The Foothold of Faith

A sermon based on Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 and Ephesians 2:1-10 preached on June 11th, 2017

Sermon audio

Hobby wind-surfer, Adam Cowles, realized he was way off-course when he spotted a cargo ship. He was windsurfing the Swansea Bay, not too far from his house, but after a few hours of delightful distraction, Adam found himself in strange territory. He had unwittingly made his way into the Bristol Channel, 140 miles away from home.

The water that day was freezing cold. If he fell in, he’d be in serious trouble. If there came a lull in the wind, Adam could have found himself stranded. Opposite the cargo ship, Adam could see land, so he surfed his way to shore and walked into a nearby bar, soaking wet.

The locals must have seen sights like him before, because even though he was still dripping wet when he walked into that pub, the patrons thought and said nothing of it. They even bought him a beer.

Adam began to tell them his story.

They told him how far away from home he was. 140 miles. He was astonished. And then he was embarrassed when he had to call his wife, asking her to make the 280-mile round trip to pick him up. She was not happy.

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Wind is so prevalent inside of scripture that one could easily call it a character. A living force rather than an object or an atmospheric phenomenon.

God shows up in the beginning of the opening act, in the very first lines of our story in Genesis 1, as wind. This is the form in which the Spirit of God makes way into creation, and then helps creation take its shape out of what was before simply chaos and nonsense. The second verse in all of scripture says it this way:

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

This is how God shows up. In a breeze. And that happens over and over again throughout God’s story—our story, too.

Consider the moment of the Exodus, when the Hebrew people, enslaved for two centuries in Egypt, make their way across the Red Sea and to the other side, outrunning Pharaoh and his army and into freedom. The Sea was split in two that day by a strong eastward wind.

And then there’s Jonah, the stubborn prophet, who tried his best to outrun God after God asked him to do something that made no sense to him. Throughout the Book of Jonah, he’s stopped, over and over again, to the point where it gets comedic, by wind and sea, by whale and wave.

We try our best but there’s no escaping the Spirit of God.

There’s at least two stories in each of the four Gospels, where fisherman disciples are out on a boat on the Galilee Sea. Terrified by brewing storms and rising waters, Jesus comes to calm the waves and the rain and brings them through. These are messages for us about how when we are caught in the scary seas of our own lives, when the water rises too high all around us, Jesus comes to us and subsides our fears and says to us the same thing he said to His disciples in those moments:

Peace be with you.

Last and certainly not least is the story we have in the Book of Acts where Luke gives us a glimpse of Paul’s travelogue. To get to the churches he has planted, Paul and his own team of disciples, servants, doctors, and scribes cross the Mediterranean Sea and sail up the Aegean between present-dayPaul Turkey and Greece, and north into the Sea of Marmara. Some of these voyages brought disaster. Pirates, shipwreck. Loss of cargo and loss of life. Throughout scripture, water and wind give life but they also take it away.

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dSo when Paul writes from a prison in Rome to the young believers in Ephesus—and by extension, to us—he has been wind-tossed, beat up, lost at sea, and then found again. Paul knows a thing or two about what it is to be blown about by wind. And he warns us, right at the get-go, here at the very beginning of Chapter 2,

Do not be blown about by the wind. Once you lived your entire lives wandering off-course in this perverse world….You were the offspring of the prince of the power of the air. He once owned you and controlled you.

I don’t know what kind of devil you believe in. We talk so little about evil and its personifications. Certainly, the personification of evil into some being with the proper name, Satan, is not as much a creature found in scripture as it is one that has been imagined in the tales of subsequent works of fiction: Dante’s Inferno and John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. We need to keep our stories straight.

We’ll talk more about this when we reach Chapter 4 of Ephesians, but for now, suffice it to say, here Paul describes some sort of evil or persuasive power, but he doesn’t give it a name or a form. It’s as if Paul is describing that thing mentioned in the first two verses of Genesis 1, a sort of earthly chaos, life and creation without shape, or meaning, or form. Life without God. That is a sort of evil in and of itself.

Paul is warning us against living in a way that’s uncritical, where we get swept up by the power of the air, picked up by every breeze that comes our way. Life lived empty and persuadable, easily manipulated by anything and everything around us. We can get picked up and pushed around wherever the breeze takes us, like that empty plastic bag at the beginning of the movie American Beauty. This is the prince of the power of the air. This is an opportunistic presence that will sweep us off our feet any chance it gets.

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We live in a culture full of wind-blown people. Too often, we get caught up in the prevailing winds of our day, and before we know it we’re like that empty plastic bag that gets knocked around by forces both visible and invisible. We get taken anywhere it pushes us.

What Paul is inviting all of us to see is a new way to live and move. Paul’s words here are a sort of prelude to the important and biblical idea of living in but not of the world. We cannot be blown about. Persuadable. Pushed about. We must find our footing. We must be discerning, keen, wise, sharp, perceptive, insightful, critical. You’ve heard the phrase,

If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for everything.

This is God’s way of saying a similar thing. Find your footing.

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Paul knew something about wind. He was a tentmaker.

These days, if a person calls him- or herself a tentmaker, there’s a good chance they’re a Pastor who specializes in creating new churches. Paul did that, but before he ever entered into the ministry he actually made tents. This is how he made a living, even while he sailed the seas, planting churches.

So, Paul knew a thing of two about wind. How to shelter oneself against it. How to build a structure that can withstand it. Build them strong, resilient, and with a big footprint so they hold up to the power of the air and the elements. Everything thrown at it.

As we mature in our faith, as we walk forward slowly in the Way of Jesus, following in His footsteps, we too become strong against the breezes that try to blow us off course.

It is with rope and ground pegs, poles and stakes that a tent becomes secure even in the most chaotic of climates. It’s the power of God’s grace that does the same thing for our minds, our hearts, our spirits. God’s grace pins us to solid ground, can keep us from being blown off course. Grace is the foothold of our faith.

I mentioned a few weeks ago when we began our look into Ephesians, that God’s grace given to us is not an end in itself. Grace is not the end of any conversation, as in, “but for the grace of God go I.” Grace is always the beginning of the conversation. Grace was in the wind that blew the disciples out of their tiny house on Pentecost, and it’s the power we have been given by God to walk out of here and do God’s work—in and for the world.

Grace is the fuel, the power source God gives us to start something—to go out from here, or wherever else we are, as agents of God’s love, as keepers of God’s Message, as sharers of God’s mercy. Grace is designed and given to us by God to take us places. It is first unmerited benefit, yes; but it’s also Divine enablement. Grace is given to us to get us going!

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Through grace, we gain a foothold in our faith, stand up tall in Christ, and then become agents of grace—taking it and using it. Paul writes,

For it is by grace you have been saved. You have received it through faith. It was not our plan or effort, it’s God’s gift. Pure and simple. You didn’t earn it.

That’s verse 8. It’s one of the most beloved in all of scripture, but I’m afraid it’s too often misunderstood. People use it to convince themselves that works—doing stuff with and because our faith—isn’t important. But what Paul says is, Take God’s gift of grace, freely given to you—yes, it’s never earned, it’s always a gift—but then do something with it. Use it. Pay it forward. Grace is never the end of the conversation; it’s always the beginning of one. God’s grace is given to us in order to be put to work through us. Grace is God’s enabling power for growth.

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If you feel like you’re trudging through life right now under your own power, if you’ve lost your footing, if you’ve exhausted yourself that way, let me re-introduce you to grace. Author Anne Lamott says,

When you’re out of good ideas, what you’re left with is God.

She describes grace as spiritual WD-40 or water wings, if that works better. And all you have to do to find grace is to say “Help,” preferably out loud. Shout it into the heavens if you have to. The heavens will hear you. “But watch out!” Anne Lamott says. The moment you say that word, “Help!”, the moment you find grace, buckle up! Because, powered by the Holy Wind of God as it always is, God’s grace will take you places you never intended to go!

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

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In the Hands of the Clay-Worker

A sermon based on Psalm 139:1-6 and Jeremiah 18:1-11 preached on September 4th, 2016

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Sermon audio

I love to watch an artist at work. The start from nothingness and how, inside the silence of it all, with a few strokes of a brush or a pencil, a keyboard or a sewing needle, all the sudden, somethingness emerges from that nothingness.

I love those moments when you can see the spark in the artist’s eyes, and you know the boom is coming—when a few brush strokes make a mark on a blank canvas, and you can see something there, but for those first few moments, you’re left to wonder. The guesswork of it all! Something will come out of this nothingness, but what? Does the artist even know? Then the second dab of the paintbrush into paint, the second line of stitches sown, the next sentence coming into being on the computer screen. And little by little, stroke by stroke, a work of art is created.

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Every time that happens, it’s like a little Genesis again. We are the creatures made in the image of a Divine Creator. Because even creatures bear the image of their Creator, we too have the ability to create. The imagination, the initiative, and the ingenuity it takes to make something out of raw material. Thread, canvas, wood, or ink.

Genesis begins with God making something out of nothing. Tohu-vavohu. That words is Hebrew for chaos and nothingness. God sees nothing and he touches it, declares something to it, and all the sudden, something—the chaos and emptiness turns into order and fullness. In the Creation story of Genesis, God the Artist takes a step back from His creative work at the end of each day and He calls it all Good.

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When we watch an artist at work, we can learn something about God. Whenever you have the chance to make your way to Tamarack or the Dogwood Arts and Crafts Festival, or to Mountain Stage in Charleston to hear musicians play, to watch what comes about, pay attention to, and ask questions about how it all took shape in the first place, it’s a tiny echo of the first Creation.

When you spend time noticing how a woodworker takes a chisel and carves out of it until an image appears, that’s another tiny echo. Or on a stage paying attention to a violin having a conversation with a cello until a song is born on stage. Every time little things like that happen, Genesis 1 starts all over again in tinier way. The Creation story, with its refrains of And God said…, and It was evening, it was morning, the next day as well as God saw that it was good, is the song of an artist—the Divine Artist in his studio, taking His hands and creating something out of nothing. It’s poetry. There’s no talk of science in the first chapter of Genesis. No chemical interactions to speak of. As far as scripture is concerned, creation is no laboratory experiment. The authors had no interest in telling God’s story like that. The story they chose to share with us was, instead, the one about God, the Divine Artist, using his divine imagination and infinite creativity to bring the cosmos about!

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And here is the prophet Jeremiah, daring to ask this Eternal God, the Artists of all artists, how He works. God answers Jeremiah,

There’s no need to tell you how I work when I can show you how I work. If you want to understand my ways, go visit the artist in residence. Head down to the potter’s house. Then you’ll see!

And with eyes wide open, young Jeremiah goes. He watches the potter spin his wheel, pumping a pedal to make it go ‘round and around. The potter starts with some water. He shapes a moistened, 3-pound pile of clay into a ball, and throws in at the center of his wheel. Jeremiah watches as each and every way the potter’s hands move, little by little, they form clay into vessels, bowls, plates. “This is how I work.” God says to his prophet.

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Making pottery is all in the hands. Unless you hold your hands just so, the clay will escape you. Clay has a mind of its own. It does what it wants to do, and only a potter’s touch can help it take shape. Take your hand off for just a second, and the piece will collapse under the inertia of the spinning wheel and fly right off, wet clay splattered onto walls, and you’ll have a terrible mess on your hands. But these mistakes happen, even to the best craftsmen. The good news is that you can start over. Get the wheel going again, add a little more water to the clay, and press it back down into a ball. Clay is flexible. It moves in whatever ways the potter’s hands tell it to. Wet clay will yield to its creator.

Another thing about making pottery. It takes just the right amount of force to shape the walls of a vase or a bowl. A vessel is molded into shape only when the potter applies pressure to it, and without a good amount pressure, clay resists being shaped at all.

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God is the Potter, and we are His handiwork. We are the clay He uses, and God is shaping us still. And just like clay, we too resist change. We do not want to be reshaped. We like our shape. We see nothing wrong with the shape we’re in. But God wants to make something new out of us.

The question for us is, are we willing to yield ourselves to the shaping hands of the Divine Potter? Are we still pliable and flexible enough to be reshaped in the first place?

Dried out, brittle, rigid clay is no good to the Potter. It’s only good for the trash can, because it already knows it’s final shape. It’s uncooperative; it refuses to be remade. Are we like that, or our are hearts and lives, bodies and spirits pliable—willing to be recreated, to undergo reshaping—to be molded into something new—by the careful yet unyielding, loving yet steadfast hands of God? Are we flexible enough to be remade?

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Ask any church if they like change, and you’ll see a few hands go up. Ask the same church if they’d like to change and all the hands will go down again. Just like clay in a potter’s hands, we have the tendency to resist change. Being cast into something different, being reshaped into a brand new vessel, is often too threatening. But on the other hand, to think we shape ourselves, or to assume that we have the imagination and creativity it takes to re-build ourselves into something useful for God is to refuse the Potter’s hands altogether. To insist on our own ability to form and re-form ourselves is to give up on God, to be the piece of clay that says to the Potter,

You know, I don’t think I need your hands to shape me. I got this.

We who are clay forget that without the Potter’s involvement we’re lifeless, breathless. Unable or unwilling to change. And when that happens, the church dries out. And dry, unyielding clay is only good for the trash can.

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The challenge of this text, the question it forces us to ask is,

Are we willing to be destroyed in order to be remade? Are we willing to let go of what we think our shape should be and give ourselves to the reshaping of the Divine Potter’s hands?

The Apostle Paul talks about dying to ourselves so that we can live for God. That hardly makes sense until you start thinking about it alongside a text like this. What Paul means is,

Are we willing to do away with our own sense of identity and our own will to be, so that we can start living our individual lives, as well as our life together as Church, in the shaping hands of our God?

It will only be when we say Yes to that question—that challenge—that we can be rebuilt into something useful—useful to God, useful to our neighbors, useful to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God among us. Until with all faith and confidence, we can say,

God, we hand ourselves and this church over to you. With your hands, change our shape!! Recast us into the vessels you intend for us to be!!

So, what kind of shape are we in? Can we truly say to God…

Take the clay of our lives and shape it to love. Take the clay of this church and shape it to grace. Take the clay of the world and shape it to peace. Take the clay of today and shape it to hope. And then breathe your spirit into us again.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!!

Alleluia! Amen.

Orders to the Morning

A sermon based on Psalm 104:1-15 and Job 38:1-13, 16-21, and 24-33 preached on May 29th, 2016

Sermon audio

Job wants answers. And he wants them now.

At the very center of the book of Job stands a man who pleads for explanations for all his troubles, and answers for all his questions. Job’s family, his wealth, really his entire being, has been taken away from him. His land and livestock, his wife and kids have suddenly and unfairly been snatched away from him.

Job had assumed, and continues to assume throughout most of the book, that as long people are good, God will be good to them. Why then has any of this happened? Job’s entire life has been ripped away from him. All he worked so hard to achieve, all that he was proud of seemed to disappear all at once, and Job stands a broken and lonely man standing in a heap of dust and ashes and with a mound full of questions. And as the story moves along, Job seems increasingly hell-bent on confronting God. Job demands a response from God. Surely there must be a reason for this slew of terrible things that has happened to him, and surely God must be held accountable for them!

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The Book of Job is the oldest book of the bible. It’s the most ancient thing we have, and it tackles the most ancient, persistent, and irritating question human beings have inside of them: Why do bad things happen to good people?

Throughout the first 37 chapters, Job contends with God. He shouts at the emptiness and silence of the heavens above, and he demands that God respond! Job uses legal language in his complaints to God throughout the story, and like a trial lawyer, he wants to take God to court, to sue God for all of this. And Job is not going to shut up until he receives a satisfying verdict that convicts God of His wrongdoing.

God better give me a good reason for all this,

Job says in one way or another throughout this story.

And then there are Job’s friends who think they know why he has suffered such misfortune. Surely Job must have sinned against God. There must be a good reason why Job had been met with such heartbreaking tragedy. Clearly, God took his wife and children, and land, and all the rest away as some sort of punishment for past sins. That wasn’t the case at all, and Job stands firm throughout the story that he has done nothing at all to deserve such treatment from God. There is something in our minds that has us think this way, isn’t there?

A man who has never smoked a day in his life is diagnosed with lung cancer and says aloud to all who will listen that he must have done something wrong in his past to deserve this.

A mother who sits helpless next to her son as the blood in his little body is somehow poisoning him. All the mother can do is blame herself for what is happening. She starts thinking about all the “what-if-I-just-had’s” and all the “what-did-I-do-wrongs.”

And all who look upon those who suffer have the same kind of thoughts Job’s friends had:

What could he have done to ever cause him to get this sick?

Even if they just ask the question in the silent reaches of their minds. We human beings have minds that crave answers to the unanswerable, explanations for the inexplicable. We want to understand why, and we first reach for low-hanging fruit in our explorations: there must be something or someone to blame for this! The word for that sort of thinking is karma, and there’s nothing in our biblical faith that supports it. That there might not be a cause for suffering seems like the most haunting discovery of all!

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Job cannot escape his need to have good answers to all of his questions. He refuses to settle for God’s silence. But what happens at the end of the Book of Job is not what he or anyone else could have ever anticipated or prepared for. God finally speaks up 38 chapters in.

Those of us who are rational and analytic, who like our answers clear-cut and our explanations as plain as day, will be completely frustrated by God’s response to Job. We have a longing to know what is often unknowable. We love to be certain. Certainty is treated as some sort of virtue, and its corollary, doubt, has long been seen as a weakness–something to get rid of, to grow out of. Sometimes doubt is cast as a sign of an immature or a lapsed faith.

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Job levies every one of his charges against God like a prosecuting lawyer. He wants to throw the book at God! But God refuses to stand trial. Instead of answering Job’s lawyerly questions, God waxes poetic. For 4 entire chapters, God engages Job, but He refuses to do so on Job’s terms. Job doesn’t get to ask any more questions. Whenever God speaks, God will do so on His own terms.

God’s words stretch on, and take Job, and all the rest of us, on a journey. God doesn’t speak in these last few chapters of the book of Job to teach Job a lesson or shove anything down his throat. But with these words, God wants Job to realize how small he is, and how big God is. God dazzles Job with things far beyond his or any of our imaginings. God takes Job on a lightning tour of the inner workings and wonders of the entire cosmos. God speaks to Job and challenges Job’s nice and tidy worldview with visions and mysteries of the expansive and majestic cosmos—the one that works in all of its awe-inspiring ways because God makes it happen, God oversees and orchestrates it all. And with each and every new example we hear of how God is sovereign over every little detail of our constantly moving and ever-majestic world, we can imagine Job shrinking back down to human size, and suddenly Job’s beef with God doesn’t seem so big anymore.

It’s as if God says to Job,

I have the whole universe in my hand and under my control…Now, you said you had a question for me?

And in that moment, every self-righteous argument that Job had prepared as his defense melted down like wax into nothing but a puddle, and all he can do is stand there speechless, beholding God’s glorious presence with his jaw dropped open, and after a long silence, all Job can muster is a stuttering confession:

I surely have spoken of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. …My ears have heard of You, but now my eyes have seen You, therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.

Job now knows his place. God lets Job know that there is only one God, and Job isn’t it. Job realizes how puny and inadequate and simplistic his understanding of the world is. This is the God who gives orders to the morning, who spins the whirling planets, and who set it all into place, who continues to create and uphold all of it. And nothing at all can ever prepare us for an encounter with such a holy and sovereign God.

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Throughout the Old Testament, God is that Presence who everyone must turn their eyes away from. That’s because we are all unprepared to witness the radiance and glory and power of our living God! Encountering God is not for the fainthearted!

Even God’s name, first told to Moses in the third chapter of Exodus, refuses category. God’s name is Yahweh, which is even hardly translatable into English. The closest we can come to it is, I Am Who I Am. God is being itself.

Every measurement, conception, idea we have about God will always be proven woefully inadequate. God refuses to be known as a noun. God is the most elusive verb there is!

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And what of this universe that God has created? It too refuses to be understood. It too refuses to be tied down by any of our own tiny notions of it or plans for it. We certainly have never been able to control it! God’s creation is just as complex as God is, and that means chaos will always a part of it.

Job is confronted by the chaos of the world and the immensity of God, and realizes that God doesn’t owe him a thing! Having control of these things is only a delusion we have. God is the only One in control.

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Over the years, I have practiced the art of letting go. I’ve grown to accept the phrase “let go and let God.” For so long I hated that phrase. I’m still not all that comfortable with it, but I think there’s more truth to it than I’d like to admit.

There’s something to the fact that many of Jesus’ teachings are about loosening our grasp on things, and letting go of the anxieties we have about tomorrow, and living instead for today. This means living with less answers and with more questions. It means less grasping and more gratitude. It means less why? and more wonder.

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Job’s questions never get answered. Not a one of them. Job never got the best of God. There is no way to force God’s hand and eek some sort of divine answer or explanation out of God. That cannot and will not do.

We can search scripture high and low and we won’t find such a thing. The bible doesn’t provide us with those answers. Scripture is astonishingly void of neat little tidy resolutions to all of our gnawing and troublesome questions and concerns. So, we continue to speak them to the skies with faith that they are heard by a God who understands us, who walks with us through our days, and comforts us through our inexplicable sorrows.

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They say that the longer we live and the more we see, the less we know. I think that’s true. It certainly is the truth is Job’s case. God takes all the neat little categories that we like to arrange our lives with, and says to us,

They’re all too small and inadequate.

But that God speaks into our lives at all—not with expected words that we want to hear, but with surprising words that we need to hear—is a great comfort in and of itself.

This God who gives orders to the morning also reaches out and speaks to us.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

When God Takes Over

A sermon based on Joshua 5:9-12 and 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 preached on March 6th, 2016

Sermon audio

The summer after I graduated high school, I went with my church’s youth group to Montreat for my 4th and final Youth Conference. We just heard Tatum tell us about her time there. I’m so happy that time spent at that conference, and in the thin spaces up on top of the mountains of Western North Carolina, is still changing hearts and lives. Part of the Montreat experience is getting to know other people your age in small groups.

So, there I was, gathered with my small group—about 30 of us—in a room. It was a sunny day with a nice cool mountain breeze blowing, so we had an exterior door propped open to let mother nature in, and on in comes a butterfly. But instead of scurrying in random directions, it flies around the periphery of our room, high above us, instantly capturing everyone’s attention. Ever so slowly and carefully, the butterfly dances its way around the room, flying overtop of each one of the small circles that we were congregated in, almost like it was there to deliver a message to each one of them. And only when it made its way around the entire room did it fly out the same door it came in. Our entire group was silent. What we saw could not have been some sort of random mistake of nature—some haphazard coincidence. Our small group leader broke the silence and said,

You won’t believe it, but for the last 3 weeks, a butterfly has come into this room and has done the exact same thing each time.

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Do you know how a butterfly is made?

A caterpillar somehow knows when it’s time to try something new. It climbs a tree to hook itself to the bottom of a leaf and begins to turn its own skin into a chrysalis, basically turning its body inside out, basically destroying its old self and melting down, becoming nothing more that an ooze—something that’s neither looks like caterpillar or butterfly. And it’s from that ooze—that nothingness—that some brand new creature begins to take shape. And in the span of 7 to 10 days, a butterfly is hatched. In order to become the next version of itself, the caterpillar gives up its old way of being, somehow knowing that giving itself up leads to new life.

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It’s the mysterious and wondrous transformation from caterpillar to butterfly that will help us understand what Paul is talking about here in 2 Corinthians. Paul says that we are being invited into a new creation. A new way of being. We can participate in it if we want to, but the catch is that becoming a part of the new creation means ditching everything we’re used to.

See, we’re used to the old creation. The old creation, Paul says, sees things only by human standards. In the old creation, it’s those human standards that are of utmost importance. Human standards tell us that there are divisions out there that are real and meaningful. That the lines we draw and the walls—either physical or metaphorical—that we put up to keep everyone who’s unlike us on their own side, are real and important.

That old creation says there’s Us and then there’s Them. Jew and Greek. Slave and Free. Black and White. Male and Female. Gay and Straight. Rich and Poor. Muslim and Christian. We know, for each of them, which ones are lifted up as the ideal and which ones are struck down and scoffed upon by this way of seeing. By all human standards, we know which ones have more power and say-so than the other. And in a world that exists in, functions under, is fueled by, and maybe even celebrates, these clear divisions between Us and Them, we Christians, we the people who follow Jesus, are to reject all of it. We’re to reject all of it because any notion that we’re supposed to separate ourselves from those who don’t look like us, believe like us, love like us, live like us, is an old notion, it’s old news it’s a worn out way of being, a part of the old creation, and see, something new has arrived! With Christ, there is a new creation, a new way of being, a new way to see. And in this new creation, none of those distinctions matter. Why? Because Christ’s love is greater than any of them.

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The world though, the world is steeped in the old order. We are exceedingly aware of it right now in our current political climate. Actually, it seems like the dividing lines of the old order are becoming bolder than ever before. We’re building bigger walls to keep each other on their respective sides.

But this passage says that all those political and social distinctions that we’ve been indoctrinated into are falsehoods of the old order. They rope us in real good, though, don’t they? We’re championing our own side like never before. But all of it, every single bit of it, is a lie told to us by people who really love the way the old world works—who have no notion at all that Christ has already come and given us a new way of being in and for the world. They either don’t know a new way exists, or they just simply refuse to see it, or maybe it benefits them to keep the lies of the old order going strong.

But look,

Paul says,

the old things have gone away; see, new things have arrived.

We need new eyes to see, and transformed minds and hearts to know, that this new way of being is here and available to us. This new creation Paul is telling us about and inviting us into is called the Kingdom of God. This isn’t John Lennon dreaming of pie in the sky notions of the world living as one, this is Gospel. It’s a real thing, a completely different way to see ourselves and each other. One where the world’s categories melt away. One where we become reconciled to one another.

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Let’s stop there with the word reconciliation. Reconciliation is big word with a simple meaning, but it’s awfully hard for us to live into. Reconciliation happens when the distinction between Us and Them disappears, when the walls come down, when the distance between the two collapses, the fear between us floats away into thin air. It happens when we start looking into each other’s eyes and start sharing our stories with one another, so that we can better understand our differences. It’s not that all of our differences disappear. It’s just simply that our differences cease to threaten each other.

There’s only one way to be reconciled to each other, and that’s to regard our neighbors as we would like to be regarded ourselves—with dignity and respect. That’s easier said than done, I realize. Maybe the Charter for Compassion founder Karen Armstrong’s way of saying it is easier:

Do not do unto others what you would not want done unto you.

Baby steps.

If we were reconciled to each other, we who have homes would be offended by homelessness in our community, in fact there would be no homeless; we who have full bellies would be offended by hunger in our neighborhood, in fact there would be no hunger in our neighborhood. And on and on the examples go. You get the idea. That’s what it would be like to live as a part of the new creation. All those old dividing lines erased. All those walls torn down. Understanding instead of fear. Taking care of each other instead of fending for yourself.

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In our passage from Joshua this morning, we have this crazy story of a mysterious divine presence visiting the people of Israel as they are encamped in Gilgal. At this point, the people of Israel are a war-torn nation. All they know is fight. All they see around them are enemies. Whoever you are, you’re either you’re with them or you’re against them. This man, the text says, is from God and he has a sword. Joshua approaches this man and asks him,

Are you on our side or that of our enemies?

What a timeless duality that is! A false dichotomy. This all happened 3,000 years ago, but we’re still such a war-drunk people that we can’t see why that’s a shortsighted question. This divine presence answers:

Neither. I’m not on your side. I’m not on their side.

See, when God shows up, He doesn’t take sides. When God shows up, He takes over! And when God takes over, swords drop to the ground. Our old way of Us and Them is exposed for the ridiculous and destructive thing that it is, and just like Joshua, our eyes are open to a third way. There’s three sides to every bible story: How we see things. How those people over there see things, and then there’s how God sees things.

Our vocation as followers of Christ is to wake up to that Third Way—that new-world way of seeing everything, to work our hardest, to pray our best words, so that those distances and divisions of the old-world way would one day collapse for good, that the walls and the wars between us would crumble into nothing. That our swords would once again be beaten back into plough shares. That through our work as Christians in the world, all those old worn out ways of being might melt down to nothing, and our world might be transformed into something entirely new. Because that’s what happens when God takes over.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are!

A sermon based on Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-17, 3:1-11, 21-24a preached on June 7th, 2015

Come out, come out, wherever you are!

Those words are as old as time itself. We know them because as children we said them teasingly after counting to 50 or 100—as we finally were able to uncover our eyes and seek for the one who hid in some corner or closet—hoping, maybe, we could coax them out of their hiding space and into broad daylight, or maybe get them to betray their location if they laughed at those words.

Come out, come out, wherever you are!

This summer, for a couple Sunday mornings at least, we’re going through Brené Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection. It’s a guide to wholehearted living.

Now, I’m not a fan of the self-help section of the bookstore. I think most books shoved into those aisles are fluff. The covers have the author’s overly smiley face plastered on it as well as a promise to cure you from whatever ails you in 5 easy steps. The Gifts of Imperfection isn’t that kind of book.

Brené Brown is a shame researcher. She has spent most her career interviewing woman and men (mostly women), sitting down and having conversations with them about what sorts of things get in their way from living a wholehearted life. And after 1,000’s of these interviews, what Brené realized is that she was just like most of her interviewees. She realized she spent most of her life thinking she wasn’t enough, that she had a tendency to shortchange her abilities and yield to others around her who, she supposed, knew how to do things better than she did. Brené looks back and realized that for most of her life, she got in her own way, she didn’t claim her strongest voice or her rightful space among colleagues, and family, and friends. And she realized that shame, the thing she set her life to study in others, was the very thing that was getting in her way from living life whole-heartedly. Brené says this about shame: We all have it—it’s universal. And we’re all afraid to talk about it; and the less we talk about it, the more control it has over our lives. She defines shame as the fear of being unlovable.

Shame, Brené writes, is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.

Shame is that thing that has us wonder if others would still like us if they knew the real truth about who we are, where we come from, what we believe, and how much we’re struggling. And even though every single one of us knows shame, for some reason we have all convinced ourselves that the shame we feel inside is something nobody else ever experiences. We have also convinced ourselves that if we ever dared to share aloud our shame, that would alienate us even more—alienate us from friends, family, and the people we live our lives with. But, Brené Brown has actually found that the opposite is true. Through both her research on shame and her own personal experience in sharing her shame and vulnerabilities with others, she says that when we share ourselves, warts and scars and all, with others—even with strangers, we open up new and safe spaces for everyone who’s listening to be their honest selves and share themselves with you.

Come out, come out, wherever you are!

α+ε

Whether or not you believe Adam and Eve were historical people—the very first 2 people to walk the planet or not—is besides the point. This story is a profoundly true story whether or not you believe that. This story is profoundly true because Adam and Eve’s tendencies are also our tendencies. God gives an entire paradise to them—there’s plenty there to sustain them, plenty of trees and plants to eat, water to drink, but Adam and Eve want more. And once God says to them,

Everything here is yours except for that one tree over there.

Guess what happens? They want that one tree “over there” more than they want anything else in the Garden. They become curious, and their curiosity becomes their fixation, and before we know it they’re diving headfirst into the fruit that it grows. We know that feeling. We experience that feeling every single day of our lives. We are Adam and Eve. And what happens in the Garden of Eden always happens. Adam and Eve represent all of us. This story is about our tendencies.

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There are many things we have to unlearn about the story of Adam and Eve, the most important of which is this: Based upon this story—one of the very first from the bible—we have sin all wrong. We think of sin, or sins, as immorality, doing what’s wrong, or a refusal to be good or law-abiding. We think about sin as the breaking of moral codes or rules. Now, being a moral and law-abiding person is all well and good—in fact, I’d recommend it, but that’s not what sin is. According to this story and many others throughout the bible, sin is something much deeper than all that. Sin is really about relationships. It’s about our relationship to ourselves, to others, and to God. Sin is our unwillingness to love ourselves and others, as well as our unwillingness to let ourselves be loved by God. Sin, at its heart, is broken relationship. t’s our age-old tendency to run away from God and hide. And, according to Genesis 2 aInd 3, that tendency of ours goes all the way back to the very beginning. Only when we understand sin as our unwillingness to love and be loved will we understand the power of sin in our lives. And if we see sin in this way, as a sort of hiding away, doesn’t it sound a whole lot like shame?

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At the very beginning in the Garden of Eden, God went for walks. He strolled the garden, seeking to walk alongside Adam and Eve—to share life with them. That’s the thing that God wants most: to be in relationship with us. But our tendency—and remember, this is a story about our tendencies!—is to go it alone, to try to live life independently, apart from God. And in order to understand that tendency of ours fully, we first have to understand all this business about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. That’s the tree Adam and Eve are so curious about. What harm would come us to if we ate from a tree like that? Knowledge is good, and knowledge of what is good and what is evil sounds like a perfect thing for human beings to know and be able to discern on their own, so what’s going on here? What’s the big deal about this tree?

This is the big deal: Adam and Eve and you and I, we want to know about what’s good and what’s evil on our own so we can live our lives independently and autonomously. What God wants is something different than that. God doesn’t want us to know good and evil all on our own. God wants us to ask Him everyday what’s good and what’s evil. God would much rather have us rely upon Him daily for that than for us to try to figure that out on our own—pretending like we’re self-governing—like we’re all islands unto ourselves, in no need to look God’s way for everyday guidance. So, by taking matters into their own hands and eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam and Eve did just that: they struck out on their own, choosing to live their lives and do their own thing without God’s help.

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God craves relationship with us. God wants to walk beside us everyday, just as He loved to stroll the Garden with the very first human beings. God wants us to learn afresh from Him every day, to rely upon Him for our daily sustenance. That’s why Jesus prays, “Give us this daily our daily bread,” and it’s why he says we shouldn’t worry about tomorrow when the birds of the air and the lilies of the field don’t. But our tendency is to try life out for ourselves—to go our own way. And in striking out on our own and living life under our own determination, things go off the rails. And that’s when we find Adam and Eve hiding. They’re naked and ashamed, the text says. After who knows how many days or weeks or months of strolling naked through paradise without one ounce or thought of shame—not even knowing what shame is—suddenly we find Adam and Eve hidden away, afraid to come out and show themselves to the God who is calling them.

α+ε

Brenè Brown says that shame and guilt are two different things. Guilt is “I did something bad.” Shame is “I am something bad.”

α+ε

Joy Williams is a musician and singer. Many of you might know her as one-half of The Civil Wars, but she’s been recording albums for years and years, and she has an album called Genesis and a song on that album called Hide. Here are some of the words:

To anyone who hides behind a smile

To anyone who holds their pain inside

To anyone who thinks they’re not good enough

To anyone who feels unworthy of love

To anyone who ever closed the door

Closed their eyes and locked themselves away

You don’t have to hide

You don’t have to hide anymore

You don’t have to face this on your own

You don’t have to hide anymore

So come out, come out, come out wherever you are

To anyone who’s trying to cover up their scars

To anyone who’s ever made a big mistake

We’ve all been there, so don’t be ashamed

Come out, come out and join the rest of us

You’ve been alone for way too long

Friends, we don’t have to hide. We don’t have to live our lives with any kind of shame. And as Brenè Brown has discovered, the more we talk about shame, the more we step out from our hiding places and let others see it, the more we will shame shame itself, and the healthier we will become.

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One last thing: Look at the verse 21. God sees Adam and Eve’s shame and vulnerability in being naked and he soothes it by making clothes for them. See, in the beginning of the story God says if they eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they would die. But in the end, God doesn’t punish them. God comforts them in their shame, and gives them what they need to emerge from their hiding place and into the light of truth and beauty—right where God wants each of us. So, come out, come out, wherever you are!

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

Crescendo

A sermon based on Acts 10:44-48 and Psalm 98 preached on May 10th, 2015

 Sermon audio

The houselights dim. The people take their seats. A sudden hush falls over the theatre. All eyes straight ahead.

The conductor raises her baton slightly.

conductor-baton-7155341

The cellists bring bow to strings. The flautists, the trumpeters, and the trombonists raise their brass instruments to their lips. Everyone in house feels that pregnant silence before the first note of a symphony and holds their breath.

Imagine the split-second moment before the universe was brought into being. It’s the pause before a tiny big-bang. Something’s about to occur—to come into being, to be born right in front of their eyes. And it will astound all who are there to see it.

The conductor’s baton moves. The concertmaster (the first violinist) begins her song. Each instrument will join her in their own time.

Every little thing can become something great.

The symphony begins.

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The Psalms are like a symphony. When their words take the stage—when each one of them picks up their instruments and begins to play, whole worlds are created—new spaces for the faithful to move inside of are born.

That’s the nature of the Psalms. Every image they conjure, every emotion they confront God with—anger, joy, jealousy, ecstasy—they’re rooms we’re invited to live inside of, songs we can join in on, instruments we can pick up and start to play.

There’s nothing off limits in the Psalms. Every aspect of—the full range of our feelings are fair game in the Psalms. They’re real and authentic and vulnerable and loud and messy. The despair inside the desperate ones descends down to the depths of Sheol; and the praise inside the most joyful of them ascend to the heights of heaven.

That’s the nature of the Book of Psalms. No limits. No categories. Everything is expressed out loud and honestly in wide-open spaces where we can be free to be exactly who we are, wherever we are, and feel exactly what we feel in front of God and one another. No fences or boundaries.

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There was a band back in the day whose name was Caedmon’s Call. They were a quote/unquote “Christian band.” A very popular one back in the 90’s and early 2000’s. The lead singer, Derek Webb, resurfaced a few years ago to share this thought out loud—he said,

There’s no difference between sacred and secular. The word Christian, when applied to anything other than a human being, is simply a marketing term.

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We live in a world that likes to categorize things. Everything we encounter and everyone we meet needs to fit snuggly into one of our predetermined categories. But whenever we do that we ignore too much, we take away who or what those things are. We ignore the divine fingerprints that cover every bit of them whenever we do that.

The psalms teach us that there is no such thing as secular space—everything is sacred, everywhere is holy ground. The psalms laugh out loud at the false division we’ve conjured up in our minds that some aspects of our lives are holy and others are not. The psalms are absolutely opposed to the idea that we live in a fragmented world.  Absolutely everything is sacred. Everything we encounter—whether it’s music or art, or story, or place, or people—it’s all imprinted with the divine. Every song everything sings is a divine one because our God is Lord over all of creation.

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I remember Harvey Lake, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. I was born there and so was my mom. She and my dad lived there until I was born before moving down to Richmond. We would visit several times a year, and over the summer, we might make our way down to my grandfather’s old fishing grounds.

Harvey’s lake was where I learned to skip stones. I was never really great at skipping stones, but I loved watching my mom and dad teach me. Sometimes the stones they threw would make it way out there.

I liked the kerplunk more than the skip. Throwing huge stones and hearing that sound was more my thing, but I would try to skim a stone or two. But what I liked the best was the ripple afterwards—water remembers wherever the stone sunk beneath its surface, and it sends out a wave that grows outward, getting larger and larger.

That’s what Psalm 98 is: it’s the ripple effect of our song of praise that we sing. It’s the first wave of the conductor’s baton, the first note of the concertmaster’s violin. It’s one voice singing that first opening line:

Sing to the Lord a new song…

Then, in verse 4, the invitation for others to join in. One voice becomes two:

Shout triumphantly to the Lord, all the earth!

And then 3. How can we keep from singing?

Sing your praises with the lyre. Trumpets, join in too. Then the horn—the shofar, why not—start your song also! Join the symphony of praise to our God!

And with each new sound, the ripple of this song grows larger—the circle of praise gets bigger—and even more join in. Let the sea roar. The world and all its inhabitants. The mountains jump in—rejoicing out loud.

Eventually all of creation joins in on the symphony and the music swells. The sound reverberates throughout all of creation, and what was once the song of just one instrument becomes the sound all the earth makes together. It crescendoes—spilling over from one voice to another—one instrument to the next. Praise to God is centrifugal—it’s not complete until all have joined in on the song. The ripple in a pond is always a complete circle. Praise is contagious.

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Growing up in my home church, I always knew about Raymond Erb. Raymond’s parents sung in the choir while he sat in the back of the sanctuary and kept quiet. Raymond has Down’s syndrome. He kept close to his parents who loved him immensely and included him in every aspect of the church’s life.

One day, I remember my pastor talking to Raymond, and he asked him why Raymond didn’t sing along with the hymns in worship. Raymond had a loud and uncontained speaking voice—he declares whatever he has to say with an outdoor voice-a voice turned up to 11. Never a 1 or a 2. Our pastor got Raymond to say,

Yes, I’ll start singing in worship.

And he did. And it was loud and wonderful. You couldn’t understand and word he was singing, but he declared it joyously anyway. I’d hear Raymond sing from the other side of the sanctuary and weep tears of joy.

All God’s creatures have a place in the choir. Some sing low, some sing higher.

Raymond belted out his praise to God. And Raymond’s praise was contagious.

At some point, though, he stopped singing. I don’t know why he stopped singing, but not too long after that, he and his parents decided to join another church—they actually started on of their own. My fear is someone complained that Raymond’s singing disturbed their worship. I’m not sure about that, but it’s my hunch.

My heart breaks for that. It did then. It still does now. Our praise and his was cut off with just one sour note.

Whenever anything in creation is silenced, when any voice is muted, when any instrument is muzzled, the whole symphony feels the ripple effect—the crescendo breaks and the song falls apart.

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Our Acts passage for the morning finds Peter realizing that more people than he ever could imagine are included in God’s embrace and in the symphony of God’s creation. Acts can be described as a book where the first followers of Jesus—all of them Israelites—begin to recognize that their circle of inclusion is a whole lot smaller than God’s. Here we have the leader of Christ’s church, Peter, the Rock upon which Jesus said it would be built, realizing that Gentiles are being called to be a part of Jesus’ church—that they are just as important and legitimate members of the body of Christ as any Jewish person is.

Friends, 2,000 years later, we’re still astonished by how big God’s circle of inclusion is. It’s much, much bigger than any circle we have drawn. And the circle of inclusion we draw ripples out farther and farther—growing larger and larger, and that expanding of our circle won’t be complete until all are inside, joining with one voice and singing together one song of praise to our God.

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It’s almost reckless how this Psalm unfolds!

It’s author cuts loose on his praise. There’s no holding back a thing. There’s no self-consciousness or fear of what others may think. This psalmist proclaims loudly and doesn’t seem to care if he makes himself a spectacle. And everyone around him sees his joy and his complete and total lack of inhibition and they join in on the song—and it builds and builds, and swells and swells until even creation itself—the seas and the mountains can’t contain their praises. All the earth sings the same uncontrollable and uninhibited song of joy to God the Creator. And in this shared song of praise, all the categories that everything and everybody fit inside of—they’re gone, they disappear, no divisions, no classifications, no exclusions—just voices joining together to sing—because when we come together to worship God, everything that separates us and divides us falls away and there is only shared song, building and building into earthshaking crescendo.

That’s the thing about the psalms: Just by being exactly what it is created to be, everyone one of us and everything in nature, is invited to come together and spontaneously praise God and proclaim its purpose in creation.

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Let that be the new song that the Church sings. A new song sung to a broken and fragmented world sung by a people once fragmented, but no longer; where every voice is heard, where all people have a place in the continuing symphony of a beautiful and ever-unfolding creation—our song building and building in praise to the God who creates.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

Choosing Sabbath: Re-creation

A sermon based on Genesis 2:1-4 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15 preached on July 20th, 2014. The 2nd sermon in a 5-part sermon series on Choosing Sabbath.

Sermon audio

My brother is a graphic designer at a small firm in Charlottesville, VA called the Journey Group. He’s been with them for 7 years now. Journey Group is an employee-owned firm established 10 years ago by a duo of creative guys. Their office is an old Victorian style house right off the downtown Mall and it’s full of creative energy!

Many of its employees work in the same, open room. They each having their own desk space and monster-sized Apple computers, but they’re able to talk back and forth as they work. There’s a Ping-Pong table downstairs, a full kitchen, and a workspace on the back patio. My brother listens to his favorite bands on Rdio at his desk while he works on projects. This is not your typical office space.

He just got back from New York City where he studied design at 2 other firms for a couple of days. It’s a part of a month-long employer-paid sabbatical. Since he’s 7 years into his time at Journey Group he was given a month away to do anything he wanted. Relax, learn, vacation, whatever. He’s doing a little bit of each.

There’s an advertising and marketing firm in Boulder, Colorado called Trada who have established a culture of play for their employees. On a regular basis, in the middle of their workday, they set up a racetrack in the basement with bales of hay on either side. They duct tape pillows around each others’ torsos, and strap on helmets, and race each other around a track on scooters, tricycles, and skateboards. The winner is awarded a huge 4-foot-high trophy.

Another company in Colorado has a full gym and basketball court for their employees to use anytime they want. And everyone breaks away from their desks every 50 minutes to have a 10 minute, office-wide, no-holds-barred Nerf dartgun fight.

Conventional wisdom says that Ping-Pong tables, Nerf dartguns, and scooter races are more suitable for college dormitories than for office workspaces, but more and more companies are beginning to realize the importance of play—in fact these business owners and CEO’s encourage their employees take time away from their workspace to goof off. They say that affording their employees the space and time to play is a catalyst for innovation. Play relieves tension, it staves off employee burn-out, and raises company morale. A company that plays attracts and keeps great employees, and promotes a culture of openness and acceptance.

It’s been proven that companies who provide recreation for their employees during the workday actually produce more content, higher quality content, and are more financially successful than companies who don’t.

Play is a serious thing. Rest and recreation, as it turns out, is a vital part of the rhythm of work. But this isn’t a new idea. It’s a very ancient one that some are just now rediscovering.

The commandment to rest is the moral center of the 10 Commandments. The 4th Commandment is the hinge between the first set of commandments that tell us how to worship God and the last set that tells us how to treat others. Sabbath rest is the linchpin that holds together right worship of God and right relationship with our neighbors. And in Deuteronomy, the 4th Commandment is focused not only on the importance of our own rest, but the importance of behaving in a way that allows our neighbors to get their rest too.

 Don’t do any work on the Sabbath,

Moses relays to the Israelites.

Not you, your sons and daughters, your male or female slaves, your oxen or donkeys or any of your animals, or the immigrant living with you—so that male and female servants can rest just like you.

See, the commandment to rest is not simply a personal practice. There’s an interpersonal dimension to it. Sabbath is strongly tied to how we treat others. If we make no room in our lives to practice Sabbath then we are just one more person contributing to the greater restlessness and anxiety of our neighbors and our culture.

In Deuteronomy, Sabbath is understood to be communal—when we practice rest, we afford time and space for all those around us to do the same. Choosing Sabbath has a note of hospitality to it. The choices we make affect our neighbors’ ability to rest and play.

Last week we talked about Sabbath as a way to unplug from the productivity machine. Pharaoh was so hungry for more that he exploited the Israelites—demanding unreasonable amounts of work from them.

Here in Deuteronomy, Moses ties Sabbath back to that awful time in their lives—reminding them 40 years later that they shouldn’t do to others what Pharaoh once did to them. The people of Israel know how exploitation feels, and the command to keep Sabbath means making sure they never inflict the kind of hardship upon others as Pharaoh once inflicted upon them.

Sabbath is God’s way of saying that our lives should be lived in balance—in balance with God and with our neighbors. And our choice to practice Sabbath not only means seeking our own rest but also ensuring that others rest too. Choosing Sabbath is a way for us to show hospitality and care to those among us who are all-too-often exploited and worked to death.

The chaos of Black Friday is too much for me. You won’t see me stepping out of my house on the Friday after Thanksgiving. I don’t get it, but many people love to wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning and go Christmas shopping.

Just 2 or 3 years ago, big box retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, and Kohl’s—many others—announced they would open up their doors on Thanksgiving evening. There’s no reason to wait til 3am on Friday any longer. Opening up on Thanksgiving evening answers the boredom and restlessness of extended families stuck in the same house with one another. It offers us a good excuse to get away from our annoying Aunt Selma.

But what about the ones who have to report to work on Thanksgiving Day, some said? Did anyone seem to care about their wellbeing?

Retail stores were closed only 3 days out of the year—on Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas—the three sacred days out of 365. Now all the sudden this one day has been taken away from them.

Maybe this was inevitable. Perhaps these businesses are opening on Thanksgiving afternoon in response to consumer demand—they know that as long as their doors are open, we will come. But our desire to shop—that restlessness of our culture to always be on, affects our neighbors in very real ways. This is how the choices we make affect those around us: this is how our culture’s imbalance becomes the undoing of our neighbors. This is how our choices lead to the overwork, burnout, and exploitation of those who are forced by their greedy employers be on 24/7/almost 365.

Speaking from the experience of having worked 365 drugstore retail, that kind of work is destructive and death-dealing—it’s the very opposite of life-giving—the opposite of creation. There were a couple times when I went more than 3 weeks in a row without a day off. Retail culture knows nothing and cares nothing about Sabbath rest.

We may be way passed the tipping point where any of our individual choices could ever stop huge corporations like Wal-Mart or Kohl’s from ever rethinking their choice to open up on a Thanksgiving afternoon. We’re not that powerful. Sabbath isn’t something we can force upon people who don’t care to rest. But we can make the choice to practice Sabbath for ourselves and for those we are directly responsible for.

Choosing Sabbath is a way of living our lives that tells others a vitally important and still very relevant story—one that our culture has long forgotten: we are created by God not only for work, but also for rest; not only to produce but also to play; not to acquire more and more for tomorrow but to enjoy what we have right now.

See, there’s something wise and very practical about the ancient idea of Sabbath: Taking time to rest, play, and enjoy life changes how we approach work.

Practicing Sabbath is a way of giving equilibrium to our lives—of holding ourselves in right balance between work and rest and keeping ourselves in right relationship with our neighbors. And when we ignore Sabbath—when we don’t take the time to unplug and reconnect with ourselves, our families, and our neighbors, we become lesser versions of ourselves. Rest and play reset us, give our lives balance, set us in right rhythm. Recreation gives us the energy we need to return to our work refreshed and ready to create again.

Perhaps that’s why those companies who make time and space for their staff to play are as successful as they are. Play and rest are vital needs, and providing others time and space to do so honors their humanity and sets us in right relationship with them.

Practicing Sabbath is a way for us to stay in sync with all of God’s creation—to practice the same rhythm of work and rest that God practiced at the beginning of time. Choosing Sabbath is a way of life that continuously re-creates us in the image of our Creator.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen!