He believes he knows it all.
I will be open to learning from those who hold different opinions.
I will endeavor to be honest.
He mocks those who are different.
I will do my best to treat you with respect.
I will extend a welcome.
He puts others down.
I will do my best to lift you up.
He preys upon people’s fear and anxiousness.
I will live believing there is enough for all of us.
He believes he can do no wrong.
I will admit my mistakes and try to do better.
He makes a mockery of faith.
I will do my best to live mine.
He feels entitled.
I will be grateful.
A week or so ago, this article showed up on my social medial feed.
The headline caught my attention.
Democrats Have Created an ‘Imaginary God.’
If the article is correct in reflecting Rev. Jeffress’ comments and beliefs then it seems that the God he follows….the real God is only concerned about abortion and Israel, and not about the women who suffer through the decision making and emotional struggle of having an abortion and not about the Palestinains and the Syrian refugees and the migrants at our borders.
I am sure he believes he is right.
And, that I am wrong.
I am sure he knows all about the real God.
While I continue to question and struggle and search to deepen my understanding of that which we know and name as God.
I am sure he believes God loves Christians more than others.
While I believe God loves the whole world. No exceptions.
Beware of people who read the Parable of the Good Samaritan and grapple with what it means for us today. Beware of people who take Jesus seriously when he said, “Whatever you do for one of the least of these, you did it to me.” Beware of those who believe in an ethic which says you should treat others with respect and that you should not abuse women and that all fall within the circle of God’s love. Beware of all those people because they are not really Christian. Beware of people like me.
All in all, I guess I will continue to follow an imaginary God.
A God who calls me towards compassion and inclusion and welcome and all having a place at the table. I guess I will continue to follow an imaginary God who weeps over abortions and also over the children separated from their parents at the border and the children who go to bed hungry each night and the children huddled in the remnants of a bombed out building. I guess I will continue to follow an imaginary God who loves the people of Israel, but who stands against political decisions and practices of that nation or any nation which fall short of the Kingdom. I guess I will continue to follow an imaginary God who calls us to gratitude and stewardship and justice and mercy.
In the end, this morning may just be about parsing words.
The musings of someone who, at least in part, uses words to make his living.
Because of that I realize you may walk away shaking your head.
And, wondering what in the world I was talking about.
How is that for an introduction?
Maybe it’s a way to let both of us off the hook.
When I was in elementary school I lived at 222 Third Street. Half a block from the Aspinwall United Presbyterian Church which was located on the corner of Center Ave. and Third Street where my parents were members, and where, eventually, I became a member. What I remember from my growing up there is when I thought about or talked about or heard someone else talk about church, either we were talking about the building or about what happened on Sunday mornings between 9:45 and Noon. I don’t ever remember consciously thinking about or talking about the possibility that church was anything more than that. That church was something which stretched beyond Sunday morning and pushed into the rest of the week. I don’t remember being taught that church was something about who we were and how we were connected to each other and to the larger community around us. Church was a place where we went. My hunch is what was true for me was, and maybe is, true for you as well. And, I am sure it is the public perception when those beyond our doors hear and use the word church.
All this hit home for me a couple of years ago in a staff meeting.
We were sitting around the table in the Conference Room planning and coordinating what was going to be happening on Sunday mornings. We were talking about who and what and when and how when people came to church. That is when it hit me (and this is where I begin to parse words). We were thinking and talking in ways which mirrored and reinforced the perception of church I had growing up which I don’t think works anymore. At least not in the same way it did 50 years ago when everything else except churches were closed on Sunday and when the cultural expectation was, if it was Sunday morning, you were in church.
After that staff meeting, I quit using the word church when I talk about our being here on Sunday mornings. Instead I say we are gathering for or coming to worship. If and when I use the word church I want it to be about who we are and how we live when we walk out these doors and into the rest of the week and not about who we are and what we do for an hour on Sunday morning.
I very much like the language the Session adopted several years ago to describe Bedford Presbyterian Church both for us and for others. You can find it on our website and we should probably use it more often. I added it to our bulletin for this morning.
Bedford Presbyterian Church. Progressive. Inclusive.
More than just Sundays.
And, as long as I am parsing words, this.
Maybe you have noticed, but maybe not, I don’t even use the word church very often anymore.
For several reasons. Partly because of what I said a moment ago and its association to a building or to Sunday mornings. Partly because of the negative connotations, some deserved; some not, that the word carries in the larger context and culture around us. And, partly in response to the what I perceive to be a growing need among us. Instead of church, I have been using the word community and/or community of faith.
For years, sociologist have been documenting the trend in our country away from a collective accountability and responsibility. Away from an understanding of community and towards individualism. Towards me and mine first.
Indicators of that trend surround us.
The pervasive distrust in institutions.
In the rise of that sense of whatever works for me.
In the isolation and sense of nowhere to turn people feel especially when faced with tragedy or unexpected uncertainty. All of which leaves a gap in our lives and in our social interactions.
For sometime now, I have wondered if who we are as a called people of God, is not to step into that void and to help people make connections with each other. Both inside these walls and in the larger communities around us. To rebuild that sense of community which has been lost in so many other ways. In the words of the prophet Isaiah with which we began our worship:
To be the ones who help restore the streets in which we live.
That rebuilding or building happens in multiple ways.
But also all those other activities which connect us to each other and to the communities around us. Everything from choir to quilting to helping families at the food pantry select the food they want and need so they have enough to eat next week.
So, this morning, let me leave you with this question.
Who do you think you are?
As we plunge into the fall with all of its activities and commitments, and as my retirement at the end of October gets closer, this is your question as much as it is mine.
Maybe more your question than mine.
How do you see yourselves?
How do you understand who you are?
How do you put words and hopes around who God is calling you to be?
Then, how do you begin to live those words from dreams into reality?
I ask because I believe this is true.
You are called to be…
We are called to be…
The repairer of the breach.
The ones who restore the streets in which we live.
And, in the midst of the chaos and confusion and awfulness and awesomeness of the world around us…
You are called to be God’s chosen generation.
God’s peculiar people.
For the sake of the world God continues to love so very much.
This simple story caught my attention.
Her husband was near the end of his life and receiving care from hospice. Being Roman Catholic, she had asked their parish priest to come by each day so they could celebrate the Eucharist and receive the sacrament together. After the bread and wine were blessed and shared, she would lean in close to her husband and whisper, “Food for the journey.”
Besides being touching, this story caused me to pause for another reason. It has been a long time since I thought about and reflected on my life in terms of journey which, after all, is an important and powerful Biblical metaphor.
Abraham and Sarah leaving their home and journeying to the land God had promised them.
The Israelites journey through the wilderness.
Joseph, Mary and Jesus journey to Egypt and then back.
Jesus’ journey towards Jerusalem.
I have spent a considerable amount time thinking about my life in terms of getting older. And, being a grandparent and not just a parent.And, in terms of my health and energy level and my no longer being able to do what had come naturally and easily for so long. And, as you can imagine, I have been thinking about my life in terms of our upcoming retirement and what that will mean both in terms of stepping away from a position and role which has defined my life for so long and towards that which comes next. All that, but not journey.
So, in the couple of weeks or so since I stumbled across that story, here is what I have been thinking about. If journey is an meaningful metaphor for our lives…for my life…
Where am I going?
Where do I want to be going?
Where am I called to be going?
Not in terms of place, but in terms of who I am as a person and who I am as a Christian.
Am I just who I am?
After all these years now just set in place? Carved in stone?
Or, is there still room for growth?
I am good at tasks.
At setting goals for work.
Thinking of new programs to try and identifying new needs that await our response. But I am not so good at setting goals or benchmarks for who I would like to be as a person.
To listen better before I respond.
More of an awareness of God…of the Holy…in each and all of the moments of life as it is.
I found myself thinking about that quip, “If you don’t know where you are going any road will do.” Like me, are you more likely to be on any road rather than on a road which matters?
This past week Bruce Reisdorf, of Clark’s Funeral Home in Katonah, called and asked if I would do a funeral for a woman who had passed away. Last March she had celebrated her 100th birthday. The family, Bruce said, was not particularly religious, but they wanted a Protestant minister present to say a few words. As I thought about what few words I would say in a situation and setting like that, I found myself turning to these words from Psalm 90.
The days of our lives are 70 years.
Or perhaps 80 if we are strong.
They are soon gone and we fly away.
So teach us to number our days, O God, that we might gain a heart of wisdom.
Is that where I should be going?
The journey I/we should be on?
Being mindful of the days which I have?
Gaining a heart of wisdom?
Like most of my sermons, this morning I probably suggest more questions than provide you with answers. Offer you more ponderings than certainties. Trusting that if you and I ask our questions honestly and well we will find our ways to answers which work for us. That we will discern something of what God is trying to say to us. So as the story with which I began got me thinking about journey, it also got me thinking about that food for the journey.
What is it that sustains me?
What is it that keeps my faith alive?
What is it that deepens my gratitude?
What is it which increases my awareness of the other?
My awareness of the Holy?
I look back better than I see ahead and so in looking back, here is what I know to be true for me.
My faith is sustained by serving others and making a difference.
Not by committee meetings or To Do lists.
My faith is sustained by pounding nails or mixing cement.
Working side by side with others doing what I can to make a difference.
And, my faith is sustained by being outdoors.
By walking in the woods.
By listening to waves crash on the beach.
By looking up at the stars.
When I am inside too long or sitting too long I lose my way.
My faith is sustained by writing.
Sermons. Prayers. My blog.
Each helps me to put words around what I am thinking and feeling and trying to understand.
Maybe that which has sustained me in the past and helped me to get this far will be that which sustains me for the tomorrows which are yet to be.
I know my way is not your way. While our destination may be the same, the food you need to get to where God is calling you to be will be different.
For you it may be music.
Or daily devotions.
Or some type of more formal study.
Or keeping a journal.
Or prayers and prayer partners.
Or making sure these doors are open so any who need it can walk in.
What is important, I think, is that you are mindful of the journey and aware of what sustains you. That you pay attention to what you need as that daily bread that moves in the direction of the Kingdom of God. Towards who and where God calls you to be.
She leaned close and whispered in his ear.
Food for the journey.
The funeral home called yesterday.
She died on Sunday.
After living 100 years. 4 months. 21 days.
She never really went to church.
Neither did her sons.
Or her grandchildren.
Or her great grandchildren.
But in a moment like this they would like a pastor to be present.
And, to say a few words.
(Their words, not mine.)
Would I do the funeral?
And, so tomorrow I will stand among them and with them.
Not to give them easy answers.
Or glib assurances.
But to reach out with my own faith.
And, my own questions.
And my own sense of the Holy.
And, for a moment
To help them stand in the presence of the mystery we call life and death.
Their mother’s death.
As a part of the few words I have been asked to say, I will say this:
“O God, wrap our lives in your grace that as we face the mystery of death we might see beyond the edge of today and catch a glimpse of your eternity.”
May all our lives be wrapped in that grace.