Saturday, August 07, 2010

The Unseen and the Oil Spill

I've had a hard time writing my sermon for this Sunday because my brain has stuck on this wonderful image relating to Faith, Hope, and the Unseen, but it doesn't fit with the actual message I'm preaching.
So I'm going to share it here.
The Obama Administration recently let it be known that 70% of the oil in the gulf has disappeared.
Wonderful! We can't see it, so it must not matter!
Truth be told it has been dispersed or is lurking deeper in the water. It is still there, it still matters, it is just unseen.
Hebrews describes faith as "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."
So, I simply want to say faith is like 70% of the oil in the gulf--you can't see it, but it matters.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

In the end, things end

In the end, things end
After service last Sunday I drove out to Mar-Lu-Ridge a Lutheran camp near Fredrick Maryland.
For five days 8 adults and 27 youth focused on the story of Passover through skits, songs, and activities, included making bricks without straw and throwing Pastor Matt—then dressed as Pharaoh—into the swimming pool in order to simulate crossing the red sea.
Beside the faith building aspect of this time together, there was also fellow-ship time. Shy campers, slowly but surely, came out of their shells and made new friends. Other campers connected with old ones who they hadn’t seen since camp last year. At least one camp romance blossomed.
And then. Then Confirmation Camp was done. After five intense days—living, learning, and laughing together—confirmation camp was done.
Facebook information was shared, emails exchanged, tears shed, man-hugs traded
But camp was done—we would return to our respective churches and cities, the friendships of the moment would be seen in light of distance and time.
But, in the end, camp ended.
If the author of Ecclesiastes was writing home from camp he would probably say, “there is a time for camp, and a time for not being in camp.” Because, in the end, things end.

And, on this, my last official Sunday at St. John’s, I cannot help but think of my time here.
Of my rough start punctuated with a mugging and a shooting.
Of slowly but surely coming out of my shell.
Of our special Wednesday services during Advent and Lent.
Of the connections I have made with all of you.
Of hospital and home visits and Tuesday Bible Study.
How I have been growing into God’s calling upon my life—the calling of ministry.
How I have been learning at the feet of Pastor Gregg and growing through my successes and through my failures as a Vicar this year.
And yet, I can not help but be aware that all of this is coming to an end. I will, of course, keep St. John’s, and all my Baltimore people, in my prayers and updated about my life. I will hopefully make it to the instillation of Bishop Wolfgang and perhaps see some people there—but my time here—like Justin, Rene, and Calvin’s time at camp—has passed. Because, in the end, things end.
In the end, things end.

Let us pray:
Lord God, may my words and their meaning be meaningful and true. May they reflect faithfully your faithfulness to us. In Jesus name. Amen.

While trying to preach from this weeks readings has been challenging, I am glad that one of my favorite books of the Bible, Ecclesiastes, is here for me to preach from.
This book, is the ruminations and reflections of a man who has grown tired of wisdom literature, tired of common-sense, and at times cliché, explanations of the way the world works.
At the heart of Wisdom Literature is the assumption that there are two types of people in this world—the Wise and the Foolish.
Wisdom Literature also maintains that , it is better to be wise than foolish. The world works better for you if you are wise.
Good things happen to wise people, bad things happen to foolish people.
So, our goal in life, according to Wisdom Literature, is to act wisely… to act in ways that ebb and flow with the way the world works.
For example, it is written in the book of Proverbs—a prime example of Wisdom Literature, “consider the ant you sluggard, watch its ways and be wise.”
But, much like my children’s sermon today, the author of Ecclesiastes writes in big letters, “hold on a minute!”
He looks at the world around him and notices that both the industrious ant and the lazy grasshopper die. He notes, as does the Psalmist today, that those who are wise, those who are foolish, and those who are dolts, all die together. He notes that, in the end, things end.
He takes this deep and wide realization, that in the end, things end, and puts a name to it.
He packs all the power of this insight into one word, a word that he coins.
A word that happens to be one of my favorite words in the Hebrew language, “Havel.”
Traditionally this word—Havel—is translated “vanity” as in the majestic words of the King James Bible, “Vanity of Vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
Or translated more literally “a puff of smoke,” says the Preacher, “a puff of smoke, everything is a puff of smoke.” or perhaps “vapor vaporizing,” says the preacher, “all is… vapor vaporizing.”
Or, translated more freely, “Everything is just a tumbleweed blowing by.”

Or, perhaps I can overstep the bounds of good taste for a moment, “everything is a soaked hair weave smashed in a gutter on a rainy Saturday morning.”
In the end, things end.

And one of the hardest things about endings is that we have little control over what comes next, we don’t know what comes next.
The author of Ecclesiastes recognizes that all he has done will soon be out of his control—his life’s works will be picked up by someone else. Perhaps it will be bettered, perhaps it will be broken—he does not know.
So he writes, “One who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it.”

There is one other fact about the author of the book of Ecclesiastes I forgot to mention… Its actually kind of important.
Tradition claims that the author was none other than king Solomon—the second king of Israel. Solomon, the son of King David. Solomon the king revered for his wisdom.
If this is indeed the case, there was a very particular historical reason for him to cry Havel—to cry “In the end things end.”
For, you see, Solomon had a son—Rehoboam. Rehoboam was neither wise or knowledgeable, or skillful. He barely sat down upon the throne of Israel before things fell to pieces. Under his reign a great civil war was unleashed. Under his reign Solomon’s kingdom was split asunder never to be rejoined into one nation.
Think of it. Think of the tension in Solomon’s hands as he wrote, “One who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it.”
Rehoboam’s grandfather David and father Solomon spent their lives building up Israel. Rehoboam acted foolishly and in such a way that all they had worked for was brought to nothing. The Junior king of Israel destroyed all that the Senior king of Israel had toiled to create.
To bring this up to modern times I would say it was a tragedy like that of the first and the second President George Bush. The first—Bush Senior—spent much of his presidency affirming international laws and “a new world order” whereas his son—Bush Junior—disregarded and dismissed and dismantled as meaningless many of these same international laws and institutions.
In the end, things end.

Yet, it was not as if Solomon pulled himself up by his own bootstraps. Solomon did not earn his kingdom on his own and then have it thrown away by his son. He inherited his kingdom from his father David.
But, it is said David received his kingdom because he was the anointed of God.
In a sense David inherited his kingdom from God.

And I think to myself, “What would Solomon’s words sound like on the lips of the one who truly gave him the kingdom. What would his words sound like on the lips of God?” “For that matter what would it sound like upon the lips of Solomon’s great-great-great-great grandson Jesus?”
“One who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it.”
Upon the lips of God these words become Grace.
Upon the lips of God our lack of wisdom, knowledge, and skill, are replaced with enjoyment.
Upon the lips of God we reap what God has planted, we benefit from the toil of God.
Upon the lips of God Havel and our endings are undergirded with sustenance, mercy, and resurrection.
Upon the lips of God the end is also the beginning.
As I reflect upon my year here I recognize that I have reaped mightily from the planting of past Vicars and of course Pastor Gregg and the entire congregation.
I have benefited from the toil of Betty, Leila, and Krista. Their endings have been gracious beginnings for me. And I hope Meheret benefits from my own meager toil and planting.
Because the end is also the beginning.
But more than that I recognize that any good I have done this year, anything wise, knowledgeable, or skillful that has come out of me has not come from me, but instead came about by the grace of God.
And I know that God will continue to be gracious to St. John’s. I know that all of St. John’s will be God’s blessing for Meheret and all future Vicars.
Because in the end, things end, but the end is also a beginning.