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Sermon Summary 3.27.22 "And Have Our Being."

3.27.22 Sermon Summary

Today we highlighted two stories of “reset” and I focused on some context to the stories around the readings I had Reed share. First we looked at a story from 1 Kings. Elijah has just had his greatest success. Hearing from God and challenging the sinfulness of the people he declared a drought - and it had been so. Ahab and his queen Jezebel began killing the prophets of the God of Israel and favoring the priests of Ba’al. Elijah hides other priests and prophets of god in caves then goes and challenges the priests of Ba’al to a showdown. He says he is the “only one left” but that God will decide between their offerings by providing the fire. The priests of Ba’al build an altar, prepare the bull. The dance and shout and bloody themselves but nothing happens after hours and hours. Finally Elijah calls his turn. He rebuilds the altar to the God of Israel that had been knocked down with 12 stones representing the 12 tribes. He prepares the bull - but then he has attendants dig a trench around it. Then he has them drench it with water, not once, but twice - so the trench is full and the offering soaked. Then, and only then, he calls upon God and fire consumes the whole altar! The priests of Ba’al are then slaughtered and the crowd triumphantly celebrates Elijah.

But despite hearing from Ahab all that has just happened - Jezebel is unmoved. She vows vengeance and Elijah… runs. He is suddenly afraid. He flees, leaves his servants at one stop and goes further into the wilderness. He lies down under a broom tree

and calls out to God “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (Rather ironic given that’s what he fled.) Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. An angel wakes him saying “Get up and eat.” Elijah finds bread and water. He eats then goes back to sleep. A second time a meal is provided with the angel saying “eat or the journey will be too much for you.”

Elijah “on the strength of those meals” travels 40 days to Mt. Horeb, the same places Moses encountered God and rests in a cave. God asks “what are you doing here, Elijah?”

And Elijah responds - believing his own hype he claims he is the “only one left.” The only one still zealous for the Lord and everyone else is trying to kill him.

He is told to observe for God is about to pass by. There is a powerful wind - but God is not in the wind. Then fire… but God is not in the fire… then an earthquake - but God is not in the earthquake. Finally Elijah hears a still, small voice…

God again asks “what are you doing here, Eliajh?” In the sermon I highlighted that we are sure if we saw some powerful sign like the duelling altars and the consuming fire that we’d be changed! But notice here Elijah’s response to all he’s just experienced - both the power and the quiet voice. He gives the same speech! He is the only one left, the only one zealous for God.

Elijah is not listening…

I shared that I envision God often throwing up his hands in the same way - exasperated at the choices Christopher makes. “oh come on!” But always God offers choices and a path. Elijah is told to go an anoint his successor and to prepare the way for a new king. He is not alone. God has reserved a remnant of 7000 - after all Elijah himself had hidden some of them. But he made it all about him and forgot how we are connected in faith. How often, like Elijah, we try to make it all about us instead of God - even, perhaps especially, when we are doing the work of the church.

Lent is about repenting. Recentering. Resetting and renewing.

I shared a bit from Rev. Dr. Junius Dotson’s book about how our priorities often go askew and how one counter to that is having good mentors and being willing to reconsider, to learn and to grow. I shared a connection Junius and I had in that both our sons love baseball. One of Junius few faults, in my opinion, is that he didn’t share that. But because his son enjoyed it, he tried. And one lesson he shares in the book is the need to do the right thing at the right time - as illustrated by the need to touch first base. It doesn’t matter how hard or far you hit the ball. It doesn’t matter how urgently you need to get to 2nd, 3rd or home - you have to touch first base. If you don’t touch first base, the rest doesn’t matter, you’re out!

Prayer, reading the bible, serving and observing a restful sabbath - those are kinds of first base. They are the basics of Christian life. Our world disdains rest. We make an idol of busy-ness and false urgency. I shared a learning I got from a brief time when I was trying to remain in control and wound up forcing my way into a job selling windows and siding. It is *not* what I was meant to do - and after a former career that involved my being rather deceptive with some vendors to try and make myself and my employer money in the face of what we saw as unfair restriction - in this role God taught me more about my own ethics. One of the ways these businesses make money is creating false urgency. “buy now” “limited time offer!” - but I knew that same offer would be available tomorrow - so I refused to play the game. It ultimately costs me the job - but it did create trust.

What is really urgent? What is really important? How do we resist the distractions and focus on the real? How do we keep from making even necessary, important tasks into idols and distractions that blind us to the point of the work. It’s the lesson of Martha and Mary - and it’s not clear cut - it is a journey of learning and listening and serving. How do we focus on what is truly important and plan ahead, getting things done in ways that fewer things become truly urgent? How do we learn to set aside our plans and wait for God’s timing?

Often what society tells us is least important - like rest and play - are most important. One of the lessons in Dotson’s book is that if we don’t make time for rest, illness will force us to. So I practiced what I preached and took some time away. From Thursday to Sunday I got to just be Dad - watch my boys play and coach baseball without distraction. Then from Monday to Wednesday, I gathered with other clergy in a retreat led by Rev. Dr. Kevass Harding and Rev. Rhonda Kingwood, centered around the “Soul Reset” book I’ve been using for this series.

It was a chance to be the student instead of the leader - to gather with others who knew Junius and remember and to connect with clergy sisters and brothers more deeply. Kevass organizes his thinking on reset around four areas: Heart, Mind, Voice and Hands. Heart - reconnecting with our passion and call. Mind - his is a strong advocate for mental health and rejecting stigma.

Voice is how we communicate the gifts we’ve been given - bearing witness and hands is about how we live out our faith.

One of Kevass’ most powerful presentations pointed out that we don’t think a thing about going to a doctor and getting a prescription to help us focus our eyes (glasses) or our ears (hearing aids) but the moment someone seeks medication to help focus the mind, to counter brain chemistry that is holding them back - we are aghast. Kevass tells the story of how he came back from the brink and bears witness. There is nothing wrong with therapy, counseling and even, when needed, medication to help us focus. Depression and anxiety is real and deserves treatment just as our vision or hearing. With vision sometimes some exercises are enough - and sometimes we need glasses. Part of our religious observance of sabbath is about protecting both our physical and our mental health.

I also shared that while Kevass had planned a whole session on the “hands” part of his presentation - our group stayed with “voice.” Over the course of our 2.5 days we found that’s where our group needed to be. To hear each other, affirm each other, bear burdens and heal wounds. Our group was very diverse. All clergy serving in the Great Plains Conference, most in Kansas - yet hailing from South Korea, the Congo, Zimbabwe, Kenya as well as those of us who grew of in Wichita or nearby. It was wonderful to connect with all these gifted people and to listen to and affirm each other. To see the kingdom, diversity and abundance of God witnessed in these lives, all worshiping, learning and practicing sabbath renewal together. We really appreciated Kevass’ willingness to alter his plans to focus on what the group needed.

Which brings me to our 2nd reading - If the story from Elijah’s life cautioned us about being too caught up in ourselves, the 2nd reading today is a caution about being too full of our own plans or understanding. We read from Acts 17 - The Athenians have altars for all sorts of Gods who control small parts of life and must be kept happy. Paul sees an altar to “an unknown God” and proclaims that the one true God is Lord and creator of all and that we “live and move and have our being” in God. What I highlighted in the sermon is how Paul grew in his understanding. Paul - once a persecutor of Jesus’ followers - had an experience of the Risen Christ. He was transformed - his mind renewed - and he changed. He became the foremost advocate for the faith, especially among gentiles. He’d founded dozens of churches, travelling all over the region. And he has plans to go into the Roman provinces of Asia - but the Holy Spirit *prevents* him from doing so. Here is Paul - doing exactly what he was called to do and doing so successfully - and suddenly he is told “no.” - Stopped by the Holy Spirit from the work - later the text highlights this as “the Spirit of Jesus.” Paul must be confused - and it is only then that he has the vision of a man from Macedonia. I interpret this time as enforced rest - a time of prayer rather than frantic busy-ness. A time when the Spirit opened Paul to see anew yet again. To go where he had not planned to go. Ironically it is in these places where much of what we know of Paul and his theology happen - the letters to the Philippians and Thessalonians don’t happen without this journey. His encounter with Lydia and other key figures of the early church depend on him being able to listen and set aside his plans and ideas and follow the Spirit. Paul learns again that God’s kingdom is wider than he thought and that we are called to work with God - not according to our own plans. Paul is also reminded - and in turn powerfully teaches - that there is nowhere that God is not, for we are, indeed, all God’s offspring!

Blessings on your journey.


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