neurontin 300 mg capsule cost The Sunday Sermon – August 16, 2015
So, this month, whether you have realized it or not, I’ve been sharing some sermon stories from sermons of the past. The “wisdom tales” I’ve used to help illustrate the Psalm reading on August 2 and the gospel reading from Matthew last week, I’ve used before. The theological message and the ethic, the “so what” of it all, have been new, or at least I hope they’ve spoken to and sought to engage our “now.” I didn’t preach the same sermon, in other words, even though I shared some “old” stories.
Well … this week … I’m going to use a story I have used before and I’m going to preach an old sermon, in fact, I’m going to deliver the first message I ever preached from a pulpit, sixteen years ago. First, let’s pray together and listen for a Word from God …
Read Genesis 17:1-8, 15-22 … The Word of the Lord.
So, there’s the scripture reading. And here’s the story that attempts to connect this narrative to our own:
When I was twenty-five or twenty-six I, like Abraham before me, had discourse with God. I don’t recall exactly how this took place, and I don’t think it was the first time it happened, but it’s where I begin this story. God said, “Joel, I am God Almighty, walk before me and try to be blameless. Enter the seminary, and I will make my covenant between me and you.” I fell on my face, in reverence to God. I hadn’t been particularly religious for awhile, but I thought I was at least spiritual. Anyway, I remembered enough to humble myself when God spoke to me. I feel on my face and as I laughed, I said, “Well, that’s one idea. I’ll go see, if you suggest it, God, but I don’t think you realize …” When I looked up again, I realized I was talking to myself. So, smiling I went out and walked around the campus at Austin Theological Seminary. It was only a few blocks from the University of Texas where Katie, my wife, and I were students in the Master of Fine Arts Theatre degree. What the heck. I didn’t go into any buildings, just walked around. Now, I admit that I felt refreshed and I was thankful, to God, for this … refreshment, but I was enrolled in a terminal degree program at the time and that was the way for me – making it big as an actor. Still, I promised that I’d remember that experience and return if I needed more refreshing. I didn’t return and time passed.
A couple of years later, Katie and I had finished our master degrees and had moved to New York City – to make it big as actors. Shortly after arriving, God – as God had done with Abraham before me – spoke to me again. God said, “Joel, I am God Almighty. Walk before me and try to be blameless. Enter the seminary, and I will make my covenant between you and me.” So … I fell on my face again. It had been a couple of years, but it’s like riding a bike, once you learn you don’t easily forget. I fell on my face, laughing again. This time because I was in New York City. The seminary that God was referring to had to be Union Seminary on the Upper West Side, and this seminary did not offer the peaceful walking possibilities that Austin’s trees and grassy patches provided. This was not going to be “refreshing.” In fact, it was going to be a bit of a chore, with two subway transfers and substantial travel on foot in the hot city. But again, “I’ll give it a shot, God. We just got here, though, I gotta tell you, I’ve just started to break into the … acting biz” I didn’t have to look up this time to know that there would be no dialogue. So I went. And I was right. I didn’t feel refreshed as before. I mean I was out on Broadway and 126th in the hot sun after the smelly subway. So maybe I’d step inside one of the buildings. I walked into one, I can’t recall which, but there was an information desk where I talked briefly to the attendant and scooped up a catalog before heading back out on the streets. I was not refreshed by this experience, and in fact I felt un-comforted. I felt uncomfortable, as if I had gotten too close to something too unknown. I left the catalog on the subway bench, mumbled a “thanks but no thanks” to God (probably out loud – it wouldn’t have mattered on the Upper West Side), and rode the train back to my apartment. Katie was there in our one-room fifth-floor walk-up. I told her about my trip to the Seminary this time. She’d see the catalog and ask me about it sooner or later, anyway. Plus, I needed someone to laugh about this with. She seemed genuinely interested, however, which made me even more uncomfortable and I told her “I was just killing an afternoon, learning monologues on the subway, and I always wanted to see Union Seminary anyway, don’t get to wound up in this.” She understood, I guess, because she didn’t say anymore. I’m pretty sure she was smiling (like that), though.
About a year later, we both were hired by a theatre company in Louisville, KY, a decent sized city on the Ohio River, not too far from where Katie grew up and where we met. So we took the gig and moved there – ready to make it big as actors in Louisville, Kentucky. After a couple of busy years working with STAGE ONE: The Louisville Children’s Theatre, God spoke to me a third time, saying, “Joel, I am God Almighty. Walk before me and try to be blame … well, it’s too late for that part. Just … enter the seminary and I will make my covenant between you and me.” I fell on my face and laughed for a third time. “I know where this is going, God,” I said, “but haven’t you gotten it, yet? I’ve got a good job now, I’ve been married five years (so the hard part’s over, right?), we just bought a house, we’re talking about starting a family and this is definitely not the time …” Oh, whatever, I was talking to myself again, I knew, and that’s not as easy to get away with in Louisville as it is in NYC. So, I went out to the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, because after all God suggested it. And … It was beautiful. Being at another stage in my life altogether, I was refreshed again this time. I walked around an incredibly beautiful campus. I walked into several buildings and spoke to several people. And then I went home and told Katie she would have to go out and see it sometime with me. In the weeks and months to come, I started praying more and more, trying to understand what I was feeling. I was becoming uncomfortable again. I started to talk with people other than Katie. I talked to my parents, to my Pastor, to a friend who “just happened to be” the Director of Admissions at Louisville Seminary and Highland member. (That was a step I had never meant to take.) I was definitely losing control of my situation. I realized that and yet also realized that it felt right. Somewhere along the line I had put some faith in something other than myself and I was out of control. But something else was in control. Or someone, however you define God. No question in my mind at this point, God was calling. God had finally succeeded in getting me into the seminary. I stopped laughing (for the moment) and starting believing in the promise that God had given and continues to give to me, as incredible as that promise seemed then, and still seems now, to be truthful.
So that’s my “story” for this morning. Not one from another religious tradition or from our own, but a personal story. One some of you may have heard before, or least parts of. It is a story about me, of course, but more importantly about laughing, and more specifically about laughing at God – at the reality in our lives that attempts to lead us where, if our souls are to be saved, we are to go. Like Abraham before me, I laughed when God “spoke to me.” The hope of every sermon illustration is that a “leap” can be made from the particular to the universal.
The “so what” of my story this morning comes from this question to all of you: What are you laughing at? When have you, like Abraham and me before you, “laughed” at God? I’m not talking about a malicious laugh or a mocking laugh, but a laugh none the less. One that says to that “still, small voice” in your head, “That would be wonderful in a different world where it makes sense. In a world where, say, my employees wouldn’t take advantage of me; or my spouse wouldn’t get angry with me; or my family would understand; or my friends wouldn’t make fun of me.” A laugh that implies that “we know best how to deal with our own situation, and while we appreciate the thought, we have a better way to deal with our life, in this instance anyway, thank you all the same, uh … God.” A laugh that says we have a better way. A better way than the Way of God.
When you put it into words like that, it’s almost embarrassing, isn’t it? I’m embarrassed still, when I put it that way, because even as I responded to God’s call for me at the beginning of all this, I kept laughing. And, if I’m honest with myself, I’m still laughing. I’m still questioning God. As I sat in my classes at the Seminary in 1996 with my head spinning and my eyes blurring and mind racing, I wondered what in the world God was thinking. As I began my ministry in 1999, I was scared to death of the conversations I was having daily about life, death, and everything in-between. Sixteen years later, I can be easily terrified by the depth and breadth of life afforded me by all of you, and so many others. I still question all this.
What about you, in your own lives, full of your own responses to God’s call? You may have finally trusted that associate, or apologized to an adversary, or forgiven that child, or asked for forgiveness from someone you love so deeply it hear, but every so often we still wonder if we should have. Every so often, you chuckle (or curse) and wonder if God has misguided you. Why?
Why do we laugh? Where does this laughter come from? Why does it happen?
I’ll tell you this morning: We laugh because, despite all we have learned growing up and all we continue to learn as grown-ups about God and God’s promises, we are still unable to whole-heartedly believe in them. We are still unable to just let go and let God. I mean, just … what if …? And, well, just in case … you know. Abraham did it. Abraham, the father of us all, “fell on his face and laughed” when God told him that he would be given a son by Sarah. “I am one hundred years old,” he said, “and Sarah is ninety.” He appreciated what God was trying to do for him, I’m sure, but just in case … just in case Abraham had his own alternative – Ishmael. We have alternatives to God’s call, God’s plans for us and the world, too, don’t we? Something else we can see and feel and touch: Our current employment and our statistical probabilities and our job title and comfortable neighborhoods and our relative security.
Abraham had Ishmael, in our bible story, so … He laughed … at God.
We have … what? Or who? Something, or someone, to be sure, because we’re laughing at God, too. The writers of our ancient scripture are not without their wisdom: The name “Isaac,” given to this child promised to Abraham and Sarah, is a name which in Hebrew is a play on the word “laughed.” They knew we’d be laughing for centuries – mellenia, actually. We are, kind of literally, “children of laughter.”
I still snicker every once in awhile, nineteen years after “walking before God,” on my way to the church office, or sitting with someone in need, or just driving home at the end of the day wondering “what on earth good have I done?” . I chuckle, wondering if I did the right thing by entering the seminary in the first place. Wondering if I did the right thing when I believed in the promise that I know was, and is, from God. I snicker. And I wonder why God doesn’t get angry with me or why God doesn’t just give up on me. And it occurs to me, in times such as those, that God just may know something I don’t. God knows that when our laughter subsides and when our chuckling is over, there is still a sound in the air. That sound is God voice, still speaking … to us. Still speaking the promise. And here’s the final bit of “theology” from our scripture reading and this message: God’s promises are much greater and will outlast our laughter.
So … laugh, as you will, perhaps as you must. But finally: respond as you should. And God will make a covenant with us all. Amen.
campo de caso dating agency Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / August 16, 2015