Call us to lift our heads, O God.
And to open our eyes
That we might catch a glimpse
Of Your Kingdom come.
Just as it is.
Just as we are.
Then, having seen
Know the direction
We are to walk.
This morning’s sermon was about Mary.
About God choosing Mary.
And Mary saying yes to God.
If one of the purposes of sermons is to make you stop and think, this morning’s sermon did just that, but maybe not in the way intended.
I stopped being traditional a long time ago.
Maybe I never was to begin with.
My take away from this morning is this.
God was always asking.
God is always asking.
Looking for a way to break into
Be born into
This crazy, screwed up, broken, awesome, wonderful world in which we live.
Mary said yes.
And so we have the story of Jesus.
But when we deify her we miss the point.
And, keep it safe.
And, keep God at arms length.
(Which is where most of us like to keep God because if God comes too close watch out!)
Because God still asks.
Still waits for someone to say yes.
Still waits for you to say yes.
Still waits for me to say yes.
Because hope needs to be born again.
(Don’t we know it!)
And, because peace needs to be incarnated.
And, feeding the 5000 needs to happen again.
Because opening eyes and sight being restored needs to happen again so we see ourselves and others for who we really are and who they really are.
And, the broken still long to find wholeness.
And, the despised and forgotten and excluded still long for welcome.
If it is only about Mary, it is too easy.
And, too safe.
Instead, it is about you and me.
And the world as it is.
And, how it might be.
Some of you are old enough to remember Dennis the Menace.
Either the comic strip or television show or both.
Dennis, for those of you who don’t remember him was a precocious, mischievous little boy who was always on the verge of getting into trouble. I don’t remember where I saw it, but in a newspaper I was reading I came across the Dennis the Menace comic strip. Dennis is standing in front of an easel painting a picture.
The captions went like this.
Dennis’ Mom: What are you painting?
Dennis: A picture of God.
Dennis’ Mom: But no one know what God looks like.
Dennis: They will now.
I immediately cut the comic strip out of the paper.
For years, in the Confirmation programs which I led, I would pull that comic strip out of my file, make copies and, along with a piece of paper and a pile of crayons, give the comic to each of the 9th grade students who were in Confirmation with me that year and ask them to draw a picture of God. And, they did.
Some were somewhat traditional. Man with a beard.
Others were more abstract.
But, everyone drew something.
They were then ask to share their drawing and why they drew it the way they did.
The discussion that followed focused on where our ideas of God come from and how they have changed over time.
So, now it is your turn.
Here is the assignment.
Get your paper and crayons or colored pencils or a regular pencil and draw your picture of God.
Then, make a short video showing yourself and your picture and briefly explaining why you drew what you did. If you can’t do a video, take a picture and write your explanation.
Then, send it to me.
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
When I have received enough I will make a short video with you sharing your pictures.
9th grade students can do this.
I am guessing you can do it as well.
So you know this is not an art assignment, here is my picture.
I will offer my explanation in the video I make.
Send it to me. email@example.com
If you would like to watch the video of this, click here.
I know all the verses as well as you.
Love your neighbor.
Love one another.
The greatest of these is love.
The problem for me is that we (the Church, Christians, those of us who worship on Sunday, those around us who hear us speak) have allowed our default understanding of love to become mushy. More Kum By Yah than We Shall Overcome. More holding hands in a circle than linking arms and marching across the Pettus Bridge. More Joel Osteen than John Lewis. Or Gordon Cosby. Or Archbishop Romero. Or Rufina Amaya.
My read of the world around us and the communities in which we live is we need something more. Something much more than a mushy understanding of love. We, in the Christian community, need to begin thinking and talking and believing and living an understanding of love which is strong and resilient and justice bound. A love rooted in our deep understanding and our firm belief that the Kingdom of God is meant for right here and right now. A love that not only says all the right words in our hymns and our prayers and our preaching, but stands up for them in the public square.
We have allowed the word love to be misused by so many for so long which is why I am giving up on it. Giving up on at least the word. And intentionally trying to replace it with something which gives me and maybe others pause when we hear it. I am still working on what some of those words or phrases might be, but here is a start.
Hold onto God like your life depended on it.
Hold onto one another like your life depended on it, including the other over there.
Hold one another accountable.
And the greatest of these is when God’s Kingdom comes and all have enough and all have a place.
As I said, I am just starting.
I invite you to start as well.
Maybe together we will find a language and a way of living which tears open a hole and allows the Kingdom of God to push through.
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.
Two weeks ago, as we were recognizing and celebrating high school seniors who were graduating, one of the things I said to them was “You don’t have to read the Bible cover to cover, but know the story. Know enough of the Bible and enough about the Bible so when situations arise in your life you have a touchstone or a reference point around which to make a decision or to help you figure out what now or what next.”
Then, this happened.
It was Monday morning.
I was taking our dog on her morning walk.
I was a bit anxious because Monday is the day I work on the bulletin for the following Sunday. Writing the Opening Sentences and Prayer and selecting the hymns helps me think more about the sermon and overall focus of our worship. On most Mondays I have at least a glimmer of an idea about what I want to be thinking about in terms of worship and sermon.
But, last Monday I had nothing.
No spark of an idea.
No scribbled notes to fall back on.
Only walking the dog.
Then it happened.
A verse from the Bible.
“And God said…”
I sure it popped into my mind because I was struggling to make sense of the news of children being separated from their parents and housed in detention centers and what that must feel like for both parents and children. And, what it felt like to me as a citizen of this country. And, because my faith and my understanding of God is often the way I think and try to make sense of my life and world I found myself asking where God might be in all of it.
And so the Bible verse.
What would God say?
Still walking the dog and still not clear about the bulletin or about this morning, as I thought more about what God would say, another similar verse from the Gospels popped into my head. Jesus has been invited to dinner at Simon’s house. A woman of questionable integrity bursts in, washes Jesus with her tears and dries his feet with her hair. Simon, the Pharisee who had invited Jesus to dinner is aghast. Just as he is about to say something Jesus turns to him and says, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”
Which added to my pondering.
What would Jesus say to us, I wondered?
Then back at my desk, a third verse.
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone.
You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.”
My understanding of the Hebrew is that the word in this verse which is translated ‘hear” implies much more than just hearing a sound or a sentence. More than hearing the birds chirping or a door closing. The Hebrew word implies these three things: hearing and understanding and acting. If you have not understood and not acted, you have not heard.
So, there I was.
And God said…
Simon, I have something to say to you.
And, Hear, O Israel…
Then there was the bulletin and the hymns.
Then several days thinking about those three verses.
Thinking about what God is saying and about what Jesus might want to say to me and to us and about whether or not I was really hearing.
Which brings us to this morning.
Now, it is your turn.
Let me invite you or pull you into the conversation.
Believing God still speaks or the Spirit still prompts what do you hear God saying?
To you in terms of your own life?
What you are thinking about and pondering and trying to discern?
Or in terms of who we are as a community of faith with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other and where and how God might be wanting to say something to us?