Packing God for Your Journey

Transcribed from the sermon preached May 17, 2015

The Reverend Max Lynn, Pastor

Scripture Readings: 1 Timothy 6:6-16, John 17:6-19
In the first years of my ministry with you here at St. John’s Johan, Nick and Anna were part of the original group of little kids, still wet from their baptism, and now they are graduating from high school to move onto college.  A generation of ministry. Every step of the way we have been praying for you, for your parents. And along the way new people have come along, and they join in those prayers for you.  We have rooted for you, and we will keep rooting for you wherever you go.  John has Jesus praying for the faithful, “I am asking on their behalf, I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.  All mine are yours and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.” Jesus is glorified in you. We pray you will take what you have learned here at St. Johns and learn more than your elders, and change the world for good in ways we couldn’t or wouldn’t.  Even as you leave some things behind, I pray you take and hold a few things too.

Now as you go out into the world, I hope and pray you will take Jesus with you, and remember we are with you too. As you go onto the university you will be taught by many who are critical of the Church and faith in God.  You may hear these critiques from scientists or historians, from feminists and others, and it may seem to them that you can only be one or the other.  But I hope you will remember that scientists, historians and feminists around St. John’s consider all truth God’s truth.  Remember that most of the great universities in this nation were established by the Church with the assumption that God gave us minds, and that She intends for us to use them.

I can’t tell you how often people say, “I don’t believe in a great white guy in the sky.”  But I hope after your years here at St. John’s you don’t feel the need to create a God worthy of not believing in.  Feel free to use the word God or not, but don’t hold onto your definition too tightly, not in your belief or disbelief.  On the other hand, I hope you have eyes to see there is something more to this world than meets the eye; the sum of what exists is greater than all its parts. And in some mysterious way this force is personal and loving. Most especially, I hope and pray that you have the humility to journey with the grace of God.  You need it now and you will need it your whole lives.  And the best way to take grace with you on your journey is to walk with Jesus.

Despite all the horrible things done by the church down through history, despite patriarchal theology and racism and colonialism done by people who said they were Jesus followers, despite the people today who seem to want to go backwards and deny gays a seat at the lunch counters, and outlaw science if it contradicts the love of money, and wed the nation with their version of Christianity, white Jesus with a gun, I hope and pray you have learned better here at St. John’s.

Someone said our faith tradition and community can be like a bird cage or a bird bath. In a bird cage approach the emphasis is on boundaries.  You are either in or out of it.  Presumably inside laid safety and nourishment, and outside wilderness and danger.  This view leads to witch hunts and fear of those different, immigrants, people of different colors or religions.

A bird bath approach also has boundaries or the water would trickle away.  But the attention is not on the boundaries.  It is on the nourishing water of life.

Don’t let those bird cage folks take your Jesus.  Remember that down through history there has always been a remnant within the Church, within Israel, speaking truth, calling for freedom, justice, equality, living in love, changing the world.  I hope you have learned here that God isn’t just locked inside the Church or in peaceful solitude of the mountain retreat. God is here in the wonder of creation, and it is strongly recommended by God that we take a Sabbath break.  But God is also found in the struggle to be life affirming in the face of evil and death. Fight the good fight says the author of Timothy. Dan Migliore, Professor of theology at Princeton writes his book Faith Seeking Understanding, “The love of God the Creator and Provider is at work not only where life is sustained and enhanced but also where all that jeopardizes life and its fulfillment is resisted and set under judgment…It works both in our patience and our impatience and courageous resistance to evil.”

I hope you have learned that it is possible and necessary to be critical of our nation and other nations and still desire their good. And the same goes for the Church and your minister.  Have the faith and integrity to think for yourselves, like Jesus, who like the prophets of Hebrew scripture, was critical of Israel because he loved her.  Beware of the mob; small or large mobs can suck you into dangerous and harmful thoughts and actions.  Watch out for collective fear and the desire to be popular or fit in with the crowd. But also be aware that in our society, the love of money drives individualism. Not only were you created to be unique, but also to make a unique contribution to community.  Community requires some commitment and some compromise.  And in this individualistic society, part of thinking for yourself will be choosing to be a part of a group, to hold in common shared goals and beliefs.

The preacher Fred Craddock tells a story of a little boy who was carried on his father’s shoulders into a country store.  The man behind the counter said to the little boy, “My, aren’t you tall today?” And the little boy replied sheepishly, “Well, it isn’t all me.”  There is a lot of truth in those simple words spoken by a child.  Who we are and what we accomplish and think is never all our own doing.  We are boosted up by those who have come before.

In postmodern culture it is popular to look at the past, especially the past of Western Christian civilization and criticize it.  And as we have noted, criticism, especially self- criticism is important and necessary. We can critique the bible and respect it and hold it dear. We can acknowledge that the author of Timothy pulled back from the radical message of the Gospel of Jesus.  Slaves and women found the freedom in Christ and it started to ruffle some feathers. So Paul pulled them back. But we also get great teachings like his warning against the love of money and we get great encouragement of faith.  We ought to note that the founding Fathers of this nation were not perfect, that they held slaves and limited voting rights to landowning white men.  They moved us along, but it is still up to us to live up to the true meaning of our creed, that all people are created equal.

The Confusion I- Ching or book of changes notes that the “Object of a great revolution is the attainment of clarified, secure conditions ensuring a general stabilization on the basis of what is possible at the moment.”  What is possible in one generation is different from what is possible in another.  But what makes it possible is usually brave young men and women willing to risk what previous generations were not.  One step at a time.

In honoring the bible, our elders and our tradition we do not promise to keep the world and ourselves just like them, but we hope to invoke a similar courage they brought to the challenges of their day to further the cause of God and humans in our day.  And even as we strive to move beyond them, beyond their ignorance and faults toward a more just, prosperous and peaceful world, we do so with humility. Because a hundred, two hundred or a thousand years from now, people will surely look back at us and see our blind spots, where we compromised when we should have stayed strong, were we were stubborn when we should have been flexible, where we were ignorant when we thought we were smart, where we were wimpy when we should have been courageous.  In humility we will have eyes for grace, and in grace we are forgive and empowered to be born again, to move forward toward eternity with the power of God.
[11] But as for you, man and woman of God, shun all this; aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.
[12] Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.