Two people share a connection … a relationship … a love
Could be romantic love between two people
Could be love of friendship/companionship
Could be love between a parent and child
In the end, it doesn’t really matter. It’s the existence of the connection itself that matters, not the particulars.
Two people share a connection → for whatever reason, one person becomes distracted
Something more … just more. Again, it doesn’t really matter what the distraction is. It’s taken a thousand different forms throughout the various iterations of this story: power, prestige, wealth, flattery, fame … and on and on and on.
Two people share a connection → for whatever reason, one person becomes distracted → that person wanders away from that original, cherished connection in pursuit of The Other
Even spiritual wandering
Two people share a connection → for whatever reason, one person becomes distracted → that person wanders away from that original, cherished connection in pursuit of The Other → sometime (either after obtaining The Other or even sometimes during the pursuit itself) the person who has wandered away realizes that the connection they initially had was better than whatever they’ve been chasing → RETURN
It’s a story as old as time, isn’t it? We’ve seen it played out in literature. We’ve seen it played out in popular culture. We’ve seen it played out in Scripture. I’d be willing to bet we’ve even seen it played out in our own lives or in the lives of the people we know and love. Maybe you’ve been the Wanderer. Maybe you’ve been the one waiting for the Wanderer to return. It’s a story as old as time and as universal as humanity itself. It’s a story that spans all the barriers. Some variation of it is told in every culture, in every language, in every part of the world. → 3 variations of this story just today
Wandering and returning of the religious devotion of the people of Israel = OT passage from Hosea
Wandering and returning of the Prodigal Son in Jesus’ parable = NT passage
Wandering and returning of P.T. Barnum in the last song of our Greatest Showman series
Since it’s been a few weeks, before we listen to our song this morning, let me set this up for you a bit.
Reminder: P.T. Barnum grew up dirt poor → always wanted to have that wealth and privilege he glimpsed when he went with his father to help tailor rich men’s suits
Reminder: when his circus started growing in popularity and notoriety, Barnum decided to add on to his repertoire by bringing Swedish opera star Jenny Lind to America to tour → Barnum went with her to do promotional work, leaving his family (both his nuclear family – wife and daughters – and his circus family) behind
Quick succession toward the end of the movie:
Scandal on tour with Lind
Wife is angry → has moved out of their house with his daughters
Circus family is angry → feels as though they’ve been abandoned by him
Building in which the circus is housed is burned to the ground → shaky/shady investments that Barnum used to secure the building and initial funding for the circus in the first place means there’s no way he’ll ever have the money to rebuild
And in the face of all that loss, as he sits in a bar lamenting what was and trying to come to terms with what his life has become, Barnum finds himself surrounded by his circus family once again. And this is his apology. This is his plea. This is his song. → [PLAY “From Now On”]
As I said, when Barnum begins singing this song in the movie, he’s sitting in a bar with the core of his circus family. But in that bar, he finds a picture of himself and his family – his beloved wife and daughters. And that picture lights a fire inside Barnum’s heart and soul. So as he’s singing – as he’s boldly and unashamedly declaring, “From now on, these eyes will not be blinded by the lights!” – he’s running down the street. He’s catching a train. He’s journeying back to his in-laws’ house to find his wife and daughters because he has realized that they are his truest, most important treasure. He is turning and returning, doing everything he can to “come back home.”
Probably pretty obvious why I picked Prodigal Son passage out of Lk for today, right? → Barnum is quite literally the Prodigal
Lured away from family by wealth and prestige and all the trappings that come with it
Dazzled and distracted for a time by Swedish Nightingale’s exceptional talent and the renown that it brings to Barnum himself by association just as the Prodigal Son was dazzled and distracted by all the attention and status his fleeting wealth brought him
Unfortunately, in the general tale of the Wanderer as well as our more specific tales of the Prodigal Son and The Greatest Showman this morning, there always comes a moment that jars the Wanderer out of that overawed, starry-eyed state – something that brings the Wanderer back to reality, that brings about the realization that what was had before was better than where he finds himself now. And this moment is almost never a pleasant moment.
Barnum – perfect storm: manufactured scandal splashed across the front pages + his family leaving him + the fire at his circus building
Prodigal Son: running out of money + famine = taking the dirtiest, lowliest job there was (feeding the pigs) and being so hungry that the pig food started looking appealing → text puts words to that moment for us: When he had used up his resources, a severe food shortage arose in that country and he began to be in need. He hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. He longed to eat his fill from what the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything. When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, but I’m starving to death!”
One of those moments that you really feel like you’ve suddenly woken up → You know, those moments when you feel like everything leading up to where you are was a dream, and suddenly you’re awake for the first time in who-knows-how-long. You can’t believe you are where you are. You can’t believe you’re doing what you’re doing or seeing what you’re seeing or experiencing what you’re experiencing.
This is where our Hosea passage comes in this morning, too. Sometimes, it’s not just an individual that has wandered away and hit rock bottom but an entire people.
Don’t often preach from Hosea → one of those small, minor prophets buried at the back of the OT that you can easily miss if you’re flipping through
Hosea is an especially challenging prophet with a particularly accusatory tone – 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, murdering, together with stealing and adultery are common; bloody crime followed by bloody crime. … Listen, priest, I am angry with your people. You will stumble by day; and at nighttime so will your prophet, and I will destroy your mother.
People of Israel were in the midst of serious economic hardship – huge gap between the few who were wealthy and everyone else – along with the cost of a long and bloody war with Assyria (which they lost) and the tribute they were required to pay to the victors → rich exploiting the poor to try to pay debts
Also in the midst of serious cultural and religious turmoil – people of Israel had abandoned their worship of God for the cultic religions of those around them
Pantheon of other gods
Pagan practices both in the home and in places of worship
Basically, things had gotten about as bad as they could get for the people of Israel. So God sent Hosea to speak harsh words of truth and rebuke. But as always, God did not stop there. – today’s passage: Return, Israel, to the Lord your God. Your sins have been your downfall! Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to him: “Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips.” … I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them.
Speaks of the incredible grace and forgiveness of God → a God who not only welcomes home lost and wandering loves but waits for them with anxious, baited breath, who runs to embrace returning wanderers with open arms and an open heart, who longs to heal our waywardness and love us freely … and that, friends, is good news if I’ve ever heard it.
Good news that Hosea continues to proclaim → goes on to speak of Israel blooming and flourishing under God’s encouragement and protection … But first, they have to make that choice. They have to choose to
BUT not just simple returning
“return” in Scripture = interesting word
Heb. “return” = same word as “repent” → multiple meanings: turning, going back
Gr. = “turning around” as well but also contains connotations of remorse and change
Either way, there is intentionality and purpose in this turning and returning, in this repentance. There is a self-awareness that a wrong was done – either intentionally or unintentionally – and there is a concerted effort to right that wrong, both internally and in the world.
Convocation speaker at Synod School a few weeks ago – Dr. Dede Johnston
Professor of Communication and Interim Associate Dean for Global Education at Hope College in Holland, MI
Theme of the week: Cultivating Civil Community
Spend most of the week talking about civil discourse and non-violent community and how to lean into conflict without becoming overwhelmed by it
During her last convocation presentation, Dr. Johnston pointed out an interesting distinction. She was talking about reconciliation, and she pointed out that there’s a subtle difference between repentance and reconciliation.
Repentance = see, turn (as we’ve already said)
Reconciliation (takes it a step further) = see, turn, ENGAGE → Seeing the mistakes made. Turning and returning to the people and places in which those mistakes were made. And then engaging in actions to mend the fences broken by those mistakes.
Powerful illustration → story of Corrymeela in Northern Ireland
Live-in community that hosts 11,000 visitors per year (similar to Iona in Scotland or Taize in France)
Community dedicated to the hard and painful work of reconciliation → particularly powerful and difficult work in Northern Ireland following the Protestant/Catholic violence throughout the late 20th
From their website: Corrymeela believes in the power of people telling their stories, of shared hospitality, of telling the truth about the present, of turning towards each other and finding strength, life and hope in each other. Ultimately, the work of Corrymeela helps groups learn how to be well together.
Chapel = circle → service of lighting candles for loved ones who had died as a result of the Protestant/Catholic violence → mother of a son who had carried out a bombing helped to light a candle by the father of a man whose daughter had been killed in that same bombing → Seeing … turning … engaging. In those simple and yet profoundly difficult steps, we find the same steps necessary for repentance, but we also find action. We find resolve. We find a willingness and a humility. And friends, in taking those steps, we will indeed come back home … home again. Alleluia. Amen.
Talked about how treasured we are by God, how loved we are by God → how much God wants to be in relationship with us
Talked about how we tend to get in our own way sometimes when it comes to saying “yes” and buying into those dreams that God has – both for the Kingdom of God and for our own lives
Today’s question: What if we actually do say “yes”? → Before we go any further, let’s listen to the song “Tightrope” – [PLAY “Tightrope”]
Context for the song
Last week – talked about love stories and how they add a powerful element to a storyline, even if that storyline isn’t strictly a typical “love story” → talked about Phillip Carlyle and Anne Wheeler (characters)
This week focuses on love story between P.T. Barnum and his wife, Charity → love story that plays a central role throughout the movie from the very beginning
Movie actually starts with Barnum and Charity as children
Barnum himself grew up poor – the son of a tailor until his father died and left him with nothing
Movie version: looks like he was orphaned
Real life: left to provide for his mother and 5 sisters and brothers
Charity was the opposite – grew up a wealthy heiress
The two fall in love as children → marry as adults → begin their life together far from the lavishness and luxury that Charity grew up with → And in the movie version at least, this grates on Barnum. He wants to be able to provide his beloved wife Charity with the same life that she’s used to (despite her own protestations that all she wants is to be with him), and he wants to be “good enough” in her father’s eyes.
Barnum becomes a great success as a circus showman → brings Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind to America and begins touring with her → leaves Charity and their two daughters at home missing him → That’s where this song comes into the movie. It’s a song sung by Charity in Barnum’s absence. All she wants is the husband she fell in love with to return.
Song speaks of taking a chance on their love
Song speaks of the exhilaration and excitement of love
Not “safe” compared to the standards she grew up with (financially or in terms of proper society and reputation and all things pompous and stuffy like that)
The point: they took on all that risk and adventure together
Hmmmm … I wonder what this could possibly have to say about our faith.It’s definitely true that throughout the historical life of the Church (that’s capital “C” Church, as in the Church universal), there have been lots of times when having faith … keeping faith … sharing faith … teaching faith … practicing faith as a Christian was risky. It could get you shunned. It could get you imprisoned. It could even get you killed.
Definitely true for the early church → church as it was developing in the 1st following Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension
Majority of Christ’s original 12 disciples ended up martyred for their faith in some way
Much of the writing of the NT – by Paul, especially, but also by others – speaks to keeping and nurturing and persevering in faith despite adversity and persecution
Today’s passage from Hebrews = just such a passage
Hebrews = a bit of a nebulous book in the NT
One of the many letters/epistles – nebulous in both its authorship and its intended audience → not exactly sure who wrote it or who it was written to
Long considered one of Paul’s letters, but scholars today mostly agree that it’s too different from Paul’s other writings in content, in form, and in writing style for it to actually be written by Paul BUT not consensus as to who actually did write it
Earliest fragment we have of this manuscript (dating from early 3rd BCE) includes a heading “To Hebrews” without really indicating who or where those general “Hebrews” might be → clear from the content of the letter itself that whatever community of “Hebrews” is receiving this letter is a community in turmoil
Speaks reassuringly of who Jesus was as both a human and as the Son of the Most High God
Speaks of completeness – the all-encompassing nature of salvation in Christ = Christ’s “once-for-all sacrifice”
Speaks of hope and perseverance and encouragement in faith, even in the face of difficult, painful, challenging circumstances
Beginning of today’s passage: But remember the earlier days, after you saw the light. You stood your ground while you were suffering from an enormous amount of pressure. Sometimes you were exposed to insults and abuse in public. Other times you became partners with those who were treated that way. You even showed sympathy toward people in prison and accepted the confiscation of your possessions with joy, since you knew that you had better and lasting possessions. → Clearly the Hebrews have faced some sort of adversity in the practice and outward display of their faith, enough to cause them public humiliation, abuse, and “the confiscation of [their] possessions.”
Letter provides encouragement in the face of those injustices – text: But we aren’t the sort of people who timidly draw back and end up being destroyed. We’re the sort of people who have faith so that our whole beings are preserved. Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.
Same encouragement that our Deut passage has provided for people of Israel for centuries
First verse = “the Shema”: She-ma yisrael, adonai eloheinu, adonai echad → “Israel, listen! Our God is the Lord! Only the Lord!”
Prayer that is used as the centerpiece for both morning and evening prayers in the Jewish faith
Prayer that is traditionally affixed somewhere on the doorpost of a Jewish home → fulfills the rest of the Deut passage: These words that I am commanding you today must always be on your minds. … Write them on your house’s doorposts and on your city’s gates.
Part of what was given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai when he was also given the 10 commandments
Given on the heels of escaping not only slavery in Egypt but also Pharaoh’s attempt to retrieve the Hebrew people (thwarted by God at the Red Sea)
Given in the face of pure and unimaginable uncertainty → God said, “I will take you out of Egypt and lead you to the promised land,” but God didn’t give them a map. God didn’t give them GPS coordinates. God didn’t give them photographic proof that said “promised land” actually existed. They were literally walking on faith and faith alone.
Makes these words even more reassuring
Reassurance in the power and perseverance of faith
Reassurance in the validity and importance of faith → It’s God saying, “These words that I’m giving you – ‘Israel, listen! Our God is the Lord! Only the Lord! Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being and all your strength’ – these words are so important that you should keep them with you always. Remember them. Recite them. Teach them. Even wear them on your arm and display them on your homes and on your cities. They will remind you of your faith. They will remind you of me.”
Song: Hand in my hand and we promised to never let go / We’re walking the tightrope / High in the sky / We can see the whole world down below / We’re walking the tightrope / Never sure, never know how far we could fall / But it’s all an adventure / That comes with a breathtaking view / Walking the tightrope / With you
You know, it’s those last two words – of the chorus and even of the whole song itself – that are the most crucial: With you. → reminder that even on this crazy, uncertain, adventurous ride of life and faith, we’re not walking alone
Walking it with greater community of faith → brothers and sisters in this room and around the world
Walking it with God: Hand in my hand and you promised to never let go → text: Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.
Cannot read these words or preach this message this morning without seeing the images that have filled all the news outlets in the last weeks and months, friends → images from the border
Families torn apart
People, including children of all ages, detained for days and weeks and months in cells that are horrifically overcrowded and woefully lacking in basic amenities like drinkable water and a working toilet
Piles and piles of rosaries confiscated from detainees for God-knows-what reason
Sometimes the uncomfortable, uncertain, far from “simple and planned” part of faith is speaking up in the face of injustice, and what is currently happening to those who have taken their own terrifying, life-altering leap of faith in seeking legal asylum in this country is indeed an injustice.
In the words of our NT reading:
Experiencing an enormous amount of pressure
Experiencing insults and public abuse
Experiencing the confiscation of their property
Quote from Nelson Mandela: “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”
Text put it another way: We aren’t the sort of people who timidly draw back and end up being destroyed. We’re the sort of people who have faith so that our whole beings are preserved. → When God calls us out into uncomfortable space, what kind of people will we be? What risks are we willing to take – for our faith, for the sake of our brothers and sisters, for our God? Will we timidly draw back, or will we have faith? Amen.
The Hobbit trilogy (directed by Peter Jackson) = definitely not a love story as a whole but love story between an elf and a dwarf adds a heart-tugging element to such an epic quest narrative
Elements of love stories woven throughout the entire Marvel comic movie series (all 23 movies from the first Iron Man movie released in 2008 to Captain Marvel released just this year)
And while I don’t think The Greatest Showman can be categorized strictly as a love story, there is still two moving tales of love woven throughout the main storyline that add a powerful element to the main storyline.
Talk about one of them next week: love between Barnum and his wife, Charity
Today: story of Phillip Carlyle and Anne Wheeler
Reminder: Carlyle is the upper-crust playwright that Barnum recruited to help produce his circus show
Anne Wheeler = one of a pair of sibling trapeze artists
From the moment Phillip Carlyle sees Anne Wheeler, he is smitten. It’s one of those movie moments when everything – the filming, the sound, everything – slows down just to emphasize how important it really is.
Clear pretty early on that Anne has feelings for Phillip, too
First: Phillip is part of the upper-class elite, Anne is a lowly street performer
Even more egregious in the 1850s: Phillip is white, Anne is black → Being born into a place of wealth and privilege, Phillip doesn’t understand the problem throughout much of the movie. He tries to convince Anne that it doesn’t matter, that he loves her no matter what, that they can be together despite what people think. But having experienced the real world with all its prejudice and ugliness and slammed doors, Anne is much more hesitant. She pulls back. She puts up walls. She tries to convince herself she doesn’t love Phillip because she’s “not supposed to.”
All plays out in our next song – [PLAY “Rewrite the Stars”]
Okay, so do you remember when we said that The Greatest Showman was loosely based on the life of P.T. Barnum and the origins of his circus empire? Well, this whole storyline between Phillip Carlyle and Anne Wheeler falls under the “loosely” part of that description.
There was no Phillip Carlyle in real life
There was no Anne Wheeler in real life (though there certainly were trapeze performers)
Unfortunately, the expansive inclusiveness portrayed by Barnum in the movie – including hiring black performers at a time when that was taboo – is also fictional → though he expressed anti-slavery convictions, many of Barnum’s actions displayed engrained racism
Be that as it may, this song still expresses a critical element of our relationship with God: the back-and-forth nature of God’s love for us and our love for God.
Easier to hear the 2 voices in this one → I hear …
God = Phillip Carlyle character
Expressing desire, longing, and devotion
Expressing trust and hope in the love held and harbored
Expressing disregard for what the outside world might think
We = Anne Wheeler character
Hinting at love but finding excuses
Hinting at hope but expecting problems and adversity
Hinting at desire but being turned away time and again by fear and hesitation
Give and take of this plays out quite dramatically in the movie – whole song is done in the circus ring while Anne is practicing some of her aerial work → The rest of the performance space is dark. Only the ring is lit. And while Phillip stands in the center of the ring, Anne is continuously swinging and spinning and flying around him just out of reach … until Phillip grabs hold of a rope himself and begins to spin and fly with her.
Friends, how often do we spend most of our conversation with God sounding so much like Anne – coming up with one reason after another why God won’t love us … shouldn’t love us … couldn’t possibly love us? How often do we erect a wall because it feel safer to hide behind that wall than to take a chance on the incredible love that God has to offer? How often do we let the thinking of the world around us – the people around us, the culture, the trends and the norms, the pull of everything else … how often do we let that convince us that God’s love cannot truly be a part of our lives? That we cannot give ourselves over to God’s love fully and unconditionally because something about it might not work? Too often, I think. Far, far too often. We sell ourselves short. We certainly sell God short. We forget just how much God loves us and the lengths to which God has gone to show us that love. So today, let me remind you.
[hold up Bible] This book? This familiar book right here? This is God’s declaration of love for us. → sort of like stories that we talked about at the beginning – many of the tales in here aren’t “love stories” per say, but there is a powerful thread of love woven throughout: God’s love for us
God’s love expressed in creation
God’s love displayed in the vibrant arc and promise of a rainbow
God’s love enacted in a burning bush and in plagues that led to Pharoah freeing the Hebrew slaves in Egypt
God’s love nourishing the people as they wandered through the wilderness for a generation
God’s love spoken time and time again through the prophets
God’s love proclaimed throughout the psalms
God’s love embodied in a tiny, vulnerable, lovesome baby in a manger … who grew to be a man with a lesson of love on his lips, healing in his touch, and a cross at his back
Familiar verse that so many know so well: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. → follow-up verse: God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
Gr. “love” = (not surprisingly) agape love → selfless, giving, charitable, altruistic love – love that would do anything for the other
Gr. “judge” = connotations of separation → So God came down into this world in the person of Jesus Christ to embody a love so powerful, so connectional, so fundamental that through that love, we would no longer be separated from God. That is how much God desires us. That is how much God longs for us to say “yes” to God. That is how much God loves us.
Loves us enough to bear the cross for us
Loves us enough to endure the grave for us
Loves us enough to conquer death for us → truly rewriting the stars – reweaving the fabric of the world – so that we could spend eternity with God in glory and light and love: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.
Today’s Gospel reading
Jesus reminding the disciples of the expansiveness and totality of that love – text: Aren’t two sparrows sold for a small coin? But not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father knowing about it already. Even the hairs on your head are all counted. Don’t be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows. → Let’s talk about the role of sparrows for a minute. What’s the deal with sparrows?
Sparrows = most sacrificed by the poor in the temple
Small and insignificant = affordable, even for those who have little to nothing
Abundant (no shortage of sparrows and other small birds) = expendable → no big deal if a few of them disappear, right?
So Jesus is saying to the disciples, “You see this tiny bird? This bird that is so unimportant that you probably wouldn’t even noticing it flitting about up in the sky? This bird that is so common, even those with nothing can afford to offer it in the temple as a sacrifice? God loves even this little bird enough to know when it falls to the ground … and God loves you infinitely more than this bird.”
Other NT passage = “love passage” from 1 Corinthians
Yes, this is the “wedding passage.” It’s appropriate for weddings because it speaks of the ideal, virtuous qualities of love: patience and kindness, empathy and compassion, humility, generosity, genuineness, and steadfast. – text: Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things. Love never fails. … Now faith, hope, and love remain – these three things – and the greatest of these is love. → This is that agape love, too. This is the kind of love that cherishes and sustains, that nurtures and believes, that forgives and accepts, that unbinds and frees. This is the kind of love that moves mountains. This is the kind of love that can rewrite the stars. This is how God loves us.
Text: Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth.
This is also the kind of love that can change us … but only if we let it. – text: If I speak in tongues of human beings and of angels but I don’t have love, I’m a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and I know all the mysteries and everything else, and if I have such complete faith that I can move mountains but I don’t have love, I’m nothing. If I give away everything that I have and hand over my own body to feel good about what I’ve done but I don’t have love, I receive no benefit whatsoever. → Nothing about this love that God has for us will ever diminish us. It will not tear us down. It will not hurt us. It will not seek to get its own way in us. God stands before us offering us a love that is only ever going to enhance our lives, enliven our hearts, and nurture our worn and weary souls.
Purpose for coming to the table → table = place of forgiveness and grace and mercy and love overflowing
Table established in love – love of Jesus for his disciples, love of God for us
Table prepared in love – (say it every week) prepared by the love of human hands (those who help to serve) and the love of God for us
Table celebrated in love – reminding ourselves just how much God loves us and honoring that love in our actions
Love offered to us time and time again → How will you respond? Amen.
Empowering (song that gets you through the tough times): “Fight Song” – Rachel Platten (2014) or “Brave” – Sara Bareilles (2013)
Uplifting (song that immediately makes you smile as soon as you hear it): “Sweet Caroline” – Neil Diamond (1969)
Emblematic (song that speaks to who you are at your core): “Born This Way” – Lady Gaga (2011)
For a lot of people, today’s song from The Greatest Showman – “This Is Me” – has become that iconic, emblematic song for a lot of people. Let’s listen to it. – [PLAY “This Is Me”]
In terms of our faith … in terms of our Scripture readings for this morning … in terms of the lyrics of this song, I feel like this says it all.
Psalm 139 = Scriptural anthem of sorts for a lot of people, myself included
Scripture that is renewing and uplifting
Scripture that empowers
Scripture that brightens the spirit
Scripture that is significant and speaks powerfully to and for people’s journeys of faith
When I was first considering a call to ministry, I contacted a former minister of mine – Pastor Jamie Swanson, the pastor I’d had until I was about 10 yrs. old. At the time, he was serving a congregation in Streator, Illinois, and when I called to talk to him about what it might mean to be called – about ministry and life as a pastor and what the heck this pull that I might have been feeling on my heart could mean – one of the first things he said to me was, “Go and read Psalm 139.” → Scripture’s had a special place in my heart and in my ministry ever since
Bad news for y’all = I could talk about this psalm all day … but I won’t. 🙂
Uniqueness and individuality upheld in this psalm:
“Lord, you have examined You know me.” → not one of those communal psalms like the one we talked about last week – much more intimate than that
Heb. “examined” = fairly loaded word → all sorts of meanings and nuances wrapped up in this little word
Thoroughness = “investigated” and “tried”
Enthusiasm = “explored” (elements of hope and discovery and excitement)
Mysteriousness = connotations of being impenetrable and unascertainable
Friends, these are all the ways that God has looked at us: lovingly and zealously searching and testing and studying every part of who we are, becoming intimately familiar with all that we are, all that we hope for, all that we hide from and all that we try to hide … the brave parts and the bruised parts, as our song says.
Profound, fundamental knowing → idea that God knows us better than we know ourselves = powerful element woven throughout the psalm as well
Text: You know when I sit down and when I stand up. Even from far away, you comprehend my plans. You study my traveling and my resting. You are thoroughly familiar with all my ways. There isn’t a word on my tongue, Lord, that you don’t already know completely. … You are the one who created my innermost parts; you knit me together while I was still in my mother’s womb. … My bones weren’t hidden from you when I was being put together in a secret place, when I was being woven together in the deep parts of the earth.
Implied in that “knowing” is that God is also both accepting and even delighted by us … by every part of us – text: I give thanks to you that I was marvelously set apart. Your works are wonderful – I know that very well.→I think that this may be one of the lines in the Bible that we have the most trouble accepting. We live in a culture driven by advertising and various “betterment” industries, all clamoring to tell us exactly what’s wrong with us – how we could be better, smarter, richer, fancier, thinner, prettier, stronger, more satisfied, more successful, more effective, more driven, more powerful … more, more, more, better, better, better … so that all we end up hearing is, “Not enough. Not enough. Not enough.” Right?
Become such an engrained part of our culture that when superstar singer, producer, and songwriter Alicia Keys made the decision to stop wearing makeup altogether a few years ago, it was a HUGE deal!
Google search autofill: type “Alicia Keys” → “no makeup” is the 6th most common search
Still something that reporters and journalists are asking her about → website article from just a month ago
In the face of all that “not enough,” it’s hard for us to stand up and declare, “I was marvelously set apart. Your works are wonderful … including me.” Or, as your pew Bible puts it, “I praise you, God, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” It’s hard for us to make that kind of bold, self-confident proclamation and actually believe it, isn’t it? But that’s the thing: that’s the heart of this passage, and that’s the heart of our song – saying, “Yes, God, I have flaws and imperfections, but this is me. This is me. This is me with all my brokenness and bruises. This is me with all my scars and shame. This is me. And you made me. And you love me. And that’s beautiful … beautiful enough to convince me to love me, too.”
Song: I am not a stranger to the dark / Hide away, they say / ‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts / I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars / Run away, they say / No one’ll love you as you are / But I won’t let them break me down to dust / I know that there’s a place for us / For we are glorious … I am brave, I am bruised / I am who I’m meant to be / This is me→ That’s why this has become such a powerful anthem for so many people today – people who have been told by society, by the people around them, by their classmates and co-workers and everyone else that, for whatever reason, they don’t measure up … that they aren’t good enough. This songs says, “You know what? Yes, I am. I am exactly who I’m meant to be, and I am glorious.”
Story of Emily
Part of claiming that we are, indeed, fearfully and wonderfully made is also claiming that God has a purpose for us in this world → enter our NT reading this morning
Text: You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.
Recognizes that there is something special about YOU
Something particularly salty
Something particularly light
A special element about who you are – broken edges, bruises, scars, and all – that adds to this world in a way no one else can
Song: When the sharpest words wanna cut me down / I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out / I am brave, I am bruised / I am who I’m meant to be / This is me / Look out ‘cause here I come / And I’m marching on to the beat I drum / I’m not scared to be seen / I make no apologies / This is me
Special, particular way that you and only you can reflect the nature and wonder and beauty and love of God in this world
From When God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner: You, you, when God made YOU / God made you all shiny and new. An incredible you, a you all your own, a you unlike anyone else ever known. / An exclusive design, one God refined, / you’re a perfectly crafted one of a kind. / ‘Cause when God made you, / somehow God knew / that the world needed someone / exactly like you.
Julia Cameron, American teacher and prolific writer: All of us contain a divine, expressive spark, a creative candle intended to light our path and that of our fellows.
So hear me this morning, friends. Hear me loud and clear: You are fearfully and wonderfully made. God knows you inside and out – better than you even know yourself, and God finds you marvelous. God finds you brave and bruised, broken and beautiful. No matter what, God loves you. No matter what, God delights in you. No matter what, God created you to be a bold and treasured light in this world. Thanks be to God. Amen.
American = 5% of the world’s population → America = 30% of the world’s trash
If all the world lived the way we live, we would need 2 Earths
In lifetime, the average American will throw away 600 times their bodyweight in trash
Enough trash to fill 63,000 garbage trucks daily (which would reach halfway to the moon if we stacked them end-to-end)
Although 75% of American waste is recyclable, we only actually recycle about 30% of it
Over 11 million TONS (not pounds … TONS – that’s 22 Billion pounds) of recyclable clothing, shoes, and textiles make their way to the landfill every year
U.S. throws away $11.4 billion worth of recyclable containers and packaging every year
18 billion pounds of plastic trash wind up in our oceans each year
Enough to cover every foot of coastline around the world with five full trash bags of plastic every year
Causes over 100,000 marine animal deaths every year from plastic entanglement and ingestion
Stuff that goes to the landfill
Takes roughly 50 yrs. for rubber to degrade
Takes 200-500 yrs. for aluminum to fully degrade
Take roughly 500 yrs. for plastic water bottle to degrade
Takes 500+ yrs. for Styrofoam to degrade
Take 1,000,000 yrs. for glass to degrade
Clearly, y’all, we have a stuff problem in this country.
Stuff that fills up our cupboards and closets
Stuff that fills up our garages and sheds
Never-ending stream of stuff that we can buy in the store, online, at the next garage sale, etc.
But what’s the purpose of all that stuff? What empty space are we trying to fill with all that stuff – that stuff that obviously means enough to us to end up in so many garbage heaps in landfill after landfill? With this idea in mind – this thought of how we try to fill empty spaces – let’s listen to our Greatest Showman song for this morning. [PLAY “Never Enough”]
Song = pretty clear → Only one thing will fill the void – the aching emptiness that the singer speaks of: the presence of the Beloved.
Song: Take my hand / Will you share this with me? / ‘Cause darling, without you / All the shine of a thousand spotlights / All the stars we steal from the night sky / Will never be enough / Never be enough / Towers of gold are still too little / These hands could hold the world / But it’ll never be enough / Never be enough / For me → Some of the most coveted, most treasured, most far-flung and limitless things in the universe cannot fill the void for the singer. The coveted shine of the spotlight and all the fame and notoriety that it implies isn’t enough. Treasured towers of gold isn’t enough. Even the stars themselves plucked out of the night sky – limitless and far-flung as they are – aren’t enough. The world itself isn’t enough. Only the Beloved will fill the void.
Context within the movie: song sung by Swedish opera star Jenny Lind
After experiencing some success with his circus, Barnum decides to try to branch out – to continue the fun and fancifulness of his circus acts but also to add a more genteel, sophisticated, upper-class-approved act to his repertoire → enter Jenny Lind → Barnum entices her to travel “across the pond” and go on tour in the states → Barnum ends up all but abandoning his circus (leaving it in the hands of his partner, Phillip Carlyle) to tour the country with Ms. Lind → (without giving too much away) ends up in a bit of a romantically sticky situation because of all this touring and time away from his home and family
Said at the beginning of the series that this movie was loosely based on the real life of P.T. Barnum → portions of this part of the storyline are true
True: Barnum invited Swedish opera protégé Jenny Lind, nicknamed the “Swedish Nightingale,” to America to tour
True: They spent a great deal of time touring together
False: no romantic intimations between them during this time → Hollywood … what can I say?
Power of the song – both in the lyrics and in the context – is the longing that you hear in it → repetition of that simple phrase “never enough” really drives home the singular longing for that one person – a longing that creates that empty space that nothing and no one else can fill
Certainly could have paired today’s song with the Scripture that we read last week → story of the rich young rule who Jesus commanded to sell all his possessions – all his stuff – so he could follow Jesus
Definite longing in it
Definite empty space in it that the rich young ruler was seeking to fill
Definite overabundance of “stuff” in it
But I wanted to pair this Scripture reading from John’s gospel with this song this morning because it’s such an interesting juxtaposition that really illustrates both the empty spaces that we feel and the one thing that will fill up our aching hearts and souls to overflowing: the presence and love of God.
Jesus begins passage by gently admonishing the disciples
Reminding the disciples of God’s presence with them
Reminding the disciples of God’s compassion for them and desire to provide for them
Reminding the disciples of the abundance and, indeed, overabundance of God
Text: “Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I to go prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be, too. You know the way to the place I’m going.” → I feel like Jesus said this in a soft, tender voice – like he was trying to comfort the disciples, to reassure them, to quiet their fears and their apprehensions.
Context within the scope of John’s gospel → This passage is actually part of a large chunk of the gospel – chapter 14 through chapter 17 – that doesn’t appear in any of the other gospels. Jesus and the disciples are in the upper room sharing the Passover meal together. Jesus knows that he is about to be arrested. He knows what’s coming. He has washed the disciples’ feet. He’s broken the bread and shared the wine. He has made some dire and spot-on predictions – Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial.
Other gospels leave a good chunk of that last supper blank
John’s gospel gives us the table conversation – what Jesus and the disciples talked about after Judas had fled to turn them in
Discussion that includes some familiar and favorite passages
“No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends”
From graveside committal service: “You have sorrow now; but I will see you again, and you will be overjoyed. No one takes away your joy.”
And Jesus starts that discussion – of things to come, of the love of God, of prayer and purpose, of grace and hope and joy that cannot be taken away – by gently reassuring the disciples that he is going ahead to make a place for them.
Reassurance that even though he will no longer be with them, that God will continue to be with them
Reassurance that they already have all that they need to find that place
Reassurance that those empty spaces inside them and among them will indeed be filled
And yet, what is the disciples’ immediate response to Jesus’ reassurances? – text: Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way.” … Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father; that will be enough for us.” → Even in the face of the greatest assurance they will ever receive, the disciples are grasping … panicking … desperate for something more.
Jesus is trying to provide them with that ultimate “enough,” but is it enough for the disciples?
Jesus even goes so far as to declare peace – text: “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.” → “My peace I give to you” … but is it enough?
At this same point in the other gospels – in Matthew and Mark, specifically – it mentions that Jesus and the disciples “sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.” In light of this idea of God being enough, I imagine the hymn they sang may have been our psalm for today – Psalm 136.
Remember: original purpose/use of the psalms was as an element of Hebrew worship
Some personal (“I/me/my”)
Some communal (“we/us/our”)
Today’s psalm sounds like a call-and-response → each line followed by congregational response “God’s faithful love lasts forever!”
Various “leader” lines follow the storyline of the world and the people of Israel
Begins with God’s goodness
Extols the wonders and majesty of creation
Follows through Israel’s slavery in Egypt and their exodus
Culminates in the Promised Land and God’s protection of the people
After every single line – be it a declaration of God’s goodness, a reminder of the struggles of the people, or a recognition of the beauty of the world around them – there is the same faith-filled, glorious proclamation: “God’s faithful love lasts forever!” It is a statement of faith. It is a statement of hope. And it is a reminder that no matter what is facing us, God’s “enough” is always there – reaching out, holding us up, giving us strength and peace and faithful, steadfast love for the journey ahead. It is a reminder that with God, there is no “never enough.” Thanks be to God. Amen.
Charge C.S. Lewis: The fact that our heart yearns for something earth can’t supply is proof that heaven must be our home.
Sure and blessed thing to fill those empty spaces in our hearts, souls, and lives = the faithful love of God, the peace of Christ, and the companionship of the Holy Spirit → our “always enough”
Ryan → mandate from his employer to buy Mary Jane’s pig
Robert → playing around – upping the bid just for fun
I have to admit that it was rather entertaining to watch these two squaring off. Ryan would bid. The auctioneer would recognize the bid and call for any others. Robert would wait a minute or two – sometimes even waiting until the auctioneer got to “Going once!” – and then he’d chime in with a “Yup!” And Ryan would bid it up again. And with every bid and counter bid, Ryan got a little bit redder and a little bit redder and a little bit redder.
Everyone around us knew what was happening
Mary Jane, standing down in the ring with her pig, could see what was happening
Close-knit rural community → the auctioneer knew what was happening, too
Eventually, after bidding the cost of the pig up to an abundantly high price, Robert backed off and let Ryan win the auction for his employer. → by the end …
Had Ryan wiping the sweat off his brow and reaching for his wallet
Had Mary Jane sufficiently thrilled about the check she’d get
Had all of us nearly rolling on the floor with laughter
Now of course, this is an amusing example of bargaining and “upping the ante,” as it were. It was all in good-natured fun. But not all the bidding and bargaining that goes on in our lives is so good-natured, is it?
Anyone that’s tried to balance busy schedules (family, work, social get togethers, etc.) knows how much bidding and bargaining can be a tricky and uncomfortable part of that
Moving in with someone and sharing a space for the first time requires serious bidding and bargaining
Living in Chancellor’s my senior year of college = 4 girls, one shared kitchen … one small, shared freezer!
Not to mention the bidding and bargaining that happens between us and God. → cue today’s song from The Greatest Showman [PLAY “The Other Side”]
P.T. Barnum bargaining with Phillip Carlyle, playwright and member of the upper class → Barnum wants Carlyle to bring his creativity and expertise (as well as his good name and his relative celebrity) to Barnum’s circus
Barnum’s part = offering, enticing, seeking to open Carlyle’s eyes and enliven his soul – song: You run with me / And I can cut you free / Out of the drudgery and walls you keep in / So trade that typical for something colorful / And if it’s crazy, live a little crazy
Carlyle’s part = hesitant, uncertain, stubborn → convinced that the life he’s living is the only way he would ever want to live (even though it’s clear that he’s unhappy living that life) – song: Don’t you know that I’m okay with this uptown part I get to play / ‘Cause I got what I need and I don’t want to take the ride / I don’t need to see the other side
Driven by propriety
Driven by expectations (his parents’, society’s, his own)
Driven by fear of the unknown
Driven by worry of shame that might come from being associated with Barnum … with the other … with “too different”
The back-and-forth nature of this song is what makes it so exciting. And it’s also what makes it so unexpectedly Biblical. → long, long line of characters in Scripture who can bid and bargain with the best of them
Mary and Martha (bargaining with Jesus after Lazarus’ death)
Even Jesus himself in the Garden of Gethsemane (“Father, if it’s your will, take this cup of suffering away from me. However, not my will but your will must be done.”)
Today’s Scripture passages = probably some of the most notorious bidder and bargainers
Start with our NT Scripture this morning → So, the first time I heard this song on The Greatest Showman soundtrack, this was the Scripture reading that popped into my head because Phillip Carlyle shares so many similarities with the rich young man who encounters Jesus at the beginning.
Text: A man approached [Jesus] and said, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus said, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There’s only one who is good. If you want to enter eternal life, keep the commandments.” The man said, “Which ones?” Then Jesus said, “Don’t commit murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Then the young man replied, “I’ve kept all these. What am I still missing?” Jesus said, “If you want to be complete, go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come follow me.” But when the young man heard this, he went away saddened because he had many possessions.
Hear that back-and-forth btwn. Jesus and the rich young man just like you hear it btwn. Barnum and Carlyle in the song: “What must I do?” → Jesus: “Keep the commandments.” → “Which ones?” → (Jesus lists commandments) → “Done that. What else?” → Jesus: “Sell all your stuff, give the money to the poor, and come follow me.” → (CRICKETS)
Challenging Scripture because we don’t actually get a concrete answer from the rich young man – text: But when the young man heard this, he went away saddened because he had many possessions. → Clearly, he didn’t like Jesus’ idea. Clearly, he wasn’t as gung-ho about following Jesus as the disciples who dropped their nets right there on the beach and followed immediately. Clearly, this was going to be a struggle for the rich young man. But Scripture doesn’t say he turned Jesus down flat. Scripture doesn’t say, “He went away saddened and never thought about Jesus again.” What if that seed that Jesus planted in the rich young man’s mind and heart actually took root? What if it only took him some time – time bargaining with himself, time bargaining with God – for him to say, “You know what, I’m going to take that chance. I’m going to do it.” What if he really did sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor, and join Jesus and the rest of the crowd following him somewhere down the road? A few towns later? What if he really did say yes … just a delayed “yes”?
Rich young man is not the only bargainer in our NT reading this morning – text: Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I assure you that it will be very hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. In fact, it’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.” When his disciples heard this, they were stunned. “Then who can be saved?” they asked. Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible for human beings. But all things are possible for God.” Then Peter replied, “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you. What will we have?” Jesus said to them, “… all who have left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children, or farms because of my name will receive one hundred times more and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first.” → Peter and the rest of the disciples are bargaining here, too. They’ve already done what Jesus asked the rich young man to do. They’ve given up everything for Jesus. They’ve been following. They’ve been learning. They’ve been devoted. … But they’re still bargaining.
Bargaining for eternal life just like that rich young man
Bidding for a better (the best?) place in Kingdom of Heaven
Can’t help clinging to their perceived needs and deep-seated desires even in the face of all that God is offering them and calling them to do
OT character = embodiment of this in spades → none other than Jonah
Jonah = prophet in about the easiest, cushiest, most positively famous time for prophets to exist in Israel → Most of the time, it was a pretty horrible job to be a prophet. You were called by God to bring words of rebuke and conviction, calls for repentance and change, and predictions of dire and unspeakable things if that repentance and change didn’t come about … not normally words that people living high and happy lives like to hear. But Jonah was a prophet in one of Israel’s most peaceful and prosperous times, so he enjoyed a life of ease and comfort and celebrity … that is, until God called him to GO. – called to take a word of conviction and repentance to Nineveh → huge city, violent city, evil city
Jonah = not so excited about this call → decides to bargain not with his words but his actions
BARGAINING MOVE #1: runs in the exact opposite direction of Nineveh (hops on a ship to Tarshish) → God’s counter: bring about a giant storm
BARGAINING MOVE #2: Jonah confesses to fellow sailors that he’s trying to run away from God and asks them to throw him overboard → God’s counter: Jonah swallowed by a giant fish
BARGANING MOVE #3: Jonah sits in the belly of that fish for three whole days before finally agreeing to go to Nineveh → God’s counter: fish spits Jonah out not just anywhere but on the shores of Nineveh (subtle, right?)
Enter our Scripture reading for today. – text: Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of that fish: “I called out to the Lord in my distress, and he answered me. From the belly of the underworld I cried out for help; you have heard my voice. … I will offer a sacrifice to you with a voice of thanks. That which I have promised, I will pay. Deliverance belongs to the Lord!” Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto the dry land. The Lord’s word came to Jonah a second time: “Get up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and declare against it the proclamation that I am commanding you.” And Jonah got up and went to Nineveh, according to the Lord’s word.
Hear this song and these Scriptures woven together in terms of faith = hear all that bidding and bargaining that we do with God
Like Jonah, we hear God’s attempts to call us
Call us into mission
Call us into faith
Call us into deeper relationship with God
Call us into a life that we can’t even imagine → We’ve spent the last three weeks talking about that life.
Kingdom of God being the greatest show we can imagine
Million dreams God has for us and for this world
God’s call to us to COME ALIVE in the Spirit and in our faith
Today = little dose of reality → recognition that even when we hear those calls and even when we believe in the beauty of those dreams, we still push back … pull back … resist … try to negotiate
All sorts of pull on our time and our attention that often keep us from following fully
Song speaks to us as God speaks to us – promise and hope, goodness and wholeness: You would finally live a little, finally laugh a little / Just let me give you the freedom to dream / And it’ll wake you up and cure your aching / Take your walls and start ‘em breaking / Now that’s a deal that seems worth taking / But I guess I’ll leave that up to you ……………… Amen.
This summer: started working our way through sermon series using the soundtrack to The Greatest Showman → For the first few songs, we sort of eased into it. We talked a little bit first … gave the song a nice long intro … But today is Pentecost – a day of fire and wind, of sacred stirrings and holy interruptions. Today, my friends, is not an “easing in” sort of day. So without further ado … “COME ALIVE!” [PLAY “COME ALIVE”]
“Come alive! Come alive!” This is a song of the experience of Ezekiel – all low, desert valley and dry, dusty bones … all prophecy and power … all sinew and spirit … all breath and breath and BREATH.
Text: The Lord’s power overcame me, and while I was in the Lord’s spirit, he led me out and set me down in the middle of a certain valley. It was full of bones. He led me through them all around, and I saw that there were a great many of them on the valley floor, and they were very dry.
Dry = depleted … wrung out … drained … EMPTY
Dry = exhausted … impoverished … beat down … EMPTY
Opening of Ezek: In the thirtieth year, on the fifth day of the fourth month, I was with the exiles at the Chebar River when the heavens opened and I saw visions of God. (It happened on the fifth day of the month, in the fifth year after King Jehoiachin’s deportation. The Lord’s word burst in on the priest Ezekiel, Buzi’s son, in the land of Babylon at the Chebar River. There the Lord’s power overcame him. → tells us a lot about Ezekiel and his audience
Translating “30th, 5th day, 4th month” = late 6th century BCE → This makes Ezekiel part of that Babylonian exile – that “brain drain,” as some historians call it.
Confirmed by our Scripture: … in the fifth year after King Jehoiachin’s deportation. The Lord’s word burst in on the priest Ezekiel, Buzi’s son, in the land of Babylon at the Chebar River. → In the grand arc of the Old Testament history, that puts Ezekiel’s prophecies and oracles before Isaiah. Ezekiel relayed God’s word to the people of Israel before the fall of Judah and the Babylonian exile and through the beginning of that experience. Isaiah came a few generations later toward the end of that same exile.
Chebar River put it in present day Iraq not far from where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers empty into the Persian Gulf
Ps 137: Alongside Babylon’s streams, there we sat down, crying because we remembered Zion. We hung our lyres up in the trees there because that’s where our captors asked us to sing; our tormentors requested songs of joy: “Sing us a song about Zion!” they said. But how could we possibly sing the Lord’s song on foreign soil?
Hymn: By the Babylonian rivers we sat down in grief and wept, / hung our harps upon the willow, mourned for Zion when we slept.
Song today starts out with similar lament: You stumble through your days / Got your head hung low / Your skies’ a shade of grey / Like a zombie in a maze / You’re asleep inside / But you can shake awake / ‘Cause you’re just a dead man walking / Thinking that’s your only option
Within the movie: Barnum is singing this song to those whom he’s trying to recruit as acts for his circus → The freaks and the misfits. Those who have been told and shown time and time again that they don’t fit in … that they aren’t welcome … that they are too different, too wrong, too other to belong. Cast down and cast out, these are the people who have given up on happiness and purpose in their lives. They’ve hung their heads in shame over who they are and who they have become, some through their own choices and some through no choice beyond the one made on the molecular level when they were conceived. Their days, their lives, their hearts, their spirits are drained … exhausted … dreary … dry and empty. And then … they hear it: COME ALIVE! COME ALIVE! / Go and light your light / Let it burn so bright / Reaching up / To the sky / And it’s open wide / You’re electrified
And there it is:
LIFE in the midst of the dry and deserted
ABUNDANCE in the midst of the parched and passed over
GRACE UPON GRACE … breath and breath and BREATH
Ezek: He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, human one! Say to the breath, The Lord God proclaims: Come from the four winds, breath! Breathe into these dead bodies and let them live!” I prophesied just as he commanded me. When the breath entered them, they came to life and stood on their feet, an extraordinarily large company. → First, God took these dry, desiccated bones in the middle of this far-flung, forgotten valley and covers them with sinew and flesh and skin. God took what was dead and gone and long-forgotten and set it on its feet again. But not until there was breath – holy breath, sacred breath, living breath, God-breathed breath … not until there was breath did those reanimated bones truly live.
“Come alive! Come alive!” This is the song of that first Pentecost – all fear-filled disciples and shuttered rooms … all questions and uncertainty, doubt and disbelief … all potential and power … all suspicion and spirit … all wind and wind and
Text: When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. → But wait a minute … why were they all in one place?
Context within the book of Acts:
Acts begins with Jesus’ ascension into heaven à up on the Mount of Olives
Jesus’ followers return to Jerusalem – text: When they entered the city, they went to the upstairs room where they were staying. → returned to Jerusalem for 3rd great festival in the Jewish year – Festival of Weeks: celebrated harvest as well as the giving of the 10 Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai → This is significant because it meant that a lot of Jewish people would be in Jerusalem as well … including those who had just orchestrated Jesus’ arrest and persecution and death … including all those crowdspeople who had demanded out so vehemently and violently for Jesus to be crucified … including people like Saul who were determined to stamp out this Jesus nonsense (along with all his followers) before it spread too far.
Lonely time – Savior was really gone this time … they’d seen him taking up into heaven with their own eyes!
Dangerous time if you identified as one of Jesus’ followers
Confusing time → What were they supposed to do now? Go back to their “regular” lives? What was next?
Song: I see it in your eyes / You believe that lie / That you need to hide your face / Afraid to step outside / So you lock the door / But don’t you stay that way / No more living in those shadows / You and me, we know how that goes / ‘Cause once you see it, oh you’ll never, never be the same → “Once you see it, you’ll never, never be the same” … well, that just about sums it up for that first Pentecost. These were disciples who had already had their lives and hearts and spirits and faith blown wide open by the teachings and companionship of Jesus. These were disciples who had already had their expectations shattered and their preconceived notions obliterated by a Savior who first died the humiliating death of a political dissident, then rose from the grave 3 days later, not just in spirit but in a form solid enough to walk with them along the road and break bread with them and eat a fish breakfast on the beach with them just like he used to. And these were disciples who sat hunched and huddled, afraid and unsettled, insecure and wavering in that upper room that day expecting anything but a miracle … and yet that’s exactly what they got. Tongues of fire and tongues of gospel … good news in so many languages it sounded like a cacophony … a Holy Spirit that swooped down and grabbed hold not only of their tongues but their hearts and their lives as well.
HOPE in the midst of fragility and frustration
ABUNDANCE in the midst of utter lostness and loneliness
GRACE UPON GRACE … wind and wind and WIND
Acts: Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak. … [Those who saw this] were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!” → There were those who couldn’t see just how powerful … just how special … just how blessed those disciples were because what they were doing was too different, too wrong, too other to make sense … to fit in. And they were right because in that moment – that moment when God reached down into their lives and lit their spirits (and maybe even a little bit of their hair) on fire, they didn’t fit in. They weren’t meant to fit in. Their different-ness made them exactly who and what and how God needed them to be to spread the good news of the gospel: bold, distinctive, conspicuous … ALIVE! Instead of letting them hide away in that upper room, sitting on their hands and the good news they were meant to proclaim, God stirred them up and sent them out to stand out so that the message of the grace and love of Jesus Christ could stand out in a world in need.
Song: When the world becomes a fantasy / And you’re more than you could ever be / ‘Cause you’re dreaming with your eyes wide open / And we know we can’t go back again / To the world that we were living in / ‘Cause we’re dreaming with our eyes wide open / So, COME ALIVE!
Breath … breath … breath. Wind … wind … wind. Both powerful elements of inspiration and change in our texts this morning. And the crazy-amazing thing is that in both Hebrew and Greek, they’re the same word. Ruah … ruah … ruah. (Hebrew) Pneuma … pneuma … pneuma. (Greek) But these words both mean something else, too: SPIRIT.
SPIRIT and breath that brings life to bones long dead
SPIRIT and wind that stir up disciples too afraid to move or speak
SPIRIT and breath and prophecy
SPIRIT and wind and testimony
Spirit and Spirit and SPIRIT that forever changes us … that brings us back to life … that encourages us out into the light … that lights a fire in our souls and sets our weary feet to walking again because as the church, that is what God has called us to do. So friends, hear these words loud and clear this morning: COME ALIVE! Amen.
The Greatest Showman, released by Twentieth Century Fox, Dec. 2017.
 Margaret P. Aymer. “Acts 2:1-21 – Day of Pentecost: Exegetical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 15.