Sermon – February 9m 2020 – Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

I am still writing this sermon. As I speak.

I have swept floors, unloaded and loaded the dishwasher, folded and put away all the clean clothes, and watered all the plants in an attempt to complete the sermon and provide all a SOLID conclusion.

There is a chance each time I preach this sermon it will be different.

Here’s my struggle;

I completely get the frustration and disillusionment of those who are fasting and doing the spiritual practices and all the right things.

They are working hard to be faithful, observant, and righteous and yet, does God even notice?

Why are we praying, working, and giving when it apparently doesn’t even matter?

Does God care?

  • And then it seems that God cares a whole lot,

but instead of encouraging us and reminding us that we are indeed loved and not forgotten,

  • God seems to get even more mad and says that we’re doing it all wrong, that we aren’t doing the kind of fast that God cares about at all.

And I get that too. I am grateful for God’s rage at our commitment to our personal and private religious observances and our disregard and forgetfulness to living out the public and prophetic work of justice, compassion, and advocacy in our community.

I have preached more than my fair share of Isaiah 58, echoing God’s passion and disdain for the Larger Church Institution that can appear more concerned with self preservation than the gospel.

AND YET…I also fall into the camp of people who feel like no matter what I do it will never be enough.

  • I can raise money for the food pantry and the rich still win the day.
  • I can build houses with Habitat and yet our community is still full of homeless families.
  • I can visit the imprisoned and don’t walk out with any sense of breaking the chains of injustice.
  • I can lobby my politicians, vote, cry out for justice

– and yet it will never be enough.

As Lutherans we are often reminded of the text in Ephesians that says

“For by grace you have been saved through faith (and not works). And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

So, what about when your faith COMPELls you to do acts of mercy, justice and community and then your faith kind of tanks because it seems

  • All seem to be for nothing.
  • What good has come of it?

I don’t mean to be such a Debbie downer, but have you ever felt like this?

Don’t you currently wonder how the heck things got so horribly messed up?

My best friend gave me this tiny book, Peacemaking Day by Day in 1996. We had just graduated from college. She was headed to Malawi for the Peace Corps and I was headed for inner city Denver with the Urban Servant Corps where I lived in intentional Christian community, didn’t make any money at all, and took youth groups through the homeless shelters, food pantries, and after-school programs that served the poorest of the poor in Denver.

Sarah and I both could have tattooed the words of Isaiah 58 across our hearts we were so passionate about social justice and the church at the time. She now serves Peace Lutheran Church in Arlington, VA and is a leader in the interfaith environmental advocacy group.

I included the following quote by Thomas merton in so many seminary papers and sermons, but this time – today – I hear it in a different way. Here’s the quote.

Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there too a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.  – Thomas Merton, Letter to a Young Activist

I used to hear this with the relationships of individual people whose lives I perceived myself to be serving…

  • But today – I heard at as my relationship with God.
  • Being in right relationship with God is all that matters,

Regardless of the outcome, or apparent effectiveness of my work.

  • And THAT is something I get.

In yoga I talk a lot about focusing on sensations in a pose rather than accomplishments.

So, for example, in balancing — people come with all sorts of personal hangups about their balance and mostly how horrible it is.

  • I’m not sure what gym teacher told us all that to be good at balancing can only mean that you can stand on one leg like a flagpole.
  • A woman just recently asked me if practicing really works, will she get better at balancing?
  • After a little more conversation she shared with me that she struggles with vertigo.
  • If you know anything about vertigo, you know that this poor woman feels like she is wobbling to and fro all the time, whether on one leg or sitting upright in a sturdy chair.
  • Fine tune changes, like tuning a radio
  • Focus on something that is not going to move, so that your attention is inward
  • Using your internal proprioception
  • Wobbling is inherent to the sensation of balancing
  • Balancing as a sensation not an accomplishment

Maybe this is our relationship with God too??

Yoga concept; surrender your actions to God.  “Our actions should indeed never be determined by any expectations, for we can never be sure of the results of our actions. We should also not take the credit when things turn out well, for we are not necessarily personally responsible for successes any more than we are responsible for failures. And it could well be that we see things in a different light tomorrow. We must involve ourselves through action and leave the rest to God and expect nothing. – T.K.V. Desikachar