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.

 

One response to “Sunday sermon: Drinking Tea: Soaking in God’s Goodness

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Sleeping: Holiness in Rest | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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