Sunday, July 30, 2017

Great and Steadfast Love

Scripture Lessons: 1 Kings 3: 5-12 and Romans 8: 26-39 Sermon title: “Great and Steadfast Love” Preached on 7/30/17 I’ve been pretty nervous about this. In the last few days it’s been wonderful to have friends call and wish me luck on my first Sunday in the pulpit. Many of you have asked me how I’m feeling about today. Nervous has been my answer…to everyone. I took Lily and Cece to the toy store on the Square last Friday. The lady who runs the store was really nice. I even told her that I’m feeling nervous about today. I think she felt sorry for me. Or she was just being motherly because she told me about the same thing that my Mom told me. This lady in the toy store, Lynn is her name – she says, “You have a wonderful smile. You just be yourself and stand in that pulpit and smile and the congregation will love you.” That was a nice thing to say. She may have just wanted me to buy some more toys, but it was still a nice thing to say. And isn’t that just what a mom would say: “You have a wonderful smile, so just be yourself and everyone will love you”? Surely some of your parents will be telling that to your children this week should they be nervous about their first day of school: “Honey, you have a wonderful smile. Just be yourself and everyone will love you.” But kids – don’t believe it. Back when I was in Middle School there was this one guy whose mom wouldn’t buy him name brand Oreos and he got called Generic Eric from 6th grade on. Can you believe that? It’s true. I’m sorry to say I was one of them. Kids can be mean. Judgmental. That’s the truth. You can’t just smile and be yourself at school because if they’ll pick on you about the contents of your lunch box you know that they’ll pick on you about everything else. So, it’s important to show up with the right stuff, the right look, but not everyone does. Not everyone can. That’s another reason these drives for school supplies are important. I’m so glad you just took part in one, because some kids are judgmental and they’ll be looking for little shortcomings, and then other kids are self-conscious so while maybe you and I know that it won’t be the end of the world if you don’t have a new box of colored pencils. There are plenty of 3rd graders out there who will feel like everyone is staring at them if they show up for the first day of school without every single item on that school supplies list. It’s not always enough to have a nice smile and to be yourself, is it? You also have to have the right clothes and the right shoes and all the right school supplies and the right food in your lunch box. Maybe you were one of the kids who never had all the stuff that you needed while there were others who seemed to have everything. Imagine showing up on the first day of school when Solomon’s in your class. Imagine it’s many years ago in ancient Israel. Your parents scraped together enough shekels to get you a hammer and a number 2 chisel. Some college rule tablets. Mom put you in your best Sabbath robe and a pair of hand-me-down sandals, but you walk into class on the first day and there’s Solomon, the king’s son who has everything served to him on a silver platter. He has Olympic grade sandals on his feet, the finest linen robes. His dad already called the teacher to make sure that he’s always first in line to take a drink from the well. I like school uniforms because they cut down on this a little bit, but even still there are those who have it all together and then there’s the rest of us, or so it seems. We have to listen closely to come to terms with what it must really have been like to be Solomon. In our first scripture lesson, he identifies himself before God as David’s son, and when people know your back story that can be a good thing or a bad thing, it depends. We moved here to Marietta from Atlanta when I was entering 3rd grade. I was a new student at Hickory Hills Elementary School, and as you know, Marietta is one of those great places where some families have deep roots. Hickory Hills was that way. Some of the teachers had been there for a while, so I was jealous, even two years later, as Ms. Cook, my 5th grade teacher, called role and told Andrew that she had taught his brother and sister. Told Molly that her big sister had been such an excellent student and that she knew she could expect the same from her. I was so jealous of their social capital. But being known can be negative too. Dr. Jim Goodlett chaired the Pastor Nominating Committee who interviewed me. He and the entire committee have been incredible. I could not be more grateful for them and their hard work, but soon after you voted to call me here at a congregational meeting, Jim told me that the “Joe Evans stories are really flowing at the church now. Everyone is talking about what they remember of you from when you were in High School.” It was in this moment that I really got nervous. It can be a wonderful thing to be known. It can be a wonderful thing for people to know you before they meet you. It can be a wonderful thing to be remembered, for people to think well of you because of your older siblings, your grandparents, your mother or your father, so long as the skeletons stay in the closet and everyone keeps their deep dark secrets to themselves. What would it have been like to be Solomon? If Solomon were a new student on his first day of school and if we think of God as a mighty cosmic school teacher then surely as Solomon stood there before the all-knowing creator of heaven and earth who knew his father and knew what David had done, then could Solomon possibly have felt as though he had it all together? Could he possibly have felt as though God would love him if he was just himself smiling his nice smile? To stand before God as he did in our First Scripture Lesson from the book of 1st Kings – what would it have been like, not only to stand before the one who created you, who was there forming you in your mother’s womb, who knows your going in and your coming out, your inward parts and the number of hairs on your head – but not only that – who knows what your daddy did when he looked down from his roof and “saw from the roof a woman bathing.” You know the story too. King David, Solomon’s father, saw Bathsheba, called for her. Her husband was away at war. So, Solomon stands before God in our First Scripture Lesson, and if this were his first day of School, if God were his new teacher what would God say? “Good morning Solomon. I know your father. I remember what he did, so please excuse yourself from my presence.” Some wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case. That’s what happens all the time, so that’s what some of us expect to happen. You can’t just be yourself, because yourself isn’t perfect – I’m not, you’re not, and neither was Solomon. The temptation, then, is to hide who we really are, to be like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. To hear God walking, calling our name, but to hide from his presence. This is a great temptation – to hide – for fear of rejection – for fear that our names will be deleted from the Book of Life the way old Bill’s name was painted right over on the front of their restaurant. Last I was here in Marietta, GA I used to go eat at a place called Bill and Louise's. Bill’s name has been stricken from the record – painted right over. Apparently, he died, but I don’t see how Louise can be so upset at him for that. That’s how life out there can be however – they’ll turn your back on you if you don’t have an iPhone 7. If you have generic Oreos. And Louise will turn her back on you if you die. Life is hard this way. People judge you based on your school supplies, your clothes, your past, and your parents, but the question is, while some people will paint right over your name, is that what God does? Let me read again a little bit from Romans chapter 8: “for I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Did you get that? Maybe not, because you’ve heard the opposite so many times before. Because you’ve lived the opposite so many times before. But while we stand before God just as Solomon did: as broken, imperfect people who have failed to live up to the standards set by school, work, society, or church – all these places where there is the pressure to do so much more than smile and be ourselves, before God it is something else altogether for before God it is in revealing our weakness that we gain what we need. This morning I stand before you as Solomon stood before God. I can’t pretend. I can’t hide what I’m ashamed of. I’m so thankful today that Facebook wasn’t around when I was in high school, because there are already so many here who I’m going to have to pay off so you’ll keep quiet. No. There’s no pretending here is there? I have to be brave enough to be myself, because you already know who I am, and apparently you wanted me to come here anyway. You already know that it’s just me up here, and still you’ve called me to be your pastor. Still you’re here listening to what I have to say, and once again you’re teaching me what you’ve taught me before – that so much of what makes this church a church is that here I am invited to be honest enough to say that it’s the first day of school for me and I don’t have all my school supplies ready. I don’t have all the right clothes. In fact, all I can do is stand up here and smile my smile and be myself because you know that anything else would be a lie. That’s why I take considerable comfort from Solomon this morning, because here he shows me that wisdom is one of those wonderful things that you only receive when you admit your frailty. You can only become wise when you’re brave enough to confess that you’re not wise already. He said: “And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. [So] give your servant therefore an understanding mind.” That’s a counter-cultural request, because we are all trying to look like we have it all together. Having the right school supplies for the first day of school and keeping the secrets of our past hidden. This week at school, as much as we can, we want our children to walk into their new classrooms with all the right stuff and the perfect outfits – ready to pretend that they’re not the beautiful little messes that we know them to be. So, let us also encourage them to admit that they are not ready, that they don’t know, and that they don’t have to have it all together because no one does – and no one has to. That’s right. Forgiveness, wisdom, salvation – these precious things in this life that we only receive when we stop pretending that we have them already. We are fools if we come into this church pretending, for what is our purpose here if not to bow before the one who helps in our weakness? A Christian who pretends he doesn’t need a savior - that’s like a student who shows up to school pretending he has nothing to learn. But if we are here it is because we know that we are in need – in need of a savior who can bring us the salvation that we could never earn for ourselves. Who can take us, our brokenness and can put us together. Thanks be to God for this great and steadfast love that sets us free from pretending. Amen.

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