Friday, February 4, 2011

Do Be Do Be Do

Sermon preached January 30, 2011

Texts: Micah 6:6-8; I Corinthians 1:26-31; Matthew 5:1-12

Did you know that it is possible to lead a cow up stairs but not down stairs? Did you know that, by Kentucky law citizens of that state must bathe at least once a year? Did you know that the pitches Babe Ruth hit for his final home run and Joe DiMaggio hit for first home run were thrown by the same pitcher? Did you know that William Shakespeare was about 46 when the King James Bible was produced. In Psalm 46, the 46th word from the beginning is “shake” and the 46th word from the end is “spear?” Did you know that intelligent people have more zinc and copper in their hair? I am guessing that I just got too near a powerful magnet!
Did you know that you cannot trust everything you read on the internet? The Shakespeare thing works. There was a KJV Gideon bible in my hotel room in Augusta, Georgia this week – so I checked it out. The Ruth/DiMaggion thing does not appear to be true. DiMaggio hit his first home run off a pitcher named George Turbeville in 1936 and Ruth hit his final home run off a pitcher named Guy Bush in 1935. I wasn’t about to call an acquaintance in Kentucky to ask him if he was required by law to take a bath once a year. The hair thing, let just not go there.
Well, here are some things I hope you do know, not from the internet, but from the heart of Christian faith.
I hope you know you are called by God. God knows you. God knows you in the depth of who you are. God knows your deepest dreams and most dreaded fears. He knows what you are most proud of and what you wish you could forget. God knows all that, and God loves you and God continues to call to you to be one of God’s people. That is true for each and every one of us here. “Consider you own call, brothers and sisters,” Paul writes. This past week I met a woman at the denominational meeting I attended. Cathy Cox is currently the President of Young Harris College in Georgia, a United Methodist school. She was, for eight years, the Secretary of State of Georgia, and then a candidate for governor. I believe she saw her political life as part of responding to God’s call in her life, and now sees her work at Young Harris as a response to God’s call.
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters. And God’s call is not just to us individually, God also calls us corporately, as First United Methodist Church. I believe God has something to do with our being together, and that God has some work for us to do together as this church.
Another thing I hope you know, I hope you know that you are gifted by God. You, yourself are a gift. No one is just like you. Only you have the experiences you have. Only you can share you with the world. Only you have your gifts and strengths, and the gifts and strengths you have are the ones you will need to respond to the call of God in your life. Another way of saying this is that you have all you need to respond to God’s call in your life. Yes, following Jesus may stretch you, but you are not without the gifts needed to follow. You may need to grow and develop your gifts, but you don’t have to wait for other gifts to live for God, to follow Jesus.
In I Corinthians, Paul shares words that may not seem all that complimentary. “Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.” Paul is not trying to tell them that they are not the brightest bulbs in the chandelier. He is trying to say that these people are gifted by God, even if the world does not always see the gift. God sees the gift that is you. The church is a place where we affirm each other’s gifts.
You are a gift. You have the gifts you need to respond to God’s call in your life. The same is true for our congregation. We have the gifts we need in the people we have to live out God’s call for us. As we welcome new people who come our way, who God might be bringing our way, they will add to the mix of gifts we have to live out God’s call as this church. As new people come, God’s call will change and shift. Yet at any time we have the gifts we need in the people we have to live out God’s call to this church. God’s call may stretch us. God’s call may require that we develop our gifts more fully, but we have what we need to be God’s people. I hope you know that.
I hope we know something else. While we will discuss, sometimes debate, and always seek to discern the more precise direction of God’s call in our lives and in our life together, we know the broad direction for our lives and our church.
In the October 5, 2010 issue of The Christian Century there was a fascinating article entitled, “Why You Don’t Have To Find God’s Will For Your Life” (Phillip Cary) Sort of cuts against everything we have been discussing in recent weeks, doesn’t it? But not really. We have specific decisions to make about things like career or marriage, and the law of God doesn't tell us to choose this job over that one or this potential spouse over that one. So how do we know what to do? … If you're looking for a formula or method for making decisions, then you're looking for the wrong thing. There is no recipe. There is only wisdom, the heart's intelligent skill at discerning good decisions from bad ones. This skill is not a method- not a formula you can apply to particular situations simply by following the rules, but a habit of the heart you have to develop through long experience of your own, which includes making mistakes from time to time. Specific decisions require wisdom, discernment, but the author adds this about God’s call, God intention, God’s purpose, God’s will: If you want to know God's will for your life, here it is: "He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8). The will of God for your life is justice, kindness and a humble walk with {God}. While we will discuss, sometimes debate, and always seek to discern the more precise direction of God’s call in our lives and in our life together, I hope, I trust, we know the broad direction for our lives and our church. It is the direction of doing justice. It is the direction of loving kindness. It is the direction of deepening our relationship with God. Micah 6:8 is a touchstone text for understanding the broad direction of God’s intention for our lives. Matthew 5 is another. Cultivating a certain spirit, being open to mourning, meekness, hungering and thirsting for righteousness and justice, being merciful, seeking a pure heart, making peace, having the courage to face difficulty as we seek to be God’s people.
What I hope you notice here is that there is inner work and outer work in following Jesus, in seeking to live as God would have us live. There is the work of loving others. There is the work of shaping the world, changing the world in the direction of peace and justice. There is the work of being changed within. Do. Be. Do. Be. Do Be Do Be Do.
I don’t know where precisely following Jesus may take me. Sometimes when I am at these denominational meetings, I will have someone ask me if I have ever considered working for the church in a different capacity, at a national level. “We think you would be good in this job.” I pay attention, but I don’t know if that will be my future someday. I am here, now, feeling called to be with you, to see what more God has in store for us. Some of you have some of those experiences, too. Someone says, “I think you have the gifts for ___________.” You pay attention. God might call you there some day. But whatever I do, I know that I am supposed to continue growing in my relationship with God. I know that I want to grow within – grow in love and kindness and peacefulness and mercy. I know that I am to use my gifts to make the world better. I think you are to do the same.
And for our church – how is it God hopes we will help people grow within? How is it God hopes we will extend mercy, do justice, create peace? We have to figure out the specifics, but we know the direction. We want to be wise and discerning when deciding about ministry opportunities and programming options, but we know what we want them to be about. Making a difference in the world. Being different within. Do. Be.
While imprisoned in a Nazi camp, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter on the occasion of the baptism of a close friend. In his letter he pondered the future of the Christian church and Christian faith. He was deeply disappointed by the failure of the church to stand against Adolph Hitler and the Nazis. He was in prison because of his own opposition to Hitler. He penned these words in May 1944: Our church, which has been fighting in these years only for its self-preservation, as though that were an end in itself, is incapable of taking the word of reconciliation and redemption to humankind and the world. Our earlier words are therefore bound to lose their force and cease, and our being Christian today will be limited to two things: prayer and righteous action among persons. A more recent translation of the latter phrase is “prayer and in doing justice among human beings.” Whatever the value of Bonhoeffer’s analysis of the church, he finds the heart of God's intention for us – prayer, the shaping of our inner life, and righteous action – shaping the world. Do. Be.
God calls us. God gives us gifts. We are to use our gifts to respond to the call, and we know where the call is taking us – prayer and action, toward being different and making a difference, toward having Christ formed in us and being Christ for the world. Do Be Do Be Do. Amen.

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