Sunday’s sermon: Big Love

Big Love

Text used – Hosea 11:1-9

 

AUDIO VERSION

 

 

  • He was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1918, made radio receivers as a young boy, and started working at an AM talk radio station at the ripe old age of 14 when one of his teachers told him she was “impressed by his voice.” He started as a janitor, moved up to filling in on the air reading commercials and news briefs, and eventually ended up with his own show on ABC syndicated stations nationwide. By the time his illustrious career came to an end with his death at age 90, he had won just about every radio broadcast journalist award there was as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom. For millions of Americans, his voice was the calm, velvety voice that narrated stories that touched their hearts and lives for decades.[1] [PLAY PAUL HARVEY CLIP] After those now-infamous words, Paul Harvey would weave together his own particular blend of history, narrative, and personal commentary.
    • Stories as touching and innocent as a story of a man trying to save a flock of birds on Christmas Eve and instead finding a renewed sense of faith
    • Stories as meaningful and timeless as Harvey’s famed “So God made a farmer
    • News stories as momentous and history-altering as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy
    • Following that famous phrase, Harvey would present a different facet, a different angle, a different element of a story – something you probably hadn’t known or considered before. More often than not, it was a more human element, a more personal connection, or a twist in the story that revealed some profound element of faith. Friends, today is our Paul Harvey moment in the midst of all this Old Testament meandering we’ve been doing. Today is our “rest of the story.”
      • Weeks leading up to today = lots of stories of the people of God in the Old Testament
        • Began with creation
        • Disbelief of Abraham and Sarah over God’s promise that they would have a son (Isaac)
        • Jacob wrestling with God
        • Story of Moses – birth to call in the burning bush
        • 2nd giving of the Ten Commandments
        • Anointing of King David and David and the people of Israel dancing before God
        • Dividing of the kingdom of Israel
        • Elijah the prophet taking on the prophets of Baal and the deterioration of the people’s devotion
        • In all of these stories, we’ve heard the people’s side. We’ve heard about the people turning to God and away from God. We’ve heard about the people trusting God and doubting God. We’ve heard about the people acting for God and acting against God’s will.
    • But today’s Scripture is wholly different. In today’s Scripture, we hear from God. Today’s Scripture is, in fact, the rest of the story.
  • Today’s text = from book of Hosea → Now, Hosea is a challenging little book.
    • One of what we call the 12 minor prophets (major prophets being Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, and Lamentations) → all of the writings of the minor prophets are fairly “doom and gloom.”
      • REMINDER: job of the prophets was to bring God’s word to a people who had strayed in an attempt to bring them back to God
        • Necessarily includes calling the people out for their wrongdoings AND detailing the terrible things that will happen if they don’t repent and return to God
        • NOT a popular message → prophets = not popular people
    • Hosea’s specific context[2]
      • Very little is known about the prophet Hosea himself
      • Historically somewhere between 750 and 724 BCE → period of heavy political, economic, and religious turmoil in Israel
        • 6 kings on the throne during Hosea’s time → all but one assassinated
        • Corruption in highest levels of court and government was rampant
        • Borders of the northern kingdom of Israel constantly threatened by kingdom of Judah to the south and kingdom of Assyria to the east
        • Practice of religion at the time had become intimately interwoven with various Canaanite religious practices (worship of Baal, rituals involving golden calves, cultic fertility sacrifices, etc.)
      • Suffice to say thing in Israel have gotten pretty horrible.
    • Hosea’s unique framing of his message = metaphor of marriage
      • Nation of Israel as a whole = unfaithful spouse who has turned away from God
      • People = children of that marriage
      • First 10 chs. of Hosea are full of stark, no-holds-barred, call-it-like-it-is recriminations aimed at Israel
        • E.g. – Hear the Lord’s word, people of Israel; for the Lord has a dispute with the inhabitants of the land. There’s no faithful love or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land. Swearing, lying, murder, together with stealing and adultery are common; bloody crime followed by bloody crime. … My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. Since you [priest] have rejected knowledge, so I will reject you from serving me as a priest. Since you have forgotten the instruction of your God, so also I will forget your children.[3] → And that’s probably one of the most G-rated parts. Truly, all, Hosea is a very difficult book to read. It’s full of agony and hurt and abandonment, and all of that is felt, not by the people but by God. God has not turned away from the people. The people have turned away from God.
  • Today’s passage = unique and even refreshing moment of grace and love and light in the midst of a grim text → speaks of God’s love in pure, unadulterated, unequivocal terms
    • Text: When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the further they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and they burned incense to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up in my arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with bands of human kindness, with cords of love. I treated them like those who lift infants to their cheeks; I bent down to them and fed them. … How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart winces within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I won’t act on the heat of my anger; I won’t return to destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a human being, the holy one in your midst; I won’t come in harsh judgment.[4] → You can hear God’s anguish in this. You can hear God’s yearning. You can hear God’s heartbreak. You can hear how desperately God misses the children who have so willingly and so easily turned away despite all that God has done for them. It is truly both stunningly painful and stirringly powerful to read.
      • Margaret Odell (prof of religion at St. Olaf): This poem of YHWH’s anguished love for the beloved child Israel stands as one of the most poignant testimonies to divine love in the Old Testament, if not in the entire Bible. Quite possibly the earliest expression of God’s love in the Bible, it is also the most passionate, as it portrays God’s heart in conflict with his plans, his compassion averting his anger.[5]
  • Up to this point, much of the Old Testament stories that we read have been the “turning away” stories from the point of view of the people. Today, we hear a stirring, heart-rending reminder from God of just how much that turning away tears at the heart of God. It is, indeed, the rest of the story, and that story is LOVE. You see, friends, that is how big God’s love is for us.
    • Love that overcomes “turning away”
    • Love that overcomes waywardness and faithlessness
    • Love that overcomes excuses and exceptions
    • Love that overcomes even God’s own frustrations and intended consequences
      • Text: How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim?[6]
        • “Ephraim” = Israel (interchangeable in this text)
        • Admah and Zeboiim = cities completely and permanently destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah[7]
    • Love that overcomes anything and everything just to get to us
    • Scholar: This is not the story of the “prodigal” son who, having struggled with his own bad choices, finally turns and comes home. This is the story of a prodigal God who – in anguish, heartbreak, and the fiercest love – comes seeking out the children who have strayed.[8]
    • “But,” you might be saying, “I haven’t strayed. Not that much. Not really. Not intentionally, anyway.” And that may be true. But the reality of life and faith and the brokenness of the world around us and the world inside us, friends, is that we have all strayed – in big ways and small ways, in intentional ways and unintentional ways, in simple ways and in complex ways, always in ways that hurt God.
      • Description from Fall Breakaway workshop → turning ever-so-slightly bit by bit until God is completely out of sight
      • Friends, we are not perfect … at least, not the last time I checked. And even despite our best efforts … on our best days … with our best intentions, we cannot love God perfectly. But the good news is that God can love us perfect. The good news is that God does love us perfectly.
        • 1 John 4: God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them. … here is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.[9]
        • This is why I say what I do and we profess what we profess whenever we come to the table. “No matter who you are … no matter where you come from … no matter what you bring with you this morning, you are welcome.” God’s love is big enough to love us through all our ups and downs, our turning aways and running aways, our doubts and our frustrations and our messes and anything else we think might be “too much.” The point is that with God, there is no “too much.” No. Matter. What. God loves you. God loved you before it. God loves you in the midst of it. And God will love you after it … no matter what “it” might be. Loves. You. Full stop.
  • I want to leave you with a song this morning – a song that speaks to that holy, perfect, infinite, pursing, forgiving, all-encompassing love of God.

  • Halleljuah, indeed. Amen.

 

Charge

“The faith that I profess is rooted in a belief in a God who loves us deeply, desperately, and with a passion that cannot be contained. This God is always seeking us out, wanting to be with us and wanting us to experience the very best that life has to offer. This God is protective because we are loved so damn much.” – Rozella Haydee White from Big Love: The Power of Revolutionary Relationships to Heal the World

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Harvey.

[2] Gale A. Yee. “The Book of Hosea: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 7. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 200-

[3] Hos 4:1-2, 6.

[4] Hos 11:1-4, 8-9.

[5] Margaret Odell. “Commentary on Hosea 11:1-9” from Working Preacher, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4216. Accessed Nov. 10, 2019.

[6] Hos 11:8.

[7] Deut 29:22-23.

[8] Stacey Simpson Duke. “Proper 13 (Sunday between July 31 and August 6 inclusive) – Hosea 11:1-11, Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 296.

[9] 1 Jn 4:16b, 18.

[10] Lauren Daigle. “Love Like This” from Look Up Child, © 2018 by Centricity Music.

Sunday’s sermon: A Wildly Audacious Ask

asking for a favor

Text used – 1 Kings 18:17-39

 

AUDIO VERSION

 

 

  • I want you to take a look at your bulletin cover this morning [see image above]. This is a meme I’ve been seeing make the Facebook rounds lately, and it makes me chuckle every single time I see it.
    • READ MEME: “Me trying to ask someone for a favor: Hey could you help me with this thing? Absolutely no pressure though. Totally ok if you can’t. If you’d father run me over with a car that’s cool. Are you mad at me?” → Full disclosure: Part of the reason I chuckle at this is because this is exactly the way I ask for favors. Many of you probably know that from various messages or emails you’ve received from me.
      • Maybe it’s the Midwesterner → Minnesota nice on steroids, right? You’ve heard the old adage that you have to ask a Minnesotan if they want something 3 times, right? “Can I get you a cup of coffee?” “Oh, no. That’s okay.” (2 minutes later) “Are you sure I can’t offer you a cup of coffee?” “No, really. I’m fine.” (5 minutes later) “Really, I can get you a cup of coffee. It’s okay.” “Well, I guess I’ll take a cup of coffee.”
      • Maybe it’s the introvert in me → not wanting to put someone out
      • Maybe it’s just the “me” in me …
    • But I know I can’t be the only one that asks for favors this way, right?
      • Lots of ways that we soft ask for things
        • “Could you maybe …”
        • “Would you possibly …”
        • “I might like you to …”
      • Lots of ways that we couch our requests in a way out for the person we’re asking
        • If you want to …”
        • If it’s not too much to ask …”
        • When you have time …”
        • But …” “But …” “But …”
      • And all this hesitation and bet hedging certainly doesn’t stop with asking people for things, does it? How often do our prayers sound like this as well? “If it’s your will, God … when you make a way, God … maybe possiblybutbut but …”
        • TRUE: persistant little petition in the Lord’s Prayer “THY will be done” → And in the past, I know we’ve talked about “thy will” vs. “my will” and how important and impactful it can be to leave ourselves open to the moving of the Holy Spirit and the potential of God’s calling and leading in our lives. I think “Thy will, not my will” qualifies as a prayer couched in uncertainty. But there’s a big different between declaring our openness to God’s direction and hedging our prayers because we’re not really sure God can handle them. We’re afraid that God won’t “show up.” We’re so concerned we can’t handle a “no” response to our prayers that we don’t even want to give God the opportunity.
  • Today’s Scripture reading = exact opposite attitude → Strange as it may sound, I love this Bible story because it’s so excessive. It’s so sensational. It’s so over-the-top. In it, Elijah embodies such a wildly audacious Plus, he’s sarcastic as all get out, and how often do we encounter a little snarky sarcasm in the Bible, right?
    • Background
      • Last week: splitting of the whole kingdom of Israel into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah → very end of last week’s Scripture reading
        • Jeroboam made king of the northern kingdom of Israel → worried that the people would go back to King Rehoboam (southern kingdom) because the temple was in Jerusalem and Jerusalem was located in the southern kingdom
        • Bottom line: people needed a place to worship SO Jeroboam set up 2 golden calves to worship in the northern kingdom → Do you remember me saying last week that that was foreshadowing of more trouble to come? Yeah … that trouble comes TODAY.
          • Shannon Meacham (colleague and fellow YCW): Last week’s reading ended with two golden calves and a dagger in God’s heart with the words that echoed Aaron at Mt. Siani. After weeks of skipping books and centuries, this week we move only 6 chapters to hear how bad things have really gotten.[1]
    • A handful of kings in between Jeroboam and King Ahab in today’s passage – IMPORTANT POINT: all of them “did evil in the Lord’s eyes” in one way or another, mostly by leading people away from worshipping God → Now, you may also remember those pesky, sort of obscure rules that we read a few weeks ago. You know … the Ten Commandments! That first rule was something about not having gods other than the Lord God. Yeah. Uh oh.
      • Today’s king = Ahab → And as far as wayward kings who did evil things are concerned, Ahab was by far the worst! – text (1 Kgs 16): [Ahab] did evil in the Lord’s eyes, more than anyone who preceded him. … He served and worshipped Baal. He made an altar for Baal in the Baal temple he had constructed in Samaria. Ahab also made a sacred pole and did more to anger the Lord, the God of Israel, than any of Israel’s kings who preceded him.[2]
        • Quick history lesson: “Who was Baal?” = god of storms and fertility worshipped by a number of ancient Middle Eastern cultures including the Canaanites (modern day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine)[3]
    • So this is who the prophet Elijah is up against.
      • Today’s text = not Elijah’s first run-in with Ahab
        • Previous encounter: Elijah telling Abah that Israel will suffer a severe drought because of Ahab’s wicked ways[4] → As you can imagine, this wasn’t exactly something Ahab enjoyed hearing, so Elijah’s already on the wrong side of King Ahab’s temper.
          • Hear that tension in the opening part of today’s reading – text: When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is that you, the one who troubles Israel?” Elijah answered, “I haven’t troubled Israel; you and your father’s house have! You did as much when you deserted the Lord’s commands and followed the Baals.”[5]
  • Bulk of today’s story = dramatic scene straight out of Biblical soap opera
    • Villain: Ahab, the corrupt and evil king
    • Hero: Elijah, the prophet of God
    • Pawns/stooges: 450 prophets of Baal
    • Drama: one singular, solitary prophet (Elijah) essentially challenging great, overwhelming hoard of Baal’s prophets to a duel → It is a duel of belief. It is a duel of fire and sacrifice and pageantry. It is a duel of prayer vs. prayer, god vs. God.
      • Elijah challenges prophets of Baal to build an altar, sacrifice a bull (one of the most expensive and sacred offerings), and call on Baal to light the fire on the altar – text: “Give us two bulls. Let Baal’s prophets choose one. Let them cut it apart and set it on the wood, but don’t add fire. I’ll prepare the other bull, put it on the wood, but won’t add fire. Then all of you will call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers with fire – that’s the real God!” And all the people answered, “That’s an excellent idea.”[6] → Now, there’s a really important point embedded in this portion: Elijah’s audience. In preparation for this scene, Elijah has called “all the Israelites” to witness because, after all, Elijah is attempting to turn the people’s attention and devotion back to the Lord God. That’s his ultimate goal, right? He’s not going through these crazy, elaborate paces just to show off to a bunch of false prophets and a dangerously maniacal king. He’s doing it for the people.
        • Makes this point clear – text (Elijah basically calls the people out): Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long will you hobble back and forth between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow God. If Baal is God, follow Baal.”[7] → super funky Heb. in this portion of the text
          • Scholar: The Hebrew word translated “opinion” is related to a word meaning “tree bough” that might have been fashioned into a crutch creating “unequal legs” and causing an unsteady gait. Elijah is calling the people to pick the god behind whom they can steadily walk.[8] → So basically, Elijah is calling out the people’s wishy-washy attitude toward God and their faith up to this point. They’ve been flip-flopping back and forth for generations, and Elijah says, “You know what? Not anymore. It is time to choose. And by the way … here. Let me help you make that choice.”
    • 450 prophets of Baal build their altar, prepare their sacrifice, and spend “from morning to midday” parading around the altar and calling out to Baal to light the fire … But … NOTHING.
      • As if that embarrassing silence wasn’t bad enough, the added bonus is that Elijah starts taunting them! (This is where that snarky sarcasm comes in.) – text: Around noon, Elijah started making fun of them: “Shout louder! Certainly he’s a god! Perhaps he is lost in thought or wandering or traveling somewhere. Or maybe he is asleep and must wake up!”[9] → And Elijah’s spiritual trash talk ends up having quite the effect on the prophets. – text: So the prophets of Baal cried with a louder voice and cut themselves with swords and knives as was their custom. Their blood flowed all over them. As noon passed they went crazy with their ritual until it was time for the evening offering. Still there was no sound or answer, no response whatsoever.[10]
    • Elijah’s turn = builds his own altar using 12 stones (one stone for each of the 12 tribes of Israel) → But then Elijah ups the ante even more. To his altar of wood and stone, he adds water. Not just a dribble. Not just a little bowl. Not even a single, full jar of water. Elijah has those around him fill four jars with water, then douse the altar not once, not twice, but three times, so much so that the abundance of water basically creates a moat around the altar!
      • Historical point: jars that Elijah calls for are not cute little mason jars but massive jars used to catch rainwater for various purposes → similar to the jars that Jesus uses to turn water to wine at the wedding at Cana in gospel of John
        • Capacity = 9 gallons per jar[11] (do the math: 9×4 = 36 gallons per trip TIMES 3 trips = 108 gallons of water)
        • And remember, they’re in the midst of a severe drought … and here’s Elijah, pouring gallons upon gallons upon gallons of water on his altar. This, friends, is a Biblical throw-down right here. Without a doubt!
    • Elijah’s prayer: Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. I have done all these things at your instructions. Answer me, Lord! Answer me so that this people will know that you, Lord, are the real God and that you can change their hearts.” → Elijah is essentially laying down a big ol’ “PROVE IT” to God before all the people of Israel. All his eggs are in one basket. And that basket … is on fire. Literally. Or at least, it’s about to be. Elijah’s ask here is not It’s not couched in escape clauses and possible outs and “maybe-possibly-if-but” language. Elijah’s ask is big. It’s bold. It’s ostentatious. It’s wildly audacious. Elijah is literally calling on God to show up in power and presence, in essence and extravagance, in sparks and flames and blazing glory.
      • God does not disappoint – text: Then the Lord’s fire fell; it consumed the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up the water in the trench! All the people saw this and fell on their faces. “The Lord is the real God! The Lord is the real God!” they exclaimed.[12]
  • Friends, it’s certainly true that sometimes, God’s answer to prayer is not the answer that we’re seeking. And it’s true that sometimes it’s hard to put ourselves – our deepest desires and most desperate hopes – out there when we cannot hear or see God, when we cannot prove God like Elijah did with fire from heaven – not to the world around us, not to those who laugh at or question us … not even to ourselves. But here’s the thing: if we don’t take that risk … if we don’t leap out in faith … if we don’t ASK, we don’t give God the opportunity to be audacious in God’s abundance and grace. We deny God the chance to show up in our lives in extravagantly unanticipated and unexpected ways. And we deprive God of the opening to work through us to inspire faith in those around us – people we know as well as people we don’t. So be brave. Be bold. Be wildly audacious. Because you never know what kind of spark God is just waiting to forge into a wild, faith-fed blaze. Alleluia! Amen.

[1] Shannon Meacham. “Narrative Lectionary: Stuck in the Middle with You (1 Kings 18:[17-19] 20-39)” from RevGalBlogPals, https://revgalblogpals.org/2019/10/29/narrative-lectionary-stuck-in-the-middle-with-you-1-kings-1817-19-20-39/.  Posted Oct. 29, 2019, accessed Nov. 1, 2019.

[2] 1 Kgs 16:30, 31b-33.

[3] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Baal-ancient-deity.

[4] 1 Kgs 17:1.

[5] 1 Kgs 18:17-18.

[6] 1 Kgs 18:23-24.

[7] 1 Kgs 18:21.

[8] Elna K. Solvang. “Commentary on 1 Kings 18:[17-19] 20-39” from Working Preacher, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4215, accessed Oct. 31, 2019.

[9] 1 Kgs 18:27.

[10] 1 Kgs 18:28-29 (emphasis added).

[11] Titus Kennedy. “Stone Jars, Ritual Washing, and the Water to Wine Miracle at Cana” from Drive Thru History Adventures, https://drivethruhistoryadventures.com/stone-jars-ritual-washing-water-wine-miracle-cana/. Posted Jan. 24, 2018, accessed Oct. 31, 2019.

[12] 1 Kgs 18:38-39.

Sunday’s sermon: Divided We Fall

divided united

Text used – 1 Kings 12:1-17, 25-29

 

AUDIO VERSION

 

 

  • Okay, all … pop quiz this morning. Let me know if you can tell where these statements come from.
    • When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent,” he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
    • It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone.
    • The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last.
    • Give up? Those statements are four of the 95 theses that Martin Luther nailed to the door of Wittenberg Castle church on Oct. 31, 1517. Friends, today is Reformation Sunday.
      • Quick church history lesson
        • Luther = German priest turned theology professor → grew to reject a number of Roman Catholic teachings of the day[1]
          • Salvation through grace, not salvation through works
          • Importance of making Scripture accessible to regular people → translated the Bible into German (only in Latin up to that point = only priests could read it)
          • Flat out rejection of selling of indulgences – practice of people basically buying their deceased loved ones’ way into heaven (skip the punishment and postponement of Purgatory)
          • Wrote 95 theses (vast majority of which were counterpoints against indulgences) in 1517 → refused to renounce that and all the rest of his writings/views despite the demands of both Pope Leo X and Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor → both excommunicated and declared an outlaw in 1521
        • Luther’s actions that day were the flashpoint for what we call the Great Reformation → spurned the development of a number of different theologies and Protestant traditions
          • Today: upwards of 200 different Protestant denominations just in the United States … and that doesn’t include all the individual churches that designate themselves as “non-denomination” or “Bible churches”[2] → dividing lines between those denominations are many and varied
            • Divided along cultural/heritage lines (e.g. –German Lutheran vs. Norwegian Lutheran)
            • Divided along polity lines (episcopal vs. congregational vs. presbyterian)
            • Divided along theological lines
              • What’s a sacrament and what’s not?
              • Who can participate at the Table and who can’t?
              • Baptism – age? dunking or sprinkling? efficacy of rebaptism or “once baptized, always baptized”?
              • Probably most recent split happened in the Presbyterian Church (USA) = development of ECO (Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians) → splintered along lines pertaining to LGBTQ issues among others
    • As we well know, the Church is no stranger to division, is it? By this point, our shared Family Tree as Christians is a pretty gnarled, complicated, crazy-looking mess. But this division is far from the exception in the history of faith as well.
      • Phyllis Tickle: church “cleans out its attic and has a rummage sale” every 500 yrs.[3] → massive shift in the life and structure and theology of the Church every 500 yrs.
        • Roughly 500 yrs. after Jesus = era of the councils (Council of Nicaea, Council of Constantinople, etc.) → set what books would be considered Scripture and what wouldn’t, set what was acceptable (orthodox) theology and what wasn’t (heresy), laid out some of the creeds we use even today (Apostle’s Creed, Nicene Creed)
        • Roughly 500 yrs. after the council = the Great Schism → divided the Western Church (Roman Catholicism) with the Eastern Church (today: various Orthodox traditions – Russian, Greek, etc.)
        • Roughly 500 yrs. after the Great Schism = the Reformation with Luther and all those who came after him
        • Roughly 500 yrs. after the Reformation … TODAY → We are indeed overdue for another vast and sweeping change in the way and life of the Church. Or maybe we’re in the midst of it.
  • Going back even further = division in our Scripture reading this morning
    • Some explanation
      • Rehoboam = son of King Solomon, grandson of King David
      • Jeroboam = placed in position of regional power by King Solomon → led a revolt (hence the reason our text said he “returned from Egypt where he had fled from King Solomon”[4]
      • Over the past few weeks, we’ve talked about the rise of first King Saul and then King David as the monarchy of Israel and how the establishment of that monarchy was against God’s wishes and counsel for the people of Israel. Through the reign of Saul, David, and David’s son, Solomon, the people of Israel remained a single kingdom – the 12 tribes (descended from the 12 sons of Jacob excluding Joseph) all united today. Today’s Scripture is the end of that union. → today’s Scripture = the division of the kingdom into the Northern Kingdom of Israel (10 tribes) and the Southern Kingdom of Judah (2 tribes)
    • Sub-title of today’s section: “How Rehoboam lost the kingdom” → And what does that loss boil down to today? How did Rehoboam lose the kingdom that his father and grandfather had worked so hard to build up and maintain? Through division.
      • Story breakdown
        • People (along with Jeroboam) come to King Rehoboam and say, “Your father made our workload very hard for us. If you will lessen the demands your father made of us and lighten the heavy workload he demanded from us, then we will serve you.”[5]
        • King Rehoboam unsure of what to do → tells the people to come back in 3 days and consults his advisors
          • 2 sets of advisors: the older ones who served his father, Solomon, before him VS. the younger ones (King Rehoboam’s contemporaries)
          • Older advisors: “If you will be a servant to this people by answering them and speaking good words today, then they will be your servants forever.”[6]
            • Response born out of experience
            • Response born of out wisdom
            • Response born out of respect for the people
          • Younger advisors: “If my father made your workload heavy, I’ll make it even heavier! If my father disciplined you with whips, I’ll do it with scorpions!”[7]
            • Response born out of ambition
            • Response born out of pride
            • Response born out of elitism
        • King Rehoboam decides to listen to his younger advisors → text: The king then answered the people harshly. … When all Israel saw that the king wouldn’t listen to them, the people answered the king: “Why should we care about David? We have no stake in Jesse’s son! Go back to your homes, Israel! You better look after your own house now, David!” Then the Israelites went back to their homes, and Rehoboam ruled over only the Israelites who lived in the cities of Judah.[8]
          • The rest of the Israelites turn to Jeroboam to rule them → Jeroboam, in fear that their allegiance will once again flip and they will return to King Rehoboam, sets up golden calves for them to worship in Bethel and in Dan (foreshadowing for more trouble to come!)
        • Division, plain and simple, right?
  • But I want to go back to the middle of the story today and focus on the advice of King Rehoboam’s older advisors. – older advisors in the text: “If you will be a servant to this people by answering them and speaking good words today, then they will be your servants forever.”[9] → “If you will be a servant to this people … If you will be a servant.” This, friends, is the key.
    • Outright divisiveness we’re facing in America today
      • Neighbor against neighbor
      • Friend against friend
      • Family against family
      • Divisiveness born of intolerance and an unwillingness to listen – truly listen! – to the “other side”
        • Not half-listen while I try to think of the next thing to say
        • Not pretend-listen so they think I’m listening and will, in turn, listen to me
        • Not ambush-listen so I can pounce on something they say and demolish it with my clearly superior argument/talking point
    • Certainly not the first time we’ve faced strong, deep divisions as a country
      • Just a couple examples:
        • 1960s & 1970s → Civil Rights, Vietnam War, McCarthyism and communism
        • Civil War and the decades that surrounded it
    • But it cannot be denied that we are living in a highly contentious, combative, and toxically polarized time. “If you will be a servant to this people by answering them and speaking good words today, then they will be your servants forever.” Jesus talked a lot about what it meant to be a servant.
      • John: This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved one. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.[10]
      • Mark: Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant. Whoever wants to be first among you will be the servant of all.[11]
      • Luke: But I say to you who are willing to hear: Love your enemies. Do good those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you.[12]
      • Matthew: You should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you.[13]
    • Archibald Macleish (American poet and former Librarian of Congress): Religion is at its best when it makes us ask hard questions of ourselves. It is at its worse when it deludes us into thinking we have all the answer for everybody else. → Friends, let us take the hard questions from Scripture this morning – the questions about how we divide amongst ourselves and what that division is doing to our souls as individuals and as the church, as the human race and as Americans. Let us take those hard questions and sit with them, wrestle with them, ask them of ourselves. We have seen what division brings time and time again. Maybe it’s time to give a servant’s heart a try. Amen.[14]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther.

[2] http://www.ncregister.com/blog/sbeale/just-how-many-protestant-denominations-are-there.

[3] Phyllis Tickle. The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books), 2008.

[4] 1 Kgs 12:2.

[5] 1 Kgs 12:4.

[6] 1 Kgs 12:7.

[7] 1 Kgs 12:11.

[8] 1 Kgs 12:13a, 16-17.

[9] 1 Kgs 12:7.

[10] Jn 15:12-13.

[11] Mk 10:43-44.

[12] Lk 6:27-28.

[13] Mt 7:12.

[14]

Sunday’s sermon: Making My ‘Messy’ Magnificent

dancing before God

Text used – 2 Samuel 5:1-5; 6:1-5

 

AUDIO VERSION

 

 

  • [PLAY A FEW BARS OF “Footloose[1]”] → Classic, right? The wildly-popular 1980s movie[2] about the new boy in town going toe-to-toe with the staunch and stodgy town minister over the issue of what?
    • Kevin Bacon = Ren McCormick, new boy in town who lives his life through dance
      • Dances when he’s happy
      • Dances when he mad
      • Dances when he wants to have fun
      • Dances to “get the girl”
    • John Lithgow = Rev. Shaw Moore, local minister who believes there’s something inherently inappropriate and wicked about dancing → does everything in his power to keep Ren and all the rest of the local youth from dancing (especially since Ren’s dance to “get the girl” is aimed at Rev. Moore’s oldest daughter)
    • Classic scene = the city council meeting
      • Ren takes his place at the microphone to address the city council as well as the gathered crowd → argue to allow high school dance within city limits
      • And what book does he quote from in support of his argument for the power and value of dance? He quotes from the Bible. He read Psalm 149, and he speaks of King David leaping and dancing before God.
        • Ps 149: 1 Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song; sing God’s praise in the assembly of the faithful! 2 Let Israel celebrate its maker; let Zion’s children rejoice in their king! 3 Let them praise God’s name with dance; let them sing God’s praise with the drum and lyre! 4 Because the LORD is pleased with his people, God will beautify the poor with saving help. 5 Let the faithful celebrate with glory; let them shout for joy on their beds. 6 Let the high praises of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands, 7 to get revenge against the nations and punishment on the peoples, 8 binding their rulers in chains and their officials in iron shackles, 9 achieving the justice written against them. That will be an honor for all God’s faithful people. Praise the LORD!
    • And with our Scripture reading this morning, we got a little taste of David’s story, both the political side and the dancing side.
  • So let’s talk about David. As we make our way through the Narrative Lectionary, our goal is to take in the whole, overarching scope of the Story of faith, right? Well, we certainly can’t do that without talking about King David, can we?
    • David’s thread in the Story of faith is a long, colorful, and complicated thread → probably takes up the most space within the entirety of Scripture (possible exception: Paul’s travels as they’re recounted in Acts)
      • Begins when prophet Samuel goes in search of a king to replace Saul
        • REMINDER: Saul = anointed king by Samuel when the people of Israel demanded a king (against God’s wishes) → Saul does a good job ruling for a little while (following God and God’s commandments) → eventually stopped listening to God and is rejected as king[3]
        • Samuel goes in search of a new king à finds David in the field tending his father Jesse’s sheep à Samuel anoints David[4]
      • David is taken into Saul’s service as a musician and armor-bearer (though Saul is unaware that this boy has already been anointed as his replacement)[5]
      • David defeats Goliath[6] and befriends Saul’s son, Jonathan[7]
      • Saul becomes suspicious and jealous of David → Saul pursues David and tries to kill him multiple times → David escapes time and again through various means[8]
        • This part of David’s life – when he’s running from Saul and trying to avoid being captured and killed but is also still functioning as a soldier for the people of Israel and going into battle for his people – is a really complicated and fascinating part of the story of faith. We don’t have time to go into it in detail today, but if you’re looking for an interesting read, delve into 1 Samuel 18-31.
      • Eventually, Saul is killed in battle[9] → David is anointed king for a 2nd time – anointed as king of Judah[10] → But because of conflict between the house of Judah and the house of Israel (different tribes under the greater umbrella of “people of Israel”), David only ruled over the people of Judah for the first seven and a half years of his monarchy.[11]
    • 1st part of today’s Scripture reading (from 2 Sam 5) = David finally being anointed as king over people of Israel as well
      • Moment of powerful unity
      • Moment of dynamic hopefulness
      • Text: All the Israelite tribes came to David at Hebron and said, “Listen: We are your very own flesh and bone. In the past, when Saul ruled over us, you were the one who led Israel out to war and back. What’s more, the Lord told you, You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will be Israel’s leader.” So all the Israelite elders came to the king at Hebron. King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.[12] → Anointing number three … third time’s the charm, right? With the first anointing (in the fields with just Samuel and the sheep as witnesses), David was accepted by God as king. With the second anointing, David was accepted by – the house of Judah – by a faction of the people as king. And with this third anointing, David is finally accepted by all the people as king. And how does David celebrate? Probably not the way you think.
        • Part of Scripture that we didn’t read today (part that fills in between 2 Sam 5 and 2 Sam 6) = David leading the army of Israel to capture Jerusalem and defeat the Philistines → Granted, there’s a lot of battling and conquering that happens throughout the Old Testament. This is just a small part of it. With this battle and this conquering, David does something that becomes incredibly culturally, religiously, and politically impactful: he establishes Jerusalem as the Holy City for the people of Israel.
          • Certainly an action that continues to have cultural, religious, and political ramifications even today, right?
    • 2nd part of today’s reading = David calling to have God’s chest brought to the city
      • “God’s chest” = “the Ark of the Covenant” → special chest that was created[13] to house sacred articles of the covenant with God (most notably the tablets containing the 10 commandments) → But it was more than just a special, fancy box. The lid of the box was known as the kaporet or the “mercy seat. Two gold cherubim on either end of the lid created a space with their wings which was believed to be the space in which God would appear. So bringing God’s chest into the city was a powerful, sacred, and highly significant act because it establishes Jerusalem as the place where God lived.
        • Scholar: The ark, a large box, functions as God’s throne; a visible place for God’s invisible presence. The ark went ahead of the Israelites as they journeyed through the wilderness.[14]
        • See in the text just how significant and moving this act was: David and the entire house of Israel celebrated in the Lord’s presence with all their strength, with songs, zithers, harps, tambourines, rattles, and cymbals. → different translation (NRSV): David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.[15]
  • So here’s the thing: we’ve talked about all the ups and downs that David has already been through in this short life. Remember, our Scripture reading this morning said that he was only 30 when he was anointed king of the house of Judah (2nd anointing) and 37 when he was anointed king over all Israel. So in his relatively short life up to that point, he had been through a lot. He had gone from a simple shepherd boy to a secretly-anointed king to an armor-bearer for the king to a national hero to the best friend of the king’s son to a fugitive and a battle commander … to the king. And in the face of all of that … maybe because of all of that … David danced.
    • Danced because he was happy
    • Danced because he was relieved
    • Danced as a release
    • Danced to honor God
    • [PLAY SAME FEW BARS OF “Footloose” AGAIN]
    • Even though he was probably exhausted … even though he probably had a lot on his mind … even though he probably had worries and uncertainties and fears and a to-do list a mile long (being a king and a conqueror, after all) … even though he had been through some terrible thing, some scary things, some dark and painful things … David danced.
      • Brings to mind words from Ps 30: You changed my mourning into dancing. You took off my funeral clothes and dressed me up in joy so that my whole being might sing praises to you and never stop. Lord, my God, I will give thanks to you forever.[16]
        • Many psalms traditionally attributed to King David à this is one of those psalms
        • Now, I hesitate a little to say this because I know that sometimes, when you’re down in the depths of whatever you’re facing and people tell you things like, “It’s bound to get better” or “There’s always a silver lining” or any of those other sunshine-and-roses-everything-is-happy platitudes, it can actually have the opposite effect. It can make you more frustrated, more anxious, more depressed, more angry, more discouraged. But even after everything that he had been through, David danced before God. David let God take that mess that he had been in – mess of political intrigue, mess of war, mess of leadership thrust upon him, mess of grief and exhaustion and fear. David let God take that mess and change his mourning into dancing. David let God bring light to his darkness. David let God bring love to his loss. David let God bring passion to his pain. David let God bring the Holy to his hopelessness.
    • That’s why the words of our next hymn[17] are so powerful → convey dancing in the face of some pretty awful things
      • “I danced for the scribe and the Pharisee, but they would not dance and they would not follow me …”
      • “I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black. It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back …”
      • “They cut me down and I leapt up high. I am the life that will never, never die …”
  • And remember … not all dancing has to look the same.
    • Maybe your dancing looks vibrant and effusive and energetic like David and the people of Israel dancing “with all their might”
      • Movement that conveys joy
      • Movement that conveys passion
      • Movement that conveys celebration
    • Maybe your dancing is slower, more measured, more contemplative à more “movement with a purpose” than anything
      • Movement that conveys belief
      • Movement that conveys intention
      • Movement that conveys resolve
    • Maybe your dancing is simply moving your finger or tapping your foot
      • Movement that conveys faith even in fear
      • Movement that conveys courage even in pain
      • Movement that conveys hope even in uncertainty
    • In the midst of his mess, David let God move him. David let God bring out the magnificent in the midst of that mess because that is the nature of God: goodness, mercy, love, and hope above all else. These are the things about God that will not change. These are the things about God that reach into our hearts and our souls no matter what we’re facing. So friends, let me ask you: How is God moving you? What will your dance be? Amen.

CHARGE & BENEDICTION

[1] Kenny Loggins and Dean Pitchford. “Footloose,” released Jan. 1984 by Columbia Records.

[2] Footloose, written by Dean Pitchford, released Feb. 17, 1984 by Phoenix Pictures and Paramount Pictures.

[3] 1 Sam 8-15.

[4] 1 Sam 16:1-13.

[5] 1 Sam 16:14-23.

[6] 1 Sam 17.

[7] 1 Sam 18:1-5; 20:1-42.

[8] 1 Sam 18:6-30:31.

[9] 1 Sam 31.

[10] 2 Sam 2:1-7.

[11] 2 Sam 2:8-11.

[12] 2 Sam 5:1-3 (emphasis added).

[13] Ex 37:1-9.

[14] Elna K. Solvang. “Commentary on 2 Samuel 5:1-5; 6:1-5” from Working Preacher, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4213, accessed Oct. 20, 2019.

[15] 2 Sam 6:5 (first CEB, then NRSV, emphasis added).

[16] Ps 30:11-12.

[17] “I Danced in the Morning,” Glory to God (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), hymn #157.

Sunday’s sermon: A Word for the World

Words I love you in different languages. Vector greeting card

Text used – Deuteronomy 5:1-21; 6:4-9

 

AUDIO VERSION

 

 

  • I want to introduce you to an idea this morning: the concept known as the Mere Exposure Effect.[1]
    • Basic idea: the more you hear something, the more likely you are to like it and believe it → In other words, we tend to like things more when they’re familiar to us.
      • Also called the Familiarity Principle
      • Coined/proposed by the late Robert Zajonc, Polish-born social psychologist who immigrated to America after the end of WWII
    • Examples
      • First time you hear a song on the radio: “Meh” → find yourself enthusiastically singing along after hearing it over and over again for a few weeks
      • Pretty central thought process behind advertising, especially TV advertising → same commercial over and over and over again is supposed to work its way into your brain and make you want to buy whatever it is they’re trying to sell you
        • Extreme e.g.: Home Shopping Network – talk about the same object for an hour → talk at you and talk at you and talk at you until you finally give in (for 4 easy payments of $29.95!)
      • Darker side of mere exposure effect = the more often you hear a lie (no matter the source), the more likely you are to believe that lie … Even when you know it’s a lie. Even when it’s a lie that you’re telling yourself.
    • Fascinating. BUT … what does that have to do with the 10 commandments? What does that have to do with faith? “Lisa, why are you telling us about this?!” I’m so glad you asked. J
  • Today’s Scripture = probably one of the most universally-recognized Scriptures out there: the 10 Commandments → Scriptural narrative with quite the circuitous, sordid story behind it (not quite the simple “up and down the mountain” that the various movie versions of this story like to portray)
    • Today’s passage from Deut is actually the 2nd iteration of the 10 commandments that Moses gives to the people → 10 commandments 2.0
    • Backstory
      • (Last week: read beginning of Moses’ story up to the point where God called Moses from the burning bush)
      • Next: Moses returns to Egypt, tries to convince Pharaoh to let God’s people go → 10 plagues of Egypt → finally convinces Pharaoh to let the Israelites go[2]
      • Moses leads the entire nation of Israel to the banks of the Red Sea → they discover that Pharaoh has once again changed his mind and is coming after them with the full force of the Egyptian army → parting of the Red Sea → people of Israel cross safely to the other side while Pharaoh’s army is obliterated by the waters crashing back together[3]
      • Finally safe from Pharaoh for good, the people begin their journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land → But the people start complaining[4]
        • Complaining about lack of water
        • Complaining about lack of food
        • Complaining about lack of leadership
        • Complaining about lack of a plan
        • Complaining about how much they have to walk
        • Every time they complain, God responds with a provision … but every time, the Israelites find something new to complain about. There’s always something that they’re dissatisfied with.
      • 3 mos. after leaving Egypt, they reach Mt. Sinai → Moses goes up on the mountain to commune with God → receives the first set of the 10 commandments[5] → That’s in chapter 20 of Exodus. What follows is a lot more instruction from God about how things should be done – festivals, offerings, justice, worship, owning property, Sabbath, priestly duties and vestments, how to build a proper lampstand, and so on and so on … 11 chapters worth of instructions … which means Moses was up on that mountain with God for a long time, and the people started getting antsy, and nervous, and frustrated. And they started complaining … again.
      • People surrounded Moses’ brother, Aaron (right-hand man) and started demanding that he make a “new god” for them out of gold → collect all the gold throughout the camp → melt it down → fashion it into a gold calf → start worshipping the golden calf while Moses is still up on the mountain[6]
      • God warns Moses about what is happening at the camp → Moses returns to find them worshiping this false god → Moses is so angry with the people that he hurls down the first set of tablets containing the 10 commandments and shatters them[7]
      • And because of the people’s disobedience and lack of faith, God causes the Israelites to wander around in the wilderness for 40 yrs. before they can set foot in the Promised Land. The entire first generations of Israelites that Moses led out of Egypt died during the wandering before God finally led them back to the banks of the Jordan River – the border of the Promised Land.
    • And it’s on that border that we find ourselves with the first part of our reading this morning. The wandering is over. The Promised Land is literally in sight. The people have demonstrated their faithfulness to the God that has wandered with them these 40 years. And it’s time to move forward. So God says, “You’re ready. So let’s try again.” And Moses says, “Let me remind you of what’s most important.” – text: Moses called out to all Israel, saying to them: “Israel! Listen to the regulations and the case laws that I’m recounting in your hearing right now. Learn them and carefully do them.”[8] = God’s version of the Mere Exposure Effect
      • Repeating important words so that Israel could hear them again
      • Repeating important words so Israel could internalize them again
      • Repeating important words so Israel could believe them again
      • Repeating important words so they could become a more integrated, tightly-woven part of the fabric of Israel’s story again
      • Critical nature of this is backed up by the 2nd half of our passage this morning: These words that I am commanding you today must always be on your minds. Recite them to your children. Talk about them when you are sitting around your house and when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are getting up. Tie them on your hand as a sign. They should be on your forehead as a symbol. Write them on your house’s doorframes and on your city’s gates.[9] → This is Moses giving the people the words of God once again, imparting them and entrusting them to the people in hopes that in hearing them again – in hearing them once and exhorting them to repeat them again and again and again – that those words of obedience and reverence and righteousness and compassion would become more and more a part of the people’s identity the more they heard them.
        • Mere Exposure Effect: the more the more you hear something, the more likely you are to like it and believe it → In other words, we tend to like things more when they’re familiar to us. And Moses was doing everything he could to make these words emphatically, unrelentingly, sacredly familiar for the people.
  • Interesting because, while they’re specific, they’re also incredibly universal
    • Words spoken into a specific context at a specific time
      • E.g. – description about keeping the Sabbath[10] is long and speaks of oxen and donkeys and God leading the people out of slavery in Egypt → clearly words for a specific time and specifically for the people of Israel
    • And yet they’re words that have stood the test of time. They’re words that echo throughout generations down to us today. – Kathryn Schifferdecker (prof. and chair of Old Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul): This passage – and what follows it – also speaks to us, the umpteenth generation removed from Sinai. We are addressed by these words! We, “all of us here alive today,” are called upon even now to enter into and recommit to that relationship with the God of Israel. That is the rhetorical force of this passage. That is the rhetorical force of all Scripture, really. Scripture seeks to inform, but even more, to transform, to invite us to enter into the story of God and Israel, and the story of Christ and the church, and therein to find our own story.[11] → This was a word of faith and hope and transformation and relationship for the people of Israel millennia ago, yes. But it is still a word of faith and hope and transformation and relationship for us today.
    • Actual break-down of the 10 commandments = 5 for God, 5 for people
      • First 5[12]:
        • I am the Lord your God
        • No other gods before the Lord
        • No idols
        • Don’t use God’s name “as if it were of no significance”[13]
        • Honor/keep the Sabbath day
        • They’re all about honoring God – about paying reverence and respect to God, about keeping a special place for God in our hearts and minds and days.
      • Next 5[14]:
        • Honor your parents
        • Don’t kill
        • Don’t commit adultery
        • Don’t steal
        • Don’t “testify falsely” about others[15]
        • Don’t desire after and try to take others’ relationships/possessions
        • They’re similar to the first set in that they’re also about respecting and holding as sacred the lives and dignity of others.
      • Common thread between the first 5 and the second 5 = relationship
        • First 5 = invitation to right relationship with God
        • Second 5 = guidance for healthy, gracious relationships with others
    • They both set out parameters for what a considerate, compassionate, sincere, sacred relationship can and should look like – respectful, loving, valued, and honored.
    • Reaffirmed in a similar way by Jesus = the Greatest Commandment (Luke’s version): A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?” He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”[16]
      • Echoes the words of the 2nd half of our passage today
      • Echoes the sentiment of the 10 commandments (first 5 = love God, second 5 = love others)
    • And friends, not only are these words that are still relevant in our world today, they are words that are desperately needed in our world today – a world in which we seem to have forgotten the value of those who don’t look-like-me-sound-like-me-live-like-me-pray-like-me … a world in which we have more people in need than ever before … a world in which people are degraded and discriminated against every single day for the color of their skin, the language that the speak, the person that they are, the level of their bank account, the person that they love, and on and on and on … a world in which basic human dignities are denied to people every single day … a world in which we cannot seem to disagree anymore without fighting and finger-pointing and name-calling and threats … a world calling out for genuine, loving, sacred relationships between neighbors with every fiber of its being. Today is World Communion Sunday, y’all. All around this country and more importantly all around this world today, people who don’t look-like-me-sound-like-me-live-like-me-pray-like-me are gathering at the Lord’s Table to be in and celebrate right relationship and sacred community with God and with one another. We’re all sharing the same loaf. We’re all passing the same cup. We’re all lifting up prayers of confession and adoration, praise and petition to a God that hears all, no matter the language or accent or wording. Today we come together around this table with one another and with the whole world. So let us come with the love and reverence and compassion and desire of God written on our hearts and on our minds. And when we leave this table, let us leave as God’s ever-present, ever-powerful, ever-relevant, ever-needed word to the world: LOVE. Amen.

[1] https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/general/what-is-the-mere-exposure-effect/.

[2] Ex 4-12.

[3] Ex 13-15.

[4] Ex 16-18.

[5] Ex 19-20.

[6] Ex 32.

[7] Ex 32:19.

[8] Deut 5:1.

[9] Deut 6:6-9.

[10] Deut 5:12-15.

[11] Kathryn M. Schifferdecker. “Commentary on Deuteronomy 5:1-21; 6:4-9” from Working Preacher, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4211.

[12] Deut 5:6-15.

[13] Deut 5:11.

[14] Deut 5:16-21.

[15] Deut 5:20.

[16] Lk 10:25-28 (also Mt 22:34-40 and Mk 12:28-34).

Sunday’s Sermon: Sacred Identity: Lost & Found

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Text used – Exodus 1:8-22; Exodus 2:1-10; Exodus 3:1-15 (embedded in sermon text)

AUDIO VERSION

 

 

  • Names
    • Did you know that in certain parts of the world today, there are actually certain names that are illegal?[1]
      • YOU CANNOT name your baby “Devil” in Japan
      • YOU CANNOT name your baby “Smelly Head” or “007” in Malaysia
      • YOU CANNOT name your baby “Bridge” in Norway
      • YOU CANNOT name your baby “@” in China
      • YOU CANNOT name your baby “Tom” in Portugal
      • YOU CANNOT name your baby “Brfxxcxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmncksssqlbb11116” in Sweden
      • YOU CANNOT name your baby “Stallion” or “Talula Does the Hula from Hawaii” in New Zealand
    • Flip side: some of the oddest legal name changes in the world[2]
      • Simon Smith → Bacon Double Cheeseburger
      • David Fearn → James [insert the title of every Bond movie ever made up to Casino Royale] Bond
      • George Garratt → Captain Fantastic Faster Than Superman Spiderman Batman Wolverine Hulk And The Flash Combined
      • Claire Forshaw → Princess-Rainbow.com
      • Tyler Gould → Tyrannosaurus Rex
      • Jeffrey Wilschke → Beezow Doo-Doo Zopittybop-Bop-Bop
    • No joke, y’all. I couldn’t make that stuff up if I tried! The point being that names have significance, right?
      • Significant to us
      • Significant to others
      • Even the hint or suggestion of a name has power.
        • Prince changing his name to a symbol (1993)
        • Much more personal example: my initials before I got married = LJP → one of the main garbage collection companies around Le Sueur = LJP … So all of the dumpsters and garbage bins around my parents’ house say … LJP. Yup. Names, right?
      • Elie Wiesel quote: “In Jewish history, a name has its own history and its own memory. It connects beings with their origins. To retrace its path is then to embark on an adventure in which the destiny of a single word becomes one with that of a community; it is to undertake a passionate and enriching quest for all those who may live in your name.” → “A passionate and enriching quest.” And so we come to our Scripture this morning … a selection of readings from the beginning of Exodus in which sacred name is first stolen, then re-given, and finally reclaimed. So let’s take a closer look at these phases.
  • SACRED IDENTITY: STOLEN
    • [READ Ex 1:8-22]
    • Super abridged backstory → reminder of the basics of Joseph’s story[3]
      • Favorite son of Jacob (Isaac’s son, Esau’s twin)
      • Ambushed by his brothers → sold into slavery in Egypt
      • Servant in a wealthy house in Egypt → landed in prison → ends up in front of Pharaoh because of his ability to interpret dreams
      • Ends up in position of incredible power in Egypt → re-encounters his treacherous brothers (who don’t immediately recognize him) when they come begging for food in Egypt in the midst of a massive drought
      • Finally reveals himself to his brothers and moves all of them, their families, and their father, Jacob, to Egypt so he can continue to care for them
    • Beginning of this first portion of today’s story = generations later: Now a new king came to power in Egypt who didn’t know Joseph.[4] → A new king came into power. A new Pharaoh. And he didn’t know Joseph. He didn’t know all that Joseph had done to save the people of Egypt – Pharaoh’s own people! – let alone all the other people of the region who came to buy grain from Egypt during the famine (and all the gold that put into Egypt’s national coffers). He didn’t know the prestige and honor that Joseph enjoyed, despite being “the other” – a stranger in a foreign land. A new king came to power in Egypt who didn’t know Joseph.
      • Result: [Pharaoh] said to his people, “The Israelite people are now larger in number and stronger than we are. Come on, let’s be smart and deal with them. Otherwise, they will only grow in number. And if war breaks out, they will join our enemies, fight against, us, and then escape from the land.” … So the Egyptians enslaved the Israelites.[5] → So the Israelites – the descendants of Joseph and Jacob and Isaac and Abraham – who had been enjoying life as simple citizens of Egypt up to this point are suddenly stripped of their identity as normal citizens. They are stripped of their identity as protected. They are stripped of their identity as respected. They are stripped of their identity as free.
        • First part of this story brings other haunting historical events to mind
          • Africans forcible brought to this country as slaves à most often given the names of their slave owners (if any name at all)
          • Jews and others interned in concentration camps and stripped of their names during the Holocaust à given only a number instead
          • Native Americans forcibly stripped of their culture, their language, their indigenous names and even their families when they were marshalled into Indian Boarding Schools in late 19th and early 20th centuries
          • To say nothing of what is happening and has been happening on our own southern border.
      • Pharaoh’s solution = no less appalling: The king of Egypt spoke to two Hebrew midwives named Shiphrah and Puah: “When you are helping the Hebrew women give birth and you see the baby being born, if it’s a boy, kill him. But if it’s a girl, you can let her live.”[6] → But being strong, faithful, determined women (the only people in this entire passage, including Pharaoh, to actually be named, mind you!), Shiphrah and Puah defy Pharaoh’s orders and let the male babies live also … which brings us to our 2nd
  • SACRED IDENTITY: RE-GIVEN
    • [READ Ex 2:1-10]
    • The salvific work of Shiphrah and Puah in action: a baby boy born to Israelite parents, allowed to live and thrive and be loved by those parents, hidden until they could hide him to no longer, then sent down the river in a basket with a hope, a prayer, and a sister to follow him … just in case.
    • Story recap
      • Moses’ basket finds its way into the hands of none other than Pharaoh’s own daughter as she’s bathing in the river
      • Basket and the baby inside = plucked from the river and saved DESPITE obviously being one of “them,” of “the other” – text: When [Pharaoh’s daughter] opened [the basket], she saw the child. The boy was crying, and she felt sorry for him. She said, “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children.”[7]
      • Moses’ sister pipes up and offers to find some “random” wet nurse for the boy to raise him until he’s a bit older → Pharaoh’s daughter accepts → Moses’ sister runs to fetch her own mother (Moses’ own mother) to raise the boy until he’s old enough to be taken into Pharaoh’s house and adopted by Pharaoh’s own daughter – text: After the child had grown up, [his mother] brought him back to Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I pulled him out of the water.”[8]
    • More to this name than meets the eye
      • Simple presence/existence of the name itself = meaningful → Moses is the only name mentioned in this entire part of the story. His mother gets no name. His sister gets no name. Even Pharaoh’s daughter gets no name. Only Moses. The Hebrew child. The one who wasn’t supposed to be in the first place. He gets a name.
      • Moses = supposedly Egyptian named used in many other royal names throughout Egypt’s history BUT far more to it than that → Walter Brueggemann draws undeniable parallels between name (Moses) and Hebrew word for “draw out/deliverance” (always an act accomplished only by God): What may be a royal Egyptian name is transposed by the proposed etymology into Israelite praise for deliverance. Thus the rescue of little Moses from the waters anticipates a larger rescue to be wrought through the power of Moses.[9]
        • Meaning of name speaks to God’s power in Moses’ life
        • Meaning of name speaks to Moses’ call in the future
  • SACRED IDENTITY: RECLAIMED
    • [READ Ex 3:1-15]
    • Filling in story gap with super abridged version of Moses’ story
      • As an adult, Moses sees a slave driver abusing a Hebrew slave → attacks the slave driver and kills him
        • Somehow must have grown up with the knowledge that he was one of the Israelites – text (part we didn’t read today): One day after Moses had become an adult, he went out among his people and he saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people.[10]
      • Moses flees the wrath and justice of Pharaoh → ends up in Midian (modern day Saudi Arabia) → gets a job tending flocks of sheep for Jethro, priest of Midian → (also falls in love with and marries Jethro’s daughter) → For all we know, Moses is perfectly content to live this life – the life of a shepherd in the desert – hiding from Pharaoh and his past and his identity. Hiding from it all. But God had other plans.
    • This last passage = incredibly powerful passage because the reclaiming of sacred identity is actually three fold here
      • Moses’ reclaiming his identity as an Israelite → Think about it for a minute. Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s house – the house of a man who had outlawed and done his best to eradicate Moses’ very existence. Surely he didn’t grow up learning the Hebrew ways and traditions. Surely he didn’t grow up participating in Hebrew worship and learning Hebrew prayers. And once he had fled to Midian and married the daughter of a priest, he more than likely assimilated to the cultural and spiritual practices of his adopted family and nation. And yet God found him there in the middle of the desert. God came to him in a burning bush. God literally called him by name. – text: When the Lord saw that he was coming to look, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses! Moses!” Moses said, “I’m here.” Then the Lord said, “Don’t come any closer! Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground.” He continued, “I am the God of your father, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God.” Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God.[11] → In this encounter, Moses comes full circle – back to a faith and an identity that had long been denied him, both by circumstance and by his own inattention.
      • God reclaiming the identity of the Israelites as God’s own protected people – God says this straight out in the text: Then the Lord said, “I’ve clearly seen my people oppressed in Egypt. I’ve heard their cry of injustice because of their slave masters. I know about their pain. I’ve come down to rescue them from the Egyptians in order to take them out of that land … Now the Israelites’ cries of injustice have reached me. I’ve seen just how much the Egyptians have oppressed them.”[12]
        • God recognizing the plight of the people as God’s own plight
        • God recognizing the pain of the people as God’s own pain
        • God recognizing the need of the people as God’s own need
        • Popular saying: “God, break my heart with what breaks yours” (call to/prayer for a missional heart/mindset) → This is sort of the reverse of that. It’s God saying, “I see what breaks your heart, and it breaks mine, too, because you are my beloved children, and I am your God.”
      • God reclaiming God’s own identity as sovereign and sacred, unfathomable and undeniable → comes in God’s response to Moses’ seemingly-simple question
        • Question (reveals Moses’ fear, inexperience, and self-doubt): But Moses said to God, “If I now come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they are going to ask me, ‘What’s this God’s name?’ What am I supposed to say to them?”[13]
        • God’s response = both achingly simple and staggeringly complex: God said to Moses, “I Am Who I Am. So say to the Israelites, ‘I Am has sent me to you.’” God continued, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever; this is how all generations will remember me.”[14] – Heb. “Yahweh” (YHWH) = sounds like breath, derived from Heb. word “to be” → This formulation makes God both intimate and incomprehensible – as powerful and vital as breath, as near as our own heartbeat and breath but on a global scale.
          • Brueggemann: This God is named as the power to create, the one who causes to be. This God is the one who will be present in faithful ways to make possible what is not otherwise possible. This God is the very power of newness that will make available new life for Israel outside the deathliness of Egypt.[15]
  • And that is where we enter into this story, all. This is where this grand Story of faith intersects day in and day out with our own stories. Maybe you’ve been given a name you don’t desire, a name you don’t want to own or claim. Maybe you’ve been stripped of some element of who you are, either by your own actions or by the malintent of others. Maybe you’ve been filled with doubts in your own God-given call and identity like Moses. The Good News is that the God who called out to Moses from that bush … the God present in faithful ways to make possible what is not otherwise possible … the God whose name is as essential as the very breath in our lungs … the God who reached down into history to free the Israelites and encouraged them to reclaim their own sacred identity … this God reaches down to us as well. This God calls us as well. This God cares for and loves us as well. Your sacred identity is sure: beloved child of God, summoned and called, named and claimed. Forevermore. Amen.

[1] https://youtu.be/u-qjtKZz9F8.

[2] https://www.mandatory.com/fun/1065881-15-legal-name-changes-that-will-make-you-laugh.

[3] Gen 37-50.

[4] Ex 1:8.

[5] Ex 1:9-10, 13.

[6] Ex 1:15-16.

[7] Ex 2:6 (emphasis added).

[8] Ex 2:10.

[9] Walter Brueggemann. “The Book of Exodus: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 1. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994), 700.

[10] Ex 2:11 (emphasis added).

[11] Ex 3:4-6.

[12] Ex 3:7-8, 9.

[13] Ex 3:13.

[14] Ex 3:14-15.

[15] Brueggemann, 714.

Sunday’s sermon: Faith Down in the Dirt

jacob wrestling

Text used – Genesis 32:9-13a, 21-30

 

AUDIO VERSION

 

 

* Note: I forgot to stop the recording at the end of the sermon, so this week, you get the hymn following the sermon as well!

 

  • [READ “Wrestling in the Night” from Spill the Beans[1] → p. 33] → Grimy. Sweaty. Gasping. Spent.
    • Certainly words that describe Jacob’s wrestling match in our passage this morning → But in all honesty, Jacob’s wrestling started before God found him on the banks of the Jordan River that night. Long
  • Reminder of Jacob’s back story[2] (brief as we can be because Jacob’s story in terms of Biblical stories, Jacob’s is a long one)
    • Son of Isaac and Rebecca (Abraham’s grandson)
    • Twin: Esau → Esau = born first which gives Esau an incredible leg up in terms of the culture (lion’s share of blessings – spiritual, cultural, and in terms of wealth and property) were given to the first-born (Esau … not Jacob)
      • Sibling rivalry from the start
        • Esau = Isaac’s “favorite” while Jacob = Rebecca’s “favorite”
        • Esau = strong and burly while Jacob = small and slight
        • Esau’s name = “hairy” (descriptive, manageable if not particularly flattering) while Jacob = “usurper” or “cheat” (beyond unflattering to downright insulting)
    • Jacob does a lot in his early life to live up to (or … down to?) his name
      • Basically blackmail’s Esau out of his birthright (inheritance) by refusing to feed him until he sold Jacob his birthright
      • Tricked Isaac (on his deathbed!) into giving him (Jacob) the exclusive, sacrosanct “first born” blessing → the ultimate “bait and switch” where Jacob disguises himself as Esau to steal the blessing for himself
      • Esau is enraged when he discovers this deception → threatens to kill Jacob once their father has died
      • Jacob flees to Haran (present day Turkey) to the house of his uncle Laban
      • Jacob’s travels
        • Falls in love with Laban’s younger daughter, Rachel → works for Laban for 7 yrs. so he can marry Rachel
        • Wedding day → Laban gets Jacob a little drunk, walks the heavily-veiled bride down the aisle, and marries the happy couple → Jacob wakes up the next morning to find that he’s married Laban’s older daughter, Leah, instead of Rachel
        • Oh, how the tables have turned! → Jacob = enraged at this deceitful bait and switch → complains to Laban and agrees to work another 7 yrs. so he can really marry Rachel this time
    • Jacob’s travails
      • Through some sneaky breeding and trickery, Jacob ends up with the very best of Laban’s flocks → Laban’s sons become angry and threaten Jacob’s life
      • God tells Jacob, “Go back to the land of your ancestors and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”[3] → decides to flee back to his homeland with his entire family (2 wives, handmaids of both wives, and 12 children between them)
      • Reaches the Jordan River (border of his homeland) late in the day → leads everyone else (his family, his servants, his herds and flocks, including a large and generous gift he’s prepared to try to buy his way back into Esau’s good graces) across the Jabbok River (smaller tributary of the Jordan … probably easier to cross than the Jordan itself)
      • Night falls with Jacob alone – wholly alone – still on the far back of the river
  • So this is where we catch up with our Scripture reading for this morning. And in that reading, we hear Jacob struggling … even before God shows up.
    • Text: Jacob said, “Lord, God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I’ll make sure things go well for you,’ I don’t deserve how loyal and trustworthy you’ve been to your servant. I went away across the Jordan with just my staff, but now I’m becoming two camps. Save me from my brother Esau! I’m afraid he will come and kill me, the mothers, and their children. You were the one who told me, ‘I will make sure things go well for you, and I will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, so many you won’t be able to count them.’” Jacob spent the night there.[4] → This part of the text is really, really important, friends, because it shows us that even before God showed up, Jacob was wrestling. He was wrestling with himself. He was wrestling with his past. He was wrestling with his decision to leave in the first place and his decision to return. He was wrestling with his fear. He was wrestling with his faith. You can almost hear the agony and doubt and frustration in his voice, can’t you? “You told me to come back here, God. You told me you’d be with me. But Esau … he’s mad at me. He’s more than mad at me. He hates me! And I’m afraid. I’m afraid he’s going to kill me and my entire family. God, what am I doing here?” Maybe he’s sitting on the banks with his head in his hands. Maybe he’s pacing. Maybe he’s venturing part way out into the river, all psyched up and ready to cross, just to turn back 5 steps in and hang back on the far bank – the safe bank – once again. Maybe he’s ranting. Maybe he’s crying. Maybe he’s pleading. Maybe he’s praying. But he is clearly already wrestling at this point.
      • Important because of how this text is often interpreted/presented → Most of the time, we say God came to Jacob and wrestled with him. (text puts it pretty simply: But Jacob stayed apart by himself, and a man wrestled with him until dawn broke.[5]) This can easily be read with God as the instigator of the wrestling, right? It can easily be read as God confronting Jacob, both physically and spiritually, in this isolated and desolate place. But what if that’s not how this wrestling match started?
        • God surely could see that Jacob was already mentally grappling with himself and his faith → What if this wrestling match in our text today is actually God joining Jacob in his wrestling so that he wouldn’t have to wrestle and struggle and battle his demons (inner or otherwise) alone? What if this wrestling is actually God getting down in the dirt, in the mud, in the impenetrable dark of night in the desert, in the frustration and the fear that Jacob is experiencing and saying, “I can see that you’re struggling. I can see that you’re hurting. And I’m here with you. Let it all out. I’m big enough – more than big enough. I can take it.”
  • Grimy. Sweaty. Gasping. Spent. à not words that we generally use to describe our faith… But why not? Where did we pick up the idea that our faith always has to look effortless, squeaky-clean, and all “sunshine and rainbows” and “glass half full” and “everything’s fine … yes, it’s fine … all the time” from the outside? When did the wrestling, the struggling, the questioning, the straining, the pushing back against God become taboo … become forbidden … become something seen as a weakness instead of part of the inevitable and inescapable life cycle of faith?
    • The greatest parts of faith = “mountaintop experiences,” right? Those are the high and beautiful, celebratory, soul-enlightening, revitalizing moments. Those are the moments that leave us buzzing with Spirit and holiness and renewal and sacred ecstasy. It’s easy for us to see God in those moments high above it all – above the grit and grime and craziness and struggle of the world below. But anyone who knows anything about geography and geology – even the tiniest little bit about them – will tell you that mountaintops themselves cannot exist without valleys in between: low spaces, dark places, steep and dangerous places, rugged places, uncertain places that shift and change in startling and unanticipated ways.
      • Cannot live on the mountaintop → beautiful places to visit for a moment, but inhospitable nature of the summits of some of the world’s most difficult and prestigious mountains
        • Everest (China-Nepal border)
        • K2 (Pakistan-China border)
        • Matterhorn (Switzerland)
        • Kilimanjaro (Tanzania)
        • Denali (Alaska)
        • Summits are:
          • Small
          • Cold/snow-covered
          • Air is thin
          • Nothing grows
        • It’s not on one of those mountaintops that Jacob encounters God. It’s in the midst of a dark and dangerous valley. It’s down, down, down in the depths.
    • Brings us to another crucial point in this story: blessing doesn’t come in the midst of the wrestling but afterward → God doesn’t try to convince Jacob to find blessing in the midst of his suffering. God doesn’t try to find a silver lining. God doesn’t tell Jacob to “buck up and look on the bright side.” God doesn’t try to paint lipstick on that pig that is Jacob’s inner turmoil or make Jacob feel like he should be somehow grateful for the agony and grief and distress that he is feeling. God isn’t filling Jacob’s ears with useless platitudes like “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” God simply gets down in the dirt and the sweat and the trial with Jacob, matching him move for move and gasping breath for gasping breath, and when Jacob asks about blessing when it’s all over, God says, “Yes. You have struggled mightily. You have fought your way through the darkest night. And you are still standing.” And God blesses Jacob with a new name to reflect this struggle: Israel, which means “to contend with God.”
      • Contend with God as in fight against God? OR Contend with God as in fight side by side with God?
      • Text: Then [God] said, “Your name won’t be Jacob any longer, but Israel, because you struggled with God and with men and won.” → Heb. “won” = interesting, shifting word
        • Basic meaning: “to be able to”
        • Others:
          • To hold on/endure
          • To dare
          • To be victorious/win
          • To grasp/understand
          • “Your name won’t be Jacob any longer, but Israel, because you struggled with God and with man and You struggled with God and with man and dared. You struggled with God and with man and understood.” And that, friends, is the true blessing. God knows when we are struggling. God knows when we are battling – battling forces outside ourselves and forces within ourselves. And God comes right beside us in those struggles, right down in the dirt and desperation of our hearts and souls, and God says, “I’m here. I’m with you. I’m not going anywhere. So toe to toe, pain for pain, groan for groan, let’s do this. Together.” Amen.

Charge: “Blessings the Questions” by Jan Richardson (from The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief, © 2016, Wanton Gospeller Press)

Let them come:
the questions
that storm through
the crack in the world.

Let them come:
the questions
that crawl through
the hole in your heart.

Let them come:
the questions
in anguish,
the questions
in tears.

Let them come:
the questions
in rage,
the questions
in fear.

Let them come:
the questions
that whisper themselves
so slow,

the questions
that arrive with
breathtaking speed,

the questions
that never entirely leave,
the questions
that bring
more questions still.

Let them come:
the questions
that haunt you
in shadowy hours,

the questions
that visit
the deepest night,

the questions
that draw you
into rest,
into dream,

the questions
that stir
the wakening
world.

[1] “Wrestling in the Night” from Spill the Beans, issue 16. (Los Angeles, CA: Sleepless Night Productions, 2015), 33.

[2] Gen 25-31.

[3] Gen 31:3.

[4] Gen 32:9-13a.

[5] Gen 32:24.