Sermons are preached. They are not writing. So, above is the sermon. Below is the sermon “plan”. (Unedited, all my mistakes kept!)
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in you we have found our courage;
and division and responsibility and vulnerability
Pslam 28:7 - January 24, 2021 - Heartstrings at First United Methodist Church
God, you are our strength and our shield; our hearts trust in you, in you we have found our courage; our wild hearts dance for joy, and in our songs, we will praise you…. Psalm 28:7
“in you we have found our courage.”
Tell me without telling me
There is a trend on TikTok right now, it’s pretty fun… it’s the “tell me without telling me” challenge. One person starts out with a request, another responds…. So one person will request, “Tell me you’re a boy mom, without telling me you’re a boy mom…” in one response the video starts looking at a woman’s face, she moves her phone so it is filming behind her, and you see that the entire time, she has had a boy child repeatedly punching her behind…. Another request, “tell me you are from the Midwest without telling me your from the Midwest.” In one response, a women records a wide variety of flannels, and wonders to herself, “which one should I wear today?” “Tell me you are the youngest child without telling me that you are the youngest child”… cut to the first… and ONLY picture in a photo album…
What if I were to give you homework, pose a question to you: “Tell me your political party, without telling me your political party…” PAUSE
You could tell me the news station you turned to this week. You could tell me the zip code where you live, if you wanted to be really clever, we could talk about your parenting style… you could talk about the boy repeatedly punching his mamma’s behind… how you felt about that, how you would respond to that… it would indicate how you voted three months ago…
Please, please, don’t miss the significance of that…
In our country right now, we have created two buckets and required everyone to belong to one or the other. Either you are conservative, or you are liberal. That used to mean how you voted… through the last hundred years, we have defined the buckets by political issues, and by lifestyle choices, even the neighborhood or zip code in which you live… In less than a five minute conversation, I can tell you which bucket you belong in without ever asking you which bucket you belong in… It has been a really long, slow division, not over the last few years but over the last few generations…
This sermon doesn’t include a lot of clear answers. I don’t solve any of the worlds problems. Instead, as I wrestled through it, I found myself asking questions. I felt God’s invitation into question after question. One of the questions is this: do you think it takes courage to refuse to fit your whole self into one of those two buckets? How? Why?
When I first ran across Psalm 28 verse 7, the one thing it was missing was courage. It has a strong statement of faith that God is our strength and our shield. When we stand in the midst of the storms (because if God is our strength and our shield, we WILL find ourselves in the midst of storms.) This verse has heart, “our hearts trust in you.” Heart… soul… the light that God has created in you, and you, and you… there is a light in us, we strive to trust God with our light, and our struggles, our doubts, our division…
For me, for who I am as a leader, for the vision and mission I want to lay out for us, I need to include courage. So, for our liturgy, which is our invocation and benediction, for the vision of who we are, I changed “God rescued us” to “in you we find our courage.”
Courage. I can tell you when I see it. I see courage in others, and I am in awe of them. Here is another question for us to ponder, can you think of a time, a situation in your life, or in the courage of another, that didn’t include risk? I remember when my brother signed up for the Navy, the courage it took him. He was giving up one entire life, to take a different path. He had so many moments when he didn’t know where he would be stationed (he ended up stationed at an Air Force base in the middle of Oklahoma… he NEVER could have predicted that!)
Have you ever seen courage that did not include uncertainty? Think of the moments in your life when you were uncertain of the outcome, when you could not control what was next… when applying for college… I helped my son fill out FASFA for college this week… I’m telling you, there is a certain level of uncertainty when trying to decide which button to push what number to fill in! Uncertainty comes with marriage proposals, and pregnancy, and job applications, and doing the right thing when you don’t know how it will go.
Have you ever seen courage that did not include emotional exposure? I want to take a minute to talk about Joy. She is the amazing Bass player that you all love to watch week after week. A few months ago, she received an email from a guy, who received an email from a guy… asking if she would be willing to help some random church find someone to lead Bluegrass, every Sunday for worship. She was glad to help. The more she looked, the more she felt a nudging, a calling to be the one. She hasn’t told me this, but I know I’ve had these moments, when I’m like “God, don’t be silly. That is a really crazy idea, you have lost your mind… if you ever had one…” God has a way of being right…and persistent. Can you feel that moment? Of being called to something you know you can’t do? But it feels so right. It’s so clear that’s the thing. Even if you don’t know how yet, even if you have no idea how it will turn out, how you will make it work, it feels so daunting and big… emotional exposure feels like an understatement.
You know what risk, uncertainty, and emotional exposure is called? Vulnerability. Question for you to wrestle with: have you ever, even once, seen any act of courage that did not include vulnerability?
Naming courage. Defining courage. Looking to the life of Christ for moments of courage. Finding our courage in God’s love and grace. Practicing courage. Courage, will define us as a community. That courage will look different at different times. Right now it looks like showing up in a parking lot, to be in community with people showing up online, and finding any way we can to connect with one another.
And our call to courage will be doing our part to bring healing to our world.
In the book, the big sort, Bill Bishop takes a very deep, intensive look at the division of our country. He defines the conservative bucket, and progressive bucket in detail using study after study. And he looks at the roots of this place we find ourselves in right now… You know this division doesn’t go back a few years? Right? We can find it’s roots generations ago…
We can find some of the roots of today’s division back in the last turn of the century. The late 1800s, early 1900s. There was economic panic (can you image?), there was an influx of immigrants, slavery was coming to an end but racism was not, we were spreading west, killing entire peoples, the church had come to grips with the world being round instead of flat centuries before, but now science was demanding the church wrestle with the authority of scripture in a whole new way as science forced the church to wrestle with its stories of creation…
As I invite you back to this time and place of well over 100 years ago… you can begin to see, maybe feel in your heartbeat the results of that time. This place of unrest led to a division in the church. Not between denominations… this denomination and that.. but how people viewed the world. The Big Sort, says it this way: “On one side was what Martin Marty has called “Private Protestantism.” Private Protestants promoted individual salvation and promised that personal morality would be rewarded in the next life. On the other side of that great divide was “Public Protestantism,” a conviction that the way to God required the transformation of society. The latter laid the foundation for Democratic liberalism. The former provided the moral footing and rationale for Republican conservatism.” The book goes on to say, “Josiah Strong, a turn-of-the-century Congregationalist minister, described “two types of Christianity” alive in the country. The division was “not to be distinguished by any of the old lines of doctrinal or denominational cleavage,” Strong wrote in 1913. “Their difference is one of spirit, aim, point of view, comprehensiveness. The one is individualist; the other is social.” The one staged revivals; the other sought to reform the world.”
Here is what I hope you hear… those that came well before us, our great, great, great grandparents planted seeds that are now bearing their fruit. We did not create the world we are in, but it is our responsibility, to be courageous, vulnerable enough to examine the world we find ourselves in, and simply ask, is this as beautiful, as true as it gets?
Maybe that’s another question for us to ponder this week? “Is this as beautiful, as true as it gets? Does it take courage to even ask that question right now?
We are a United Methodist Community. I am a United Methodist pastor. So, one of the things we do, is look towards the United Methodist Church, it’s deep traditions and willingness to wrestle with hard issues together. As a church, we decided about a century ago, when the division in the church was planting seeds of division in the world, we decided that we wouldn’t kick people or churches out when they disagreed unless and until absolutely necessary. Instead, we’ve held tightly to the idea that together we are strong, not despite our differences but because of them.
When we look to the church for help in examining these two buckets the world is forcing us to define ourselves by, we find a deep call to courage to live in a way that is deeply meaningful, hard, and brave… If you look in our guiding document The Book of Discipline, this line: “We proclaim no personal gospel that fails to express itself in relevant social concerns; we proclaim no social gospel that does not include the personal transformation of sinners.”
Amanda Gorman became only one of six people to ever read an inauguration poem. Talk about courage. Her name will be forever listed with the names Richard Blanco, Elizabeth Alexander, Miller Williams, Maya Angelou, and Robert Frost. Talk about courage. I wonder if her closing words, have something to say to us, about the courage we can embody: