Transcribed from the sermon preached March 22, 2015
The Reverend Max Lynn, Pastor
Scripture Readings: John 10: 1-11. Rom.15:1-13
I am taking Lent in a slightly different direction. Usually Lent is a time when we recognize our sin, which contributes to structures and events, which lead Christ to the cross. In our attempt to recognize our sin we criticize, we name sin and denounce it. We protest against it. We feel bad about it. It is part of works self-righteousness for Protestants to acknowledge our sin. That is we may feel we are better than others because we feel bad about our sin. So in a strange absurd way it may seem to some of us that feeling bad is good. But what if one of our sins is being too critical and negative? What if one of our sins is disunity and disharmony? It can be important to point out all the things, which demonstrate or keep us from the peaceful and harmonious Kingdom of God. But at some point we would have to live the Kingdom, live peaceful and harmonious lives. So pointing out and living into those good things is at least as important to the Christian life. Following God and loving our neighbor, being a Christian lead us to rejoice and be joyful. It leads us to harmony and unity.
Fasting is often something we do for Lent. We give up something. Why? We do this for a number of reasons. First, we show that we are free in Christ from the desires of this world. Second, maybe it is something that is not altogether good for us. It may be an act of contrition. Third, we want to show that we can suffer, go without, and be disciplined on behalf of God.
One of my strong points is that I always see other points of view. The weakness of such a strength is that I can be indecisive and I always have a “yeah but” to add. This is great, but watch out for this danger of that great thing. I am doing it now. I am pointing out a strength of mine and admitting yeah but it has a weakness.
So today, in this sermon, I am attempting something for the first time; from this point to the end of my sermon I am fasting from criticism and omitting any yeah buts. Or maybe I should say, all my yeah buts will be moving toward some good news.
The Internet, an amazing invention, is full of videos of amazing human stunts. There has definitely been a revolution with the X Games, which evolved from surfing to skating, to snowboarding, to motor cycles, and bicycles, from skydiving to flying in squirrel suits to a hundred other crazy sports where people do seemingly impossible things. I saw a guy in a wheel chair going down one of those giant skate ramps and do a back flip while flying a 100 feet through the air. Awesome. It has been a revolution, but it wasn’t the beginning of crazy human stunts. I suspect there has always been a cutting edge sport that was considered the X games of its day: ice skating or gymnastics, pole vaulting, the rodeo, and how long has the circus been around? If trapeze and lion taming aren’t X games, I don’t know what are. The Aztecs practiced the sport or ritual of voladores, or flyers, where guys’ feet are tied to a long rope and they spin around a pole upside down. I wonder, too, how long people have been really good at rock climbing? If you have ever seen rock climbing up close and then tried it, you know that humans do things that are simply unimaginable? But then they imagine it, practice it over and over and it is done. Wow.
Then there are all the dance videos and all the music that goes with it. There is Bach and Bianca and Billy Holiday, Beethoven and Etta James, Mozart and Miles Davis. All the earphones and hundreds of billions in profit for Apple testify that people love music. There seems to be an incredible capacity for ingenuity and flexibility in the human mind. Each of hundreds of cultures has its own music and dance, its own fashion and food, and so much of it is good and beautiful. And then there are the people themselves who have been shaped by their environment and culture. I am fascinated and amazed at the diversity and beauty of the human race, especially the female half. And some of you have babies; talk about X games.
Now wild and crazy sports, music and art are just the most titillating and visually stunning but then imagine the capacity of the human mind. I mean, isn’t it wonderful that there are people in the world smarter than us? Socrates, Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Steven Hawking. And the thing that boggles my mind about the mind is that it is not limited by the body. All the amazing physical human stunts we see are in the end limited by what the human body can do. While the brain is part of the body, the imagination is not. And while a few geniuses become famous, millions more go about their lives solving incredibly difficult problems and inventing incredibly amazing things in relative anonymity. A company can work with amazing teamwork to get stuff done. We hardly consider the fact that thousands of times a day 300 or so people cram themselves into a tin can with wings and fly across the world.
Lately I have been especially thankful for the less glamorous positive things in our lives. I am extremely grateful that I live in a country where most business people are honest most of the time. If you make a contract with someone, they are likely to honor it. You wake up in the morning and go to work intending to do the best job you can. And most of us like work. Sure there are hard parts about it and we wish we had more time for leisure, but if you have a job, virtually any job, you are a lucky person. And that goes for retired people as well. Sure if you can afford it you take your vacations, pick up hobbies just for fun, but most of the retired people I know are helping out somehow and someway. It feels good to work. This church runs on the good will and good work of you all. It feels good to work hard. We want and need to make enough money to live, but most of the time, regardless of how much we make, it feels good to work. It feels good to be honest and trustworthy. It feels good to agree to do something and then do it. Work gives us purpose. Work is not the only thing that gives us purpose, but it is a big thing. We can rejoice for work.
It is a blessing that in capitalism, so the saying goes, the customer rules. If you provide a service and people like it, you do well. That is a good thing. Most of us, most of the time, like to please others. Most of the time, most people are kind and try to be equitable and just. We want to get something, but we don’t mind giving to get. In general, most of the time we enjoy serving others. It is nice to get something for nothing, but most of us prefer a fair trade.
If there is any excellence, think about these things. It feels good to be tired at the end of the day and go to sleep. It feels good to sleep. How excellent is sleep? Isn’t it fascinating that simply by lying down and closing our eyes, we get a battery recharge? We don’t even have to plug in. We just go into sleep mode and wake up ready to go again. I love the look of my wife when she wakes up in the morning. No makeup, just a good night’s rest and a smile. Lovely. I love those times when for some reason you are woken up and you get to go back to sleep. Teenagers are the best at this; they can really enjoy sleep. Scientists say they need 10 hours, and they will take it. We rejoice in sleep.
We have all the great inventions that help us with sport, art, music, and business, the technology that lights and moves us, but isn’t sleep, stillness, silence, solitude and darkness pretty special in its own right? That is what the Sabbath is all about. It is not just a day of rest for entertainment, but a time to unplug, and let others unplug so that we might hear the still small voice of God.
We do have to eat and drink. And that is great too! Just think about water for a moment, regular plain water. Drink a glass and it makes you feel good. If we are sweaty and dirty, we pour it over us and scrub, and voila, we are clean and refreshed. Why is water beautiful to us? Why does it soothe and excite us so much? I may not know why, but I like it. I thank God for water.
As humans we need water, food, work and sleep, and sex is nice, but more than that we need intimacy and community. Someone kind, nurturing, positive and encouraging in a child’s life will make a world of difference, regardless of their intelligence. We think of mothers and fathers first, but sometimes it is a sibling or aunt, a math or music teacher, or a minister. Being tucked into bed, safe and warm. Being taught to read or ride a bike. Riding on shoulders, being held in loving arms. Gratitude and excitement in our presence, or at a gift from our being. My friend Roger Crawford who has two fingers on one arm and one on the other, yet became a pro tennis player tells the story of being ashamed when the teacher asked the class to do hand prints. But his parents put the picture in the most prestigious art gallery in the world – the Crawford refrigerator. A little love will go a long way. It is essential, the most important thing in life, if life is to be worth living. Love is both simple and easy, and complex and difficult. Virtually everyone can love, and we all need help to be more loving. Love is nurtured in harmony and community with others.
The geniuses of love are even less likely to get recognized than geniuses of business and science and art. In fact the greatest genius of love was crucified. Jesus, the Einstein of love, the one so connected to the God of love that they are one. The body can do amazing things. The mind can use reason, intuition and imagination to reach heights the body cannot. Yet love is beyond this world. With its power the unforgivable is forgiven, the forgiven are transformed and reborn, the lost are found, the blind see, and hell is liberated. The body can do flips and dance, write and sing, the reason of genius cures disease and flies to the moon, but love gives purpose and direction to our body and mind, love finds a way out of no way, love raises life from death.
Love is a simple thing, and it is everywhere, yet we hunger and thirst for it. And so we join together in unity, in harmony around this most simple and complex, abundant and scarce commodity we call love. We take the time to slow down and refocus, to check and correct our direction, to envision the future with the compass of love who is Christ. How excellent and beautiful and powerful is this simple man, our shepherd, so united with God? I give thanks that I am able to join together with you and give thanks and praise to God.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. May the God of Steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another in accord with Christ Jesus that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ