Preacher: Jessie Houff Scripture: Exodus 20:1-17 and John 2:13-22
As I was preparing the worship earlier this week, I was looking for opening prayers. I found one that began with addressing God as, “Artist of Souls”. It was the one I opened our service with today. There are countless names for God that we’ve heard and used, but this is a new one to me. It brings such incredible imagery. Artist of Souls. We’re told God sculpted us from clay and rock, but I hadn’t thought about how he created our souls, specifically. There’s imagery of God “knitting us together in our mothers’ womb” and how God made each of us unique and perfect in God’s image. God is the artist of our souls. God made us with intention and God expects us to live as perfectly as we can as humans so we can be reunited with God in heaven.
Now I need to reflect on something else that I just mentioned. A word that Renada, my partner, hates when I use it. The word is, “Intentional”. I use this word a LOT, especially in my studies for community art. As an artist who has studied working with communities and groups of people, I have to be very intentional about what I do and WHY I do it. I also use this word a lot at home. In 2019 we bought a house in Arbutus and it’s needed a lot of love. We have been slowly working through redecorating and renovating all the different rooms. Sometimes when we hang art on the walls or implement an interior design method, I will say, “Yes, I like this painting here. It looks very Intentional”. Or, “Yes, the rug that we just put down looks like it was very intentionally placed”. It’s a word that I like to use because when something “clicks” in whatever design choices we make, they are intentionally done. We didn’t just throw something on the walls, we really thought about why we were putting it there. We’ve done a few accent walls and they were very thoroughly thought out. We thought about the process of the design choice, the things we needed to purchase in order to carry out the design, and making sure that we paid very close attention to detail – something that I’m not necessarily good at. So when we look at our finished creation, it looks like it was well thought out and – you guessed it – intentional.
God must have done the same thing when we were created. God thought of all the possibilities and made us with the intent that we would meet our maker after our time on earth had ended. Like an artist creating a piece whether it be a sculpture, a painting, jewelry, whatever, the artist has to think about how their creation is going to live its life. Jewelry makers have to think about usability and durability since their art is worn. Painters and 2-D artists have to think about how their painting is going to be hung – what hardware is needed so it can be displayed. There is so much that goes into creating something. But then once it’s created and potentially bought, it’s out in the world and the artist no longer has control. Creators have to trust that the piece will be well received in the world and that it was made well enough to withstand being moved around and handled. Sometimes art doesn’t turn out the way it was intended. I know I’ve made things that weren’t as sturdy as they should have been. I think about how I could have made it differently so that it would hold up better.
Now, I am not saying that artists and creators should be compared to GOD. Artists aren’t God just because they create things. There is a big difference. Sometimes we (and I’m talking about human artists and creators) make things carelessly and our pieces experience hardships. Maybe we didn’t use the correct paper or we ran out of eggs so we had to use a substitute to finish our cake instead of going to the store to get more eggs. But God doesn’t make mistakes. Any flaw that humans have is not really a flaw, it’s just been deemed as a flaw by society. Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman (who recited her poems at the 2021 Presidential Inauguration AND the Super Bowl) has a speech impediment. But is it really an impediment to pronounce words in a different way that the normal? Even our president, Joe Biden, has been made fun of and criticized for his speech impediment. Sometimes he stumbles over words and has to struggle for a brief moment before it comes out “correctly”. My best friend walks a little funny. She was once told by a young person that she walked like a penguin, and she very proudly identifies as walking like a penguin. People who first see her side-to-side slow walk and hear her dainty and quiet voice (due to illness as a prematurely born infant) may judge these things as flaws, but they just make her unique. They also may even be surprised to hear that she is most likely a lot smarter than they are given that she holds two master’s degrees and is one of the funniest people I have ever met. I’m certainly not saying that her physical disability has not come with painful hardships, rather it’s how society has received her and told her all along that she was “not normal”.
God creates us with intention. God created us with a hope that we will live good lives. That we’ll do good things, treat people kindly, make smart choices, and use the gifts we were given. We are in the season of lent. We read today the commandments God gave to us. I do find it interesting that the commandments are mostly things we should NOT do. The only one in there that tells us what we SHOULD do is to honor our parents. In Brethren Volunteer Service orientation, at least for the last several years, Dana Cassell led an activity where we had to think of the 11th commandment. Interestingly, nearly all of the answers were THOU SHALLs instead of a THOU SHALL NOT commandments. I suppose biblical context is important here…given God needed to write down commandments very dramatically in lightning because the people who God helped escape Egypt were not behaving. Perhaps God was like, “Ok, I think I need to literally write down the things that humans shouldn’t be doing…cuz I don’t think they get it”. Humans are sneaky. We find loop holes around things and say things like, “Well…it doesn’t say we CAN’T do this!” even though it may very well be implied. I know I sometimes live by the almighty philosophy of, “Ask for forgiveness, not permission”. Sneaky little humans.
While it is very important for us to have a sense of humor, we do need to keep in mind those Thou Shalt Nots. The bible is a very interesting book, to say the least. Especially in Jesus’ time he often answered questions with parables – stories that eluded to what we SHOULD do in a given situation. I think we as a human race sometimes focus too hard on those Thou Shalt Not commandments and get sidetracked. I think this is the root of why so many people feel negatively about “Christians” because if something is mentioned in the bible some Christians focus so hard on that and lose sight of what is actually important – which is that LOVE is the greatest commandment. Some may think that I have sinned greatly because I have a female partner. But I’m going to be very real with you all, I don’t really think God cares about that so much. I think God is more concerned with the fact that I use Jesus’ name in vain when I stub my toe or when I don’t offer help to the homeless person at an intersection when I’m driving. I think God is more concerned with the fact that I’m not working as hard as I should be for racial justice. I am an imperfect person. I have hurt people and I’ve done things I’m not proud of. All of us have imperfections. But it’s what we do with these imperfections that reveal our true selves. Our souls are good. God created them with the intention that we will use our time on this earth wisely. Let’s make our artist proud. Amen.