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Monday, 2 December 2013

Your God is too big.

My Sermon at Meeting of Mission Presbytery October 25, 2013
Text: 2 Corinthians 4: 1-12

In1961 JB Phillips wrote a little book that many of you have probably read along the way, called “Your God is Too Small.”

He suggested that we tend to make God into various small and limited images:
resident policeman, heavenly bosom, pale Galilean, and parental hangover.

What if we also have the opposite problem, of having a God who is too big?

I guess what I mean by “too big” is a God who is distant and removed, hovering disinterestedly above the fray.

What about a God who has the capacity and interest in wedging God’s way into our very specific lives: A God small enough to show up in our pews, our offices, our living rooms, our conversations with enemies?

A couple weeks ago I retrieved a voicemail from my office phone. It was a man who had felt a calling to offer prayer to pastors throughout the city. Since I wasn’t there when he called, he asked for my voicemail. When I first heard his voice I thought to myself “Oh no, he’s calling because he thinks I’m a ‘wacko preacher lady leading her congregation down the road to perdition.’ "

In his very Texas drawl he spoke into the answering machine: “God I pray that Kelly would have your eyes to see, your ears to hear, your heart to love, I pray that you would help her to love you more each day, and that you would give her a holy boldness………”
I saved the prayer –I listened to it again…

Here was a small enough God to show up in the space between my ear and a phone ………
I felt sought out –named again as one called and empowered to bear the
gospel into weary and fragmented lives.
The prayer came at a significant moment.
Two days before this, a vibrant, friendly, generous woman, whose 3 children had gone through the church’s children’s center –and who had befriended fellow parents, teachers and church staff took a gun, went into a closet when no one was home, and shot herself.

We were left with little to know to do besides open the sanctuary and drag our bodies into pews and our heavy hearts into prayer and our cracking voices into wishing out loud that we had seen or known or been more trusted with her pain. We looked to God’s small hands to collect our tears in God’s bottle.

The Apostle Paul writes about how Christ is revealed in the world in this dense and beautiful section of 2 Corinthians:
“We are always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.”
In the next line he almost repeats himself: “so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.”
This is not abstract.

This is not a removed God.

This is the glory of God showing up ..

in weak, frail, confused, suffering, human flesh.

In the Gospel of John the incarnation is spoken of as the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us in Jesus Christ.
In the letters of Paul, the incarnation is more about Christ’s life, death and resurrection, unfolding in the body –the body of believers –in a way that can be seen, touched, heard, and tasted.

In the previous chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul refers to the body of believers as a “letter” to be read by all, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts (you will hear echoes of Jeremiah here.)

A letter has to be read up close, close enough to see how small letters make words, which create message on a page. So our text/our proclamation of the message of Jesus Christ becomes our own lives and the life of the Body of Christ –the community of faith.

“We are always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies…”

Paul challenges us to examine the location of our bodies……

Are our bodies in the places where people can read the letter of the gospel?

The Christian education committee in my congregation was having a difficult time recruiting teachers for the 4th and 5th grade Sunday School class. The chair of the committee had made 35 phone calls, which resulted in a small handful of short term volunteers. On a recent Sunday our Director of Christian Education stood in front of the congregation and said (much more diplomatically than this):
“Listen people. Every time a child is baptized in this sanctuary we promise to help raise that child in Christian faith. We cannot do this unless we are willing to put ourselves in proximity to these kids, to share our lives with them, to hear their stories, and to read the stories of scripture together.”
(After this worship service the rest of the positions were filled.)

Do we place our body next to the sullen teenager who might need someone with whom to share a story of fear?
or the family keeping vigil by a loved one's bedside --even when they haven't been to church in a long time?

There is a great 1990s documentary called “Murderball” (and by great I don’t necessarily mean you should show it at Sunday night youth group) The film profile several men who play on a wheelchair rugby team: a rough game with really “rough around the edges” guys. One of the men is a guy named Mark Zupan. The film shows him making a trip to a hospital where military veterans and others are being told they will never walk again. He puts his body near theirs as a testament to the possibility of a good and fulfilling life, despite being quadriplegic. He makes sure that they see that there can be joy, strength and love even in a body that has been crushed with injury or broken in war.

“We are always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in out bodies.”

Sometimes we expect that it is within us that Christ is going to be revealed and it turns out the revelation comes through others. I go each week with a small group of women from my congregation to a detention facility for those waiting for trial or sentencing for federal offenses. All we bring with us are Bibles in English and Spanish. We sit and read scripture together and pray for each other's families and discover common struggles and think about how these fascinating and tragic and inspiring stories of scripture speak to us. One afternoon we sat in plastic with a group of women in the sterile chapel. An officer is always present in the room and usually sits at the far side of the chapel nodding off (usually they are on about hour 9 or 10 of a day that almost always becomes a double shift). But this day the officer sat a bit closer, just close enough to listen in, but not close enough to be considered “in the circle.”

It seems we were talking about first commandment, to have no god above God.
One of the inmates began to talk about how drugs had become a god in her life. How she had relished the power of dealing drugs and using drugs and even in some strange way had come to believe that she was providing a valuable service to others. Drugs had overtaken her life.

As she spoke, and others responded knowingly, the officer’s chair inched closer to the circle. Eventually she positioned herself right by the woman who had been speaking. In an insistent but quiet voice, the officer said, “Do you have any idea how much damage you were doing? Do you know how you were affecting people's families --their children?
After a pause, the officer added,

“My mother died of a heroin overdose.”

I don’t know what was said next –but what was revealed in that moment was obvious to all of us…

God was small enough to slip through all those locks and bars and to settle right there between two wounded women who came into that chapel thinking they were part of two separate worlds.

They had, in that moment, regard for one another: the inmate for the honesty and vulnerability of the officer, the officer for the shame and regret of the inmate. But most of all, a recognition that they had both lost so much to the same crushing influence of addiction

They were both carrying the death of Jesus, and the text of the gospel became a living, breathing, heart-beating reality in that moment.

So because it is nearly impossible for us to believe for more than a few minutes that the life of Jesus could be visible in our imperfect lives,
and because it is so hard for us to fathom that Christ’s living presence continues to unfold in our small churches and feeble attempts at compassion and our half-hearted offerings of grace,
we come to this table –over and over and over again throughout our lives

–and in various configurations of the Body of Christ

– and with Jesus Christ as our host we are reminded

–as we watch bread being broken and fragmented

–representing the tortured and raised body of our Savior, we see again how are lives are absorbed into this mystery and celebrate the smallness of God who can write onto our feeble frames a gospel of life.

Blessing and glory and wisdom

and thanksgiving and honor

and power and might

be to our God forever and ever! Amen

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