Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Sing On (Sermon 6/1/2008)

Deuteronomy 11:18-21, 26-28; Romans 1:16-17, 3:22b-28; Matthew 7:21-29

My life flows on in endless song; above earth’s lamentation,
I catch the sweet, though far-off hymn that hails a new creation
No storm can shake my in-most calm while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?

This song has been endlessly flowing through my head this week and I’ve had a somewhat difficult time figuring out why. It’s my “stress” hymn: the song I sing when I feel under a great deal of pressure. I sang it every day when my husband was in Iraq. I sang it when the septic tank overflowed and I was mopping the floor. And I guess I am little stressed now about leaving you and wondering what comes after my time at Gloria Dei.

But what could be stressful about the Bible passages we heard today? Our texts seem to be focused on teaching your children about faith, understanding the meaning of the gospel and realizing there are distractions and detractors all around- who interfere with that message of faith and of the gospel.

Those messages seem clear, but there are complications. What does the writer of Deuteronomy mean by the blessing and the curse? How we will be cursed if we follow gods we have not known? How can we follow them if we don’t know them?

And what about Paul’s phrase in the letter to the Romans: “For in [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith…” What does that mean? And we understand that a person is justified by faith apart from work prescribed by the law, but what about those commands we just heard to talk about our faith from sunrise to sunset- with a blessing and curse depending on them.

Then there are those individuals whom Jesus mentions- who are turned away because he does not know them. Though they offer a laundry list of all they did in the name of God, Jesus replies, “You missed the heart of my message, though. You did what you did for yourselves and not for the good of those around you.” But how do we avoid becoming that kind of person ourselves?

The hymn hints at the answers to those questions: “I hear the sweet, though far-off hymn that hails a new creation…” But when does that new creation come and how do we know?

What though my joys and comforts die? The Lord my Savior liveth.
What though the darkness gather round? Songs in the night he giveth.

It’s almost impossible to hear the story of the house on the rock and the house on sand without mentally picturing the destruction of the natural disasters in the world in the past years: from Hurricane Katrina and the tsunami in Indonesia to the recent hurricanes in Myanmar and the earthquake in China. And most of us have our own memories of disasters- personal and public. These events definitely shake out inmost calm and our songs in the night seem to be, “Why have you forsaken me? How could this have happened to those good people?”

The struggles of this life lead us off to follow gods we have not known, but that seem to offer blessing and security. Alcohol, drugs and sex offer an alternative to loneliness, boredom and personal insecurity. Politicians and public figures seem to offer change, sure answers and public security. Some teachers of the faith offer certainty in the place of faith, prosperity in the place of prayer, and crystal clarity in the place of mystery. But in the midst of the real stuff of life, when our joys and comforts die, their words and their altars seem to crumble away- they become sinking sand.

So how can we have the strength to teach our children, to teach each other and to carry to the world the message of the Solid Rock, the love and forgiveness of God in Christ Jesus, when we seem to be weak and worn? We must believe in the message of hope Paul offers in Romans: “For there is no distinction among people, since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God- they are now justified by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

Just like for Abraham, as Paul says later in Romans, God counts our efforts toward goodness as righteousness. God formed and knows our inmost selves and God knows we are trying, though we continuously fall short. So we have been saved from sin and from our selves by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And the Holy Spirit renews us daily, that new creation, so that we might believe in the redemption, in the forgiveness we have received.

When we try, in good faith, to help our neighbors, God works through us, so that Jesus will be able to say to us: “I know you. You visited me, clothed me and fed me. You gave me a phone call and sent me a card. And, even before you did those things, I gave myself, my body and blood, for you. Welcome home.”

The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart, a fountain ever springing!
All things are mine, since I am his! How can I keep from singing?

Reinhold Niebuhr was a theologian who advised presidents and many public figures and he said this in 1952, a time when there were many things that people feared and worried over, despite the relative prosperity of the country at the time. His formula for stress relief is this:

“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished along; therefore, we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend as it is from our standpoint; therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.”

The only place we receive that kind of hope, that kind of faith, that kind of love and that kind of forgiveness is from God. Because of God’s righteousness, God’s generosity, those gifts are poured out for us. And those gifts remain solid, come hell or high water. No adjustment for inflation. There is always enough to go around. And we cannot be separated from them. The Spirit gives us faith so that we might believe in this hope that has been poured into our hearts.

We receive the blessings of those gifts, hope, faith, love and forgiveness, when we think about them when we get up and when we go to bed, while we’re eating and when we’re driving, talking to our children, our spouses and our neighbors. We all must remind each of these things. We need to hear the gospel, the good news from one another.

This is the cross- through which we have been saved and joined forever to the God who created and loves us.

Here is the water- that washes us and draws us together.

There is the foretaste of the feast to come- when all things will be made new, all our questions will be answered and the answers will no longer seem as necessary.

We build the houses of hearts on these everlasting truths, on this foundation:

Christ is Lord of heaven and earth.

How can we keep from singing?


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