Sunday, September 04, 2011|
Romans 13: 8-14, Matthew 18: 15-20
Rev. Esther Dant
We Are God's Story
September 4, 2011
Pastor Esther Dant
Well, I am content now. I have had two cups of egg coffee at the Salem Lutheran’s diner at the state fair. They were delicious. I am after, the daughter of an original ‘Church Basement Lady.’
The color plate from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam is titled Milk Woman by Dutch artist, Vermeer. The woman is pouring milk from a pottery pitcher into a bowl. A basket of bread is beside it with pieces broken off ready for eating laying on the tablecloth. On the opposite page are the words from Thomas Arnold, “Give Thy blessing, we pray Thee, to our daily work, that we may do it in faith, and heartily.” On this Labor Day weekend, we pray that this will be so. And for those who wait for work, we pray for you in the days you wait and in the frustration and weariness you feel in this search for work.
Pastor Shirley, last week you mentioned you weren’t sure how you felt about some gospel verses. And this week, there are verses for me that bring more challenges. Maybe it’s Mark Twain’s words that fit here, “It’s not the passages in the Bible that I don’t understand that bother me, but the ones I do.” Matthew 18 – the permission to confront each other when it is needed. It can be done out of love, like in family interventions.
“Pray for me and my sister,’ a man told his pastor. “My father is an old man. My mother died some years ago; my father is now very lonely, and he started to do something he did before. He started to drink heavily, and now he has developed a drinking problem, a serious drinking problem. But he does not want to admit it he says he has no drinking problem because he never drinks during the day, because he takes only a nightcap. He says that we exaggerate, that he knows what he is doing and things like that. Tomorrow the two of us are going to speak with him, to tell him that he should stop, and since we think that he will not be able to stop on his own, that he should ask for help; please pray for us.”
These are very hard times for families. There are other times and situations when confronting in our church left life-long wounds, when confrontation meant shaming. The young couple become pregnant and is bought before the congregation to ask their forgiveness. A husband and wife have to be buried with a fence between them. One is Lutheran, another Catholic. A fiftieth anniversary is tomorrow for a cousin and his wife. At their wedding, my father was the only one of his siblings to attend. The thinking, “If we stay away, we can protest this terrible thing they are doing.” Lutheran and Catholic again. Thank God for the joint meeting here to talk together how we can support Lutheran and Catholic marriages.
John Locke, born in 1632, wrote “A Letter Concerning Toleration,” considered one of the great books in philosophy. “It is not the diversity of opinions, which cannot be avoided; but the refusal of toleration to those that are of different opinions, which might have been granted, that has produced all the bustles and wars, that have been in the Christian world, upon account of religion.”
A movie out now that has been given all the stars possible is “The Help.” It is about southern maids and those they worked for. It has a powerful ending. I’ll try not to say too much. After some very cruel shaming, including bathrooms in the garage for them, because one might catch a disease, Hilly, the leader of the cruelty, plants a ‘theft.” Silverware has gone missing. She accuses Abilene, another’s maid. Aiblene has reached her limit when Hilly threatens to send her to jail. She has been spewing hateful things at her long enough. Finally Aiblene looks her directly in the eye and says, “Aren’t you getting tired of all this?”
Paul’s words in Romans today are about how love among us - in families, in churches – is measured by our capacity to tolerate diversity and tension. When he writes, “You know what time it is…” we are reminded that true love is never a matter of passing the time. The opportunities of tomorrow are forever opening up new possibilities, in our lives and in this church. Opportunities for confronting old things that may have gone on for years, or moving in new directions where our hearts have tried to take us. And it begins with each of us and our relationship with God.
Our story cannot do it alone. It has to be that our story is God’s story. And that involves heaven and hell, according to a book by Rob Bell, “Love Wins.” Most images we have of heaven and hell are thought of in terms of separation. Heaven is up there, hell is down there. Two different places - far apart. But in life, heaven and hell are also intertwined, bumping up against each other. Hell is our refusal to trust that God can retell our story. We all have our version of life, who we are, who we aren’t, what we’ve done, what that means for our future. Our worth, value, significance. The things we believe about ourselves that we cling to despite the pain and agony they’re causing us. Some people are haunted by the sins of the past – abuse, betrayal, addiction, infidelity –secrets that have been buried for years. Stains that won’t wash out, they tell themselves. Sometimes it can be the other way – pride, ego. They can handle their lives. God is for the ‘weak ones.’ Religion is a crutch; a way to avoid taking responsibility for their own lives. We can believe all kinds of things about ourselves, but the gospel confronts our version of our story with God’s version of our story. It is brutally honest, liberating and good news. It begins with the sure and certain truth that we are loved. In spite of our sins, failures, and hard hearts, in spite of what’s been done to us or what we’ve done, God has made peace with us. Jesus said, “It is finished.”
Ruth’s story was God’s story. She went to him often when she wanted to only believe her story. She was our director of music at my last church. When her death was very near, a circle of those she loved surrounded her bed and we sang “Borning Cry.”
“I was there to hear your borning cry,” (her parents) “I rejoiced the day you were baptized,” (her godfather) “When you find someone to share your life,” (her husband)
“I’ll be there to make your verses rhyme,” (her children) “When the evening gently closes in and you shut your weary eyes,” (her pastor) “I’ll be there as I have always been, with just one more surprise, (GOD) who has always been there, just as he is here for each of us, always has been. Amen.