Sunday sermon: Drinking Tea: Soaking in God’s Goodness

Text used – Isaiah 55:1-12

  • “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens // Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens // Brown paper packages tied up with strings // These are a few of my favorite things.” A few of my favorite things: the smell of coffee (okay … let’s be honest: the taste of coffee, too – a good, strong brewed, dark roast); the smell of the world after it’s rained; the feel of a new book at my fingertips; a particularly thrilling and well-told story; the soft, simple, honest sound of a melody played on an acoustic guitar. To be sure, friends, these are a few of my own favorite things. And I’m sure you have a list of your own that you’re running over in your mind right now. Throughout the summer, we’ve been working our way chapter-by-chapter through Tish Harrison Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices for Everyday Life[1], and today’s chapter (the 2nd to last chapter) is all about favorite things – those things that we encounter as we move throughout our days and our lives that bring us a moment of pleasure … a moment of enjoyment … a moment of sabbath goodness. Because in these encounters, we experience the holy and sacred goodness of God.
    • Warren frames the delight and pleasure of this chapter through one of her own favorite things – drinking a cup of tea at the end of the day (title for this ch. = “Drinking Tea: Sanctuary and Savoring”) → Warren: My body, this tea, and the quiet twilight are teaching me God’s goodness through my senses. I’m tasting, hearing, feeling, seeing, and smelling that God is good. Pleasure is our deep human response to an encounter with beauty and goodness. In these moments of pleasure – of delight, enjoyment, awe, and revelry – we respond to God impulsively with our very bodies: “Yes, we agree! Your creation is very good.”[2]
    • So let’s talk about pleasure this morning – pleasure and faith and the goodness of our creator God.
  • First part of this discussion has to be recognizing what Warren calls our culture’s complex relationship with the concept of pleasure AND the church’s complex relationship with the concept of pleasure
    • Church has a long and sordid history of declaring anything pleasing and enjoyable as sinful
      • Wrapped up in ancient Greek philosophical notion of the spirit versus the flesh
        • Plato: idea of abstract realm (spirit, emotion, thought) vs. concrete realm (flesh, what we can touch and hear, see and smell and taste) → the abstract was supposedly preferable to the concrete[3]
        • Paul’s words to the church in Galatia: Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.[4] → Again, we see a preference for the spiritual over the flesh. And this is an idea that has filtered down through the Church for centuries. “Spiritual is good. Physical is bad.”
      • Flip side: our culture’s undeniable and unhealthy obsession with pleasure = driven our consumerism to staggering heights
        • Warren addresses this imbalance: The demand for more and more and ever more can turn a healthy pleasure into an addiction. We become insatiable. Our ability to enjoy something is diminished to the extent that it becomes a false god. God alone can be both worshiped and enjoyed. All lesser things are meant to be enjoyed in their proper place, as they flow from the God who deserves all worship.[5]
        • The more we have, the more we want. The more we want, the more we buy. It is like any and every other addiction: the more we indulge, the greater tolerance we build up to the pleasure that that indulgence brings, so we are forced to indulge even more to find pleasure.
          • To the detriment of our financial health
          • To the detriment of our physical health
          • To the detriment of our emotional and mental health
          • To the detriment of our ecological health – the health of the very creation that God first called “lovely … pleasing … good
  • And yet it is precisely because God called this creation “good” that we are able to experience God’s own goodness in the world around us – in our favorite things. → hear this in our Scripture reading from Isaiah this morning
    • Words of Isaiah = particularly poignant in the midst of the world and moment in history in which we find ourselves right now → Remember, Isaiah spoke these words from God to the people of Israel in exile.
      • Best and brightest (teachers, religious leaders, artists, scholars) stolen from Israel and taken to live in Babylon → a people besieged by doubt and unfamiliarity, by strangeness and division, by helplessness and hopelessness
      • They were a people who found themselves in a painful, power hungry, fractured time in history. They were a people who found themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. They were a people who were feeling lost and low in need of a word from their God.
    • And so spoke Isaiah, bringing them the word of their God (the word of our God): All of you who are thirsty, come to the water! Whoever has no money, come, buy food and eat! Without money, at no cost, buy wine and milk! Why spend money for what isn’t food, and your earnings for what doesn’t satisfy? Listen carefully to me and eat what is good; enjoy the richest of feasts. Listen and come to me; listen, and you will live.[6]
      • Heb. “live” = also “revive” → So in experiencing true enjoyment, true pleasure in these things – in eating and drinking – and in satisfying the body, God (through Isaiah) is saying that the people of Israel can find their way back to God and in doing so, God will revive them. God will refresh their bodies and their spirits. God will bring new life to their worn and weary souls through goodness, through joy, through pleasure, through their favorite things. “Listen and come to me; listen, and you will live.
  • Throughout the whole book, Warren discusses specifically elements of Christian worship into each of her discussions of finding the sacred in the midst of the ordinary. → especially important in this chapter for 2 reasons
    • First, it gets to the heart of why we worship
      • Warren: These tiny moments of beauty in our days train us in the habits of adoration and discernment. And the pleasure and sensuousness of our gathered worship teach us to look for and receive these small moments in our days. Together, they train us in the art of noticing and of reveling in God’s goodness and artistry. … Christian worship trains us to recognize and respond to beauty. We learn to embrace the pleasure of being human and of human culture. Our God-given, innate thirst for enjoyment and sensuousness is directed toward the one who alone can quench it, the God who we were made to enjoy forever.[7] → We were made by God to enjoy the beauty and wonder and deliciousness and delight of the world around us. What a truly incredible gift! And so we gather together to both recognize and name those delights and to thank God for them and for our ability to enjoy them. AND when we worship, we remind each other of those beauties, those moments of pleasure and joy and sensuousness. We remind each other of the goodness of God and God’s creation. We remind each other to be open to those moments. And we take those reminders out to the world, too. We take our witness of that beauty and goodness to the world.
        • Hear echoes of this in our Is text this morning: Look, I made [David] a witness to the peoples, a prince and commander of peoples. Look, you will call a nation you don’t know, a nation you don’t know will run to you because of the Lord your God, the holy one of Israel, who has glorified you. Seek the Lord when he can still be found; call him when he is yet near. … Yes, you will go out with celebration, and you will be brought back in peace. Even the mountains and the hills will burst into song before you; all the trees of the fields will clap their hands.[8] → In this, we hear a call to the people to witness to God’s goodness. We hear a call to seek God’s goodness. And we hear a promise of joy – joy and celebration so abundant that it will be echoed by the world around us: “Even the mountains and the hills will burst into song before you.”
    • Second reason it’s important to talk about delight in worship context = it can be easy for us to forget that the things we do in worship are for the sake of enjoyment, not just for the sake of ritual and tradition → If we’re honest, there are parts of worship that we do simply because we’re going through the motions. We say the words because they’re the words we’ve been taught to say. We have been dulled to the beauty and pleasure that first inspired those actions and words of worship.
      • Perfect e.g. = the Great Thanksgiving portion of our communion liturgy

One: God be with you.
Many: And also with you.
One: Lift up your hearts.
Many: We lift them up to God.
One: Let us give thanks to God Most High.
Many: It is right to give our thanks and praise.

→ I know that much of the time, when we read or recite those words in worship, we mumble them because we’re supposed to … because “that’s what we do before communion.” But listen to the words: “God be with you! (And also with you!) Lift up your hearts! (We lift them up to God!) Let us give thanks to God Most High! (It is right to give our thanks and praise!)” These are words of joy, words of adoration, words of devotion and worship. These are words of blessing to one another. These are words that affirm the goodness of God in the world around us and in one another as we prepare to taste and touch and smell the goodness of God’s incredible love for us and Christ’s overflowing mercy in the bread and the wine and the juice, and we get to say them to each other every single month!

    • Warren addresses this by bringing both children and British writer, philosopher, and theologian G. K. Chesterton into the conversation: K. Chesterton saw in God a childlike wonder. Children never tire of beauty and pleasure. They embrace enjoyment with abandon. They don’t feel guilty about taking time to search for feathers, invent a game, or enjoy a treat. Chesterton imagines that God revels in the pleasure of [God’s] creation like an enthusiastic child.[9]
      • Chesterton: Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every single daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that [God] has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.[10]
      • Warren: We have sinned and grown old, and become dulled to the wonders around us. Though it may seem counterintuitive, enjoyment takes practice. Throughout our life we must relearn the abandon of revelry and merriment. Throughout Christian history, Christian worship has been a profoundly sensuous experience, a training ground for pleasure and delight.[11] → In worship, we are reminded again and again and again that God delights. God delights in the world around us. God delights in the pleasures of sight and sound and taste and touch and smell. God delights in us and our enjoyment of this sensuous, delightful, delicious, exquisite creation that God has made.
  • As challenging as worship during this time of pandemic is, friends, this might actually be one of the blessings in it. I know that many of you are sitting at home curled up somewhere soft and comfortable with a cup of coffee or tea. I know that some of you are sitting outside as you worship surrounded by the warms and brightness of the sunshine, the songs of birds and the buzz of insects, the beautiful and varied colors of the world around you – gardens, forests, lakes, and so on. So take a moment to take it all in. Take a moment to truly revel in the beauty and pleasure and goodness of God. [PAUSE] Friends, God is good all the time. Alleluia. Amen.

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

[2] Warren, 128-129.

[3] Morgan Guyton. “What is the difference between spirit and flesh?” from Patheos. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice/2013/04/10/what-is-the-difference-between-spirit-and-flesh/. Posted Apr. 10, 2013, accessed Aug. 26, 2020.

[4] Gal 5:16-17 (NRSV).

[5] Warren, 138.

[6] Is 55:1-3a..

[7] Warren, 139, 134.

[8] Is 55:4-6, 12.

[9] Warren, 132.

[10] G. K. Chesterton. Orthodoxy. (New York, NY: John Lane Co., 1909), 109 as quoted in Warren, 132.

[11] Warren, 132.

 

Sunday’s sermon: Calling a Friend: Talking to God Together

God's love in community

Text used – 1 John 4:7-21 (read in the midst of the sermon)

  • Okay, y’all. I have to warn you that today’s sermon might be a difficult one, too. If you were with us last week, we talked about the chapter of Tish Harrison Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices for Everyday Life[1] that dealt with waiting – especially waiting when we don’t like to/want to/have the patience to wait. It was a particularly poignant chapter for this time of pandemic waiting, but it was also difficult to talk about the good news we find in waiting when this waiting has been so challenging for many of us on so many levels – socially, economically, mentally, emotionally. Today’s chapter is difficult for a whole different reason – different … but sort of related because what makes it difficult is, again, this pandemic life that we’re living right now. The title of today’s chapter is “Calling a Friend: Congregation and Community.” And it’s difficult because it names one of the things that I know that many of us miss most right now: being together.
    • By far one of my favorite things about this congregation – about the Presbyterian Church of Oronoco – is the way everyone here cares for everyone else whether you’ve been a part of this church for 50 yrs. or whether this is the first time you’ve walked through our doors → normal Sunday morning:
      • Hear everyone greeting one another
        • Asking about your week
        • Checking in on some issue or struggle or something you’re dealing with that you shared (prayer request or fellowship)
        • Gentle teasing and good-natured ribbing (Jack!) and the comfortable laughter that follows
        • “Hellos” and “Good mornings,” “Good to see yous” and even “I love yous”
      • See everyone interacting with one another
        • Smiling
        • Hugging
        • Shaking hands
        • Waving at one another across the sanctuary or the fellowship room
      • There is a warmth and a genuineness that this congregation exudes simply because of who you all are – neighbors and friends and family, all going about this crazy, up-and-down thing called “life” together, teaching each other about God and reminding each other about God and showing God to one another in times when you need it most.
        • Reminds me of the description that Warren gives of her relationship with her best friend at the beginning of this chapter: Her delight in me gives me hope that in my murky, mixed-up soul there remains a burning loveliness that only God could have placed there, and that [God] is cultivating. For years now, [we] have grappled with the gospel in the warp and woof of our daily lives. She helps me believe.[2] → That is the beauty of Christian community in one: grappling with the gospel – the beautiful parts, the challenging parts, the confusing parts – in the warp and woof of our daily lives and helping one another believe. Reminding one another who God is and where and why and how God is engrained in our moments and our movements. Embodying for one another that crazy, up-and-down, forgiving and forgiven love of Christ in our relationships.
          • Warren: Christian friendships are call-and-response friendships. We tell each other over and over, back and forth, the truth of who we are and who God is.[3]
  • This is what our Scripture reading this morning is all about: being in relationship with one another through Christ and embodying that love of God in any and every way that we can.
    • Subtitle of section in the Bible = simple and direct: “Love and God”
    • [READ SCRIPTURE]
    • We love because God first loved us. We love because God first loved us.” That’s it. That’s the point. Case closed. Lesson over. God loved us instantly, endlessly, and unconditionally. God loves us truly, wholly, and genuinely. God loves us knowing who we are, where we’ve been, and what we have left to do. God loves us. No qualifiers. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. No strings attached, escape clauses, or exit strategies. God loves us. And because God has given us that incredible love … that all-encompassing love … that sacred and selfless love, we are able to love each other.
  • Greatest expression of that love = Christian community
    • Each of us is created beautifully different by God
      • Different gifts
      • Different talents and interests
      • Different challenges
      • Different areas of growth
    • Need one another to grow more fully and blessedly in our faith → means Christians cannot exist in a vacuum
      • Warren: Christ did not send [the] Holy Spirit only to individuals. He did not merely seek personal relationships with his followers. The good news is not simply that I can believe and thus make it to heaven, or even that I can believe and live out my life among a band of Christian friends. Jesus sent [the] Spirit to a people. The preservation of our faith and the endurance of the saints is not an individual promise; it is a promise that God will redeem and preserve [God’s] church – a people, a community, an organism, an institution – generation after generation, and that even the gates of hell will not prevail against it.[4]We cannot experience the fullest expression of God’s love for us alone because God created us to love one another. If faith was all about just our individual, personal relationships with God, God would have stopped after creating Adam alone in that garden. But God created more humans because we get to experience and embody God’s precious and perfect love best together.
        • Part of what we sing every Sunday when we’re together: With God as creator / Neighbors all are we / Let us walk with each other / in perfect harmony.[5]
        • Scripture says it outright: If we love each other, God remains in us and his love is made perfect in us.[6]
    • Scripture this morning makes that perfectly clear → it’s all about “us,” about community, about living and loving together
      • Starts with the very first line: Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God.[7]
      • All of the pronouns used throughout this passage are plural and inclusive
        • Not “me/my”
        • Not “them”
        • Not exclusive or exclusionary
        • Text: This is how the love of God is revealed to us[8]
        • Text: We have seen and testify …[9]
        • Text: We have known and believed …[10]
        • Text: We love because God first loved us.[11]
  • Doesn’t mean that all of our relationships are perfect because we’re Christians – our relationships with each other or our relationship with God
    • Never able to love one another perfectly as God loves us because we are broken and imperfect people
      • Make mistakes
      • Hurt one another (intentionally and unintentionally)
      • Forget important things and speak without thinking
      • Bristle and get defensive when our rough and jagged growing edges rub up against someone else’s rough and jagged growing edges because those growing edges are tender, forgetting that we’re both just trying to grow together
      • Warren: Here too we see God’s power because, in this body of Christ, we find a place where we can be gloriously and devastatingly human. We find a place where we can fail and repent and grow and receive grace and be made new. Like a family – but even closer than a family – we can learn to live together, weak and human, in the goodness and transformation of God.[12]
    • Text: If we love each other, God remains in us and his love is made perfect in us.[13] – Gr. “made perfect” = completed, matured, fulfilled, consecrated → This has nothing to do with being devoid of flaws (as we tend to think of perfection now) and everything to do with being the fullest version of itself. God’s love is a full, uncompromising, holy love – a love that is meant to be shared and embodied with other people, and in that act of sharing, we get to play a part in fulfilling God’s promise to love us.
      • Scholar: Act lovingly, even if imperfectly. The love and the perfection come from God, whose perfect love casts of fear. We can honestly admit that we are not yet perfect in love, for it is God’s love that makes us loving, and it is God’s perfection that is making us ever more holy.[14]
      • Warren: We work out our faith with these other broken men and women around us in the pews. It’s lackluster. It can be boring or taxing. It’s often messy. It’s sometimes painful. But these Christians around me become each other’s call and response. We remind each other of the good news. All saints and sinners in the church share together in this gospel. The meal would be incomplete if even one of these were not at the table. It would not be good news if even one of these members were missing. As [20th British theologian] Lesslie Newbigin put it, “None of us can be made whole till we are made whole together.” If we are saved at all, we are saved together.[15]
  • And that is why this chapter is so difficult, especially right now, friends. I know that we’re finding it hard to feel that embodied love when it’s been so long since we’ve been together. It know that we’re missing this place, these people, this community. I cannot even begin to tell you how odd and lonely it is to be here alone every Sunday morning. And yet, I want you to notice that there was nothing in our Scripture reading this morning about being in physical proximity to others before you can love them.
    • Remember that our Scripture = letter written by an anonymous disciple to a Christian community → wrote the letter specifically because that anonymous disciple couldn’t be there in person to share these words → But that physical absence in no way diminishes the love, the compassion, or the gospel message that we find here!
      • Text: This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him. … Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also ought to love each other.[16] → So no matter who you are. No matter where you are. No matter what you find yourself in the midst of this morning. You are loved. You are loved. You are loved. Amen.

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

[2] Warren, 116.

[3] Warren, 117.

[4] Warren, 120 (emphasis added).

[5] Jill Jackson Miller and Sy Miller. “Let There Be Peace on Earth, © 1955, 1983 by Jan-Lee Music.

[6] 1 Jn 4:12b.

[7] 1 Jn 4:7.

[8] 1 Jn 4:9 (emphasis added).

[9] 1 Jn 4:14 (emphasis added).

[10] 1 Jn 4:16 (emphasis added).

[11] 1 Jn 4:19.

[12] Warren, 124.

[13] 1 Jn 4:12b.

[14] Ronald Cole-Turner. “Fifth Sunday of Easter: 1 John 4:7-21 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 468.

[15] Warren, 126.

[16] 1 Jn 4:9, 11.

Sunday’s sermon: Sitting in Traffic: Unexpected, Unhurried, Unavoidable God

waiting

Text used – Psalm 130

 

  • Fair warning this morning, all. Today’s chapter of Tish Harrison Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices for Everyday Life[1] is a tough one. Warren’s title for this chapter is: “Sitting in Traffic: Liturgical Time and an Unhurried God.” At the beginning of it, she describes an instance when she’s stuck in traffic with her kids in the car and all of the frustrations and worries and anxieties that bubble up while sitting there not moving.
    • Warren: My kids are strapped in their car seats kicking the seats in front of them in boredom. We are all a little tired and a little whiny. It’s hot in the car. I crank up the air conditioning and turn on NPR. We need to get home soon or my kids will be cranky – “starving,” they’ll say. They’ll get a late bath and be late for bed, and there goes my hope of a little downtime. As I wait, I grow increasingly irritated.[2]“As I wait, I grow increasingly irritated.” As I wait in the midst of this pandemic, I grow increasingly irritated. As I wait in the midst of this shatteringly divisive political climate, I grow increasingly irritated. As I wait in the midst of flagrant and violent acts of racism and hatred that we witness all around the country, I grow increasingly irritated. I feel it all lodged right here in my chest, stuck like a rock and smoldering like a coal that hasn’t quite gone out but isn’t fully blazing either. Waiting. Waiting to know what God has in store for me and for us – us as a church, us as a community, us as a nation, us as the human race. Waiting to see how God shows up and acts in the face of all this turmoil and loss. Waiting to hear who and where and what and how God is calling me to be as a follower of a risen, hope-filled Christ surrounded by anger and loss and distress and hopelessness and fear. Waiting. Warren’s chapter for today is about waiting. Dang.
      • Of course, Warren’s book was written years ago – published in 2016 – so this chapter and everything in it about waiting for God and the sacredness that can be found in waiting was written long before COVID-19 and sheltering in place and the agonizing decision that we’ve had to make: those of us with aging loved ones in care facilities or caring for aged loved ones outside of care facilities; those of us with children returning to daycare or returning to school; those of us who are considered essential workers and those of us who aren’t; those of us faced with furloughs or unemployment choices or any of the other financial struggles that have arisen during this extended time of pandemic → That’s what makes this chapter so hard today, friends. Undoubtedly, there is a sacredness that can be found in waiting – in stopping, in pausing … even if just for a moment.
        • Warren: In my life, time is most often something I seek to manage, or something I resent – something, it seems, that I never have enough of. In my frenetic life, I forget how to slow down and wait. For the good of my own soul I need to feel what it’s like to wait, to let the moments march past.[3] → And there is absolutely truth to that. I mean, how many times have you gotten to the end of the week … the end of the month … even the end of the year and gone, “Wow … where did that week/month/year go?” We’re so good at packing every moment of our days with activity and busyness and rushing from one thing to the next that on the whole, we are terrible at waiting! Terrible! And yet here we are in this strange and drawn-out time of pandemic waiting. Many of us long for the hustle and bustle that was “normal life” just 4 months ago. And that reality makes this chapter even more difficult.
  • That’s why I chose this psalm to go with our chapter this morning
    • Begins with a cry out to God – a cry from someone who is sick and tired of waiting – text: I cry out to you from the depths, Lord – my Lord, listen to my voice! Let your ears pay close attention to my request for mercy![4] → clearly a call for God to hear from someone who thinks God isn’t listening
      • Heb. “cry” = connotations of summoning, invoking, appealing to God → The psalmist isn’t just crying out to give voice and volume to his or her frustrations. The psalmist is calling on God – crying out with the expectation and the longing for God to be present in the midst of whatever trouble the psalmist is facing.
      • Psalmist wants more than just a present God – psalmist wants an attentive God – Heb. “listen” = also “understand,” “examine,” and even “obey” → The psalmist is begging God to come near and to be present in all the ways that matter when you’re feeling lost and lonely – in body, mind, and soul. This shows such a powerful relationship with God because the psalmist isn’t just crying out to some remote, unreachable, uninterested God but a God that the psalmist truly believes will come – the kind of God who turns a compassionate and attentive ear to those who worship and cry out to God.
    • Next part of the psalm addresses the reason why the psalmist feels God is remote → addresses some topics we’ve already discussed: confession and forgiveness – text: If you kept track of my sins, Lord – my Lord, who would stand a chance? But forgiveness is with you – that’s why you are honored.[5]
      • After crying out to God – begging for God’s presence in the midst of whatever turmoil he or she is facing – the psalmist drops to his or her knees in confession: “God, I’ve messed up. I’ve messed up a lot. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve messed up … but I bet you can. And still, you’re here. You’re with me in spite of it all. And that blows my mind.”
      • Two really interesting Heb. words in here
        • First is the phrase “who would stand a chance?” – Heb. = simple word for “stand” → But there are so many layers to that “simple” word. It can mean stand. It can mean stop moving. It can mean stay or maintain. It can even mean restore. So it’s a word that sort of encompasses all movement – physically moving forward as well as the mental and emotional ways we move. So the psalmist is talking about being literally paralyzed by the weight of his or her own mistakes.
        • Other interesting Heb. word: “honored” (“But forgiveness is with you – that’s why you are honored”) → This is a Hebrew word laden with meaning. It can also mean revere or even fear. There is a sense of incomprehensible awe and holiness and the sort of respect that you feel when you encounter something so vast that it’s unfathomable. That, the psalmist says, is God’s forgiveness: incomprehensible, unfathomable, holy.
    • The end of the psalm speaks of the one thing we all need in the midst of waiting, whether we’re waiting in line at the grocery store or the car wash, waiting at the bedside of a dying loved one, or waiting in the midst of this pandemic: hope. – text: I hope, Lord. My whole being hopes, and I wait for God’s promise. My whole being waits for my Lord – more than the night watch waits for the morning; yes, more than the night watch waits for the morning! Israel, wait for the Lord! Because faithful love is with the Lord; because great redemption is with our God! He is the one who will redeem Israel from all its sin.[6] → And there it is, friends. There’s the good news. There’s the glimmer in the darkness. There is something to grasp at and cling to in the midst of all the trials and tribulations of waiting: hope.
      • Lord knows it’s not always easy – Warren addresses this: Christians are people who wait. We live in liminal time, in the already and not yet. Christ has come, and he will come again. We dwell in the meantime. We wait. But in my daily life I’ve developed habits of impatience – of speeding ahead, of trying to squeeze more into my cluttered day. How can I live as one who watches and waits for the coming kingdom when I can barely wait for water to boil?[7] → Warren addresses a really important theological point here: that as Christians, we are indeed people who are simultaneously waiting and hoping. We know and believe in the good news of Jesus Christ – of a Savior who rose from the tomb after three long, agonizing, darkness-filled days of waiting and shattered that kind of listless, hopeless waiting for all time. We know that there’s something to wait for: love everlasting, grace everlasting, hope everlasting. Because that is what Jesus brought us, and that is what Jesus promises to bring again one day. But … when? Jesus was pretty vague about that particular detail. And so … we wait. And wait. And wait.
        • Warren: Waiting, therefore, is an act of faith in that it is oriented toward the future. Yet our assurance of hope is rooted in the past, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and in his promises and resurrection. In this way, waiting, like time itself, centers on Christ – the fulcrum of time. Because of Christ’s work, we wait with expectation. We replace the despair that the passing of time inevitably brings – “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” – with faith – “if we have died with him, we shall also live with him.” … Our imaginations are fixed on what is to come, on the future glory when God will set things right.[8]
  • But Warren also makes another very important point in this chapter: that our waiting as Christians is not a passive, lifeless, disengaged waiting.
    • Warren: Yet our patience does not make us passive about the brokenness of the world. We are not blithely waiting to abandon this world for another. Christian faith is never an otherworldly, pie-in-the-sky sentimentality that ignores the injustice and darkness around us. We know that things are not as they should be. We also know that here – not up in the sky, but in this earthly, waiting world of peach trees and inchworms, of brass bands and didgeridoos – things will be made right. Heaven will be established right here in our midst. … We have a telos as we wait, an ultimate purpose and aim. Because we have a telos – a kingdom where peace will reign and where God is worshiped – we can never wrap our lives in little luxuries and petty comforts and so numb ourselves to God’s prophetic call for justice and wholeness in this world. Our hope for a future of shalom motivates us to press toward that reality, even in our ordinary days. Our work, our times in prayer and service, our small days lived graciously, missionally, and faithfully will bear fruit that we can’t yet see.[9] → It makes me think of the Shel Silverstein poem “Lazy Jane.”

Lazy Jane

    • This is not the kind of waiting that we’re called to do, friends. Our waiting moves. Our waiting trusts. Our waiting believes. Our waiting does. Our waiting hopes.
      • Can’t help but think of all the posts I’ve seen on Facebook about different hobbies people have picked up during the pandemic; different projects that people have completed during the pandemic; different experiences people have finally quit putting off during the pandemic; books they’ve always wanted to read … movies they’ve always wanted to see … old friends they’ve been meaning to connect with that they’ve finally called again … causes or philanthropic organizations they’ve always wondered about and finally taken the time to research and support → Friends, this time of pandemic waiting has been particularly challenging in so many ways we never even could have dreamed of. But we do not sit through this waiting time alone. God is with us, inching us forward even when we can’t feel it.
        • Warren: The future orientation of Christian time reminds us that we are people on the way. It allows us to live in the present as an alternative people, patiently waiting for what is to come, but never giving up on our [ultimate purpose]. We are never quite comfortable. We seek justice, practice mercy, and herald the kingdom to come. … God is redeeming all things, and our lives – even our days – are part of that redemption. We live in the truth that, however slowly or quickly we may be traveling, we are going somewhere. Or, more accurately, somewhere (and Someone) is drawing near to us.[10] → Friends, this is indeed the Good News. Alleluia. Amen.

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

[2] Warren, 102.

[3] Warren, 103.

[4] Ps 130:1-2

[5] Ps 130:3-4.

[6] Ps 130:5-8.

[7] Warren, 104.

[8] Warren, 108-109.

[9] Warren, 112-113.

[10] Warren, 113-114.

Sunday’s sermon: Checking Email: Blessed to Be a Blessing

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Text used – Isaiah 42:1-9

 

  • Let me tell you a story this morning: Once upon a time, there were two sisters. Though they sometimes bickered when they didn’t see eye-to-eye, the sisters loved each other, and they enjoyed sharing a home together with their brother (who we’ll meet in another story some other day). One day, as the sisters were going about their daily routines, a traveler arrived on their doorstep for a visit. This was a famous traveler whose name was known throughout the region, and when the first sister saw him, she welcomed him into their home gladly. But this famous traveler did not travel alone. Far from it. With him into their home came all those who traveled with him – his friends, his admirers, and those who looked up to this traveler as a mentor. Suddenly, the sisters had a very busy and very full house and a great many things to do! But generous welcome was ingrained in them by their culture and their very nature, so the first sister went to work preparing a simple but abundant feast for their guests. As she bustled about, the first sister turned to say something to the second sister, assuming she was right there helping, but she was shocked to find her sister’s customary place in the kitchen empty. The first sister quickly scanned the kitchen, still not finding her sister, then looked out into the common room where all of her guests had gathered. And there was her sister, doing no work whatsoever. She was sitting at the feet of the famous traveler, gazing up at him, just sitting and listening and, from the look in her eyes, adoring. Infuriated, the first sister began to berate her sister for being so lazy and neglectful of their guests. In her frustration, she even appealed to their guest – to the famous traveler – because he was known to be wise and just. But his reply stopped the first sister in her tracks, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part. It won’t be taken from her.”[1] → Ahh, the story of Mary and Martha. A story of work and devotion. We’re not reading this Scripture this morning, but since the story is so central to our idea today, I wanted to introduce it in a different way. You see, throughout the summer, we’ve been working our way through Tish Harrison Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices for Everyday Life[2], and today, we’re basically tackling the crux of the whole idea of this book: finding God in the midst of the busyness of our days.
    • Talking about the extreme side of workaholism (full-on Martha mode)
    • Talking about the other extreme side – what Warren calls “escapism into a contemplative ideal”[3] (full-on Mary mode)
    • Talking about finding a middle way between the two – making space for the sacred even in the tasks that feel as far from holy as they can get
    • Warren’s description of the issue: In our modern-day society, when we are blessed and sent to go do the work God has given us to do, we are sent into a culture where work can become all-consuming and boundless. Our frantic work lives are disconnected from the rhythms of the seasons or day and night. We can work constantly. … With these changes come an increased temptation to make work and productivity an idol to which we’ll sacrifice rest, health, and relationships. What might vocational holiness look like when technology can breed habits that feed an unhealthy and ungodly appetite for endless productivity?[4]
    • Exceedingly complex issue
      • Wrapped up in the way that society undeniably and relentlessly measures our worth by the amount that we get done in any given day
        • Related: wrapped up in the particularly difficult and draining complexities so many are facing in working from home during this pandemic → Where does work stop and home start?
      • Wrapped up in the injustice of income inequality in this country and the way some people need to work 3 jobs just to make ends meet (rent, food, transportation to those jobs, health insurance, etc.)
      • Wrapped up in the idea of call and vocation – favorite quote from Frederick Buechner: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” → “If this is where God is calling me to be and work, shouldn’t I want to be here as much as possible?” Where does vocation call for work and where does vocation call for rest and renewal?
  • So let’s dig in – start with Warren’s description at the beginning of this chapter (title: “Checking Email: Blessing and Sending”)

I open my inbox to a swirling mass of tasks I need to complete, people I need to respond to, and things that call for my time: a plea for volunteers from my daughter’s teacher, forms to complete for my supervisor, a smattering of people with whom I need to set up meetings, an Evite, a note from my mom, an old friend who’s traveling through and wants to sleep on my couch, an appointment reminder from our doctor’s office, and a few mass emails, mainly charities asking for donations or listservs I’m on for my job.

            My brain cannot take in the sheer volume of email, the number of people needing a response, the sorting, deciding, writing, and deleting that lies before me. My eyes glaze over. I want to escape – to go elsewhere online or to back away from the computer in relieved defeat – bested, once again, by my nemesis.

            I know people who empty their inbox every day. Those people have superpowers and exist on cheerfulness and productivity as food. They’ve given me books on how to be more efficient and organized with email, and I’ve read parts of them. But I still have unopened Groupon deals from four years ago.

            There are days when I try to catch up, when I seem to gain a little ground on the hamster wheel, but I’ve never been able to master this task. Mostly because I don’t like it and therefore I avoid it. I’m fairly certain that one day there will be three numbers engraved on my tombstone as a legacy and a warning: my birth date, my death date, and the number of unopened emails still awaiting a response in my inbox. (Warren, 88-89)

  • Sound familiar to anyone? I think this – the incessant, inescapable nature of emails – speaks loudly and profoundly to the issue of balancing work and rest time, especially during this pandemic. With tablets and smartphones and internet access available nearly anywhere and everywhere we go, we can remain connected to our work 24/7. We can always take just a minute to check in … to catch up … to write just this one email, just this one reply, to check in on just this one issue. To use our story example, we can be Martha all day every day with no breaks and no escape – holidays, birthdays, vacations, even simple “days off” (which, as soon as we open that email, become anything but a day off).
    • Becomes particularly complicated when we start thinking about the idea of vocation – of the sacred work that God calls us to in this world – and how that work integrates with our worship integrates with our workaday jobs
      • Theology of work that Warren introduces: The Christian faith teaches that all work that is not immoral or unethical is part of God’s kingdom mission. The kingdom of God comes both through our gathered worship each week and our “scattered” worship in our work each day. Thus all work, even a simple, small task, matters eternally.[5]
  • Good place to bring in our Scripture reading from Isaiah this morning
    • First portion talks about the work of the person that the prophet Isaiah calls “The Servant” (i.e. – Jesus): But here is my servant, the one I uphold; my chosen, who brings me delight. I’ve put my spirit upon him; he will bring justice to the nations. He won’t cry out or shout aloud or make his voice heard in public. He won’t break a bruised reed; he won’t extinguish a faint wick, but he will surely bring justice. He won’t be extinguished or broken until he has established justice in the land. The coastlands await his teaching.[6] → establishes Jesus as an example for our work
      • Work for the good of the world
      • Work that is life-giving and sustaining
      • Uphold the Micah work ideal: He has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.[7]Sounds like pretty good parameters for work, right?
    • Second portion talks about God calling us: I, the LORD, have called you for a good reason. I will grasp your hand and guard you, and give you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations, to open blind eyes, to lead the prisoners from prison, and those who sit in darkness from the dungeon. I am the LORD; that is my name; I don’t hand out my glory to others or my praise to idols. The things announced in the past—look—they’ve already happened, but I’m declaring new things. Before they even appear, I tell you about them.[8]
      • Reassures us that God calls us to good work
      • Reassures us that God is with us in the midst of that good work
      • Reassures us that in the midst of that good work, we find holiness
        • Warren speaks to this: As we seek to do our work well and hone our craft, we are developed and honed in our work. Our task is not to somehow inject God into our work but to join God in the work [God] is already doing in and through our vocational lives.[9] → It doesn’t matter what kind of work you’re doing – if you’re a doctor, if you’re a salesperson, if you’re a teacher, if you’re a nurse, if you’re a manager, if you’re a pastor, if you’re a clerk, if you’re an accountant, if you’re a garbage collector, if you’re a writer, if you’re a librarian, if you’re a receptionist, if you’re a janitor, if you’re a food server, or any other job. God is working out there in the world in a million different ways, and we get to be a part of that work through the work we do. God needs us to be a part of that work through the work we do.
  • That being said, as we already mentioned, it can be far too easy today to let that work consume us – to let it become the be-all-end-all in our lives; to let it, in fact, become the thing that we worship, the thing that we place even above God. We can become so ingrained in our Martha ways of busyness and importance and being needed that we forget the ultimate purpose and source of that work in the first place: God. And yet we know that neither can we simply give up all of that work and sit forever at the feet of Christ listening and adoring. We have bills to pay. We have families to raise. We have commitments to fulfill. We do, indeed, have work to do. So where’s the middle way? Where’s the happy medium?
    • Warren: I need a third way – neither frantic activity nor escape from the workaday world, a way of working that is shaped by being blessed and sent. This third way is marked by freedom from compulsion and anxiety because it is rooted in benediction – God’s blessing and love. But it also actively embraces God’s mission in the world into which we are sent.[10] → In terms of our worship together, this is how we end each service, right?
      • From the Book of Common Worship: We are blessed in order to be a blessing to others. The charge calls the church to go forth as agents of God’s mission in the world.[11] → “The charge & benediction,” also known as the work to do and the blessing to do it. The blessing to do the work … to enact the work … to embody the work of God in this world … not to let that work embody you.
      • Warren drives this home with The Point (capital T, capital P): I want to learn how to spend time over my inbox, laundry, and tax forms, yet, mysteriously, always on my knees, offering up my work as a prayer to the God who blesses and sends. Living a third way of work – where we seek vocational holiness in and through our work even as we resist the idolatry of work and accomplishment – allows us to live with work as a form of prayer.[12] Amen.

[1] Lk 10:41-42.

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

[3] Warren, 99.

[4] Warren, 98, 99.

[5] Warren, 92.

[6] Is 42:1-4.

[7] Mic 6:8.

[8] Is 42:6-9.

[9] Warren, 94.

[10] Warren, 99.

[11] Office of Theology and Worship for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). “Sending: Blessing and Charge” from Book of Common Worship. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), 12.

[12] Warren, 100-101.