Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sermon for May 25, 2008

What is Freedom
Romans 6:15-23; Romans 8:1-17

On Memorial Day, we are often asked to reflect on the highest of all American values: freedom. The foundation of our country was built on the sacrifices of men and women who were willing to lay down their lives for the sake of freedom. For instance, here are some little known histories of some the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence.
· Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts and died in rags.
· Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.
· At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr., noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. He quietly urged General George Washington to open fire. Nelson’s home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.
· Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months.
· John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later he died from exhaustion and a broken heart.
· In addition, five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died, and nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War.


The price of freedom is often death. I don’t think we understand this as a culture anymore. We talk a lot about freedom. But our modern notion of freedom is not the same as that of our founders, or that of men and women who died to protect our freedom. For many people today, freedom means doing whatever you want, whenever you want, with no negative consequences. “Do your own thing,” has become the American moral norm. “Do your own thing” is a caricature of our country’s core value of a common wealth. Promoting the common good is necessary for individual well being. Citizens bring together their common wealth in order to build infrastructure that benefits everyone. However, in the new morality of freedom, the first commandment is, “Do whatever pleases you.”

Our culture’s second commandment is, “Thou shalt not be judgmental.” We are free to speak, protest, and assemble – until someone is offended. We are told that if another person’s feelings are hurt by our words, we are inhibiting that person’s ability to do whatever he or she pleases. Americans are empathetic people. Empathy involves connecting with all people, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. Empathy leads to an ethic of diversity in our communities, schools, and workplaces. Diversity fosters communities and creates a range of opportunities for citizens to lead fulfilling lives. Americans act on empathy in order to protect others from harm and empower them to seek fulfillment. So we have these twin core values: empathy and responsibility. The new commandment turns these twin values on their heads. It says, “Everyone is free and equal. Therefore, we will protect our rights by never offending another.” Hurt feelings become the expression of trampled rights. We will legislate to make sure no one gets hurt.

So, for instance, if you are a student in some certain colleges or universities across the country, and you want to speak against the administration’s policies, you may only voice your protest or demonstrate in designated areas far removed from those who would see or hear you. The rest of the campus is an Orwellian “free speech zone.” In the free speech zone, you may say and do whatever you like without worrying about someone judging you and hurting your feelings. Students have been punished for simply handing our leaflets in these so called free speech zones. Is this freedom or tyranny?

If you want to protest the Word trade Organization, or make opposition known at a major political event, you may be ushered to a protest area a mile or two away from the actual event. You will be penned up and monitored by police as your protests are ignored. You are free to speak, as long as you don’t criticize those in power. Is this freedom or slavery? Go ahead and just try to be absolutely free for a while. Put the modern slogans of freedom into practice. Do your own thing! You may realize that you are not truly free at all. Some argue that our new morality of freedom is actually a deceptive by-product from a corporate consumptive system that is really enslaving its people 8 hours a day so they can go out and buy a few token luxury items. The western corporate slaves are only let loose on evenings and weekends to pursue the freedom to gratify their own ambitions, whether it be “party animalism,” consumerism, or whatever other form of popular hedonism. It’s just a new form of slavery with a greater choice of comsumptive goods -- a 9 to 5 job without any real security. Is this freedom or slavery? Is this the kind of freedom previous generations died to give us?

What most people seem to long for, the absolute freedom to do whatever they please without negative consequences is a foolish illusion. Such a freedom is impossible in the physical world. One is not free to jump off a skyscraper without becoming a pancake. The idea of free love proved not to be free at all. The price included unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, and shattered relationships. Kill some one and see how long it takes to get caught and imprisoned. Absolute freedom is virtually impossible in the narrow sense of the word. So it is that Paul tells us that absolute freedom to do whatever you please is not an option in one’s relationship with God.

How often do we say in our hearts, “I know this is wrong, but God will forgive me.” Or, “I know this is wrong, but I’m going to do it anyway. It’s a free country.” To such self-justification Paul loudly exclaims, “No, you do not have that freedom.” When we choose to sin, we are not acting as free beings. We offer ourselves as slaves to sin. We do not have the choice of freedom or slavery; we only have the choice of who will be our master, the sinful nature or God.

When we choose to sin it often feels like such a free choice, usually because it goes against tradition or rules and regulations. Sin is never a free choice made in a vacuum. Sin is an addicting reality that deceives and then captures us. If we choose to sin, we choose to be obedient servants of sin. Sin is a ruthless taskmaster that will drive us to a merciless death. The only other choice, Paul tells us, is to offer ourselves as servants to another master. The freedom that the Bible describes is not an open invitation to do whatever we want whenever we want. Biblical freedom is a matter of changing masters. Before we know Christ, we are slaves to sin. The new reality is that in Christ we can now be servants of God.

Paul says to his readers, “Remember, this is the way you were before you were believers! So what did you benefit from such a life?” There is no benefit. The wages of sin is death. The word “wages” here refers to the daily fish wage given to Roman soldiers. The implication here is that the one who is enslaved to sin will get back just a little bit of death every day. Think of the death dispensed by a few of the traditional seven deadly sins. Pride leads to the death of relationships through exploitation and control. Lust leads to the death of integrity through the corruption of one’s personality. Anger leads to the death of others, either immediately by violence or slowly by words and attitudes. Envy leads to the death of contentment. Death is the daily wage paid out to those who become slaves of sin.

You may ask yourself, “Why should I switch from slavery from one master, to slavery under another? What are the benefits for me?” The first benefit is spiritual growth. Paul argues that because we have been set free from sin, because it no longer must control us, we are free to live lives that honor God. The benefit of this freedom is that we grow to be more like Christ. How is this a benefit? Well, it’s a benefit for our families who would much rather be around someone who is growing to be more like Christ than like Attila the Hun. Being like Christ benefits us because slavery to God frees us to fulfill the destiny for which God created us. At the depths of our being as humans, we were created to love God and enjoy God forever. However, the greatest benefit of being a servant of Christ is new and abundant life. It means knowing the One who died to set me right with God, the One who assures me of God’s presence love in a world that will never miss me when I’m gone.

We have no obligation to do what the sinful nature urges us to do. Sin is no longer the master. God is. And God treats us like family, not like cringing fearful servants. God is willing to give us everything, but there is a price. For God, the price of freedom was death -- the death of God’s son. For us the price of freedom is death -- death to sin so that we can live in Christ. The freedom God offers means sharing in suffering.

I think the suffering has to do with making choices about rejecting the values and patterns that are destroying us. Suffering has to do with being able to resist the message that individual license is the same as liberty. It’s not. The suffering that I’m suggesting doesn’t have to do with punishing the body. It involves the decision to choose the long daily process of yielding to Christ instead of a culture that is hyped beyond what it can really do for us.

We Americans are supposed to have more freedom today than ever. So, why are we so anxious and so afraid of life? Ours is the terrifying task of making decisions that will transform paralyzing license into true freedom. The decision to follow Christ helps us find who we really are. And if we find our sense of self in God, we are free. In choosing to follow the footsteps that Christ left on creation, we rediscover the center from which our personal freedom derives. Only a true self acts freely, and we know that self only through God. In choosing God, we choose to be ourselves. In choosing God, we choose to be free.

Sources:
· Murray Bodo, The Way of St. Francis, 115-119
· Neil Chadwick, “Death and Freedom,” http://www.webedelic.com/church/freedomf.htm
· Brad Harper, “You Gotta Serve Somebody,” www.efree.org/sermons/romans/_acrobat/ you_gotta_serve_somebody.pdf+romans+freedom+sermon&hl=en&ie=UTF-8
· John Leo in USNEWS and World Report
· http://www.rockridgenation.org/blog/archive/2007/04/16/thinking-points-discussion-of-chapter-4-part-1-progressive-morality






Sermon for May 18, 2008

The Authority to Make Disciples
Matthew 28:16-20

I recently stumbled upon some remarkable correspondence in the church files. It was a letter that said . . .
Dear Christians:
This is my commission to you -- in fact, you might even call it a great commission. You are to go to all people everywhere and call them to become my disciples. You are to baptize them and teach them to obey all that I have commanded you. Don’t forget. I will be with you always to help you, even to the end of the world. I will never leave you nor forsake you, because I love you. Please don’t forsake me.
With all my love, Jesus Christ

Another letter was clipped to the back of it.
Dear Jesus Christ:
We acknowledge the receipt of your recent communication. Your proposal is both interesting and challenging; however, due to a shortage of personnel, as well as several other financial and personal considerations, we do not feel that we can give proper emphasis to your challenge at this time.

A committee has been appointed to study the feasibility of the plan. We should have a report to bring to our congregation sometime in the future. You may rest assured that we will give this our careful consideration, and our board will be praying for you and your efforts to find additional disciples.

We do appreciate your offer to serve as a resource person, and should we decide to undertake this project at some point in the future, we’ll get back to you.
Cordially,
The Christians

Yes, that sounds like Congregationalists to me! Don’t worry, I understand. Sometimes I get in the habit of studying proposals and then listing all the reasons why we can’t change. Congregationalists are not the only ones who do that, by the way. It’s human nature. In fact, when I was studying the texts for today’s sermon I ran across something I never read before. In Matthew’s account of the great commission, the eleven remaining disciples stand on a mountain with Jesus. They text says when they saw him some worshiped, but some of them doubted. Some versions say that some of them hesitated. This could only mean one thing – some of the disciples were Congregationalists.

I never noticed that verse before. I always skip right to the Lord’s final earthly words, but I never detected the fact that some of the disciples felt uneasy about what they were experiencing. Something was holding them back. They were not ready to go out into the world and to teach and baptize and make disciples.

It still goes on today. We are people who know that God loves us. We know that Jesus lived, died, and rose from the grave to defeat sin and death. We know God offers us new and abundant life. We know it, but many of us hesitate when it comes to putting our core beliefs into action. When we get to the part about sharing our faith, we hold back.
· Some people hesitate because they can’t believe that Jesus would actually ask his followers to act with such hubris. Who are we to make disciples of all nations? Who is Jesus that he would ask us to impose our faith on others? Who are we to go out and tell Muslims and Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and Atheists that they are wrong? Isn’t that conceited? Jesus must not understand the complexity of pluralism and the principles of religious freedom.
· Some people will hesitate because they still do not understand who Jesus is. They worship God, but they don’t know how Jesus fits in to the God picture. Is Jesus God, or is he a mere human? Sure, he’s important and influential. Sure, we believe in him and respect what he taught. But, is Jesus worthy of our worship? Do we dare follow him when we don’t really know him?
· Some will hesitate because they are afraid of the consequences. What will following Jesus mean to my present level of comfort? What will I have to give up? What will others think of me?
You know what? Jesus’ closest friends had doubts. In Luke’s version of the great commission, the risen Christ finds the disciples hiding in a room. When Jesus materializes in front of them, they think he’s a ghost and they are filled with fear. They hesitated. They doubted. The Good news is that fear and doubt did not paralyze them forever. They found a way to move from fear to faith.

So, how do we move from hesitation to active love for the world? Listen again to Christ’s final words in Matthew’s Gospel: “Remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Jesus’ authority over all heaven and earth flows from his love. No more hesitation, because Jesus walks with us. No more doubt because the love of Christ is filling us. Jesus says, “With my authority, the authority of love, preach my message to the ends of the earth.”

The great commission is rooted in love and mercy. Christianity has not always gotten this point right. At times, Western Christianity has taken pride in their feelings of superiority over others. Our attitude has been, “If you want to be loved by God, then you must be like us.” This attitude is called triumphalism. Triumphalism refers to the tendency in all worldviews to present themselves as full and complete accounts of reality, leaving little room for debate or difference of opinion. Triumphalism expects unflinching loyalty from its subjects. Weakness and doubt are liabilities. Alternate points of view are pushed aside.

In 313 C.E., when Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity with the Edict of Milan, Christianity changed from an illegal minority to the established religion of the Roman Empire. The Empire came to be identified with the cause of Christianity. Convinced that Christendom owned the right answers to the world’s problems, the Church and the Empire used the Great Commission as marching orders to expand their territory. Conversion of the masses justified any necessary means of persuasion to make it happen. Charlemagne typifies the thinking at the time. Before he became the Holy Roman Emperor, he was warring with the Saxons. The goal was conversion of the pagan Saxons to the Christian faith. Because the goal was so worthwhile, Charlemagne approved of any means necessary to make them convert. In the year 755, the Saxons were defeated, and they submitted to mass baptisms over the next two years. Charlemagne wrote, “If there is anyone of the Saxon people lurking among them unbaptized, and if he scorns to come to baptism and he wishes to absent himself and stay a pagan, then let him die.”

I think this attitude of triumphalism is a sin, specifically the sin of pride. This attitude says, “You can survive and even thrive if you become like us. You can keep your life by giving up your identity. Until you do that, we will call you inferior.” Triumphalism wants to keep one group at the center and there alone, single-handedly controlling who’s in and who’s out of the circle.

When we share the gospel out of self-righteousness, our discipleship is flawed. Sometimes we think that because we apply the name Christian to ourselves, we have the right to think we are better than others. This is sin. Those who seek to follow Christ will find their authority deep-rooted in loving-kindness. Out of gratitude, we share that love with others, teaching, baptizing, and witnessing to what we have seen God doing in our lives.

One of my majors in college was English. I ended up taking many classes with the Chair of the English Department. Dr. Peters was a large, pompous man who regularly intimidated students. He impressed fear into most of his students. His authority came from his title, his position, and his ability to scare us. In a literature course on the age of classicism, Dr. Peters would bellow out, “Braddock! What, according to Alexander Pope, is the requirement for being a British magistrate?” He would scowl at me as I sat in stunned silence. “Well, Braddock, what’s your answer?” I would finally stammer out a made-up answer. “I think Pope says if a man wants to be a magistrate, he has to have a wife who sells Tupperware.” Dr. Peters would shake his head and look at me in disgust before moving on to the next victim.

I was also a teaching assistant for another English professor, Dr. Paul. One afternoon he handed me a stack of papers to grade. As I went though the pile of freshmen English journals, I was disgusted by how poor the work was. Each passing paper was worse than the one before it, and the marks I gave reflected my loathing for their pasty writing. I delivered the graded papers back to Dr. Paul, shaking my head in disdain. The next day I went to his office, and he had a stack of papers for me to look through. They were actually the journals I had corrected the day before. Dr. Paul had gone through and changed all of the grades to higher marks. When I asked him about it, he simply quoted an OT prophet: “Matt, in wrath, remember mercy.” That lesson has stayed with me. There is no doubt in my mind why Dr. Paul had a very devoted band of students on campus. Dr. Peter’s authority was fed by the fear of his students. Dr. Paul’s authority was rooted in mercy.

I think the same holds true with Jesus. His authority is not found in the way he scares followers into obedience. We don’t obey Jesus because we are afraid of what he will do to us if we don’t. No, Jesus’ authority comes from his deep, abiding love. We follow and believe because we’ve been marked by love. It’s time for the church to jettison ends-justifies-the-means evangelism. It’s time for us to embrace the kind of humility and suffering love that marked the ministry of Jesus.

About ten years ago, news outlets reported on an amendment to KY state law that allowed ministers to carry concealed weapons in church buildings. On the Today Show, Maria Shriver interviewed a pastor who played a pivotal role in the new law. The preacher reported that down-and-outers looking for money often visit churches and he suggested that having a gun might provide protection from those who might desire to steal church contributions or hurt employees. Bewildered, Maria Shriver asked the preacher if he understood that his reliance upon a handgun stood at odds with the Christian proclamation of peace and reconciliation. Imagine having the wife of Arnold Schwarzeneggar, the poster boy for violent entertainment, reminding the church that the gospel bids believers to resolve conflict with methods that are different from those that rely upon physical force.

The gun-toting preacher stands in stark contrast to another news account from the University of Southern California Medical School. In August of 1993, a young woman named Sophia White picked up a .38 handgun and went looking for a nurse named Elizabeth Staten. Staten was allegedly cheating with White’s husband. Firing six shots, White hit Staten in the stomach and wrist. When Staten ran into the emergency room, White followed her, firing again. In the ER, with blood on her clothes and a hit pistol in her hand, another nurse, Joan Black, met the attacker. Nurse Black did the unthinkable. She walked calmly to the gun-toting woman – and hugged her. Black spoke comforting words. The assailant said she didn’t have anything to live for, that Staten had stolen her family. Black said, “You’re in pain. I’m sorry, but everybody has pain in their life . . . I understand and we can work it out.” As they talked, the hospital invader kept her finder on the trigger. Once she began to lift the gun as if she would shoot herself. Nurse Black just pushed her arm down and continued to hold her. At last, White gave the gun to the nurse. She was disarmed by a hug, by understanding, by compassion. Nurse Black later told an AP reporter, “I saw a sick person and had to take care of her.” Nurse Black loved God by being courageous, friendly and gentle to a dangerous stranger.

Now let me ask, who has the greater authority, the emperor who forces baptisms on pain of death, the minister with the gun, or the nurse who hugs attackers? Before you answer, let’s remember the cross. There hangs Jesus -- unjustly abused, tried and murdered. His dying words are a prayer of forgiveness for those who kill him. Imagine what might have happened if Jesus had lived in KY, and just before they nailed him to the cross he claimed his right as a citizen and pulled out a .38. Jesus Christ gained all authority by stretching out his arms, and disarming the world with the embrace of compassion.

The authority to make disciples comes from mercy, humility, and love. Nothing else will do. There is no need to hesitate or doubt. There is no need to hold back. So go, teach everyone you meet, far and near, in the way of love. Invite everyone to share in our baptism. Instruct them in the teachings of Christ. And remember, Jesus will be with us as we do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.

Sources:
Douglass John Hall, The Cross in Our Context (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003), 17.
Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 75-79
Lee C. Camp, Mere Discipleship, 28, 34-35,

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sermon for Sunday May 11, 2008

Today was Pentecost, Mother's Day, and Jazz Sunday at our worship service. This sermon tries to bring all three themes together. You will get the full effect if you play Ellington's Diminuendo in Blue from the recording of Ellington at Newport in 1956.

We Must Sing
Acts 2:1-21

How do we know when the Spirit is in this place? For the followers of Jesus, it was a roaring, violent wind and tongues of fire that separated and fell on the heads of each person. They knew the Spirit had come because they began speaking in other languages as the Spirit enabled them. Under the power of the Spirit, Peter preached and 3000 people accepted the Good News of Christ. The Apostles were filled with the Spirit, and they preached, and taught, and healed, just like Jesus did.

How do we know when the Spirit is in this place? For some it is a Pentecostal experience. Have you ever been to a Pentecostal worship service like the Assemblies of God. At a certain point in the service, people are speaking in tongues, and falling on the floor -- slain in the Spirit, laughing, caught in rapture, or weeping tears of repentance.

How do we know when the Spirit is in this place? For some of us, we just know it. We can’t explain what happens when the Spirit comes. We just know when it happens.

This is what I imagine Pentecost may have sounded like. What you are hearing is a song that caused hysterical pandemonium that broke out at a jazz concert. When jazz is truly swinging, the universe is hard pressed to find a greater manifestation of joy. It happened on July 8, 1956 at the Newport Jazz Festival. Duke Ellington came to Newport in the midst of a critical and commercial slump. The band had not been faring well in recent years. Duke didn’t even have a record deal at the time. That was all about to change.

Around midnight, Duke Ellington and his Orchestra took the stage. They played Billy Straythorn’s “Take the A Train” and then a hastily assembled composition for the festival. Then, after playing “Sophisticated Lady,” Duke announced the next tune, “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” featuring Paul Gonsalves on the tenor sax. It was the last number of the night. Ellington wrote “Diminuendo in Blue” and “Crescendo in Blue” in 1938, but the band hadn’t performed them much in recent years. In fact, Paul Gonsalves didn’t really know the piece. Duke reassured him, telling him that he would guide him in and out of the solo. “Just get out there and blow your tail off,” Ellington told him. What happened next took Newport and the entire Jazz world by joyous storm.

Duke opened “Diminuendo and Crescendo” with three rhythmic choruses. Guttural murmurs and shouted exclamations punctuated his piano playing. The band barreled through the arrangement and the first movement reached its climax. Then Gonsalves took center stage. Paul Gonsalves had been with Duke’s band since autumn of 1950. His ballad playing reflected a bit of his personality: He was a shy person -- something of a lost soul. It only within the structured, organic setting of Ellington’s band that Gonsalves could achieve greatness.

Gonsalves dug in with his tenor and started blowing. Somewhere around the seventh chorus, it happened. The crowd began to catch fire. A platinum blond in a black dress began dancing in one of the box seats. Couples broke out into the jitterbug. Soon, 7000 fans were on their feet, dancing, cheering, clapping, and listening to the phenomenal performance. The band and the crowd were one. Gonsalves did not stop until he had played through 27 choruses of blazing hot jazz. The power of that beat and the ferocity of Gonsalves’ solo stirred the crowds to new heights. Duke himself was totally caught up in the moment. The audience was swelling up like a dangerous high tide. By the time the song was done, the band played through 59 choruses.

The producer and the police were worried about a riot. Seeing an opportunity to cut things short, the producer waved to Duke to stop the show and to get off the stage. Instead, Duke grabbed the microphone and reassured the crowd: “Oh, we’ve got a lot more, we’ve got a lot more, we’ve got a lot more.” They played “Tulip or Turnip,” a vocal feature for Ray Nance. Once Nance got on, there was no going back.

As “Tulip or Turnip” ended, George Wein, the producer, seized the microphone. “Duke Ellington, Ladies and Gentlemen! Duke Ellington!” The crowd was in a frenzy. The band exulted, willing to play all night. Listen to the recording and you can hear the producer telling Duke: “That’s it! End of story!”
You can also hear Duke pleading with him, “One more. We can do one more.”
“Nope!”
“One more, George. They want one more.”
“No, Duke!”

The crowd was demanding more Ellington. Angry boos mixed with cheering. They wanted another song. George knew that Duke was already trying to think of his next song.
George pleaded. “Let me tell them good night. No more music, Duke. . . “

Duke approached the microphone for his final good bye for the masses. They audience quieted as Duke stepped up and began to speak. “Thank you very much, Ladies and Gentlemen. We have a very heavy request -- for Sam Woodyard! And “Skin Deep”!”

Ignoring the producer, Duke called for a stomping drum feature. The drummer drilled a barrage of syncopated eighth-notes and rolls. The horns came in again, swinging. After “Skin Deep,” the band finally slipped into something more comfortable: “Mood Indigo.” And, over the dulcet sweep of his saxophone section, Duke spoke the final words of Newport 1956: “Ladies and Gentlemen, we certainly want to thank you for the way you’ve inspired us this evening. You’re very beautiful, very sweet, and we do love you madly. As we say good night, we want to give you our best wishes, and hope we have this pleasure again next year. Thank you very much.”

That’s what it’s like when the Spirit comes. People start to swing. The joy is contagious. Voices sing out. Legs begin to move. People are swept up in something bigger, and greater, and more wonderful than we could ever fabricate or manufacture. When the Spirit comes, we must sing.

Did you know that your vocal chords move automatically to the sounds around you and to the sounds in your head? Even when you dream sounds at night, your vocal chords move to those sounds. Your vocal chords are an involuntary muscle. They are always on automatic. All you have to do is add a little breath to it, and your making sounds. There are two words in the Hebrew and Greek for breath or wind. It’s no mistake that these words also mean Spirit. The Spirit is the breath of God. When the Spirit comes, we must sing.

It’s incredible to me how many people have been shamed about their voices. So many people have been told to shut up. They have been told its better to be seen and not heard. They feel intimidated when they don’t sound like the professionals. The same is true about faith. How many times have we heard that faith is a private matter. Don’t talk about it. Don’t be to exuberant. Don’t let religion take over your life. Faith has its place, in a pew on Sunday morning.
But God made you to sing.

Where then, can we find the Holy Spirit at work? How about in the gathering of this community for worship, where the Holy Spirit helps us understand the promises of God for us. That’s the Spirit, and we must sing a song of praise.

How about in the chaotic preparation of families for worship today: making sure everyone is up and dressed, in the car and on time because you knew you had to be here today. Isn’t this the Spirit at work showing people the value of gathering as God’s people? That’s the Spirit, and we must sing a song of community.

How about those mothers who have nurtured and loved us – those women who taught us and inspired us and led us with their strength? That’s the Spirit at work, and we must sing a song of gratitude.

How about when a parent stops what seems so urgent to do something more important, like spending some time with a kid? That’s the Spirit, and we must sing a song of love.

How about when a couple chooses fidelity to each other when there’s a temptation to drift? How about when flames of love ignite passion? How about when that same passion still stirs 50 years later? That’s the Spirit, and we must sing a song of faithfulness.

How about when a kid finds the courage to stand up to friends or foes and say no to drugs, or sex, or bullying others. How about when a person finds the courage to get out of an abusive relationship, knowing that a future alone will be hard. That’s the Spirit, and we must sing a song of courage.

How about when, in the midst of pain and hurt, a victim forgives a perpetrator, or a sinner repents? That’s the Spirit, and we must sing a song of compassion.

How about when a person who bears the pains of sickness and age without becoming embittered? That’s the Spirit, and we must sing a song of endurance.

Where is the Spirit at work? Not simply in the air, not simply in the fire, not simply on the tongue.

The Spirit is at work in human hearts and minds, and souls. The Spirit is at work in the places where the Spirit chooses to take up residence, in the temples of the people whom the Spirit filled with life. The Spirit is at work in common, ordinary ways, in common ordinary people. And we must sing.

Sing from the depths of your soul. Dream and dance. Imagine and create. Laugh and leap. That’s the Spirit, and we must sing.

Sources:
Kirk Byron Jones, The Jazz of Preaching, 125-133
Ellington at Newport 1956 (Sony, 1999)
Yohann Anderson, “Everybody Can”
George Wein, Myself Among Others: A Life in Music at http://www.jerryjazzmusician.com/mainHTML.cfm?page=greatencounters11.html
http://www.mtsm.org/preaching/homilies.htm




Sermon for January 21, 2018

How Far Would You Go? 1 Samuel 17 I had a sermon all ready to go today. It was a NICE sermon. You would have felt really good about i...