Sacred Soil

At Wisdom’s Table
August 15, 2012, 9:40 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The truth is, I was never a very good student. Sure, I got adequate grades and I have pretty good skills in the art of filling in bubbles with my number 2 pencil. But, I was never a “good” student. Ms. Bujanski, in 10th grade can attest to that. I used to sit in the back row with my geometry text book, seeking out all the little triangles in the book—because one of our lessons had declared that such an activity would be helpful to my learning. Everyday I’d announce the new total. Ms. Bujanski told me I wasn’t cute.

She was right. I was annoying. Bored might be more accurate, but in a 10th grader, bored and annoying might as well be the same thing.

It’s also true, though, that I loved geometry. Proofs were my favorite. Indeed, I think I fell in love for the first time when my love of proofs was echoed by a young woman sitting across the circle from me in youth group. But that is a story for another time…  Geometry was cool in all its predictive glory, its symmetry and well-reasoned rules. I liked it, and it made sense—and so when homework assignments insulted my intelligence, well… I got a bit surly. Geometry, you are beautiful and wise; textbook, show some respect.

Now, I have learned how to behave myself (mostly), so as to I avoid the ire of the Ms. Bujanksi’s of the world.  But, I’m still not a “good” student. At least not at my core. Most of the time, I’m sitting in the back wishing for a real conversation. A moment to explore the intricacies of thoughts and ideas; a moment to hear the wisdom that sits around the table. A moment to get to the heart of things that matter and make real change. A moment for the expert to sit down, and stop talking.

When I dove into the world of theology and God talk, things didn’t get any better. Though ostensibly, they should have. It made sense that I should listen to Ms. Bujanski regarding geometry, because she was an expert (as far as that goes). I was not. But, when it comes to the ways of God, well, I’m not so sure any of us can claim expert status. Indeed, I’m more and more convinced that we don’t really have much of a clue about God; we’re all fumbling in the Light, seeking to understand. None of us can claim to really “get” God. Though, there seems to be no shortage of folks claiming expert status.

I think that I shall call this idolatry. I know, it’s a harsh word—idolatry being one of those used in the 10 commandments. You know the list: those things you shouldn’t do. But, if I’m honest, I feel that strongly about it. Perhaps more, if that were possible. I get pretty blisteringly mad at the arrogance of experts who claim they’ve got a handle on God, and that they’d like to teach me. On my good days, this brings out the 10th grader in me all over again. On my bad days, I don the rigid flame-throwing eyes my mother passed on to me—and I feel a certain kinship with John the baptizer hollering: you brood of vipers!

Though, I am now a polite person, so I merely mutter these things under my breath, or write them down on my notepad.

Here’s why I think it’s idolatry. There’s this lovely, and long, and complicated passage in John about how Jesus is the bread of Life. He says in numerous ways: I am the bread of Life. Over and over again—and despite all his attempts, the folks just don’t get it.  I’m reminded of my attempts to explain rain to my 3 year-old. This passage comes just after Jesus has fed 5,000 people in an extraordinary way. And their curiosity is piqued. Imagine, if you could get a handle on that kind of power. You’d never have to buy bread again. It’d be like winning the lottery. No more worries about how you’ll eat—you’ll just snap your fingers and poof: tuna fish sandwiches.

I’d follow him too.

But Jesus says no, you don’t get it. At all. This isn’t some technical solution to get food in your belly every day. Follow me, and you’ll have the Life of God within you. Living in you. And that’ll give you the capacity to adapt to all sorts of things, especially when a group of you get together and share that Life (that Light) together.

And it’s beautiful. Though, admittedly at times weird. That whole “eating my flesh and blood” part of John can be gruesome if taken the wrong way. But, even that’s beautiful because it’s so incarnational, so loving once you work it through. I am constantly amazed at how extraordinary it is that our God would choose to dwell in each of us.

So extraordinary, indeed, that we choose not to believe it. So extraordinary that we doubt it, mistrust it. And so, we look to experts to explain it, give us a handle on it.

And unfortunately, there are just enough folks out there who really love being the expert (sadly, I’m guilty of this too). It’s a nice ego boost. It’s payback for filling in those scantrons well, for those late nights with Augustine. It’s a fun opportunity to expound on the meaning of scripture and the will of God, while people listen with rapt attention for that word that will explain everything, searching for that winning lottery ticket.

And it’s idolatry. Idolatry to think you’re an expert, and idolatry to look to an expert and deny the Little Christ that is within you already.

It’s idolatry because God’s the expert. God’s the only one who really gets it, and when we look to ourselves or others as if they were God… well that’s the best definition of idolatry I know.

Indeed, Wisdom has set her table, lavishly adorning it with bread and wine, and she has invited us all, especially the simple (Proverbs 9:1-6). We are all invited to eat at this table of Wisdom, that we might live and walk in the way of insight. All of us.

Now, I think it’s pretty important to notice what’s not in this image. Most notably: Ms. Bujanski is not standing at the head of the table—lest she was the incarnation of Wisdom herself. And I doubt that. A lot. No, Wisdom is the expert here, that is, God. And we’re all invited together, to sit around together and feast at her table. Again, all of us.

And since we know that Christ lives within us, it seems to me the best way to invite Wisdom to the expert chair in our day is to share that Christ together, respecting that we all are Little Christs. Truth is, I’m pretty certain that the wisdom of God will only come through when we’re all sharing together—challenging each other, asking hard questions, seeking together. Together, at the table. Wisdom’s table.

Now, lest I sound like an anti-intellectual, let me be clear, I’m not. Remember, I love geometry. I’m a bit of a nerd. Intellectual inquiry is important, and has its place at this table—but there are other ways of knowing, other ways of experiencing God. As many different ways as there are people at this table, as there have ever been people at this table. That God of ours is awfully creative.

My frustration is really about those intellectuals that presume they are experts, that somehow they know more about God than the rest of us. Because I think the truth is that none of us know. We’re all trying to figure it out together. All of us fumbling in the light, as little Christs, seeking God in our midst.

And so selfishly, I’m wishing that all those experts would sit down. Stop talking. And give us a little time a moment for a real conversation. A moment to explore the intricacies of our thoughts and ideas together; a moment to hear the wisdom that sits around the table. A moment to ask hard questions of each other. A moment to get to the heart of things that matter and make real change.

More on that real change later…

Welcome to New Life
August 12, 2012, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

August 12, 2012
Time after Pentecost – Lectionary 19

1 Kings 19:4-8
Psalm 34:1-8
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

Maggie, today is an extraordinary day. A blessed day. Today, we get to welcome your family as new members here, and we’re excited about that. But, even more so, we get to baptize you, to welcome you into the family of God. We get to claim you as our sister in Christ. And that is a truly extraordinary thing.

This is a lovely bunch of people, this family of God. Though, we want to be sure you know we’re not perfect. We here are just a small representative sample. There are lots more of us out there in the world. And just like family, some of us are a bit odd, some are a little overbearing, and some are unexpectedly kind.

And the truth is, we can’t wait to discover God’s gifts in you. To join with you on your journey, to walk with you, and have you walk with us, as we try to figure out what it really means to be like Christ in the world. We can’t wait to add your wisdom to the mix.

Our text from Ephesians today is actually quite lovely in this regard. Reminding us of a few things that are important about being followers of Christ—being part of this family.

First, this God family thing– it is not about being nice.

And that’s a good thing, because the truth is: some of us aren’t very nice. At least not nice in syrupy sweet, cover-up the messiness of life sort of way. Certainly, we’re mostly a kind bunch, but nice—well we’re not that into hiding the truth just to make people feel good. There are lots of stories we can tell you about this—like the time we all realized the truth that our three little churches couldn’t make it alone. We didn’t really want to hear it, because it was painful. But, facing that truth, we were able to come together and form Unity, this little church, which you get to call home. It was a messy truth. But God was there in the midst of it. We hope, that as you grow up, you’ll speak the truth to us too. That you’ll know this is a safe place to do that. And we promise, we’ll do our best to speak the truth to you too.

And second, well, there will be times you get angry. We can take it.

In fact, we need to take it. If you’re angry, let it out, let us know. Let it out. You matter to us, and we want to work with you to make things right. We hope you’ll stick with us in that too.
And the thing is, there are a lot of things that should make you angry. There are lots of things that make us angry—because there’s injustice everywhere. All over the place.

We’re angry that homelessness is an ever growing problem,
we’re angry that “religion” has been used to exclude folks,
we’re angry that there are folks that are hungry.

Part of this being a family thing, well, that means working together to figure out the things that make us angry, to right the injustices.

And third, the writer of Ephesians reminds us to keep it kind. We mess this one up all the time (but more on that later). But we know that at our best, we work together, to build each other up, because this Christ emulating thing, though it’s really an honor, it’s also hard work. And the temptation is to let our anger, our frustration, our need to speak the truth… well the temptation is to use that to tear each other apart, to look at the other with contempt. But, really, this work takes a lot of grace, a lot of forgiveness.

But these folks, well, they’re pretty good at telling the truth, and getting angry without getting mean. They can tell you lots of stories about how, through the consolidation of the churches, there were times when they had to say pretty hard things. But they did their best, to do it kindly, honoring the other person.

Here’s the thing though—sometimes the going does get tough. Life, for all its joyous exuberant moments (like this one), also has its awful times. That’s just reality. There are a few of us here who know that reality too well. Way too well.

We mess up. Sometimes we forget that we’re part of this family. And sometimes, the way forward just seems too hard.

Elijah knew that well. Our Old Testament text actually comes just after an extraordinary moment, where God’s power overwhelmed everyone. You see, the prophets of Baal, a false God, attempted to build a fire and prepare a sacrifice to their God. And our God, not to be out done, has Elijah pour 12 jars of water over the wood and the bull and the altar. So much that water poured everywhere, filling the trench Elijah had dug around the altar. And then, Elijah calls to God to make God’s self known. And so God does—sending a fire from the heavens that obliterates the bull, the altar, the wood, and the water. It’s pretty astounding. After that, no one doubts that God is God, and Baal… well… nothing.

Anyway, this act displeases the King’s wife. A lot. And so she wants to have Elijah killed. And even though Elijah knows God is powerful, and good, and kind… well… the threat feels like too much. And he is too broken to go on.

We all have days like that.
Unfortunately, some of us more than others. That too is just part of being in this family. Some days are terrible. We get angry, and there’s no way to resolve things before sundown. We lack the courage to speak the truth. And we say things that are unkind. Some days, we are too afraid. Too tired.
You’ll have days like that too.

But here’s the thing we know—our God will always welcome us home. Will always lift us up. Will always claim us. Will always love us. No matter what.

For Elijah, that meant finding a solitary broom tree, a shrub, which provided shelter. And the touch of an angel, a messenger from God, who reminded him to eat, who brought him food. And through this he had the strength to carry on—to continue in the work God had called him to do.

It might be a bit corny to say it, but we’re here to be your broom tree. To be your shrub. To be a shelter and a place where angels can tap you on the shoulder and say: Get up. You can do it. And we know that you’ll be that for us too. Indeed, you already are.

But the thing is, this thing we do today, this baptism, isn’t something just to welcome you into the family. No. It’s something far larger than that. We could do that with a simple hand shake.

No, today, in this ordinary water, the power of death will be destroyed. And new life will grow inside you in unexpected ways. In this ordinary water, God’s gracious and unconditional love is poured out. The love that is more powerful than death. More powerful than all the evil in this world; more powerful than all our fear, our unkindness, our failures. In this ordinary water, Maggie, you will be claimed as God’s own beloved child.

And that, Maggie, why we’re celebrating today. Welcoming you as our sister. We’ve been through these waters too—and we know what it’s like to be loved by such an amazing God. We know what it’s like to fail miserably, and we know what it’s like to have an angel touch us on the shoulder and remind us, we can do it. And many of us know what it means to look squarely at death, and to know that our God is yet more powerful. We can’t wait to be family with you, and to learn of all the gifts God has given you.