“what’s super about today?” February 7, 2016


Responsive Call to Worship
What’s super about today?
If we can, in truth, answer that,
it will have nothing to do with a game
starting at 6:30 this evening.
If we answer that, in truth,
we will speak of blessings with gratitude.
We will speak of hope with assurance.
We will speak of love with faith.
And the deep angers and the petty frustrations,
the smallness and fear that characterize too much of our culture—
along with the short-sightedness of selfishness,
will all fall aside,
and we will be left with a vision
big and bold enough to call us onward—
a dream big enough for only God to fulfill,
but big enough for us to live into,
with exuberance and joy—
with commitment
through challenges,
as part of the ever unfolding of God’s story.
That’s what’s super about today—
today and everyday,
amen and amen.

Witness of the Closed Canon, i.
2 Corinthians 11:1-5
I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness.
Do bear with me! I feel a divine jealousy for you,
for I promised you in marriage to one husband,
to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.
But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve
by its cunning, your thoughts will be led astray
from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.
For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus
than the one we proclaimed,
or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received,
or a different gospel from the one you accepted,
you submit to it readily enough.
I think that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles.

Witness of the Living Word, ii.
Let me start today with a simple question:
what’s super about today?
As noted in the responsive call,
if we can, in truth, answer that,
it will have little to nothing to do with a game.

What’s super about today?
Well, we have met to worship.
Our children have been told the stories of God.
We have remembered those stories—acted one out.
We have prayed and sung.
Later, we will also conduct the business of this community
in conversation
with an emphasis on both honesty and collegiality.
That’s what’s super about today.
But there’s more.

Last week,
reflecting on some of the best commercials I know,
we concluded
that business, when it reaches down into the depths of truth,
tells our story—
wanting to be associated with it.
And one of the best guitarists in the world
plays our songs.
So what’s the deal?
Why less interest in church? Less commitment to church?
Why the disdain for our stories?

To be honest, can I say this?—
I don’t actually think
most people are interested in Scripture preached.
And I think that’s probably true for people
both in and out of churches.
Not sure it’s that theologically appropriate anyway.
When we say (particularly if we say proudly)
“We preach the Bible here,”
haven’t we missed the point of the Bible?
Which was never to be the focus of preaching.
To make it such … isn’t that idolatry?
Aren’t we—and shouldn’t we, in truth, be interested
in life processed in light of God’s story
revealed to us in and through Scripture—
revealed to us in and through the life of Jesus—
in and through the ongoing teaching of the Holy Spirit
and in and through the world around us?

Half way through a year of doing worship differently,
I’m thinking about church differently too.
Our service is framed in Scripture—beginning and end.
That remains the way we identify truth.
Scripture remains worthy of respectful study and contemplation.
But within the framework of Scripture,
we offer the witness of the open canon—
because God is still at work.
And while we respect and appreciate Scripture,
we enjoy the open canon.
Now that’s a generalization,
and maybe an overstatement,
but also fair to say?
And then, finally, framed within the open canon,
we hear from each other.
And many of you have told me
that regularly hearing from various church members
about the personal relevance of our worship themes
has become one of the most significant dimensions of worship.
You know, no one’s ever said that to me about Scripture!
And I do keep coming back to the question,
when was the last time you told someone a Bible story?
“Hey! You want to hear a great story?”

And it’s really not that church is any less important—
or Scripture.
That’s not what I’m suggesting at all.
It’s that our lives—our day-to-day living—
are more important.
It’s not that Scripture is disregarded,
it’s that it’s not preached.
God is preached, and life with God.

Part of the problem is, I think,
that neither church nor Scripture were ever meant to be an end,
but rather a means—
and a means less of accomplishing
as of experiencing—
not of transforming others,
but of being transformed—
not as a means of saving others,
but of being saved ourselves—
ideally, hopefully, in a contagious way.
Neither church nor Scripture were ever meant to be an end,
but rather a means,
but we have come to live them to much as ends unto themselves.

I so believe we need to know our Bibles.
We need to know these stories—
study them—reflect on them,
but not because they’re so important in and of themselves.
They’re not.
They’re meaningless actually.

If you take these words and our hymns,
and we take our stories and names for God,
and we say that’s it.
Aren’t we more liable for disrespect
than someone who says God has to be more
than our stories and names?

None of the disciples were baptized.
Jesus was, but not into a Christian baptism,
but a baptism of repentance.

Jesus’ story is not one of ministry programs,
but of encounters with people—
most often individuals,
but even the five thousand weren’t organized—
weren’t placed into Sunday School classes—
weren’t put on a mailing list.

And while you get the sense
that Jesus knew the Scriptures of his day—
and knew them well—taught them,
nonetheless most of what we remember of what he said
(and most of what the disciples presumably remembered)
were his stories—his imagery—
all rooted in his (and their) personal context.
Scripture was his guide into his days.

So yes, I’m raising some questions
about professions of faith and baptisms—
about sacraments—Scripture.

I’m in no way about rejecting our symbols and traditions,
but I am for understanding them in a bigger broader pattern.
They are paths to walk—good paths to walk,
but not the only paths.
Our paths.
And paths that take us somewhere.
What’s the point of a path that doesn’t take you
beyond where you are?

So we read our texts and sing our songs.
We tell the stories.
We identify the truths within our lives,
but not to receive prescriptive authoritative rules
for everyone and for everything,
but to get clues—
to descriptively give us something to recognize through the week
in the world around us—in our own thinking and living.
And you just never know where you’re going to encounter
what worship prepares us to find—
and so to be found.

I started listening to Taylor Swift
because the girls did,
and found that her lyrics are so much
about everyday experience—
some of which we’re not ready for the girls to go through
but some ….
We still smile at the memory of Audra
so frustrated at being sent up to her room,
turning up her music loud
to the Taylor Swift song
reverberating down the stairwell from her room
to where we were downstairs
with the refrain, “Why you got to be so mean?”

And like I said,
you just never know where you’re going to encounter
what worship prepares us to find.

cue: “Holy Ground
In this song, we begin with a fun beat
and a reminiscing of a beginning—
the beginning of a relationship.
Celebrating creativity—
when all is full of wonder and discovery.
Naming what is new and wondrous
and full of joy and possibility.
And there was evening and there was morning,
and it was the first day.
And it was good.
Never looking down? What’s up with that?
Not looking down at holy ground.
Not distinguishing sacred ground from any other.

And within the experience of what’s new,
for the first time something to lose.
And we fell apart in the usual way.
It’s the fall, right?
And the story’s got dust on every page.
It’s an old story—one of the oldest.
And it’s everyone’s story through time.

But that beat keeps going,
and with that kind of beat,
you know the song’s going to keep going.
Tonight I’m going to dance for all that we’ve been through,
but I don’t want to dance
if I’m not dancing with you.
Well that’s salvation history!
(fade at 2:23)

Now am I saying Taylor Swift is writing holy text?
But we could do a lot worse than
not looking down—
not distinguishing sacred from secular ground,
and locating the sacred in love experienced—
made manifest.

If the focus is not on defending what we say in church,
not only does life become a quest,
but looking for what we say in church in the world,
the question arises,
who in our world is dreaming dreams big enough for God to enter into them?
Who’s working for justice and peace?
Who’s extending love and grace?
For we name them the children of God, do we not?
And we, as church, need to be about celebrating them—
learning from them—
working with them as sisters and brothers—
not rejecting them as unchurched.
Be they of another faith: Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist.
Be they among those who speak not in terms of faith.

And the parent said to the children,
“Go work in the field—
or in the basement—go scoop the kitty litter.”
And the one child, said, “Oh, yes, I’ll do what you ask.”
The other said, “Hell, no. I’m not doing that.”
Yet it was the defiant one who did the work.
Now which child honored the will of the parent?
(Matthew 21:38-32)

Some might ask with such an emphasis
if I’m taking God out of the picture.
Am I rejecting or diminishing the church—
making some humanist affirmation—
some liberal social gospel agenda
that discards sin and denies hell?

But that would not be listening to me.
I stress and affirm and celebrate
the guidance of the Holy Spirit—
the sacred stories of Scripture—
the life and teaching of Jesus.
I’m even happy to speak of sin and of hell,
but as choices to make and paths to walk—
not as definitive of who someone is—
not as definitive of what someone deserves.

I want, more than just about anything,
for my girls to claim a vision of more than the world does—
a vision of the rich wonders of love and grace—
of compassion and justice,
and to celebrate the potential of such wonders
to transform the world as we know it.
If they catch that—
if they come to know enough of love,
that they won’t settle for anything less—
won’t ultimately want anything else,
if that comes to define their lives,
I don’t care what they call it.
And I don’t think God does either.

Maybe it would sting a little—
if they don’t choose to tell the stories I love—
celebrate the images so meaningful to me,
but it’s not about my stories and my images.
It’s about the truth of God
that still weaves itself into the imaginations and lives
of people doing the will and work of God—
that needs to always be heard differently,
and spoken differently,
and lived the same—
lived the same as we saw it lived in Jesus—
as we have seen it lived in those we name saints.

Thomas Merton is said to have said
(and though I can’t find the citation
it sounds like something he might have written!),
“If the you of five years ago
doesn’t consider the you of today a heretic,
you are not growing spiritually.”

If the most important thing we ever did
was one day affirm certain propositions,
how do we grow?
It’s not about propositions.
It’s about day to day life,
and how love is lived out.

The world has its criteria for what’s super:
superstars—super bowls—super sales,
and it’s all big.
It has to do with success.
It’s public on a large scale.
And it usually has to do with money—
lots and lots of money.

What do we say is super about today?
We say today’s a time of redefining—
reclaiming, really.
Letting go to reach for more—
of never being satisfied with who and how we’ve been.
About being willing to let go
of even what’s been treasured and true
for the treasure of what’s truer.

And even a superstar
can know what’s super, in truth.
That it has more to do with lovingly
gathering hair into pigtails
and tractor rides to pumpkins patches and hugs
and painting in the kitchen
and conversations and laughter
and tears wiped away
and singing for people you love
and fun—and love—so much love—
until love is how you live
with those you love who love you
and then why not with everyone else too?
And then the best day can always be today.

Witness of the Open Canon, ii.
Taylor Swift, “The Best Day

Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
Matthew 21:28-32
‘What do you think? A man had two sons;
he went to the first and said,
“Son, go and work in the vineyard today.”
He answered, “I will not”;
but later he changed his mind and went.
The father went to the second and said the same;
and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go.
Which of the two did the will of his father?’
They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them,
‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes
are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.
For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him;
and even after you saw it,
you did not change your minds and believe him.


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