Tongue Tied

Sermon by Keith, 12.22.19, Luke 1:5-25, 57-80

It has been said that the 9 months that Zechariah was unable to speak was God’s gift to Elizabeth during her pregnancy.  You know, since he was a priest and she was the daughter of a priest, she probably spent most of her life listening to sermons, theological discussions, and issues with the local synagogue and the temple.  Oh, the silent bliss!

But was it silent bliss?  Zechariah has been told he is going to be part of God’s plans in a big way.  How does one even react to news like that? To be given a part in salvation history is terrifying news and understandably so.  A messenger of the holy has spoken. Why wouldn’t Zechariah ask, “How can this be?” Mary asked a similar question when this same angel showed up on her doorstep.  Even way back in Genesis we find Abraham asking how he is to know for sure that he will possess the land and thus the promises of God. It seems understandable to ask “How?” and “Why?”  When the holy crashes into our world, and our assumptions are confronted with new realities, a response of fear, shock, and even speechlessness would seem to be reasonable.

Was Zechariah’s speechlessness really a punishment?  Maybe it was a natural response to being in the presence of the holy.  Maybe it was a sign of God at work. Zechariah did inquire of the angel how he was to know that this good news was true.  Lacking the ability to bless, explain, rationalize or fill empty space with words might certainly constitute such a sign, especially for a person whose livelihood is filled with blessing, explaining and rationalizing the holy.  If we take a less literal and more poetic approach to what happened to Zechariah, might it also suggest that human speechlessness helps God to be heard, especially when God’s word falls so far beyond the scope of our expectations and experiences?  In other words, maybe it is similar to what Henri Nouwen meant when he said, “You shouldn’t talk until you’ve been silent; there’s a difference between having to say something and having something to say.” The silence actually allowed Zechariah to have something to say.

Regardless of the “whys,” Zechariah in his silence and Elizabeth in her solitude find themselves in a time of gestation and incubation.  It is a time of waiting during which they cannot fill the space with noise and busyness; it is a time of passive watching and discernment.  There will be times to act and speak, and even in Luke, times to sing about God’s mighty acts. But those times come at the right moments, moments when God has worked on them, freeing them to speak of the holy because of a personal encounter with God’s messenger, not just empty words about God that have no personal depth.

So, how many of you came to church or will come to church Christmas Eve expecting to meet God in worship?  Yes, many of us will be present, honoring our commitments and offering up our prayers. You may even long for an opportunity to be emotionally moved, to be challenged from the pulpit to live in the way of the Lord, or to receive from the Lord’s Table.  That is as it should be. Having said that, how many of you are actually expecting to experience the holy or to have your prayers answered? How many are expecting God to do something new? For that matter, how many of us, no matter your age or education, clergy or laity, are expecting such and encounter or experience?

There certainly is no evidence in this story that Zechariah was expecting to come into the presence of the holy while fulfilling his duties, and perhaps that is good news in and of itself.  If God will remember a faithful but otherwise forgettable priest, easily lost in a crowd of hundreds of other priests, then perhaps God will remember us. If God will answer the prayer of a righteous, patient, and barren woman named Elizabeth, then perhaps God will answer our prayers.

Indeed, in this gospel of assurance that Luke has set out to tell, his opening characters reveal much about the promise of grace for those who are to come.  Yes, the powerful Herod is mentioned in the opening scene, but he mainly functions to set the story in the context of real human history. The main actors in this drama will not be the rich and powerful, but, rather, those overlooked by the world.  The principalities and powers do not concern themselves with barren older couples, unwed teenage mothers, and those relegated to caring for animals. The good news is that even they play a part in this drama of salvation. The terrifying news, however, is that even we play a part in this drama of hope.

Friends, we are on the eve of the eve of Christmas Eve, when God did something new, taking on flesh and, as the Gospel of John puts it, pitched his tent with us.  My invitation to you is that during this busy time of year, as you rush around filling those last minute gifts and making sure you didn’t forget to mail someone a card, take a moment and think about the Christ child and the ones who prepared the world for his coming.  And sit silently with that. Sit silently with that for a long time if you need to. And listen for God and God’s messengers in your life. Yes, this is a time to sing carols of adoration, but also a time to sit and listen for God and God’s calling in your life. In Christ, God has invited you into his salvation story of humanity no matter who you are or your worldly status.  And that is exciting and terrifying at the same time. What part will you play? It’s ok to ask “How?” and “Why?” Because even today the world is pregnant with divine possibilities. Perhaps those who can be still and nonanxious enough to watch and wait in this time filled with anxieties may again hear the glad tidings of the angels. Amen.

Coming Home to Christ’s Peace

Sermon by Laura, 12.8.19 Advent 2

Isaiah 40:1-5, Ezra 1: 1-4, 3:1-4, 10-13

It’s sing-along time. Join in with me if you know this song:

I”ll be home for Christmas,

You can count on me,

Please have snow and mistletoe,

and presents on the tree.

Christmas Eve will find me,

where the love light gleams.

I’ll be home for Christmas,

if only in my dreams…

That was great! Thanks for singing with me!

So, that was “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” written by Kim Gannon and Walter Kent, one of the most popular Christmas tunes since 1943, when Bing Crosby recorded it. Sung from the perspective of a WWII soldier overseas, it became the most requested song at Christmas U.S.O. shows, and the GI magazine Yank said Crosby “accomplished more for military morale than anyone else of that era.”[1]

Isn’t it curious that this song about the longing for home was seen to improve morale? In the same era, the BBC, thinking it would have the opposite effect on British troops, banned the song from broadcasts! But in the last decade, psychology researchers who study nostalgia have learned this emotion has overall beneficial effects, alleviating loneliness, boredom and anxiety.

Apparently, nostalgia can even help people literally feel warmer on cold days! [2] No wonder so many favorite Christmas songs and movies are nostalgic—we need the warmth in winter!

But I also think we benefit from nostalgia as we sing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” because its last, wistful line acknowledges a difficult truth: “if only in my dreams.”

As much as we might want to go home, physically or emotionally, as much as we might long to return to the Christmas morning feelings of childhood, as we grow up we usually experience the truth of the saying, “You can’t go home again.”

I asked friends on Facebook to share stories of when this feeling had surfaced in their lives. Those who responded to inquiry named an array of situations: when a parent dies or moves away from your childhood home; when you return somewhere with a broader perspective after being away at college or visiting another country; when you realize your children will no longer stay with you for the holidays; and when a place you’ve loved changes or closes down. 

People and places and circumstances just keep changing, and we ourselves grow into different people. So the actual experience of going home, for Christmas or any another time, is often uncomfortable in the incongruity we might feel between our warm memories and the present reality. Today’s scriptures express the human longing for the comfort of homecoming alongside the ambivalent emotions that homecoming actually brings.

“Comfort, O comfort my people,” says Isaiah 40. “In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.” We’ve often heard these familiar words in this season, as we read the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, which depict John the Baptist as the “voice in the wilderness,” the one who prepares the way for Jesus.  

However, in Isaiah’s context, these words are first addressed to the Judean people exiled in Babylon, promising them a straight and steady roadway to return home to Jerusalem, promising that God will make a way where there is no way:

“Every valley shall be lifted up,

and every mountain and hill be made low.

The uneven ground shall become level,

and the rough places a plain.

Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed

and all people shall see it together…”

Isaiah 40 initiates the theme of return, which is carried through the next fifteen chapters of this prophetic book. This poetry was likely composed years after the fall of Jerusalem, as Isaiah or his students watched the political dynamics in the region and found hope when a new ruler, Cyrus, king of Persia, conquered and took over Babylon. Isaiah 45 even names Cyrus directly as a ‘messiah,’ an anointed agent of God, the only non-Israelite in the Bible ever to be named as such.

Cyrus and the Persians had a different idea of empire than their Babylonian predecessors. They allowed greater freedom to their vassals; they encouraged them to worship their gods in their own customs. So it is that Cyrus’ edict to exiled Judeans is the immediate good news of Ezra 1, a proclamation permitting them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. “And what a proclamation it is!” writes one commentator. “It’s the kind that refugees don’t even dare dream about: go home. Go home, loaded with blessings. Go home, loaded with blessings, and rebuild.”[3]

Some, though not all, of the people do go home to Jerusalem, with plans to rebuild their nation in these new circumstances. According to the book of Ezra, they waste little time getting to work on the “house of God.” They begin with the altar, setting it up on the ruined foundation of the old altar; from there, the priestly leaders immediately reestablish proper worship of God, in line with Moses’ instructions. Getting the proper sacrifices going is a priority for the exiles because home is not as they remembered.

In their time away, the exiles in Babylon had struggled to stay true to their identity as God’s chosen people while surrounded by worshipers of other gods. These struggles shape their perception of those who had stayed behind, people who were never the political or religious elites, and who had intermingled and intermarried with the Canaanite cultures in and surrounding Judah. In the returned exiles’ minds, the people who had remained in the land had diluted and corrupted the ways of God’s people. At stake was the question of identity: which people constituted the true Israel, the true heirs of God’s blessing?

Of course, questions of the ‘true people’ or the ‘true church’ continue to cause conflict within and between Judeo-Christian and other religious traditions to this day. And no matter how humans fight to prove our own ways to be correct or pure, it is truly a question only God can judge rightly.

That said, I want us to see how the leaders in Ezra’s story demonstrate practical wisdom.  In the midst of great uncertainty and change, they prioritize the rituals, symbols and structures which have and continue to ground and frame their sense of identity in God and their trust in God’s presence. It is wisdom each of us can use when we make disconcerting transitions, coming home to a changed reality.

“Structure binds anxiety,” a wise teacher once told me.[4] What are the core structures, symbols, and practices which help you return to your foundation with God? What are the songs and stories, the memories and mementos which bring you home at Christmas, even if only in your dreams?

And there is a further question, once you’ve reestablished that foundation: Will you allow God to draw you, beyond the home you knew, to your true home in the heart of Christ?

Perhaps the most poignant moment in Ezra’s story arises in a gathering after a new foundation for the temple has been laid. The priests put on their vestments and sound their trumpets. Musicians come out with their cymbals. They sing the classic refrain with which Israel has praised the Lord for generations, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”

The gathered people respond with a great shout. Many are joyful, but not everyone. The oldest people, those who still remember Solomon’s glorious temple, are weeping. Can you imagine their feelings?

A new beginning has been made, but they know how much has been lost. It will never be the same. The past is gone, and any possibility of future glory may never match it in their eyes.

What I appreciate in this story is that their weeping is not overlooked or denied, even as the text says that “people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping.”  Both responses seem to be regarded as worthy of notice and authentic to the moment.

Here, too, is great wisdom for us. In God’s presence, joy and sorrow will intermingle. Both can provoke tears. Tears not only express grief, compassion, and contrition but they arise in response to goodness and beauty. “Tears are a way the body expresses its openness to God,” writes spiritual director Susan S. Phillips. Tears reflect an opening with a person to “see oneself clearly in the light of God’s loving truth.”[5]

Here in this season of Advent longing and Christmas celebration, when we remember God’s past coming in Jesus Christ, and we renew our hope for Christ’s culmination in the second coming, there is an invitation for us.

The culture paints this season as “happy happy joy joy,” a denial of complex reality which can exacerbate our feelings of loss and lack and loneliness. But the truth is that God’s coming,and our coming home to God, evokes a very mixed bag of emotions: joy, sorrow, fear, excitement, and everything in between.

We are invited to accept all of the ways God’s Spirit moves through us and those around us, whether in laughter or tears, or even both at the same time. We are invited to let ourselves and others express those emotions freely, trusting that our authentic responses help Christ lead us deeper into God’s grace in each encounter of these days.

When we can freely experience and express to God and to one another whatever arises for us this season, God’s house becomes a spacious place in which we can truly come home to Christ’s peace.

In Philippians, Paul calls it “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.” It is a peace which is not dependent on the purity of our traditions or appropriate religious enthusiasm. It is a peace which transcends time and place, flowing in and beyond any conflict, a foundational equanimity, unshaken, no matter what life changes we experience. It is a gift which we are given so that we can be at home no matter where or with whom we find ourselves in this world, a gift granted to us that we may become peacemakers, those who pass on to others the peace of Christ.

So, my friends, hear my prayer for you this season: Wherever you may go in these days, in your life, may you come home, in and beyond your wildest dreams, to God’s love in Jesus Christ. Amen.   

From my Charge and Benediction: quote from Barbara Holmes in Joy Unspeakable:  

“The human task is threefold. First, the human spirit must connect to the eternal by turning toward God’s immanence and ineffability with yearning. Second, each person must explore the inner reality of his or her humanity facing unmet potential and catastrophic failure with unmitigated honesty and grace. Finally, each one of us must face the unlovable neighbor, the enemy outside of our embrace, and the shadow skulking in the recesses of our own hearts. Only then can we declare God’s perplexing and unlikely peace on earth.”[6]


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I%27ll_Be_Home_for_Christmas

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/09/science/what-is-nostalgia-good-for-quite-a-bit-research-shows.html

[3] https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4221

[4] David Evans at Austin Seminary, in a sermon he preached in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

[5] Susan S. Phillips, Candlelight: Illuminating the Art of Spiritual Direction. New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2008, 36-37.

[6] Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, 2nd ed. (Fortress Press: 2017), 3-4.

Stumped in the Vineyard

Sermon by Laura, 11.17.19 Isaiah 5:1-7, 11:1-5

What’s your favorite broken-hearted break-up song,  Or just the first one that comes to mind? (take a few suggestions). 

When I crowd-sourced this question on Facebook, I was amazed to realize just how many textures and flavors of break-up songs and heartbreak pain artists have tried to express: from “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt, to “Positively 4th Street” by Bob Dylan; from “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor to “Flowers on the Wall” by the Statler Brothers. There’s the I’m-leaving-you songs and the I’m-being-left songs. There’s the wistful goodbye, the angry goodbye, the power-anthem goodbye, and the humorous I-won’t admit-it-hurts goodbye. 

What they seem to have in common is that they all narrate a decisive moment. Each relationship began with high hopes of love or friendship, some form of the intimacy humans long for. But those hopes have not come to fruition. 

As the relationship ends, each song sings out whatever feelings need to be expressed so that the ground can be cleared. And each song leaves us wondering, what new life could possibly emerge in this landscape of loss? 

This question also lingers at the conclusion of Isaiah 5’s Love Song of the Vineyard, which is a strange sort of break-up song.  I agree with Beth Moore, who says that she hears it in “pure country.” She writes, 

“..a country-western song can start you out at a family picnic eating buttermilk fried chicken and watermelon on your great-grandmother’s quilt, with butterflies flitting about, and before it ends, your daddy’s gone to prison, your momma’s run off with the preacher, and your little brother’s blowing butterflies to dust with a BB gun.”[i]

That’s just the sort of turn the story takes in the Song of the Vineyard, which begins well enough. We hear all the detailed ways the prophet’s beloved friend has given meticulous care for the vineyard, clearing the land, digging out stones, planting the best vines, setting in place the tower and vat where the harvested grapes would be made into wine. But abruptly, the song twists, dashing any hopes for a fine vintage to be shared in communal joy. In spite of all the care lavished on it, the vineyard yields only “wild grapes;” a better translation of the Hebrew might be “rotten grapes.” 

Then we are confronted with a question: “And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?” (Isaiah 5:3).

Can you hear the plaintive cry of this question?  What more could I have done? How many of us, suffering heartbreak in our lives, ask ourselves the same question? 

But this question not only voices heartbreak; it also draws its hearers into a trap,much like the prophet Nathan does after King David’s affair with Bathsheba. Nathan tells David the story of a rich man who abused his power to steal from a poor man. And when David rushes to judge, “The man who did this must die!” Nathan replies, “You are the man!” 

You are the vineyard!” sums up Isaiah’s message, trapping the people in their own judgment. Of course, they would say that a vineyard yielding rotten grapes should be given back to nature, its hedges and walls torn down so that wild beasts can roam and brambles take root. A diseased garden must be plowed under, and the land remain fallow for a time, until healthy new growth can take root. The destruction and fallow time are natural consequences of the vineyard’s failure to bear good fruit. 

But once their judgment is made, God’s people discover the bereft lover of the vineyard is God, and they themselves were God’s “pleasant planting.” But instead of the fine vintage of justice and righteousness, they have yielded the stinking spoils of violence and oppression, and the consequences of judgment are coming due.  

In a nutshell, this is the prophet Isaiah’s message throughout the first 39 chapters of the book. It is a message of judgment, naming Israel’s rebellion from right relationship with God, other people, and God’s land. This rebellion is most evident in the oppression of the poorest people, the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. There will be consequences. 

This is an uncomfortable message. Judgment always is, whether it’s two lovers recognizing the end of a relationship and experiencing the fallout of breakup, or a whole nation, descending into chaos when their leaders have led them into acts of oppression and violence. 

So I’m tempted to jump quickly to Isaiah 11, where, after pronouncing judgment, the prophet offers hope, “comforting the afflicted” as well as “afflicting the comfortable.” 

But before we zip forward through the centuries to remember how God brings new life out of death, let’s stay present a few more moments in the aftermath of judgment, in the wasteland of brambles and stumps. For here we can learn an unexpected grace: The grace of the fallow lands, the conditions for new life encountered at rock bottom.

Now, I don’t use the word “grace” lightly here. When the catastrophe Isaiah predicted took place, and the empires of Assyria and Babylon conquered the land, thousands of people were killed, some were taken captive, and others were left in starvation and poverty. Some have called this catastrophe the first holocaust. The pain and suffering in Israel’s story are real and profound. 

And yet. And yet

The people who came after Isaiah recognized his words as true prophecy, as his words helped them find meaning in senseless destruction. Isaiah saw God’s judgment as a form of grace, righting the course of the people from the corruption which had rooted so deep in the landscape of their nation.  

Eugene Peterson writes that the prophets “…worked to get people to accept the worst as God’s judgment—not a religious catastrophe or a political disaster, but judgment. If what seems like the worst turns out to be God’s judgment, it can be embraced, not denied or avoided, for God is good and intends our salvation.”   

Judgment is how God sets things right, when the disease is diagnosed, the reality of rupture is seen with clear eyes, and decisive action to face the consequences can now be taken.

Now, in the popular imagination, I think we often picture God in judgment as a lofty being watching everything we do with a disapproving frown and his hand on the Smite Button. But let’s be clear: It is not Isaiah’s vision. It’s  more the image of Zeus than it is God in Jesus Christ.  

Let’s not forget, from start to finish, this is a love song! From start to finish, God desires our blessing and wholeness. That’s why God created us with free will, the means by which judgment comes for us as God allows the natural consequences of our freely willed choices to play out. 

That said, I must note that in Isaiah’s world and in ours, humanity’s collective choices create systems and cultures. And when together we create cultures of violence and oppression, the consequences may fall on the wicked, but all too often, the innocent and vulnerable suffer most. It breaks our hearts; I believe it breaks God’s heart most of all. 

What more could I have done? God asks in Isaiah’s song.  I hear in those words a tone which is kin to Jesus’ lament from the cross:“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” His words are the cry of all innocent people who suffer the consequences of sin, even as they are the cry of the God who suffers our wrong with us and for us,  then and always. 

My friends, in our lives, we all experience the ground-scoured landscapes of heartbreak and loss. We all go through our seasons of dashed hopes and lost love. Whether it’s a divorce, a job loss, a devastating diagnosis, or the death of our dearest ones,  there will be times when it seems like our lives have become a landscape of chaos and despair. 

So, what are we to do in these fallow lands? 

We might take some direction from Twelve-Step recovery process, written down by people who knew a thing or two about “rock bottom.” The first step we take in the fallow lands is recognize and accept how unmanageable life has become. From there, we can remember that we are reliant on God’s care and provision for life itself; so only God can save us!  We make the decision to return ourselves into God’s hands, and with a “searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves,” we ask God to remove our shortcomings and restore us. 

Second, in the fallow lands, we look around and see who is there with us.  Just as good heartbreak song lessens our pain as it reassures us that we are not alone,   we take heart from those have gone before us, who have survived the fallow lands and met a new life on the other side. And we sing our own heartbreak songs, expressing the pain and clearing the ground, holding onto hope and holding out for the new future God is already bringing to life.

Isaiah picture this future in chapter 11, a tendril of hope to hold onto, a wisp of green amidst the charred stumps of devastation: Hear it now: (read Isaiah 11:1-5). 

We often hear this scripture during Advent, the tender hope of a righteous leader, a hope we believe God fulfills in Jesus the Christ. So I wonder, when did a painful upheaval in your life ultimately result in new and righteous fruit?

My family has a few stories, which they have given me permission to share:  

My mother tells how the seven difficult years in which she gave care to her father after his stroke bore the fruit of reconciliation and new friendship with the two sisters she’d got along with least in her childhood. They are now each other’s closest support. 

My sister Beth tells how our father’s death was the catalyst which finally motivated her to act on her dreams of teaching overseas, revealing to her how short life really is. 

And my sister Julie now tells how the injuries she suffered when her car was rear-ended by a semi cleared the ground this past summer to bear unexpected fruit. As her whole family slowed down to care for her, they experienced a time-out from their normally hectic lives in which intimate, quality time deepened their love for each other. 

You, too, have a story of how God brought a new shoot from a barren stump in your life. I challenge you to remember this story. Name the heartbreak even as you name its unexpected fruit. 

And let us, God’s people in the church, hold fast to hope even in the landscapes of heartbreak and despair. Let us listen, there, for God’s song of grace, still and always singing new life from the places of death, a love song, start to finish, which never ends. Amen.   

Benediction: The following poem comes from one of the darkest periods of recent history. It was written by anonymous prisoner at Ravensbruck, found beside the body of a dead child.

O Lord, remember not only the men and women

of good will, but also those of ill will. 

But do not remember all the suffering they inflicted on us;

Remember the fruits we have bought, thanks to

This suffering–our comradeship

Our loyalty, our humility, our courage, 

Our generosity, the greatness of heart 

Which has grown out of all this, and when

They come to judgment, let all the fruits

which we have borne be their forgiveness.


[i] Beth Moore, Chasing Vines, p. 62.

Deeper Love Than We Can Imagine

Sermon by Keith, 11.10.19 Mark 10:13-14, Hosea 11:1-9

Either to their joy or consternation (I won’t know for sure which until after we get their bill for therapy) we have referenced our children in our sermons over the years.  I think there was a disclaimer in the delivery room when they were born that said, “Welcome to the world, PK! Everything that you say and do from this moment on may be used as a sermon illustration.” 

Which in some ways makes perfect sense. You are bound to see all aspects of the human condition–the good, the bad, and the ugly–come out in such close knit relationships, including between a husband and wife, parent and child, and between siblings.  I can say that for the most part, what I have seen and experienced with them has been so joy-filled that when they say or do something that speaks to a scripture text I’m working on, I want to share it with you.

But yes, we have an almost teenager in the house.  Things are changing. The dynamic of the relationship is changing. And that probably means you will also hear some different type of sermon illustrations. But no matter what the dynamic of the relationship I’m having with Lucas or Ben, or even with Laura for that matter, the constant will always be love.

And that is the point about God love that the prophet Hosea is trying to make.  Now if you think that we use stories from our familial relationships in our sermons, especially of our kids, Hosea takes it to the next level.  Early in his prophetic writing, his children become living sermons and the deep messages tied to their names are then used to teach us deeper lessons about God and God’s people. 

In Hosea, you find the prophet marrying a prostitute and having children. And their names become important messages. His first son he names Jezreel to talk about the death, destruction, and murder that took place in the city of Jezreel.  His next child he names Lo-ruhamah, which means “not shown pity” as the people feel that the love of God has left them. And the last child, a boy is given the glorious name of Lo-ammi, “Not my people” because of the separation and rejection God felt because of his people.  Just think of what their playground experience had to be with names like that!

But Hosea, through poetic prophecy about these close familial relationships, teaches us that these names are not looking at the relationships from God’s perspective, but from our perspective.  I feel like God has left me, I feel like I am no longer part of God’s people. These names are about Israel’s unfaithfulness, not God’s undying faithfulness.

The names change, or at least the understanding of the names change.  The living sermon changes to a message of despair to a message of grace. Trouble to grace. Jezreel’s name doesn’t change, but instead of being a reference to a place of destruction, it changes to the literal meaning of that name, “God’s sows.”  God will sow God’s own self in the land so that no one will miss his bountiful love and presence. Lo-ruhamah becomes Ruhamah, because the people will come to know God’s love and grace. And finally, Lo-ammi’s name is transformed to Ammi, because God’s claim on the people as his people has not been changed, but only reaffirmed and strengthened.

Outside of talking about the psychological damage this may do to his kids, this name game makes us ask the question of why would Hosea do this, make his children into living sermons?  As we continue to read Hosea, I think we see why this is important for this prophet. Even in their rebellion and waywardness, Hosea wants to stress that the living God of Israel and Judah loves his people, loves us, more deeply than humanly love can be explained or expressed.  But the closest he can come is relating it to the love of a parent who has loved relentlessly and fiercely a child who kept running away from his or her parent’s love. Hosea gets personal with the names of his children because he wants to stress that we have a relational, personal God.

And I love how Hosea shows that love in chapter 11, a piece of scripture that Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann says is “among the most remarkable oracles in the entire prophetic literature.” And biblical scholar , HD Beedy said, “In Hosea 11 we penetrate deeper into the heart and mind of God than anywhere in the Old Testament.”  What Hosea has us do is pull ourselves up the kitchen table with God and a hot cup of coffee and go through the family photo album.  

How many of you have a family photo album? They are fun to look at.  Pictures of either when you were a child or pictures of your children.  Maybe there are pictures of you in your highchair with spaghetti all over the place.  Or a picture of your daughter playing with dolls. Your son on his first bike. The vacations and family gatherings.  The birthdays and holidays. Now think about what might be in God’s photo album. For the people of Israel, there had to be a picture of them crossing the Red Sea.  God shares the pictures of teaching them to walk, leading them with cord of kindness and bands of love. Can you picture the photograph that would go with these lines:  “I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.” Wow!

What would be in God’s photo album of you? What about the church?

Sometimes we go back through the old photos because life has hit a rough spot, like maybe when a rebellious adolescent child has done something so horrible that we need a reminder of just how much we love that child.  God in this story has hit a difficult time. And God is responding to Israel’s rejection. Israel ran away from God to pursue other gods. Some of the Israelites in fact went back to Egypt–the very place from which God brought them out of slavery.  Even after God kept them alive during those years in the wilderness; it was God who gave them a beautiful land to call their own, but they mistreated it all, abused their land and its people, ultimately discarding their relationship with God. God lamented, “You want to go back to the place that nearly destroyed you?  Fine, go! I’m done this time. You are on your own from now on!”

Not too unfamiliar behavior for a parent of an unruly child.  My parent’s closest words to this were, “if you choose to go out partying with your friends, when you get arrested for doing something stupid, don’t call me until the morning.”  

But then we see God’s internal anguish and self dialogue.  It appears that God cannot even escape the pain that people can inflict on someone they love.  And there is a dramatic twist in the plot of the story, a twist that would have shocked the people who heard these words.  God’s heart recoils within God’s own being.

The word we translate “recoil” is the same word used in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah to describe how God overthrew those cities.  In Hosea’s words, God overthrows God’s own heart. Instead of punishing the child, God takes the punishment upon himself. The consequences of the child’s painful actions are taken into the heart of God. 

And God’s tender compassion is rekindled. They are God’s children after all. They didn’t ask to be chosen by God. God has different eyes to see them. God holds their yesterdays in pictures no one else remembers:  waiting for them to be born, the moments of their childhood, first steps, first words, smiles and cries, and all the big thresholds of their journey–in wilderness, in the promised land. In life and in death, they belong to God as God’s children.

I share a story, not of our kids, but what may be looked at as the infancy of our time as your pastors.  It had to have been within the first month that we were here that one of the members of this church walked up to me after a Sunday worship and said, “You are this church’s last hope.” 

Well, needless to say, that freaked out this fresh out of seminary new pastor. I got over pretty quickly the weight of that statement because I realized that at some point or another, I would mess up things up.  Thank goodness you are a forgiving people! But most importantly I came to see that this church knows that its hope isn’t in the pastors, the programs, or the music played on Sunday, but our only hope is on God in Christ and in his fierce love and compassion that goes beyond our human comprehension. 

That love was made most visible when God bent low and became one of us in Jesus Christ, entering the fray of humankind. God went to the depths of anguish, like a lion roaring out from the cross, giving voice to a painful love for all humanity.

And in his resurrection, Jesus calls us to be living sermons with and for him, because we take on a new name, Children of God, lifted high in the arms of God’s grace and love as a new family.  And it is there we find we are connected to one another, our unknown neighbors, and all of creation to share that message of love, invite others into God’s family, work for justice, and glorify the One whose love we cannot escape. Because it is a love that calls us back home to God’s fierce, loving embrace. Amen.

Everyday Saints

Sermon by Laura, 11.2.19 Luke 4:25-30, 1 Kings 17:1-24

When we first encounter her, she is gathering sticks. I imagine her, hunched over, feet scuffing the dust just outside the town gate, eyes scanning the withered landscape for any small wood that will serve her small, small need. She herself is small in the eyes of her world; if we saw her at all, we’d likely forget her immediately. She is a poor woman of no consequence, bereft of a husband, eking out a bare-bones existence for her son and herself. Her only hope is in keeping them both alive long enough for her son to grow up and become the patriarch she needs. But right now, the world offers so little for a widow and an orphan whose personal names the story does not even deign to remember.  

In the ancient Near East, widows and orphans were a byword for poverty; along with strangers, they are the voiceless and vulnerable of their society, which organized itself around male power and honor. With no family patriarch to stand for a woman’s well-being, widowhood was a sentence to a life of poverty and misery, even in the best of times.

But when we meet this widow, it is the worst of times. The land has dried up. Streams no longer flow. Harvests are paltry, and everyone is relying on what they’d been able to store up. She had so little to begin with. Now the drought has made her scarcity into a death sentence. She can see no future beyond today’s meal, a morsel made from the last of her flour and oil.

That’s the morsel that Elijah has the audacity to demand when he shows up to meet the widow at the edge of Zarephath. Crashing into her life out of nowhere, how terrifying he must appear to her! He is a ragged wild man with the wild Word of God on his lips, who has thus far survived the drought on the trickle of a brook and the leavings of ravens!

I always imagine Elijah as a tall brute of a man. When he shows up in scripture, he dominates.[1] And he’s always a disturbance, stealing the focus of 1 Kings from one of the kings for which it is named.

Elijah is a prophet. We often think of prophecy as predicting the future, but the prophets were not so much seers as they were “covenant watchdogs,”[2] barking out the Word of the Lord,  snarling critique at unjust governance and false religion. They speak truth to kings whose rule has succumbed to the temptations of idolatry, “self-aggrandizement, acquisitiveness and exploitation.”[3]

King Ahab is considered a chief example. 1 Kings introduces him with this statement: “Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.” In scripture’s view, Ahab’s primary evil was in embracing the worship of Baal in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Baal was a Canaanite fertility god, the bringer of rain. His home territory was Sidon, where Ahab’s wife, Queen Jezebel, was born.

The drought begins when Elijah bursts like lighting into their throne room with his announcement: “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives…there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” It’s a direct hit in this theological and political conflict between Yahweh, true God of Israel, and Baal, a weapon in a sort of “cold war” to clarify which God truly has the power of life and death.[4]

But every war has “collateral damage.” People who were already vulnerable, without resources to flee to safety, are the hardest hit by wars and natural disasters. We see it every day in our world.

Now, as Elijah encounters the widow of Zarephath, he gazes directly into the face of a woman whose suffering has been magnified by the theological-political conflict he’s ignited.[5] And there’s also irony here: The Lord sends Elijah to Zarephath, located in the heart of Sidon, Jezebel’s county. The story of the rich Sidonese queen’s exploits are interrupted to tell the story of a poor Sidonese widow.  And Elijah comes to dwell deep in the territory of his most ferocious enemy, fleeing a Baal-worshipping woman to seek help from a Baal-worshipping woman.[6]

But theology is little concern now to the widow. Hopes and prayers do not seem to be enough. As one author notes, “The delicacies of theology mean little when caught between survival and death.”[7] So when Elijah arrives to meet her, God’s appointed provider, she apparently has no idea she’s been picked for the job.

I doubt Elijah’s insensitive approach does much to warm the widow’s heart toward him. “Bring me water,” the wild man commands.  This she retrieves willingly enough, but as she’s on her way, he calls out again, “Bring me bread.”

Hospitality demands a response, but she’s at her limit. “As the Lord your God lives,” she begins—and notice the phrasing—your God, not mine— “I have nothing but a handful of meal and a little oil. I am gathering a couple of sticks to prepare a last meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.”

Everything about the widow’s statement emphasizes scarcity: a handful of meal, a little oil, a couple of sticks.[8] Scarcity is a psychological state which comes over human beings when a sense of lack pervades our lives. Not only scarcity of food or money, but scarcity of time, companionship or sleep, can all set off a kind of tunnel vision. Over-focus on the immediate problem reduces our decision-making bandwidth and capacity to imagine longer-term solutions.[9]

The widow is clearly a woman of initiative, who has kept herself and her son alive this long. But extreme scarcity now tells her there is no future beyond this meal.  So maybe Elijah’s brash style is exactly what’s needed, crashing into the scarcity vision with a bold word. “Do not be afraid. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” 

This is one of those moments in scripture where we might breeze through this text as if what happens next is obvious. Of course the widow just gets up and does what Elijah commands, with only his promise to go on.

But really, what would you do in her circumstances? Would you feed an overbearing, wild man stranger the first meal from your dwindling stores, unable to know for certain whether or not there would actually be anything left afterward for yourself and your son?

This is a big turning point for the widow! Somehow she brings herself to do what he asks. I think her choice is as much of a miracle as the unfailing jar of meal and jug of oil! With high stakes, she leaps into the unknown, allowing herself to hope, just a little, in the outrageous faith of this ‘man of God.’

And amazingly, there’s enough. The jar of meal and jug of oil last for many days to feed Elijah, the widow, and her son. There is a confirmation here that the Lord is the living God, a Lord who loves life, the God who replenishes life even in the midst of deathly conditions. Alleluia!

But I also want us to notice how subtly God’s abundance reveals itself, not all at once in some big showy give-away, but gently, day-by-day, in nourishment which never fails. The miracle of the meal and oil, the miracle of the widow’s faith, is the miracle of enough, just enough for this day, just enough for the next day, and just enough for each day after that.

I have to admit, this bugs me a little. I want to secure the provisions in a more permanent way. I want a bigger, more noticeable display of God’s abundance-making, life-giving power. Like crowd with Jesus at his prophetic debut in his hometown of Nazareth, I want to corner the market on God’s miracles.

But while such self-aggrandizing, acquisitive hoarding might be the ambition of King Solomon’s heirs, like Ahab, or the pinnacle of capitalist aspirations in America today,it has never been God’s vision for human life. God’s way has always been best seen in small people making small daily choices, relying on God for their small sufficiency: Give us this day our daily bread.

In the changing conditions of each day, faithful people choose to trust God anew to provide what’s needed for life in each circumstance we face. Abundance comes when we trust God to provide enough for today, and when receive more than enough, we share. God’s provisions feed us one day at time, and when one source runs out, God provides another.  The life of a saint is “the difficult and joyful life of trusting God again, and again, and again.”[10]

The widow’s life is transformed as the tunnel-vision of scarcity is shattered when she takes the risk and hosts the wild Word of the Lord, leaning with radical trust into God’s inexplicable abundance. At the end of her story in scripture, she sees and affirms the life-giving truth of Elijah’s Lord.

This little woman’s story may seem small, but faithfulness has an unaccountable ripple effect. In the heart of Baal’s country, her trust in the Lord resounds the doom of this false god; it is a tiny hinge on which the grand story of God’s purpose, presence, and power turns, continuing on, transforming the world in the new life of God’s creative Word.

Today we celebrate All Saints Day. We celebrate the small, everyday people through whom God’s life ripples out to bless the earth. Everyday people who are kind and generous, who are brave and brash, who step out in unaccountable daily acts of faith, to share the hope and courage they have experienced, in the unfailing love of Christ.

So, I want to close by teaching you my new favorite song, which has these words:

“Even though the day be laden,

and my task dreary,

and my strength small,

a song keeps singing in my heart.

For I know that I am Thine,

I am part of Thee,

Thou art kin to me,

and all my times are in Thy hands.”

This verse, written down by Alistair Maclean, was composed by small people graced with huge faith, God’s saints who lived in far-flung island communities of the Hebrides, stalwart crofters facing daily weather and poverty as they eked out an existence on windswept isles.

May this song remind you, when you feel small, powerless, or lacking, that you are truly part of something vast and ongoing beyond imagining, that you are kin to the God of Life whose song sings on. The song which keeps singing is the wild Word of God, the song which breaks through scarcity and breaks us open to transforming trust, creating new possibilities for peace, hope, joy, and love, just enough for today, just enough again for tomorrow, just enough for each day after. 

Alleluia! Amen.


[1] Walter Brueggeman, The Word that Redescribes the World, ed. Patrick D. Miller. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006, 27.

[2] https://thebibleproject.com/podcast/what-prophecy/transcript/

[3] Brueggemann, as above, 26.

[4] Steed Davidson, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2611

[5] Steed Davidson, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2611

[6] Corrine Carvalho, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1681

[7] Davidson, as above.

[8] Kathryn Schifferdecker in “I Love to Tell the Story,” Narrative Lectionary Podcast #238, Oct. 30, 2016.

[9] https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/sep/07/scarcity-sendhil-mullainathan-shafir-review

[10] https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2987

Pinky Strength

Sermon by Keith, 10.27.19: Mark 10:42-45; 1 Kings 12:1-17

The party has ended.  If you were here last week, you will remember that David was having a huge celebration, a dance party, as he brought the ark of the covenant to the new capital of Jerusalem.  David has been made king of the twelve tribes and it appeared to be the beginning of a time of prosperity and hope for God’s people.

But a lot has happened since then. Things start falling apart quickly.  You start seeing a change when David commits his affair with Bathsheba and has her husband killed by placing him in a vulnerable spot in battle. Jealousy, greed, and selfishness in David’s household and among his descendants have led to coups, rape, murders, and rebellions. 

Royal projects and policies have placed a heavy tax burden upon the citizens to supply crops, animals, and other materials. Both King David and his son King Solomon implemented systems of forced labor. But not of everyone. They both favored certain cities and tribal affiliations, which means their tribe of Judah was let off easy.  The other tribes saw this favoritism and resented it.

Both developed strategic international alliances through marriages to the daughters of foreign rulers. Solomon built cities to store the chariots, horses, cavalry, and other goods he amassed. He made shields and goblets of gold. On a good note, he built a magnificent temple in Jerusalem and led another massive procession, with innumerable sacrifices, to transfer the ark to the inner sanctuary of the temple.  A new glorious temple where all the people could come to worship God. But then Solomon turns around and built worship sites for the gods of all his foreign wives, and “walked after” and worshiped these foreign gods.   

What happened?  Things looked so promising, so hopeful for the covenant people and their king.  Scripture says that Solomon turned away from the Lord. You could compare it to an open hand slowly getting tighter and tighter until you have an iron fist choking off the people.  He was wise and prosperous, but he used his wisdom for self gain. He used and misused people, the people God had called him to serve and guide, for his own benefit. In his power-brokering with foreign leaders, he made alliances not only with the kings and ambassadors, but also with their gods. 

The conditions for civil collapse and division started with King David. They became more amplified under Solomon, coming full steam ahead to the breaking point when Solomon’s son, Rehoboam became king and we find with today’s passage with the confrontation between him and Jeroboam.

A quick note on Jeroboam’s story.  The R-named dude is Solomon’s son. The J-named dude was actually a faithful servant of Solomon, not related to him at all and no royal lineage.  One day, while he is working, along comes a prophet who tears his clothing in 12 pieces and gives 10 of them to Jeroboam. The prophet then says that the kingdom will get split and Jeroboam will lead 10 of the tribes.  This is all that happens. Nothing in scripture says Jeroboam led a rebellion nor even bad-mouthed Solomon. But word gets to Solomon about this prophecy and he sets out to kill Jeroboam. He flees to Egypt until Solomon dies and had now returned home. And because of the prophecy and the harsh rule from Solomon, Jeroboam had a big following when he returned.

Here, Rehoboam had an opportunity to keep the nation united.  But he had learned the ways of power, or you could say misuse of power, from his father. The people let him know that if he will lighten the burden that Solomon had put on them, they would follow him. And he did what might be considered the smartest thing in the whole story: he asked for advice.

The older advisers who had served under Solomon council him that if he serves the people, they will serve him forever.  I find it interesting that these advisers are the ones who recognize that Solomon may have been a bit too harsh on his people and see the precarious situation the nation was in. It makes you wonder just how much Solomon may have actually listened to his advisers. 

But when these elders offered the advice to Rehoboam to be a servant leader, Rehoboam was too worried about being weak and losing his grip on power. So he disregarded their advice and moved on to others, the men that had seen and experienced the fun of having power with the prince as he grew up.  They tell Rehoboam what he wanted to hear: Close your grip tighter upon the people. Give them the iron fist, a fist so strong that its pinky finger is stronger than the waist or thigh of Solomon. And that iron fist, instead of holding the kingdom together, rips it apart.

The question this passage asks of us is, “How is power to be understood?”  Our culture says that how you get and use power is that you rule others with an iron fist.  That’s how Rehoboam understood power.

But as we look at Christ and his life, death, and resurrection, we as his followers ask a different question, “How is God’s power understood?”  Power takes the form of service. Power takes the form of emptying one’s self for the other. Power takes the form of sacrifice. Power takes the form of serving those more vulnerable than yourself.  It is using the resources and skills that we have in the direction of easing the burden of the oppressed and not adding to it. Power looks a lot like a cross.   

Think about the power God has, the power to create the universe.  And God used that power to become a flesh and bone human, not to be exalted on a throne, but to be lifted up a cross.  In that vulnerability, God has now lifted us up to be a new creation in relationship in him and win our salvation by the Holy Spirit.  Power, God’s power, Christian power is going like this (tight fist) to like this (open hand).

I have a friend that when he finished college, got a job at a camp for troubled youth.  Many of these kids were in this camp because they did some pretty serious bad stuff. And from day one, my friend was told that to get these kids to listen to you and respect you, you had to rule them with an iron fist.  And that is what he did. He ran his group of boys like they were in the military, constantly on their case, screaming at them for the smallest infraction, not giving them any grace.

This camp had a policy of not letting the campers know what was called “No Future Information.”  NFI’s for short. As they were out on a hike in the late afternoon and one of the campers asked “What’s for dinner?” My friend just shouted, “NO NFI!” This kid looks at my friend and said, “Dude, do you have to talk to me that way?” It kind of took my friend back and made him think about how closed off he had become to these youth because he was supposed to be strong, tough, and controlling.  Iron-fisted.

That night he had a long talk with his campers and ended up apologizing for how he had been treating them. From that day forward, even though he still ran a pretty tight ship, he never had any problems with the boys. Other counselors asked him what he did, and he told them he became vulnerable, working with the boys instead of trying to control and lord over them. This shift from being iron-fisted to vulnerable ended up having a profound effect on the entire camp and how the counselors worked with the campers.

Today is the Sunday we celebrate the reformation.  We could talk about the abuses of the church that Martin Luther was protesting when he nailed those 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany and how the split that caused is similar to the split with Rehoboam and Jeroboam experienced.  But, we will save that for a Sunday school lesson sometime.

What I want to do is share a quote from Luther about the Christian life that speaks to this idea of understanding what power looks like for those who follow Christ. “A Christian,” Luther said, “is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.  A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all, subject to all.”

That’s the paradox that we live into on a daily basis. Lordship takes its expression in service. Luther’s paradoxical teaching of Christian freedom and power, following Christ, joins lord and servant into one person. By faith alone, God sets a person utterly, completely, free in Christ to share in Christ’s presence, purpose, and power.  But love binds that person as an utterly dutiful servant, subject to everyone. And it is with this love that we discover that our hands outstretched have more power than any iron fist. Amen.  

Dance Like God is Watching

Sermon by Keith, offered 10.20.19, Narrative Lectionary Year 2

Scriptures: Psalm 150, 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 6:1-5

When was the last time that you danced? 

This morning’s passage finds us with a huge dance party going on.  So big that the scriptures tell us it was David and the whole house of Israel dancing. And boy did they ever have a reason to celebrate!  

To truly appreciate this moment of unity and hopefulness, it is necessary to recognize the costs of division that preceded it.  David, as a boy, rose in power and prestige under the rule of King Saul.  The story presents David as protective of Saul as God’s designated king and loyal to him in life and in death, while recounting the terror and bloodshed of Saul’s campaign to eliminate David and anyone considered loyal to him.  The strife and bloodshed that followed because of Saul’s hatred for David was great.  The war was long, and during that war, the house of Saul grew weaker and David grew stronger.  Saul and his son Jonathan are killed and David is made king over Judah, which is the southern half of the region.  After more conflicts with another son of Saul’s, Isbaal, and Saul’s former general Abner, David is made king not only of Judah, but the rest of Israel.  War and conflict had been a normal way of life for years.

No wonder it was a time of celebration.  Truly for the first time the twelve tribes of Israel are united under a king and peace and prosperity is in the land.  David has taken over the Jebusite city of Jerusalem which will be the new centralized capitol of the kingdom. 

But something is missing.  The Ark of the Covenant has not been in a fully permanent resting place since it left Egypt.  Yes, it had temporary stays in Shilo and Abinadab’s house, but it is time to move it to the united empire’s new capital, a visible sign of the Lord’s presence and dominion in the new capitol. 

And this moving of the Ark becomes a dance party of the new era of David’s rule, a celebration of the monarchy assuming a new role in protecting and promoting Israel’s religious life.  This procession is a form of religious pageantry; a noisy and joyous profession of people celebrating with all their might God’s protection and blessing, and of God’s residing in the midst of God’s people.  The scene must have been raucous mayhem as people danced and played instruments as the ark made its way to its new home.  There is no indication that this was done “decently and in order.”

And this celebration scene begs the question of us, how do we celebrate God’s presence in our lives?  How would you describe how you recognize and rejoice in God’s blessing? 

For us Presbyterians, we typically do things pretty quietly, going about our times of prayers gently and softly, maybe setting aside some quiet time to read a devotional.  At church, we have two liturgical movements, stand up and sit down.  And if you forget which one you are supposed to be doing, we put little stars in the bulletin to help.  Hands are meant for holding the hymnal and not clapping.  If we feel an “Amen” welling up inside us, usually we can do a good job of stuffing it back down as not to cause a scene.  But do you notice that when someone lets out one “Amen,” several others join in?  It’s OK to make a little noise.  It’s OK to make a lot of noise when it comes to praising God.  It would be OK if you wanted to get up and dance in the aisle!

Besides David, let’s look to Jesus for some help here.  We don’t know for sure if he danced, but chances are he did at the wedding in Cana.  In Jesus’ time, dancing was customary at weddings—although men danced in a group with other men and women danced in a group with other women.  So besides working his first miracle at the wedding feast, Jesus probably also danced there.  And in the gospel of John, this is where Jesus worked his first miracle for what seems to be for the sole purpose of preserving the young couple from embarrassment and to prolong the party!  But I think we can also use our imaginations to picture Jesus dancing, stomping his feet to the beat, clapping his hands over his head, swaying, laughing, and singing along to the songs that were part of his cultural upbringing.  If you only thought of Jesus as this serious teacher, open your minds to a picture of him dancing and laughing in celebrating God’s blessing on a newlywed couple.

But also many a theologian has described the relationship between Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit as a divine dance.  The description of this divine dance comes from a kind of dance from Greek weddings called perichoresis.  There are not two dancers, but at least three.  They start to go in circles, weaving in and out in this very beautiful pattern of motion.  They start to go faster and faster and faster, all the while staying in perfect rhythm and in sync with each other.  Eventually, they are dancing so quickly, yet so effortlessly, that as you look at them, it just becomes a blur.  Their individual identities are part of a larger dance. 

The early church fathers and mothers looked at that dance and said, “That’s what the Trinity is like.”  It’s a harmonious set of relationships in which there is mutual giving and receiving.  This relationship is called love, and it’s what the Trinity is all about.  The perichoresis is the dance of love.

But that dance of love isn’t just for our Triune God to dance in isolation some where off in a corner of heaven.  It is for us, too!  Through Christ’s incarnation, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension, and by the regenerating action of the Spirit, we have been brought home and embraced by our Father.  Gathered into the household of faith, we are invited to participate in the dance party of the Trinity.  In this way we exemplify the reality and nature of God and bring his good news to a world that has forgotten how to dance.

So dance!  Dance because David danced.  Dance because Jesus danced.  Dance because God’s very nature is a dance.  Dance because of the goodness of God in your lives.  Dance because Christ is with you.  Dance because the Holy Spirit takes you by the hand and pulls you into that divine relational dance of God. 

Now, I know that some of you may not be physically able to dance and that’s OK.  This invitation is to find some way to celebrate what God has done in Christ in your life that others can see and experience.  Our faith is not always meant to be a quiet faith.  Let it out.  Make a joyous ruckus to God from time to time.  Sing or bang some noisy instruments together.  Praise the Lord in a way that you know the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will hear it, see it, experience it.  And when you do, you will find yourself in their divine dance of love.

I close with a poem.  Now, most of you know the story or poem “Footprints In the Sand.”   I came across what is titled “A New Version Of Footprints In the Sand.”  Here it is:

Imagine you and the Lord Jesus are walking down the road together.  For much of the way, the Lord’s footprints go along steadily, consistently, rarely varying the pace.

But your footprints are a disorganized stream of zigzags, starts, stops, turnarounds, circles, departures, and returns.

For much of the way, it seems to go like this, but gradually your footprints come more in line with the Lord’s, soon paralleling His consistently.

You and Jesus are walking as true friends!

This seems perfect, but then an interesting thing happens: Your footprints that once etched the sand next to Jesus’ are now walking precisely in His steps.

Inside His larger footprints are your smaller ones, you and Jesus are becoming one.

This goes on for many miles, but gradually you notice another change.  The footprints inside the large footprints seem to grow larger.

Eventually they disappear altogether. There is only one set of footprints. They have become one.

This goes on for a long time, but suddenly the second set of footprints is back. This time it seems even worse! Zigzags all over the place.   Stops.  Starts. Gashes in the sand.   A variable mess of prints. You are amazed and shocked.

Your dream ends. Now you pray:

 “Lord, I understand the first scene, with zigzags and fits.  I was a new Christian; I was just learning.  But You walked on through the storm and helped me learn to walk with You.”

“That is correct.”

“And when the smaller footprints were inside of Yours, I was actually learning to walk in Your steps, following You very closely.”

“Very good.. You have understood everything so far.”

 “When the smaller footprints grew and filled in Yours, I suppose that I was becoming like You in every way.”

“Precisely.”

“So, Lord, was there a regression or something? The footprints separated, and this time it was worse than at first.”

There is a pause as the Lord answers, with a smile in His voice.  “You didn’t know?  It was then that we danced!”

To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: A time to weep, a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance. 

Amen.