Posted by: dacalu | 27 August 2012

Worship, Service, and Self-Awareness

Here is the sermon I preached at the Episcopal Campus Ministry (UA) tonight.

Readings:

1 Kings 8 (Solomon’s Temple)

Psalm 84

Ephesians 6:10-20 (“Put on the whole armor of God”)

John 6:56-69 (“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them”)
Sermon

 

There are many ways of being a Christian,

I mean that in both good and bad ways.

On the one hand, I mean that we genuinely have many possible ways to

do good in the world.

On the other hand, I mean that different Christians, through the centuries

have claimed many different things as the will of God.

Some have been better than other

As Anglicans we tend to focus on creation and service.

Reflecting on service, this week, I wanted to lay out some practical rules for

expressing Christianity, from an Anglican perspective.

As usual, I do not claim this is the only way, but a good way.

“All may.  Some should.  None must.”

 

This is the great commandment:

“thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,

and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,

and with all thy strength”

and “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

We believe, with John and Paul and Jesus, that in some way,

these are not two commandments, but one.

We worship God by serving God’s creatures,

and we serve our neighbors best when we see God in them.

 

Today’s readings share this theme:  God dwelling among us.

In Kings, we hear Solomon speaking with God about the Temple,

a physical place where God may be approached.

It would be misleading to say God resides there;

God is too big to fit into a building of stone and mortar.

But we think of the building as a window into Divinity,

a place of communication.

God who is everywhere, has a name in this place,

a way that we might call and be answered.

Thus God is the God of Israel –

without failing to be the God of everyone else.

 

In Ephesians, Paul speaks of praying “in the Spirit”

and “putting on the armor of God.”

For him, it was about wrapping yourself in Divinity.

The God who had dwelt in a Temple on a Hill,

once again walked with the people.

 

 

John puts it a little more concretely, but also more personally,

when he speaks of flesh and blood.

There was something miraculous in Jesus.

Unlike the Temple, we say that Jesus was a human

“in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” (Col 1:19)

Unlike the Temple, we think of that one human body

containing and expressing all of Divinity.

And we think that that strange inhabitation

reflects not only on Jesus of Nazareth,

but indeed upon all Christians through baptism

and through all humanity who share his image.

When we say that we serve God in humanity,

it’s not a secondary kind of thing.

It’s not transitive service of God.

It’s direct and full worship of God.

As Anglicans we do not see a division between the two commandments,

but say that God can only be worshipped

while we serve creation

and both are only accomplished when we bring the full weight of

heart, soul, mind, and strength into the effort.

That’s what it means to participate in his humanity,

to eat of his flesh and drink of his blood.

 

So: brass tacks.

I see three ways one might serve the Lord.

 

First, we can contemplate Divinity.

We think of God as all in all, so it makes no sense to do God favors.

God cannot be made stronger or happier or better by our efforts,

but we can dwell in God and meditate on God in the world.

This happens during worship and prayer.

One aspect of our service lies in contemplation,

the role of mystics, ascetics, and philosophers throughout the ages.

You can think of Theresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross…

You could think of the great theologians, like Aquinas,

who peered into reality and tried to grasp it.

Let me suggest that Einstein also represents this same strain.

There is a curiosity about God that marks true contemplation,

the humility of uncertainty

with a zeal to enter deeper into the mysteries;

wishing to comprehend rather than control.

 

Second, we can serve our neighbors.

Our neighbors have genuine needs, as God does not.

Our neighbors hunger and thirst,

both for the material goods of life

and for meaning, purpose, and love.

It is just as much worship to recognize God in them,

as it is to sit in church and try for the direct approach.

Indeed, to miss God so tangibly present in people,

all people,

is to miss the point of worshiping God at all.

In Christianity, we say that God has come to dwell in us.

You can think of Mother Theresa or Desmond Tutu or

perhaps most famously, St. Francis, the patron of our group.

Francis tried very hard to take nothing for himself,

but give all to the poor,

to serve.

 

But Francis, left one person out.

And even he admitted it toward the end of his life.

He neglected the love of self that is an essential component of loving neighbor.

To separate the two is, once again, to miss the point.

We are all children of God.

 

Third, we can love self –

not the prideful self love of the egotist,

nor the simple self-help kind of self-love,

but the type of love that looks deep within,

that recognizes God can be as hard to find within our own hearts

as within the hearts of others.

Each person – including you – holds the image and likeness of God.

Each person – including you – has a unique genius and power,

and only you can find it.

Only you are situated to do the hard work and kindle that spark.

You have something particular to offer the world.

I might even say that God has hidden something with you,

that can only be revealed to world,

if you manage to open yourself up.

My favorite example is Jim Henson,

a man with strange, humorous compassion,

and a gift for teaching.

Aquinas was like this I think – and Julian and many other saints.

They had gifts that only became apparent

once heart, mind, soul and strength came together.

 

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that you can’t do any of these things separately.

You have to find your own heart,

before you and give it to God.

You have to find your own strength and wisdom,

before you can share them with other.

But, likewise, you have to let God reveal that gift in you and others,

before any of it makes any sense.

You have to contemplate the mysteries of humanity,

to appreciate them.

So this week I would encourage you to think about how you balance

these three things – worship, service, and self awareness –

and whether you give your heart, mind, soul and strength

to them.

 

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