Sermon,  Sermons

Disciple’s Attention

sermon video. Click for pt2



It is at once gratifying and humbling, sometimes to the point of embarrassment, to listen to a member of my congregation assuage my concerns about a matter using the same principles I’ve been preaching all along. I mean, do I even listen to myself? Shouldn’t I have everything perfected before I preach this stuff?

Well, of course, we all must know that a preacher – just as a prophet, or evangelist, or anyone living into their calling – a preacher is compelled to speak, exhort, expound upon that which God impels us. The preacher studies and discerns, researches and meditates – in the listening spaces, in the context of the church family and larger community – and the message settles and presses and sometimes forces its way onto the page, out of the mouth . . . carried along on the breath of a prayer for ears to hear – for the congregation and for oneself. Because the message is always as much for me as it is for you.

So when a very dear friend of mine pulled me aside during coffee hour last week to share how she realized that in order to more effectively engage in the conversations we’re having right now, she needed to investigate some more – read what others are saying about the issues, consider them in light of the things I’ve been sharing, processing it with her husband – and that she is “getting it,” hearing and understanding my heart on the matter, as well . . .

As she described the work she was doing to reconcile her earlier perspective of scripture’s teaching with an understanding that has more facets, more lenses capable of a further, expansive view – I knew I was on holy ground. Her words, our exchange, was a sacrament – God was present in that space-time. 

Paul counsels Timothy to Take hold of the eternal – that to which he was called, for which he was made.

What, then, is eternal?

To what am I called? where does my faith lie? It absolutely lies in the cradle of community. That is, my belief is wholly dependent on the idea of corporate belief – that we believe something together. And the clearest outline of this belief is in our Creed: the Apostle’s Creed. Now, by clear I mean, succinct statements of theology that form the basis of our way of being, our guiding principles. It doesn’t mean we will ever be able to fully grasp the fullness of their meaning until the “fullness of time.”

Let us read it together now:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

The Benedictine Sister, Joan Chittister said,

“The Creed is not a call to believe in the Church. The Creed is a call to follow the Christ.”

Joan Chittister, In Search of Belief, 179

HT to my soul sister, the Rev Pat Esker, for putting me on to this book.

We are not called to believe in the church. We are absolutely, unequivocally – no mystery in this – we are called to follow the Christ. Jesus Christ through whom we move and breathe and have our being, out of whom we never leave. This Jesus says, “Come, Follow Me. And I will show you . . .” and what is it that Jesus promises to show us? “How to fish for people.”

Obviously, Jesus is not saying that we will literally cast our fishing polls around our neighborhood in order to snag a person with a fisher’s hook. He called those who would to follow. And then he invited more. And he taught about the goodness of the Kingdom of God and its reality. And he healed the sick, “whatever their sickness or disease, or if they were demon possessed or epileptic or paralyzed. He healed them all.” (Matt4:24)

He didn’t say, oh wait, first your faith must be strong, and you must not have any so-called sin in your life, and yeah, I must feel comfortable in your company. He only said, Come, follow. And I will make you fishers, I will enable you to do all that I do, share all that God has to share with everyone. Only, follow. All of you. Together.

It is only a thing – that following of Jesus – when it is communal, a group effort. And it only has meaning and purpose if it means that we do this in community. And our Creed describes this for us when it says that we believe in the “communion of saints” that the Holy Spirit energizes, to which it gives life.

Chittister has a gorgeous explanation of this:

“It is only in the social dimension of the ‘communion of saints’ that sin, sacraments, and sanctity take on meaning. Without the idea of the communion of saints, even a life lived devoutly is nothing more than a personal excursion into spiritual narcissism. What is ‘sin’ that does not rupture the bonds of human community? What kind of Eucharist is it that does not bale us to the whole human race make us present to it, and require our responsibility for its well-being?” 179

“The whole notion of ‘private’ sin, that there is anything we can do that does not carry with it a public dimension, evaporates in the light of the ‘communion of saints.’ The sacraments are social acts. The healing of humanity belongs to us. The vocation to the development of the human condition belongs to us. The responsibility to bear a faith formative of the next generation belongs to us. The need to repent our rending of the human condition belongs to us.  . . ..” 

Chittister, 179
“The Creed is not a call to believe in the Church. The Creed is a call to follow the Christ.”

Discipleship is purposeful, intentional. It places oneself in proximity to another in order to give and receive form. It is a relationship. It is a covenant. It says, I will walk with you in the same direction – that is, following Jesus – and will learn from you, and even teach you some things. We won’t always see eye-to-eye on things, and sometimes we might be hurt by or angry with each other, but we will always – always – wind our way back into step with one another, this path paved with Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Self-control.

In today’s reading Paul exhorts Timothy to:

 pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. v11

       the greatest of these? Yes, Love.

Ma – the space between the sounds. It is the Japanese concept of The sound of silence – the silence that can be found between sounds. It is being present to the moment, attentive to the noises and sounds – and finding a sense of well-being – even joy – within it. It is only enjoyed, however, when there is true listening. Only when we pay attention to what we hear can we also detect the substance that is in the in between. 

And this is crucial. Because if I’m not listening and noticing those spaces, hearing into the nuance, the life contained with them, I “may indeed look, but not perceive,
   and may indeed listen, but not understand;
 . . . [and fail to] turn again and be forgiven.” Mk4:12.

I may not turn to you and be reconciled, or truly understand from where you are coming . . . and alienate you.

“The communion of saints calls us to keep an eye on the spiritual values of life so that we may live lives in which the material and spiritual are integrated, nourish each other, and give hope. Every culture has had its lesser gods. The purpose of the saints in each of them has been to remind the human community of wider vistas, to move the human experience to deeper roots, to draw the human heart to lasting treasures. Warning children of the immorality of rap stars, the hardheartedness of ruthless politicians, and the dangers of addictive behaviors without showing them another way reeks of the superficial.

The Creed that calls us to believe in God is the same Creed that calls us to believe in ourselves, to honor the past, and to model a better future. [that’s discipleship] It is when we substitute individualism, even a benign individualism, for the hard work of co-creation that we abandon the communion of saints.”

Chittister, 181-2

In the presence of God who gives life to all things . . . and Jesus Christ who confesses before God that you are called – Paul exhorts, encourages Timothy in his call as a preacher. But it is our call – all of us, to “fight this good fight,” (arguing it out together?) to believe that we are in the company of saints who modeled their belief, and in the company of the saints that sit on our left and right, in front and behind us, even now.

            Lysander wants to start a youth group. He has a heart after God’s own heart, and he is compelled to disciple – to lead by walking along side others. He is really good at noticing, paying attention. But he is only one person, and doesn’t have the benefit of his former youth pastor-father to share the leadership.

So, you’re not getting away without a new word for the day:

Inchoate.  It means:
  1. recently begun and thus not fully formed; or
  2. incomplete or rudimentary

We have a bunch of inchoate plans. SO many ideas. I’ll throw one out here now – there is a way of doing church that came out of church in England called, Messy Church. They do this at Downer’s Grove. It is run once a month after the main service (11am) and it involves the entire family. Tables are out in the community room, a craft or project the families – in whatever form – do together starts things off. There is music and a short message and they take communion together. Sometimes there is a baptism and the children are integral to the sacrament.

I cannot run another program on my own. Gwen cannot teach full time, grandmother, oversee Blast, and run another program. But, teenagers love to help little ones, and would be amazing at helping to run such a program – church – and be actively participating in church without realizing it. heh.

It’s inchoate – rudimentary – and I’m just throwing out an idea. But maybe if we begin listening for the sound of silence – that space between the sounds – and hear what God is saying, where Jesus is leading you when he says, “Come, Follow me . . . I will show you how . . .”

            Emma Goldman said,

“Real wealth consists in things of utility and beauty, in things that help to create strong, beautiful bodies and surroundings inspiring to live in.”

– Emma Goldman

Maybe the Ma – the sound of silence – will elicit something that will move us from these inchoate ideas to something tangible, beautifully useful, in the way that Timothy is urged to lead his congregation, we would:

 “do good,  . . . rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 19 . . . storing up for [our]selves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that [we] may take hold of the life that really is life.”

Attention to the sound of silence, to what really matters – that is a disciple’s attention.