Sermon for May 10, 2020 -- "Picking Up the Pieces"

WE LISTEN TO GOD’S WORD

 

GOSPEL READING John 14:1-14 (CEB)

 

“Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. You know the way to the place I’m going.”

 

Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

 

Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you have really known me, you will also know the Father. From now on you know him and have seen him.”

 

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father; that will be enough for us.”

 

Jesus replied, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you all this time? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I have spoken to you I don’t speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me does his works. Trust me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on account of the works themselves. I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask for in my name, so that the Father can be glorified in the Son. When you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.

 

The Gospel of the Lord. Thanks be to God!

 

 

EPISTLE READING 1 Peter 2:2-10

 

Instead, like a newborn baby, desire the pure milk of the word. Nourished by it, you will grow into salvation, since you have tasted that the Lord is good.

 

Now you are coming to him as to a living stone. Even though this stone was rejected by humans, from God’s perspective it is chosen, valuable. You yourselves are being built like living stones into a spiritual temple. You are being made into a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Thus it is written in scripture, Look! I am laying a cornerstone in Zion, chosen, valuable. The person who believes in him will never be shamed. So God honors you who believe. For those who refuse to believe, though, the stone the builders tossed aside has become the capstone. This is a stone that makes people stumble and a rock that makes them fall. Because they refuse to believe in the word, they stumble. Indeed, this is the end to which they were appointed. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession. You have become this people so that you may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. Once you weren’t a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you hadn’t received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

 

 

SERMON “Picking Up the Pieces” Pastor Bill Dow

 

When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the ten commandments, he encountered a full-blown orgy around the image of a golden bull calf. The people had grown weary of rules and had taken matters into their own hands, hands that longed for the good old days, days where the future seemed less murky, and even though they were slaves and the death toll was high, it was better, in their opinion, than wandering around in a wilderness of hardship. 

Moses went into a rage. He had been working with God on a cure that would establish the identity of Israel and enable them to enter the promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey. In his rage, he smashed the tablets containing the rules that would help the people move into a life of good health and prosperity. Jewish tradition maintains that Moses broke the tablets into 613 pieces and that each piece became an individual rule. Ten rules became 613 rules known as Mitzvot. I have a copy if you’re interested.

Those who are hell-bent on returning to a pre-virus lifestyle, those who are so willing to write off the deaths of someone other than themselves or a loved one should pay close attention. You are messin’ with God’s own beloved children. The milk and honey you desire is at the expense of another. That is NOT God’s way.

The first followers of Jesus were not known as Christians. That came later. They were known as “People of the Way.” Jesus says to his disciples, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” We have been arguing over what that means for over 2,000 years. Does that mean anything goes? Absolutely not!

It means that God’s ways move beyond our ways, yet God equips us and encourages us to follow Jesus into life…abundant life…life that moves beyond death…resurrection…jubilee.

The writer of 1 Peter is attempting to give the people of the Way an identity that will help them navigate a hostile world. They are minorities and not much has changed for minorities over the years. 

Our Epistle reading today starts with the reference to milk. El Shaddai is an ancient name for God that can be interpreted in many ways: God of the Mountain, All Sufficient One, Almighty God, God of Enough, Nurturing God. You see, Shad is an ancient word for breast. El Shaddai is clearly a feminine naming of God. And that brings us to Mother’s Day.

My mother was a character. At the age of fourteen, her mother, appropriately named Martha, informed her that she was the new church organist. Those piano lessons were not going to waste! In high school she was given the nickname “Gus” which followed her for the rest of her life. Gusto! It’s how she lived. In 1944 she was chosen as the homecoming queen but didn’t have a date to the dance. She went without. Guys liked her though. If their cars broke down, she knew how to drive her father’s wrecker, double clutch and everything. And like so many after World War Two, she married and produced three children with my father.

Many believe that nursing an infant is something that comes naturally to a mother. I’m probably the least qualified to say anything about it. But I know that “Gus” was not a natural when it came to nursing. It was not an easy time for mother or for baby. The doctor suggested drinking beer. That seemed to help some. But like so many times, expectations are much higher than reality.

Our family fell apart in 1958. My father had an affair with the high school English teacher that resulted in a pregnancy. She was immediately fired and they both left town. 

What do you do? What do you do when covenant is broken? Trust is shattered. Judgement is rampant.

Like so long ago at the base of Mount Sinai, you pick up the pieces. You examine them for what went wrong. And then you look around for some glue.

The glue for my mother was a year spent at Knox College. I’ll pause here and wait for the applause to die down (it’s a Presbyterian church where this sermon is being delivered). She studied business administration. But after a year, they sent her home with a note to her parents saying that she was not serious enough about her studies to be enrolled at Knox (boy, the alumni association missed a golden opportunity there). But she took that little bit of education and parlayed it into an office manager position at Illinois Bell Telephone, developing a lifelong network of friends and associates.

After the divorce, she and her three wonderful children moved back in with her parents. Great Granny Buck also lived there. We were four generations living under one roof. At times it was a challenge for everyone. My mother had curfew and rules about dating again. We had strict rules about chores and behavior. It was a Methodist version of Mitzvot. We worked it out as best we could with my grandmother as Moses.

Mom dated a few men. My grandmother worked extra hard luring prospective husbands into proximity. Anytime I hear “Clare de Lune,” I smile and remember those prospects sitting at attention in the front room as my mother played the baby grand piano under the close supervision of my grandmother.

This story goes on for much longer than we have today. My mother faced many more challenges in her life. One more was that both her parents died of cancer in the summer of 1969, thirty days apart. She was the named executor and it was the source of great stress with her sisters. The point I would make is that throughout all the events of her life, on Sunday morning she was on the bench of that organ in the church. Once, during a particularly difficult time with broken pieces all over the place, I remember tears splashing on the keys of that organ as she played.

The writer of 1 Peter shifts metaphors from nurturing milk to the stone of faith that builds a temple. Of course, the reference is to Jesus, the cornerstone of the faith. The purpose is to establish and maintain identity for the people of the Way, a group persecuted by a world that seems to find pleasure in tipping things over. 

The time of trial is a time for deep listening. There’s a voice that whispers from the cornerstone of the faith, offering counsel and encouragement, pointing to glue available for the challenge to be faced. We are God’s people. That’s not an invitation to arrogance. It’s a reminder that ownership is God’s. We belong to God. 

The good news is that God is the source and presence of perfect love. The Way to life is made available to all who would choose life. Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” By His example, we discover that all the rules of Mitzvot are covered by love for God and neighbor. The punitive system of justice that we desperately cling to is re-addressed with grace.

Churches today are entering conversations about physically gathering again within the harsh reality of COVID-19. It’s speculated that the handshake and the passing of the peace are dead. Wherever possible there is to be one-way traffic for entering and exiting the facility. Worshipers are to be greeted by a masked usher who will seat them with appropriate spacing, starting at the front of the church and working towards the back. At the end of worship, ushers will dismiss and escort working from the back to the front. No hymnals. No bulletins. Projection systems to be the norm. No food. No coffee. No singing! No passing of the offering plate! Holy Communion to be pre-packaged at the place of designated seating. 

This is a time for deep listening. Today is Holy Communion like we’ve never done before. The gathering might be virtual, but the elements are real. The presence of Christ, the cornerstone of the faith, is not confined by a tomb, nor a pandemic. The Church is not broken. The pieces have only been rearranged. The Holy Spirit remains as the inspiration that continues to shed light on the Way that leads to life.

Many, if not most of our mothers have passed into the eternal church triumphant. Today as in all days, the bread and the cup unites us with the Communion of the Saints, the glue that reminds us of where we come from and helps us to understand our call from darkness into amazing light. In Christ, brokenness is restored to wholeness. There is good reason to live into hope.

Thanks be to God!

 

 

 

 
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