July 10th, 2017 – The Zax

zax

The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss

The Zax

Luke 6: 39-49 & Proverbs 16: 16-24, 32

Call to Worship

We stand before the Lord this day, ready to give prayer and praise!
Having seen signs of God’s goodness, we gather to sing of these mighty ways!
Today, as we talk about being locked in confrontation…
Lord, we call upon you to teach us to be a forgiving and discerning creation.
This new day is fresh with possibility!  May we encounter the living God!
With bright eyes and open hearts, let us seek, listen and be awed.

Sermon

Great God above all compare!
Hear us now as we declare:
Thank you Lord for passionate conviction and strong roots.
As we adventure on/encountering what’s new… they, well, keep us on route.
As pilgrims Lord, might we always act with civility
In a world where many seem to lack that careful ability
Be with us here in this grand worship space,
As we open our hearts to a story of… not so much… grace.
In Jesus’ most precious name,
The One who is our heart’s only aim.
Amen.

It’s a tale as old as time, is it not? But one, I daresay that is becoming more and more the norm… Two people locked in a battle of wills. Both so deeply convicted- that they have strayed wildly into the territory of pride and stubbornness and disrespect for the other… We see this play out on Capitol Hill everyday – the battle of wills known as partisan politics. And perhaps, on a much closer level, we see this play out at family reunions- displays of old grudges. And I think if we are honest, we may even admit that we see this battle of wills play out in our church community from time to time

The Zax is a frustrating but familiar tale…

Two creatures, full of certainty – one going north, the other going south – find their path blocked by the other. And they both refuse to yield. Each Zax is so certain of his path- they are convinced that this is no possible alternative route. There is no room for stepping to the East/ there is no room for sliding to the west. Both dig in, drop anchor, ready to wait it out- be it 59 hours, 59 days or 59 years! All the while being fueled by their certainty alone. And they wait, and they wait, and they wait… And they wait.

But a funny thing happens while they are caught up in this battle of no retreats… the world changes around them, leaving them in its dust. All around the Zax, the world evolves, leaving them behind locked in their certainty.

Locked in pride. Locked in stubbornness.

The Zax begs us to examine what motivates us or what foundation we stand upon. And especially it asks us to think about those inevitable moments when our beliefs or opinions clash with someone else’s. What keeps us grounded?

            Rev. Robb McCoy, pastor of Two Rivers UMC in Rock Island, IL he wrote a sermon on this very question a couple years back and I like his perspective on this, he said, “Assurance is a virtue.  I’m not sure certainty is. Certainty is built on the promise that I am right.  It inspires us to dig deeper trenches, and defend certainty at all costs.  Certainty regards new facts with suspicion.  It does not adapt well to change.  [But] Assurance is built on the promise that I am loved. It is a source of hope and inspires confidence.  Assurance allows freedom for challenge and growth.  I think the world could use more blessed assurance and less religious certainty.”

Certainty is built on the promise that I AM RIGHT! Assurance is built on the promise that I AM LOVED!

As we see with The Zax, certainty in the midst of conflict, can lead to displays of pride. And what did Proverbs tell us today about pride? “Pride goes before destruction.” (Proverbs 16:18) Pride, is a very dangerous thing indeed.

If we are to be disciples of Christ, our living God, then our lives are always going to be filled with questions and very few concrete/ certain answers. Certainty (religious certainty) places its foundation on having the right answers. It’s about picking the right Bible verses for the right moments. It’s about standing firm/ rooted in being right- as they know what is right, of course.

And yet, I daresay, that Jesus was very good at calling out those who piece apart and proof text Scripture to defend their “rightness.” Jesus was very good at breaking down people’s constructed institutions and religious rightness.

Jesus was constantly inviting his followers to struggle with real problems! To see enemies in a new light! To see a Samaritan as worthy, to see a tax collector as a beloved child of God. To see the poor and the ill and the outcast as those who will inherit the Kingdom of God! Jesus was constantly calling his followers to let go of the understanding and the certainty that they are right and embrace a higher soulful orientation/ assurance towards the promise of God.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believe in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save that world through him.” (John 3:16-17)

Instead of offering certainty, Jesus offered assurance.   Instead of demanding that we get things right, Jesus told us, “Of course you aren’t going to get things right! You are not called to be right. You were only ever called to be loving.” Which is a far harder thing to be than just being right… Jesus told us to “Trust in Him! Trust in Grace! And be loving!”

This week I had a great conversation with a couple about what it is to disagree and to fight fairly in their marriage. And we boiled this art of fair fighting to this rule: If you go into a disagreement or conflict with the assumption that someone is going to win and someone is going to lose- you both already lost. You have already broke down the safety of that relationship to be open and vulnerable and made it into a Zax like stand off.

To break that kind of pride, we must shatter our compulsion to win or keep score. Just as our God, in infinite love does not keep score.

Conflict and disagreements are inevitable in life. We face them in relationships, we face them in our families and houses of worship… but if we ever hope to grow from a conflict then we have to check our certainty at the door and take up a posture of assurance.

In assurance, we know that whatever the outcome of conflict- we are still loved by God, and that puts everything into perspective. We see that, truly, God is in control. And God can shape or reshape all things to work towards God’s divine purposes.

St. Augustine, once wrote: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” And a thousand years later I think it was John Wesley who expanded that quote to “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things Charity. And where charity and love prevail, there is God.”

As I’m sure you all know, the congregation for several months now has been carefully considering our marriage policy, asking the direct question of: should we change it to allow same-gender weddings to take place in our church/ our spiritual meeting house? This policy question is one steeped in theology and emotion. So our church leadership has encouraged people to be in prayer, discussion, and study. We had a three-part Bible study that lead to some wonderful conversation from people who approach this topic from many different positions- considering the importance and experience of marriage, considering what it is to have a holy and authentic sexual life… all while immersed in Scripture, seeking the authority of God. We’ve had several different ways for people to offer voice: one-on-ones, small group meetings, via written card… and today we offer one more way for people to engage this issue. Following worship today, we will have a Congregational Survey.

Today, before you voice the fruits of your discernment in that survey, I ask you to examine the spiritual foundations upon which you build your house.

I’d like to read for you a portion of our Gospel passage from the Message. Jesus said, “These words I speak to you are not mere additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundation words, words to build a life on. If you work the words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who dug deep and laid the foundation of his house on bedrock. When the river burst its banks and crashed against the house, nothing could shake it; it was built to last.”

Examine, prayerfully, that foundation of yours- and I’m talking about the essentials of your faith… If at the foundation of your house lays the knowledge that marriage is between one man and one woman and that no other kind of marriage relationship can be Christ-centered/ God honoring/ and grace-filled. Then, please, tell our leadership that in your survey.

Or if you examine your foundation and see something else. That a Christ-centered/ God honoring/ grace filled marriage makes no demand on gender. Then, please, tell our leadership that in your survey.

In this whole process, I’ve attempted to stay pretty neutral to your discernment. Unsuccessfully at times, I admit (and I apologize for that for it was always my intentions to merely create a space for questions to be asked… not to offer answers). I honor the work of the Holy Sprit in your heart… wherever that leads.

But please, allow me to share with you my heart today- I think it’s time for that.

When I look at the essentials for which I seek unity with my brothers and sister in Christ, I see these things: I see the cross of Jesus- God’s radical saving work for all. I see the ever urgent and challenging call to proclaim the truth of the Gospel in the time, culture, and context in which we live in. I see a deep theology of hospitality and welcome, one that demands me to see Jesus in the face of every stranger (which I find hard most days because it asks me again and again to break down the comforting walls I place around myself). I see a trust in grace, knowing that I am a screw up – and yet so loved by God. I see a vague and beautiful concept of an infinite and ever creative God- one that is always finding new ways to be in relationship with us. I see the extraordinary power of God to work through ordinary things: like a cup of wine, a loaf of bread, a stream of water. This is the bedrock that I build my spiritual house upon and in these things I seek to be unified with you. I hope and pray that we grow together in these…

In my non-essentials box, is pretty much everything else- Gender politics included. And in these things… As St. Augustine and John Wesley said… there is liberty.

This does not mean that I don’t care/that I am apathetic. It just means that I have let my theology of hospitality, my trust in grace, and my belief in a marvelous, giant, and relational God… guide my discernment. Not my politics, not my desire to have a less messy and complicated time of being a disciple of Jesus or being a church leader. For me, all road leads to Affirmation. I affirm that the religious rite of marriage is to include the Gay community.

In affirmation I trust that God’s good will is honored.

That is my heart.

The beautiful thing about Congregationalism, is that while I have the freedom of the pulpit to share with you what the Spirit is guiding me toward, you have the freedom of the pew. You don’t have to agree with me. I respect and acknowledge that the Spirit may have led you to a different place in discernment.

And at the end of the day, we are all humbled before God. As Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understandings.”

My preaching today is by far more “on the nose” than it usually is, and I pray that you receive this message for what it is- a invitation to see my heart and a request for you to leave behind your certainty, as I promise to you to leave behind my own certainty…

Wherever you are in this matter.. I pray that our fellowship uplifts charity and love, even if we disagree (and there is no one telling us that we can’t have a diversity of understandings on this matter… we are joyfully and problematically Congregationalist after all ☺)… In charity and love… there is God.

Let’s pray:

 

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life. Amen.

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2 thoughts on “July 10th, 2017 – The Zax

  1. Nicely done, I’ll be praying for the flock as together you make some very heart-involved decisions. May your hearts be centered in Christ, trusting for the grace of God in that He will make known His truth unto all.

  2. For what it’s worth, Sarah, in former times I often used language like “you can be sure…” and “you can be certain…” I less likely to use this language so much any more.

    Instead, I use the words “confident” and “confidence.” It is, of course, a synonym for “sure” and “certain,” but has a little different connotation. Confidence comes from two Latin words “with” and “faith.”

    When I say I am confident of my relationship with God, I am speaking with faith. When I speak regarding the Bible as God’s Word, I am speaking with faith.

    There are many things I am unsure about, and the future is uncertain. (Pet peeve alert: why do we say “foreseeable future”?) Despite those things concerning which I am unsure or uncertain, I am increasingly confident in God, in God’s Word, and in God’s people.

    Challenging days ahead for you and the congregation. You’re in my prayers regularly and often.

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