Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, July 6, 2014: Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Genesis 24:34-38,42-49,58-67  +  Psalm 45:10-17  +  Romans 7:15-25a  +  Matthew 11:16-19,25-30

Illegal-Kids-Cross-US-BorderAn unknown man walks into your hometown and offers to take you away from your family, away from your country, to another land and another group of people. He discusses the offer with your parents, who seem willing to let you go but are willing to leave the decision to you. As you consider the possible futures that lay before you, you parents ask you “will you go with this man?” And, perhaps to your surprise, you hear yourself saying, “I will.”

What would have to be going on in your life, in your world, for such an offer from an unknown person to seem like the wiser course of action? What would it take for you to leave all that you have ever known and set out for a new nation, placing your life in someone else’s hands?

That is the essence of the story we hear from Genesis this morning. Having been tried and tested throughout his long life, Father Abraham has buried his wife, Sarah, and is nearing death. All that God had promised him has come to pass. Called to leave their own homeland behind, Abraham and Sarah have come into the land that was promised to them; they have borne a child, Isaac, against all odds; and now all that remains is for Abraham to be sure that Isaac has a wife so that their family line can continue and God’s promise to make them progenitors of a vast people more numerous than the stars in the sky can be fulfilled.

Having built a new life for himself in this new land, Abraham does not want to return to Haran, the land of his birth, to find Isaac a wife — and he doesn’t want Isaac to return there either. What would be the point of all that they’d sacrificed, all that they’d risked, if their son simply returned to the place they’d come from? At the same time, Abraham doesn’t want Isaac to marry one of the women in Canaan where they have made their home. Like many a first generation immigrant, Abraham is caught between identifying with the land of his birth, and the place he and his wife had come to call home.

So Abraham, who has slowly, finally, come to understand that God’s promises will be kept in God’s time, does what he has learned to do. He makes a plan and takes action, charging his chief servant to return to their homeland to find a wife for Isaac, but allowing that things may or may not turn out as planned. As Abraham sends his servant off on this mission he says,

“See to it that you do not take my son back there. The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land,’ he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine; only you must not take my son back there.” (Gen. 24:7-8)

There’s something interesting about this story, something that makes it more approachable to ordinary people like you and me: God doesn’t speak. Over the long course of their relationship, God has spoken to Abraham, guiding and directing him. Now, nearing the end of his life, Abraham takes action without knowing precisely what God expects or desires. Standing at the threshold between life and death, having achieved great things but knowing that the future remains uncertain, Abraham does not hear a voice from God instructing him in what to do. Instead, he exercises discernment. He makes a choice, one that is obviously colored by his own experience, perhaps even his own prejudices, but one that also creates an opportunity for a future for his family.

This theme is repeated throughout this story. The servant whom Abraham sent back to Haran comes to a well, and there he offers a prayer, a plea for God’s assistance. He says,

“Oh LORD, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. I am standing here by the spring of water, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. Let the girl to whom I shall say, ‘Please offer your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’ — let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac.” (Gen. 24:12-14)

Faced with a difficult challenge, Abraham’s servant turns to God in prayer and shows signs of discernment. His criteria may, initially, seem odd — a woman who will offer him a drink and water his camels — it’s not the sort of thing we might post in our own online profiles, but it shows that he is looking for a woman who demonstrates evidence of kindness, generosity and hospitality to strangers. These would be markers of a faithful woman who heeded God’s call to show hospitality to strangers, as Abraham and Sarah did when God came to them by the oaks of Mamre (Gen. 18) to announce that they would have a son.

When just such a woman does show up in the form of Rebekah, whose gracious hospitality is almost comic in proportions as she fetches water for not only the servant but his ten thirsty camels as well, God still does not speak. Instead the scriptures say that Abraham’s servant “gazed at her in silence to learn whether or not the LORD had made his journey successful” (Gen. 24:21). Like us, this servant of the LORD relies on prayer and then makes the best decision he can, trusting God to be faithful to God’s promises.

Having done his part, the final discernment is left to Rebekah, a woman whom the author of Genesis goes to great lengths to compare to Abraham himself. Like him, she is called out of their shared homeland, called to leave family and nation behind. Like him she offers hospitality to a stranger, in fulfillment of God’s commands. Like him she is offered a blessing that anticipates the she will become the mother of nations who will inherit a land of their own (Gen. 24:60). But all these things rest on her own decision, freely made, to step into this new reality, which she does — not because she hears the voice of God, but because she discerns something in the servant’s story that rings true, and leads her to step forward in faith.

“Faith,” said Martin Luther, “is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times.” Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace. That is what Abraham finally shows here at the end of his long life. No longer trying to force God’s hand with attempts to engineer his own future by means of his slave, Eliezer, or through his wife’s slave, Hagar; Abraham’s penultimate action is to chart a course forward that demonstrates a living, daring confidence that God will be whom God has been. It is living because it is happening in the present, influencing decision being made in real-time. It is daring because there is something of real value being risked — his family’s future.

This story about the passing of generations has so much to say to us, here, today.  As Abraham and Sarah give way to Isaac and Rebekah, we see how in each generation God’s call sounds remarkably similar, inviting us to leave the security of what we have known behind and to be willing to make big decisions, in the present, risking all that has been hard won, to ensure a future for our families.

Immigration Overload Hot SpotWe see it being played out on the border of our country every day, as young women and men leave their homes in Honduras, in El Salvador, in Mexico to create a new life for themselves in the United States, where others have gone before them fleeing the violence of their homelands. Perhaps no voice other than their own internal wisdom guiding them to step out in faith, with the living, daring confidence that God will guard and guide them to a better life than the one they’ve known.

We are living this faith right here in our own congregation, as the strategic listening team goes out like Abraham’s servant to watch and to listen for signs in the stories each of us is sharing about how this congregation offers welcome in the form of food and water, at the table and the font, and as we feed our neighbors knowing that when we welcome strangers into our homes we welcome God as well. We have received a great inheritance from those who have gone before us. Still, we know that in every generation we are called to demonstrate a living, daring faith in the grace of God — a faith that calls for discernment and decisions in the present moment that involve real risk.

You, too, are facing these decisions in your own lives. Whether you are young or you are old, whether you are raising children or burying spouses, you — like Abraham and Sarah, like Rebekah and Isaac — are living your lives by faith. Grounded in prayer, shaped by a tradition that has formed you for lives of kindness, generosity and hospitality, you meet the challenges of each day listening for the voice of God in the world and in your life. More often than not, however, you are required to exercise what wisdom you have gained by watching and listening for signs of God’s movement in the world without anything so clear as a voice from above.

What allows you to do this? I believe it is confidence in God’s grace. The apostle Paul, plagued by his own fears that his best choices were corruptible, and his own worst inclinations ever-present, nevertheless shows the same living, daring confidence in the grace of God that we see in Abraham, his servant, and Rebekah. He writes, “wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord!” (Rom. 6:24)

It is this grace that makes light the burdens of the decisions we are called to make each and every day. Like Abraham and Rebekah we are making decisions that will shape the course of our lives, and of the lives of generations to come. Rather than causing us to be timid, the grace of God calls us to be bold — not placing our trust in our own discernment, but in the power of God to work in us and through us for the healing of the nations and the entire world. Or, to quote Luther again,

“God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong [sin boldly!], but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however … are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.”

Knowing, then, that God is at work in every generation, in me and in you, calling us to leave behind all that we’ve known to forge a new family, created by water shared and promises made, we are faced with the same question posed to Rebekah: “Will you follow this man?”

Amen.

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Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, March 30, 2014: Fourth Sunday in Lent

Texts: 1 Samuel 16:1-13  +  Psalm 23  +  Ephesians 5:8-14  +  John 9:1-41

If you were here two weeks ago, you’ll remember that I spent a good bit of time in my sermon talking about the backdrop to the Gospel of John, the fact that it’s believed to have been composed near the end of the first century, sixty years or more after the death of Jesus. From what we can put together about that time, the Jesus movement was experiencing conflict as Jewish people who had come to believe and confess that Jesus — whose life, death and resurrection were now facts of history — was the long-awaited messiah. Their confession put them at odds with members of the synagogue community who did not share their faith, and as a result they were being kicked out of their congregation. The disruption was intense and the consequences were devastating. These first century Jews were not living in today’s religious landscape, they couldn’t just join another church with beliefs friendlier to their lived experience down the street. They were being cast out of all they’d known with no assurance that they were being called into something new.

It’s important to understand the story behind the story when reading scripture, so that we can begin to understand the incredible choices each story teller is making to give hope to fearful people, to give courage to a community doing a new thing, to give faith to an assembly gathering outside the boundaries of the known world, a new world, a new creation.

From the start, John’s gospel has been trying to tell us that the world is being made new. “In the beginning,” it says, echoing the words of Genesis, “was the Word…” the familiar proclamation of Christmas morning. After that opening prologue, the very first thing that happens in John’s gospel is an act of testimony, as the Jerusalem establishment heads out to meet John the Baptist across the Jordan where he is baptizing people. They ask him, “who are you?” (John 1:19) and it says, “He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed.”

Imagine what these words would have meant to people who were being cast out of the familiar places of community and meaning because of their own confession, their own testimony. The story begins with a baptism, and a confession that will not be denied

From there the story focuses, understandably, on Jesus — until we get to chapter nine, the long passage we just read together. It begins with another echo of Genesis, one that would require us to know and remember that the first human, formed in the garden at the beginning of time, was named Adam, a pun that functions as a moniker. In Hebrew the word for “earth” is adamah, so the first person, formed from the earth, is called Adam.

580510493_5c828c0454_oJesus comes upon a man blind from birth, someone who has never seen him. This man doesn’t ask to be healed, he doesn’t plead for Jesus to perform a miracle, he’s just living his life. Jesus’ followers notice the man, and use his blindness as an occasion to start a conversation about sin. The man is different, so they want to know what went wrong. Jesus is uninterested in their preoccupation with sin, and responds to them, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5) Again we hear the beginning of this gospel,

“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:4-5);

but also, again, Genesis,

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light” (Gen. 1:1-3).

Then Jesus takes some earth, the stuff we’re made of, and rubs it in the man’s eyes, as if to recreate them, and tells him to go wash in a pool of water, to be baptized as it were, and we’re told that the name of the pool, Siloam, means “sent.”

From that point, a series of remarkable things occur. The very first being that Jesus disappears from this story and the focus shifts from Jesus to the man who has now begun to see the world in a new way, for the first time. In fact, the verses that follow mark Jesus’ longest absence from the story in this gospel. Rather than continuing with the dialogue between Jesus and his disciples, the story follows a series of exchanges between the man with new sight and the temple establishment.

blindYou can imagine that the original audience, the community for whom this gospel was composed, understood immediately what was happening here. Like the man born blind, they’d never seen Jesus. Only heard of him. Maybe they were the children or grandchildren of people who’d been alive when Jesus had walked the earth, and they grew up hearing other families in the synagogue talk about their differences as if they were sins. Maybe they’d lived their whole life among the assembly, but experienced an epiphany, a conversion they never saw coming that changed everything about how they saw the world. Whatever their particular circumstances, I feel certain that these first century Jews knew that when the storytellers talked about the man born blind, they were talking about them.

The next thing that’s remarkable to watch in this story is the creation, before our eyes, of an evangelist. After spending his life being treated like the subject of other people’s speculation, he begins to find his own voice. It’s tentative, at first, he’s no John the Baptist. His testimony develops and is sharpened, like all of ours, in conversation with others.

His first words are simply to assert his existence to people who’d walked by him every day, but never really saw him. Now that he is different, now that he sees the world differently, they can barely recognize him. “Is not this the man who used to sit and beg?” they ask. Just as Jesus’ disciples wanted to talk about this man, not to him, this man’s neighbors were so busy talking about him they barely heard him when he gave his first testimony: “I am the man.”

“I am the man,” is shorthand for so much being said. I am the man Jesus healed. I am the man you used to walk by. I am the woman you talk about, not to. I exist. I am a subject, not an object. I am one of God’s own creations. I have sacred worth. I matter.

Maybe this is your testimony as well, the word God has given you to say as a part of your own healing, and to be part of the way that God heals others. This first testimony seems so small, but is the basis for everything else we have to say: “I am the one God has made.”

His neighbors aren’t so quick to accept what he has to say however, so they finally stop ignoring him only to begin interrogating him. “How were your eyes opened?” In response, the man tells the story of his liberation. At this point he doesn’t try to explain how it happened, or to assign greater meaning to what happened. He simply reports the facts, as he experienced them, from his point of view.

This is the second testimony, the powerful story each of us can tell about the power of God at work in our lives, healing us, freeing us, saving us. These testimonies don’t require us to have all the right answers, or to be ready to defend them. They are powerful because they point to reality. “I used to be blind, now I see.” “I used to be afraid to leave, now I am ready to go.” “I used to drink myself to sleep every night, now I am ten years sober.” “I used to look at my body and hate it, now I can tell that this is a body loved by God.” “I used to think there was something irredeemably wrong with me, now I know I am loved.”

“Then I went and washed and received my sight.” (John 9:11)

Now the man’s neighbors begin to repeat the kind of conversation about sin and sinners that Jesus’ own disciples had been having when they came across the blind man. “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath. How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” Where the man born blind wants only to say what he has experienced in his own life, what has happened to him, the authorities want to talk about him, to try and cram his experience into a set of rules and laws they can understand. Finally, not wanting to own their own questions about Jesus, they project them onto the man with new sight: “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”

In response, the man is emboldened to go beyond simply describing what had happened to him, and his begins to make claims about what it means. “He is a prophet,” might just as well be, “He is one of us. He is a part of our community. He is the ethic beneath the laws. He is the teller of truths. He is the voice that will not be silent. He is the past and the future. He is a prophet.”

This courage threatens the powers that be, as well as everyone else who has found a way to get by in the world as it is. Even the man’s very own parents are not ready to stand by him as he claims the truth of his own experience. Now the man is not simply reporting the facts, he is risking his own place in the world. Up until now he could back away from his testimony, sharing the facts of what happened without owning what they mean. But no longer. In a showdown between silence in the face of those who had walked by him without seeing him, and the one who had seen him and given him sight, the newly sighted man is ready to challenge the powers that be.

This is the third testimony, the point at which our story goes beyond conviction to risky words and risky actions. “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also what to become his disciples?” Now the man has found his voice, and refuses to be silenced by power, in fact he challenges it directly, proposing a new understanding of life and our place in it that contradicts what had come before:

“Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but does listen to one will worship and obey God’s will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (John 9:30-33)

And now he’s said it, he’s moved beyond simply reporting the facts to declaring what they mean. Jesus is from God, and so is the miraculous new perspective he offers, the new sight.

After this testimony the newly sighted man is driven out of the community. Here we must pause and consider all that this means. These Jews were not the center of the Roman Empire, they were at the edge. They were an oppressed and occupied community. Their solidarity with one another was one of the primary ways they survived in a hostile culture. The man born blind was a marginalized man among marginalized people, and what little community he had he’d just lost.

Can you imagine the first audience of this gospel, Jews living decades after Jesus’ life and death and resurrection who had never seen him, but were risking everything by confessing him as Lord. Now there can be no doubt that they knew this newly sighted man represented them in the story.

It’s at this point that Jesus and the newly sighted man finally see one another face to face. Jesus hears that the man he healed has been cast out of the community, and he goes to him, pursues him and finds him and asks, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (John 9:35)

The man born blind doesn’t know who this is, but he knows that he is ready to believe whatever Jesus tells him. He has been transformed by his testimony, he is committed to the cause. “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” (John 9:36)

“You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.”

“Lord, I believe.” (John 9:37-38)

This is the fourth testimony. I believe. I have experienced the healing, the freedom, the liberation that comes from God. I have found my voice. I have refused to be silent. I have lost those who could not see the presence of God in my life, but what I have seen I cannot unsee. I am not nameless, I am not sightless, I am not voiceless. I am yours. I am God’s. Lord, I believe.

This story of testimony comes to us just past the midway point in the season of Lent, a season of preparation for baptism; a season, historically, when those who had denied their faith in Christ were offered a way back into the congregation; a season when each of us looks inside to see where we ourselves have capitulated to the powers of this world that try so hard to ignore us, to shame us, to silence us; a season when we look outside ourselves to see where the world groans in anticipation of a new creation.

This Sunday’s story challenges us as much as it challenged the church at the end of the first century. What do we stand to lose when we stand by the truth of our own lives? Who will stand with us, and who will not? What waits for us on the other side of our healing, our liberation?

Jesus does. Now as then, the Jesus we have heard of but never seen becomes more and more real, more and more visible, as each of us finds our voice and shares our testimony. We are God’s people, washed in the pool of sending to share our story with the world.

Giving glory to God,
Amen.

 

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Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, July 15, 2012: “A Game of Thrones; Act 2, Scene 2 — Learning to Dance”

Texts:  2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 and Psalm 24  •  Ephesians 1:3-14  •   Mark 6:14-29

This past week Kerry and I took our first Latin Dance class at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Lincoln Square.  We had a blast.  The guy teaching the class is named Saladeen Alamin, and he is awesome to watch.  I don’t know for certain, but I think he looks to be in his 50s, and he’s in incredible shape.  As we were shuffling our feet back and forth learning the basic steps to the mambo and the cha cha cha, Saladeen was leaping up and down, back and forth, adding flourishes to every step pattern as he called out, “BA! — BA! — BA! — BA! — left foot up on one and down on two, now move!”

You can’t learn to dance if you’re worried about your dignity, in fact, it’s hard to learn pretty much anything if you’re overly concerned about what other people think of you.  Learning requires an openness of heart and mind and an acknowledgement that we are not already perfect — that we still have things to learn.  Stated like that, it seems kind of obvious.  None of us would say that we’re perfect, or that we know everything, but our actions… well, they tell a different story.

After a month of telling you that we’re in a sermon series this summer following the semi-continuous set of texts from the books of Samuel and Kings in which the Hebrew scripture reading is disconnected from the gospel text, today we get two stories about dancing — one from 2 Samuel and one in the gospel of Mark.

In the gospel story, set during the reign of King Herod and the ministry of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth, the king gives a feast in honor of his birthday at which his daughter dances so masterfully that Herod promises to give her whatever she desires — which ends up being John the Baptist’s head on a platter.

In the older story, from 2 Samuel, King David is bringing the ark of the covenant up from its previous home to the new capital, the city of David: Jerusalem.  Along the way he and the honor guard he’s brought to accompany the ark to its new resting place dance frenziedly before the caravan in a show of ecstatic devotion.  As he enters Jerusalem, David dances in front of the ark and before all his people, dressed only in his undergarments, not afraid to expose himself to God and to the world.  His dancing angers his wife, Michal, the daughter of old King Saul and drives a wedge between them.

How did you discover what you’re good at?  Whether you’re a teacher or a lawyer, a student or a grandparent, how did you first discover the kinds of gifts God has given you?  Maybe it was a natural talent you’ve enjoyed since childhood.  Maybe it was a passion you discovered in school.  Maybe it was the quiet pride you nurtured as you raised your children and found that you liked them, and that you were good at being a parent.  However it happened, can you remember the joy and delight that came with the discovery that God gave you a gift, a talent, a knack, a calling?

Over time, as your gifts became known to you and to others, you likely found yourself being asked to use them.  If you’re lucky, someone offered to give you a job doing the thing you love most.  I say “if you’re lucky” because so many people don’t get that opportunity.  Many labor away day after day for years, wishing for a way to join their vocational role with their God-created soul.  But even those who find work that connects them to their native talents can come to feel alienated from the sense of joy that once came with discovering their gifts.

When your gifts become your bread and butter, it’s hard to hold on to the joy that comes with exercising them.  I remember deciding in my early twenties that I didn’t want to follow my parents into a career in music because I never wanted to have to rely on the thing I loved to make a living.  I wanted to be able to keep on loving it in a much simpler way.  Instead I became a pastor, which still comes with many of the same risks.  Once you are “on the job,”  it’s hard to allow yourself to make mistakes, to risk looking like a fool, to learn.  In fact, your professional success, sadly, may depend on you conveying the appearance that you don’t make mistakes.

But there’s no growth without learning, and there’s no learning without risk.  Whatever gifts God has given us, none of us has perfected them yet.  If we want to grow as people, as professionals, as a community, we have to be willing to try things out, expose ourselves, and make some mistakes.

That willingness to be exposed is really what differentiates the two kings in our two tales of dancing today.  In the gospel of Mark, King Herod has been keeping John the Baptist locked up in prison for calling into question his decision to marry his brother’s wife, Herodias.  The scripture here describes a situation I think most of us understand on some level.  It says,

“[Herodias] had a grudge against [John], and wanted to kill him.  But she could not for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him.  When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.”

Even though Herod was the king and John was a radical repentance-preaching prophet crying out in the wilderness, “make straight a way for the LORD,” Herod liked to listen to him.

When I picture the scene in my mind, I think about the way that a child throwing a tantrum actually wants an adult to step in and restore order.  Herod has been spoiled by his power, and he needs to hear a Godly critique of his life.  He is perplexed to discover that someone as powerless as John can hold his attention, and so he protects him.  But John continues to expose Herod and Herodias’ relationship as unlawful, and so — in a scene so dramatic it has spawned an opera — the girl we’ve come to know as Salome dances before her father Herod and secures the right to ask for John’s death.

King David, too, has made a mistake — though it’s been expunged from this morning’s reading.  You might have noticed that we skipped over some verses in the reading from 2 Samuel.  They tell the story of Uzzah, who was named in v. 3 as one of the sons of Abinadab who accompanied the ark as it journeyed toward Jerusalem.  In the missing verses, Uzzah reaches out to touch the ark of the covenant, perhaps to keep it from falling, and is struck dead.  It’s a story that deserves a sermon of its own, so I wont’ go into it too much, but for the purpose of this morning’s worship, it served to remind David that the power he enjoyed as king was secondary to the power of God, which placed every good gift in him and brought him to this place in his life.

Unlike Herod, David recognizes his mistake and is able to make the course correction.  He seems to grasp the danger of his own pride… though this first glimpse of his personality flaws foreshadows the troubles waiting for him just around the corner.  As the ark of the covenant enters Jerusalem, bringing the visible sign of the invisible God before the nation, David strips off all his royal finery and dances before the LORD with all his might.  Without saying a word, David communicates to the people that there is one LORD before whom we are all naked.

When I was a child, learning to play the violin, I had to give a recital at the end of each year.  Recitals made me a little bit nervous.  Standing before all the other kids and their parents, and my parents and my teacher, I felt exposed.  I felt naked.  Somewhere along the line I learned that trick for dealing with my nerves where you imagine everyone else in the room in their underwear.  I never made the connection before now, but I think the reason that trick works is because it levels the playing field, at least in our minds.  We’re all exposed.

Decades later, having mastered my anxiety in most situations, I find that the price I’ve paid for some mastery of one set of skills is that I’ve lost the sensation of truly learning something for the first time.  That’s part of the reason behind the Latin Dance classes with Kerry.  I’m taking guitar lessons at the Old Town School as well, and I have to tell you that at the end of the first lesson, when all I’d accomplished was blistering my right thumb and bruising the fingers of my left hand, when the music I made could have been pleasing to no one but the LORD, I almost broke down and cried.  Not out of embarrassment or frustration, but out of joy.  It felt so good to be so exposed, so open, to be learning, to be growing.

Dear friends, I hope you’ve got spaces and places in your life where you get to be wide open like that.  I hope there are people and communities in which you still feel free to try new things, to make mistakes, to learn, to grow.  I hope you are able to be vulnerable with your family members and honest about your failures and limitations with your co-workers.  Closer to home, I hope we are being and becoming the kind of church that creates opportunities for you to discover and use your God given gifts and talents in a spirit of joyful discovery instead of dutiful obligation.

As hard as it may be to remember, in our overly professionalized lives, in our cultures of competition, we are not called to be perfect.  Paul says to the Ephesians,

Blessed be the God and Parent of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before God in love.  God destined us for adoption as God’s children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of God’s will, to the praise of God’s glorious grace freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of God’s grace, lavished on us.

We are blameless not because of our performance, but by the grace of God’s love.  It is that love that allows us to live our lives like baby Isla did this morning, dressed in not much more than a linen ephod, squirming her first little dance before the LORD as she was washed in these baptismal waters and adopted into the forgiving family of God.

Perhaps as we come forward, as we pass this baptismal font on our way to the communion rail, we will follow in her footsteps and we will dance as well.

Amen.

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