Sermon,  Sermons

Inherent Attention

sermon video. Click to view part 2

Holy God, we so often forget who we are and who You are. We often run away from your presence because our eyes are focused on the immediate – our immediate situation, on ourselves. Increase our awareness of You. Amen.

Some of you may know that Clark has a job. He is mowing the 3 parcels of land the church owns (the parsonage, the church grounds, and the lot of land across the way). He is learning responsibility, he has opened a bank account and learning to budget his money, to tithe, to be generous – he noticed the Peace With Justice special offering envelope in the bulletin last week and wanted to give a significant amount, not thinking about the reality of what he actually has and where it is already going. Still, it is fascinating to watch how he processes making money.

But the other day, when he was getting close to finishing the church’s lawn, a woman came with her lawn mower and told Clark she would finish mowing. She said that the church has done so much for her, she wanted to give back even a little. Well, when Clark came home, many words clamored to rush out of my mouth . . . but what I did say was, “Clark, honey, you are getting paid to do the work. It is important to honor a person’s desire to give back in a manner in which she can. But the next time something like that happens, you must be clear that you are actually getting paid for this, so either let me give you my wages or suggest she talk with Gavin about weeding.” Or something to that effect.

Another woman, single mother of 4, was in danger of eviction this week. She recently suffered a stroke and her doctor said she couldn’t continue the work she was doing, and was terribly despondent. She wanted to just roll up in bed and just die. But because of one woman of faith in our midst who responded to my plea last fall, I had just enough in a special fund to cover her past due rent. Her relief was palpable. Imagine the hope she now has that God just might exist – and knowing it through the people of this congregation.

God’s attention is on us. Indeed, Psalm chapter 8 reveals that God is mindful of us. When we know something about God, it is often a comfort to us. God is paying attention to me, so, wow – that is really amazing to know. But if we take it a step further and remember that we are also created in the very image of God, it reveals something about us.

That is, we are inherently predisposed to pay attention to one another.  

But God is mindful of us. In Psalm 42, another passage from today’s lectionary,

1 As a deer longs for flowing streams,
   so my soul longs for you, O God. 
2 My soul thirsts for God,
   for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
   the face of God? 

Psalm 42:1-2, NRSV

We are made with this longing to feel the gaze of God on us, to soak in the glory of God – that is, the reality of God’s presence. And God’s attention comes in so many ways. We read in the 1 Kings 19 passage that God repeatedly asked Isaiah, What are you doing here, Elijah? – calling him by his name. God’s attention on Elijah, knowing there is something very wrong, but trying over and again to turn his gaze back onto God.

Elijah is so despondent he wants to just roll up in bed and die. The word of the lord came to him several times, and Elijah responds with his (quite valid) complaints. But then he is led to a cave, utterly cut off from everything. The wind that splits mountains, an earthquake that moved boulders, a raging fire, and then came sheer, profound silence. “Then there came a voice to him . . .”

To know the attention of God, to sense gaze of God on me, first I must believe – believe that God is. I must have a sense of the existence of God for any of this to mean anything to me.

It is an act of Faith to listen for God. It is an act of faith to pay attention to God’s words. To be attentive to God’s voice – when I hear it, I am taking a risk – this leap of faith.

In the first, I wrestle with the question, Did I really hear God’s voice? I was so convinced in the moment, but was that really what happened? And then it is followed up with the reality of needing to trust that God will walk me through it – attentiveness is not just a one-time occasion. I have to choose again to pay attention, and again, and again; to believe God has spoken, is speaking – to choose to believe it again, and again, and again.

The psalmist in chapter 42 continues:

3 My tears have been my food
   day and night,
while people say to me continually,
   ‘Where is your God?’ 

Others might ask, How can there be a god with such suffering in the world? How can a loving God let my young son have cancer? Or that single mom loose her home? 

And I begin to doubt again. Or the questions come from within – is my belief well-founded, based in reality? Whatever reality means.

5 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
   and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
   my help 6and my God. 

Faith moves us. Faith isn’t just repeating lines we heard at church or in a song. Faith is a leap – it moves us toward a path, a way of being, or course of action. Otherwise, it is just memorizing facts for a test – one that doesn’t give us credit in any university or trade school.

It begins with communication. Communication, first, with God – aka, prayer. And it continues as an act of discipleship.

Traci Blackmon put it beautifully when she said,

“Activism is part of discipleship, but the difference is that our goal can never be the annihilation of other people. As followers of The Way, our goal is the redemption of all people … even those who stand against us.”

– Traci Blackmon

We begin by praying for our children or neighbors – to know God. We pray that they know the presence of God. To know the freedom that we have by knowing God – to be transformed by the Spirit, be transformed from glory to glory. Be transformed, being transformed – by graces upon graces into the very likeness of God – the image of God – unique, while absolutely divine. Created through Christ who went to hell and back – to fill everything, redeem everything, everyone, so that we are redeemed already. If only we believe. If only we have faith.

It is through this faith, by grace, we are saved from ourselves, free to be, to become, to live into the likeness of the Divine. To truly live.

What do we pray for each week right here in church? For whom do we pray? Sure, we lift up our concerns for loved ones who are sick and traveling mercies for the travelers.

Do we pray for our children and grandchildren that they know this freedom? Do we pray they live into these graces, the reality of who they are as image bearers? And then is my heart molten, broken for my own children who struggle with participating in the work of the kingdom of God, lured by the enticing possibilities of making real money?

         Sheila Collins (I get these really great quotes from Sojourners Magazine) puts it this way:

“Theology is ultimately political. The way human communities deify the transcendent and determine the categories of good and evil have more to do with the power dynamics of the social systems which create the theologies than with the spontaneous revelation of truth.” 

– Sheila Collins

When we allow the social system to determine our belief, our theology of what we believe about God over the lived experience of the Spirit of God revealing God’s selfhood, God’s being in our lives – we let politics make our theology.

But when I allow God to do God’s work in and through me, working in the lives of another person and see God’s movement therein – without passing judgment on that person’s suitability for assistance or authenticity of right motivations . . . When I am open to see God here and now – the glory, God’s presence, shekinah, dwelling with us, in us – then mountains move, someone is compelled to help with the church lawn, another has her overdue rent paid, a child experiences loving attention that might not have been there any other time except by having come to VBS.

Grace up grace, from glory to glorious, free to be and to become, and to truly live.

This is what Joel and Beth have to share with us about Haiti. And it is also in some of the things we are planning this summer and into the fall.

Chair yoga

Urban gardens [Lettuce in a box; Basil in a tray; Scallions in a glass; Peppers in a pot] – to connect with those who might have need of it, e.g., Elm St apt. residents, etc.

Support/prayer/bible study group for the grieving and/or considering the long-term care of a loved one.