Thursday, September 6, 2012

Sermon for August 11 and 12, 2012 (my last sermon at LCCR)

Texts for the day here.

Kristi and I came through the doors of LCCR for the first time in March of 2008. After my graduation in 2007, we'd spent several months looking for a new church home for us. We were both newly confirmed Lutherans, and in the best Saint Olaf tradition we were lovers of good music with an ear for good prayers and good liturgy.

We were slowly working our way through the list of Reconciling in Christ churches that might fit us when my Augsburg Fortress co-worker, John Schlobohm, came over to my desk one day and said, "Hey Emmy, do you like kids?"

This is one of those questions you have to be very careful about answering. It can mean anything from "Do you want to babysit?" to "Do you know how to find Bible coloring pages on the internet?" to "Do you want to commit yourself to caring for the emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of forty-some children and youth, along with their parents and families and friends, for the next four years of your life?"

Well. You know what my answer was.

And when I first started, I had a very simple understanding of what I would be doing. For me, fresh-faced and entirely inexperienced at twenty-three years of age, I thought I fully understood my job as the Children's Education Associate. My job was to tell the story of Jesus.

Over time I came to understand that "tell the story of Jesus" was too narrow a definition. My job was to tell the story of God.

But the longer I worked with lesson planning and Christmas pageants and committee meetings, it became clear that the story of God was impossible to tell without also telling the story of God's people.

And then it became clear that the story of God and the story of God's people, which we call the Bible, is really more of a drawing together and interweaving of a lot of different stories, so then my job was to tell the many stories of God and God's people.

And of course, some days, my job was to tell the many stories of God and God's people in such a way that I prevented complete and utter anarchy from breaking out in the sixty minutes of Education Hour.

So let me tell you a few of those stories.

Our lectionary, the readings chosen for each Sunday, cycles through the major stories of the Old Testament every three years. This year -- Year B -- spends a lot of time in First and Second Samuel, the books that tell the story of how Israel, a group of affiliated tribes that conquered and settled in Canaan, became a country led by a king. From May through August this year we read through the grand arc of Israel's struggle to become a nation. The birth and young life of the prophet Samuel. The peoples' cry for a king to lead their country, and Samuel's reluctant anointing of a young man named Saul. Then Saul's unwillingness to follow God's commandments, and the secret anointing of a new king named David. But David too would fail as king. Last week we heard the story of how he took Uriah the Hittite's wife for himself, even though he had plenty of his own, and how he then commanded the army to let Uriah be killed; how the prophet Nathan came to him and said, "God knows what you have done, and God will raise up trouble against you from within your own house."

And so it comes to pass in today's reading. The corrupting power that ruined Saul and David now touches Absalom. He usurps the throne, without his father's blessing, the prophet's anointing, or the choosing of God. David and his family flee Jerusalem, fearing the crowds and armies. And now, in today's story, they battle. Today the army of Israel, now following Absalom, goes out against the small gathered army of David. David still longs to reconcile with his son, to sort things out, perhaps even to pass on the kingship to him at the right and proper time, and so he tells his army: "Deal gently with Absalom. Let him live." But goes with his armor-bearers to kill Absalom, trapped in a tree.

And so the story of the great king David, leader of the people Israel, ends today in a devastated parent's cry: "My son, my son, my son Absalom!"

The psalm today picks up that cry of devastation, of abandonment, of despair and fear: "O Lord, hear my voice! Out of the depths I cry to you." The voice of the psalmist speaks alongside the story of David: "What about my sins? What about my past? Will they too raise up trouble from my own house? I know I have no power to save myself; my only hope is in God."

This is good. This is what the lectionary does, at its best. It brings us food, in the form of stories. Stories from many people, many places, many different times. All these fruits of the stories of the people of God come together, laid out on a table of a common theme, so that we can eat and be nourished. The lectionary can, in one sense, be a waiter, our guide through the meal that is the Biblical story. The lectionary can be a server that pairs good food and good wine, so that two or three stories that seem so different can nourish that one hunger in us.

And then you have Paul, who never sticks to the rules. Today's reading from the letter to the Ephesians is sequential -- we read from chapter 3 last week, and so on. Today's reading doesn't pair as well with the stories of Absalom and the psalmist's despair. Today Paul is writing to build up a new church, to encourage them, to pray for them, to help them form a story that will become one of the stories of God's people.

Paul, who never sticks to the rules, became, as he says, a prisoner and a servant of Christ Jesus for the sake of the Gentiles, the pagans, the people outside of the nation of Israel. Paul goes from becoming The Very Most Righteous to seeking out the ones considered the very most unrighteous. The church in Ephesus was mostly Gentile, mostly people who had little or no knowledge of the stories of God and God's people. They were people who did not know the stories of Moses and the Israelites in the desert, the story of the commandments, the stories of caring for one another even in the wilderness, of manna from heaven to remind the people to rely on God and take only what they needed. The Ephesians did not know the stories of Samuel and of Saul and of David, of what can happen when power corrupts you, of how your live can turn sour and rotten when you live only for yourself. So Paul, who never sticks to the rules, lays down a few of his own: "Do not sin. Do not steal. Work honestly; share with the poor. Be kind, forgive one another. Live in love, as Christ loved us."

So we have these three very different stories coming together with us this Sunday. Three stories -- three authors -- three times and places -- three casts of characters, three heroes, three struggles. Three beginnings, and middles, and ends.

And yet these three stories are drawn together. The whole of the Biblical narrative, from many places and times, from many people who often fall short of their very best -- all of these are drawn into God's one grand story, the arc of light that crosses people and places and generations and eras. Some are dramatic, lit by flashing lights and underscored with orchestras. Some are quiet, slow-moving, a brook that wears away at the walls around it. And yet all these stories are drawn up into God's one grand story, God's unfolding tale of salvation and restoration, the one great feast where all are fed.

At different times we will find our own nourishment in different stories. In the mourning of David, in the lament of the psalmist, in the rules of Paul, we can taste something of ourselves, and be fed from one great feast.

Because it is not only the Biblical stories that become a meal to fill our hunger. Our own stories are drawn into God's one grand story here, at the communion table, where we share one bread -- the bread of life.

We are drawn by God, pulled by the One who sent Christ to us, so that our many stories might be seen in the light of God's one grand story.

In every story there is a beginning, and a middle, and an end. Today, you will send Liz and Annette and me out into the world, to continue the lives of ministry we've grown here. The drawing of our stories into LCCR's story comes to, if not an end, a rest.

And so we mourn with David, and so we lament with the psalmist, at the ending of this time here, at the changing of relationships, at a new time where we must leave our family.

But yet we also hope with Paul.

For Paul, when we eat of this bread and drink of this cup, we are forever changed. We are members of one another. Not members of a club, or a corporation, or a cooperative, or a country, but of a family. We become members of the body of Christ. And if this new life is eternal -- and for Paul it absolutely is -- then this is a new family that you belong to, for always. And if this is for always, then we'd better play nice. There isn't room or time or energy for living in anger, for living in corrupt power, for living for self -- not when we are living in the one great grand family of God.

And if this is new family for always, then today is an end -- but it is not the end. Our stories go on. Your stories go on. And our many stories will always be part of the story of the family of God.

For all our stories are drawn into God's one grand story, and all of us are fed with the one living bread.

Come and eat, and live your story.


1 comment:

  1. Good night, girl. If you ever doubt your calling, come back and read this. And rest in the call God has on your life to illuminate His Word for the world. Love you.