20 February 2013

Lent I Sermon: On Being Full of It

Sermon from Sunday.  

If you prefer the spoken version, here you go.  

Almost Persuaded: On Being Full of It
text: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1)
Lent I – 17.February.2013
Judson Memorial Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN
The Rev’d G. Travis Norvell

here is an ancient Celtic tradition called smooring the fire wehereby a a woman, before she retired for the night, would arrange all of the coals of the fire into a circle, divide them into three parts for the Trinity, then go to bed.  In the morning she would add peat to the fire to create a new blaze and more hot coals.  And then one morning, on the morning of her daughter’s wedding she would put some of the new morning hot coals into a metal container and take them to her daughter as her wedding present. 

            One author states that, “The fire has been in the family for many generations.  Generation after generation of women has smoored the fire, each mother passing it on to a her daughter on her wedding day.  In a damp climate where tending the fire is constant work, these are precious family heirlooms.”  As we embark on our Lenten journey together I ask that use this time to set ablaze the smooring fires of our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls. 

            In a few short weeks Easter morn will be here, let us prepare to open the doors to heaven by reigniting the fires of our souls.  I take as my text today the first verse of the fourth chapter of Luke’s gospel, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit.  

            Let us pray. 
Living God,
as we pause
for sustenance and succor
for strength and solace
for comfort and challenge
for care and courage
be with us as we seek to fill the brokenness of our hearts with Thy light and love.  Amen.

he Apostle Paul in his second letter to the church in Corinth warned the early church not to think to highly of their message of Christ crucified for many will see it as foolishness, a stumbling block from the Greek skandalon. In my translation Paul was telling the first century church, look, when you start teaching and living a crucified life people will not think you are wise, insightful, enlightened, or knowing, in fact they’ll think just the opposite of you, they’ll think you are full of it. 

            And when you’re full of it, amazing things happen.

            After Jesus said YES to the way of God in this world in and was baptized by John the heavens were torn apart and the voice of God flooded Jesus’ soul with the words, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  Immediately after that Jesus was escorted by the Spirit of God to the wilderness for a time of trial and temptation.  I think God wanted to make sure and I think Jesus wanted to make sure.  There world could not handle another halfway Messiah, another separation from the world Messiah, or another deliverance via the sword Messiah.  If Jesus was the Christ then both and he and God needed absolute certainty. 

            And when you’re full of the spirit that kind of dangerous certainty emerges, for you just might change the world.

Before moving on I do want to address the Devil in this story.  You may be tempted (popular word today) to write off the Devil as some kind of Neanderthalic primitive bad guy.  But not so fast, no I’m not asking you to believe in a dude in a red suit with a forked tail, horns, a van dyke on his chin and a trident in his hand.  But I am asking that we realize that the Bible did a clever thing by personalizing evil as a device to introduce the presence of evil in the story; the devil, in the bible, is a rhetorical tool, a great symbol, don’t write him off. 

 don’t know about your past spiritual experiences to know how you relate to this story.  Perhaps you see the Devil’s time of concentrated temptations as the opportune time to strike.  Some would see them as Jesus at his weakest point.  But from my own experiences and the experiences others have shared with me in the past when the Devil ‘struck’ he did it at the time when Jesus was his finest. Jesus was on fire.
God with me,
God within me,          
God behind me,
God before me,
God beside me,
God to win me,
God to comfort and restore me. 
God beneath me, God above me,
God in quiet, God in danger, 

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner commented on the wilderness in the Jewish experience as, it “is not just a desert which we wandered for forty years.
            It is a way of being…
            In the wilderness your possessions cannot surround you.
            Your preconceptions cannot protect you.
            Your logic cannot promise you the future.
            Your guilt can no longer place you safely in the past.
            You are left alone each day with an immediacy that
                                                                                                & Exults.
            You see the world as it is for the first time.

The teasing temptations did not blur Jesus’ vision but rather honed them to a clarity that only emerges from this kind of experience. 

For forty mythical days and forty mythical nights the devil tempted Jesus like a wolf circling him, attacking every now and then, weakening before he went for the kill.  Beaten and bruised, just like those on the ark who for forty days and forty nights were battered at sea, just like the Israelites who wandered the desert for forty years, just like a babe in the womb gestating for 40 weeks.  What kind of new creation would emerge from this experience?  How would Jesus see the world as it is for the first time?

What does it look like when you are full of it?

When the Devil thought he had Jesus on the ropes, weakened, and worn down he went in to throw off the Messiah veil with three core temptations:
                        To turn stone into bread
                                    To rule the kingdoms of the world
                                    To throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple

            These temptations are our temptations.  Now I’m gonna lean on the late William Sloane Coffin for a little help here.  They are temptations to trade in the best for something good.  Jesus could have been a wonder worker simply rearranging matter, a heavenly alchemist providing bread for the people and that would have been good but it wouldn’t have been the best.  Jesus could have ruled the world a loving despotic sovereign like Thomas Hobbes’ portrait of the ruler on the cover of Leviathan and that would have been good but not the best.  Jesus could have hurled himself off the Temple to show God’s providence and care for him and that would have been good but not the best. 

            To be the Beloved
            To be the Love Supreme
            God needed someone who had a singular vision of reconciliation, a vision that could not be thwarted by a pragmatic alternative.  God needed someone full of it.

If you are the Beloved of God then command this stone to turn into bread.  It is written, One does not live by bread alone.

If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’
Worship the Lord your God and serve only God.  

‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here,
Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

            When you’re full of it that is the kind of stuff that emerges from your soul, foolish mutterings - because your gripped by
a Love that will not let you go,
a love that will not let you settle for something good when the best is still out there. 

            Deep within us we all have the desire for this best,
            Deep within us all is a fire smooring that is waiting to burst into flame
            Deep within us is the Spirit of God waiting to be filled in excess

            And Lent is the time our ancestors set aside for us to ignite.
            It is the season to see world as it is for the first time.
            It is the season to get and be full of it.

n Palm Sunday I will have the honor and pleasure of baptizing two youth, one being my daughter.  This week they will begin their baptism class.  It is my hope and prayer that through the love and experiences of this community they will become full of it.  I hope their baptism will be the ignition of a life full of the Spirit of God and I hope that the witness and ongoing responsibility to make sure they are full of it will reignite our own call to be full of it.

            It is my hope and prayer that we together will be a foolish community doing foolish things in the name of a God who wills
and a just world. 
            We are going to need to be involved in foolish activities and hear over and again stories of people full of it doing those foolish activities.  I close with this one:


ifty two years ago members of the embryonic Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee boarded buses in Washington DC and headed through the American South to protest the segregation at public facilities with Whites Only signs.  They were known as Freedom Riders. 

            During one of the journeys the bus stopped at Rock Hill, SC (just south of North Carolina border, now part of the metro Charlotte area).  As a 21 year old Baptist seminary student, John Lewis, exited the bus he attempted to enter the Whites Only section of the bus stop.  By the door was Elwin Wilson, a young local white man.  Wilson grabbed Lewis and started beating him till he laid on the ground and blood oozed from his body; he stopped only because someone called the police. 

            Years after the incident Elwin Wilson realized that the young man that he as a young man beat that day was a member of Congress, Democratic Rep.  John Lewis.  A few years ago Wilson, in his faith narrative states that he found the Lord and realized it was his work, for the remainder of his life, to just to help get one person not to hate.  He began his work by traveling to DC, going to Lewis’ office and apologizing.  When he and Lewis met, Lewis recounted the story this way, I said, “I forgive you.  I don’t have any ill feelings, any bitterness, any malice.  He gave me a hug.  I hugged him back.  He cried a little, and I cried.”  

            Lewis continued describing the event as, “a moment of grace, a moment of forgiveness and a moment of reconciliation, and that’s what the movement, that’s what the struggle was all about.” 

            Because when you’re full of it you say foolish things and are involved in the foolish work.

            Brothers and sisters let us, like Jesus,
set our hearts ablaze,
have our souls filled with God’s Spirit,
and let us get busy being full of it. 
Amen & Amen. 

19 February 2013

A Good Game for the Good Book

Yesterday the baptism class began.  This year I have the privilege of baptizing my daughter.  I'm pretty sure I'll be able to hold it together during the service, pretty sure.  The class is really a hybrid of a baptism and confirmation class.  The big moment of the class yesterday was the giving of bibles.  The selection was the Green Bible.  Why?  Because I think the righting of the environment will be the biggest challenge and work of their (and mine) generation. Ahem, 350.org plug. 

But how do you introduce the bible?  I did my five minute introduction, showed them portions of the Hebrew Bible and the Greek New Testament, pointed out how the Jewish Bible is ordered differently than the Christian Old Testament, and gave them some fun facts about the prophets.

And then I introduced them to Sword Drills.

Sword Drills, that's right.  Because there are some things from my conservative religious past worth holding onto.

For those who have never participated in a sword drill here is a primer.  Stand up, place your bible between your knees and place your hands on your head (this is standard WV Baptist procedure, different regions do it differently).  When everyone is ready the leader yells out a book, chapter and verse.  Numbers 5:16.  The first one to read that passage out loud wins that round.  It is a great way to learn the books of the bible. In large groups you would stand back-to-back, the first one reading would win the round.  You go until the last person is standing. 

Sword drills are a great tool to help get to know your way around the bible.  In Rhode Island I even had the adults do a few Sundays in the summer.

 And here is the kicker...Everyone loves a sword drill. 

17 February 2013

Embracing the Cold

I doubt people would believe me that one of the reasons I was so eager to Minnesota is because of the cold (and apples, but that is another post).  But it is true, I love cold weather.  But I've never been in this kind of cold, (neither Rochester, NY nor Rhode Island seemed this cold) the kind that looks like it will be around for another month and a half.  I only ask that the lilacs will be in bloom in mid-May and I'm good.  

As part of my Lenten discipline I started growing a beard (actually I started a few weeks ago to give myself a head start).  Now this may seem like this post is going in another direction but just wait a minute.  This morning at church someone asked me if I was growing a beard because of the weather.  I never thought about that, something clicked in my brain to triggering a yes.  Yes, whatever it takes to keep warm I replied.  This was another sign that I am at the right church, they interpret my poor attempt at a beard as an attempt to keep warm.  Man I love these people!  

So I am now growing a beard in my effort to embrace the cold!

Today I took another large step towards embracing the cold by lacing up and going ice skating.  I have never ice skated before; I have only roller skated three times in my life.  But I thought there is a free ice rink and skates within two blocks of my house; winter aint going anywhere, it is time to learn.  I prepped myself by doing what everyone else does before they start something new: I viewed some clips on youtube.  The clips were helpful, kind of.

I laced up the skates and wobbled to the rink.  I stood on the snow for at least 15 minutes before I shoved off on my maiden voyage on the frozen seas.  It was a terrifying experience, I made it back and forth a couple of times and then headed into the warming room. I wanted so bad to yell, I'm Skating but I was sure as soon as I did I would fall and bust my head open.  In my mind I kept the following clip from What About Bob to keep me going.  

The next time you see a slightly bearded near 40 year old wobbling on the ice be sure and whisper a friendly Ahoy there.  Forewarned though, I'll be out there quite a bit the next couple of weeks; I am a quick learner!  

15 February 2013

Fast to Feast

This week Christians around the world began the observance of Lent.  I did not grow up observing Lent or even knew what it was all about until probably college, even then my understanding was somewhat limited.  The idea of giving up something, anything, did not appeal to my all-consuming nature.  Slowly the idea began to take root and now I actually look forward to Lent.  I like the challenge of breaking old habits and forming new healthy ones.  I like the idea of balance, there is a time to feast and there is a time to fast.  If everyday is a feast then it loses its peculiarity. 

This year I have given up facebook in order to aid my grand challenge to be more present with my new family in Minneapolis.  I also gave up sweets.  Part of my challenge that includes both of these goals is my Pearson's Lenten Challenge. 

Several weeks ago one of my progeny brought home from school a bag of Pearson's salted nut rolls as some kind of institutional propaganda.  Being a sharing dude he offered the missus and I one.  At my first bite I was like, this is amazing.  Then my mind began to wonder, what if they dipped this in dark chocolate.  Then  couple weeks later while perusing the aisles at a local over priced yet extremely convenient grocery store I found the Pearson's Nut Goodie 100th anniversary offering: sea salted carmel, smothered in salted peanuts then covered in milk chocolate.  Oh these are pure evil.  I love them. 

If the search committee had sent me a box of these during the search process...  I cant wait till the State Fair this year to try the deep fried nut goodie! 

On Ash Wednesday (Lent does not officially begin with me until the ashes are on my forehead) I purchased two of the 100th anniversary specials.  I ate one right after dinner but before the service started.  And the other I put away in a secret place to be consumed on Easter morn.  Hopefully my Easter feast will be a little different this year coming off a rewarding fast. 

14 February 2013

On Being a New Orleanian Wherever You Are

Confession: I both love and hate New Orleans.  Lately I have tried to concentrate on the parts that drove me crazy: the crime, the treacherous streets, "the heat, my God the heat", the lack of apples, lack of changing seasons, corrupt political life, economic and racial disparity nevertheless the parts that I love keep rising to the top: friends, the live oak lined streets, baseball in January, po-boys, king cakes, gumbo, jambalaya, the sausages, Abita, the fried chicken, the energy of the music and on the streets, the zany and wacky take on life, the costumes, the free wheelin/don't sweat the small stuff, pheasant gumbo (which for two years I mispelled as peasant gumbo and no one brought it to my attention because it was plausible that someone made a "peasant" gumbo), Hubig's pies, festivals and of course Mardi Gras.

Although I have been present in Minneapolis, especially since I am serving the greatest church in the world (and I mean it). I knew that a large part of my was still in the Crescent City.  I knew this would happen, that wonderful funky city got into our soul and rebirthed us.  Before the move upriver an Minnesotan expat gave some wise counsel to not compare New Orleans to Minneapolis.  Instead, appreciate the Twin Cities and the North Star State on its own terms.

Easier said than done.

Case in point.  On Tuesday the trash and recycling pick up took place.  I forgot to take out the containers Monday night.  Tuesday morning I looked at my neighbors' trash cans to tell if the truck had run yet.  Couldn't tell.  In NOLA it was quite easy to tell when the trash truck had run, the trash cans were usually on their side lying up on the curb or left in the street, here they were neatly placed in their exact spots!

But something happened this past week.  We decided to be New Orleanian souls in Minneapolis.
We starting by declaring our own Mardi Gras in the Twin Cities.  We took the kids out of school for the day, we made beignets for breakfast (next year we'll just go to The Baker's Wife and pick up a dozen of their wonderful selections of fried dough), then went to the Zoo, then to Popeye's for lunch (where we met a couple from New Orleans East who is in the process of moving back) and then to the Bryant-Lake bowling alley.  All in all it was a great day.  And it felt great.  And it felt like home, more than ever!  We're learning...

Thank you Dirty Coast for the t-shirt and stickers.

*yes, I misspelled misspelled on purpose.

08 February 2013

Updates Galore

First, A couple of weeks ago it became official: we are now co-homeowners with the bank, when the missus and I signed away the next 30 years of our lives.  It is an amazing feeling to experience to be settled in a home.  For the past 17 years we have lived either in parsonages or rentals, no more.

What is the neighborhood like?  Everyone seems quite nice, but they are little too judicious with their snow removal!  I can't wait to start messing with them this summer.  I so wish I had kept my Gravely Tractors, oh the fun I could have with my 40 foot wide lot.  I would the Frank of southwest Minneapolis.

Second, reading.  I finally feel relaxed enough to start reading again, that's all I'm gonna say about that. So far, 6 books for the new year.  If I can keep this pace up I'll be on track for 60 this year.  I hope to read the entire Brother Cadfael series, in sequence.  We have yet to hook up our television and may not ever.  Amazing how much reading you get done without the presence of a tv.  Plus living in the third most literate city, I had better get my reading gloves (see note 5) on and get to it.

Third, while I'm on the topic of reading...One of my interest areas is preaching books.  I am amazed that teachers of preaching suggest that preachers NOT read books of sermons from other preachers.  Amazing because no other craft suggests this.  All writers say you become a better writer by reading.  So why would writers of sermons not read other great sermons?

Fourth, the demise of facebook.  It just doesn't do it for me anymore.  For Lent I'll go offline and maybe even finally deactivate my account.  I know it is a good tool for getting to know people but I feel it is distancing also.

Fifth, The Cold.  There is no way around it, it is cold up here!  So cold I wear a cap to sleep in and reading gloves at night!  That's right reading gloves! - a Material Girl invention.

Sixth, avoiding Mardi Gras.  We planned to be there this year but we purchased a house.  2014, for sure.  So we are doing what we can to act like it is not going on, not an easy task.  Thanks to friends who continue to post pictures, videos, and texts.  (the only thing redeeming social media right now)  Today we are taking King Cake into the school for the kiddos.  I am seriously thinking of protesting on Tuesday by wearing sandwich board that reads, Today It Is Not Just Another Tuesday, IT IS MARDI GRAS! Act Like It People, posting myself on the widest portion of neutral ground I can find, with a lawn chair, a six pack of Abita, WWOZ live streaming, and throwing beads to whoever smiles, honks or waves.  Alright I'm doing it, look for me on the corner of Chicago and 50th.  Over and over again I'll quote AJ Muste, I'm doing this not to change the world but so the world doesn't change me.  It wont be, it can't be, just another Tuesday!