08 March 2009

Sermon 08.March.2009

Below is the sermon from this morning's worship service. How was it? Hmph, more like a hit off the handle that peaks over the third baseman's head rather than a solidly hit line drive up the middle. Odd how a sermon can seem pretty good on a Thursday but so good on a Sunday.

The Day Together
text: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…” (Col. 3:16)
Second Sunday in Lent -- 8.March.2009

Roughly 27 years after Christ was resurrected the Apostle Paul sent a letter to the churches in the cities of Colossae, Laodicea, and Heirapolis, which were 100 miles inland from the town of Ephesus. The churches were not founded by Paul but by another evangelists: Epaphras. I mention this because Paul never visited the churches of the area or knew the members intimately, the exact opposite of his experience with the churches in Galatia. The conundrum Paul faced with this letter centered on how to write the letter? Place yourself in Paul’s place, how would you write a letter to churches that neither you do know nor do they know you?

On the one hand Paul took a conservative and safe approach with his letter. He took on the questions of the day concerning the nature of Christ and included general ethical adorations. On the other hand Paul took a creative gamble with his epistle we now know as Colossians. He offered an elevated and cosmic vision of Christ that is without parallel in his other letters. After the poetry of Christ’s divinity Paul moved onto our text this morning as he offered ethical exhortations, but the poetry was like ice in his veins that kept the moment alive. As God’s chosen ones…Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.

Sometimes the language of the bible is a flat as a piano top while other times it is as thick as a Thundering Herd biscuit (a biscuit with sausage, egg, cheese, and fried potato, which the biscuit chain Tudor’s Biscuit World back home makes.) This morning we are in the thick, thick world of Paul’s poetic language. (Despite his specific mission to the Gentiles I doubt Paul the former rabbi appreciates my pork-laden analogy).

We refer to the Bible as the Word of God. The New Testament refers to Jesus as the Word. Christian theology refers to Jesus as the embodied Word of God. The Word, the logos is at one time simultaneously the words of God and the actions of God. In the beginning the Hebrew poets said over the waters God spoke the Word was voiced and creation happened.
-Let this Word, the Apostle Paul issues the imperative, dwell in you richly.
-Let this anima, this life giving, world creating, dwell in you richly. -Let this Word, A Love Supreme, The Magnificent, A Testament of Hope dwell in you richly.
-Let this word come and find a home in you.
Just as the Word came and tabernacled, pitched his tent, and dwelt among us let the word come and dwell in you.

One time in order to illustrate the goal of the word Jesus told this Comparison: “One time a farmer went out to plant. As he did so, some of the seeds fell on the path, and the birds came along and gobbled them up. Others fell on rocky place where the soil was shallow. Because they weren’t planted deep they came up right away, but not having a deep root they withered when the hot sun hit them. Still others fell among the weeds, which grew up and choked them out. But others fell on good dirt and matured, some multiplying a hundred, some sixty, and some thirty. Now please let that soak in.” (Cotton Patch Version Matthew 13)

One time an Appalachian in New England told it this way. One time the word was placed in the heart of a know-it-all but she scoffed at the word saying “in the real world this is how life really happens.’ One time the word was placed in the heart of a wounded person but whose pain was so deep that they could not feel the word. One time the word was placed in a hungry and desperate heart and this person said nothing but thank you for eternity.

Those are true stories made up of composites of my time as a pastor. Now let this soak in, even the know-it-all and the wounded, I saw moments when the word was present. I heard, felt, and experienced the tender mercy of the word dwelling within them. The word may have not been dwelling richly but it was dwelling nonetheless. Here is perhaps the most dangerous part of Christianity: once the Word takes up residence in us, we are changed forever and ever. God does not ask for us to extend our arms wide open exposing our vulnerability; all God needs is a crack, a sliver. Give the Word a crack and just like Leonard Cohen sang: a crack in everything/that’s how the light gets in. From this tiny opening the Word seeps into our hearts and takes the long journey to our heads or as the Hebrews would say it sticks to our guts.

Although I believe the biblical narrative does reveal a God who changes and changes quite often I do not believe God morphs into different beings or takes on multiple personalities. Yes God changes but God does not Change. I mention this for when the word finds an opening in our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls the word does not change, we change. Furthermore I believe it is because of the change the unchanging word causes in our lives most of choose to separate ourselves from letting the word dwell richly in our lives. Who wants to change? Who wants the Word to inform us that we are not doing what God desires for us to do? Who wants hear the call to repent and live a new life? So we choose to distance ourselves from the word hoping that the distance will not affect our lives. We hope a marginal word dwelling in our hearts will be sufficient for us. We hope a marginal word dwelling in our hearts will endorse our current lives, thoughts, and actions. For we know that a word dwelling richly in our hearts will cause deep and radical change of our lives, thoughts, and actions. For the word does not change, we do.

The task for us this season of Lent is to figure out how to cultivate our hearts to give the word some room to dwell in us richly. We need to somehow join in what God is already doing in us by tenderizing and conscientizing our souls a little more.

Last week we centered on the gift of Christian community. For is Christianity cannot offer us wealth, good health, and promised success then what can it offer? It can offer us transformative community a place
-where we can discover who we were made to be,
-where we can discover God’s mark in and on our lives,
-where we can realize God’s presence in our lives.
But how do we sustain such a community? How does the Word dwell richly both in our own hearts and in the heart of this community?

This causes quite a complex problem for us today for we do not live in a closed community, we do not work together, and we rarely eat together. Our lives are scattered, planned, and multi-directional. Yet there is the distinct possibility of praying together, of spending the day together within the bounds of prayer.

I suggest we pray for each other throughout theses days of Lent, pray for the word to dwell in each other richly, pray that we will find the joy, grace, and hope on Easter morn, pray that we will be held up by the tender mercy of God this day. For prayer is a like the pressure of gravity over time, eventually cracks will appear, eventually our hardened hearts implode, eventually our strongest walls turn to dust. By praying for others we create more and more room for the word to dwell richly in us.

Recall, Paul did not gently ask the community of Colosse for the word to dwell in them richly, he commanded them. Research shows that humans do not respond to commands as well as they do to challenges. Can we rise the depth of our community to a level of mutual prayer? Can we broaden the breadth of our community to create new spaces and ways for the word of Christ to dwell in us richly? Can we approach the empty tomb this year in wonder, gratitude, and amazement?

Sisters and Brothers I believe we are up to that challenge. I believe we can join in on what God has already set in motion with us. I believe we can have the word dwell in us richly.

Amen and Amen.

After the service I came home, played with the kids outside and then headed off to the First Baptist Church of East Greenwich for the Rev. Jonathan Malone's installation. It was great to take part in the service, officially welcome Jonathan to RI, and hear the Rev. Darin Collins preach. I know what the man sounds like in practically every other situation but never heard him preach. He did a great job. I hope he posts his sermon!

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