“summer vacation: the myth and the reality,” june 5, 2016


Responsive Call to Worship
Memories of what was
shape expectations of what will be.
The better the memories,
the greater the anticipation.

When time present conforms
to time past,
all is well.
Experience is affirmed, reassuringly,
confirming what we think we know—
what we believe.

But when the now does not unfold
in patterns of recognized familiarity—
when it counters and confounds memory,
it’s not just disappointing.
It undermines
what we’ve inferred from experience.
It threatens our convictions about
and our understanding of reality itself.

What we need, more than experience—
more than reflection on experience
what we need to safely navigate into tomorrow
is a North Star—a fixed point
approximately aligned with our axis of rotation
yet transcending our planes of being.
What we need is a sense of the light of love—
that which is most definitive of God
and of truth through time.

Witness of the Closed Canon, i.

Exodus 33:18-23
Moses said, ‘Show me your glory, I pray.’ And he said,
‘I will make all my goodness pass before you,
and will proclaim before you the name, “The Lord”;
and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious,
and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.
But’, he said, ‘you cannot see my face;
for no one shall see me and live.’ And the Lord continued,
‘See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock;
and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock,
and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by;
then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back;
but my face shall not be seen.’

John 14:6-9a
Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.
If you know me, you will know my Father also.
From now on you do know him and have seen him.’
Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father,
and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him,
‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip,
and you still do not know me?
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.

2 Corinthians 4:3-6
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.
In their case the god of this world has blinded
the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing
the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord
and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.
For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’,
who has shone in our hearts to give the light
of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Witness of the Open Canon, i.
Olaf, “In Summer

Witness of the Living Word, ii.
It’s the first Sunday of June.
In my mind, and linked in my mind
to some memory of summers long gone by,
summer started—starts in June.
I know—I know, officially summer starts June 20
on the summer solstice,
but June 1.
And school was out—
not in the middle of June—not at the end of June—June!
June 1.
School was out and so were not just long pants,
but pants with buttons and zippers—
and shirts with buttons—
and socks—and shoes.
and, for the most part, schedules.

And with the onset of June,
at the beginning of summer,
you knew you had three months of this—
June, July and August—
before you had to get back out socks and shoes—
get back out pants that weren’t shorts
and shirts that weren’t t-shirts
and set an alarm
and go back to school—
in September!

Three months (June, July, and August)
of freedom—
of being outside—
of fun and play—
of vacation—of yay—of no school—of grilling
of water and boating and waterskiing and the beach—
of snow cones and ice cream—
of hammocks and long lazy naps—
of mowing the grass—
and the smell of that grass after rain—
of sweating and baseball and frisbees.

Now of course at some point, I reached an age
at which I had to get a summer job—
to make spending money—
to save money for college—
for the experience—for the responsibility.
Then I was in college
and there were more summer jobs
and a few summers—summer classes.

Then you graduate and get a “real” job.
And what happens to the memories
(and the expectations such memories generate)
of summer lasting from June 1 through July to August 31—
of three months of freedom—
of vacation?
Growing up sucks.

It is so not what you expect, Olaf!
It’s not what you anticipate.

“I get that,” you think, sitting in the pew,
“but I’m not here to grieve what summer was
and lament what it is.
What does that have to do with worship?”

I’m so glad you asked!
Because we do the same thing with God.
We do the same thing with Scripture.
We approach both with the expectations
of our tradition and of our past,
and often never see beyond that.

I invite you this morning to consider
some of our sacred stories—

and to remember with me Jacob,
alone on the banks of the Jabbok,
returning home after years away—
returning to face his brother—
who, when he last saw him wanted to kill him!
Jacob, who had dreamed visions of God—
of a ladder stretching from earth to heaven
with angels ascending and descending
and God present to him.
And when he woke up
he took the stone he had used as a pillow
raised it up as a pillar, anointed it with oil,
and named the place Bethel—
which means house of God
(Genesis 28:10-22).
And now he finds himself wrestling on the banks of a river
by the sky’s night lights
grappling through the night,
knowing he needed a blessing,
and saying in the aftermath
“I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved”
(Genesis 32:22-32)—
but ever continuing to wrestle
with the God who wrestles with us—
with the God whose house will never be a place—
a fixed place you can mark with a stone anointed with oil,
but whose house is the struggle to be real with us—
in and through us.

I invite you this morning to remember Moses,
raised perhaps on the stories of Abraham and Sarah
Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel and Leah—
also, of course, right? on the stories of Ra and Isis and Anubis
and the rest of the ancient Egyptian pantheon—
raised in the house of Pharaoh.
Imagine him, tending sheep
at the foot of Mount Horeb, the mountain of God,
standing before a burning bush that is not consumed—
hearing God call to him out of the bush,
“Moses! Moses!”
That, in and of itself, right?!
But then God says,
“I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt;
I have heard their cry.”
God hears us.
“I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them.”
God delivers us.
“So come, I will send you to Pharaoh
to bring my people out of Egypt.”
God needs me to deliver us.
And you remember, Moses asks,
“If I come to the Israelites and say to them,
‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you’,
and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’
what shall I say to them?”
And God gives Moses the divine name
I am that I am—
or I am that I will be.
Notice nothing about God was!
There’s no past tense in the name of God.
“This is my name for ever,
and this my title for all generations”
(Exodus 3:1-15).

To encounter God
is to be called—to be needed
in the work of God now—
to alleviate suffering and lead people out of bondage and oppression now.
I am with you are about the work of redeeming.
Bad grammar;
great theology!

I invite you this morning to remember Elijah,
standing on that same mountain, Mount Horeb, the mountain of God,
with the great wind splitting mountains—breaking rocks.
Wind is often associated with the presence and the power of God.
But God was not in this wind
And there was an earthquake.
And earthquakes are often part of descriptions of theophanies—
revelations of God.
But God was not revealed in this earthquake.
Then there was fire.
Fire is often imaged as part of the experience of God.
But God was not in that fire.
God was not in any of these expected manifestations of God’s presence.
God was, instead, unexpectedly,
present in the sheer silence
(1 Kings 19:9b-12).

God’s presence speaks through all experience
for those with ears ready to listen and prepared to hear,
and rarely the same way as before.

I invite you this morning to remember Jonah,
so stinking mad as he watches the city of Nineveh repent.
So angry as divine punishment—
the divine punishment of which he had warned the Ninivites—
is averted.
And Jonah bemoans who he knows God to be:
“You are a gracious God and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and ready to relent from punishing.”
And he goes on,
“And now, O Lord, please take my life from me,
for it is better for me to die than to live.”
If my human expectations aren’t met—
if you do what I can’t understand—
if you do what I don’t want—
if you love them,
I’d rather die!”
(Jonah 4:1-5)

God is rarely made present the same way,
but is always steadfast love.
You ready for that?

I invite you this morning to remember Peter,
in the villages of Caesarea Philippi,
already having had to begin reassessing God
in light of Jesus—
this teacher he was following,
who revealed himself over and over again
as some manifestation of God’s truth and God’s authority—
and somehow God’s presence.
Now asked by his teacher,
“Who do people say that I am?”
And while some said, “John the Baptist,”
and some said, “Elijah,”
he said, “You are the Messiah.”
But then Jesus began to tell them what was to be—
how things were going to unfold—
so unmessiahlike—
so ungodlike.
Peter now required to reevaluate Messiah—
still required to reevaluate God—
unable to conceive of Messiah as Jesus does.
And when he gives words to this:
“This can’t be!”
Jesus responds sharply,
“Get behind me, Satan!
For you are setting your mind not on divine things
but on human things”
(Mark 8:27-33).
“Well excuse me for being human.”
“Oh, you are blessed for being human.
But don’t be conformed to what’s been.
Be transformed.
Let this mind be in you—
calling you ever into more steadfast love.”

Here’s the truth (I think!):
the past does not prepare us for God.
Oh, it may make straight the ways on which God comes.
It may prepare the way of the Lord.
It does not—it cannot
prepare us for the presence of the living God with us.
Nothing can.

So here’s the challenge
not to let the past—
the past that is our faith heritage—
the past that is our faith tradition
the past that is our own experience in days and years gone by—
not to let expectations of God rooted in the past
prevent the present reality from unfolding—
to get in the way of what is and what will be—
of who God is now and of who God will be with us.

Our task is never to find a way to regain what was,
but to mine what is for the riches of today—
to what now
for the same presence—for the same truth
but now manifest for our time and for our place—for us.

Mohammed Ali once said,
“A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20
has wasted 30 years of his life.”
We could say the same of God.
A person who views God the same at 50
as that person did at 20 has wasted 30 years.

Sometimes that it’s not what it was—
that it’s not what we thought it would be,
is enough to ruin it for us.
May it not be so.

Yes, summer is different than it was.
Summers now from summers long ago—
this summer from last summer—
next summer from this one.
It’s not those wonderful three months of freedom.

And sometimes, it may be harder
to find the gift in what a particular summer is.
But oh, how important to try!
That’s what you have to do.
What is it this year?
What is it this summer—
that will bring me some wonderful sense
of that freedom—of that joy?

It’s very baptist, in a way.
We’re not here to tell you what,
but to tell you that—
not to tell you how or when,
but just to be ready.

You ready?

To expect—well, not what you expect!
To be ready to be open
to the unexpected—
to the unprecedented—
to the scary and challenging, yes,
but the steadfast love that is scary and challenging.

Love who?

It’s so not what you expect, Olaf!
It’s not what you anticipate.
It’s so much more.

So when you think it’s going to be one way
and it turns out to be something completely different,
or when it was one way,
but then turns into something completely different,
can we nonetheless expect to find within it all
the unexpected presence
in the unexpected truth?

Take joy in the ever more—
in what you don’t know—
both the don’t know yet
and the can’t know.
Maybe one day we’ll see clearly—
face to face,
but now, within the dimness,
we see enough—
enough to want to see more—
to keep us moving—to keep following
the light that lies always ahead—

opening ever more
into the steadfast consistency of love—
what it means to love today—
what it means to love here—
what it means to love out there.
Not what it did.

I wonder—
I wonder through Scripture,
if the almost inevitable fear,
upon encountering God,
followed by that ubiquitous, “Fear not,”
was, always in turn followed,
by a consistent but unreported,
“Oh, it’s you.
I didn’t recognize you at first.”

Witness of the Open Canon, ii.
Jonathan Richman, “That Summer Feeling

Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
1 Corinthians 13:9-13
For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part;
but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child,
I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child;
when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.
Now I know only in part; then I will know fully,
even as I have been fully known.
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three;
and the greatest of these is love.


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