not have fellowship with him,” and live in the darkness, we are lying and do not act truthfully. But if we live in the light in the same way as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other … If we claim, “We don’t have any sin,” we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just … The one who claims to remain in him out to live in the same way as he lived.[8]
      • Warren connects this attitude of repentance with the rhythms of our day-to-day: It’s not enough to merely want to be more content or to tell myself to cheer up. I need to cultivate the practice of meeting Christ in these small moments of grief, frustration, and anger, of encountering Christ’s death and resurrection – the big story of brokenness and redemption – in a small, gray, stir-crazy Tuesday morning. … Repentance and faith are the constant, daily rhythms of the Christian life, our breathing out and breathing in. … Repentance is not usually a moment wrought in high drama. It is the steady drumbeat of life in Christ and, therefore, a day in Christ.[9] → If we cannot come before Christ not only recognizing our broken places but seeking to change what broke those places in the first place – our pride, our aggression, our attitude, our judgment, our temper, our sin – then we are not coming to be changed but just to perform lip service. We are not coming with a contrite heart but a perfunctory one. We are not coming seeking true forgiveness but only a whitewashing of our sins so we can turn around and do them all over again.
        • Sort of like when you’re trying to get kids to apologize to each other when they don’t want to: “Say you’re sorry.” *heavy sign … eye roll … sarcastic tone* “Sor-ry.
    • Attitude of true repentance ushers in 3rd facet of confession = fruition of confession → forgiveness/God’s grace
      • Scripture for this morning: If we claim, “We have fellowship with him,” and live in the darkness, we are lying and do not act truthfully. But if we live in the light in the same way as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin. If we claim, “We don’t have any sin,” we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong. … My little children, I’m writing these things to you so that you don’t sin. But if you do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is God’s way of dealing with our sins, not only ours but the sins of the whole world. … The love of God is truly perfected in whoever keeps his word. This is how we know we are in him.[10]
      • Warren: In these small moments that reveal my lostness and brokenness, I need to develop the habit of admitting the truth of who I am – not running to justify myself or minimize my sin. And yet, in my brokenness and lostness, I also need to form the habit of letting God love me, trusting again in [God’s] mercy, and receiving again [God’s] words of forgiveness and absolution over me. … Our failures or successes in the Christian life are not what define us or determine our worth before God our God’s people. Instead, we are defined by Christ’s life and work on our behalf.[11] → In those moments of brokenness – the big ones that shatter us completely and the small ones that just chip away at our edges bit by bit – we are confronted with our need for forgiveness. And we can either fly off the handle and let that need define us – running around frantically and angrily searching in vain – or we can turn to God through Christ, confess our brokenness, repent, and let the life and love and grace of God in Jesus Christ define us. So what will you choose? Amen.

[1] Tish Harrison Warren. Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), 2016.

[2] Warren, 51-52.

[3] Warren, 52.

[4] C. Clifton Black. “The First, Second, and Third Letters of John: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 12. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1998), 365-378.

[5] Warren, 54.

[6] 1 John 1:5-6, 8, 10; 2:4.

[7] Ps 51:3-4, 17.

[8] 1 John 1:6-7, 8-9; 2:6 (emphasis added).

[9] Warren, 56, 57.

[10] 1 John 1:6-9; 2:1-2, 5.

[11] Warren, 56, 57.

Sunday’s sermon: Brushing Teeth: God’s Created Beauty in Me

love your body

Text used – Genesis 1:1-2, 26-31

 

 

  • Luke and Ian were trying to teach Julia a song a few weeks ago: “Head, shoulders, knees and toes (knees and toes). Head, shoulders, knees and toes (knees and toes). Eyes and ears and mouth and nose. Head, shoulders, knees and toes!” It was so cute listening to them coach her through figuring out where her various body parts were and cheer for her when she got them right. And, of course, they giggle when she got them wrong (which, of course, made her giggle, too).
    • Adorable to watch
    • In light of what we’re talking about today, also an interesting illustration → I want you to take a minute and think about how much you think about your body – how it looks, how it feels, how it moves. I mean, you might as well think about it because advertisers and bodily improvement industries are certainly thinking about it.
      • Plastic surgery industry in 2018 – $16.5 billion[1]
      • Fitness industry in 2018 – $30 billion[2]
      • Weight loss industry in 2018 – $72 billion[3]
      • Beauty industry (hair, cosmetics, over-the-counter treatments, etc.) in 2018 – $532 billion[4]
      • Billions upon billions upon billions of dollars spent every year trying to improve our bodies in one way or another because billions more have been spent by advertisers trying to convince us those bodies aren’t good enough … strong enough … beautiful enough … capable enough.
    • Along those lines: think about how much time you spend each day taking care of your body
      • Big ways and small ways
      • Simple ways and more complicated ways
      • Everything from showering to food and water, from exercise to brushing your teeth → This summer, we’re working our way through Tish Harrison Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life[5]a truly inspirational book that walks us through the most common, seemingly mundane routines of our days and gives us glimpses of where and how we can seek and savor God even in those least obvious moment, those least conscious moments, those least glossy moments … even those moments we’d rather hide.
    • Today, we’re tackling Warren’s 3rd chapter: “Brushing Teeth: Standing, Kneeling, Bowing, and Living in a Body.” So let’s talk about God and faith and our physical bodies.
  • Warren begins by exploring gamut of positives and negatives when it comes to having a body
    • Work and wonder of having a body
    • Caregiving that our bodies require and the pleasure that we get from having a body
      • Pleasure of feeling cool air conditioning on your skin when you step inside on a hot day
      • Pleasure of savoring the flavor of your favorite dish or drink
      • Pleasure of hearing your favorite song or your favorite person saying your name
      • Simple pleasure of breathing in and breathing out, of taking a deep breath
    • Theological side
      • Physical bodies have always been a profound element of our faith
        • Think of our sacraments – the water of baptism and the feast of the Lord’s Supper, food and water … both necessities for the physical survival of our bodies.
        • Think about all the physical, bodily elements of worship
          • Lifting up our voices
            • Readings
            • Song
          • Prayer (like what we talked about earlier) → either large, extravagant motions or motions as familiar as bowing your heads, folding your hands, turning up your face, or lifting your hands
          • (One of our favorites around here): Passing the Peace → greeting one another with a handshake or a hug and the peace of Christ
          • Anointing with oil
          • Marking with ashes on Ash Wednesday
          • Laying on of hands
            • Ordination
            • Confirmation
            • Healing prayer
          • And so many more!
        • Warren reminds us that all of the sacredness of our bodies in worship doesn’t magically leave our bodies when we walk out of the church building (or when we can’t even walk into the church building) … That sacredness stays with us: We carry all of our bodily training in gathered worship – our kneeling, singing, eating, drinking, standing, hand raising, and gesturing – with us into the bathroom on an average day when we look in the mirror.[6]
      • And then, of course, there’s Jesus himself – Emmanuel; God With Us; God’s physical, embodied love letter to humanity. In Jesus, God became incarnate, taking on every aspect of our fleshy, bodily humanity – the pleasure and the pain, the struggle and the strain, the daring and the dancing, the passion and the pleasure, the brokenness and the blessedness. God took on all of that (and even all of the most – erm – earthly elements of having a body) in Jesus Christ. That was the whole point. So of course our faith is a faith that reaches into our bodies.
        • Warren: When Jesus redeems us, that redemption occurs in our bodies. … Our bodies and souls are inseparable, and therefore what we do with our bodies and what we do with our souls are always entwined.[7]
    • Takes it even a step further than just reuniting our bodies and souls → blessing our bodies for being bodies (for what they are and what they do) – Warren: In Christ, these bodily tasks are a response to God’s creative goodness. These teeth I’m brushing, the body I’m bathing, these nails I’m clipping were made by a loving Creator who does not reject the human body. Instead [God] declared us – holistically – “very good.” [God] took on flesh in order to redeem us in our goodies, and in so doing [God] redeemed embodiment itself.[8]
  • Brings us to our Scripture reading this morning – the last day of creation from the 1st creation account in Genesis – text: When God began to create the heavens and the earth— the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters— … Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth.” God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.” Then God said, “I now give to you all the plants on the earth that yield seeds and all the trees whose fruit produces its seeds within it. These will be your food. To all wildlife, to all the birds in the sky, and to everything crawling on the ground—to everything that breathes—I give all the green grasses for food.” And that’s what happened. God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good. There was evening and there was morning: the sixth day.[9] → God created humanity in God’s own image. Does that mean God’s got a body just like ours? Arms and legs, ears and eyelashes, toenails and a belly button? No. But when God created our bodies – with all the spirit and creativity and capacity for hopes and dreams, joy and sorrow, forgiveness and grace that are essential to God’s own self – God created them as they are and called them good. Not just good, but, according to our Scripture, “supremely good.”
    • Heb. word for “joyous/pleasing” + Heb. word for “abundance/mighty” – leaves no room for doubt or defiance → God’s creation – all of God’s creation, including the human body as God created it – is abundantly joyous, mightily pleasing, supremely good. Period. God didn’t say, “When that human’s hair looks just right, then he’s supremely good.” God didn’t say, “When that human’s wearing makeup, then she’s supremely good.” God didn’t say, “When that human weighs 15 lbs. less, then he’s supremely good.” God said, “You see that human right there? I created that human, and he is supremely good. She is supremely good. They are supremely good simply because I created them.”
      • Really critical point, friends: God also doesn’t designate which humans are supremely good → God doesn’t say, “Only the white ones.” God doesn’t say, “Only the educated ones.” God doesn’t say, “Only the rich ones.” God doesn’t say, “Only the employed ones.” God doesn’t say, “Only the healthy ones.” God doesn’t say, “Only the straight ones or only the cis-gender ones.” God doesn’t say, “Only the ones with a disability.” God doesn’t say, “Only the [fill in the blank of the ways we belittle those unlike ourselves] ones.”
        • Word translated as “humanity” = general Heb. for all people → End of story. No qualifiers need apply. That means black and brown bodies are created beautiful in God’s eyes. That means differently abled bodies are beautiful in God’s eyes. That means transgender bodies are beautiful in God’s eyes. That means immigrant bodies are beautiful in God’s eyes.
    • Friends, we are living in a time of great social unrest and great social change. We are living in a time when a lot of us are realizing that there are a lot of sections of our country that have been marginalized and pushed aside, abused and gunned down, oppressed and subjugated, discriminated against and held back simply because of some element of their bodies – the bodies and minds and spirits that were created in God’s own loving, creative, energetic, beautiful image. Here’s the bottom line today: there are lots of ways that we judge and disparage our own bodies, and there are lots of ways that we judge and disparage the bodies of others. But as you go about those mindless, simple routines in your day that have you caring for your own body, remember that to God, all bodies are deemed sacred and supremely good. Amen.

 

  • Read I Love All of Me by Lorie Ann Grover → This is a truly beautiful board book that celebrates all the parts of the body. It is currently one of my daughter’s favorite books, and I highly recommend it.

[1] https://www.plasticsurgery.org/news/press-releases/americans-spent-more-than-16-billion-on-cosmetic-plastic-surgery-in-2018.

[2] https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/how-are-fitness-consumers-spending-their-time-and-money-300809717.html#:~:text=CHICAGO%2C%20March%2011%2C%202019%20%2F,of%20data%20and%201%2C300%20responses.

[3] https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20190225005455/en/72-Billion-Weight-Loss-Diet-Control-Market.

[4] https://www.businessinsider.com/beauty-multibillion-industry-trends-future-2019-7#:~:text=The%20beauty%20industry%20is%20growing,from%20retail%20analytics%20firm%20Edited.

[5] Tish Harrison Warren. Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), 2016.

[6] Warren, 48.

[7] Warren, 39.

[8] Warren, 39-40.

[9] Gen 1:1-2. 26-31.

Sunday’s sermon: Making the Bed: Prayerful Patterns, Sacred Shaping

made bed

Text used – Psalm 119:25-40

 

 

  • So, we’re working through this book this summer, right? Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren.
    • Started last week → talked about the overarching theme of the book = finding those sacred, life-giving moments in the midst of the most ordinary, routine parts of our days
    • But here’s the thing about tackling a book that discusses finding God in our routines: a book like this forces us to examine our routines. All of our routines. The ones we love … and the one’s we rather we didn’t have. And in terms of finding God and sacred practices, all of those routines are fair game: the good, the bad, and the ugly. [PAUSE] With that in mind, I want to share with you the story that Warren tells at the beginning of her second chapter which she called, “Making the Bed: Liturgy, Ritual, and What Forms a Life.”
      • Begins by talking about something that she used to see as a ludicrously useless and futile exercise: making the bed → And when I say that she “used to” see making the bed as a useless endeavor, I’m not talking about when she was a teenager. I’m talking about up until a few years ago … well into her adulthood.
      • Got curious about why people invest (waste!) time making their beds every morning → decided to poll her friends and found out that most of them actually did it … they actually made their beds every single morning!
      • Reflecting on her own daily early morning habits, Warren’s realized that her first movement and routine of the day was, in fact, reaching over to her nightstand for … her phone → And with this reflection came the realization that that simple act – a mere 5-10 minutes of scrolling on that seductively-glowing little screen – affected her expectations for her entire day. – Warren: My morning smartphone ritual was brief – no more than five or ten minutes. But I was imprinted. My day was imprinted with technology. And like a mountain lion cub attached to her humans, I’d look for all good things to come from glowing screens. … Throughout the day I fed on a near-constant stream of news, entertainment, stimulation, likes, and retweets. Without realizing it, I had slowly built a habit: a steady resistance to and dread of boredom.[1]
      • So for Lent one year, Warren decided to give up checking her smartphone in the morning and instead simply make her bed → new routine:
        • Leave smartphone charging somewhere not in the bedroom
        • Make her bed first thing in the morning
        • Spend a few moments (roughly equivalent of time she would have spent scrolling on her phone) sitting quietly in the middle of her freshly made bed and focusing on God
          • Sometimes read Scripture
          • Mostly prayed – Warren: I’d lay out my worries, my hopes, and my questions before God, spreading them out in [God’s] presence like stretched-out sheets. I’d pray for my work and family, for decisions, for a meeting scheduled later in the day. But mostly, I’d invite God into the day and just sit. Silent. Sort of listening. Sort of just sitting. But I sat expectantly. God made this day. [God] wrote it and has a purpose in it. Today, [God] is the maker and giver of all good things.[2]
  • Sitting. Listening. Spending a few moments at the beginning of the day giving the entirety of your day over to God before it’s even happened. Starting fresh every day – fresh bed, smooth quilt, blank slate … fresh mind, smooth spirit, blank slate.
    • Honest confession: this was a tough chapter for me because much of Tish’s opening story is my morning as well
      • Spending a few minutes in the morning blurrily swiping through my phone → nothing crucial … nothing that can’t wait another 15 mins. or even another hour or more
      • And really … I’ve never been a bed-maker. Like Tish’s initial mindset, I’ve always kind of thought, “What’s the point? I’m just going to climb (stumble … fall … whatever) back into this exact same bed 16+ hrs. from now and get it all messed up again. Why bother making it look all nice when it’s going to inevitably get messy again?” And yet I cannot deny that in the hustle and bustle and cram-jam 1000-words-per-minute world in which we live – this world of instant headlines and instant notifications and instant likes and shares and retweets … In the midst of all that, I cannot deny that there is something wholly appealing about starting the day not with that chaos but with the simplicity of a made bed and the simplicity of being with God.
        • Asking God to be part of my day
        • Pledging once again to be God’s instrument throughout the day
        • Reminder to remain open to God’s leading and guiding and teaching and nudging presence throughout the day
  • Hear echoes of this in our Scripture reading this morning
    • Psalmist seems to be in a bit of a bind
      • Seeks God’s wisdom, guidance, and promises
      • Seeks God’s instruction
      • Seeks God’s constancy and steadfastness
    • Text: My life is stuck in the dirt. Now make me live again according to your promise! I confessed my ways and you answered me. Now teach me your statutes! Help me understand what your precepts are about so I can contemplate your wondrous works. … Turn my heart to your laws, not to greedy gain. Turn my eyes away from looking at worthless things. Make me live by your way.[3] → We hear that back and forth in this psalm – that back and forth that we feel and know so well ourselves: “This is what I’m doing, God. This is my current routine. This is the current ebb and flow of my day. But it’s not enough. It’s not good enough. It’s not satisfying. It’s not edifying. It’s not feeding my soul and renewing my spirit. And so I’m turning to you, God. I’m turning to the One who created me for this moment … this day … this life. I’m turning to the One who desires good for me, the One who loves me enough to teach me again and again and again.” It’s a recognition that our routines exist – for good or for ill – and that we need God to be a part of those routines. It’s a pause and an invitation for God to be a part of those routines, not just to lift up what we’re already doing and shower us with empty praise, but to help us to learn and grow, to be challenged and changed.
      • Gets at the place and purpose of routine and ritual and liturgy in our lives overall – Warren: We don’t wake up daily and form a new way of being-in-the-world from scratch, and we don’t think our way through every action of our day. We move in patterns that we have set over time, day by day. These habits and practices shape our loves, our desires, and ultimately who we are and what we worship.[4]
  • Multiple parts to enacting this type of liturgy in our lives
    • Pausing → doesn’t have to be for any excessively long amount of time, but pausing gives God the reverence and time that God deserves … God has given us this beautiful, wide-open day. We can give a portion of it directly and wholeheartedly to God with our full attention.
    • Opening → opening our hearts and our minds and our spirits – opening our whole selves and our whole lives – to God … because a relationship that isn’t open – a relationship that tries to hold things back or keep certain parts hidden – isn’t a healthy or holy relationship.
    • Confessing → recognizing those places in our days and our routines that have been lacking – those places that need God’s touch and God’s presence and God’s redeeming work
    • And finally, enacting this liturgy in our lives requires willingness:
      • Willingness to listen
      • Willingness to be chastened and humbled
      • Willingness to change and be changed
    • Warren: Examining my daily liturgy as a liturgy – as something that both revealed and shaped what I love and worship – allowed me to realize that my daily practices were malforming me, making me less alive, less human, less able to give and receive love throughout my day. Changing this ritual allowed me to form a new repetitive and contemplative habit that pointed me toward a different way of being-in-the-world.[5]
      • Psalm: My spirit sags because of grief. Now raise me up according to your promise! Remove all false ways from me; show mercy to me by means of your Instruction. I’ve chosen the way of faithfulness; I’m set on your rules. I’m holding tight to your laws, Lord. Please don’t let me be put to shame. … Help me understand so I can guard your Instruction and keep it with all my heart.[6]
  • I want to leave you with a question that Warren asks this morning. She asks it in this chapter, but really, it’s a question that pertains to every chapter … to every sermon in this series … to every routine that shapes and forms our days: What kind of people is our liturgy forming us to be? [PAUSE]

[1] Tish Harrison Warren. Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016), 27.

[2] Warren, 28.

[3] Ps 119:25-27, 36-37.

[4] Warren, 30.

[5] Warren, 31.

[6] Ps 119:28-31, 34.

Sunday’s sermon: Waking Up: Those First Delicate Moments

Text used – Ephesians 2:1-10

 

 

  • I want to introduce you to a book this morning. (A shocker from me, I know.) It’s a book that was part of my first round of doctorate readings, and it’s one of those books that just grabs a hold of you. It’s one of those books that, as I was reading it, I felt like I could have underlined just about every paragraph on every page. It’s one of those books that is perspective-shifting.
    • Book: Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren[1] → [READ THE BACK] “Come and discover the holiness of your every day.” After the upheaval of our “every day”s, the unexpected tedium of working from home and schooling from home and shopping from home and everything from home, and the general uncertainty and unrest in the world right now, it struck me as a very, very good time for us to attempt to open our eyes to the ways God is working in even most ordinary, banal moments of our days. Because I think we could all use some flashes and glimpses of God right now, right?
      • Especially important because I think we often struggle to find God in the “normal” moments – in our regular, day-to-day, often automatic routines → I mean, it’s easy for us to find God in the mountaintop moments – those moments that have us soaring on joy and excitement and awe. Likewise, it’s easy for us to turn to God in the darkest valley moments – those moments when we are overwhelmed by fear and pain and grief.
        • Warren addresses this: Alfred Hitchcock said movies are “life with the dull bits cut out.” Car chases and first kisses, interesting plot lines and good conversations. We don’t want to watch our lead character going on a walk, stuck in traffic, or brushing his teeth – at least not for long, and not without a good soundtrack. We tend to want a Christian life with the dull bits cut out. Yet God made us to spend our days in rest, work, and play, taking care of our bodies, our families, our neighborhoods, our homes. What if all these boring parts matter to God? What if days passed in ways that feel small and insignificant to us are weighty with meaning and part of the abundant life that God has for us?[2] → So this summer, we’re going to wind our way through this book, examining some of those most boring, ordinary elements of our daily routines in the hopes of finding God and worshiping God not in spite of those moments, but earnestly and wholeheartedly through those moments.
  • Start today with something as simple as WAKING UP
    • Warren’s description of “waking up”: I wake slowly, Even when the day demands I rally quickly – when my kids leap on top of me with sharp elbows or my alarm blares – I lie still for the first few seconds of the day, stunned, orienting, thoughts dulled. Then comes, slowly, the dawning of plans to make and goals for the day. But in those first delicate seconds, the bleary-eyed pause of waking, before the tasks begin, before I get on my game, I’m greeted again with the truth of who I am in my most basic self.[3] → Throughout her first chapter, Warren links those “first delicate seconds” after waking up to grace and the newness of baptism.
      • Baptism, in a way, is a waking up
        • Warren speaks of Jesus’ baptism as related in the gospels → (as far as we know) Jesus had a perfectly ordinary life up to that moment (growing up with his parents and his siblings, running and playing with the other kids in Nazareth, learning the carpentry trade from Joseph, eating and sleeping and skinning his knee and worshiping at the Temple and the local synagogue with his community) → à Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan by John the Baptist and the Holy Spirit coming down as a dove with God’s proclamation of claiming Jesus as God’s own Son → Jesus’ birth into his ministry → From that point on, even as the water from the Jordan continued to drip from Jesus’ hair and beard and run in rivers off his soaking robes, his life was different. Everything was different.
        • Baptism for us may not be quite as dramatic an event, but through the waters of baptism and the grace of God, we are still named and claimed by the power of the Holy Spirit
          • From our Book of Order: Baptism enacts and seals what the Word proclaims: God’s redeeming grace offered to all people. Baptism is at once God’s gift of grace, God’s means of grace, and God’s call to respond to that grace. Through Baptism, Jesus Christ calls us to repentance, faithfulness, and discipleship. Through Baptism, the Holy Spirit gives the Church its identity and commissions the Church for service in the world.[4] → Just like we claim and reclaim our identity after those first delicate seconds of waking every morning, so God’s grace through baptism claims and reclaims us each and every day.
  • This is where our Scripture reading for this morning comes in.
    • Context for the letter to the church at Ephesus[5]
      • One of those books that, while it was attributed to Paul for a long time, scholars now agree probably wasn’t actually written by Paul → many elements of Paul’s writing (word choice, sentence structure, overall format of the letter itself, etc.) don’t match up BUT that doesn’t make it any less important → it’s still a letter attesting to meaningful and significant elements of our faith
      • Because of the way in which Ephesians was written, Biblical scholars have also found it difficult to glean a lot of specific social or historical context. Basically, we don’t actually know much of anything about the Christian community to whom this letter was written: what kind of trials they were facing, what their strengths as a community might have been, or even whether they had an already-established relationship with Paul, any of his helpers/disciples, or any of the other disciples who were spreading the gospel message at the same time as Paul.
      • What we do know about Ephesus itself[6]
        • Ancient port city
        • Location: modern-day Turkey (ruins visible and well-preserved but no longer a city in and of itself)
        • Once considered the most important Greek city and the most important trading center in the Mediterranean region
        • Surprisingly, much of the history of this important city is unrecorded
        • But we do know that Ephesus was a center of worship for the Greek goddess Artemis, goddess of the hunt and the wilderness. Significant portions of the Temple of Artemis still draw thousands of tourists every year today.
    • So it is into this jumbled context that these words that we read this morning were written and preached – text: At one time you were like a dead person because of the things you did wrong and your offenses against God. You used to live like people of this world. You followed the rule of a destructive spiritual power. … However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead as a result of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace![7] → In those first moments after waking up – those “first delicate seconds,” as Warren calls them – we have the bliss of a completely blank slate. These are the moments before you remember the pains and disappointments of yesterday. These are the moments before the “not yet done”s of yesterday and the “to do”s of today rush in on you. These are the moments before you have to think about where you need to go and who you need to be today. These are the moments when we are barely even conscious. And yet even in this most hazy, undefinable, nebulous moment, God is already loving us, lifting us, claiming us with profound and very real grace.
      • Warren: Before we begin the liturgies of our day – the cooking, sitting in traffic, emailing, accomplishing, working, resting – we begin beloved. My works and worship don’t earn a thing. … We wake not to vague or general mercy from a far-off God. God, in delight and wisdom, has made, named, and blessed this average day.[8] → These moments of first waking in the mercy and love of God is crucial because it is in these moments – when we haven’t had the time or wherewithal to even roll over, let alone get up or do anything worthwhile – it is in these moments that God’s unconditional love and unearned grace have already greeted us and enfolded us. Not because of something we’ve done … because we haven’t done anything yet! But because God is God, and God loves us.
      • Text: You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.[9] → Sounds like a pretty beautiful way to wake up, doesn’t it? Waking to the gift of God’s salvation. Waking to the mercy of a God who created you for good things. Waking to a grace as warm and comforting as the blanket that still covers you. All thanks to a God who is there the second you open your eyes. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] Tish Harrison Warren. Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), 2016.

[2] Warren, 21-22.

[3] Warren, 15.

[4] “Theology of Baptism” in The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) – Part II: Book of Order 2019-2021. (Louisville, KY: The Office of the General Assembly, 2019), W-3.0402.

[5] Pheme Perkins. “The Letter to the Ephesians: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 11. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000), 351-365.

[6]

[7] Eph 2:1-2a, 4-5.

[8] Warren, 20, 21.

[9] Eph 2:8-10 (emphasis added).

Sunday’s service: Pentecost Reflections on the Holy Spirit

Text used – Acts 2:1-21

This Sunday was a little different for a couple of reasons. First, I unintentionally forgot to flip my Zoom view from “Gallery” to “Speaker” view. That means that you won’t be able to see what was happening “up front” as much, but it also means that one the day that we celebrate the birth of Christian community, you get to actually watch our Christian community (those who were participating via Zoom, anyway) actually worship together for this service. It’s kinda perfect!

This Sunday is also different because instead of doing a traditional sermon, I did four shorter reflections on the most common images of the Holy Spirit that we find in Scripture. Each of those reflections went along with an object that we used – a pinwheel, a candle, a dove tag, and a bottle of water. I invite you to find as many of those things around your house and join us as we go through these reflections.

Pentecost – Celebrating the Holy Spirit

            Today, we celebrate Pentecost – the birthday of the church, not at as a building or a point on a map or a hub for committees but as a community and a mission and a living, breathing faith flung far and wide into a world that needed to hear the good news of the Gospel. Today especially, we focus on the work and wildness of the Holy Spirit – that elusive and ever-moving third person of the Trinity; that fierce and feminine form of God’s holy presence; that blowing and burning, soaring and satiating incarnation of God that touches us and spurs us forward in ways we often find it hard to name but also hard to ignore. Today, we’re going to celebrate the Holy Spirit in word, in prayer, and in action.

Holy Spirit as Wind/Breath

Genesis 1:1-2: 1 When God began to create the heavens and the earth— 2 the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters.

John 3:8: 8 God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

By far the most prevalent image for the Holy Spirit that we see in Scripture is that of wind or breath. In both Hebrew and Greek, there is one word that can be translated as “spirit” or “wind” or “breath.” And when it comes to the Spirit of God, it’s a fitting confluence. The Spirit of God is essential – constantly moving and regenerating, powerful and life-giving, invisible but always present … a lot like the wind.

BLOW ON YOUR PINWHEEL – MAKE IT SPIN!

The only way we see the wind is when it moves things – leaves rustling in the trees, waves rippling the surface of the water, a flag fluttering in the breeze. We can’t see it, but we cannot deny that we can feel the wind caressing our cheek, tugging at our shirt, pushing us in one direction or another with a strong and powerful gust.

BLOW ON YOUR PINWHEEL – MAKE IT SPIN!

God’s Holy Spirit – God’s essential breath, God’s sacred wind – moves time and time again throughout Scripture starting at the very beginning with Genesis. God breathed that Holy Spirit breath into the lungs of Adam and Eve in the Garden. God breathed that Holy Spirit breath into Job in the midst of his trials and tribulations. God blew the Holy Spirit wind over the dry bones in Elijah’s vision and brought life to them again. And in a rush, God blew that same Holy Spirit wind into the house where the disciples were staying with such force and intensity that it filled the whole room on that first Pentecost day.

BLOW ON YOUR PINWHEEL – MAKE IT SPIN!

Sometimes we forget about the wind – on a calm clear day when the weather is pleasant and everything is still. And sometimes we forget about the Holy Spirit – in a calm, clear phase of our lives when all around us seems pleasant and copacetic. But then the wind moves …

BLOW ON YOUR PINWHEEL – MAKE IT SPIN!

And God’s Spirit move …

BLOW ON YOUR PINWHEEL – MAKE IT SPIN!

And we remember that God is always moving … always breathing … always whispering and whooshing … always nudging and tugging … always rushing and gusting …

BLOW ON YOUR PINWHEEL – MAKE IT SPIN!

And we know that the power of God’s Holy Spirit is with us.

Holy Spirit as Fire

Exodus 3:2: 2 The LORD’s messenger appeared to him in a flame of fire in the middle of a bush. Moses saw that the bush was in flames, but it didn’t burn up.

Luke 24:32: 31 [The disciples] eyes were opened and they recognized [the risen Christ], but he disappeared from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?”

The second most common image of the Holy Spirit in Scripture is as fire – a fire that blazes and burns but doesn’t consume like the fire that led Moses into God’s sacred space; a fire called down from heaven by the prophet Elijah as power and proof and undeniable presence; a fire that touched the lips of the prophet Isaiah, purifying and consecrating him to God’s holy mission and call; a fire that burned in the hearts of the disciples as they traveled and broke bread unawares with their risen Savior in a place called Emmaus; a fire that has burned … does burn … will burn in the souls of those whom God calls to both spur them to action and cleanse them from within.

Fire is light, banishing darkness and all the fear and uncertainty that comes with it. In that light, we find reassurance and hope. Fire is warmth, driving the numbing chill from our bodies and souls and bringing us to life again. In that warmth, we find comfort and restoration. Fire refines, burning away impurities in metal and turning something as simple and humble as sand into the most stunningly glassworks. In that refining, we find promise and beauty.

LIGHT YOUR CANDLE.

God is light, banishing darkness and all the fear and uncertainty that comes with it. In the Holy Spirit’s light, we find reassurance and hope. God is warmth, driving the numbing chill from our bodies and souls and bringing us to life again. In the Holy Spirit’s warmth, we find comfort and restoration. God refines, burning away impurities in our souls and turning something as simple and humble as human beings into the most stunning creations. In the Holy Spirit’s refining, we find promise and beauty.

And we know that the power of God’s Holy Spirit is with us.

Holy Spirit as Dove

Genesis 8:8-12: 8 Then [Noah] sent out a dove to see if the waters on all of the fertile land had subsided, 9 but the dove found no place to set its foot. It returned to him in the ark since waters still covered the entire earth. Noah stretched out his hand, took it, and brought it back into the ark. 10 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out from the ark again. 11 The dove came back to him in the evening, grasping a torn olive leaf in its beak. Then Noah knew that the waters were subsiding from the earth. 12 He waited seven more days and sent out the dove, but it didn’t come back to him again.

Matthew 3:16: 16 When Jesus was baptized, he immediately came up out of the water. Heaven was opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and resting on him.

Less prevalent in Scripture but certainly no less important is the image of the Holy Spirit a dove. We’re most familiar with the image of the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus as a dove as he rose from the water of his own baptism, bringing with it God’s sacred and love-filled affirmation: “This is my son whom I dearly love; I find happiness in him.” Up to this point in his life, Jesus must have known deep within himself who he was, but up to that moment – that moment dripping with the waters of the Jordan River and the holiness of God’s presence – up to that moment, it wasn’t time to reveal who he was. And then, with the flap of a dove’s wings, it was time. And with the flap of a dove’s wing, Jesus faced a new beginning.

Maybe your mind also wanders back to that dove that Noah released from aboard the ark as it floated and rocked day after day, night after night, week after week. The dove that returned time and again, bringing Noah news without having to speak – news that the world was still under water, news that there was still no safe space, news that it was not yet time. Until that moment – that moment swollen with possibility and potential, that moment laden with fervent hopes and seasick longings – until that moment that was oh, so noticeably lacking in the sound of a dove’s wings … that moment when the dove did not return. And with the absence of the dove, Noah and his family faced a new beginning.

Throughout Scripture, doves are mentioned time and again as a sacrifice. They were the ideal sacrifice because they were perceived as pure, but they were also the ideal sacrifice because they were accessible to so many. People who couldn’t afford a calf, couldn’t afford a ram, couldn’t afford to give up the best portion of their harvest would instead offer up to God a dove in thanksgiving and in praise, in adoration and in supplication, in hope and in acknowledgment of God’s presence and power at work in the world. Doves made space in the sacrificial portion of worship for those who would otherwise not have a space. Doves gave wings to the prayers of those who feared their prayers may not otherwise be heard. Doves opened the doors to community with promises of peace, of hope, and of inclusion.

Today, we find ourselves in this strange and separated time … in this time when we are driven apart from one another … in this time when one of the best ways that I can care for my neighbor is to wear my mask, keep my distance, check in … but do so from afar. It feels so counterintuitive … sort of like finding the power and presence and peace of Holy Spirit of God Almighty in something as common and docile as a simple dove. And yet there it is.

A dove means peace … the peace we seek in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

A dove means purity … the purity we find in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

A dove means new beginnings … new beginnings that we find when we follow the Holy Spirit.

This pandemic time is, in fact, a time of new beginning for us. It’s our dove moment. It’s our Holy Spirit moment. So I want you to take the dove tag that’s in your Pentecost bag and write your hopes for our congregation on that tag. And then I want you to get it back to me. Mail it back, if you want to do that. Or drop it off at church in the “donations” mailbox that we use for Gold Rush. I’ll hang them in our sanctuary where they will continue to move us.

In your bag, you’ll also find your own little reminder from me that you are a beloved child of God and that the Holy Spirit hopes in you.

Holy Spirit as Water

Joel 2:23, 28: 23 Children of Zion, rejoice and be glad in the LORD your God, because he will give you the early rain as a sign of righteousness; he will pour down abundant rain for you, the early and the late rain, as before. … 28 After that I will pour out my spirit upon everyone; your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.

John 7:37-39: 37 On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and shouted, “All who are thirsty should come to me! 38 All who believe in me should drink! As the scriptures said concerning me, Rivers of living water will flow out from within him.” 39 Jesus said this concerning the Spirit.

Water is essential. The Holy Spirit is essential.

TAKE A DRINK OF WATER.

Essential for the life of this planet. Essential for the life within us. Essential for the life of the church. We are born from water. We are renewed by water. We are baptized in water –  named and claimed as children of God and members of this sacred and blessed community.

Water is essential. The Holy Spirit is essential.

TAKE A DRINK OF WATER.

We find water in many forms in all parts of the earth and all parts of ourselves. Water refreshes and renews the world around us as it rains down on thirsty gardens and fields, coaxing fresh shoots from seeds and buds into blossom, encouraging everything from tiny tendrils to mighty tree trunks to reach higher and higher into the sky – to grow and flourish and produce fruit. Even from the driest, dustiest, most forgotten deserts, a quenching rain cancause flowers and plants to spring up – life that has waited long in the hard and desolate ground for that water … that life. Water refreshes and renews our bodies, quenching our thirst and replenishing whatever we have sweated away through the work and sport and strain of our bodies. Water cools our fevered foreheads. Water cleanses the dirt from under our fingernails and under our souls.

Water is essential. The Holy Spirit is essential.

TAKE A DRINK OF WATER.

LIVING water is essential. Scripture speaks time and time again of God renewing God’s people … of God quenching the parched places both around us and inside us … of God raining down blessings, raining down grace, raining down justice on people in need of the presence of God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus promised rebirth in the Spirit through the waters of baptism, a sacramental blessing and covenant that we hold near and dear to this day. “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Water is essential. The Holy Spirit is essential.

TAKE A DRINK OF WATER.

The presence of the Holy Spirit within us refreshes our parched and weary souls. This presence truly is a living water – a water that never runs dry and a water that is knowing … knowing enough to sense when we are in need … knowing enough to sense when we are feeling as dry and limp as a wrung-out cloth … knowing enough to sense our desire and potential to flourish if only we had water. Living Water.

Water is essential. The Holy Spirit is essential.

TAKE A DRINK OF WATER.

And we know that the power of God’s Holy Spirit is with us. Alleluia! Amen.

Sunday’s sermon: When the Perfect Comes

when the perfect comes

Text used – 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

 

 

  • [READ SONNET 43 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning]

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

  • Ahhhh … love. How much ink, throughout the centuries, has been spilled trying to capture and describe and do justice to love? How many poems? How many songs? How many plays? How many artists have tried to capture the illusiveness of love in paint … in sketch … in sculpture … in any and every artistic medium humankind has ever used? And yet, have you ever encountered something – any type of artform – that truly made you say with absolutely certainty, “Yes. That’s it. That captures everything I’ve ever known and felt and believed and hoped about love in its entirety. That says it all. That’s perfect”? No? Hmmmm.
    • Love = elusive topic throughout the centuries
    • Love = difficult topic → lots of challenges and complexities and gossamer hopes and broken dreams wrapped up in all our experiences of love
    • Just the different words that we use for love – in English and in all the different languages spoken in the world today – reveal just how complicated and varying and yet positively and inescapably central the act of loving and being loved is to the human experience.
      • Fascinating article (World Economic Forum) – “The world’s languages contain 14 different kinds of love, research has found”[1] → types of love span everything from romantic love to familial love, from love you have for a place to that first inkling of love when you meet someone new (“love at first sight,” if you will), from love of self to love of other to love of the divine → Clearly, we humans were created to love – to seek love, to give love, to receive love in many wide and varied forms. Created to love … and yet, after centuries – after millennia! – we’re still working on getting it right. On getting it perfect.
  • And into that fabulous and frenetic fray, we add today’s Scripture reading – The Love Passage, right? The passage you’ve probably heard at more weddings than you can count – Paul’s description of love.
    • Picture it being read at a wedding in your mind right now (maybe even remember it being read at your own wedding)
      • Couple standing across from one another
      • Maybe holding hands
      • Maybe gazing lovingly into one another’s eyes
      • Maybe sharing a sweet, intimate smile
      • Maybe stealing a glance at loved ones in attendance, taking a moment to appreciate all the people who’ve come to show the couple their own love that day
      • It’s a moment dripping with affection and adoration and possibility. And we have to admit that Paul has some pretty good advice for anyone entering into a loving relationship, right? – text: Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth.[2] → I would say this advice is about as good as it gets, no matter what phase in the relationship you’re in or what kind of relationship you’re thinking about.
        • Good advice for romantic couples
        • Good advice for parents and children
        • Good advice for friends
        • Good advice for coworkers
        • Good advice for neighbors
  • BUT … I want us to take a step back from this dewy-eyed, romantic vision of love for a moment so we can dig into the realer, deeper meaning in Paul’s words this morning. → Paul’s understanding of love in this passage is much less sweet and sentimental and much more radical and revolutionary
    • First: context
      • Talked last week about the Christian community in Corinth to which Paul is writing
        • Community of extremes: very rich and very poor, higher-ups in society as well as lower classes, Jews and Gentiles, people from various cultures, citizens of the Roman empire (high prestige) and non-citizens alike
        • Because of those extremes → community that swiftly became divided – fractured into lots of smaller groups/factions within the church
        • So it’s into this tension and unease and in-fighting that Paul is speaking these words about how to love.
          • Important point: Gr. for “love” throughout this passage = agape → selfless, altruistic, lift-up-the-other, your-good-above-my-good kind of love
      • So Paul is imploring the people of Corinth to overcome whatever silly, insignificant boundaries have been put up between themselves and love each other. Paul is enveloping this bickering, divided community in his words and saying, “Whatever you’re doing – no matter what it is – doesn’t count for anything if honest love, selfless love is not a part of it. So get over it. Get along. And love one another.”
        • Hearkens back to Jesus’ directive in Mt’s gospel to love your enemies: You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you.[3]
      • Lead to other important contextual element: Corinth was, indeed, a Roman city – a proud and dutiful part of the Roman empire → And being part of the Roman empire came with the expectation that you would put your loyalty – your community love – first and foremost in Rome. There should be nothing else. No other allegiance. No other devotion. And yet here’s Paul advocating for love to be the driving force – not loyalty, not duty, not nationalism or patriotism, certainly not allegiance to the Roman empire! – but a self-giving, barrier-shattering, other-recognizing kind of love. A Christ-like kind of love. Not a love for Rome, but a love for God and one another as fellow children of God. Devotion to Rome wasn’t even on Paul’s radar.
        • Makes this a radical idea
        • Makes this a revolutionary idea
        • Makes this a dangerous idea → going against the edicts and dominance of Rome never really worked out for anybody
  • Phrase that really caught my eye when I was reading this Scripture → really seems to drive home Paul’s view of love as radical, boundary-crossing, and all-in (probably my new favorite phrase in the whole Bible) – text: When the perfect comes, what is partial will be brought to an end.[4]When the perfect comes.
    • Phrase appears after Paul has been expounding on the plethora of things that love does and how central love is and how steadfast and lasting love is – text: Love never fails. As for prophecies, they will be brought to an end. As for tongues, they will stop. As for knowledge, it will be brought to an end. We know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, what is partial will be brought to an end. [5] → When the perfect comes.
      • Gr. “perfect” = fabulous word – rich with meaning: brought to completion, fully developed/achieved, full grown, without shortcomings, having purpose, whole → This all-encompassing, all-surpassing, all-fulfilling kind of love is coming. A whole love. A complete love. A perfect love. A truly perfect love. And it’s not coming with the next changing of the Roman centurion guard. It’s not coming with the next visit Paul makes to Corinth. It’s not even coming in the reconciliation and relationship-building that Paul desires for the Corinthian church. This kind of whole and purposeful love can only come from one source: from God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.
        • This is the kind of love that God has for us
        • This is the kind of love that Jesus embodied for us – the kind of love that ate with sinners and outcasts, went to the cross, shattered death, and left that finite tomb empty and irrelevant
        • This is the kind of love that the Holy Spirit kindles within us
        • A love that never fails
        • A love that remains
        • A love that eclipses even those pillars of the Church: faith and hope – text: Now faith, hope, and love remain – these three things – and the greatest of these is love.[6]
    • Radical nature of this love is that it’s already a part of the fabric of our being as children of God and yet it is coming still → When the perfect comes. When that love comes – that perfect, all-encompassing, whole love – we will know love like we have never known it before … like we’ve never even dreamed of it
      • Radical because no matter how hard we try, we know that “perfect” is not the way we love one another
      • Radical because knowing that that kind of love exists begs the question of us: What can I do to live into this love until the perfect comes?
    • Just like the Corinthian church, we sometimes need a bit of a wake-up call – a reminder to practice love for one another even (and especially) in the hard times. Love that is kind and hopeful, patient and trustworthy, humble and forgiving. And in the face of all that we are dealing with right now, couldn’t we use a little bit more of that? Couldn’t we use more love? Amen.

[1] Tim Lomas. “The world’s languages contain 14 different kinds of love, research has found” from World Economic Forum website: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/02/how-i-discovered-theres-at-least-14-different-kinds-of-love-by-analysing-the-worlds-languages/. Posted Feb. 14, 2018, accessed May 16, 2020.

[2] 1 Cor 13:4-7.

[3] Mt 5:43-44.

[4] 1 Cor 13:10.

[5] 1 Cor 13:8-10.

[6] 1 Cor 13:13.

Sunday’s sermon: Pieces of the Puzzle

Where Oliver Fits

Text used – 1 Corinthians 1:10-18

 

 

  • So we have this book that we love to read at our house. It’s a fabulous children’s book called Where Oliver Fits by Cale Atkinson.[1] → story about a little puzzle piece named Oliver who’s looking for his perfect place
    • Oliver has big dreams → can’t wait to be part of the bigger picture: “something exciting, something wild, something out of this world!”
    • But poor little Oliver is having trouble finding his fit.
      • Tries a bunch of different places → gets turned away every time (and turned away pretty harshly and roughly!) → Different groups of puzzle pieces who have already found their fit together waste no time telling Oliver all the ways he doesn’t fit: “Too much blue! Not enough red! … Too round! Not enough square! … Too tall. Too short. Too pointy. Too bulky. Not right. All wrong!”
      • Finally, Oliver gets fed up! → in an attempt to find his fit sooner rather than later, Oliver tries to change himself
        • Change his shape
        • Change his color
        • Eventually alters himself so much that he’s completely hidden behind everything → Not a bit of the real Oliver is visible. He changes everything about himself to fit into a space that looks nothing like his real self. But in this altered state, he fits … sort of.
      • Over time, Oliver realizes this fit he’s forced himself into isn’t right either → It isn’t as perfect as Oliver hoped it would be because even as he himself finally fits into a space (a space … not necessarily his space), he watches all the other pieces around him continue to turn away other pieces that are just trying to fit in, jeering and ridiculing them just like they teased Oliver himself.
    • And y’all, the church in Corinth – the congregation that Paul sent this letter to – was in a pretty similar situation. Paul wrote to Corinth because the church was splintering apart, putting up walls and setting troublesome and arbitrary distinctions between one subgroup in the congregation and another.
      • Finger pointing
      • Labeling
      • Nitpicking
      • Excluding
    • So Paul sent this letter, trying to bring unity … trying to bring togetherness into a fragmented church … trying to lift up the church as a whole and remind them, not of the things that separate them, but the ultimate thing that brings them together: their faith in God through Jesus Christ.
  • Now, before we dive into our Scripture reading itself, let’s talk about Corinth as a city.
    • Large city not too far from Athens
    • Diverse city
      • Lots of commerce
      • Lots of cultures
      • Lots of religions
      • Lots of artists
    • City of extremes
      • A few exceptionally rich citizens and lots of poor citizens
      • Transitory city → lots of people who were doing everything they could to climb the socioeconomic ladder → Corinth was a middle rung on that ladder
      • Ancient historians: known as “Sin City” of the ancient world
    • Corinthian church sort of reflected this city personality – see that in Paul’s words in our text this morning: Now I encourage you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Agree with each other and don’t be divided into rival groups. … Chloe’s people gave me some information about you, that you’re fighting with each other.[2] → Leave it to Paul to not beat around the bush. He sees a problem within the Corinthian church, and he calls it out. Plain and simple. “You’re fighting with each other.” Bam.
      • Goes on to detail some of the ways that they’re putting barriers up between one another → namely who they were baptized by/who they “belong to”
        • Even gets a little bit of a dig in – text: Thank God I didn’t baptize any of you, except Crispus and Gaius, so that nobody can say that you were baptized in my name![3]
        • Just like those groups of puzzle pieces in the story à all about enforcing the parameters of whatever little clique they’ve created … all about deciding who’s “good enough” and who’s not
  • And if we’re honest with ourselves, the church today is not really all the different from that ancient Corinthian church, is it?
    • Ways we create divisions amongst ourselves
      • Denominationally
      • Progressive vs. fundamental
      • Traditional vs. contemporary
      • Size delineation (I like to call this the “Grouchy Ladybug” delineation because churches either say to themselves or say to other churches, “You’re not big enough!” Not big enough for this program or that … not big enough for this mission or that … not big enough for whatever.)
    • There are a thousand different ways we draw lines and portion out the body of Christ today, aren’t there? But just because “that’s what we do” doesn’t mean that’s what we should do.
      • Scholar gets at the heart of this: It can happen that we become so accustomed to a divided church that we simply accept the situation. We have always known a divided church, and we are not shocked or dismayed because that is the way things are. Paul will not let the Corinthians or us be satisfied with the church in its divided condition. There may be no quick solution to the problem, but there can be no casual acceptance of it.[4]
  • So let’s revisit Oliver and the rest of his story
    • That new space that Oliver had found – you know, the one where he had to change everything about himself to “fit in” – still wasn’t right. → finally comes to the realization that if he can’t be himself, whatever fit he’s found isn’t the right fit for him → sheds his disguise (to the scorn and consternation of the pieces around him) and strikes out on his own again
      • Glad to be himself again BUT also finds himself alone again → returns to his worries that he’ll never find his fit: “How can I be part of something exciting, wild or out of this world if it’s just me?”
    • BUT as he’s wandering alone, Oliver finds a few other pieces who have also been trying their darnedest to fit in – even trying to alter their appearances (just like he did!) to fit into a place, any place. → with those pieces, Oliver finds his perfect fit → “Oliver discovered that you can’t rush or force your fit. All you can do is be yourself! Your fit will find you. And it will feel … PERFECT!”
  • Friends, this is what Paul is getting at here!
    • Promotes togetherness right off the bat: Now I encourage you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Agree with each other and don’t be divided into rival groups. Instead, be restored with the same mind and the same purpose.[5]
      • Very cyclical phrasing in Gr. – “don’t be divided into rival groups” = literally “no schisms/splits” and “be restored” = literally “be mended” → So Paul is both recognizing the tears in the fabric of the Corinthians’ church life and imploring them to stitch up those tears in the name of Christ.
    • Later puts the importance of that reconciliation into theological context – text: Christ didn’t send me to baptize but to preach the good news. And Christ didn’t send me to preach the good news with clever words so that Christ’s cross won’t be emptied of its meaning. The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed. But it is the power of God for those of us who are being saved.[6] → Paul is reminding the church in Corinth about their “ultimate why” – their purpose for being the Church in the first place. It’s not about them. It’s not about who brought them to the faith. It’s not even about who started the church in which they are now squabbling (Paul himself!). It’s about God and what God did for them through Jesus Christ.
  • It is this message – all of the love and grace and openness and acceptance and wide-armed welcome that Christ rained down from the cross – that makes the church the Church. It’s this message that opens the doors and erases the lines. It’s this message the lets us all gather together to lift up the same prayers and share the same bread and cup and join our voices in praise and thanksgiving. It’s not about keeps us apart. It’s about what unites us: Grace. Unconditional love. Jesus Christ. And a God who was willing to give it all up for us on the cross. That’s why, every time we come to the table for communion, I say what I do: “No matter who you are … no matter where you come from … no matter what you bring with you … you are welcome at this table and in this community.” God has made a place for you – just for you – and that is what matters. And for that, we welcome you and we love you. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] Cale Atkinson. Where Oliver Fits. (New York, NY: Tundra Books), 2017.

[2] 1 Cor 1:10a, 11.

[3] 1 Cor 1:14-15.

[4] Harry B. Adams. “Third Sunday After the Epiphany – 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Homiletical Perspecitve” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 280.

[5] 1 Cor 1:10.

[6] 1 Cor 1:17-18.

Sunday’s sermon: United in Every Time and Place

00-Communion Sunday

Text used – 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

 

 

  • Is anyone else getting weary?
    • Getting tired of working or schooling from home
    • Getting tired of the inside of your own house
    • Getting tired of the weightiness that comes with the latest headlines and the latest recommendations and the latest statistics that come out day after day
    • Getting tired of the disconnectedness and the isolation and the uncertainty
    • Yeah, friends. Me, too. The “long haul” nature of this is overwhelming, and I think we’re all really starting to feel it on a soul-deep level.
  • And yet, friends, we get to gather together today for at least a hint of normalcy when we come around this table – the communion table, Christ’s table. Yes, we’re all coming from different places and bringing different elements, but we are still here. We are still speaking the words we have spoken over and over again – words that are ancient and saturated with history and meaning. We are still renewing our souls and our faith and our commitment to God’s work in our world. And we are still together – in relationship, in community, in hope and in love. So today, all, we’re going to celebrate. We’re going to rejoice in our togetherness. We’re going to rejoice in the community that we experience both here and afar. We’re going to rejoice in bread and wine, in crackers and juice, in bagels and tortillas and water and tea and whatever else we bring to this table not because of what we bring but because of who calls us here: Jesus the Christ, our Lord and Savior, risen and sacred and whole.
    • Book of Order (in “Theology of the Lord’s Supper”): When we gather at the Lord’s Supper the Spirit draws us into Christ’s presence and unites with the Church in every time and place. We join with all the faithful in heaven and on earth in offering thanksgiving to the triune God. We reaffirm the promises of our baptism and recommit ourselves to love and serve God, one another, and our neighbors in the world.[1] → We’re going to work our way through this description and our Scripture reading as we celebrate this morning.
  • Before we dive deeper into this description, let’s talk a little bit about our Scripture reading this morning.
    • Thessalonica as a place[2]
      • Still a city you can visit today → located in Greece on the northern tip of the Aegean Sea
      • Large commercial and cultic center within the Roman Empire = lots of people, lots of money changing hands, lots of different religions … all crashing together in one city
      • It was also a city that was staunchly loyal to the Roman Empire which meant that even though Paul visited and established his church sometime between 41-54 C.E., most of the inhabitants probably saw the new Christian’s loyalty to Jesus as weakening the city’s support for Rome. → almost certainly led to suffering and persecution for Christians in Thessalonica at the hands of neighbors, family, friends
    • 1 Thessalonians as Scripture[3]
      • Written by Paul
      • Certainly among the earliest of Paul’s letters (quite possibly the 1st “check-in” letter he wrote to one of his established churches) → probably written around 51 C.E. (just 20 yrs. after Jesus’ death/resurrection)
      • Purpose: after leaving Thessalonica, Paul worried that the congregation’s anxiety and troubles would cause them to default – to abandon faith – so Paul wrote this letter of encouragement
        • Scholar: This letter is one of the most intimate in the [New Testament], full of love, prayer, thanksgiving, and images of the Christian family. Clearly, Paul uses it to renew his relationship with them. Above all, he exhorts them to remain faithful to Christ and to the Christian community under trying circumstances. He encourages the community to continue in love for each other and in faithful labor. [4] → Sound familiar, friends? Is that circumstance ringing any bells? Is it speaking to where you feel we are today? Because it is for me. I think we can be fairly sure that Paul’s words spoke powerfully to those in Thessalonica who received them nearly 2000 years ago … but they also continue speak powerfully to us today, especially with what we are going through as a church … as a nation … as the human family today.
  • Back to Book of Order description – 1st sentence: “When we gather at the Lord’s Supper the Spirit draws us into Christ’s presence and unites with the Church in every time and place.” → That’s what we’ve been working so hard to do since we started worshiping virtually 6 weeks ago. That’s what Paul was trying to do by sending this letter and all his other letters to churches that he had established and then had to leave – unite with them in every time and place. Nurture those relationships. Continue to building that community. Encourage faith near and far.
    • Text: Brothers and sisters, you are loved by God, and we know that he has chosen you. We know this because our good news didn’t come to you just in speech but also with power and the Holy Spirit with deep conviction.[5] → Notice, friends, that it isn’t Paul’s spirit … it isn’t Paul’s effort … it isn’t Paul’s faith that is lauded and praised here. It is God’s Spirit … it is God’s effort in love and power … it is God’s faith in choosing the people of Thessalonica. Paul makes it clear from the get-go that it is through the goodness and grace and love of God that Christian community is built and nurtured and sustained.
      • Same Spirit that draws us to the table to celebrate
      • Same Spirit that rejoices when we come back to God again and again
      • Same Spirit that unites us in every time and place, making all spaces where we worship – together or apart – holy spaces
  • 2nd sentence: “We join with all the faithful in heaven and on earth in offering thanksgiving to the triune God.” → WHY we come!
    • Paul praises both the faithfulness and the evangelism of the Thessalonians: You became imitators of us and of the Lord when you accepted the message that came from the Holy Spirit with joy in spite of great suffering. As a result you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The message about the Lord rang out from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia but in every place. The news about your faithfulness to God has spread.[6] → Paul is singing the praises of the Thessalonians church! He is commending them for their faithfulness, giving his own thanks for their continued thanksgiving and praise that they’ve given to God through their worship, through their prayer, through their sharing the gospel message … even in hard times, even in lean times, even in times of suffering and fear. The gospel lived in them, and they joined their voices with all those who had declared the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection – “the message about the Lord rang out from them!”
      • Why we come to worship (even in this strange and compartmentalized way in which we come today)
      • Why we come to the table, bringing all the crazy bits of our days … the crazy bits of our hearts … the crazy bits of our own meals to this Grand Feast → to join with each other and everyone else around the world who is doing this exact thing today, to join in giving our thanks and praise to God – not alone and in isolation – but together
  • 3rd sentence: “We reaffirm the promises of our baptism and recommit ourselves to love and serve God, one another, and our neighbors in the world.”
    • Declared loud and clear at both the beginning and end of today’s reading – text: We always thank God for all of you when we mention you constantly in our prayers. This is because we remember your work that comes from faith, your effort that comes from love, and your perseverance that comes from hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father. … People tell us about what sort of welcome we had from you and how you turned to God from idols. As a result, you are serving the living and true God.[7] → Paul is reaffirming their faith. Paul is praising their love and commitment and work for the Lord. Paul is acknowledging their hospitality and how that welcome – those actions of their hands and hearts – speaks the word of God just as clearly to one another and to their neighbors.
      • That was their call almost 2000 yrs. ago
      • This remains our call today → what we come to do every time we come to this table together
        • Reaffirm our faith
        • Recommit ourselves to God and God’s work in the world
        • Renew our bodies and our spirits for that work
        • Out of messiness … out of suffering … out of weariness … out of pain … out of frustration … out of discouragement … out of fear … out of hopelessness … out of anxiety … WE. COME. Every time. All times. Especially this time. And we don’t come to forget those things or to escape those things or to pretend for 10 minutes that those things don’t exist. We come to redeem those things – to bring them to God to be taken up in the arms of the Savior who carries them a whole lot better than we do, to be saturated in the overwhelming and abundant grace that renews us and makes us whole and frees us to live as people connected and loving once again. We come to this table of love because it was God that love us first and fiercest, and we depart from this table of love ready to share that love with the world. And there are no limits – geographical, virtual, immunological, or otherwise – to that love. Thanks be to God! Amen.

 

[1] “Theology of the Lord’s Supper” in The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Part II – Book of Order, 2019-2021. (Louisville, KY: The Office of the General Assembly), W-3.0409.

[2] Abraham Smith. ”The First Letter to the Thessalonians – Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 11. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000), 673-685.

[3] Love L. Sechrest. “1 Thessalonians – Introduction” in The CEB Study Bible. (Nashville, TN: Common English Bible, 2013), 388-390 NT.

[4] Love, 390 NT.

[5] 1 Thess 1:4-5a.

[6] 1 Thess 1:6-8a.

[7] 1 Thess 1:2-3, 9.

Sunday’s sermon: In Between Living

in between

Text used – Acts 1:1-14

 

 

  • Most of the time, “in between” isn’t really a very fun place to be, is it?
    • Inconvenience of being in between sizes in everything from shoes to pants to dresses to any other item of clothing
    • Discomfort of being in between two people who are arguing – getting caught in the middle of someone else’s fight (a fight that often doesn’t even pertain to you at all)
    • Fear and stress that comes with being in between jobs, uncertain about what the future holds
    • Remember the exasperation of being the kid in between two others in that most-frustrating of all childhood games: Pickle in the Middle? (Or Monkey in the Middle or Keep Away, depending on where you grew up)
    • Yeah … being “in between” can be a pain. It can be stressful. It can be aggravating. It can be uncomfortable. Or it can be, well, sort of boring. That time in between books or in between tasks or in between one big event and another can feel a little … blah. It can feel like it isn’t really “real time,” like it’s just saving space between one period of “real time” and another. I think it’s pretty safe to say that “in between” isn’t usually our favorite place to be.
  • And yet “in between” is exactly where we find the disciples in our Scripture reading this morning.
    • Set up
      • Reminder that gospel of Lk and Acts were written by the same author as a set → Acts = continuation of the story from Luke (gospel sequel, if you will)
      • With that in mind, the set-up for today’s Scripture reading is actually the end of Luke.
        • Jesus has been resurrected → encountered the women at the empty tomb (the myrrhbearers, from last week’s service!)[1]
        • Road to Emmaus story → Jesus encounters two (unnamed) disciples walking on the road from Emmaus to Jerusalem → disciples don’t recognize Jesus until they stop and eat together (break bread together) → once they recognize Jesus, he disappears[2]
        • Jesus finally appears to all the disciples together[3] → eats with them → gives them some explanation (recalling words of OT prophets) and a commission: “A change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in [Christ’s] name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. Look, I’m sending to you what my Father promised, but you are to stay in the city until you have been furnished with heavenly power.”[4]
        • Final bit = short (4-verse) account of Jesus’ ascension → This is the part that clearly leads into our reading for this morning – a reading that’s a more fleshed out version of that same encounter.
    • A little bit of recap from Lk – text: After his suffering, [Jesus] showed them that he was alive with many convincing proofs. He appeared to them over a period of forty days, speaking to them about God’s kingdom. While they were eating together, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for what the Father had promised. [5]
    • But then we get the fuller account of Jesus’ ascension … and it is quite the story! – text: After Jesus said these things, as [the disciples] were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them. They said, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him to into heaven.”[6] → Okay … is it just me, or does this read just a little bit like a comedy sketch?? Jesus is just hanging out with the disciples, then suddenly a cloud comes down, whisks him up into heaven, and while the disciples are standing there, craning their necks and watching him go, a couple of strangers in white walk up and go, “Hey … whatchya lookin’ at?” I mean, it’s odd, right? It’s just … odd!
      • But then into that odd and awkward moment, messengers of God speak words of reassurance and promise: Jesus will → promise that comes with other promises attached
        • Promise of God’s steadfastness
        • Promise of God’s continued blessing
        • Promise of God’s hope
        • Think about it. Would Jesus bother coming back to a place that God had written off as a lost cause? Would Jesus bother coming back if God didn’t have confidence in the work that the disciples – all disciples throughout the ages – would do? Somehow I doubt it.
    • Taking heart in the words of these messengers, disciples return to Jerusalem – text: When they entered the city, they went to the upstairs room where they were staying. Peter, John, James, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James, Alphaeus’ son; Simon the zealot; and Judas, James’ son – all were united in their devotion to prayer, along with some women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.[7] → And this all sounds well and good. It sounds peaceful. It sounds faithful. And it is! But still … all of a sudden, once again, the disciples are unexpected and unwittingly thrown into yet another “in between” time.
      • 1st in between time = time between Jesus’ death and resurrection – a time that they didn’t even know was an “in between” time → They thought that Jesus had been killed once and for all – that his life and ministry were over forever. They were mourning. They were afraid. They were uncertain about what their futures held. But then, just three days later (three days that probably felt like years to Jesus’ followers), they encountered the resurrected Jesus and their “in between” time was over. They had a Teacher again. They had a Savior again. They had a leader and a purpose and a plan again … until today. Then just like that …
        • Savior gone again
        • Plan-less again
        • Thrust back into “in between” time → And Jesus doesn’t give them much help with this. – remember Jesus’ words from Lk: “You are to stay in the city until you have been furnished with heavenly power.” → That’s pretty vague. Actually, that’s really That’s maddeningly vague. That’s as vague as it gets!
          • In today’s reading, the disciples even try to get some clarification on this whole “in between” time – text: Those who had gathered together asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?”[8] → Jesus’ response is – you guessed it! – vague: Jesus replied, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”[9] → Vague vague vague vague vague.
    • So we find the disciples in this in between time. And yet what do they do? Do they complain? Do they pace and make contingency plans and start storing up provisions for whatever’s to come? No. They gather together. And they pray. They inhabit that in between time – that frustrating, nebulous time of uncertainty – with devotion and prayer.
  • And y’all, “in between” is exactly where we find ourselves this morning, too.
    • Uncertain about the path that this coronavirus will take
    • Uncertain about ways to combat and protect against this virus
    • Uncertain about how long we will be sheltering in place
    • Uncertain about when “life as usual” will resume again … or what that new “usual” will look like … or what waits for us on the other side of this global situation
    • And it’s hard. This “in between” space is hard. It’s lonely. It’s anxious. It’s so blasted uncertain. And we don’t like uncertainty. And we don’t like fear. And God knows we don’t like waiting … and yet, here we are. And yes, we could be filling the hours and days and weeks of this “in between” time with worry and complaints, with contingency plans and stockpiles of provisions. Or we could take this time and turn it over to God – it and all the difficult and overwhelming emotions that come with it. Because the good news is that God is still with us. God waits with us. God shelters us. God holds us close and gives us hope even in this in between time.
      • Tish Harrison Warren (from Liturgy of the Ordinary): Redemption is crashing into our little stretch of the universe, bit by bit, day by day, mile by coming mile. We have hope because our Lord has promised that [God] is preparing a place for us. We are waiting, but we will make it home.[10] → Indeed, friends. Like it or not, our world is currently an “in between” time world. But our faith is also an “in between” faith – a faith that hopes and trusts in a Savior who loves us and redeems us even while we wait. Alleluia. Amen.

[1] Lk 24:1-12.

[2] Lk 24:13-35.

[3] Lk 24:36-49.

[4] Lk 24:47-49.

[5] Acts 1:3-4a.

[6] Acts 1:9-11.

[7] Acts 1:13-14.

[8] Acts 1:6.

[9] Acts 1:7-8.

[10] Tish Harrison Warren. Liturgy of the Ordinary. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016), 114.

Sunday’s worship service: Sunday of the Myrrhbearers

myrrhbearers 2

This past Sunday, we did something a little different. Instead of a regular service, we explored something from the Eastern Orthodox tradition: the Sunday of the Myrrhbearers. I spent the week putting together a video with Scripture readings, reflections, and a hymn, and thankfully, help with readings and speaking parts from clergy and other church friends around the country. Here’s the result:

The Sunday of the Myrrhbearers is a tradition that comes from the Eastern Orthodox Church and is celebrated on the second Sunday after Easter and for the entire week following that Sunday in the Divine Liturgy. All of the gospels describe a number of people who were directly involved in preparing Jesus’ crucified body for burial and/or discovering the empty tomb on Easter morning. And all of the gospels are in agreement that the majority of these people were, in fact, women. Some name these women. Some just call them “the women.” There are a couple of men among the myrrhbearers as well, namely Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus the Pharisee. Very often, the texts that speaks of the myrrh-bearers are read on Easter Sunday, but here’s the thing: on Easter Sunday, we are focused on the empty tomb and the good news of a risen Savior and all that that means for our lives and our world. As we should be, seeing as that’s the basis for all of Christianity as a whole! But the texts – all of the gospel crucifixion and resurrections stories – have more to say. So today, we’re going to celebrate the myrrh-bearers and what they bring to the story. We’re going to take the time to focus on an element of that text that can often get overlooked in the face of folded graveclothes and hallelujahs: those who returned … and those who went out.

1st set of readings:

Who will roll the stone away for us?

1st Reflection:

So what’s the first powerful lesson we can learn from the Myrrhbearers? When things got dark and difficult, their devotion to Christ – their faith – remained. There were 12 disciples to had followed Jesus, traveled with Jesus, learned from Jesus for years. But where were they? Judas had betrayed Jesus. Peter had denied Jesus three times, then run away. All the other disciples had fled as they hung Christ on that cross.

But the myrrhbearers stayed. They stayed in the face of the suffering and pain. They stayed in the face of humiliation and shame. They stayed in the midst of utter grief – stayed long enough to water the foot of the cross with their tears, stayed long enough to see Jesus’ broken body taken down from that cross, stayed long enough to begin the ritual preparations before the beginning of the Sabbath.

And not only did they stay, but after the Sabbath, they came back. They returned to that place of grief, of hopelessness, of trauma, thinking not of themselves and their own discomfort and agony, but of what they could still do for their beloved Teacher: give him the ritual preparations and burial that they thought he deserved.

Friends, things in our world are seldom as perfect and rosy and easy as we would like them to be. Our world is broken and flawed because humans are broken and flawed, and sometimes that makes it so incredibly hard to do what needs to be done. We are afraid. We are weary. We are wrung out in body, mind, and soul … just as those myrrhbearers surely were. But their love for Jesus led them to the next step … and the next step … and the next step.

So how do you feel God calling out for your devotion today?

2nd set of readings:

2nd Reflection:

Well, what’s the second powerful lesson we can learn from the Myrrhbearers? They took the good news of the gospel out! They proclaimed a resurrected Christ! They ministered! They didn’t let anything get in their way: fear of repercussions from the Romans who had just crucified their beloved Teacher; the disbelief of others (even some as powerful and influential as Peter); even societal expectations related to their gender and their abilities. Never forget, friends, that the very first people to preach the gospel were women.

There are a lot of things in the world that try to get in the way of us living and sharing our faith. There are a lot of things inside us that try to get in the way of living and sharing our faith. Sometimes we’re afraid. Sometimes we’re uncertain. Sometimes we’re intimidated or we think that we won’t find the right words … the perfect words … the “holy enough” words.

But the women had the words that morning – perfectly right and perfectly simple and perfectly faithful: “Christ is risen!” Sounds like a pretty good place to begin, don’t you think?

Christ is risen!