Sermon for Seekers Church
June 20, 1999
Thankfulness and Enthusiasm
This sermon emerged out of the liturgical season and the theme of incendiary grace, out of the lectionary scriptures and from the assignment to core members to read the book of Acts. It also comes from my prayers for Seekers which lately have included my reflections on Sonya’s challenge to evangelism and on the fresh opportunities opened for us when the Pennsylvania Ave. property came back on the market so soon after we felt we were coming to the end of our hopes for being able to buy an already existing building for our new home. There is a perverse element in this sermon too, which I identify with a quote from that great philosopher J. Danforth Quayle, "If we don’t succeed we run the risk of failure."
First to the scripture:
We learn from Psalm 46 that God can be sensed in the mighty acts of creation and that this magnificent creator God is also a God who intervenes among us, breaking the bow and shattering the spear. Verse 10 guides our proper response, "Let be then. Learn that I am God."
One of the gifts from the 9th and 10th chapters of Matthew is the message of Jesus that the life we have been given includes the possibility of acting with meaning, of aligning our life energy and work effort with what really matters, of becoming part of a great story. In 9:36-37 we read, "The sight of the crowd moved him to pity: they were like sheep without a shepherd, harassed and helpless. Then he said to his disciples, "The crop is heavy but the laborers too few." In the 10th chapter Jesus directs his disciples to tell folk "The Kindom on Heaven is upon you." But the direction of Jesus was not just about talking but about power filled walking. "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons."
For part of our conversation in core members meeting, David Lloyd has challenged us to embrace the gift of resurrection power and to let the book of Acts speak to us. I hadn’t worked with Acts for quite a while and I welcomed this invitation. There are a lot of wonderful ideas in Acts and I was drawn to the book long emphasis on inclusiveness. But what really caught my attention this time through was how enthusiastic the several evangelists were, Peter, Stephen, Paul and others. Part of Paul’s enthusiasm came from his recognition that turning to Jesus had set him free from the power of guilt. For a devout Jew who lived by the law, being freed from the power of guilt was an awesome gift.
This has led me to revisit the idea of thankfulness. I’m not thinking of pallid little thankfulness over success at the job, or over buying a new car or a new house, of because your favorite team won its game. I’m talking about an awesome thankfulness that redirects your life and releases great power within you and among us.
To start with, are you thankful for being born, for having life? Why isn’t there nothingness, emptiness and death? Because God created the world, a world which includes the creation of your life. Are you worrying about dieing? Are you feeling oppressed by the limits of your life? That is turning your back on God’s great gift to you because you were not made as God. Quit whining and live! Feel all you can feel and include the feeling of resurrection power, power not bounded by our small individual lives but power we can taste and participate in which made the mountains and the oceans, the galaxies and the snails, and you. You are beautifully made and much has been given to you.
Your body is a wonderful mixture of earth and water and air and fire. The food you eat is transformed by the miracles of digestion into the lattices and tubes that can hold so much water. In that water food and hormones and electrical energy moves around in you, binds together so many diverse organs and cells and complex chemical. Your birth and your digestion are so marvelous that you can sense the world around you and know that your body isn’t the universe. The air you breathe in and out reminds us we are part of our environment and not fully independent creatures as we sometimes imagine ourselves to be. The oxygen in the air, so poisonous to the first life on earth, responds with the carbon and iron of the soil, moved around in the water, so that you slowly are burning without being burned up. That is why you are warm rather than cold. Every moment you are burning up. You are vital and can move. You are burning with power. What more miracles do you need to see? What more do you need to feel to be truly and deeply thankful?
To those to whom much has been given, much is expected. Appreciation of the gift of creation, of life within creation, is a good place to begin, an awareness of the power of being. But God didn’t just create us and leave us alone. We were not left to wander around and try to amuse ourselves. Are you thankful for the gift of purpose? Will you become one of the shepherds, one of the laborers? Just because you were not created as God, just because you cannot see the ends of all your work, all your gifts to others, will you spurn the light you have been given?
I repeat to you the message of Jesus. Heaven is within us and among us. Right now. We don’t need LSD to get high. We just need to let the power move within us and among us.
Are you sick? Be healed. Right now. Be healed. You’re going to die. That is assured. You are not healed from having to die. You are healed so you can live. Right now. With whatever imagination and creativity and sincerity you can muster. So put down your sickness. Leave it behind and embrace your health and your life. If you can trust God with your life you can certainly trust God with your death. Be healed. Get over it. Sickness is whatever is stopping you from life. Are you weak? Be healthy in your weakness. Are you confused? Be thankful at every point on your compass and each path becomes good. Be healed. Our lives are not defined by our coming deaths but by sharing in the wonderful creation that we have given to taste, given to dance, given to frolic, given to serve.
Are you unclean? Are you outside the camp? Are you a leper? Come on in. Come in here! Come be with us. Be clean. God has made this a holy place. Nothing else has to happen before you are saved. You just have to come in without reservation. Put down those doubts about whether you can be accepted. Look at me. If I can be accepted here, you can be accepted here. Being clean isn’t about being free of sin it is about not being bound by sin. You are not only free from the false shames this society would put upon you, you are free from your real sins: your lack of attentiveness, your lack of generosity, your defensiveness and desire to be secure, your comparisons to others, all the things that block you from full participation in this community. Come on in. We’re all struggling with shit like that. We are washing each other down, washing each other’s feet, cleansing with accountability, offering the detergent of being cared for. And it is working. Look closely. You can see how good it is to really be here.
Look out demons! It is time to come out, to let go. God knows your names and we can whisper them, shout them out. We are burning. We have transformed the killing power of oxygen into our life force. You demons, you cannot match your power to what God has given us. We can put down our sickness. We can turn away from preoccupation with death to the embracing of life, whatever our level of strength or diminishment. And we know how to align our life forces with what is good and life giving. We have artists among us demons and so you should tremble. We are not afraid of beauty, even the dark beauty that is found in our most tortured pictures.
Watch out demons! We have justice warriors among us. They are not going to settle for the easy answers. They are not going to turn away when it is time to turn toward. They will not be misled by your conceits and excuses.
Look out demons! We have deep healers among us. We have people who know how to go inside wherever we need to go. We have people who have named your names and called you out. And now you demons, I tell you this. We have servants among us. We have humble people who are giving their lives, pouring out the costly oil and not counting the cost. You demons of consumptions, you glamours of advertising, do not mislead us. We have those among us who have been where worldly power is and they are not impressed. They have won honors and recognition and have not been misled into grandeur. So give it up demons. You haven’t a chance here. It is just a matter of time. We will name each of your names and you will come out and rush away. Now is one of the times for you to come out.
Come out. Come Out!
I’ve been spending my prayer time being thankful for Seekers, thankful for individuals but even more thankful for what is moving among us, for what cannot be contained or held by any one individual; for all the things that are flowing that make us so much more than the sum of our individualities. This exercise has made me enthusiastic. Oh, I am also plenty aware of our shortcomings and limitations, of how little we have done with the amazing power that has been given to us. We are so much more comfortable with the elements of ground and water and breath than we are with fire and with power. I hear some of you mumbling along in your singing instead of finding your voice. I am so painfully aware that we are only one way of being the church and that we have to release those who are not really supposed to be here in this particular fellowship.
But I am thankful for what has been released by the special way we do and are church. We may not be the right church for everyone but we are a right church. I believe we are one of the breakout church of the third millennium because we are proving in our common life that we do not have to live a huge core restraint of Roman Catholicism, the Orthodox Church, all versions of mainline Protestantism and especially the charismatic leader traditions of fundamentalism and Pentecostalism. We do not have to have a leader over us, someone set apart and special. We have believed that we all can be ministers and we are ministering. We have believed in trained ministry and so we are training. We have found priests and healers among us, preachers and poets, dancers and clowns. We have our warriors and wizards and mystics, our crones and our beautiful children. We have orphans among us; we have people who are not afraid of the dark; and we have people not afraid of being really quiet.
Our Seekers slogans are working. People are being heard into speech. Trish wrote her spiritual autobiography and is still finding out what it means. Jean Adams and Jane Engel have hung wonderfully revealing art for us, so full of courage and engagement.
We are taking the world and the world of scholarship seriously. Kate Amoss recently finished training as a healer. Kate Cudlipp, Martha Phillips, Kevin Ogle and Deborah Sokolove are in seminary training. The School of Christian Living is alive and well. Last week our children showed they have learned how to engage the Bible as scripture. They will have to study the Bible for the rest of their lives just like the rest of us, but they have showed how joyfully they are launched. Such power is moving among us. Sherri Bergen learned massage and joins so many among us that know something about freeing up bodies as part of the joy of creation. We’ve got some of the finest sacred clown teachers in the world among and we take that for granted. No big deal we say, just another part of the generatively of our community. Jesse is in a big growth spurt with his music and Glen is doing so much to make singing an everyday sacrament among us. We waited a long time for the right music program to develop among us. We’ve had so many false starts and now we have so blooming and buzzing all over us. The Journeying With Children Mission Group has worked a lot with the spirituality of Kathleen Norris. How is that going to start showing up? Meg is coming into her own, and joining the Seekers cadre of skilled internationalists. What is going to happen to us when all the international caring among us becomes so much more than the work of Seekers individuals and reaches the ignition point that helps us name who we are.
Seekers! How much more do you need to see before you truly believe? This Holy Spirit stuff isn’t academic. This isn’t about speculation. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit and we can see that his promise is coming true.
Marjory Bankson is writing books, leading a Christian renewal effort that spreads out across this nation and around the world. Emily Gilbert is helping with worship and community building at Goodwin House. Samantha was chosen as spiritual leader for the Sandy Springs Friends School equivalent to student government. How much more do you need to see before you truly believe?
Thirteen men went out with Patrick yesterday to help him claim and name his transition from childhood to manhood. Guy Wulfing is helping to lead the marvelous Ashoka project. Sue is a national leader in the sacred dance movement.
Seekers how much more do you need to see before you truly believe? I am not talking about the shallow seeing with your eyes, not even the intellectual seeing with your brains, I’m talking about heart-to-heart seeing, the seeing that you know because it makes you glad and hopeful. Glad and hopeful in a world where so much is going wrong, where so much doesn’t make sense, where false gods flourish in every media.
But woe to you Seekers if you see and turn away. You are closing out the Holy Spirit if you think that it doesn’t matter when Liz plays the piano for us, when Peter figures out Communities in Schools and when Marian gets engaged and speaks her lines.
Will you let this community matter to you? Will you invest in it without seeing the future clearly? Will you lavishly embrace each other? Will you do the jobs that need doing even if nobody notices? Will you let your part of the conversation really open up? Will you help the Seekers conversation be transformative for you and for those around you?
Dare we be strong? Dare we claim our future?
Questions are good but doubt in the face of transforming love is a demon.
I say to you demons, Come out. We are Seekers and we are not afraid. Our God is not theoretical, no mere postulate for debate. We see what God has already made possible among us. We see what transformation looks like. We know the future is open to us even if we cannot see beyond the next bend in the road. We can walk around each bend and see what is before us. We can be wrong and redirect ourselves. We can be right and move from strength to strength.
Like the burning bush of Moses, like our wonderfully made bodies, we burn but we are not consumed. We are not afraid. We are thankful.
Let the congregation say Amen.