Monday, June 16, 2014

Finally Brothers and Sisters

2nd Corinthians 13: 11-13, NT page 186 Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you. Sermon Bonaroo is this weekend in Manchester, Tennessee, and I guess it means I’m getting older that I can understand why someone would sit through hours of back to back traffic to get somewhere if they just have to, and I can understand why someone would spend the night in a tent next right next to thousands of other people in tents – if they were on the run and having to stay in a refugee camp, and I can understand why someone walk through miles of mud if they were a prisoner of war or something, I just can’t understand why someone would do all that by choice, even paying money to do so. I feel the same way about marathons. The first marathon was run by Phidippides, who ran from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens in 490 BC, to deliver word of the Greek victory over the Persians, and I can understand running just over 26 miles if the news really has to be delivered and there’s no other way to do it, I just can’t imagine why someone would run so far for no apparent reason, even paying money to do so. But that might be like wondering why anyone would pay $6.50 to watch a movie at Shadybrook Cinema when you can rent a movie from Redbox for less than half that and you get to watch it in the comfort of your own home. There is a difference in the experience of laughing and hearing other people around you laugh at the same time that makes watching a movie in a movie theater very different from watching a movie at home, just as hearing music covered in mud with a huge crowd of people also covered in mud is a desirable experience for some people, just as running over 26 miles with a crowd of strangers is worth training for – because there are some experiences that must be shared. So while you can take college courses, even graduate degree courses, on the internet from the comfort of your own home, Vacation Bible School is only available for those who are able to show up here at First Presbyterian Church tomorrow, and that’s because Vacation Bible School doesn’t just teach children about the Good News of Jesus Christ, here they will experience it firsthand. You can’t just tell them that they’re accepted, or loved, or forgiven – you have to model these things if they’re ever going to believe it. And I do believe these things, largely because I have experienced them. I don’t remember much of what they taught me at VBS when I was a child, I don’t remember many of the lessons, but I do remember exactly how I felt during that week – I felt at home in my church, for the first time I felt like that church was mine. I also felt loved by the ladies who fed me snacks, the ones who helped me do crafts, they weren’t teaching me because they had to, they were teaching me, spending time with me, out of love. And I felt like I belonged. We didn’t have cool head bands then like the children will get at our VBS this week, a color assigned to each group, but we were split up into groups and that group was where I was supposed to be and that’s where I belonged, and to feel like you belong is a big deal whether you’re 10 or 110. We all want to belong somewhere, so we divide into groups whether it’s VBS, high school, or the Maury County Jail, we divide up into groups and settle into our place – and if we’re lucky it’s the place where we’re supposed to be and where we feel accepted and loved. Next week there will be children attending VBS who have never darkened the doors of our church before, and if there’s any hope of this church not just being ours but theirs too, first genuine acceptance and love must be shown to them. That’s what they’re looking for – that’s what we’re all looking for – and if it weren’t so then there would be no reason to attend Bonaroo, everyone would be completely satisfied listening to music with their headphones all by themselves – there’d be no reason to block off roads in Boston for every runner would enjoy running long distances in her basement on the treadmill. Movie theaters would close, and so would churches, because we’d all get what we need from the technology available in our own homes. But it doesn’t work that way. We need each other. Research shows that cancer patients with a community to support them, either a family or a support group, heal faster than those patients who receive the exact same treatment but come home to an empty house and don’t receive the emotional support that they need. The same results are seen in those who fight drug and alcohol addiction. We need each other, so Paul, hearing of the conflict in the Church in Corinth, he doesn’t just write one letter to try and help them stay together, our second scripture lesson is the conclusion to his second. In this conclusion Paul’s concern is clear. It is important to him that the members of this church be reconciled to each other, for despite all the concerns he addresses: the divisions within the church, the immorality of one man who’s moved in with his father’s wife, the church members who can’t get along and so sue each other in civil court, and the false prophets who confuse believers and shadow the truth – despite all this Paul closes his letter, not by vindicating one side, not by defending his supporters, and not by encouraging anyone to leave the church to worship somewhere else, Paul closes his 2nd letter to the church in Corinth by telling them to “put things in order, agree with one another, and live in peace.” It’s not so hard to understand why he ends his letter this way. As attractive as something new can be, to move off to some place for a fresh start, to go somewhere else where no one has disappointed you and no one knows that you’ve ever disappointed anyone – the reality is that while relationships suffer, some even undergo such stress that they’re destroyed, there are ties that will not let us go, because even after disappointment, wrong doing, and hurt – some relationships are strengthened by the miracles of redemption, forgiveness, and grace, and it’s these relationships that keep us alive. I read about these things in the Bible all the time, but it’s not until I’ve received them that I know how valuable they are. We can talk about redemption all we want, but Christians have to do more than talk if anyone is going to believe. We can go on and on about forgiveness, but as long as it’s theoretical it’s empty and worthless. And grace – it sounds good – it’s nice to sing about it, but grace is more than a word, and I know because I have received it – but to be a Christian, to be a Church, means to give such grace away. So long as there has been a Church there have been those who called the Christians hypocrites. We have to do more than just talk; we have to show this world who Christ is by our actions, by our relationships. Then they will know we are Christians by our love. Today is Trinity Sunday, the one Sunday of the year when we are called to consider this theological concept that our God is three – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father did not create the world all alone, but a wind swept over the waters, and God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness… so God created all of humankind in” the image of God. Our image of God then is not of a solitary being, but our image of God is three – a relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and we honor this relationship by staying connected to one another, not just when it’s easy, but always – during all the days of our lives. Every Trinity Sunday white marks the sanctuary, like the white wedding gown of every bride who has stood in that Narthex with her father or brother, who whispered in her ear, “You know, you don’t have to do this.” Some I’m sure wish they hadn’t, probably all of them have at one time or another, but they all walk down that aisle as one, then joined to their new husband they walk out of our sanctuary up that aisle as two become one. That’s the same aisle that they go up at the end as well. Most funeral processionals go up that aisle and out of the church one last time, the coffin draped often in the white pall reminiscent, of the bridal gown, but more so of the white dress that they all wore when they were baptized, reminding us of some pastor who walked them up that aisle and down the other, calling all of you to teach her who she is, because it’s easy for us all to forget if we don’t have people around to remind us. It takes a community to remind us that we can be made right even after making mistakes. It takes a community to remind us that forgiveness can be given. It takes a family of faith to convince us that grace is real. And that this is their church and here they belong. That’s what you’re after isn’t it. A place where the peace of God is made real by the peace offered by your neighbor’s hand. A place where the love of God is made real by a holy kiss. “Finally, brothers and sisters,” Paul writes “live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” Amen.

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