Sermon preached September 19, 2010
Text: Zechariah 9:16-10:1
Play “Name That Tune”:
Duke Ellington, Take the “A” Train
Bill Haley and the Comets, Rock Around the Clock
The Bee Gees, Night Fever
Eric Clapton, Let It Rain
Let It Rain, youTube
Familiar songs bring a measure of joy and comfort to our lives. There are days when simply hearing the first familiar notes or chords brings a smile to my face.
I think it is a good thing to have some simple pleasures like familiar songs in our lives, for the world we live in can be difficult, challenging, confusing. Bob Johansen, past president of, and now a distinguished fellow with, the Institute for the Future, in his book Leaders Make the Future, argues that we live in a VUCA world – a world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. “If you are not confused by current events… you are not paying attention” (xiv). I think he is on to something.
Tuesday the winner of a primary election for governor in the state of New York said in his victory speech, “we are mad as hell” and he promised in his campaign to “take a baseball bat to Albany” (Carl Paladino, New York republican nominee for governor). Anger and fear have a place in the repertoire of human responses to the world, but I know when I react mostly out of anger and fear, my decisions are not their best. But that can be part of the VUCA world. So, too mistrust. Friday’s newspaper contained an article about a recent survey conducted of Americans (Associated Press National Constitution Center). “Glum and mistrusting, a majority of Americans today are very confident in – nobody.” When asked about their trust in people running major institutions, 43% said they are extremely or very confident in the military. That tops the list. 39% expressed confidence in small or local business leaders; the scientific community came in at 30%, and next, at 18% organized religion. Anger and mistrust are some responses to living in a VUCA world even when they are not the healthiest reponses.
So if the world is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, should we be counter-cultural and offer a simple faith message? Didn’t Jesus speak of becoming childlike? There are some in the Christian community who would argue for a faith that is counter-cultural in being simple. I agree, to a point. Some matters of faith can and should be simply stated. We are about loving God and loving others. We are a Christ-centered community that welcomes all people, is guided by the teachings and unconditional love of Jesus, and is inspired to live as disciples of Jesus. There is something to be said for stating who we are and what we are about simply. And we should be counter-cultural, though I would argue that the focus of our counter-cultural stance should be kindness when the world is callous, reconciling when the world is divisive, thoughtful when the world is simplistic.
There’s the rub – sometimes focusing only on the simple in one’s faith can become simplistic. It is simple to say, “love,” but what love requires in a complex world can be complex. Most would say that loving and lying don’t mix, but how about if you know the location of an abused spouse and her husband calls asking if you know where she is? We speak of the Bible as the Word of God because we trust that God’s Spirit still speaks to us through those words. But we also know something of the human authors and the human construction of the text. We know something about the nature of language - - - All human language changes in meaning and reference over time (Sandra Schneiders, IDB)
While I believe Christian faith is often counter-cultural I also believe Jesus invites us to a faith in God that incorporates complexity and understands ambiguity. One of the gifts of this church is that we seek such a thoughtful faith in God and in Jesus. We are not afraid, even in a VUCA world, of asking questions, of seeing the full complexity of issues, of grasping ambiguity. We want to nurture here a thoughtful and compassionate Christian faith.
But Christian faith in a VUCA world also needs to be authentic and passionate. There are many reasons, I am sure, why only 18% of the people surveyed by the Associate Press expressed confidence in organized religion. We have not always been good at being thoughtful, compassionate, authentic and passionate all together. People want to see in people of faith authenticity – a genuine concern for and understanding of the complexities of being human. People want to see in people of faith passion – a deep desire to see the world be a better place and a willingness to do something about it. People want to see a faith that makes a positive difference in people’s lives.
We need, in this VUCA world a faith that permeates our whole lives. We need to be people who soak up Jesus, soak up the Spirit of God like a dry sponge soaks up water.
Over the summer I thought a lot about this church this coming year. We have a lot of good things going for us. We have some understanding of the kind of faith in Jesus Christ that is going to make sense in a VUCA world. But we are not fully where I think we can be. I have felt this inarticulate yearning in my heart and soul for us to be even more of who we are. This summer, during my own formational reading of the Bible (distinct from “professional reading”), I was reading Zechariah, and I came across this phrase – “ask rain from the Lord in the season of the spring rain.” Kind of a strange verse to preach on in September, but it gives words to my prayer for our church for this year. Ask rain from the Lord in the season of the spring rain. It is a prayer for what is needed when it is needed.
My prayer for our church, for our life together this year, is that God’s Spirit would soak us like rain, and I believe this is the time for that to happen in some deep and profound way. My prayer is “let it rain.”
My prayer is that everyone of us will risk asking those profound and uncomfortable questions that move our faith and our church forward. Let it rain.
My prayer is that everyone of us will go a little bit deeper, a little bit further in our relationship with Jesus. Let it rain.
My prayer is that everyone will develop a new energy for prayer and worship. Let it rain.