Posted by: dacalu | 6 August 2012

Too Much Good News

This week I was delighted to join the Church of the Nativity in Scottsdale, AZ for Sunday worship.  I shared this sermon.

Readings

 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a (Nathaniel confronts David about Bathsheba) 

Psalm 51:1-13 (“Create in me a clean heart, O God”)

Ephesians 4:1-16 (“one Lord, one faith, one baptism”)

John 6:24-35 (“I am the bread of life”)

Sermon

There is so much good news and so little time.

I frequently get that impression when preaching.

We have this amazing story from the book of Samuel

about Nathaniel and David, about the many sheep and the one,

about greed.

Seems very appropriate, and I’d encourage all of you

to think about how it applies to our current economic situation.

We have the confession of the singer in psalm 51,

expressing a sense of unworthiness and mercy

that I think is common to all of us.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from your presence
and take not your holy Spirit from me.

Give me the joy of your saving help again
and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.”

We have Paul telling the Ephesians (and us) about the unity of faith

in one of my very favorite passages from scripture.

“one Lord, one faith, one baptism,

one God and Father of all,

who is above all and through all and in all.”

And we have Jesus speaking of the bread of life.

So much gospel.  It seems hard to keep it in sometimes.

And if that wasn’t enough, we have a world full of interesting events,

both troubling and inspiring.

On the inspiring side, I could talk about humans

reaching their highest potential – striving for excellence.

I could talk about the Olympics,

including 19 athletes from the U of A,

3 from NAU,

and 16 from that other Arizona University.

“Higher, Faster, Stronger.

Or I might speak about the wonders of creation

and endless human invention.

In just a little over 12 hours,

the Curiosity Rover is scheduled to land on Mars,

the most extensive suite of instruments ever sent

to another planet.

We fall into a trap, sometimes, of thinking that goodness is boring.

We hear that the “road is narrow that leads to life,”

and we think that means we must all trudge in

single file with blinders on.

Nothing could be farther than the truth.

We are not constrained in our actions – as we were under the law,

but we are constrained in our hearts,

bound to love and serve our neighbor.

The ways in which we might do that are infinite.

The crowd in today’s gospel wanted to know how to do works of magic;

Jesus taught them to do works of love.

And that requires creativity.

It requires looking and listening and thinking

about the gifts you have been given.

It requires paying attention to your neighbors

and to the works God is doing in the world.

And then it requires doing something that hasn’t been done before.

After all, if the answers to life’s problems were straightforward,

we would already have found them.

The key lies in understanding what miracles are about.

I have no doubt that Jesus walked on water,

that he turned water into wine, healed the sick, and cast out demons.

I have no doubt that Jesus rose from the dead.

The key for Christians, however, cannot be found in breaking the laws of nature.

As profound as that power is,

it can be held by anyone who knows just a little bit more than you do

about the creation.

No, the essential element of Christ’s miracles comes from God’s love

reaching into the world.

The bread of life has to do with divine intimacy,

in becoming human,

in living and dying as one of us,

in calling Peter and James, Thomas and Philip, “friend.”

The bread of life has to do with being subject to human will.

The greatest miracle in the resurrection was that

once we had turned our back on Jesus,

Jesus did not turn his back on us.

He returned to us, in the flesh, to eat and drink and be with us.

I say this, not to discount miraculous stories,

but to focus your attention on the truly miraculous part of them,

the good news that overflows in creation,

when we’re not too distracted to see it:

Love, faith, hope, wonder, joy, grace.

God asks us to hold this good news above all else,

to see the goodness in one another,

to love in spite of all hardship,

to delight in creation, regardless of our circumstances,

to believe

– not in a doctrine, or a creed, or even a book,

as miraculous as they might be –

to believe in Jesus Christ, found in the world and in one another.

This is the rule.

This must be the rule, if the world is to become what it was meant to be.

That faith in God – a real trusting, loving, and genuine relationship –

trumps every idea our philosophy can conceive.

That love of neighbor – a giving, hopeful, mutual experience of life –

trumps every rule of society.

Paul says to the Ephesians:

“We must no longer be children,

tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine,

by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.

But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way

into him who is the head, into Christ,

from whom the whole body,

joined and knit together by every ligament

with which it is equipped,

as each part is working properly,

promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”

So I’m going to say, just to be perfectly clear,

love is more important than doctrine.

Love is more important than action.

Love is more important even than community.

That’s hard.

Other faiths have rules to follow,

but Christians have only the example of Christ.

As Paul says, “All things are permissible, but not all things are desirable.”

So we work it out with great caution and diligence,

but always keeping our eyes on the prize,

always keeping a look out for that larger goal:

love of God, love of neighbor.

Arguably, this is central to our Christian identity.

It is, without a doubt, key to our Anglican Christian identity.

We value love over doctrine.

We value the process of working out faith,

over adherence to particular dogmas,

because working out faith is something we do with God,

something we do with one another.

As the Comanche Chief Quanah Parker said,

“We do not go into ceremony to talk about God.

We go into the ceremony to talk to God.”

This is why we emphasize the liturgy of the table so much.

This is why we make a ceremony of the reading of the Gospel.

This is why Anglicans have always said the philosophical theology,

written theology, is secondary God talk.

Liturgy, the way we worship, is primary theology.

This is why we agree on a method for making moral choices,

even though we don’t always agree on which choices we should make.

It’s all about love over law,

practice over doctrine,

being with rather than being pure or being true.

Not that law doctrine and being true are not worthy goals.

It’s just that we see relationships as more important.

My job is one of evangelism.

I work with students and faculty to help them integrate

life and learning and faith.

Sometimes it means conveying information,

But always it means sharing of myself.

God has given all of us the pieces;

It’s our job to put things together.

I want to encourage you to share who you are,

to find that image of God within yourself and share that.

Where is the Spirit moving in you?

What is your unique charisma, your unique gift?

Where is your inspiration?

It’s that kind of creative gospel that the world needs right now.

In a time of uncertainty, we are asked to be certain,

not about doctrine, not about ideas or laws or morality;

we are asked to be certain of ourselves, of one another, and of God.

We are asked to do the slow arduous work of building relationships,

by looking and listening and thinking

about the gifts you have been given,

by paying attention to your neighbors

and to the works God is doing in the world,

by doing things that haven’t been done before.

That’s what miracle means.  Nothing more…and nothing less.

Who are you, that you should evangelize?  You are the body of Christ.

You are the bread of life.

And you have within you, everything necessary to spread the good news.

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Responses

  1. This firstly sounds like brilliant love. I am so touched and relieved. After reading “Swerve,” by Greenblatt I have defensively moved to a “lazy” invention of faith yet at the same time, have been more involved in “love of neighbor” then ever before. I have only made small shaky reachings-out but it is my perfect next step. Each attempt has altered my working reality in inventive ways. I am so grateful I had the chance to make tostadas with Ila for you and your students.


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