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Sermon Transcript (edited) 8.6.23 "the Way of Christ and the Will of God" Circumstantial

Sermon Transcript 8.6.23 “The Way of Christ and the Will of God”


As it was in the beginning… last week we talked about the beginning. A wind of God hovering over the void, the Logos, the Word of God , through whom all things were created

with God… is God…


The Gloria Patri, that we just sang… Christians have gathered and sung that weekly if not more often since at least the third century and probably before that. The translation we just sang dates to at least the 1400s. Thomas Cramer, one of the great English reformation theologians, wrote the Book of Prayer for the Anglican Church and did his own English translations of a number of Latin hymns and passages, doxologies… and in the English of that time and the world view of that time, it made sense to translate the Latin as world without end.


I grew up in a high-rite Episcopalian Church singing that weekly and never really thought about it. I journeyed through Catholicism and did a full catechism and we sang that doxology weekly and I never really thought about it.


I became a United Methodist and lo and behold we sing that doxology too that I’d first heard as a young boy in a Lutheran Church. Christians around the world sing that, but what does it mean? In Seminary, I was taking a class on different approaches to theology. It was the first time I wrestled with this doxology’s meaning, but I didn't spend a lot of time on it. I got here and it had not been the tradition here, but we had a couple of different people ask if we could insert it. Sure we can do that, we went almost six months before somebody asked me what we were singing, what it means. The Latin of it and I may mispronounce this but et in saecula saeculorum - literally it means and unto the Ages of Ages


It's not a claim that the world as we understand it will never change or end. It is a claim that God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit … willing, loving creator, intends the world to be. Desires creation to be. Holds it in the palm of his hand. Loves it. Sees it as good. Loves us, sees us as good. Sets the rainbow in the sky promising never to destroy by flood again. The stories of the Old Testament promise the ages are in God’s hands and that God intends us.


Now in Thomas Cramer's day, their worldview was still basically a snowglobe. Heaven is above there's a firmament or dome, the Stars the Sun and Moon are set in the dome. We were just beginning to explore what we now call a scientific understanding, 100 and 200 years later people were still condemned, even burned at the stake, for suggesting that the Earth moved around the Sun. Now we know that's not even the only sun and it's a relatively minor star in the scheme of things.


So in Cramer's day “world” meant all of Creation. In our day the world means this particular planet or even the part of it that we like…


When do we tell stories. What do we mean by the words that we say- especially those words that have become so familiar that we stop thinking about them. Last week, we talked about the first creation story in the Bible – rembmer, there are a bunch of them.


the first one begins with a wind of God, the spirit of God hovering over the void. Light and darkness are separated. There's a rhythm, a cycle - day and night, morning and evening. The story tells of the separation of the waters, the creation of the heavens, the land and the Sea. The vegetation. The Sun and the Moon to mark the season's – time. The creatures of the sea and the air and the land… and then on the sixth day: Humanity. In our diversity, created in the image of God. Different, as male and female, and still reflecting God's will, God's intentional will. I suggested last week that the main point of this story, the reason our ancestors told this story was to proclaim God's goodness. God's intention and that there is a rhythm, a cycle, a Holiness to rest. Our culture struggles with rest. We have to be busy. We have to apologize if we're not working all the time - but that was never God's intention. God's intention was rest and work and play. God's intention was through Humanity to work and rest - with God.


The first story never identifies a garden, but it is certainly a paradise. All is as God intends. We sang “In the Garden” - A beautiful, much beloved, hymn. I have to confess that for a long time I didn't like that hymn and I didn't like that hymn because the chorus. He walks with me he talks with me…. that is beautifully and powerfully true


But then as we sing the joy I knew no others have never known…. What? I always thought that sounded selfish. Other people know God! Other people know Christ… this isn’t singular. So I took it very literally and I struggled. I had snapped to an understanding of that verse and I wasn't willing to see it in any other way… hmmm.


It hasn't been that long ago that I finally sat down with that and went… okay, everybody else I know LOVES this hymn. What am I missing. Am I the only one that sees this flaw? and I finally realized this does make sense.. it’s not selfish, but it is personal. One of my core convictions is that we are all exactly the same… in being unique and unrepeatable. We're all different! We are intended to be different. We don't have the exact same experiences and so even though I am committed to the idea that other people have experiences of Christ and experience God's revelation … I realized it’s true that no one else has exactly the same experience. Because no one else is that unique person. We bring our uniqueness, that God intends, to our relationship with God, therefore we are unique and unrepeatable… just like everybody else! There's a tension in those ideas. I finally got my head around the beautiful, powerful truth of that hymn. I It is not denying anyone else's experience, it's joyfully proclaiming our own - in community with others who have similar, not identical, experiences in the garden, where God intends us to be. Where God intends to walk and talk and break bread together…


but that's a long way off for most of us. We tell other stories and one of the stories we tell of creation is why does God seem to be so far away. We tell a story of human freedom and human disobedience. The second story that our Hebrew ancestors arranged in the Bible has a completely different order. It's not meant to fit together with the first one. I shared before one of the lessons indigenous people, my Native American brothers and sisters have taught me, is that stories are told for a purpose in oral cultures. More to tell why things happen than how - so it's okay that the seven days of the first story don't fit neatly together with the second story. We don't have to wrestle with that - we have to listen to what each story proclaims and again the story says that the creation of humanity is intentional. Willed by God. That God takes dust before anything else exists, before the land has been watered, according to this story. God takes dust and molds it into A’dam (Hebrew pronunciation – means person) the first human and then breathes life into A’dam and he becomes a living being and this creature this person we call Adam (English name) This first human partners with God. God creates the garden. God places the man in the garden and wants the man to help care for the garden, to have dominion (shared responsibility and care for). God creates the creatures and gives Adam dominion by having Adam name the creatures and in the ancient near East, in Jewish theology, knowing a creature's name is powerful. To know… To name… To have the right to name. That's power that's authority and yet in their naming God becomes aware that there is no true companionship for Adam. And so in this story God puts Adam to sleep takes a rib creates another being, another human The woman, Eve, so now we have male and female, intentionally willfully created by God. Endowed with free will and we know the story in Genesis 3. The serpent arrives and deceives Eve. Did God really say…. the serpent begins playing nuance with words. Sometimes in our Christian tradition we see any suggestion that things aren't exactly the way we've always understood them to be the serpent once again testing us when in fact I think sometimes the serpent tempts us with certainty. With the illusion that we all understand everything. After all that's the temptation in the garden - knowledge if you eat this you'll be like God. We think we understand we think we're in control… we're not.


But the deception happens, the fruit is taken Eve gives it to Adam. Adam eats and they both know… They become self-aware. They realize they're naked. They realize they are ashamed, that they are disobedient. They seek to hide from God, who walks in the garden, who seeks to talk with them. To be in relationship with them… but something now has changed. “Where are you?” God says. “Why are you hiding from me? Who told you were naked?” There are consequences to disobedience and so God becomes angry and Adam and Eve are expelled exiled from the garden but they are not strictly punished. If you read Genesis 3, God provides for them. They are no longer able to live in the innocence of the garden, they now have knowledge. They have knowledge of Temptation, of power, of seeking glory, of greed, of crossing boundaries… and so God sets a new boundary. Tou can no longer be in the garden, but God doesn't send them away naked. He provides clothing. He provides food - now they have to work for it. There's all kinds of explanations of why this or that is painful. Why the snake no longer has legs… but they're not strictly punishments that God wills - they are consequences. In these circumstances… this is what happens. It’s not what God wanted – not intentional will. God has said a natural order and when we violate that there are consequences


if a child falls out of a window, gravity takes over. God doesn't arbitrarily change the rules. and yet we pray – and when we pray we are changed. We see possibilities. We use our gifts, our creativity, our ingenuity to come up with solutions and medicines and sometimes, we can recover from the consequences of our choices and other people’s choices. We pray for wholeness and healing – not that God will arbitrarily change things but that we will see a way to go on when it seems there is no way. We experience miracles of healing and wholeness despite the odds – and we see the miracles that are so common we call them ordinary.


Sometimes our prayers are answered … always our prayers are answered … sometimes they're answered the way we hoped for. Sometimes we experience tragic accidents and realize that we only escape by the grace of God and yet we don't pursue that theology too hard because if you get to an absolute on that it, means anybody who didn't… well that was God's will. Is it? Did God single out that person for punishment and not that person… Much of Christian theology has said so. The entire book of job is about wrestling with that dilemma. Is every bad thing that happened God's Will?


or is God With Us. Is God willing to weep with us, to accept our anger and our frustration with Injustice, and even with the natural order, with the consequences. The Bible does not give a single, simple answer. It is full of different understandings that. We are called to wrestle with these tensions.


The same Bible that tells us to “rejoice always” has an entire book called Lamentations. God knows what it is to weep. God calls us to joy and wholeness. God doesn't demand that we don't acknowledge sorrow and suffering. We don't have to choose one or the other they are held together in tension – and in that is… a deep joy.


My second sermon series here, I talked about how the Bible is put together and we looked at the stories of the Old Testament. The prophets, the teachings, the times when Israel grew in prosperity, the times when Israel fell into exile. When they worshiped falsely. When they became too full of themselves. We talked about the kingdom dividing, the Assyrians taking the north and it becoming known as Samaria. The Jews hated the Samaritans because they thought they'd sold out… then the southern Kingdom falls to Babylon. The leadership is taken into exile. We are presented with different trajectories, different understandings. The Old Testament wrestles with what it means to be God's people when bad things happen.


And yet one of the remarkable things about our Jewish ancestors… in the ancient near East what was supposed to happen if you went to war and you lost … well clearly the other parties God was more powerful and you were supposed to worship them and again and again our Jewish ancestors said: “no… there is one God and somehow we have let the Covenant down. We have been disobedient. It's profound and often helpful insight but it's a very destructive one when we apply it to other people. You are suffering because you were disobedient. I am not because I am good. We are created to be good… we are created by God's intentional will. The circumstances of our collective choices sometimes cause bad things to happen. I don't believe those bad things are God's will. I don't. I believe God walks with us, suffers with us, laughs with us. God knows what it is to be human and God demonstrates that in the great stories we tell of incarnation, of Christmas, of the life and ministry and teaching of Jesus, and yes, of Easter, of the suffering, torture, death of Jesus and the empty tomb. Because darkness and sin do not have the final word. Suffering does not have the final word. God is with us. God is light. God is wholeness. God is life and God's will is for us to join God in that life and wholeness.


The Bible is full of stories, of passages, of sayings, of moments. When we get fixated on one understanding of one and we don't leave any room for the Bible itself to push against that understanding, then we go astray. We miss the wonder and beauty and comfort. Jesus’ ministry is full of him taking a passage from the Old Testament and turning it on its head to make a lesson to the Pharisees or the Sadducees who are so full of their understanding that they can't see God's own son standing before them. The very Messiah their faith points to, they don't believe him because it will disrupt their power and the way they've always done things. We pray every week “thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven”” thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven” how do we know God's will? We know God's will because we have seen God's son, God’s Word become flesh. Our call is to be Christ-like, to follow Christ. As we do that he gave us some touchstones some ways of knowing he sat at table with people from all walks of life.


On the night before he suffered and died he sat with those closest to him. He took bread, he gave thanks to his father in Heaven, he broke the bread. He said “take, eat, this is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. When the supper was ended, he took the cup. He again gave thanks to his Father in Heaven. He gave it to those who were with him and he said drink from this all of you, this is the blood of the new covenant, the cup of salvation poured out for the forgiveness of sin for you and for many. Drink from it often in remembrance of me…and so in remembrance of these your mighty acts in Christ Jesus. We offer ourselves as a holy and living sacrifice in union with Christ offering for us. We gather to worship. We gather to be fed We gather to be sent forth, to be the body of Christ at this time and place. We gather a table with our Lord and our savior.


In the United Methodist tradition, we understand that Christ is making the invitation and so we don't try to control the table. Officially by our Doctrine you're supposed to be baptized but you won't find a United Methodist Pastor that will exclude you if you haven't been or you're not sure because we know that the impetus to come to the table is God working in your life. I may not the way I might have it be working but the way God is working uniquely with you. So if you are here, you do not have to be a member of this congregation, you do not have to be a United Methodist, you don't have to have it all figured out… you just have to have that nudge from God to go forth to accept this broken bit of Christ's body… this Blood of forgiveness… to take the next step on your journey and we don't do that alone. We do that in community and so we will gather. I invite those who are helping with communion to come forward.


We will take a bit of bread we'll pass it down the rows - please hold the bread until everyone's been served and then I'll announce that we can consume the body together. We'll do the same thing with the cup and then I'll come back and finish up the sermon…


SERVING HOLY COMMUION


God offers himself. God is Not distant or angry,. God offers himself. The Good Shepherd knows his flock. When one is lost, the Good Shepherd goes after it, even leaving the 99 to find the one. Have you ever been the one? Because it doesn't make any sense, this radical love of God, this willingness to chase after the sheep that strays.


and yet God pursues us God loves us even to the point of death on a Cross


This sermon series draws from a book written by Rev. Leslie Weatherhead, an Anglican preacher who served during World War II. He led a congregation in London during the nightly raids of the London Blitz and sought to make sense of the suffering and the death that surrounded them, the horrors of War and. the Nazi regime


He developed this understanding of God's intentional will, of creation and yet giving that creation and particularly humans freedom, and the consequences of misuse of that freedom.


Weatherhead talks about God's circumstantial will - given these circumstances - here is how we will continue to make progress towards God's Ultimate Will. Suffering and death and even denial cannot ultimately defeat God's will, which is grace and love and relationship - but God also does not coerce us


So many theologies fall into the trap of violence and coercion. They sound like Babylon's creation story, not ours. We believe that God's Will will be done and yet God is patient, waiting for us to understand, working in the circumstances of our Lives. Not willing bad things to happen, not even, in my understanding the Cross. Surely Weatherhead writes, the cross is not God's intentional will. God's intentional will is creation - but given the circumstances of evil, given the circumstances of authoritarian understandings, of coercion and power, and human sin when the circumstances lead to a choice Jesus has to make - to either deny his call and his ministry, deny his father, his love for all of humanity or to run away. In those circumstances, Jesus chooses the cross. Jesus prays not my will but thine but that doesn't mean that the suffering and death is God's will - but given the circumstances it's what will happen and God will now use those terrible circumstances, even the cross to again proclaim hope and life and light and a new creation.


We hang a cross around our necks. We hang a cross on the walls of our sacred places… in the first century Rome used the cross as the ultimate torture.


if I showed a picture of a noose I'd be conveying a very different message than I am when I put up a picture of a cross and yet in the first century the message would not have been different at all. They were symbols of power, of dominance, of control, of torture and death. God is transforming the evil humanity wills into good. God doesn't will the cross. God overcomes the cross. In the circumstances this will happen, but that doesn't mean that what happened is God's will. Our call is to be open to how God will transform the pain and the brokenness and yes even the evil humans intend and reveal yet again God's grace and God's love and God's call to wholeness.


The passage we read from Matthew - there's a really disturbing section, very often we skip over it we read the first part and the last part because it's friendly and it's comfortable. The disciples, despite all they have experienced with Jesus… I find it so hard to believe they do this but they're fighting over who will be the greatest in the kingdom of God and they ask him and he takes a child. A child that has no rights. No authority and he sets it among them and says this is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven… unless you become like this child, you give up what you think you deserve and know and control… and be born anew - if you're willing to be formed as I would form you, not the way the systems of dominion and power and control are forming you… I preached a few weeks ago on the translation of the words of children in another passage that Jesus talks about the children calling in the market. “We sang a tune you didn't dance, we mourned you didn't weep with us” and the interplay he's making in the language there about children who are being formed by a system and infants – those that haven't reached the age where they can be yet be formed… it is a very subtle repetition of the call to be born again - to become like children - to be formed as God's disciples, as Christ disciples. Rejecting systems of domination and violence and following Christ.


The root word of discipline is disciple - but most of the time when we talk about discipline sometimes we mean self-control, but usually we mean punishment and control by someone else but that's not what the root word means. The word root word means one who follows. One who learns - to be disciplined is to be taught, to be built up, to be formed! Christ calls us to be disciplined, to be discipled in his way, not the ways of power and violence and control and yes in the middle of this passage he uses some very violent images. “It would be better for you,” he says, “if you create a stumbling block for someone else, if you misuse the systems of the world to control others, if you set a stumbling block before others - it would be better for you for Millstone to be wrapped around your neck to be cast into the sea. It would be better for you to cut off the hand that leads you to temptation, To gouge out the eye does.


Jesus does NOT want us to gouge out our body parts. No that is not God's will. No. What Jesus is making a point of is this - this is serious! You wouldn't tie a millstone around your neck and jump into the water. You certainly wouldn't gouge out your own eye or cut off your own hand and yet that is exactly what you are doing when you fail to hear me - to be formed, to be discipled. You are harming yourself, fighting your true self. it's not my will that you suffer but you are creating suffering for yourself and for others in your choices. Instead - follow me become like this child and don't worry…


don't worry… when one is lost I will come looking. The farmer has a hundred sheep, 99 are in the fold, one is missing … even human Shepherds will go and look. God is more than a good shepherd.


God is will is that not one of these children will be lost. God's will is wholeness for all of humanity. God's will is wholeness and healing, strengthening our weak knees, lifting our weary hands, becoming the body of Christ. Caring for God's creation and God's children. Being Christ-like. Following the way that Christ reveals - for if we have seen him we have seen the father – who walks with us and talks with us… and tell us we are his own. That's what I believe. Thanks be to God. Amen



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