Monday, July 25, 2011

Sermon for July 24, 2011

Six Sacred Stories
Matthew 13:31-33; 44-52

I don’t threaten God too often. I try not to make a habit to tell God what to do, or how to run the universe. I very rarely scribble down a wish, offer it in a prayer and then give God an ultimatum if it doesn’t come true. Recently though, I caught myself doing that as my family moved into our new home.

We live in a quiet, small neighborhood, filled with 1960’s split-level ranches and sidewalks, and people walking their dogs and trimming their grass with old-fashioned mowers. It’s like Norman Rockwell and Mayberry had a baby. (I don’t know how that would work, but looking at this neighborhood it must have.) Baby fawns roam freely through the neighborhood, grazing on the salad bar of hostas in people’s gardens and basking in the sunny meadow otherwise known as my neighbor’s back yard. Some call the deer a nuisance. To my kids, these white-dappled babies are cuties. The fireflies come out at night, inviting children to dance and do cartwheels during the lazy part of the day where dusk meets dark. Our kids can walk to school, if they want. The park is nearby, providing swimming, sports, or simple walks in the woods with our bug-eyed dog. Speaking of the dog, even she is excited to move. She looks out the window, barking at everything that twitches outside, announcing to the neighborhood, “We’re here! We’re here!”

Secretly, a thought has been brewing, but I haven’t known how to say it. Here my best stab at it: What if I’m wrong. What if we made a mistake moving into that neighborhood and that particular house? What if everything isn’t as it appears? What if it all gets taken away? Please God, don’t let this happen. I’ll mow my grass every four days and make a lasagna for the neighbors if you just keep us all safe and happy.

Funny isn’t it? Something’s going good, and I’m already wondering when it will go bad. My family has found something that works for us, and I’m thinking about ways that it will get ruined. I’ve always had this negative streak. I have to keep an eye it. In my Junior High days, I remember finding a book on my parent’s shelves entitled, How to Make Yourself Miserable by Dan Greenburg. It was written as satire, but I took it seriously and literally. I began to worry about everything. For instance, Greenburg suggest that his readers try this: while you’re sitting there, think about your home. Picture the faucet you probably forgot to turn off and the water as it cascades over the sides of the sink or tub, seeping out into the rest of the house, drowning your carpets, then your furniture, then your clothes, and finally bursting out of your windows and onto the street. Isn’t this fun? Now picture the lights or the stove you probably forgot to turn off, the overheating of the electrical circuits or the build-up of gas, and the inevitable flaming explosion. As a 12 year old, I would sit and worry, vexed about when life was going to crash. I sabotaged my happiness.

People do this all the time. We know that which leads to health and happiness and then we do things to actively ensure that it will not happen. Procrastination. Overindulgence. Speaking or acting without considering the consequences. Taking on too many responsibilities. Ignoring or minimizing problems in personal relationships. Needing help and never asking for it. Rushing through things. Taking comments too personally. These are self-sabotaging behaviors.

Organizations will behave in ways to actively work against their goals. Churches do it all the time. Churches will have meetings about how to have a meeting. Churches talk a lot about what is wrong and what needs to be made right. Pastors give sermons about the necessary changes. A year later, many are still doing the same activities they did before. As it turns out, it’s easier to sustain unhealthy behaviors than it is to challenge ourselves into new vibrancy.

I do it in my own spiritual life. I resonate with blogger Jon Acuff who writes about hearing the voice of God in his head. Like Jon, sometimes I struggle with defeating thoughts about my relationship with God. To be honest, sometimes I think I hear the voice of God in my head. And that voice is kind of a grump. When I bump into something good, I have a suspicion that god is going seize it. Even though I’ve been told that god wants me to be happy, I’m secretly afraid god is going to take everything and everyone I love away from me and I’ll die lonely and useless. This god is going to find something I love to do and then ask me to do the opposite. This god knows I am in love with literature and writing and that I hate the heat, so god’s going to make me learn calculus and open up a math-based summer camp in the Mojave Desert. When I find myself in the middle of something good, my instinct is to wrap my arms around it and protect it from the god in my head.

Sounds silly, doesn’t it? But how many people do you know who are convinced that god’s out to get them? Maybe you’ve felt it yourself. This god wants to take away everything that is fun, everything that is beautiful, everything that brings you pleasure.

The God of Jesus doesn’t call people to things they’re not created for. God calls us to situations that awaken deep seated purpose and desires in us. God calls us to experience extravagant love. God calls us to offer that extravagant love to others who doubt that it’s real.

Just consider these six sacred stories we are listening to today. These are not about a stingy, manipulative, vengeful God. These stories are about almost reckless abundance. These six sacred stories are about God’s growing and sustaining presence. God’s presence is like a mustard seed, a common weed that grows into something that is ridiculously big and beautiful. Jesus invites us to imagine all the nations of the world living under the shade of single tree. Imagine the peace.

Jesus talks about something as small as yeast working its way through 100 pounds of dough. Usually, when Jesus talks about yeast, it symbolizes corrupt behavior that works its way through religious and political systems. Today, the yeast of corruption transforms flat living into abundance that can be shared in our daily bread. Imagine the nourishment.

Jesus talks about buried treasure and pearls of great price, from something hidden to something unearthed; items so valuable, people give everything up in order to have them. Imagine the richness.

Jesus talks about fishing nets bursting with fish of every kind. In his world, the fish, like people, are separated and held accountable for what they did and didn’t do. Imagine the justice.
Jesus talks about a person who cleans a storeroom, sorting out the contents, giving things away, throwing out both old and new to make room for the newness of God’s reign. Imagine the extravagance. Imagine the daring. Imagine what delights can fill an empty storehouse ready to receive what God has to offer.

I am tired of visions and voices that shrug off the world and people God made with self-sabotaging, self-defeating lies. We need visions and voices of God’s presence that inspire us to work as healers and reconcilers in creation and among all God's people.

I don’t know what the god in your head sounds like. But, I bet sometimes there is a voice that wants you to believe that the reign of God is cheap, stingy, vengeful and small. I bet that voice wants you to be miserable. I bet it’s got a suitcase full of scorpions with your name on it. That’s not the Voice Jesus wants us to listen to. God loves you. God loves goodness. God loves mercy. God loves gift giving. God loves the sick. God loves the mess-ups. And though it may feel hard to believe, even if you’ve spent years with a different idea in your head, God loves you. What if you are the mustard seed that, with the right nurture, can grow to shelter others with delight? What if you are the yeast that can feed others? What if you are the hidden treasure that’s more valuable than anything else? What if you are the pearl of great price? What if God wants to turn the world upside down and it begins here and now, with each of us believing that God loves us?


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