Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Living What We Know--Sermon 9/2/12

Living What We Know “Do as I say, not as I do.” Those were the words I muttered to my sixteen-year-old stepdaughter, Brynn, as I asked her to dial a number for me on my cell phone so that I might confirm some arrangements for dinner with Robert while I was driving on I-469 a few weeks ago. “Do as I say, not as I do.” Those were the words I used to explain my point to my five-year-old son, Grayson, when I overheard him use an expletive when he saw that the dachshund had, once again, chosen to use the kitchen floor as her own personal toilet. “Mommy may have used that word, but do as I say [don’t use it], rather than what I do.” “Do as I say, not as I do.” I think as I drive with my children down a city street, past the woman holding the sign asking for food without stopping. “Do as I say (it is our job to help others), not as I do (keep driving).” “Do as I say, not as I do.” Can there be any more hypocritical, any more human statements that can be made? I don’t think so. And parenting seems to shine the magnifying glass onto my life in some profound ways, as I become aware of all those things that I preach, but am not so good at practicing. I’m wondering, perhaps, if any of you have had those experiences as well? Times when we realize that what we are doing is not exactly what we believe. Times when in spite of our best efforts what we project to the world is not what we hold true in our deepest souls. Times when our words are incongruent with our actions. “Do as I say, not as I do.” The scripture this morning is written to those of us who have lived in that tension. The epistle of James is a book of instruction for those of us who need to occasionally be reminded on discipleship, and how we can let our lives speak. This letter was historically understood to be written by James, the brother of Jesus. Modern biblical scholars have begun to doubt that claim, but the fact that the letter had the name “James” on it, indicates that whoever wrote it wanted it to be viewed as spoken from the same voice that the brother of Jesus may have spoken from. It is one of the few epistles that reads like Jewish wisdom writings—like the proverbs, and like ecclesiastes. Eugene Peterson describes James in this way: “Deep and living wisdom is on display here, wisdom both rare and essential. Wisdom is not primarily knowing the truth, although it certainly includes that; it is a skill for living. For, what good is a truth if we don’t know how to live it?” And isn’t this sort of the crux of the issue if we’re Christians? The way in which we live? I mean, of course, what we promise and what we speak in our creedal statements is nice. It provides us with a sense of orthodoxy, a way to believe, but when the rubber meets the road, when it comes down to it, isn’t our faith mostly about the way in which we act? And the way in which we respond to our neighbor? Isn’t it most important that we be more than hearers of the word, but that we be doers as well? The UCC pastor and theologian Robin Meyers, in his book The Underground Church has worked hard at addressing why younger generations are not as enthused about organized religion as their parents and grandparents have been. He writes, “Our kids want deeds, not creeds. They want mission, not musings. They think we talk too much…But they are not dumb. They are wonderful, and they are watching us…Perhaps the time has come to practice a little of the faith we are so fond of talking about?” The words that Rev. Meyers uses are strong, he speaks with a prophetic voice that can be hard to hear, but his words are a warning and truth we need to hear. Our actions matter. And our children are watching. “Do as I say, and not as I do,” will not cut it anymore. It is time, as Christians, for us to act. I read a haunting poem this week which reminded me of some of the temptations we have in the universal church, a poem which drew me in simply because of its honest portrayal of so much of where Christianity can go wrong. The words are these: Listen Christian/ I was hungry/ and You formed a humanities club/ and discussed my hunger./ Thank you. I was imprisoned/ and you crept off quietly/ to your chapel in the cellar/ and prayed for my release./ I was naked/ and in your mind/ you debated the morality of/ my appearance. I was sick/ and you knelt and thanked God/ for your health. I was homeless/ and you preached to me/ of the spiritual shelter of the love of God. I was lonely/ and you left me/ to pray for me./ You seem so holy:/ so close to God./ But I’m still very hungry/ and lonely/ and cold./ Thank you. And so, friends, this morning I ask you, just as I ask myself…What are we going to do? As people who take the Gospel seriously? As people who believe in the truth of the gospel and know our own very real human capacities? What are we going to do? How do we allow our faith to be made real, to put our hands and feet into this world that we hold in our prayers? How can we be doers of the word, and not merely hearers? I know that some pastors might be tempted to give you answers now. Maybe a little three step system. But, you probably know me well enough by now to know that I’m not like most pastors (perhaps to your detriment!). I don’t believe that I can dictate to you the truth of your own hearts. And give you each handy custom made points to follow easily. I don’t think it’s that easy. I can’t name for you the passion and light that calls you as a disciple. It’s not my task to discern for you the mission that God invites you to journey. Instead, I offer you this, I hope to plant this seed, the words of the author Frederick Buechner, to beckon you on: “The place God calls you is to the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” And so, friends, let us each seek out the world’s deep hungers, and find that place where our joy intersects there. Listen to the place where your heart is pulling you to be doers of the word, and then go there. This morning as you receive communion again. I invite you to consider what it means to act as disciples in this world. And this morning recommit yourselves to the ministries to which you are being called. For the world lies before us, and Christ has no body now on earth but our own, we must go forth in love. Amen.

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