Sermon Transcript 11.6.22

This can be a bittersweet day This first Sunday of November is traditionally All Saints Sunday. A day when we remember those who have gone before Morning and celebration A few weeks ago, we renewed our baptisms and I talked that Sunday about some water that I have from the River Jordan and from the Sea of Galilee. This is a third bottle that I carry around with me and every time I do a baptism or a remembrance and I mix that water from the Holy Land into the water of the place I'm serving, I then make a point of saving a little bit of that mixture. because it too is sacred. This bottle has a little bit of water from every place that I have ever presided at a baptism or remembrance. I like to gather all of those places of witness. As we will hear shortly, in the Book of Revelation the One sitting on the throne declares that he will offer the “water of the river of life” to all those who gather and worship – all who thirst. As we begin on this All Saints Sunday, I invite you to hear these words from one of the last letters of the New Testament. First John chapter three. “See what love the father has given us. That we should be called children of God and that is what we are…. What we know is this, when he is revealed, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is, and all who have this hope in him, purify themselves, just as he is pure.”


Already, my friends, we are children of God. We don't fully see; we don't fully understand. Each of us carries burdens and sorrows. Some of ours are fresher than others. But we gather this day surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us. Who, I firmly believe are participating even now in the resurrection of Jesus the Christ, the gift of faith that Christ offers to us, that we too might partake of these living waters.


And so I invite you this day to think about those who have gone before and all their variety. With all their shortcomings, all the pain and all the joy those memories carry. To think about the various memorials in this very building that are dedicated to those who went before us. Some having lived long, fruitful lives of service to this church. Some having gone other directions. Some remembered in sorrow. Remember that the waters of grace surround us. That no one metaphor for our life, for our death, for our resurrection, or for our God is sufficient.


I firmly believe - and I think I am living proof - that God has a tremendous sense of humor. and to my mortification last night, I discovered that there are some typos in the bulletin. In particular, there are parenthesis where it's supposed to say 1 John 3 that I was reading from next to the welcome and then if you look at the opening hymn, there's just the quote marks and not a title. and this morning, I was given a theological rationale to claim why that is …. Well, it's because God has a tremendous sense of humor and your pastor is a bit of a goof… but we also encounter God in mystery. We do not know fully. None of our metaphors are complete


And had I given you the name of that first hymn, It is Source and Sovereign, Rock and Cloud. It's number 113 in the hymnal. I invite you to stand and join in celebrating the mystery of life and death in the God who holds us all.


-------

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, oh lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. “Oh God, who gave us birth you are ever more ready to hear than we are to pray. You know our needs before we ask and our ignorance in asking. Give to us now your grace That as we shrink before the mystery of death we may see the light of eternity. Speak to us once more, your solemn message of life and death. Help us to live as those who are prepared to die. And when our days here are accomplished, enable us to die as those who go forth to live. So that living dying, our life may be in you, and that nothing in life or in death will be able to separate us from your love, great love in Christ Jesus, our lord. Amen.”


That prayer comes from the United Methodist Book of Worship. It is one of my favorite prayers to share, particularly at a graveside, because he acknowledges our loss and our sorrow and our confusion and our pain. It acknowledges that we shrink before the mystery of death and yet it is for me joyful These words are full of hope and assurance.


One of the core parts of United Methodist Theology In fact, it's the title of one of my favorite books on Wesleyan Theology is Re:Creation. That we are in that time in between Creation -when God spoke the world into being. Let there be light. Let the waters be separated. Let there be a dome. Let the land be separated from the waters. that the sun and the moon mark the seasons and the times Let the land and the sea and the air bring forth life abundantly. fruitfully, God wills creation. God sees that creation is good. God creates humanity and all of our diversity and difference. God creates us intentionally. God's does so, even knowing that we will fall short. God desires us to be. And yet this life was never intended to be all that there is.


We do not fully understand the fullness of life, the fullness of God's love for us, We gather as people of Resurrection. We believe that there is something more than this. God is actively recreating. God is transforming us. God became like us in the person of Jesus that we might become like him. God is showing us what it is to be fully human that we might become, at last, all that God intends us to be.


“When he is fully revealed, we will be like him. For we shall see him as he is, and all who have this hope, purify themselves just as he is pure.” We are God's children here and now. we are God's children. Some weeks ago, I preached about being God's children and how having read and preached on passages about being God's children several times, it hit me more fully this year. That we *are* God's children. That for all of our age and our wisdom, I sometimes tell people, one of the challenges that we have here at First is on any given Sunday morning, I'm often the fourth or fifth youngest person in the building. and yet we are children. Even now, I'm not convinced that we're eating spiritually solid food. We're still just nursing on milk of what God has to offer us. What we are is important, and valuable! God sees potential in us. Whether we are literally human children, a few months or years old. Whether we have lived 60, 70, 80, 90 years or more. The wisdom that we accumulate, the societies, the institutions, the congregations, the connections that we form are important. This life is important to God. God has a will for each of us in this life The choices we make are important…. and they are not the end of the story. Suffering and sorrow, even our greatest joys and laughter… are not the end of the story. God is making all things new.


God takes our brokenness and our shortcomings and our failures. And God's grace surrounds us. And God is making all things new because God, not us, God is the Alpha and the Omega. And God wills us to be. And God is with us. God laughs with us and rejoices with us in this life - and, we are called to acknowledge that this life is not permanent or final or complete.


We are in the midst of this Re:Creation, this new Creation, this world, that we proclaim is God's doing. This world that we proclaim God sees goodness in. This world that is dependent on water for life. The image in the Book of Revelation is that of living water for all who thirst, for all who desire, even if they don't quite know the words or the formulas or the creeds, I am convinced that God's grace surrounds us before we know those things. God's grace surrounds us when we think we know those things well enough. God's living water heals and restores God calls us to cast our nets. God calls us to use our creativity. To participate in what God is doing. To take what God has provided and build from it. Not that our work is better than or more than - but it's *part of* what God is doing. “There go the ship” Psalm 104 proclaims, “and Leviathan that he created to play in it.” Water and sea monsters as a symbol of chaos. Human participation in taming that chaos. In Revelation, it says, the sea won't be no more - which I read as chaos will be no more. God's order will be at last, be complete, but we will still be free within it. I don't know how that all works. I'm not supposed to know how it works. I don't yet see fully. I see partially. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, The conviction of things not seen.” The author of Hebrew wrote those words that are so comforting and assuring to many. We hope. We dream. We envision, and we realize that whatever it is that we envision ultimately fall short. We come up with complex problems. How is it that we will love fully? How is it that we will be forgiven for those times we fall so short? By faith, we understand that “the worlds were prepared by the word of God so that what is seen is made from things not visible.” All will be well. All manner of things will be well.


Those things that we debate and don't understand and differ on will somehow be redeemed and made complete. The love that we have had for others, for spouses, for children, for all those who have gone before us, will somehow be made complete. The conundrums of this life will no longer matter - the good of our relationships is a mere foretaste of the ultimate good. The sorrow and pain discipline us. They prepare us to know more fully joy and laughter and the fullness of love.


Last week, I talked very briefly about reformation Sunday and the renewal that happened in the church that was sparked by a number of people and events, but mostly, we attribute that to Martin Luther. A German Catholic priest who had some questions about the way the church was engaging in practices of indulgence and what the church taught about the life to come.


But that wasn't all that Luther did. I told the story that he was so fearful of God's wrath that his hands would shake when he tried to do communion and he would spill the sacramental wine, the blood of Christ - and because of that nervousness, that fear, he was unfit to be a parish priest and that is a true story but it's not all of the story. The other reason he got assigned to a be an educator in a seminary at Wittenberg instead of serving as a parish priest, is because a young man in his congregation committed suicide… and by the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church at that time and indeed many churches into our lifetimes, having committed suicide, he had consigned his soul to hell and Luther said, NO. I do not believe that about our God. I do not believe that about our God – and he gave the lad a proper burial in the church graveyard. Much to the objection of some of his parishioners, of his bishop, of his pope, He declared God's grace and love and our incompleteness and he named the real demons. In his language, in his theology, he talked about the devil. In mine, I would talk about depression and chemical imbalances and injustice and the crushing weight of systems that deprive us of hope.

Poor choices by ourselves and by others that become overwhelming and I know that does not remove us from the love of God. That does not exclude us from the living water. I believe those who reach that level of despair and confusion, who’s pain is so seemingly unstoppable… are those who thirst the most. God's grace overcomes. God's grace surrounds and heals. God's grace makes all things new. I don't fully understand how that works… but I know every part of my being revolts at the idea that God would cast us away. God will allow us… and I have tried, believe me, I have tried... God has allowed us to say no. But God will not cast us away.


And I don't know how the scales of justice work and I don't know how we work off our sins and different times we've come up with all sorts of different ideas. And that's what led to the sale of indulgence in the first place. The Roman Catholic theologians had decided that the idea of none of us were perfectly good or perfectly evil and so there was this balance and somehow they would they came up with this idea of purgatory where we worked off our sin… and that is not a United Methodist belief and Catholics have radically changed how they approach that… but in the middle ages, that was the dominant theology. And the idea of an indulgence was that you could help your loved one. You could buy forgiveness for them. And there's a seed beauty in that that we could make sacrificial gifts to help others. That's beautiful. But when it becomes a way of control and institution and separating the damned from the holy, it becomes unholy.


When our theology becomes so rigid that we decide that *we* can decide who God will forgive or accept… We've separated ourselves from the love of God. Revelation promises and Hebrews proclaims a great cloud of witnesses. People from every race and nation and tribe gathered together in worship of the lamb. Gathered together in a spirit of all of creation renewed, not destroyed, but renewed. A new heaven, a new earth, a new creation that does not obliterate the old but makes it whole, redeems it. We are not yet there.


We are in a time of Re:Creation and re:membering. One of the beautiful things I've been able to do as your pastor here ,appointed to the mission field of Fort Scott, KS, is begin to introduce to the community my favorite spiritual practice which is walking labyrinths. I confess it's my favorite spiritual practice because I'm really not good at sitting still and being quiet… really not And so I had struggled with prayer. But in a labyrinth you can walk and move. In a labyrinth you can release and take on. And so I started looking for places to build such a labyrinth here. And one of the places that I started eyeballing was a vacant lot just up 3rd street. I asked around and I discovered that First Presbyterian Church owned that lot and I started making some inquiries. And as I was asking around, I learned that one of our member’s families had once owned a grocery store on that lot, Whiteside's IGA. I started spending time there just in the space, as a place of prayer, I would walk around. I would try to remember the shape of the labyrinth. I would think about where one might go. I would dream about how I might introduce this and I finally worked up the courage and I made a proposal to the Sessions board of the Presbyterian Church for what we might do in that spot. And I timed it really well. They just gotten like a fifteen thousand dollar bid to try and tear it out and put grass in. They decided not to do it and then I proposed a new life for that space – at no cost to them. They went, “yes, let's do that.” We started talking about how we would do that and there's all sorts of broken pieces ther - debris from the old building. I said, we can pick up those broken pieces and we can use them to mark the path. Wonderful. Cheap. Initially, I just knew it was an inexpensive to introduce the practice. It's material that's there and I started marking the path and as I've started marking that path and other volunteers have come and walked it, we've become aware that that space was once a place where people went to be nourished in body, to buy food and now those broken pieces are being used to create a space where people are nourished in spirit where we are filled, where we are renewed, where we can laugh, where we can cry, where we can dream. The broken pieces are creating wholeness… so I had the honor this morning, of showing the new sign to Noleen Whiteside and you can't see it real well from where you're at… but I had done a labyrinth in Pretty Prairie and made a sign – there we were out along the Wildflowers and the grasses and so when I made that sign, I had wildflowers and wheat, you know, prairie grasses here. I was editing the sign for here and I took those off because they didn't fit the spot and I thought about putting a rock there but it didn't look good …and I thought, I wonder if I could find anything from Whitesides and I went online and I found - we have a grocery list here that has the address of the site on it. Whiteside's IGA and on the back was a suggested shopping list. All of the things that you could buy at Whiteside’s that you might put on that list.


And we made it up and I got to sign in this week and happily Noleen came to church today. We were able to share it with her and I thought it's All Saints Sunday. This is how we remember. It's not about keeping things the same. It's about remembering - using space and being in the bodies that we are given. Journeying towards wholeness, Giving thanks for what was but not getting stuck there. Working with what is, hoping for what will come. That's what that space is about. and I love how it connects to the story of this congregation and this community.


I asked you a couple weeks ago to think about those people who had taught you the Bible. Who are the people that taught you these stories that gave you your first Bible or your third Bible? Who are the people that these stories have helped you to understand. Who have hurt you or disappointed you. You can go to these words to find hope and renewal. The times when you have been so angry at God over a loss or a slight… and maybe you turn to the Psalms or Job and you saw your emotions reflected… assurance that we are not the only ones that have walked this journey. tT think about those who maybe walk a different journey from you but who have helped shape yours. I've told you before, I would not be here… I would not be a pastor at all… I might not even be Christian… If it weren't for the work of a Jewish rabbi, and the president of a Muslim society, who asked me deep questions about what it was I believed and why. that invited me to wrestle with my faith - not to try and convert me to theirs - but that I might know mine. They too are part of my great cloud of witnesses. Of my journey of my encounter of the living water. Who are those people for you? For us as a congregation? We lift up ten names from this past year – members of this congregation now or at one time in their journey. This year, we have said farewell to Maybelle Mertz, to Betty Reed, to Bobbe Ward, to Richard Hedges., to Alan Warren, to Craig Hart, to Mary Darling, to Betty Duvall, to Pauline Alsop, and to Norma Fitzsimmons. We remember the ways they shaped our congregation and our journeys.


I invite you again to remember those who have shaped your journey - from inside this congregation and beyond it - in ways good and bad. God's grace surrounds them. God's grace is making all things new. God's grace offers to make us and them whole.


As we prepare to gather at Christ's table. This is not our table. I don't control this table. My charge is to make sure it is available to all who will come. We gather to remember to participate, and to anticipate - quite simply to hope. To have faith, to encounter both that which is visible, and that which is not visible.


(The Great Thanksgiving was sung and Holy Communion was served here)


We are witnesses. We are recipients of God's grace here and now we are members of the body of Christ. Some an ear or a foot or an eye or nose. Together in all of our diversity, we are God's children. Here and now. “Therefore, lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.” God heals. God does not always heal as we would like - in this lifetime. But God heals. God makes whole. God makes all things new. And we are privileged to participate in that work God is doing. Here, in this time and in this place, among these people, thanks be to God. Amen.


1 view

Recent Posts

See All
longs peak headshot.jpg

Hi, thanks for stopping by!

This "blog" page collects my monthly newsletter articles, weekly sermon previews and text summaries and other occasional 

updates. You can subscribe to get an alert whenever there is a new posts and I'd love to respond to questions or topics you'd like to see addressed. 

Let the posts
come to you.

Thanks for submitting!