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WORSHIP FOR NOVEMBER 8, 2020:
November 8, 2020
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
Many people are familiar with at least one part of this scripture passage – Joshua’s words, “As for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord.” It’s quite a good reminder for these days, isn’t it –
And I love the fact that Joshua assumes false gods are still an issue for them all these generations later, and that they might indeed choose to keep following those false gods. In fact, right now, he believes they are still serving other gods – Because he tells them they must “put away the gods that (their) ancestors served.” And he tells them if they are unwilling to choose to serve God, they’ve got to make a choice. There’s no sitting this one out. Choosing nothing is still choosing.
I love this, because in spite of all his insistence that: This is it! One last time! Commit to God! This is your last chance!” implying you can’t keep turning away and expect God will still be there for you! it’s as though he knows that’s not quite how this faith-thing works. Look – he doesn’t say, “As for me and my house, we SERVE the Lord,” as in present tense right now. No, he says, “we WILL serve” the Lord – pointing more to a “from this point on …..” As though faith takes a series of commitments, over and over and over again. He knows it does – He’s asking them to commit to God the same way Moses asked them.
Yes, I know it has this language about how our God is a jealous God – And that when we hear the word “jealous” it makes us think of jealous boyfriends. But I think, instead, Joshua is reminding them – Look, God cares about you so much, and loves you, and knows how bad it can go when you turn away and put your faith somewhere else – In old, dead, lifeless gods that make false promises – You will suffer. It won’t go well for you. And I don’t want to see you hurt. So trust me, okay?
Joshua reminds them of God’s faithfulness in their past, and the faithfulness of their ancestors. In these times, right now, what reminds you of God’s faithfulness? What helps strengthen your trust in God? What today, in the midst of all that is shifting and changing, reminds you of the steadfast power of God’s love?
Walt Bowen, when asked the question at Session last month, “In uncertain times, what are you certain of?” pointed out what he sees all around him –
And it’s true, especially this time of year - as we’re leaving one season and entering another. As we’re watching leaves fall away and branches bared. We’re in a transition time, and transitions are fraught with anxiety and scrambling to find ways to ease our anxieties.
But what Walt said about nature - it’s as Serene Jones described the healing power of nature for her mother: “The natural world surrounding her worked its magic, grounding her in the sights, sounds, and tactile feel of trees, animals, earth, sky and water, where nothing was right or wrong; it just was.”
That’s God’s love: It just is. It’s there for the taking, for the choosing, for the trusting. It is the glue that can holds us together. It’s the glue that holds you together, and me together, and the glue that connects us with all living things. My sister sent me this cartoon by Roz Chas:
And said, “Here’s hoping things stay at least somewhat put together today.” God’s love is the “glue-all for when you feel it’s just a matter of time before it all falls to pieces.” Because maybe you’re having some worries about it all falling to pieces.
So say you’ve got a bottle of God’s glue all love in your hand right now. What will you do with it? Because every single day, in fact, ever hour, we’re handed that love, and asked “What shall you do with it now?” Joshua says, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
The word “serve” shows up 15 times – 15 times! In fewer than 15 verses in this passage that is all about trust. What you trust, where you place your trust, that is where you will find your heart, your energy, time, soul, your work. Whom will you serve? What will you serve? The Greek word for “serve” also has connotations of “toil” and “cultivate.” What are you cultivating right now? You’ve been promised this seed of God’s glue-all love. Now what?
Joshua reminds them they come from good stock – From Terah, Abraham’s father, who had the courage to do something no one had ever, ever done before, going back countless generations. He left the old country and ways behind, and trusted God would show him the new. He didn’t know what the new would look like, or where it would be, but he stepped away, he turned away, from the old, and inclined his heart to the new. He stretched out his hand, he leaned in to, he stepped toward – God. God’s love.
The entire Bible reminds us we come from good stock – Faithful people, doing their very best to be faithful in every situation and circumstance, and falling and failing but trying again to serve the Lord of Love. The movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou” has this song, sung by 3 very small girls – The Peasall sisters, that goes, “In the highways, in the hedges, in the highways, in the hedges, in the highways, in the hedges, I”ll be somewhere a’ workin’ for my Lord.”
Wherever we are, are we cultivating God’s love? Benedictine nun and author Joan Chittester writes about what gives her strength and hope : “Everywhere, I find people who, despite finding themselves mired in periods of national disruption or personal marginalization, refuse to give up the thought of a better future, or to give in to the allurements of a deteriorating present …..”
We can take hope from these words, and inspiration. She tells us what to do with God’s glue-all love: “Our task is to commit to God’s love as the center, as the axle, as the standard for everything in the midst of the storm of change.”
For us, for Christians, that standard is the inclusive, welcoming, just love of Christ Jesus. And Joan Chittester wants to know: Is our corner of the world a better place because we’ve been there? Because she says, “the quality of life we create around us as followers of Christ is the seed of hope and new life in this community and this world.” Everyone is looking everywhere for calm, compassion, centered presence. It’s our call.
Seeds are being planted all around us – and have already been planted. Some seeds are being sown for dissent and dehumanizing and destruction. But we too, as followers of Christ, have a responsibility to plant the seeds God has given us – We too have a responsibility to stand on the firm steadfast never-shaken ground of God’s love, and make our small corner of the world better.
From that viewpoint, where we begin and end with God’s love, what does this all look like? Where are the opportunities for you and your house to serve the Lord? What are you cultivating, where are your energy, time, heart, and soul going? Which way are you facing? Can you take a step away from the false gods of control and doom’s day rumors and stoking fires, and turn – again and again – hour after hour after hour – Toward love?
Maybe that means we use our voice to reassure people’s anxieties that the world is falling apart. Maybe that means we cultivate calm in our hearts through prayer and meditation. Maybe that means we invite our neighbors to collect food for LARS. Maybe that means we step away from the news that is changing minute by minute, and step into God’s creation, where change, and life, and renewal, and death, and love – just is. Maybe that means we lift those who are suffering, who are susceptible to getting riled up by lies, those who are sick of Covid and sick of wearing masks and sick of quarantining, all in prayer. Maybe that means reminding our families the risks of sitting down together in one house with people from all over. Maybe that means the hard decision of forgoing the in-person Thanksgiving this year with extended family and friends in the hopes of all the Thanksgivings in the future.
Joshua presses the people on their commitment, on their part of the covenant, on their vows to trust in God. He knows how easy it is to lose sight, to lose focus, to lose footing, lose our center, to lose heart – just, to lose. He assumes – he knows - the false gods are there, right there - and invites the people to intentionally put them aside. Make a choice this day, and hour after hour if that’s what it takes, whom you will serve, what you will cultivate, what seeds you will plant. Trust you can stand in the place of love even when the waters all around you are rising and false gods are trying to push you around, and people’s fears are stoking your own. Stop. Step aside, step away, from all that clamors for your attention. Stand firm. What are you doing with God’s glue-all love in your corner, this day, this hour? Joshua says, As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
Worship for November 1, 2020
All Saints' Sunday:
All Saints’ Sunday
1 November 2020
It’s the beginning of a new week, today. And as much as I hope the day after the election will turn out as much of a big deal as Y2K was – Remember the fear on December 31, 1999, and the relief of January 1, 2000 – When we realized all that anxiety was for nothing – Computers didn’t crash, the end of the world didn’t happen, everything kept running smoothly?
We have no guarantees of what our context will be at the end of this week – what our country’s mood, or outlook, or reality.
But we do know this: More people will be infected by Covid-19, and most will recover. Some people will die of Covid-19, and many babies will be born. Some people’s pantries will be empty, and more people will collect food to give away. Some people will face another exhausting week of teaching classes to pixels instead of living, breathing students, and some parents will throw up their hands, turn off the screens, and take their kids outside.
This week, like we have all the weeks of 2020, like we have every week of our lives, as people have throughout time, we will live the human life: With the sorrow, with the fear, with the outrage – but also with joy, with peace, with justice, with hope – And mostly, one way or another – We will persevere. Because we know the end of our story – The end of all our stories – Is found in the heart of God.
I had a dream this week – No, nothing like Martin Luther King’s famous dream – But maybe it’s a dream you’ve had yourself sometime recently – A dream where I was out and about and all of a sudden I realized in a panic that I wasn’t wearing a mask. That’s the new anxiety dream of this year – Forget showing up late and unprepared for a final exam! That’s so 2019.
Our anxious dreams may look different now – But the anxiety is just the same.
This week, in our scripture lesson, we have a man named John sharing his dream – A dream that came to him around 65 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, during the reign of Emperor Domitian. Emperor Domitian was imprisoning anyone who wasn’t showing enough loyalty to the Empire and to him, the Emperor. This included Christians who wouldn’t show loyalty and worship him as the god he thought he was – They knew he wasn’t the be all and end all. They knew no salvation lay with him.
This is a good week to remember our highest loyalty, our highest hope, is to the God who shelters us, who leads us to springs of living water, who tends to us, cares for us, wipes away our every tear, holds us close in this life and the next. In the midst of troubled times, a man named John had a dream about God’s faithfulness throughout all time. And he shared it in this book called Revelation – Not to scare people into accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior before the end of the world so they could escape the fiery flames of hell – That’s how people who are into selling books and making movies like to portray our holy scripture – But John was writing to his own people to comfort them, to remind them to trust in God, in this life and the next, no matter what happens.
The people in his dream have lived through what he calls the Great Ordeal, or tribulation. They have lived through a time when they were under a great pressure, and there seemed no way out. A time when they felt trapped, they were in trouble, they were in anguish. To quote a famous book, a horrible, no good, very bad time. A time when either literally or figuratively, they had been immersed in the blood of the Lamb.
Grief is a Great Ordeal.
A time of political upheaval is a Great Ordeal.
Facing a new, uncertain, never-before experienced reality: A Great Ordeal.
Living through a pandemic: A Great Ordeal.
Anytime we find ourselves longing to escape reality, this reality, our reality: Great Ordeal.
Right now, we are living through a Great Ordeal. There is no way out. We are under great pressure, literally and figuratively. Blood is being shed, literally and figuratively.
John’s dream tells us: it’s the people who lived through the Great Ordeal who are worshipping God, looking to God, who will be “tabernacled” and “sheltered” by God. It’s as though John is saying that living through a Great Ordeal brings us to the throne of God, into the presence of God, into the tabernacle of God.
And guess what: It doesn’t feel like we think it’s supposed to feel, to be at the throne of God, in the presence of God, in the tabernacle of God. Our hearts are still heavy, our tears still flow, our souls are still parched.
And, and – we say, from that place of heartache: Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power is God’s. Because there is no one else. Because there is nothing else. From and in that place of heartache, we know: Our democracy, our country, our elected leaders, our schools, our degrees, our hard work, our presidential candidate will not save us. It is only God. The God of Love. It is love.
How can we carry our grief of this past year into this week?
Chee Chee texted me this week, and said she is “remembering (her) parents and grandparents, the love they showed, the lessons they taught of her church and faith, some of which they followed” and the comfort of knowing she was and is and always will be a child of God, beloved by Christ.
She reminds me – When we’re in the midst of our own time of tribulation, we look to the Great Ordeals others lived through, and we learn from them. They give us courage. They give us hope. As Abby Ferretti said about living in these uncertain times:
We are a resilient people. We are a resilient church. We will keep on being resilient.
And so in this particular time and place, we take all that is good and kind and faithful in those we’ve lost, and we carry it with us into the unknown future of the week ahead.
And how shall we do that? Molly Conway wrote this about Ruth Bader Ginsberg, explaining this typical Jewish Blessing – Which would have been the blessing of Jesus’ faith, too: “May her memory be for blessing.” And she explains that doesn’t mean that we just remember her fondly – But that we take her memory and use it to bless the world.
How will you make your loved ones’ memories be for blessing?
We trust what the Bible tells us: That God will turn our sorrow to dance, and our tears to laughter, our Great Ordeal to celebration. That makes me think of parts of the poem Epitaph, by Merrill Malloy:
When I die,
Give what’s left of me away ….
And when you need me,
Put your arms
Give them what you need to give to me.
I want to leave you
Look for me
In the people I’ve known
You can love me most
Hands touch hands ….
Love doesn’t die,
So, when all that’s left of me
Give me away.
This All Saints’ Sunday, this Sunday before our country’s elections, this 30th week of a pandemic and sheltering in place, let us trust in God. Let us trust the love our loved ones gave us before they were called home. Let us trust the love God showed us through their lives. For that love makes us resilient, and will keep on sustaining us. In the mist of this particular Great Ordeal, we stand at the throne of God, and the robes we will wear are the ones Paul described to the Colossians: We will clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, just as our loved ones taught us. And we will bear with one another, for in hard times, we are called to live and share the holy and joyful life in Christ. Be resilient. Be the light and loving presence of Christ this week, for so many need us to share the light of God, which leads us throughout our years.
WORSHIP FOR OCTOBER 25, 2020:
Worship for October 18, 2020
Worship for Oct 11, 2020:
Worship for Oct 11, 2020:
Worship for October 4, 2020
Worship for August 9, 2020
Worship for August 2, 2020
Worship for July 26, 2020