visit the website The Sunday Sermon – July 26, 2015
This is the last Sunday in July. Can you believe it? Where has the summer gone? That’s a question mostly asked by parents of primary and secondary children who only have two and a half weeks before school starts, but it’s asked by others, too. July 2015 is almost over.
Here’s another date for you: May twenty-fourth (2015). Anybody? Does anyone what happened on May twenty-fourth, almost two months ago? Correct – Pentecost Sunday in this church year (which will be over four weeks before the calendar year we’re in, by the way. One more question before we get started in earnest with this message: What have we been talking about in one way or another since the Sunday after Pentecost, May thirty-first? Correct, again – Discipleship. More specifically the “cost of our discipleship.”
On Pentecost, “there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind … and all (who were together) were filled with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:2-4 A new community began on that day, or more appropriately in that Spirit moment. A community that continues today, even still thrives today, in spite of its diminishing numbers. A new community began on that day and a new identity was given to those who were and who would become followers of Jesus Christ. We all became “disciples.”
So, I thought: Let’s spend some time this summer talking about what that means, or what it’s supposed to mean. I suggested that we are much more familiar with the “joys of discipleship,” so we were going to take a deeper look at the costs of it, asking ourselves, “Why aren’t we really paying much?” Beginning in the tenth chapter of Matthew where Jesus warns his first disciples about the “coming persecutions,” we asked ourselves why we haven’t been dragged before governors and kings, or faced betrayals, hatred, persecution, and death as Jesus said we would because of our new identity. Perhaps, I suggested, it’s because we have remade the Christian faith to our own tastes. So, we set out to discover again the cost we ought to be paying in the world because of our faith.
Beginning with a conversation about our responsibility to a community, we explored our priestly roles. Alongside all of the things we ought to be doing for the institution we call the church, we explored our prophetic roles in the wider world. If we are engaged in our faith appropriately, the community we are a part of will be comforted and the world we are a part of will be challenged.
Jenna and Wayne added their voice, and their challenges to us as the summer moved into July, challenging our understandings of “family” and our loyalty to the Empires of this world: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and life itself, cannot be a disciple” and “give to God what is God’s.” Which is, of course, everything.
Two weeks ago we remembered the first words of Jesus as he began his public ministry, words from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because God has anointed me.” I reminded you that God has anointed us, too, and that it’s time we got busy sharing the Good News. To whom? To everyone, of course. But everyone begins with someone and just last week I shared a few someone’s in our own church life, in my personal life and in the wider world. We celebrated Adele’s life and witnessed to her Resurrection only two days ago. I’ve talked in deeper detail to my brother-in-law about his marriage ceremony. And I’ve been deeper in prayer for Debbie and those wrestling with the demons that she faces every day. So …
Here we are on the last Sunday in July for one more “discipleship sermon,” at least in this series. And on this last Sunday in July, for this last sermon on discipleship, I want to talk about the “payoff.” With all the costs, there does come a gift. That’s not why we do what we co as Christians. We love the world into life not counting the cost or the rewards, but there is a gift. Life everlasting, yes, but something for our time on this earth, too. Our gift is … (are youready for it?) … a worry-free life.
I’m serious! Listen for the Word of God … Read the Matthew 6:25-34 …
There it is. Not just a command from God, but a gift from Jesus. If you live the life I call you to properly, there may be “no worry.” It is, I think, the ultimate gift of our lives as disciples of Christ, in this world, at least. But, it is also, I think, one of the most misunderstood, even scorned ones.
Its power is in its poetic simplicity and it’s straightforward character – “Don’t worry! Just … don’t worry … about anything. ” But its limitations, that which frustrates us as we try to understand it, let alone live into it, comes from what we experience as an irresponsible and lazy call to life. I mean, let’s face it. It’s not literally true that all birds are fed and all lilies reach their fullest beauty, let alone all humans beings. I think our biggest problem with this passage, and many others, to be sure, stems from the focus we place on our human situation. This passage, like so many in our Bible is really not about us or the hopeless, helpless struggle we’ve made out of life. It is about God, about Love itself that has the power to create, constantly transform, and ultimately sustain creation, all of it – even, perhaps especially, human life.
In the beginning, when life was created, life was … well, “Edenic.” Have you heard that one? “Like Eden,” perfect, balanced, open, honest. Our translators use the word “good:” In the beginning, God created … and it was good, and it was good, and it was good,” six times over and then it was “very good,” or it was delicious! “In the beginning” life was delicious, we are told.
But … according to the ancient Hebrew writers of Genesis, according to their “creation” stories, life was “balanced” because, and only when, creation fulfilled its destiny. Only when plants and animals and humans did what they were created to do. The destiny of the human creatures, they tell us, “was to live in God’s world, with God’s other creatures, on God’s terms.” … And well, from the beginning, we didn’t fulfill our destiny very well. As the story illustrates, we very quickly get anxious and begin to worry; we get curious and begin to want to control; we get defensive and begin to lie, most abusively to ourselves.
The writer of Genesis, chapter two and three, right from the very beginning, immediately after the very “breath of life” that puts us in relationship with one another and with all creation, confronts us with our crises: Our selfish gene. It’s all about us. We move away from the abundant life God creates and promises, because it requires us to live with and for all other parts of creation, it requires us to live selflessly and sacrificially, to let go and let God, to not worry. And as we move away, as we move East of the Eden we were created for, life loses its … balance. More and more every day.
We don’t like to admit that our main problem is ourselves. The greatest gift we get in this world remains “unopened” because we just can’t believe it. We take these creation narratives and we literalize them and argue about the historical and scientific accuracy of them. Combine that diversion with our unrelenting need to “excuse” ourselves, to deny our “selfish gene,” and we blame our crisis, our alienation, our selfishness, on someone or something else: “It’s not our fault. It’s the serpents, it’s Adam and Eve’s fault, it’s even God’s fault. Why would such a tree exist right in the middle of paradise except to be eaten?”
What our creation story is telling us, brace yourself, is that our life is not finally about us. We are not the main characters in our own story. Jesus embodied Eden for, at least some of, the first century men and women who picked up their own crosses and followed him. He embodies Eden for us – the creative and transforming Love that is the only thing that will finally save us.
Let me tell you a wisdom tale that you have heard before that illustrating with uncompromising detail the lesson of Matthew, chapter 6. It’s from the Buddhist tradition, actually:
A man was traveling through the mountains and he suddenly found himself being chased by a huge hungry tiger. He ran and he ran and just when he thought he might get away from the beast that followed him, he came to the edge of a cliff. There, with nowhere else to go, he caught hold of a thick vine hanging beside him and swung himself over the edge. Above him, the tiger growled. Below him he heard a sound, and looked down to see another tiger waiting for him at the bottom of the vine. Just then, two mice, a white mouse and black mouse, scrambled out from the cliff side and began to gnaw at the vine. The traveler could see they were quickly eating through it. It was then, hanging there on the side of the cliff, that a delicious smell caught his attention. It was right there in front of him … A luscious wild strawberry! So, holding onto the vine weakening from the gnawing of the mice, a tiger above him and one below, he reached out with one hand and picked the berry. Ahh, he whispered … how delicious! (“The Wild Strawberry,” Zen)
Don’t worry about the tigers and the rodents and the fraying ropes in your life. Find the strawberry, God’s promise through Christ that we can overcome our fear and isolation – our past and our future – and we live as we were created to live.
We call Jesus of Nazareth our Lord because he shows us that life, all life, is delicious. He opens our eyes to what is right in front of us. We call Jesus our Savior because he then teaches us how we may “be” … all that we were created to be.
In our ultimately selfish frenzy to provide ourselves with so much more than we need, from our insatiable desire to acquire, hoard, worship and live in God’s world on our terms, we have left Eden and are hanging by a thin vine off a cliff. Still not out of hope, unless … we see the strawberry.
I want to close our sumer 2015 discussion of discipleship with some word for author Kathleen Norris:
We are, all of us, Christian men and women, engaged in priestly (and prophetic) work, the work of transformation. It may be work that is deemed useless by the standards of the world (but we follow) … We are asked to make all that we have been taught and trained to do – as nurses, educators, theologians, artists, engineers, lawyers, doctors, secretaries, accountants – available to God (so that God may provide for what we need). (“The Quotidian Mysteries,” Kathleen Norris. 84-86)
Do not worry about your life … and you will add a lifetime to your life.
Seek first the kingdom of God ,oh disciple of Christ, and all these things will be added unto you.
Ahh, life … How Delicious! Amen.
http://www.fotosantiguascanarias.org/348541-dts37701-para-conocer-gente-de-trijueque.html Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / http://www.jadopte.fr/33699-dtf34997-humour-rencontre-coquine.html Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / July 26, 2015