Sunday’s sermon: Once Upon a Purpose

Adam and Eve” by Omenihu Amachi

Text used – Genesis 2:4-7, 15-17; 3:1-8 (read in the midst of the sermon)

  • Last year, we took a journey through Scripture together. We started in September, and from then until the end of May, we read through the arc of the Grand Story of faith. We started in Genesis, reading through bits and pieces of the Old Testament until Christmas – enter the Baby Jesus, enter the New Testament. Then we read through bits and pieces of the gospel of Mark until Pentecost.
    • Did this because we were following a new lectionary – Narrative Lectionary
      • Devised in 2010 by Profs. Rolf Jacobson and Craig Koester at Luther Seminary in St. Paul
      • Purpose: to “follow the sweep of the biblical story, from Creation through the early Christian church. The texts show the breadth and variety of voices within Scripture. They invite people to hear the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Moses and the prophets, Jesus, and Paul. Listening to the many different voices within Scripture enriches preaching and the life of faith.”[1]
      • Best part: Narrative Lectionary = 4-yr. cycle → different readings every year that take us through that “sweep of the Biblical story”
        • Helps us to become more and more familiar with that grand arc of God’s Story of Faith: creation → covenants → prophets → Messiah → early church → And everything in between. It’s important for us as Christians to be familiar with this age-old story because it’s our story. → story that we continue to tell and live into each and every time we pray, each and every time we share our faith, each and every time we turn and return to God
  • So here we are in September again, ready to start the next cycle. And where do we start? The beginning. The very beginning. Creation.
    • First, begin with some basic background → In “scholar speak,” this is called Biblical historical criticism.
      • Important to remember that all of these stories were being told for centuries before anyone wrote them down → And just like any story that gets passed down and down and down and down and down, the stories changed somewhat. Some details were forgotten. Others were embellished. Sometimes the order or the names of the characters got shifted around a little. Sometimes the same story was told from a different perspective. That’s the nature of telling a story, hearing the story, and telling the story again.
        • E.g. – family story told by two people at once → Both people were there. Both people have some of the elements of the story in common. But they also both have their own, personal experiences. One person heard this. The other person saw that. They both felt and thought different things about the same situation, and all of those differences color their telling of the story. And parts of the Biblical narrative are no different.
          • See this in the gospels
            • A few stories/passages that are incredibly similar
            • Some stories that are shared but told differently
            • Some stories that show up only in one or two of the gospels
            • Each individual gospel is someone’s individual account of Jesus’ life and teachings.
          • OT “Documentary Hypothesis”: idea that 4 different authors contributed to the Torah – first 5 books of the Bible (Gen, Ex, Lev, Num, Deut) → We’re not going to dig deeply into this hypothesis today because it can get fairly technical and extensive, but one of the ways that scholars delineate which source contributed which part of the text has to do with the name that the author uses for God. In some sections of the Torah, the name “Yahweh” is used for God. In other sections, the name “Elohim” is used.
    • 2 different creation stories in Genesis = perfect illustration of this
      • Story from Gen 1 = narrative of God’s creation on each individual day peppered with God’s declaration that that new creation is “very good” → ends with God resting on the seventh day
        • Account of God creating humanity is both short and broad in its scope: God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.”[2]
      • 2nd creation account in Gen = sort of the exact opposite
        • Small amount of detail given to the creation of the world and the creatures within in BUT much greater focus on God’s creation of and relationship with humans – Friends, listen for God’s story in today’s Scripture reading: [READ SCRIPTURE]
          • Shares a few elements with the Gen 1 story of creation but also includes a lot of different details
  • Now, before we tackle the main message of today’s Scripture reading, we need to address the elephant in the room … or rather, the snake in the room: Eve … the fruit … the snake … and sin. For centuries, the blame for that Original Sin has been placed on Eve’s shoulders. This passage has been used as a weapon against women to subjugate them and deny them opportunities.
    • Began with Latin Fathers back in the 2nd and 3rd centuries → shifted the blame of sin from both Adam and Eve to rest it squarely on Eve’s shoulders → attitude passed down from generation to generation throughout the church
      • Used to keep women out of leadership
      • Used to keep women uneducated
      • Used to keep women subservient
      • Used to keep women entirely dependent on men for centuries
      • Used to justify prejudice and violence against women for centuries → twisted and distorted in some of the most unjust, malicious, evil ways
    • And while I wish I could say we have grown past this image and twisted, harmful theology, friends, there are still plenty of people around the world today that still use this passage as justification for hate and discrimination against women. I cannot tell you the number of colleagues I have who have felt the painful reverberations of the way this passage as been warped and manipulated. Strong, intelligent women called by God to serve churches here in America today have been told they’re too pretty to be the pastor … have been told people are amazed a woman can preach so well … have been told that they can “have” the children’s message but the “real” sermon is for the man on staff (even if she is the senior pastor and the man is the associate) … have been told they can’t be the real pastor because they’re women. I cannot tell you the number of women I know who have experienced inappropriate interactions – both physical and verbal – with men in their church because those men refuse to see them as authoritative leaders called by God … simply because they are women. And as heinous and inexcusable as all of that is, we know that it’s so much worse for so many women around the world. And friends, that is not what this passage is about.
  • So what does this passage say, then? What’s the point of this 2nd creation narrative from Genesis? Why start the story here?
    • 2 parts of today’s story → creation part and the fall from grace
      • 1st part = creation
        • God creates this beautiful world and then creates humanity – text: The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.[3]
          • Heb. “take care of it” = watch/guard it, save it, protect it, revere it – connotations of being careful and attentive
        • Comes with the implication of moderation and preservation – text: And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”[4] God gives creation to Adam so that Adam may care for the world – so that Adam may find sustenance and shelter in it, so that Adam may find joy and recreation in it, so that Adam may find reverence and sacredness in it. So that Adam may find purpose in it. Not so that Adam may do as he pleased with every blade of grass and flower, bending the natural world to Adam’s own will and whim, wasting the lives of all creatures – walking, crawling, swimming, flying – for sport. Adam is given stewardship of this creation … not supreme rule.
          • Scholar: The Creator who gives life also gives meaning and purpose to life. We are called to serve as caretakers in God’s good creation – stewards of a world we did not make and can receive only as a gift held in trust. … The freedom God ordains is expansive but not boundless. There are limits to the exercise of our creaturely freedom.[5]
      • 2nd part of the story = the fall → humanity’s first failure in that care of creation
        • Adam and Eve encounter the serpent
        • Serpent convinces them to eat the fruit of the tree that God had forbidden
        • Adam and Eve disobey God’s command and eat the fruit
        • Interesting discrepancy in Eve’s story vs. what God said to Adam
          • Important to note: When God gave the directive not to eat the fruit from the tree, God gave that directive to Adam before creating Eve → So Eve never heard those words from God. Clearly, Adam must have conveyed them to her because she conveys them to the serpent as part of her argument against eating the fruit … but her words do not exactly echo God’s own.
            • God (text): “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you it from it you will certainly die.”[6]
            • Eve to the serpent (text): “God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”[7]
            • Scholar highlights the crucial difference: This interaction holds the first distortion of God’s words. God never said, “Don’t touch the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil”; rather, God warned not to eat of it. The woman did a curious thing in that she restricted her own freedom and said God had done it. Here we see the first cracks form in the relationship between humanity and God.[8] → Cracks in the relationship between humanity and God. The point at which our own self-indulgent, misguided, internally-driven purpose overrides God’s purpose for us, and we turn away. Sin.
        • Another scholar puts this a different way (encompassing all creation): God sends us into the garden because the garden needs service and preservation, and we are God’s instrument for caring for creation. Even though this mission is compelling and should be all-consuming, we share a human propensity for distraction. In the midst of caring for the garden, we will inevitably find fruit, and we will think that the fruit looks good to eat. … We will use our God-given intellect to rationalize doing things that are not part of our mission, or we will just settle for doing as others tell us, when we need to concentrate on God’s mission in the world.[9]
    • And when we hold those two things in tension – God’s call to purpose in this world and our “human propensity for distraction” – we find the reason for beginning this year’s journey through God’s Grand Story here in this creation account from Genesis. We find the ultimate purpose to which we are called – following God, being in relationship with God, and caring for all God’s creation (flora and fauna; animal, vegetable, and mineral; humans and neighbors of all colors, creeds, and persuasions). And we find a reminder of just how easy … how absent-minded … how inviting it can be to stray from that purpose. Once upon a purpose, there was God … and creation … and humanity. And the story continues. Amen.

[1] From “What is the narrative lectionary?” section, https://www.workingpreacher.org/narrative_faqs.aspx?fbclid=IwAR3BDmu06cmxC8YduElc_f6htjLr72lgIPf9euMTfpC47fOF0CZTpygB7u4.

[2] Gen 1:27-28.

[3] Gen 2:15.

[4] Gen 2:16.

[5] Allen C. McSween, Jr. “First Sunday in Lent – Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 2.  (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 26.

[6] Gen 2:116-17.

[7] Gen 3:3 (emphasis added).

[8] Lisa Sharon Harper. The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right. (New York, NY: Waterbrook, 2016), 46.

[9] Jon L. Berquist. “First Sunday in Lent – Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 2. (Louisville,  KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 31.

Sunday’s sermon: Sleeping: Holiness in Rest

Text used – Psalm 23

  • Throughout the summer, friends, we’ve been working our way through Tish Harrison Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices for Everyday Life[1], and today, we find ourselves on the final chapter … the final sermon in this series.
    • Arc of the book (and arc of the sermon series) has followed a typical day in the life of the author and attempted to find moment of sacredness and connection with God even in the most mundane and routine tasks → Throughout the summer, we’ve talked about …
      • The blessing of waking up – of starting each morning awash in the grace and overwhelming love of God
      • Brushing teeth and eating leftovers – of the blessed embodiedness and physicality of our faith and the way God loves and blesses our bodies
      • Losing keys and fighting with spouses – of the undeniable importance of confession and forgiveness in our lives and in our faith
      • Checking email and calling a friend – of the connectionality and sacred community that we find with God and with one another
      • Making the bed, sitting in traffic, and drinking tea – finding sacredness, sanctuary, and flashes of the holy in some of the most automatic and least expected moments of our days
      • And so it’s only fitting that as we wrap up our series, we do so by wrapping up the day: with rest, with sacred Sabbath rest, with returning to sleep so we can wake up and do it all again tomorrow.
        • Especially appropriate during this time of year → fall is a time when we shift from the busyness and activity and extended hours of light in the summer to the more measured and deliberate slowing-down of autumn
          • Starting to think about closing cabins for the summer
          • Starting to think about putting gardens to bed for the winter months ahead
          • Starting to think about farmers harvesting the crop that they’ve spent all summer tending
          • Starting to watch the light diminish slowly, bit by bit every day as our particular patch of the world tilts further away from the sun and we prepare for the extended darkness and cold of winter
          • It feels like our part of the world is preparing for sleep as well.
  • Here’s the thing, though: we’re going to come at this idea of rest from a slightly different angle than you’ve maybe heard this morning. Very often, when we talk about rest and faith, we’re talking about times to seek relaxation and renewal in God. It’s a conversation about being refreshed. It’s a conversation that feels much like taking a deep breath – cleansing and calming and reassuring. But Warren comes at the idea of going to sleep and rest and faith in a different way. – Warren: Our need for sleep reveals that we have limits. We are unable to defend ourselves, to keep ourselves safe, to master the world around us. Sleep exposes reality. We are frail and weak. We need a guide and a guard. No matter how much I love or fear something, ultimately my human need for rest kicks in. Even when my kids are sick and really need me, I can’t stay awake with them day and night for long. Our powerful need for sleep is a reminder that we are finite. God is the only one who never slumbers nor sleeps.[2] → For Warren, the rest that we find in God is a reminder that God is God and we are not. It’s a reminder that the world does not revolve around us – that the world does not, in fact, require our attentiveness, our activity, our overextendedness, or even our worry to continue its course through the heavens. The world will keep on spinning whether we will it to or not. God will continue working in this world even when we do not. God delights in working in and through us, but God’s work is not dependent solely upon us. Because, indeed, God is God, and we are not.
    • This is a blessing! → meant to relieve some of the weight that we have placed upon our own shoulders
      • As parents/grandparents
      • As partners/spouses
      • As children of aging parents
      • As workers in whatever industry you find yourself in (especially teachers/school administrators and staff and health care workers right now ♥)
      • When we go to sleep at night, we cannot function in these roles that make up the fabric of our lives. When we wake up again in the morning, we can once again don whatever hats we need or choose to wear, but when we sleep, we must lay those hats down. We must pause. We must breathe. We must let go and let God.
    • Now believe me, I know that’s often easier said than done, especially in times of great stress and worry. I have spent plenty of nights awake at 3:00 a.m. going over and over this decision or that upcoming event, this parenting dilemma or that task that remains unfinished. And there are plenty of nights when, even if I sleep all the way through, I don’t get as much sleep as I should because I stay up too late or get up way too early in order to get more work done. And, y’all, I know I’m not alone in that.
      • Warren quotes data from a National Health Interview Survey: Nearly 30 percent of adults average less than six hours of sleep per night, significantly under the recommended seven to eight hours. Only about 30 percent of high school students reported getting at least eight hours of sleep on an average school night, though they need around ten. In one national study, over 7 percent of people between twenty-five and thirty-five admitted to actually nodding off while driving in the past month.[3] → Clearly, we need more rest. Clearly, we have taken on the burden of too much – too many tasks, too much worry, too much to think about and turn over and over in our minds. Clearly, we have elevated the notion of productivity over basically everything else in our lives and our days.
  • In this vein, Warren introduces a particular phrase in this chapter → It’s a revolutionary phrase. It’s a phrase that just might turn your life upside-down. Are you read for this? The phrase is: “the blessedness of unproductivity.” “The blessedness of unproductivity.” This basic idea behind this phrase: those moments of pause, of rest, of putting everything down remind us that God’s got this. This idea of the blessedness of unproductivity is why our Scripture reading for this morning is so perfect. Psalm 23 – a psalm of rest; a psalm of letting go; a psalm to remind us that God was and is and always will be there for us, providing and guiding and guarding and blessing.
    • Very 1st verse sets the tone: The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing.[4]
      • Role of a shepherd = something many of us have lost touch with, I think → It’s not the tender, picturesque life of laying about in the fields that Hollywood has conjured up over the decades. Shepherding is rough. Shepherding is constant. Shepherding is taking the well-being of an entire group squarely on your own shoulders – the guiding, the protecting, bringing the new lives into the world and helping the oldest and sickest ones to leave this world as peacefully and comfortably and humanely as possible. Right off the bat, Psalm 23 recognizes not that we play this shepherding role for anyone else but that God plays this shepherding role for us.
        • 2nd part of that first verse underlines the total provision of this shepherding role: I lack nothing → Heb. = literally “not” + complex word that means doing without, being deprived, being deficient → So because God plays that shepherding role for us – that guarding and guiding role – we are not deficient. We are not deficient in what we need. We are not deficient in what we have. And most importantly, we are not deficient in who we are. So often, our busyness and overextended productivity stems from our own insecurities – insecurities about who others think we are and insecurities about who we think we are. We overwork ourselves day in and day out because we do not feel like we are enough. And yet right off the bat, Psalm 23 tells us that because God is our constant source and companion, we are truly and unquestionably enough.
    • Goes on to detail all the ways in which God provides for us: He lets me rest in grassy meadows; he leads me to restful waters; he keeps me alive. He guides me in proper paths for the sake of his good name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no danger because you are with me. Your rod and your staff – they protect me. You set a table for me right in front of my enemies. You bathe my head in oil; my cup is so full it spills over![5] → Everything that we need – food and water, safety and guidance, blessing and breath itself – come from God. Note that not a single one of those verses says, “Because I did this, God provides,” or “Because I earned this, God rewarded me,” or “Because I believed exactly the right thing … because I followed exactly the right doctrine … because I was a member of the right and only church … God was with me.” None of the provisions – none of those “enoughs” – are tied in any way to any action on our behalf. This psalm is all about how and what God does for us simple because God is God and we are not.
      • Along these lines, Warren poses a powerful and thought-provoking question → First, she makes a great point about our utter and undeniable reliance on God: Each night when we yield to sleep, we practice letting go of our reliance on self-effort and abiding in the good grace of our Creator. Thus embracing sleep is not only a confession of limits; it is also a joyful confession of God’s limitless care for us. For Christians, the act of ceasing and relaxing into sleep is an act of reliance on God. [She then poses her question:] What if Christians were known as a countercultural community of the well-rested – people who embrace our limits with zest and even joy? As believers we can relish sleep as not only necessary but as an embodied response to the truth of Scripture: we are finite, weak creatures who are abundantly cared for by our strong and loving Creator.[6]
        • Echoed in the final verse of the psalm: Yes, goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the Lord’s house as long as I live.[7] → Notice that God’s goodness and faithful love will not sit idly and disinterestedly on the sidelines of life waiting for us to make time. “Yes, goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life.” While we are working, while we are worrying, while we are weeping, while we are wandering, God’s goodness and faithful love pursues us. While we are praising, while we are playing, while we are preoccupied, while we are procrastinating, God’s goodness and faithful love pursues us.
          • Heb. “pursues” = verb that carried considerable insistence and doggedness → It is a thoroughly active verb. It is a tenacious verb. It is a verb with grit and endurance – one of those verbs that takes on a life of it’s own. That is how God pursues us. That is how God cares for us. That is how God provides for us. That is how God loves us. And that, friends, is why God is God and we are not. So rest easy. Rest true. Rest unburdened. Because God’s got you. Truly, thanks be to God. Amen.

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

[2] Warren, 144.

[3] Warren, 145.

[4] Ps 23:1.

[5] Ps 23:2-5.

[6] Warren, 152.

[7] Ps 23:6.

 

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

email notification

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.

Sunday’s sermon: Fighting with My Husband: Pent-Up to Peace-Filled

forgiven

Text used – Matthew 18:21-35

 

 

  • Do you remember those Magic Eye pictures that were so popular back in the 1990s? They were in many of the most popular kids’ magazines. There were a number of Magic Eye books (which actually spent 73 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list!). There were Magic Eye pictures on cereal boxes and notebook covers, postcards, calendars, even neckties! And there were all sorts of Magic Eye posters all over my elementary school.[1]
    • 3D picture within a picture images → larger, main image hidden within repeating smaller images
      • How to see 3D (from the Magic Eye website): Hold the center of the printed image right up to your nose. It should be blurry. Focus as though you are looking through the image into the distance. Very slowly move the image away from your face. Hold the page still and the hidden image will magically appear. Once you perceive the hidden image and depth, you can look around the entire 3D image. The longer you look, the clearer the illusion becomes. The farther away you hold the page, the deeper it becomes. Good Luck! → Magic Eye images are all about looking through what’s right in front of you to seeing what’s hidden underneath – the bigger picture.
    • 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 this week, we’re tackling a very particular chapter – chapter 6: “Fighting with My Husband: Passing the Peace and the Everyday Work of Shalom.”
      • Chapter about recognizing our role in the conflict and brokenness in the world around us
      • Chapter about forgiveness
      • Chapter about peace
      • (Like the Magic Eye images) Chapter about looking through the little things that are right in front of our eyes – the distractions, the minor irritations, the small frustrations – to the bigger issue that hides in the midst of them: our need for forgiveness and our need to seek grace from God and one another
        • Warren’s description of random fight with her husband: Most often what we’re arguing about – in this case a decision about our daughter’s schooling – isn’t really what we’re arguing about. What we are actually arguing about is our fears, anxieties, identities, and hopes, … how a pattern of criticism, comment by passing comment, bumps up against my own patterns of sin, woundedness, and self-defensiveness.[3] → It’s not an easy chapter, friends, but it is an important one. So let’s dig a little deeper.
  • We’re actually going to begin this morning by jumping back a bit, though. A few weeks ago, we talked about the importance of confession in our faith. Warren frames that chapter in the context of losing her keys.
    • Warren (about confession): The practice of confession and absolution must find its way into the small moments of sinfulness in my day. When it does, the gospel – grace itself – seeps into my day, and these moments are transformed.[4] → This is a crucial point to recognize because it speaks to the heart of why we seek the forgiveness and peace that we’re talking about today: because we’ve messed up.
      • We cannot seek forgiveness without first naming and claiming the reason for that forgiveness in the first place
        • Naming the ways we have hurt our loved ones
        • Naming the ways we have hurt our neighbors
        • Naming the ways we have hurt even ourselves
        • Naming the ways we have hurt God
        • Interesting phenomenon = sometimes it’s a lot easier to ask forgiveness from someone who’s more removed from you – someone distant, someone with whom you have a less personal relationship – than it is to ask forgiveness from someone you love
      • Warren: I can get caught up in the big ideas of justice and truth and neglect the small opportunities around me to extend kindness, forgiveness, and grace.[5]
  • See this played out in a very clear, dramatic way in our gospel reading this morning → “Parable of the Unforgiving Servant”
    • Certain king is settling up his accounts with his servants
    • King’s attendants “brought to him a servant who owed him ten thousand bags of gold (“talents” in many other translations)”[6] but servant “didn’t have enough to pay it back”[7] → Let’s pause for a minute, all, because we need to appreciate just how much money we’re talking about – how large this debt truly is. Yes, we can acknowledge that 10,000 of anything is a sizeable number, but this goes far beyond that.
      • Scholar: Ten thousand talents does not mean just ten thousand talents, since both “ten thousand” and “talent” serve in Greek as the largest possible number. The amount is so striking that some early Greek manuscripts reduced the number. However, the absurdity of the amount is crucial to the story.[8] → Remember that a talent was worth more than just a dollar. In the ancient world, a single talent was worth years of work (some estimates place it at 15 years per talent) for a servant like the one in this parable, so a sum of 10,000 talents is wholly unattainable. This is no way that this servant can possibly repay this debt. It is utterly impossible.
    • Instead of selling the servant and his family to make up even a portion of this astronomical sum, after the servant literally throws himself at the king’s feet and begs for mercy, the king chose to forgive the man’s debt – to wipe it clean
    • Servant turned around and found another servant who owed him a much, much smaller amount and accosted him – text: When that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundred coins. He grabbed him around the throat and said, “Pay me back what you owe me.” Then his fellow servant fell down and begged him, “Be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.” But he refused. Instead, he threw him into prison until he paid back his debt.[9] → Again we need to understand the amounts that we’re talking about here because the Greek words are different. The first servant’s debt was expressed in talents, in years of work. But the second servant’s debt is expressed in denarii – in coins. A denarii was roughly a day’s wage for a servant. So while the first servant owed the king multiple lifetime’s worth of pay, this second servant only owed his fellow servant a few month’s worth of work. And despite the overwhelming compassion that the first servant was shown when the king forgave his debt, he cannot find it within himself to bestow even a miniscule fraction of that forgiveness on another, even when the 2nd servant uses the exact same words that the 1st servant used with the king: “Be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.”
    • Result: other servants were appalled by the first servant’s actions and went to the king → furious king revoked his initial forgiveness of the first servant’s debt and “handed him over to the guard responsible for punishing prisoners until he had paid the whole debt”[10]
      • Scholar: The text demands that we forgive others and that we forgive ourselves. It demands not simply that Jesus’ disciples be forgiving people, but that they constitute a community of forgiveness. The deeper demand of the text is to forgive others as our acceptance of God’s forgiveness. It is not so much that God’s forgiveness is contingent upon our forgiving others as that our forgiveness of others performs our acceptance of God’s forgiveness. Without that performance, how can we enjoy the gift we have been given? Enjoying a gift as truly gift means sharing that gift with others.[11] → “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” right?
  • Rhythm of confession and forgiveness in our regular worship service
    • Joining in Prayer: a prayer that we say out loud together, a prayer that includes words of repentance and confession
    • Hear God’s Promise of Grace (declare God’s mercy and forgiveness)
    • (That moment that I know many of us miss most desperately right now) Passing the Peace of Christ with one another → I love how long this action takes in this congregation. I love when we have new people here, and I get to say, “Fair warning, folx, this is going to take a while.” I love that in this congregation, everyone makes an effort to pass that peace to everyone else. We get up. We move around. There are kids running around. There is always, always laughter ringing. There are hugs. There are handshakes. There are fist bumps. It’s not a quiet, contemplative, subdued kind of peace! It’s a boisterous, overflowing, loving kind of peace … which I’m fairly certain is as close to God’s peace as we can possibly get.

IMG_2037

      • Warren’s beautiful description of this: A friend of mine, a Presbyterian pastor, once remarked to me that each week when my four-year-old passes the peace, she is being formed in a particular worldview. She is practicing the truth that the extension of peace is vital to worship, that worshiping God is inextricably tied with seeking God’s kingdom of shalom by making peace with her neighbors. Through her church community, my daughter is being trained as a peacemaker.[12]
    • Speaks to the crucial, soul-changing concept of shalom in the Bible
      • Shalom = almost always translated as “peace” in Scripture … but it’s so much deeper than that!
      • Rev. Dr. Matthew Schlimm (UDTS professor and my Hebrew professor) in his book 70 Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know[13]: Shalom refers to a peace of body, mind, spirit, and relationship. A person who feels shalom is complete and whole. … The presence of shalom means not only the absence of swords and wild beasts but also the presence of worry-free rest.[14]
        • The extravagant peace and wholeness that the king initially gave to that first servant
        • The extravagant peace and wholeness that Jesus speaks to Peter about at the beginning of our Scripture reading – text: Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive as many as seven times?” Jesus said, “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy-seven times.”[15]
        • Warren: It is not simply “peace” that we pass to each other. It is the peace of Christ, the peace of our peacemaker. Christ’s peace is never a cheap peace. It is never a peace that skims the surface or papers over the wrong that’s been done. It is not a peace that plays nicey-nice, denies hurt, or avoids conflict. It is never a peace that is insincere or ignores injustice. It’s a peace that is honest and hard-won, that speaks truth and seeks justice, that costs something, and that takes time. It is a peace that offers reconciliation.[16] → And so, my treasured friends, may the peace of Christ be with you. Amen.

[1] https://www.magiceye.com/about/.

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

[3] Warren, 74, 75.

[4] Warren, 59.

[5] Warren, 76-77.

[6] Mt 18:24.

[7] Mt 18:25.

[8] Lewis R. Donelson. “Proper 19 (Sunday between September 11 and September 17 inclusive) – Matthew 18:21-35, Exegetical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 4. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 71.

[9] Mt 18:28-30.

[10] Mt 18:34.

[11] Nathan Jennings. “Matthew 18:25-35, Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels – Matthew, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 103.

[12] Warren, 79.

[13] Matthew Richard Schlimm. 70 Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press), 2018.

[14] Schlimm, 120.

[15] Mt 18:21-22.

[16] Warren, 86.

Sunday’s sermon: Eating Leftovers: Humble and Holy Food

leftovers

Text used – Matthew 26:17-30 (read in the midst of the sermon)

 

  • Confession time, y’all. Many of you know that I love to cook. I love to try new recipes and new flavors (within reason … I mean, I do have some rather picky young eaters at home). I love to make food for people – something yummy that fills them up and leaves them feeling happy and content. But … I do not like leftovers. Never have. Leftovers are just not my jam.
    • A couple exceptions: certain hot dishes/soups/one-pot concoctions that are better the next day; cold pizza (always a classic!); my mom’s soy chicken recipe (which is just as good cold the next day as it is the minute it comes out of the oven)
    • Fortunately for me → husband who will happily consume whatever leftovers are in the fridge if it means he doesn’t have to buy lunch the next day (or even the whole next week!)
    • Is there anything inherently wrong with the leftovers? Of course not. They’re still filling. They’re still just as nutritious as they were the night before. They’re still tasty. So what gives? What’s my leftover hang-up?
      • Clearly not alone (Washington Post article from 2017)[1]
        • Americans throw away 27 million tons of food every year → costs economy $144 billion due to the strain in puts on landfills, greenhouse gas emissions, etc.
        • Abandoned leftovers = the single largest source of edible food waste in the country → nearly a quarter of what we throw out is prepared food and leftovers
        • Average person wastes 3.5 lbs. of food per week
      • Speaks volumes in terms of greater issue of food justice, food security, and our relationship with food as a society → broken and strained relationship at best
    • 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 this week’s chapter – chapter 5 – is all about leftovers and nourishment.
      • Title: Eating Leftovers: Word, Sacrament, and Overlooked Nourishment[3]
      • Warren introduces the heart of the issue right at the beginning of the chapter: Food has so much to teach us about nourishment, and as a culture we struggle with what it means to be not simply fed, but profoundly and holistically nourished.[4] → A couple of weeks ago, we talked about how rooted our Christian faith is in the experience of having a physical body – the physical motions of worship, the ways we use our bodies and our senses to experience different elements of our faith. And we talked about how one of those main elements is, in fact, a meal. Communion. The Lord’s Supper. Gathering around a table for physical nourishment. For food. So in the context of our faith, in the context of our worship, what does it mean, not just to be fed – perfunctorily munching a little bit of bread and downing a little sip of wine or juice before moving on – but being truly nourished in body, mind, and soul through this humble and holy food?
  • First place to start with this discussion could only be Scripture – Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples → Friends, listen for the word of God: On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover meal?” He replied, “Go into the city, to a certain man, and say, ‘The teacher says, My time is near. I’m going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house. ‘” The disciples did just as Jesus instructed them. They prepared the Passover. That evening he took his place at the table with the twelve disciples. As they were eating he said, “I assure you that one of you will betray me.” Deeply saddened, each one said to him, “I’m not the one, am I, Lord?” He replied, “The one who will betray me is the one who dips his hand with me into this bowl. The Human One goes to his death just as it is written about him. But how terrible it is for that person who betrays the Human One! It would have been better for him if he had never been born.” Now Judas, who would betray him, replied, “It’s not me, is it, Rabbi?” Jesus answered, “You said it.” While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take and eat. This is my body.” He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from this, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many so that their sins may be forgiven. I tell you, I won’t drink wine again until that day when I drink it in a new way with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Then, after singing songs of praise, they went to the Mount of Olives. → Now, there’s a lot that we could unpack in that passage – more than we can tackle in one single sermon, that’s for sure. But with the theme of nourishment of body and soul in mind, there are a few things I want to us to dig a little deeper on within this text.
    • Particular word that’s crucial in this whole encounter – small, simple word that’s easily overlooks: gave – text: Jesus took bread, broke it, and gave it to the disciples … He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them.[5]
      • Gr. “gave” = connotations of sacrifice, of yielding, of entrusting → This is giving with deliberate and sincere intent. Jesus didn’t just toss a piece of bread down the table. He didn’t slide an individual glass of wine down the table to each of the disciples in turn like some early Palestinian bartender. He gave to them together – sacrificed of himself, entrusted his love and his heart and his own devotion, yielded grace in the simple, humble form of wine and bread.
    • Meal itself is vitally important here, too – not some flashy, lavish, extravagant spread but simple bread and wine, the elements of every meal and every day
      • Warren: Of all the things he could’ve chosen to be done “in remembrance” of him, Jesus chose a meal. … He picks the most ordinary of acts, eating, through which to be present to his people. He says that the bread is his body and the wine is his blood. He chooses the unremarkable and plain, average and abundance, wine and bread.[6]
        • Simple food
        • Humble food
        • Normal food
        • Food that can be found in varied and beautiful forms in every culture around the world
      • This is a really important point especially right now. Right now … when we do not get to worship together in person. Right now … when we are missing being present in community, present in this place, present at this table together. Right now … when we have been so isolated and socially distant for what feel like so long, too long. And yet in this simple meal and the way that he shares it with the disciples, Jesus makes it clear that community in him – community in Christ – is a community gathered however we can, wherever we can, with whatever elements are a part of our everyday lives. That’s why I love the way we do communion now. It is literally a common feast – the feast of your homes and your lives all gathered in one sacred moment.
        • Warren (startlingly prophetic): If all the cathedrals on earth were gone, all the most glorious art were lost, and all of the world’s most valuable treasures were thrown out, Christians would still meet for worship around the Scriptures and the Eucharist. To have church, all we need is Word and sacrament. … The Word of God and the meal of God’s people are intended to point to and make manifest the presence of Christ, who is both the Word and the bread.[7]
  • Two other really crucial things to notice in our Scripture
    • One: this meal could not take place without community → Without the disciples, this meal would not be. Without the dynamics and the conflicts, the camaraderie and the inside jokes, without the particular gifts and imperfections, without the competition and the chaos of those 12 other people – even Judas, whose painful choice to betray is only moments away – this meal would be nothing. It was born of community, and we celebrate it only and always in community.
      • Warren: The Eucharist is a profoundly communal meal that reorients us from people who are merely individualistic consumers into people who are, together, capable of imagining Christ in the world.[8] → The meal changes us, and the company and community we participate in during the meal changes us.
        • Meal that is meant to be shared
        • Meal that is meant to bring everyone to the table – first verse from the hymn for today: For everyone born, a place at the table / For everyone born, clean water and bread / A shelter, a space, a safe place for growing / For everyone born, a star overhead[9]
    • Other critical thing to notice about this meal = it’s a never-ending meal – text (Jesus to the disciples): I tell you, I won’t drink wine again until that day when I drink it in a new way with you in my Father’s kingdom.[10] → Jesus is promising to the disciples that this meal will last. That this meal will continue. That there is more community … more nourishment … more giving and receiving to be had. This is a promise both of the feast that is being celebrated right now and the feast that is to come. From now until forever, Jesus will be with you. From now until forever, God will provide for you. From now until forever, there will be a place for you … a welcome for you.
      • Warren: In this alternative economy of the true bread of life, we are turned inside out so that we are no longer people marked by scarcity, jockeying for our own good, but are new people, truly nourished, and therefore able to extend nourishment to others. The economy of the Eucharist is true abundance. There is enough for me, not in spite of others, but because we receive Christ together as a community.[11] Now, I don’t know about you, but those are my kind of leftovers. Alleluia! Amen.

[1] Caitlin Dewey. “Why Americans have stopped eating leftovers” from The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/10/31/why-americans-have-stopped-eating-leftovers/. Posted Oct. 31, 2017, accessed July 9, 2020.

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

[3] Warren, 61.

[4] Warren, 62.

[5] Mt 26:26, 27 (emphasis added).

[6] Warren, 63.

[7] Warren, 64.

[8] Warren, 71.

[9] Shirley Erena Murray. “For Everyone Born” in Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), #769.

[10] Mt 26:29 (emphasis added).

[11] Warren, 73.

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

lost keys

Text used – 1 John 1:5-2:6

 

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

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

[2] Warren, 51-52.

[3] Warren, 52.

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

[5] Warren, 54.

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

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

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

[9] Warren, 56, 57.

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

[11] Warren, 56, 57.

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

love your body

Text used – Genesis 1:1-2, 26-31

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

[6] Warren, 48.

[7] Warren, 39.

[8] Warren, 39-40.

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