This is a transcript from the August 4, 2019 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.
Spoiler alert. You know what that is? That means someone is going to tell you something about the end of whatever you wanted to watch or hear and you don't want to hear it because it will ruin the experience. If you have ever taped a game because you want to come back and watch it to its conclusion and then have somebody tell you, "Did you see the game? They won by two points in overtime." They have ruined it. They needed to say, "Spoiler alert," so you could cover your ears, close your eyes and not hear it.
If you've ever read a book and been reading a book and they say, "Did you get to the part where-" and you haven't gotten to that part yet, you want somebody to yell, "Spoiler alert, don't tell me that because it's going to ruin my experience." If you're watching a TV show and somebody has seen it, if you're watching a movie and you're going to a movie and someone is going to tell you how it comes out, that's the last thing you want to hear. You want someone to say, "Spoiler alert. I'm going to tell you something that you can close your eyes, cover your ears."
Even if you watch the Hallmark Channel and you already know that [laughter] every movie is going to end with love winning and love prevails and we'll all learn a little something about ourselves and if it's a Christmas movie, it's also going to have snow on Christmas Eve, even if you know that, you don't want someone to tell you about how it gets there because that's part of the experience. I hope I didn't ruin anything for anybody who watches the Hallmark Channel.
There should always be a spoiler alert except when there shouldn't and there are times when we don't want a spoiler alert. We're doing a series about our story or just kind of around the theme. Taking a look at this theme that's part of us, is we look at our life, that one of the ways to make sense of our life is to think about it as a story and the characters because we tell stories to make sense of our life, and to think of story as a way of a filter for our life is very helpful. It's in that case that a spoiler alert is not always welcome.
It's in that case when we are confronted with things that are very confusing, very disorienting. When we would love to know what's next. When we need to know how this turns out. In the Bible, the story of the Bible, there is no such thing as a spoiler alert. It is always a way of, "Hey, wake up. Here's how this ends. Now adjust your life accordingly." In a week where we gather around a funeral for a six-year-old, whose disease never was diagnosed and the grief and the sorrow of that family in that community, that's disorienting.
How do you know? How do you keep going? How do you know how to navigate your story in the midst of something like that? In the week where there is not one, not two, but three different mass shootings and the contrast, the contrast couldn't be more amazing between the energy, the resources, the passion, that wears around one six-year-old to somehow keep him alive and find a cure and the indifference that contributes to the other.
There is a part of us that just wants to scream and it wants to shout and it wants to cry and it is frustrated, we're almost afraid to do that because as soon as we do, we know that someone's going to try to explain it to us or blame it on somebody or something and we're just going to go around in a circle and that makes it even worse. How do you navigate your story, when it is so confusing and it is so overwhelming and you don't know what to do? This is what the early Christians had to face.
This week I was reminded as I was watching and listening to the stories in the familiar litany that goes on every time there is a mass shooting. I was thinking of a story and that was before this morning, waking up, for Dayton, Ohio. I was remembering a story of a theologian, 20th century, still living theologian named Jürgen Moltmann. He wrote a book called Theology of Hope.
It was 1968, he was speaking to a whole group of pastors and the word went rippling through. He told this story later. It went rippling through and they came up and they stopped right in the middle and just said, "Martin Luther King has been killed," and they said that word, and this was in North Carolina, and everybody in the room knew that this was officially over and everybody needed to go back and everybody needed to brace and everybody needed to be back in their own homes to deal with the blow of this. Later on, he reflected on this experience as a German coming to America and watching what was going on.
1968, before this was the race riots of '67, there was later on the Chicago riots. There was all the bloodshed of everything. At one point, he talked about the irony of being in a place where he says, he said,
"The official creed is one of optimism,
even as they are knee-deep in their own blood."
I thought about that this week. I thought, "You could say that about us right now." Amidst all the things that we want and all the things that we longed for and all the things that we talk about, all the times that somebody will come on and say, "This isn't us, we're better than this," at the same time, somewhere in along the line, someone's got to say, "Yes, this is part of us."
"Our official creed is one of optimism, we can do better, even as we're knee-deep in our own blood." How do you navigate such a thing? How do you live? The passage in your bulletin is how the early church responded. I'm going to read it. It's going to be up on the screen.
Here's what the early Christians did and spoiler alert, there's something in there, but in this case, open your eyes, open your ears, listen, because this is where we find our hope and find our direction. Paul talks about as he hands on what has been given to him, this is what the Church did, they met around a table and they would meet around the table probably not just once a week. They would meet daily at this point and it was a meal and it was a time to recall and remember, "This is who we are. This is what we're about."
"I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night when he was betrayed, he took a loaf of bread and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, This is my body. That is for you. Do this in remembrance of me."
In the same way, he took the cup also after supper saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of me, for as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes."
The early church understood that they were in times that were confusing, they were in times that made no sense, they were in times of great darkness. They knew they had to come here. Otherwise, they would let the events of that day and they would let the news of that moment overwhelm them. It would drive them in either into indifference, it would insulate them to say, "We just can't be bothered," or just into despair where we begin to live a story that is way too small, simply because we cannot figure out how to move ahead.
Anyone in that place this morning understands. At one point you just want to pull back and say, "I just can't think about all the other stuff going on in the world. I can barely take care of myself." The early church understood this and they would gather around a table and say, "Do this in remembrance." Not just remembrance in the sense of, "Let's get the words right, make sure we say all the right things," remembrance in the way that we try to get a song, right.
We finally kind of get in rhythm once again and we remind ourselves, we get back in sync with it. Let's get the story right. Better yet, let's let the story get us right, and it's around three tables and the first table was the table of Jesus.
Remember this, let's get the story right. Let's get into sync with that, because that was a broad phrase that covers a lot. That was the table where Jesus started by washing disciples' feet and said, "This is what it means to be my disciple." This is where Jesus said, "I didn't come into the world to be served, but to serve. Now you go and do likewise." This is the table where as Jesus was breaking the bread, he said, "Make sure you go and love. This is my new commandment that you love as I have loved you."
This is the place where Jesus demonstrated what that love looked like. "This is my body broken. This is my bloodshed." This is the place where we remind ourselves that the origin of who we are is the one who poured self out so this isn't just a room historical reminder. This is a template for the way that disciples are supposed to live from here on out. Do this in remembrance. Remember who you are. Remember the one who defeated the forces of sin, sickness, and death, and this is how you do it. Remember, this is who you have been called to be.
When we come to a table and when we gather around the table and we proclaim the Lord's death until the day he comes, part of what we are proclaiming is, this is the place where we get our life aligned. This is where we recalibrate, how are we doing? How are you doing? How am I doing with that? How are we doing? How is our life lined up with that self-giving self-sacrificing thing? How are we doing with that part where we give ourselves away for the sake of others? How is that lining up with your life? How is it lining up with mine? That's what this table is about because that helps us navigate, it starts with that table, but then he gives the spoiler alert that, "By the way, this doesn't just end here. There's something that is to come."
It is the great hope that Christ will come again. Christ has died, Christ has risen Christ will come again with the earliest creed of the church. That this is not just going to stop here, that there is a time when God will consummate everything, and the nations will come from the east and west, north and south, and all the nations will come.
Yesterday at the service, as I do in almost every funeral service, there's a part where we get the point ahead to what is yet to come, to give context to the suffering, the grief, the sorrow that we're already going through, when we remind ourselves that there is this day, when the New Jerusalem will come and there will be a new heaven and earth. It is not, by the way, the popular idea that somehow we escape and go into heaven, but that heaven is coming and winning and becoming wed once again with Earth, that this earth is not something to escape but to be renewed. That's how we navigate.
It is to remind ourselves that in that day, there will be no sin, there will be no sickness, there'll be no pain, there will be no death, there will be no tears. It is to remind ourselves that this is the place, spoiler alert, where God's love wins, where God's mercy wins, where God's justice wins. Where forgiveness wins.
Now, go live accordingly. We come to this table, and we are told to calibrate our life, not only with what Jesus did, but what is to come. How is our life calibrated today? How is it doing? How is it aligning with the things that make for peace, the things that make for health, the things that make for freedom, the things that make for joy, the things that make for love, how is your life lining up with that today? How is mine?
That's the real question as we come to this table, as we wonder how to navigate our life, we stand between what Jesus did, we stand between that and what Jesus has yet to do. How are we doing, where are we on that continuum? How is that going for you? How's it going with the things that deal with for the wholeness of what God is longing for their life, which brings us to this table.
I like to think that most worship services, the best metaphor I have for most worship services, is the great family meal. It's the great extended family meal. Now, if you come from a family that's pretty divided, that may not be such a great one, but it's still not bad, because we all come from different places, and we all come once in a while, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, whatever the holidays that we come for, we get around a table, and in some families, they still do, once a week they get around the table, and it is raucous, and there are rituals that they do, there are certain dishes that we have, there's a certain order that we do it.
We've check in with each other. "How are you doing and how are you doing and how are you doing?" We say things and we talk about things that talk about our values, and then we go out into the week. I really think that's a great metaphor for what we do here, and it raises the question, who's coming here? I love this artist Cloutier, and I love this saying Rachel Held Evans, the one whose book we're studying.
Cloutier was a German soldier in the German army and World War II, and then after the war converted, and became a priest, and became an artist and has worked more and more as his life went on and on, began to reflect the inclusiveness of a table of what the kingdom of God was all about, as opposed to the very narrow definition that he had fought for when he was wearing the German uniform, and he began to show it in extravagant ways. "This is what the kingdom of God is like," and right alongside, this quote from Rachel Held Evans, "This is what God's kingdom looks like, a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they're rich or worthy or good, but because they're hungry." They said, "Yes." There is always room for more.
We come today, not as people who are particularly worthy. We come as people who do not particularly have it all together. We are definitely works of art that are in the process of being made, but we come because we are hungry, and we have said yes, and that's the beginning of it, but it is more than that because it is here that we remember, we are the people who don't have it together, but this was being given to us originally by the one who said on the night when he was betrayed, "This was a meal that was meant for people who are on the journey and not there yet."
If we come any other way, we're missing the point. We're not there yet, but that's why we need to come. That's why we can say that this table isn't our table. It's God's table. Anybody can come, anyone who needs what God has for them, you come. This is for you. I know there's a part that just said, "Well, it's not realistic to have that a view in this world." That's what this table does. It redefines what realism is.
Realism isn't just what is here right now, what's truly real is that which lasts, and when we come and we remember, spoiler alert, that it's God's love that prevails, then everything that lines up with that is, in fact, the most realistic thing going. Everything else is unreal. What we call real is only temporary. It's provisional, and it's waiting. It's waiting to be transformed. That's why I've always loved this quote by the same guy who talked about the optimism up to our knees and blood, Jürgen Moltmann. He says, "Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it to contradict it. Peace with God means conflict with the world."
There is something because of what we know is coming, that suddenly becomes less and less content with the world, "No, no, we will not put up with that. No, I will push back against that. No, I will not be a part of that," because I've come to this table and I have remembered who Christ is and what Christ is yet to do, and I have said, I believe that that is the future, therefore, that is the most real thing. More than that, I can't put up with it, and I will not just put up with a religion that just waves at it, and goes on about its business as if nothing really is supposed to happen.
This morning, I was reminded of Miroslav Volf and this statement of his which I thought was spot on, he says, "There is something deeply hypocritical about praying for a problem you are unwilling to solve." We can pray about things and we can hope about things, but if it's not translating, if this table isn't translating us into some action, some motion, some direction that's lining up with what Christ is yet to do, there's something deeply hypocritical about that if we're not willing to do the change, if we're not willing to put our life on the line, if we're not willing to do that.
I wear a button today because there was a group of people here yesterday who refuse to let the world, as it was, define what reality is. Truett was a little boy who, almost from birth, had what was called an undiagnosed disease. They never figured it out. All they could ever do was treat the symptoms, and his life was up and down, and they almost lost him so many times. Yesterday, on the one hand, was a hard day, and the other hand, it was a celebration. That family and that community had been getting ready to say goodbye to Truett for almost six years.
Yesterday the day finally came when we did that, and this whole section right here was healthcare professionals. They estimated that there was probably just about 40 of them, nurses, in-home nurses, technicians, doctors, all the caregivers, and all the things and that just represented the tip of the iceberg of people who came. They knew from day one that this kid was never going to get better, that this kid was always going to end on a day like yesterday, everybody knew that and yet, that was not the reality that they lived into.
They lived into a reality that had to do with love, that had to do with rejoicing, it had to do with, "Let's do the best we can, let's make this life as good as we can," and they poured their life into it. Likewise, the preschool teachers who were here in our own preschool, they did the same. In fact, this entire room was filled with people who because of this event, the event of this one little boy who was sick from the beginning and was never going to get better, who drew out the best energies, love was manifest, love was embodied because people refused to say, "Well, that's just the way it is, anything else is unrealistic."
All they were able to say is, "No, that's not real yet, but we're going to give ourselves to it. We don't have a cure yet but we'll give ourselves to it. We don't have a way of making this work yet, but we're going to give ourselves to it." I know that they woke up today and they wake up tomorrow and they're going to do the same thing over again. That's what hope does. That's what this table can do. It can recalibrate our lives between what's real and what's not real, what's possible and what's not yet possible but has been made possible by Christ and whether you give yourself to it.
There were so many examples of that just around here this week. There was a whole group of people and some of you were involved with the emergency shelter. Remember when we had over 100 people here in the midst of a storm, up and down I-25? That group of people who help put that on was meeting again this week, meeting to do a debrief. What do we need to do different? What do we need to do better? What do we need to watch next time?
At the same time downstairs, there's a different kind of a shelter going on that Jordan has been working with the Castle Rock pride group in providing a place for a support, a place for kids and their parents to come in the LGBTQ community because they just didn't have any place that was safe and it was embarrassing how much they fell over themselves to say, "Thank you for opening up your church so we could have a space." I thought, "Oh my gosh. That's the least we can do. That's what we're here for. We're here to provide shelter in a storm of weather. We're here to provide the shelter in the kind of storm of life, that's why we are here."
There are people who are out swinging hammers to build houses. There are people who are trying to get ready for Sunday school right now, for education. Think of all the different things that we long for, that we want to navigate. All of those things are pushing against reality as it is for what is yet to come because that's what we hope and we pray for.
How is your life aligned with what God is yet to do?
"Remember," Jesus says, "Don't worry about getting the words all right, get the music right, get the story, let the story get you right," because that's why we are here to recalibrate our lives, to realign them because that's what this table can do and that's what we're called to today. You are called to be part of this table, to come to this table, to get your bearings again. As you come, spoiler alert, God's love prevails, God's justice prevails, God's mercy prevails, God's wholeness prevails, so come with eyes wide open, with ears open more than that, with hearts that are ready for what God is yet to do. Come.