Monday, August 23, 2010

Sermon Scraps: Gluttony

I know I didn't post last week, but I also didn't preach. Thank you Charlie Parker for your wonderful homiletic weavings at the Bend camp meeting this year. Now, on to this week's scraps.

Gluttony . . . hmm, how I know you well. I remember Dr. McKenzie telling our preaching class that a sermon was an event, not a manuscript. Yesterday, that happened. I preached one sermon at the Bend UMC, and I preached a different one at Lometa UMC. I mean, they were the same basic sermon – same basic points in each, same scripture, same acrostic, but I hit on something in Lometa that I would like to explore a little more today.

I sit here in my office today, with my computer. I’ve updated my twitter and facebook, played my moves in the millions of online scrabble games I have going and while I’m working, I have the Big Brother live feed up. In addition to all this electronic feeding, I have Julie with me here today and she’s totally obsessed with playing fetch. I have a lot going on around me, and I haven’t really done anything yet. And it all seems to distract me from the work I’m supposed to be doing.

Jen (a dearly loved houseguest of mine this weekend) talked about cable television. When I was in seminary, I didn’t have cable or satellite TV. My logic was that if I had time to watch television, then I was neglecting my homework or reading or both. Now I have a satellite provider. I have well over 1000 channels to watch all the time. And if there’s nothing on live television, I have my DVR. At last check, I had over 150 programs recorded that I can watch anytime.

We are gluttons for media, which leads me to explore further a point I hit in my sermon yesterday in Lometa. What are we trying to fill? It seems to me that we are a culture filling ourselves with temporary junk and neglecting our relationships with God and with each other. Moreover, I believe we are a culture hurting, desperately hurting, and we need healing, true-deep down-it will be painful to open these wounds-healing. Instead, we feed ourselves, trying to fill those wounds. They never heal that way. It's only when we willing to expose the wound to the fresh air of the Holy Spirit that healing can begin.

Yesterday I said there is a time to feast, and there is. We need to feast on the goodness of God, but so often we block the goodness God intends for us with other stuff, with food, with alcohol or drugs, with media, with people, and so on. It seems to me that in a culture currently obsessed with “cleanses,” maybe we should be spending some more time fasting. I would not say that I love fasting, but I love what it does to and for me.

Two years ago I went to the OSL retreat in October with a large decision to make. I prayed. I fasted – seriously. If you know me, you know how hard it was to leave my laptop at home. And the answer did not come, then, but it did come later. Instead, I renewed a relationship with a close friend; I came home rested, and ready to be a better pastor. I came home closer to God. And so I’m asking what if we emptied some of the stuff in our life and filled it instead with God – which is the purpose of a fast. What if we purposefully turned off our televisions and live feeds, and gave that time to God? What would God do with us?

To get more specific, I’m thinking about Advent Conspiracy. I wonder if we approached the birth of our savior as a time to not to empty our wallets and fill our lives with more stuff that gets between us and God, what if we “fasted” from over-indulgent Christmas shopping this year? I’m asking . . . Really. Are there folks in my churches interested in joining Advent Conspiracy? Read about it. .

Monday, August 9, 2010

Sermon Scraps: Greed

DeYoung says that, “the mark of generosity is not the size of the gift, or the wealth of the giver, but the readiness to give that one does not have to God” (GLITTERING VICES, 103). Said another way, greed is not about how much we give, but about the how we give. I have two thoughts on this idea.

I remember when I was a child and my mom would give me a dollar to put in the offering plate. I loved it. More than once, I asked for another dollar, because it was so much fun to give her money away. I also remember the year I had to have Gerbaud jeans and Z Cavaricci jeans. They were stupidly expensive, more than $100 a pair, but I had to have them. I had very worry about spending my parents’ money. I was quite prodigal with it.

On the other hand, I remember my second year of seminary when a friend commented about how many shirts of mine had holes in them. I realized that I had not bought ANY new clothes for over a year. Graduate made me poor – seriously. I was lucky to make rent each month; much less to think about spending money on new clothing. Prodigality did not come near my mind. I held on to every penny I could find.

Thought 1: Why was it so easy for me to spend or give away my parents’ money? The answer is obvious. It wasn’t mine. In my sermon yesterday, I spent some time saying that the universe belongs to God. All of creation belongs to God. Think about this for a moment. Your house, your cattle, your car, your family, your job, your computer, all of your books, your bank account, your money market accounts, your CDs (music and banking), everything. Everything belongs to God. Why then are we so stingy with our money? Seriously? Why can’t we give to others with money and belongs to the Lord?

Thought 2: I mentioned in my sermon that the adam was placed in the garden to Avad and Shamar it. Avad is the same root word for servant; shamar is to guard or protect. We are supposed to be the stewards of all of creation. We are not it’s owners. So the opposite of greed is not prodigality (wastefulness) but liberality. Freedom. We are free from the attachment of desire of stuff, but not waste it. We care for creation, knowing that God it belongs to God, we are generous with it, but not wasteful. At least that’s how it supposed to be.

I don’t know. That was point I forgot to mention in my sermon or perhaps I just ran out of time. But it leads me to ask, where is the line between being a steward and being greedy and between being generous and being wasteful?

Sermon Scraps: Sloth

Last week’s sermon was on sloth (acedia). This was the sin with which I believed I struggled with the most. It turns out, that I struggle with all of them, and as I read on about gluttony, I’m becoming more and more uncomfortable. Anyway, I thought I was lazy, and maybe I am, but slothful?

I was not prepared for what I read in preparation for that sermon. I was surprised by the way the author (Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, GLITTERING VICES) described the subtle way sloth sneaks up on us. She begins by saying that the vice of sloth is opposed to the virtue of Christian diligence. This got me thinking . . .

In the UMC, we don’t really talk about the work of sanctification much, do we? I’ve given the Sanctifying grace talk at Emmaus, and while I add my own flavor to it, I basically follow the given outline. We talk about the work that God does in us, and I don’t wish to denigrate that. God has done amazing work in me. I am not the same person I was before that night in my room when I finally understood that grace was for me, not just near me, but for me. My journey from that night to sitting here in my office at Bend UMC has taken me years and I’m not finished yet.

On the other hand, God doesn’t do all the work. We have to work, don’t we? If we do not sit silently in prayer, everyday . . . if we do not spend time studying (really studying and arguing about) the Word . . . if do not spend time with the Body of Christ, how does God accomplish sanctification? More to the point, why are we afraid to talk about the work we do in sanctification?

When I wrote my credo, Dr. Charles Wood accused me of pelagianism. I wear the heresy well, and I still we have a part to play in our own salvation. We open ourselves to the work of God. This is not a passive “being open.” Instead, there are practices that open us – pray, study, accountability groups, corporate and private worship, the sacraments. Or as Br John Wesley would say, we attend upon the ordinances of God.

I’m not saying anything here I didn’t say in my sermon or that I haven’t said before, but even as I write, I fear the pushing my words too far, that I might stray into works righteousness. Why do we shy away from telling folks, ‘this is what you need to do to grow in Christ?” Truthfully, we seem to be all about evangelism, spreading the Good News, but what about after the Gospel has been received. If we don’t talk about the habits of a Christian life, aren’t we cheating those whom we evangelize? If we promise the healing of God, but fail to tell folks about the ways we have encountered that healing, aren’t we cheating them? Christianity is not about a magic prayer, it’s a way of living, in every moment, living as one who follows our Lord Jesus Christ, taking purposeful steps as we follow Jesus and the teachings he left with us.

What I mean is, we have to mean to be a Christian. It’s intentional. It takes diligence. Why don’t we tell people that? A life in Christ is not a get-out-of-hell-free card. In fact, it can mean storming the gates of hell. And it takes diligence to be the person who would do that. That, by the way is salvation, being the kind of person who would give her very life, my soul to save another (but that is an entirely different blog. My statement needs a great deal of unpacking, so don’t take it at face value). But if I’m not willing to work to become that kind of person, how will God work in me to make me that kind of person?

I’m trying to throw some of my caution to the wind and perhaps step over the line into heresy to get you thinking. In this day and age, we’re not so much about burning at the stake, so why should we fear heresy – at least in our questioning? We are allowed to push our boundaries, are we not, to learn where they are? If it is God who saves us, will God not also save us from our own heresy?