God Enters In
(This sermon, (at least in conclusion) is largely based on the Sermon Aaron Billard wrote for this Sunday. Due to personal reasons I could not finish my sermon and am grateful for his help.)
Way back in my students days I had a field placement site in was in Ottawa. I worked at Emmanuel United Church, with approximately 600 families. That was the church Wilbur Howard, Lois Wilson, and Anne Squires all left to become Moderators of our church. Anne Squires sat in the pew when I preached there. So did most of the top scientists of the National Research Council. It was a strange place – the average educational level for the congregation was a PhD. And most of those were in science. It was the proverbial ‘tough crowd’.
Every day I hear that faith is dumb; that the church is either hopelessly outmoded, or downright abusive; that God is a made up projection of people who are afraid; and that the values we talk about here are ‘quaint.’
In other traditions this Sunday is sometimes called “Rally Sunday” which in the United Church we call, “I have to go back to church Sunday.”
It has truly got me thinking about why… why we have to, why we should, what we think we are accomplishing, and if all those naysayers and atheists out there are right.
Do you ever read obituaries? A lot of people seem to. It’s funny how they can go both ways … Often, they are cold and sterile, merely listing off the next of kin of the date of the funeral, if there even is one these days. Usually it will mention the person’s love of cards and that they belonged to some club. The other side of that is to endlessly list someone’s accomplishments. Yet once in a while, an obituary appears that is out of the ordinary. One that describes the passion of a person, the people they loved, what they believed in, and how they tried to live their lives. It’s like one last gasp of life to say that “I existed!” before we turn the page.
Presbyterian minister Frederick Buechner, from his book The Yellow Leaves, talks about being in a cemetery and finding the grave of a ten year old boy. On the tombstone was written this:
“Damien Parlor: Child of Light, Bridge in the Universe, So Dearly Loved, Danced in Sunlight, Floated on Moonbeams, Dreamed on Clouds, Laughed Soaring Hawk Song, Cried Brilliant Rainbows, Reached for the Stars, a boy who could pet bees.” (August 1974 – September 1984)
Now that is an obituary I would like on my tombstone. I am nowhere near having earned anything like that. I hope by the time I need it I get a paragraph that speaks to a life lived rather than accomplishments achieved. A bit of writing that shares the core of who we are and what we were trying to do in life.
As I was reading the Gospel this week it occurred to me that it reads a bit like an obituary. It’s what Mark really wants us to remember about Jesus. “Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Moreover, Mark wants us to remember that Jesus is the Messiah, which he has mentioned only once before at the beginning of the Gospel.
Just like many of you, one of my favourite haunts is Chapters. I often go there with no intention to buy anything; rather, just to be among the books. I like the idea of being surrounded by words and people quietly reading in a chair or leaning against a book shelf. Well, to be honest I am addicted to coffee too…
It never ceases to amaze me how many books there are about Jesus. So many authors, so many preachers, teachers, philosophers, theologians, poets, all claiming to have some knowledge of what something really means or some particular insight into Jesus. Yet in the Gospel of Mark, the first of the Gospels to be written down, it says from the beginning: Jesus is the Messiah.
Messiah. Such a word is almost too big in our language and in our tradition as Christians. I suspect if I went around the church this morning and asked what the word meant, we would either be silent or throw our best guesses. I even had to crack open a few tomes before I felt that I should even try to say anything.
Way back in Isaiah’s time there was a lot of talk of a Messiah – the one who would come, the one who would suffer, anointed by God. Throughout scriptures, the Messiah is the one who comes like a roaring lion and an angry wave; in other parts, the messiah is the one who heals, who teaches people to walk, and people sing for joy.
Yet for all we surmise and suspect, for all we guess and grow in our faith along the way, I might argue that we aren’t sure why we call Jesus the Messiah. We aren’t sure that we really even need a Messiah in our lives. So much of who we are and what we do is wrapped up in other things. We forget, sometimes, that we need something to save us from hopelessness; something to save us from fear; something to save us from being blind to injustice; something to save us from loneliness and isolation. And at the end of the day, something to save us from ourselves, and that will mean different things for different people.
What does “Messiah” mean for you?
“If you have doubt in your mind,” writes Barbara Brown Taylor, “then I will tell you the truth. Sometimes I would give anything for one fireball from heaven, for one blast of raw power from a tidal wave God who would sweep my and everyone else’s doubts away forever. But that is not what I have. What I have instead is a steady drip of mercy from the followers of a man named Jesus, who is still playing doctor to a lot of marginal people in the world.” (From the book, The Seeds of Heaven)
Aaron Billard shared a video with me this week on youtube of a shipwreck in the Cayman Islands. A passenger liner was being towed in a storm when it broke free and washed up on shore. The video was of the next 20 years, as the water slowly broke it apart, and ground it into the beach.
There is an amazing scene where you see how the waves have eroded a huge hole across the bottom, wearing everything away at an incredible rate.
Just little waves, Just little drops, but with incredible power.
Time and time again as a minister I am confronted with the doubt of people, or with a refusal to even begin to contemplate the notion of God as being anything more than a caricature in a movie starring Charleton Heston.
Well – this year I want to explore more deeply, and more fundamentally, what it is to have faith in this modern world.
It’s my belief that there is a need within the church for a massive re-orientation of our beliefs. In computer language, it’s time to hit the reset button. A lot of what people fight about an disbelieve, and hold as completely true, could be seen quite differently if it was just framed differently.
And Jesus asks one good question: Who do you say that I am? Not who did your grandfather say Jesus was, not who did your Aunt Helen say Jesus was, not who did your Sunday School teacher say Jesus was, who do YOU say that I am? He asks. It’s a question in the present tense. Who is Jesus for you today in light of the fact that there are no lightning bolts, no thunder, no heaven-sent floods, no big dramatic mass miracles where doubt is cast away.
Here is a quote I read: “Remember how a stone is shaped by water. See that round hole? Water did that. Drop by transparent, short-lived drop, water transforms rock as no tidal wave ever could. For reasons beyond our understanding, that is how the Messiah has decided to come for now – not all at once but steadily, drop by drop, for millennia. Every time someone lives as he lived by loving as he loved, another drop falls. For some people, it is not enough. For others, it is a way of life.” (BBT, The Seeds of Heaven)
Let us hope that it will be enough for us. Let us pray:
Loving God, crack open our hearts so that the drops of your love might find their way through the crevices into our souls. Open us to new experiences of the mystery of that love, and be with us in our lives as we live them in response to you.
10 months ago