Sermon

Mysterious Faith and Certain Silence

“The opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty.” Anne Lamott.

When I was in 8th grade the director of mission overseeing our denomination’s Asia division came to speak to our church about God’s work there. He described opportunities for any who wished to participate in that mission including the Evangel Children’s Home in Hong Kong and the need’s there. At the end of his presentation he invited anyone in the congregation who desired to commit to going to Asia in some capacity to come forward and receive prayer. I felt as if I were being hoisted up by angels on either side, up out of the pew, gliding down the center isle to kneel at the alter. Alone. I was the only one – this 13-year-old young woman . . . but I knew God made me for this.

You see, my father wanted to be a missionary, but for many reasons was prevented from going himself. Still, my parents modeled that value in their teaching, their priorities, the things we did as a family. There were older adults in my church who saw that image of God in me and nurtured, encouraged me. Indeed, on that day sometime when I was in 8th grade, the Asia Director invited someone to come stand with me and pledge to pray for me until I was able to go – he received a little card that he signed and kept in his wallet until the day I married Howie, when he then handed it over to him.

In the UMC calendar, today is Lay Leader Day. On one of our websites, Jodi Cataldo writes about lay leader day:

She quotes John Wesley’s last words to Thomas Coke as he stood on the pier, sending Coke off in mission to America, “Offer them Christ, Thomas.” . . . . As part of that mission, Thomas Coke was to ordain Francis Asbury and others into ministry. These faithful missionaries, Coke and Asbury, did just that: they offered Christ, resulting in a movement of astronomical proportion. The movement was alive! It was growing! It was responsive to the biblical mandate to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit . . .” (Matt 28.19)

This is precisely how we can view ways in which we might reach young people (and retired people, the young at heart, and old souls): mission. We are sent irrespective of clergy designation or position in a church government. We are all commissioned to go and make disciples. Often, when we think of being a missionary, it is understood that you might need to learn a new language – the language of the people with whom you commit to live and be. Young people speak a different language – one of technology, hashtags and memes. Their brains are being rewired to think globally, inclusively and in 280 characters or less (up from the original 140!), emojis, acronyms . . . It is undeniably a new language.

Recently, I have been in conversation about what the role of pastor might look like for me here in the context of Durand. I’ve mentioned this before, but Howie and I operate under the principle of

The Priesthood of all believers

John Wesley once said, “I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist . . . But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power . . . [forgetting what they first set out to do: make disciples]”

You are a royal priesthood, God’s own, to proclaim God’s goodness, to be light in the darkness, we are told in 1 Peter2.9. Peter goes on to say, you are servants of all. All of us, all of you, and each of you are a beautiful, mysterious amalgamation of the church. Jesus, God incarnate, God with us, God in us, the kingdom among us. There is no longer a separation between the temple and God. There is no longer the role of a priest to make sacrifices on our behalf. The only distinction is that of spiritual gifting, skill and training. There is no either-or in leadership, it’s a both-and. We are all called to go, to make disciples. We are called according to our gifts and training. I am called to Pastor – lead, teach, shepherd, commission – God has gifted and strengthened me to be in this role, and I have since received a great deal of education, training, and experience. But, my role is no more holy or sacred than yours. I have witnessed in each person I’ve gotten to know here the administering of pastoral roles to individuals within the community. This is exactly how the church is to operate – all of us working together, moving together to bring the kingdom among us. You all take really good care of each other!

Christ is the perfect, final priest. We are instructed, are called together into a priesthood – a collective, communal, sharing of gifts – priesthood . . . according to the order of Milchizedek. Yeah, what does that even mean? It’s somewhat of a mystery, but it indicates that Jesus’ final role as Priest – administrator and subject of the perfect sacrifice for us- was just that: final. So what does it mean to be this priesthood, collectively, communally?

It has something to do with “make disciples,” that is, Discipleship.

The Durand school bands and choirs performed this past Wednesday night. The high school choir finished with the song, “You Will Be Found,” from the musical Dear Evan Hanson. It is essentially about a teen whose friend takes his own life leaving Evan with the grief and loneliness, until he happens upon Conner’s diary. Durand’s choir director, Ms. Ross, introduced it as one that the students particularly relate to, find especially significant to them. It seems parents can relate to the message of Dear Evan Hanson, too. A character in the story, a mom reflecting on navigating parenthood through the life of her 13-year-old son sings, “Does anyone have a map?” Is there any parent out there who hasn’t at one time asked, “what the hell am I supposed to do with this infant, this alien now in my possession that won’t stop crying? or this toddler who incessantly takes crayons to the wall? or this 10-year-old who continues to harangue her brother? or this teenager who refuses to share anything about his life?

Where is the handbook that lays it all out? Where is that map?

One parent told HuffPost after seeing the musical, “I’m so grateful for ‘Dear Evan Hanson’ because it has made me a better communicator with my kids, it has made me a more open human being in the relationship I have with my wife . . .” It’s quite powerful.

Sung by the lead, Evan, the title song opens with questions:

“Have you ever felt like nobody was there? Have you ever felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere? Have you ever felt like you could disappear: Like you could fall, and no one would hear?”

Then he remembers the diary left behind by his friend, he began to view it as a gift to him “to show me that I wasn’t alone. To show me that I mattered – Everybody does. That’s the gift that he gave all of us . . .” He starts to see how he could use Conner’s reflections (though he gave in to the despair, left an opening for Evan to use his experience to help others come out of their own grief): “let the lonely feeling wash away. Maybe there’s a reason to believe you’ll be okay. ‘Cause when you don’t feel strong enough to stand, you can reach out your hand. And oh, someone will come running . . . Even when the dark comes crashing though, when you need a friend to carry you, and when you’re broken on the ground – you will be found.”

When in your life have you wondered whether anyone would ever notice you, really see you? Is there anyone who hasn’t ever felt lonely or like everything seems to be crumbling all around you? Anyone? In the show, Evan starts posting the reflections he found in Conner’s journal. And it goes viral – if you don’t know what I mean by that, join us on Nov 6 at Girl-Talk-God-Talk for a Tech-Talk session.

Listen now, and let the Spirit of God speak to your spirit.

Song:

“Faith is not the opposite of doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty.”

If parenting is imprecise, how much more so ministry? And ministry to youth? And ministry to youth in this high-tech, super-fast changing culture?

God asks of Job, “where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?” The text of Job is difficult to read, God’s interaction (and distance) in his life problematic to our sensitive ears. Still, God speaks. Job may not understand precisely what God is doing around him – through his circumstances, his family, so-called friends, but that God speaks at all is enough. Somewhere along the course of Job’s life, the gift of faith was implanted. Faith, at its very essence, evokes uncertainty. This project may not work, but in faith, I try it out, put everything I am into it and do my very best. It may yield little in terms of the kind of results to which I am accustomed to ascribe “successful.”

Faith is knowing the one doing the comforting can only comfort if having first suffered. Faith is suspecting that when everything is careening out of control you will be found.

Has anyone read “The hound of heaven,” by Francis Thompson? The language is a bit archaic, but it is a literary poem essentially about a man who is so distraught, flees from God’s presence, feeling utterly unworthy of God’s love, to find love – anywhere. God chases after, speaks to him through people and circumstances, going after, and after again. Finally, the man here’s God’s voice as it is: “Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest, I am He Who thou sleekest! Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.” As John Francis O’Conor summarizes: “Divine grace follows after, unwearyingly follows ever after, till the soul feels its pressure forcing it to turn to God alone in that never ending pursuit.”

And God pours out these graces through community. If only we recognize God’s voice. How do you suppose young people will hear if they are forever in their devices? God pursues, follows after- and does so through us. This is discipleship! this is the kingdom of heaven among us! This is God-incarnate – the very reason Jesus came and died and went to hell and back so that we can know God’s presence, God’s love, God’s unending graces.

You are priests – all of you! Jesus, the final priest according to the order of Melchizedek – a mystery of itself – commissioned us as priests!

So what are our priorities? what are my priorities as pastor?

When we are asked “what does your church do?” as DS Lisa did last week, what is the typical response? A list: service at 9:30, the Closet, Stop-and-Swap, GTGT, etc – this church has an impressive list of extraordinary ministries that are invaluable to the community of Durand, as well as the church community! In our Book of Discipline, though, the mission (what the church sets out to do) is “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” No small task! From the Matthew text, “go and make disciples . . .” and from Mark, “when you get there, stay, offer peace – be with the people – where. they. are.

It is much easier to come up with programs. But, we really must stop thinking in terms of an outline, a bullet point, how-tos. Moving in the power of the Spirit of God implies God is our first listen, not the intensity of someone else’s emotion – very real, valid – yet changeable feelings – in the moment. Because God. Never. Changes. It is us that must be changed, changing, growing, moving, until we see Jesus face to face.

“Progress is never permanent, will always be threatened, must be redoubled, restated and reimagined if it is to survive,” Zadie Smith in her Feel Free.

Yet change is all about perspective. Smith continues: “But there is still this redeeming matter of incremental progress. It might look small to those with apocalyptic perspectives, but to she who not so long ago could not vote, or drink from the same water fountain as her fellow citizens, or marry the person she chose, or live in a certain neighborhood, such incremental change feels enormous.”

And maybe that one young adult is willing to help this pastor new to the place with populating the church’s Instagram feed and to plan a Halloween gathering – is actually, quite enormous.

“The opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty.” And in order to hear the voice of God, we must first be silent. Perhaps we are all doing too many things that we think we ought to be doing. I know I am. Maybe we need to stop doing some things and just be – in God’s presence, in each other’s presence, in the presence of someone who doesn’t speak my language?

I’ll finish with one more story. Last Tuesday I was chatting with a few gorgeous women after GTGT about the possibility of doing this Tech-Talk sometime, with the idea of recruiting some young people to help with hands-on directions. One brilliant star asked, “there is a young mom who I see constantly tapping into her phone. Her parents are neighbors and I’ve been trying to build relationship with them. Would it be ok to ask her if she’d be willing to help?” Why, yes! That is exactly what I mean! This young woman might not be comfortable offering her expertise in text-speak, twitter-ese. But this is precisely the kind of thinking I’m talking about.

Will you listen with me for God’s voice – to you, to me, to our congregation?