Sunday, September 29, 2019

Sermon, "The Story, Part I: Wandering with the Law," Deuteronomy 6:1-9

Sermon 9/29/19
Deuteronomy 6:1-9

The Story, Part I: Wandering with the Law

We’re skipping ahead in the scriptures today, as we continue our journey through The Story of the Bible. Last Sunday, as we read from Exodus, the Israelites were on the brink of leaving Egypt, being emancipated from their generations of slavery, and now they’re not far from reaching the Promised Land, this place described as a land “flowing with milk and honey.” It’s a land of abundance, a land that will be their long-term home. But in the interim, between then and now, forty years have passed, and all this time, the Israelites have been wandering through the wilderness, led by Moses. And over these years, besides the grumbling and complaining that they do about their long, meandering journey, and besides the times they really screw things up and forget where they’ve come from and where they’re going, they’ve also been learning about the laws that will guide and shape them as they enter the Promised Land and form a new society. In Exodus, in Leviticus, in Numbers, and in Deuteronomy, we find chapter after chapter of rules and laws about what to eat, what to wear, how to grow and plant, how to worship and pray, how to build, how to be a neighbor, how to deal with crime, how to care for possessions and finances. So many laws. 613 laws or commandments is the traditional count given to the total of all the directives we find in the Torah, the Law, contained in these books of the Bible. 
Even as we work on memorizing Bible verses every week this fall, I feel pretty sure that I cannot remember 613 of them, not by heart. But there’s hope. Aside from a system of teaching and guidance that will help the Israelites learn the laws well, we find in our text for today the key to the laws, the heart of the laws. You might say, for the most part, that all of the other laws are able to be understood as expressions of what we read in Deuteronomy 6 today. What we read here is the most important thing, and we studied it a bit least year. It’s called the Shema, from the Hebrew word “hear,” the first word of these key verses. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” There’s just one God to be god in your life, and you should love that God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Eventually Jesus will call this the greatest law. He’ll say that all the teaching of the law and of the prophets really boil down to this, that God is the only god worth putting first in our lives, and we should put God first with everything we’ve got. And Jesus will clarify for us that these laws also include the second greatest commandment, a way that we express the meaning of the first, of loving God fully: by loving our neighbor as if we they were our own self. 613 commandments, important, to be followed, but narrowed down in their essence to this: There’s one God to be worshipped. Worship and love that God with everything you’ve got. And you can demonstrate that love in loving others well. That much we can remember, right? 
I’ve been thinking a lot about the things we try to remember this week, and how we go about remembering them. I remember when I was little and my paternal grandmother would visit, I would watch in astonishment as she took her pills every day. There were so many! I swear she had about 15 pills she took each day. Now though, I’ve managed to work my way up to my own impressive collection of daily medications - iron to combat my anemia, and pills for high blood pressure, and another to boost my “good cholesterol” with a vegan source for Omega 3, and so on. With all these pills, I’ve found myself needing help remembering to take them every day and to take them at the right time. And so I have them all set up in one of those daily pill dispensers, and I have alarms set on my phone - morning and evening every day - so I don’t forget. And as long as I’ve been taking my pills now - if the alarm didn’t go off … I know I would forget, even still!  
I also adore Google reminders. I can tell my phone to remind me to do things, or add them on my google calendar, a reminder to do such and such thing at a certain time on a certain day, and at the appropriate time, my phone will ding and tell me what I’m supposed to be remembering. It is one tool that’s helped me become more organized and better at following through on things I’m supposed to be doing, a big help for this not-very-detail-oriented person. My mom wants to remember to read her Upper Room Devotional booklet every day, and remember to use her hand weights to strengthen her arm muscles - so she sets them on her kitchen counter every day, right near her laptop, and she doesn’t move them until she’s completed those tasks each day. There’s no shortage of methods we can use to help us remember things that are important to us. What techniques do you use? How do you remember who has what after-school activity? How do you remember what you need at the grocery store? How do you remember all the details of life? 
But I wonder about the most important things. How do we remember the most essential things of all, the kinds of things we can’t just check off of a to-do list? An alarm reminds me to take my pills, and then it’s done for the day, and I don’t have to think about it again. But how do I remember that God loves me, when I need to have it as part of the core of my understanding, and not something I can “complete” on a to-do list? How do I remember, when so many other messages in our culture try and tell us we have to earn love and that it is conditional and temperamental. How do I remember that God loves me even when I think I’m unlovable? How do I remember to treat others with kindness and compassion, to look at them with Jesus’s eyes, to see Jesus in them? That’s not a task I can mark “complete” and just move on. How do we remember the most important things
We talked last week about the rituals God helps the Israelites enact so that they would remember being slaves in Egypt and how God led them to longed-for freedom, like the Passover meal. God gifts us with many practices to help us remember the most important things, like baptism and communion. And today’s text includes more of God’s plans to help the people remember. After the Shema - the reminder that God is one god, the only god, and after the call to love God with our everything, Deuteronomy tells us that we should take these words and recite them, and tell them to our children, and talk about these words when we’re at home, and when we’re away, and when we go to bed, and when we wake up. And we should bind the words to our hands, and make them into a sign on our foreheads, and put them on the doors of our house, on the gates to our yards. Basically, it sounds like these words about God should be everywhere we are, all the time. They should be as much a part of our day as breathing in and out is. And indeed, the Israelites, and even some Jews today try to follow these directions as literally as possible. We could take that approach too - there’s nothing stopping you from binding these words about God and only God and God with your whole heart to your hands and head and house. But mostly - we don’t really do that, not literally. So what can we do? How do we make these words etched on our hearts and souls so we don’t forget? 
For the Israelites, on the brink of entering the Promised Land, God wanted to remind them that they were God’s distinctive people. They were not to be like other peoples, other nations. They followed God. They made God the center of their lives, and they were set apart in their beliefs, practices, and ethical way of being in the world. In the wilderness, they were mostly on their own, isolated from other influences. But in the Promise Land,  they’re going to be constantly surrounded by other peoples and cultures with other priorities, other rules, other laws, other gods. They will be constantly tempted to forget who they are and who God is and how they are called by God to live. We’ll see that over the next weeks, how hard it is for them to remain true to God. How can they remember who they are? The Shema, and binding these words to themselves every way they can is one way they stay set apart. They’re wrapped in God’s word, in the law that is a gift to them. 
What about us? How are we God’s people? What’s distinctive about our pattern of living and being? Today we’ve had an awesome morning with the Ripathon, and I’ve been thinking about our faith and fitness ministry. We’ve tried to shape it, over the years, to be that - a ministry. It’s a challenge, sometimes, to remember, to ensure that it’s about more than working out. And it’s so hard in our culture to make sure we’re sending the right messages about body image and health and wholeness and being created in God’s image instead of striving for a certain physical ideal so that we fit in somehow. 
So, at Ripit, sometimes people work with mentors - others who have worked hard to increase their strength, or endurance, or health. We practice encouraging each other - building each other up with words and deeds of kindness. RipIt folks participate in challenges - trying to push beyond where they are to reach new goals. And that’s another thing - goals. RipIt members often have something they’re working towards - not just a weight goal, but being able to lift a heavier weight, or dance longer during a song, or breathe easier after a workout. Amber has been leading devotional pilates, encouraging folks to read and reflect and meditate on messages from the scripture that remind us of our intrinsic, unshakable value as part of God’s creation. All of these parts of RipIt help make it not just an exercise class, but a community, and a ministry. These practices that are part of the program help people remember why they want to take part, work hard, and push through obstacles. 
What practices help us stay grounded in faith? Is your faith growing? Do you have goals that you’ve set for your relationship with God? A direction with God you’re hoping to go? Who are your mentors in faith? Who’s encouraging you, and who are you encouraging in discipleship? What faith challenges are you determined to conquer, and how do you work at them each day? As disciples of Jesus Christ, as those committed to following God, we need to immerse ourselves in the distinctive practices that will help us remember the things that we can’t just check off on a to-do list. In our United Methodist tradition, we’ve summarized some of these practices in our membership vows: prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. That might work as a guide for you. Or you may have your own way of setting goals in faith, and intentionally trying to grow with God. But whatever you do, let’s do something on purpose, with purpose. The scriptures attest to the fact that without remembering a purpose, God’s people also forget that God alone is god. They forget to give God their whole hearts every day. We know that we forget, too. So whether you need to bind God’s message on your head and heart, or whether you need to recommit to practices of faith and community that will ground you in God’s word, let’s follow with purpose, and be God’s people. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” Amen. 

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Sermon, "The Story, Part I: Covenant & Emancipation," Genesis 17:1-9, Exodus 13:3-16

Sermon 9/22/19
Genesis 17:1-9, Exodus 13:3-16

The Story, Part I: Covenant & Emancipation

Today we’re tackling two themes, two scriptures, as we continue our journey through the Bible: Covenant and Emancipation. It might seem a little like we’re smushing two separate stories together, and we are, but hopefully by the end of our worship you’ll see how these themes go hand-in-hand. It also might seem like we’re spending an awful lot of time in our journey through the major themes of the Bible right up front - three weeks in Genesis when our whole series is only so long. But the first books of the Bible are ones that are meant to set the tone for the rest of the scriptures, and so the first books lay out for us many of the themes that we return to again and again. Creation, The Fall, and now Covenant and Emancipation. 
Let’s take a look at our texts for today. In Genesis, God appears to Abram, a spry ninety-nine year old. Abram has already been following God’s call. God spoke to Abram and told him to leave his home and start a journey toward a land which God would give him, and Abram went. Now, God tells Abram to walk with God and be blameless, and God will make a covenant with Abram. God promises that Abram will be the ancestor of many nations. He’ll be called Abraham now - that means “ancestor of a multitude” instead of just “exalted ancestor,” what his old name meant. And God will make him fruitful, and not just the ancestor of many, but also the ancestor of nations and leaders. And, what’s more, God promises that Abraham and his offspring will belong to God, and God will belong to them. And God will give them a new home, the land of Canaan. The land where Abraham is now just a visiting stranger will become Abraham’s homeland. As for Abraham, his part of the covenant is to make God God. That might sound like not a very big promise to make, but God’s deals are always more beneficial to us than to God - God is generous like that - and, Abraham lives in a culture where people believed there were many gods, and every tribe and clan followed the god of their choosing. God - Yahweh - the God we know in the scriptures - is asking Abraham to promise to choose God above all the other myriad options. “I’ll be your God, and you be my people.” That’s the covenant God and Abraham make. 
If you look at the covenants throughout the Bible, this is pretty much always the deal God wants to make. A covenant is a promise between two parties - usually God and us - and it is a sacred promise, a holy promise. Technically, if one party breaks a covenant, the other side is no longer obligated to their promises. But God - God is always faithful, and always follows through, even when we don’t. So - in almost every covenant God makes, all God wants is that we choose God to be the one we follow. Worship God, follow God, love God - be my people, and I’m yours. That’s all God asks, almost every time. And in turn, God promises enormous blessings. It’s pretty humbling - the creator of universe so wanting to be in relationship with us that God covenants with us again and again, just asking us to commit to God in return.
Of course, the Bible is a testament to the fact that we humans are remarkably talented at failing to uphold our part of the covenant. All God wants is for us to choose God, but again and again, the people choose to put other things first. In the Bible, this is called idolatry, and we see it whenever people choose to worship other gods, or whenever they make false images and pretend that they have any real power as a god in their lives. Whenever the people do this, choose other gods, the consequences are devastating, because no one but our Creator can love and care for us, and truly claim the title of “God” but God alone. 
What promises has God made to you? And what promises have you made to God in return? Sometimes we try to bargain with God in our moments of desperation: “If you do this thing for me God, I promise I will start going to church every week, or reading my Bible every day, or being a lot nicer to that person I just can’t stand.” But as inelegant as our desperate pleas are, I think they still boil down to the same thing: when things are hard, when we need God, we’re ready to say, “You’re our God, we’re your people.” That’s the basic covenant. You’re our God, we’re your people. 
Most of us might not be tempted to follow other gods these days, but we’re still pretty proficient in breaking that covenant with God, because we put a lot of other things before God in our lives, in our daily living, in the rhythms that shape us. What things do you see others putting before God when you look at our culture? Money, certainly. I think money has taken the place of “other gods” as one of the biggest temptations for us. Power and status. Career and success. But what about you specifically? What are you most likely to put in the place of God? What do you wrestle with giving a higher place in your life than you give to God? What rules you? If we can’t be truthful with ourselves about answering that question, we can’t be “all in” on our covenant with God, and we’ll never really be holding up our part of the promise. I think sometimes we put family in the place of God, not realizing that the best way to love our family is by making sure God comes first for us and them. I think I wrestle with putting my own plans for my life in front of God’s plans for me sometimes. I want to get my whole life figured out and ask God to bless it, instead of waiting on God’s direction. I think we can put our quest for happiness, that elusive state of being, in the place of God, forgetting that deep contentment comes from God, not instead of God. What has first place in your life, really? How can you put God back in first place? I promise you, God is always ready to make that covenant with you: “I’ll be your God, and you be my people.” Will you make that promise with God? Today?  
Our second reading brings us to the theme of Emancipation, as Moses prepares to lead the Israelites out of Egypt in what we call the Exodus. Generations have gone by since the days of Abraham. And indeed Abraham is the ancestor of many by now, but the people still can’t call the land of Canaan their own. What’s worse? Through a series of events at the end of Genesis, the people have become slaves in Egypt. They’re farther away from Canaan that they were before. And they feel like God has forgotten them. Have you ever felt forgotten? I’ve told you before about the time when I was little when I thought my older cousin had forgotten me in the food court at the mall. And there was the time when my mom forgot to pick me up from junior high because she’d been working on the new pictorial directory at church, and I was sitting out in front of school for about an hour waiting for a ride before Aunt Shari finally came and picked me up. But those were pretty minor in the scheme of things, and different from the depth of despair we face when we feel like God has forgotten us. 
God doesn’t forget though. God hears the cries of the Israelites who are enslaved in Egypt, and God sends Moses to lead them to freedom. Our text from Exodus today describes two ways that God establishes as rituals of remembrance of their emancipation. From then on, the people will regularly remember that God brought them to freedom. It’s hard to imagine that they could ever forget their long season of captivity, or ever forget what God has done for them. But the God of Covenant, who has seen people forget again and again to give God first place in their lives, knows better. God wants to help them remember God’s promises, God’s fulfillment of promises made. 
Writer and philosopher George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” and his words were famously paraphrased by Winston Churchill, and most of us are familiar with the sentiment. Remembering isn’t just something we do because we enjoy reminiscing. Sometimes remembering can be a life-saving practice that keeps us from making the same devastating mistakes we did before. I think of the times that we have tried to step back from the brink as a society by remembering World War II, and how the persecution of Jews unfolded because so many were unwilling to speak up against injustice in hopes of protecting themselves. We’ve learned, although we often need reminding, that we can’t let hatred against some go unchecked just because we aren’t the targets of the hate. 
And I think about the just recently-passed anniversary of 9/11. Eighteen years have gone by since that September day that changed the world, and certainly changed our national identity. As with the aftermath of many wars and tragedies, we say, “Never forget.” And what is it we want folks to remember exactly? Of course, we want to remember those who died, whose lives ended so abruptly. We want to remember that extraordinary bravery and sacrificial action exhibited by so many first responders that day, and the service and bravery of so many “regular people” that day and in the season that followed. I also want people to remember the sense of unity we experienced as a nation grieving together. I want folks to remember how for a brief moment, churches were filled because people could do nothing in the midst of overwhelming fear but turn to God. I want people to remember how we struggled with stereotyping groups of people too, how we had to learn about Islam and how our fear could make us respond with anger and violence if we weren’t careful. And yet, though to some of us 9/11 doesn’t seem that long ago, already all of our children from zero to eighteen were born after 9/11 happened, every one of them. We live in a post 9/11 world, but a generation already doesn’t know what a pre 9/11 world was like. 
Remembering is important, isn’t it - remembering not just the stories we’ve lived through, but also the stories that have been shared with us about what unfolded before we were even born - the stories of our families, our people, our ancestors, our nation, the stories of our faith. Remembering is essential. And so, at the moment that the Israelites are on their way out of slavery, out of Egypt, out of their persecuted existance where Pharaoh has continued for so many years to harm and oppress and kill - just when they ware thinking the could never forget what they’ve been through, God helps the Israelites to remember by setting up some rituals to make sure they will remember. First, there’s a meal. The Israelites will share in this meal of unleavened bread: bread made in haste, bread made for people about to be on the run. They’ll keep eating this unleavened bread in a festival every year even when the have time to bake tastier bread. And they’ll tell their children, the ones who don’t even remember a pre-Exodus time, why they heat this bread. “It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came of Egypt.” And beyond that, God says, “I want every firstborn thing to be mine.” That’s a big ask, isn’t it? But one of the plagues against the Egyptians was the death of everything and everyone firstborn, and God doesn’t want people to forget the loss of life that took place in order for the Israelites to escape Egypt, even Egyptian life, still sacred. And so from then on, God asks that every first born be dedicated to God: animals through sacrifice, and humans through dedicating the lives of that child to God. God wants their first things to be given to God. It’s a reminder of God’s place in their lives: God first. God, who saved them, comes first, before anything else. Don’t forget. 
In the moment God gives these directions, the Israelites probably think God is crazy, because they cannot imagine that they will ever forget. But we know, reading through the book of Exodus, that they forget almost immediately! Almost immediately they start thinking that slavery can’t be as bad as they remembered, not compared ot how hard it is to follow God via Moses through the desolate wilderness. Almost immediately, freedom, which they longed for for generations, seems less important than the certainty of knowing what they will eat and drink next. 
Let me ask you: Do you remember everything that God has done for you? Or have you forgotten, sometimes, about the promises fulfilled, the covenants kept, the blessings poured out, the ways God has shown up in your life again and again? I know the answer, because we’re human. Sometimes, we forget. We forget even the most important things. God helps us remember, with sacred meals, with asking us to make signs with our most important stuff, our first and best, that God is our priority above all else. All God wants? To be our God. And all we need to do? Be God’s people. Choose God, and only God. And when we forget, God will help us remember. And when we remember, when we live as God’s people, when we put God first, we experience the true freedom that God so deeply desires for us. 
God wants to make a covenant with you today. Maybe you’re ready to say yes for the first time. Maybe you’re ready to renew, to make new what was broken. Either way, God, the creator of the universe, wants nothing more than to be in relationship with you. Are you ready? Will you let God be God, your first best thing? Will you be part of God’s people, and give God your heart? Say yes, and then get ready. God is leading you to freedom, to blessings, to life. Amen.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Sermon, "The Story, Part I: Creation," Genesis 1-2

Art by Alana Correa, 2017. 
Sermon 9/8/19
Genesis 1-2

The Story, Part I: Creation

Today, as we begin a new season together - back to our “regular” worship time and space, back to school, back to Sunday School, returning to some of the rhythms that drive our congregational life together, we’re starting a new sermon series that will be our focus for most of our fall. It’s called, “The Story” - and the story is the The Story, the story that unfolds in the scriptures, the story of God and God’s people. We’ll be looking at this story from Genesis to Revelation, beginning - at least the recorded beginning - to one writer’s vision of an end. Of course, since the Bible is thousands of pages long, and includes 66 books, we won’t get to stop at every plot point. But we’re going to see if we can draw out the major themes of the Bible. 
Our first stop on this journey through the text is right at the start, word one, page one, book one, chapter one, verse one. Today, we’re thinking about Creation. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…” One thing I often hear people say is, “I feel close (or closer) to God in nature.” I’ve probably even said something like this myself at one point or another. Sometimes when people are saying this, they’re trying to describe whether they’d rather go for a hike or hang out on the lake than attend a worship service, and I’ve got some opinions about that, of course, about what we miss out on when we miss out on the fellowship of being a community of faith, calling on and worshiping God together - but that’s for another sermon! What I’m interested in today is thinking about why it is that we feel that way. Why, when we head outdoors, when we gaze at the sunset, when we see the fall leaves, yes, even when we see the beauty of the first blaneting snow of the season - we feel something unwind in our spirits and we feel, indeed, like we’re not very far from God at all? 
Sometimes, I think our souls just long to get back outside, to eliminate, perhaps, one more wall that stands between us and God, or seems to, at least. I remember travelling to an event in Dallas in high school, and the event was at a hotel right near the airport. And there was a tram that departed from inside the airport and arrived inside the hotel. And the whole event was inside. And although others took a chance to go out in the evening, I only attended events that took place in the hotel. And then I got back on the tram and went back to the airport and flew back home. I was never outside. And by the end of that weekend, I felt boxed in, longing for the fresh air, the great outdoors. I think our souls long to be closer to a place where we remember that God created us. 
Sometimes, though, we forget too. We forget that we are the ones who are created, and we are not the Creator. We’re not in charge. As disappointing as it might be, we’re not in control of the universe!  Some years ago, I was walking at beautiful Green Lakes State Park near Syracuse, and I spotted two teenage girls sitting near the water, enjoying the view. As I passed by,  I heard one of them say to the other, with utter seriousness as she looked at the lake, “It looks just like a computer screen.” I remember going to see the Natural Stone Bridge and Caves while we were on family vacation in Lake George. I had found out about these caves doing a little research for our trip, and had convinced my mom and brother to go. It was taking a while to get there. A bit out of the way. My family was complaining a little bit about the drive, sure that this tourist site couldn’t be someplace so remote from all the main streets. And just then we started passing signs put up along the road that said, one word per sign: “Can’t move the caves closer to the road.” I think, though, that we’ve come to have this (often foolish) belief that we can control creation, and we’re surprised again and again when it is beyond us. We want nothing to keep us from the crazy rhythm of life we have established. And so we try box ourselves in and build up walls, literally and figuratively, between us and creation, sometimes preferring to view it from our window, or maybe even a computer screen. We’re surprised when wild animals crash into our wild-free world. Frustrated when we can’t keep our life at a consistent 70 degrees no matter what season it is. God knows – seriously, God knows that I am thankful for air conditioning and heat. Can we remember that we are the created, and not the creator?  
The Bible gives us two creation stories back to back. We spent some time chatting about them at Bible study this week, and I asked some questions that I think will help us with most every Biblical text we approach. Why is the author of this text telling us this stuff? What are they trying to tell us in the words we read? What was so important that they wanted us to know? And so if we look at Genesis 1 and 2, we can ask why does the Bible contain these creation stories? Why do we need this repeated first day, second day stuff in Genesis 1? Why do we need to know about Adam and Eve? 
Genesis 1 and 2 aren’t trying to give us a scientific account of creation. If we try to use these passages like that, we’ll end up making strange conclusions about how the earth works that put us at odds with what we learned in science class pretty quickly. But the Bible isn’t trying to teach us about matter and mass and evolution and biology and chemistry. Remember, it’s a story of God and God’s people. The Bible is virtually always trying to teach us about who God is, and who we’re supposed to be in response to who God is. And so in Genesis 1, which reads almost like a poem of creation, we find out about God that God was around before anything was, that God is the creator, that God speaks and stuff happens in response, that God rests, and that God created everything that is including us, and that God thinks that everything God created is very good. In Genesis 2, we find out that God sometimes sets limits and gives direction, and says, “do this, but don’t do that - that’s off limits.” We find out that God shares the work with us - God puts us in charge of some things instead of God controlling everything. We find out that God creates us by breathing God’s breath, God’s spirit into us. And what do we learn about ourselves in these stories? About who we, God’s people are? I think we learn two of the most important lessons in scripture right here in chapter 1: We are created - all of us, every single one of us, in the very image of God. The pattern, the template for our design is the Creator of the Universe. Wow. That’s a pretty awesome being to be patterned after. And we learn that God sees us and thinks “good.” At our core, intrinsically, woven into our existence is the fact that we - you and me and every single person - what we are as God’s creations is good. We’re not “bad” by default. And we’re not even just “neutral,” blank slates that can go either way. What we are, intrinsically, is good. We are created in God’s image, we have sacred worth, and God thinks we are very good. In Genesis 2, we learn that we’re meant to be stewards of everything. God puts us in charge of the rest of creation. We’re supposed to take care of everything else that’s here. Are we doing a good job of that? And we find out that we’re created to be in relationship with each other. We touched on that briefly when we talked about loneliness this summer. God names a lot of things “good” in creation - but under “not good” is that we would be alone in our existence. We’re meant to build relationships with others. 
I’ve been reading a book by Nadia Bolz-Weber called Shameless, and she frames her writing about Christianity and sexuality using the creation stories, and I really love her retelling of these texts, and I want to share the first one with you. Here’s her take on Genesis 1: 
In our beginning, God was maybe bored and a little lonely, so God created a terrifyingly vast universe, which included the earth. The earth, our speck of life, was just a void, and this great nothingness was super dark. Before creation, all there was was God, so in order to bring the world into being, God had to kind of scoot over. To bring the world into being, God chose to take up less space - you know, to make room. 
So before God spoke the world into being, God scooted over. God wanted to share. Like the kind-faced woman on the subway who takes her handbag onto her lap so that there’s room for you to sit next to her. She didn’t have to do it, but that’s just who she is; the kind-faced subway lady’s nature is that she makes room for others. 
And the kind-faced subway lady could have made this universe in any manner she chose - she could have brought the universe into existence fully formed - but she’s a gardener by nature, so she grew it from seeds knowing it was going to be a process. And the first seeds came in the form of four words from the mouth of God. 
Let there be light. 
God’s words do what they say. So, from the bread of God, the world came into being. Bang! Oceans, land, heaven, sun, moon, stars, plants, and things called sea monsters. 
It all took some time. It was a process, and a strangely collaborative one at that. Rather than God doing everything, God shared the work with creation. Calling the earth to bring forth vegetation and the seas to bring forth sea monsters. God was obsessed with the idea of seeds, and made a self-sustaining system in inside of the life God was creating. Like Russian nesting dolls of life. Inside of life makes more life. 
Then God has an absolute explosion of creativity and made animals. Amoebas. Chickens. Crickets. Orangutans. And God blessed them by saying, “Be fruitful and multiply…” 
Then God said, “Let us create humans in our own image and likeness.” 
Wait … who exactly is God talking to? Was God talking to all the animals? Was God talking to Jesus and the Holy Spirit? Was God talking to God’s self in the first-person plural? Hard to say. 
God the community, God the family, God the friend group, God the opposite of isolation, said, “Let’s do this together. Let’s create humanity in our image and likeness. Let there be us and them in one being. (29-30)

I really like this picture of God making room for us, scooting over with love to make room for us in the universe. Why did God create us or anything? It will always bit something of a mystery to us, but I think that a Creator probably has to create, and if God is Love, then God has to have a direction for that love to go, and we, each of us, are blessed recipients of that creative power and loving grace. And even better, God invites us to be part of the very work of God. We’re called to participate in creation by caring for all that God has given us - animals, plants, and land - and we’re called to participate in God’s love by loving each other - God gives us into the care of each other too. 
So, this week, I want you to think about how you sometimes feel closer to God out in nature, but I want you to go beyond that. I want you to think about how you can tear down some of the walls that we build up between us and God, and revel in the gift of God’s creation. We’re caretakers of the earth. How will you go out of your way to embrace that responsibility this week? How will you actively treasure the gift of the earth and all that’s in it? God looks at us and calls us good, and we’re meant to see each other with God’s eyes. It is God’s breath that gives life to you and the person next to you and the people that drive you a little crazy. How will you cultivate relationships this week, even challenging relationships, in celebration of the fact that God has created us and called us good? You are made in God’s image. Woven into the fabric of your being is the pattern of the divine. When you look in the mirror this week, when you talk to yourself about what you see there, when you think about how you feel about yourself and who you are, how will you remember that you are created in God’s image? How will you help other people who aren’t seeing themselves so clearly remember that they are reflections of the Creator?   

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and all that was in it. And God created you, and you, and you, and me. And God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good. Amen.  

Sermon, "In Denial," Mark 8:31-37

Sermon 2/20/24 Mark 8:31-37 In Denial My sermon title is both a reflection of our gospel text for today, and a reflection of how I felt abou...