Are You Salty Enough to Overcome this Age of Darkness?

Preacher: Micah Bales

Scripture Readings: Numbers 11:4-6,10-16,24-29; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50

I never knew how attached I was to the United States of America until I saw it being destroyed.

I’ve always been critical of this and all empires. Every empire of this world stand under God’s judgment, and as the most powerful empire the world has ever known, the United States of America most certainly stands judged by God.

America has a lot of blood on its hands. The rulers of this land have done what empires always do. The United States is founded on exploitation, slavery, and genocide. It is a society built on patriarchy, racism, and economic injustice. Like all empires, the United States is a social and political order founded on fear and violence.

But that’s not all the United States of America is. This country is a continent. A society that contains multitudes – every kind of diversity you can imagine. It’s a nation of more than 300 million women, children, and men. People of all ages, ethnicities, national origins, and languages. America is our home. It’s where we live. Where we raise our children. Care for our neighbors. Worship our God.

For those of us gathered in this building this morning, America is where we are called to be the church – a community of disciples that reflects the character and will of God on earth. The life and struggles of this American empire is the context in which we are given the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. To share his love.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to be aliens and sojourners in this and every human empire. This world is not our home. We are to be a colony of heaven in the midst of an evil and violent age. This demands a certain degree of separation from the mindset and logic of empire.

Yet this call to separation and distinctiveness is not borne out of a sense of self-righteousness. Like every calling that comes from God, this one is rooted in deep love for the world. It is because God truly loves the people of the United States of America that we are called to come out of this empire, to be separate, to turn around and think and live differently.

As the people of God, we are called to be salt and light in the midst of this flavorless darkness. We are called to seek the good of the city and nation in which we have been placed by God. We are to be patterns and examples. A new society – the empire of heaven – being birthed in the midst of the old, dying ways of this world. Like Abraham, we are called to come out of all that is familiar and comfortable so that we can be a blessing. We are to be a blessing to the world, even when that world hates and slanders and abuses us.

There’s a lot of hatred, slander, and abuse these days. There always has been, of course – but now more than ever, it’s out in the open. It’s impossible to ignore any longer. All the ugly things about the American empire – the racism, the greed, the violence, the misogyny – it’s all gushing to the surface now. The veneer of order and civility – the norms and expectations that we once took for granted – are being swept away.

We live in the age of late capitalism, an age of growing barbarism. It’s an age that our grandparents or great-grandparents would have recognized from their youth in the 1930s. We live in an age of fear and twilight. The sun is setting on the social order that we knew, and all the night creatures are slithering out of their burrows.

We are living in times that demand a savior. These are days that preachers like me have been warning us about for generations. Days when our faith will be put to the test. Days when all the deeds of darkness will be brought out into the light. Days when we will have no alternative but to make a choice – clearly and definitively – between the empires of this world and the empire of our God.

These are days when people who seemed good and respectable will reveal themselves to be moral cowards, accomplices to evil, and violent tormenters. And then there will be others, some who we never paid much attention to before, who will be revealed as the fearless and loving children of God.

In days like these, we may be surprised by which group it is we ourselves fall into. These are days of testing for those of us who would be saints. These are days that call for patient endurance. We must wake up, and stay awake.

In these days, we should expect and welcome miracles. That which is hidden will at last be revealed.

The false church – the church of empire, the church of greed, misogyny, racism, and domination – is already revealed. This is the false prophet that we read about in the Book of Revelation. The fake religion that sells its soul for a seat at Empire’s table. We know all about this kind of religion – prosperity gospel and cheap grace that has bankrupted the church’s moral influence and put a stumbling block before millions who might otherwise turn to Jesus and be healed. Jesus says in our reading this morning that it would be better for false teachers like these to have a millstone hung around their neck and be thrown into the ocean.

But we know the darkness. I want to talk you this morning about miracles. Miracles of hope.

The greatest miracle of all will be the revealing of the true church of Jesus Christ in the midst of this empire.

It won’t be who most of us expect. This moral and spiritual revival won’t find its epicenter in echoing cathedrals or mega-church stadiums. It will come from the margins. It will come from those who have been crushed and humbled. It will come from those who have been abandoned and neglected by this empire, and by those who choose to turn away from our privilege and align ourselves with God’s poor.

It our gospel reading this morning, Jesus is clear with us that we don’t get to choose who God uses for his miracles. The Holy Spirit is wholly sovereign. She moves where she will. She chooses who she will. She breathes life into the body of Christ; all we can do is open our mouths and pray to receive this breath and new birth.

In these times of darkness and violence, we don’t get to choose who our friends are. There are no human rulers in the kingdom of God – only King Jesus and the spirit of love and wisdom that he sends us. This spirit is raising up a new generation of disciples. Young and old, male and female, poor – and yes, perhaps even rich. The Spirit of God is gathering a people to endure and bring light in these dark times. Will we be part of this people?

It is time for the disciples of Jesus to be revealed. It is time for the elders to prophesy in the camp. Whether or not you showed up for the meeting, you’ve been called. The Spirit will find you.

What God tells us in the dark, we must say it in the light. What you hear in whispers, proclaim it from the rooftops! In the words of the Amos, “The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy?”

It’s a time for prophecy – yes, indeed. But it’s not a time for grand-standing. It’s not a time for pious and exciting words that make us feel better about ourselves but which fail to heal the sick, bind up the wounded, and liberate the oppressed. It is time for us to become prophets of love – demonstrating in our own lives what the empire of heaven looks like – a world beyond domination, hatred, and fear.

To be this kind of prophet may mean that some of us will get quieter. I know I’ve been getting quieter. I’ve been saying less. Writing less. Making less of my own thoughts and seeking to open myself more to God’s thoughts. In times like these, maybe talkers like me need to focus on speaking less and loving more. Practical deeds of mercy and justice.

That’s what we get out of our reading from James this morning: A vision of the church as a place of healing, reconciliation, and transformation.

Are any among us suffering? We should pray. Are we cheerful? We should sing songs of praise. Are some sick? Let the elders of the church anoint them with oil so that we may be healed. Confess your sins to one another. Pray for one another. God will bring healing.

The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Are we becoming people of prayer? Are we willing to slow down, to take time for all the people and situations that call for prayer? As this dying society moves faster and faster, are we choosing to live in God’s eternal now?

The miraculous church of Jesus Christ is marked by the acts of care and accountability that James talks about. Now, more than ever, we must have the courage to watch over one another. Because many of us are wandering from the truth. Many of us are losing our relationship with Jesus and his spirit as we are sucked into the vortex of the news cycle. Many of us need a friend’s hand on our shoulder, calling us back. That’s what the church of Jesus looks like according to James.

The church of James, the church of Jesus, the empire of God is a place of healing and reconciliation. It is a community where real courage and sacrifice become possible precisely because we know that we can count on the friends of God to act like friends to one another.

In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus tells us in the most graphic terms possible that we will have to give up everything to follow him. If your eye is causing you to lose sight of what is real, tear it out. If your hand or foot is causing you to side with the empire of this world rather than the empire of God, cut it off! Better to enter into the empire of God blind or lame than to stick around and go down with this sinking ship!

This sounds impossible to the ears of those who do not know the true church of Jesus Christ. Without the fellowship of disciples that James describes, who in their right mind would follow a man who tells us to chop off hands, eyes, and feet?

But the church of Jesus is a place of healing and reconciliation. It’s a place where wounds are bound up and made whole. It’s a place where we don’t have to be afraid to be blind or lame – because ours is a God who makes the wounded whole and restores sight to the blind. The empire of God is a community where real healing is possible, where the supposed “wholeness” that is offered to us by this world looks like a cruel joke.

As friends of Jesus, we die to be resurrected. We are defeated, only to discover that death is swallowed up in victory.

Hear this:

Be not afraid.

Remember this:

It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the empire. He has promised us everything! No matter what it may cost us, God is faithful, and his way is worth it.

Only, have salt within yourselves and be at peace with one another.

Sow Thusly

Preacher: Nathan Hosler

Scripture Readings: Psalm 1, James 3:13-4:10

“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”

My dad is also a pastor. He is a pastor like we are pastors at Washington City—that is, he works another job that pays him not primarily in heavenly rewards, but in earthly rewards—the kind that can pay the electric bill or are accepted at the grocery store in exchange for food and other provisions. In addition to being a “free minister,” he is a carpenter. From early on I would work with him, both at home and on the job site. Since he is rather small, and I grew rather quickly, I was taller than him by about age 13. Now carpentry is both highly skilled and very precise but also quite physically demanding. When certain physically demanding “opportunities” arose, my dad had a line with a little smile (perhaps a chuckle?). He would say, “It’ll be a good experience.” Hoisting old steel scaffolding up to a second level—that is be good experience. Unloading this or loading that—a good experience. This is essentially how James begins this letter.

“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Testing which produces endurance is the spiritual equivalent to my dad’s so-called good experiences.

Unlike some books of the Bible there isn’t much known about the context of James. Most is conjecture based on hints in the text. For example, the naming of “James” could be referring back to a James and written in the tradition of this James or could written to one of the 6 James’ mentioned in the Bible or even an unmentioned James. Because of the content of the letter and prominence of the person, James the brother of Jesus seems reasonable. However, scholars who focus on this sort of thing don’t agree. Also, there are some reasons why this might not match up literally. What seems like a good possibility is that a later writer took the sayings and sermons of this James the brother of Jesus and composed them into the writing we have. This would allow for the thematic focus of this James but take into account other characteristics (Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments, 548). This would also fit well with the suggestion is that this book is a “paraenesis, a genre of ancient moral literature characterized by various collections of moral sayings and essays, loosely held together by common themes and linking catchwords but without literary rhyme, theological reason or specific social location…with the primary exhortation to live a virtuous life”(DLNTD, 551). A later writer may have gathered the sayings and sermons of James.

In this task of determining the context, the most obvious may be the constructing a general picture of the community to whom the situation addressed. When the text begins with the exhortation to joy in the face of trials we begin to imagine the context. A context in which the first thing in mind is an exhortation towards the benefits gained through suffering.

Themes that emerge are not pandering to the wealthy and having faith matched by good works. At the beginning of chapter 3 we read “not many of you should become teachers.” James then goes on to say that it is nearly impossible to “tame your tongue.” In this context the orators were highly esteemed. As with esteemed skills or professions, many people want to be like them. What we see and see lauded easily becomes what we want to be. Our habits of imagination and desire are shaped through this contact.

In this context, one in which wisdom is demonstrated through rhetoric, James warns of the risk to the one who speaks. Driving home from the annual Dunker Church Service on Antietam Battle Field, Monica and I discussed her hesitancy to preach. She noted not being an authority enough to stand up and speak with the authority of a preacher. Words are difficult and dangerous–Especially when they aim to showoff our wisdom.

While James doesn’t say that nobody should stand up and teach, he does warn of the gravity of this task. Additionally, he states that demonstrated wisdom through acts done in gentleness show wisdom. He writes, “Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.”

The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.
The Bible in the pew, New Revised Standard Version, reads “And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.” In my Bible the “for” has a footnote stating that this can be “by.” Which is much different. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for by those who make peace.
The New International Version seems a little clearer. “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”

Those who sow seeds or even plant seedlings will tell you that it feels like a bit of a gamble. One places a dead looking roundish bit of a former plant into the ground and wait for the green shoot. Even once the shoot breaks the surface of the ground any number of things, mysterious or obvious, may bring an end to the plant—and at any point in its life. Plucking it from the ground because it was mistaken for a weed—obvious. Or like our tomatoes this year—a lot of green plant but almost no actual fruit, for no clear reason.

Though it may feel like a gamble it is actually not that. A gamble is chance. Planting takes skill knowledge, patience, good observation—in short, one can become better at growing plants. It still is not fully controlled or predictable, but it isn’t just luck. Seeds of squash, as well as seeds of peace, are sown with both skill and hope.

Sow thusly and you will raise such and such a harvest. Sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. Sowing thusly is a demonstration of the “wisdom from above” which is “is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” This is how we are to so.

All this leads to a harvest of righteousness—which sounds good. If I were to say to Ayuba, “when you grow up we hope you work for righteousness”—what would you imagine this including? Likely something more personal—perhaps a piety plus self-control plus honesty. And if your thoughts turn public it would be something—more like not being a con artist or drug dealer.

Now I typically don’t reference the Greek in a sermon. This is largely because my Greek isn’t all that good but also because reading a definition of a word without the language skill to assess the nuance of translation is of questionable value. Just because a word could mean a wide range of things, doesn’t mean that the author intended everyone one of these in every instance of use. Just because Ayuba thinks his papa told a corny joke doesn’t mean both that the joke was goofy and had something to do with the vegetable eaten from a cob.

However, the word translated as righteousness can also be translated as justice.
Whereas one translation reads: “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness,” commentators Craddock and Boring translate—“And the fruit of justice is sown in peace among those who make peace” (The People’s Commentary, 719).

For most of us, the word justice brings up a much different vision than the word righteousness. Monica and I and other denominational colleagues have had extensive discussions about whether her new position within the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy should be framed as racial justice or righteousness. This discussion in part comes back to this question of translation in the New Testament but also about what each implies in our present English about personal morality or discipleship and affecting change in the systems, powers, and principalities of racism that are so deeply embedded in our society and church.

Rev. Aundreia Alexander, of the National Council of Churches, preaching at the International Day of Prayer for Peace service we held here on Friday, “Justice comes from the disruption of false peace” Justice may unsettle, but it makes right. Without this disruption, justice is not possible.

Anabaptists, of which Church of the Brethren is a part, have historically focused on this separateness from “the world.” This separateness was from their observing the way that the “the world” operated—which was often simply other Christians who they felt weren’t taking their faith seriously—but also passages like this, Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
Brethren called this “non-conformity.” This is what Jared McKenna, at National Youth Conference, was referencing when he coined the term “dunkerpunk.” We have a tradition of non-conformity—of being a “peculiar people.”

Though this can easily become legalistic or self-righteous (Jerry why do you have a fashionable mustache?) but what it aims at is justice and righteousness. A following Jesus such that our lives push against the norms and values that prevail. Systems of racism, militarism, and materialism as Rev Dr Martin Luther King reminds us.

Sow thusly, sow with gentleness, in peace, resist the devil, purify your hearts. Sow thusly with hope and skill, awaiting the harvest of righteousness and justice.

Be Wise(ish)

Preacher: Nathan Hosler

Scripture Readings: Proverbs 9:1-6, Ephesians 5:15-20, John 6:51-58

The stories we tell are usually more action/adventure than “wisdom.” Christian Peacemaker Team’s Art Gish, with bushy white brethren beard and red CPT hat standing arms wide in front a tank in an attempt stop the destruction of a vegetable market in the city of Hebron, West Bank, Palestine. The radical witness of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Workers who have houses of hospitality and live communally. Dietrich Bonhoeffer a resisting pastor killed by Nazis. Brethren Volunteer Service. Seagoing cowboys. Jacob quitting his job and moving to DC after I gave him a surprise call one afternoon 4 years ago. We tell these because they embody deep commitment and courageous steps to follow the way of Jesus.

These have their own Spirit leading, reasoning, purpose, and call but—they hardly fit the conventional picture of wisdom. As part of a graduation gift this spring, my parents gave me a cute little stone owl lawn ornament. As my mother gave it to me she commented on wisdom…connecting completing studies with increase of wisdom. My immediate response was that I’m not sure that doing the program was wise. She asked if I wished I hadn’t done it and I said…well, that’s not really the case. While I’m not sure that it was wise in terms of impact on our family, church work, stress level, and general well-being I felt- and still feel—that it was what I should have done to faithfully follow God’s call to working for a church that is better equipped for Jesus’ way of peacemaking. Wisdom is a tricky notion. For the Apostle Paul, Christ crucified is the wisdom of God. The wisdom of God unsettles.

Writing on the Gospels, a scholar notes the wide view of wisdom in the Bible., “Wisdom can mean simply the practical skills and qualities which humans can acquire in order to live successfully, or wisdom can refer to God’s knowledge and creative power which transcend human scrutiny. (F.W. Burnett, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 874).

The Bible includes Wisdom Literature: Proverbs, some Psalms, Ecclesiastes and other examples sprinkled throughout. In our Proverbs passage, Wisdom is personified as a woman inviting us to learn.

Wisdom has built her house,
   she has hewn her seven pillars…
4 “You that are simple, turn in here!”
   To those without sense she says,
5 “Come, eat of my bread
   and drink of the wine I have mixed.
6 Lay aside immaturity, and live,
   and walk in the way of insight.”

Later on, we read
A wise child makes a glad father,
   but a foolish child is a mother’s grief.
2 Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit,
   but righteousness delivers from death.
3 The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry,
   but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.
4 A slack hand causes poverty,
   but the hand of the diligent makes rich.

These are generally true, but we can all think of ways that these wouldn’t play out. For example—A wise child makes the father glad—unless the father is evil and wants the child to do something dangerous or nefarious.

Or—the Lord does not let the righteous go hungry—except there are many cases where righteous people go hungry, in fact, there are probably righteous people every place of widespread hunger —one very immediate example is the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria or say Venezuela or Haiti or…

These do not prove that the scriptures are wrong. The style and intent are different. However, it still is the case that “wisdom” is not a category or framing that I am quick to overtly reference. But this may also be because there are many points in the Bible that appear to directly counter conventional wisdom. For example, 1 Corinthians upends and drastically reworks conventional wisdom, Paul writes—almost taunts,

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (1:20)
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. (1:21)

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,”  (3:19)

Additionally, many of Jesus’ teachings feel distinctly not wise—or at least not the level-headed and pragmatic we associate with wisdom.

Jesus said–

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.

Jesus said –“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23

Jesus said—”Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Luke 18:22

Wisdom would seem to say, live carefully. Jesus seems to say, live with abandon. Not abandon for self-pleasure and fulfillment or apathy but abandon in the power and the leading of the Spirit. The life Jesus calls us to is not of calculating self-preservation. Not calculating self-interest of nationalism or our own group’s domination.

The Ephesians passage begins to link wisdom with the radical way of Christ through the Spirit.
Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Do not live as unwise but as wise. The time is short, the day is evil. The situation is extreme so there can be no wasting time. Consume Christ. Be filled with the Spirit. Live in gratitude to God.
Be wise—(ish)….or rather be wise in a peculiar way. Be wise in the way that God calls us to be wise. For this wisdom of surpasses.

Let’s return for a moment to my earlier examples of the action or adventure stories we tell. We tell them because they radically embody the calling of Jesus. They are not, however, “heroes,”—courageous perhaps. They are part of communities that, together, follow the Spirit’s leading. Art Gish, for example, was part of the Church of the Brethren. A community that has gathered together to read the scriptures and prayerful follow the Spirit’s leading in both mundane and surprising ways. Art was part of Christian Peacemaker Teams ( http://www.cpt.org ). CPT is an organization that has been building relationships in communities around the world for years. CPT has an organizational structure and support from people around the world.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was formed by his time with Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem from within the rich spiritual life of the African American church in the US which has lived courageously and creatively in the face of deep injustice. (Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance http://www.baylorpress.com/Book/16/398/Bonhoeffer’s_Black_Jesus.html )

Do not live as unwise but as wise. The time is short, the day is evil. The situation is extreme so there can be no wasting time. Consume Christ. Be filled with the Spirit. Live in gratitude to God.

THE ALLEGED WISDOM OF THE CROSS

Nathan Hosler — Preacher

Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2: 13-22

The 10 commandments—seems straight forward enough—a list of things to do or not do. Written in stone. Delivered by a notable God/Moses team.

Psalm 19 seems less straight forward, but still comprehendible.

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. –“firmament?” a little less clear not a word I use most days…but in general I’d give that a pretty high rating on clarity. Even if the particular message proclaimed by the heavens may get occasionally muddled, say, through shifting clouds—oh! Now I see a T-rex… Still the basic notion that God—who is a creating and sustaining God—can be seen in our surroundings makes sense. Seeing the sun rise provokes a sense of awe, pulling up to the 5a bus stop from Dulles airport and seeing Jenn waiting after a long and harrowing journey, feeling a tiny human move in the belly for the first time. In these, it is not a stretch to imagine that we see hints of God’s presence in the world.

A good God meets us in beauty and joy. In the Gospel of John, Jesus’s first miracle is to sustain the joy of a wedding party in Cana of Galilee. Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, in The Brothers Karamazov describes, the young man Alyosha, as he prayers in despair at the death of his mentor Father Zosima, drifting in and out of sleep hearing the Gospel account of Jesus’ miracle of turning the water to wine at a wedding feast, responds, “Ah, that miracle! Ah, that sweet miracle! It was not men’s grief but their joy that Christ visited, He worked His first miracle to help men’s gladness…’He who loves men loves their gladness, too.’…He was always repeating that, it was one of his leading ideas….’There’s no living without joy,” (Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, 338). The heavens and all of creation are telling of the glory of God.

Immediately after the continuation of the joy in Cana, Jesus acts for justice. Jesus cleans out the Temple. He drives out those misusing the worship space—this seems straight forward. Jesus obviously didn’t like what was happening and did something definitive. Action oriented, decisive ethical judgements on injustice, clearly communicated. Paired with the first miracle of Cana and at the beginning of the Gospel of John this sets the stage for Jesus’ ministry. In the other three Gospels it is culmination and a building of tension before the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. [It is also thought to be a symbolic act of destruction. (W.R. Herzog II, “Temple Cleansing,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 820).

The cross, however, the cross… The cross, which also would seem to be the message, Paul seems to assert that the cross is only be comprehensible if one is already being saved. The enlightenment of the cross only makes sense once you’ve reached understanding which shows that the cross is not foolishness but the power and wisdom of God. In Corinth, the orators, the masters of rhetoric were stars.

[One commentator writes, “The world of Paul’s day was deeply enamored with public oratory by virtuoso rhetors known as sophists. Because Christianity placed such emphasis on public preaching, its preachers would inevitably be judged by sophisticated audiences according to the cannons of rhetoric.” This performance was one both of word-skill as well as presentation. (B.W. Winter, “Rhetoric,” Dictionary of Paul and his Letters, 820-821). Those who spoke eloquently gathered followers through the logic and beauty of their words (Hays, First Corinthians). Paul, though likely having some such training and demonstrating this skill in his writing—Paul preached without fuss. Paul preaches the foolishness of the humiliating cross.

1:18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

 

The 10 commandments cut into stone. Creation pointing towards God. Jesus acting against injustice—seemingly pretty straight forward. The cross—less straight forward. May even be intentionally counter how we expect this to go. God is powerful. We expect God to act powerful—God-like even. Much philosophical reflection on the nature of God through the centuries has focused one the stark difference between finite humans and a powerful, the infinite, the other other—God. In the cross our expectations are turned upside-down.

In the cross our expectations are turned upside-down.

However, at this point, since the cross has now been now used for hundreds of years as a symbol and ornament it may feel clear. Because of this commonality, even when used well it likely has lost its shock. Not only has it likely lost some of the surprise through proliferation, but it has often been used in blatantly bland ways but also in blatantly offensive and abusive ways—with marauding Crusaders or in the burning cross of the Klan, for example. (For bland and offensive at once there is the use the crusader as a mascot for Christian schools)

If the wisdom of the cross is less clear, how do we get clarity? By staring at it intently awaiting enlightenment? By figuring it out? By describing it eloquently?

Black Liberation theologian James Cone notes that for Jews of the time crucifixion held a place of particular horror, he writes, “Thus, St. Paul said that the ‘word of the cross is foolishness’ to the intellect and a stumbling block to established religion. The cross is a paradoxical religious symbol because it inverts the world’s value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be the first and the first the last…That God could ‘make a way out of no way’ in Jesus’ cross was truly absurd to the intellect, yet profoundly real in the souls of black folk. Enslaved blacks who first heard the gospel message seized on the power of the cross.” (Cone, 2).

Cone writes, “The cross and the lynching tree are separated by nearly 2,000 years. One is the universal symbol of Christian faith; the other is the quintessential symbol of black oppression in America. Though both are symbols of death, one represents a message of hope and salvation, while the other signifies the negation of the message by white supremacy. Despite the obvious similarities between Jesus’ death on a cross and the death of thousands of black men and women strung up to die on a lamppost or a tree, relatively few people, apart from black poets, novelists, and other reality-seeing artists, have explored the symbolic connections.” (Cone, Cross and the Lynching Tree, xiii).

That one community was seized by the cross as an understandable and strikingly similar lived experience, does not necessarily make that understanding either correct or relevant for other groups with a different set of experiences. However, given the way in which this passage overturns the assumptions of the “wise” and the “religious” folks who lack identification in the cross, we, if we are in that group, should be alarmed. Growing up in Sunday School or the Church might not get you there. A seminary degree might not get you there. Flannel graph might not get you there. 1:19-21 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.”

It sounds like we may not get it—we may not get the wisdom of God. For the wisdom and power of God are shown in the cross. Without the cross we lack all that we need. Returning to Cone, for those of us who allegedly can detach from the suffering of the cross we ought to be alarmed that we may miss God. We are at risk.

The wisdom of the suffering of and power of the cross becomes clearer in taking up the cross and following Christ. Taking of the cross and beginning to learn from and even join those who suffer. Cone continues, asking why white theologians have almost wholly missed the connections between the cross and the lynching tree. More specifically he focuses on theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, perhaps the most influential theologian and ethicist of the 20th century, who focused on the cross, wrote about race, and lived in close proximity to large African American communities—pastoring in Detroit during the Great Migration and working next to Harlem, a center of black cultural life. Cone asserts that though Niebuhr wrote about racial injustice he never fully felt it (41). He showed little interest in actually getting to know black folks. He writes, “It has always been difficult for white people to empathize with the experience of black people. But it has never been impossible.”(Cone, 41). This beginning to understand, is not simply understanding a social analysis of an “issue” but digs deeper into even understanding God. Understanding the very nature of the way that God has worked and how we participate is at stake.

The Jews, having lived under the oppression of both military occupation and forced exile understandably expected and hoped for the Messiah to come with political force and set up a righteous kingdom where they were in power. The Greeks wanted elegant and beautiful rhetoric to convince them. However, as Cone writes, the cross inverts the expectations and values. The cross is not only not this but would seem to be the opposite—foolish and weak.

“but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Jesus invited his disciples to “take up their cross” and follow him, Christ calls us to be present with him in being with those who suffer.

God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength (v.25).

THE CALL TO WISDOM

Proverbs 8:1-4 & 22-31, Romans 5:1-5

Sara White

Last week we celebrated Pentecost, the descending of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and the birth of the Church. Emmett Eldred, a good friend of mine and a fellow member of the Church of the Brethren, described the events of Pentecost as “a room full of people with their hair on fire. And the observers watch with doubt, confusion, and concern.” Emmett uses this image to remind the church today of its call to stand apart from the world, putting God’s calls for relationship and community over social norms of cultural division, even when living in this way is met with confusion from those around us.

It is written that the Apostles “were cut to the heart” by the call of the Holy Spirit. Although the church today may not have directly experienced the call of Pentecost and may struggle to identify with the idea of calling as a violent gush of wind or tongues of fire, we too have made a commitment to discipleship. Thus we join the Apostles as following this event they ask “Brothers, what should we do?” (Acts 2:37). Well friends, what should we do? How do we, as the Apostles, turn the fiery covenant of Pentecost into a daily commitment?

The scripture today depicts Wisdom, as present at creation and as calling out to all people. When first reading that, I found the idea of Wisdom somewhat daunting. Wisdom seems like an un-human possibility, or at least one that is so distant from myself so as to be irrelevant. Just like the call of the Holy Spirit, the call of Wisdom still leaves me asking, “Sisters, what should we do?”

I want you to picture Wisdom in your mind for a second. What do see? When I first read today’s scripture passages and began to think about Wisdom I was picturing wise individuals secluded from society, perhaps on a high mountain, whom one might take a mighty spiritual pilgrimage to go visit. Yet, this image of Wisdom relates as little to the Wisdom of this scripture which calls out to all people and actively shapes the world as it does to the realities of my daily life. That left me wondering, what does this biblical Wisdom look like?

In order to begin to answer this question I want to tell you a little bit about two incredible women who I have the privilege of knowing. Growing up in my Church, all of the interested middle school and high school students were matched with mentors who tended to be older members of the congregation or others who had a bit of time to set aside to getting to know us slightly unruly group of teenagers. I was very excited to find out that I had been matched with Harriet Kaylor who often sat behind my family in church and whom I had curiously admired from afar ever since she had talked in Sunday School one day about her time growing up in Nigeria. For the next few years Harriet and I would get together and whip up the most delightful cookies and then she quickly beat me in a game or two of pool. Sometimes we would take off around town with a GPS in search of the latest geocache. When I got to high school I decided to switch to a different mentor so that I could get to know another person. This time I was placed with Becky Mitchell. Becky was always introducing me to new things, taking me to gymnastics matches and spending days walking me all around New York City to make sure that we saw everything from the meat packing district, to the M&M store, to the highline. In her retirement she had started taking Spanish classes at the local college and made sure that I got a chance to meet the visiting language professors and practice my own Spanish. One time we even went zip lining although I don’t believe that that is an experience that she would be too eager to repeat.

When I think about my time with Harriet Kaylor and Becky Mitchell I think of stories of companionship between generations, of trying new things, and being a little goofy. My memories are very grounded in the world around us, that which we touched, heard, saw, smelled, and tasted. We were exploring the world together. Although there were many subjects that they knew far more about and years of education which I have not yet had, we were learning together. Although there were multiple generations between us, we were living together. So how does our living relate to Wisdom?

Eugene Peterson writes in the introduction to the Book of Proverbs in the Message Bible that, “Wisdom is the art of living skillfully in whatever actual conditions we find ourselves. It has virtually nothing to do with information as such, with knowledge as such. A college degree is no certification of wisdom—nor is it primarily concerned with keeping us out of moral mud puddles, although it does have a profound moral effect upon us.”

He writes, “Wisdom has to do with becoming skillful in honoring our parents and raising our children, handling our money and conducting our sexual lives, going to work and exercising leadership, using words well and treating friends kindly, eating and drinking healthily, cultivating emotions within ourselves and attitudes towards others that make for peace. Threaded through all these items is the insistence that the way we think of and respond to God is the most practical thing we do. In matters of everyday practicality, nothing, absolutely nothing, takes precedence over God.”

In today’s scripture Wisdom cries out, “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.” Every day each one of us is making choices that have profound effects upon not only ourselves but all of those around us and the earth itself. We all have the power to affect. You all know the saying, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” I would say, with our power comes the absolute need for wisdom. We reach for this wisdom when we seek to respond to God in our daily actions. When while realizing that we can’t know what is right, that we do the best we can and work to be better. This is what some describe as faith: choosing to act even with the appreciation of our own incomplete Wisdom.

Wisdom is described as accompanying God during creation “when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker.” Yet, in looking at other translations of this scripture I found that master worker can also be translated as little child. This new image of Wisdom is not one of an omniscience judging eye, but instead that of a little kid.

Perhaps, we too are like the small child. We have great creative power and are continually called to co-create this earth with God. Yet, we cannot forget that like a small child we must always seek to learn more about the world and about God. We must ask questions.

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in his book, Between the World and Me, “I don’t know that I have ever found any satisfactory answers of my own. But every time I ask it, the question is refined. That is the best of what the old talking heads meant when they spoke of being politically conscious…As much a series of actions as state of being, a constant questioning, questioning as ritual, questioning as exploration rather than the search for certainty.” Perhaps, Wisdom too is found in a process of questioning: questioning the conventional “wisdom” of the world around us in search of God’s wisdom, questioning how we live our daily lives in search of a Christ-like walk, and questioning the path of our communities of faith in search of a community fueled by the Spirit. Wisdom may then become the search for a way of life, what we should do day-to-day.

Until a couple of days ago, when a classmate and I were discussing our respective religious traditions, it hadn’t struck me how central this idea of an open, active, and learning Wisdom is to the core being of the Church of the Brethren. “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.” We affirm the idea of a community of believers and celebrate each individual as a revealer of God’s will for humanity. Wisdom cries out to all people. We walk together in the same direction although on many different faith paths. All see Wisdom in their questions. We live daily in the best ways that we are learning how. All are like children before God.

So again we ask, what should we do?

Let us have the courage to ask difficult questions, struggle with those posed to us, and have the faith to act as best we can in the footsteps of Jesus. Amen.

REFLECTIONS ON PARIS

Matthew 23:23-36

Jesse Winter

When I was asked to preach today, Nate wanted me to talk about mass incarceration. Criminal justice reform is a major focus of my work in the Office of Public Witness, and over the past few months I have learned how complex that issue is. It involves everything from politics, money, and race to power, privilege, and fear. But even though this issue is important and needs to be discussed, as I read through my sermon last night, my words felt hollow. Given the recent events in Paris, I felt called to table that discussion for another day to talk about the equally complex and important issue of religious violence around the world. With Paris weighing on the hearts of people everywhere, this conversation is necessary and prudent – even if it means rewriting a sermon late into the night.

The support for those suffering in Paris on the news and in social media has been tremendous. At least so far, the outpouring of love and support has overshadowed any bigotry and fear mongering, of which I have seen very little. This response is heartening. The human spirit comes to fruition in community, and the people of the world – even those with their noses stuck in an iPhone – have banded together to kindle the fires of hope and comfort. I was shocked on Friday when I watched the news, hearing about shootings and hostage situations turning into mass killings. Eventually had to go away and distract myself. Technology has made this conflict real for us.

But as we mourn those in Paris with the rest of the world, we have to remember that such events are just a small part of a global equation that includes all those issues – politics, money, race, class, power, and fear. Paris is just a part of a bigger issue. The rise of religious violence around the world is fast becoming the hallmark of the 21st century.

I went to a talk at the Brookings Institution earlier this week that could not be timelier. Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, philosopher, scholar, and recipient of over 16 honorary degrees, spoke about the his new book, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence. Sacks argues that the secularization of western culture has created a West that lacks the mindset and language necessary to tackle an increasingly radically religious world. He argues that the growth of radical groups like the Islamic State is more than just a response to Western decadence. It is a battle of ideas that goes to the core of the three Abrahamic faiths: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Like Cain and Abel, the three faiths are locked in a sibling rivalry for the favor of their Abrahamic Parent, a fight that we all know ends in death. Religious radicalization and subsequent religious violence is about identity. The three faiths share many similarities, but they each are distinct, and it is that unique identity which can lead to zealotry and violence. The harder you hold on to an egg, the more likely you will have a mess.

This picture may be correct, but even more important is Sacks’ proposed response to this picture. While preserving identity is important, – crucial, in fact – religious, social, and cultural identities cannot overshadow a fundamental human identity. We are all children of God. On that scale, other differences are superficial. Our disproportional attention to Paris, if we are honest, comes out of our shared identities as wealthy, majority white, western nations. Our response, however, needs foresight and breadth that allows us to see the strings that tie those in Paris, to those in Syria, to those in Nigeria, to those in China, Romania, Nicaragua, Russia, Texas, Washington, DC.

One of the many posts I found on Facebook about Paris comes from my friend Mark. Mark has been a friend and mentor since my first year at Bridgewater College, and though he graduated that year, his thoughtfulness and wisdom are two qualities that have sustained our friendship over the years. Here is what Mark has to say:

“On November 1st, a terrorist group named Al-Shabaab killed 12 in Mogadishu, Somalia. A suicide bomber killed 5 in Lebanon on November 5th. An expected ISIS-related bombing killed 12 in Baghdad, Iraq (injuring 15) on November 7th. Boko Haram kills 3 in a suicide bombing in Chad on November 9th. In Cameroon, November 9th, a 14 year old girl acted as a suicide bomber killing 4 persons. 43 die and 240 are injured on November 12th by ISIL suicide bombers in Beirut, Lebanon. In Baghdad, Iraq, again, on November 13th, 19 are injured and 33 are killed by ISIS.

Last month, ISIL killed 244 people in Sinai, Egypt on October 31st. Bombings killed 27 and injured 96 on October 23rd in Yola, Nigeria and on October 14th, 42 were killed by suicide bombers in Maiduguri, Nigeria. On October 10th, Boko Haram kills 38 in Chad. 102 die and 508 are injured due to suicide bombings in Ankara, Turkey due to ISIL. Car bombings kill 57 in Baghdad, Iraq on October 5th due to the Islamic State. In Abuja, Nigeria, Boko Haram kills 18 on October 2nd.

I could keep going and mention the 145 that died and 150 that were injured in Maiduguri, Nigeria on September 20th due to Boko Haram, and so forth and so forth.

And yesterday, 129 (so far) people died in Paris, France. I have changed my profile picture, read the news about these attacks diligently, found relief that Facebook notifies that people are marked safe by these attacks, gotten into lengthy discussions on how to solve this problem, etc.

And yet. I have done absolutely none of that when persons died in Turkey, Nigeria, Iraq, Cameroon, Chad, Egypt, Syria, etc. Why not? That might be the most important question to come out of this whole thing.

Peace and hope to the people in France, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, Chad, Nigeria, Syria, Cameroon, and the countless other places that live in constant terror.”

Our eyes glaze over at such numbers. We are conditioned to not pay attention. Mark’s question is right. Why, only now, are we really paying attention? Racism, xenophobia, and lack of a shared identity inhibit our ability to connect with those outside of the American suburbs. Again this is an unfortunate side effect of our conditioning and media bias and blah blah blah – but we have to own it. Jesus rails on the Pharisees for being hypocrites. While I don’t accuse anybody here as individuals, our nation as a whole is blind. We need to recognize our blindness, and even more, we need to make sure that Paris – in all of its horror, spectacle, and sadness – becomes the mud Jesus spat in to give us new sight. While it may have taken a bomb in a Paris coffee shop to unite the world, we need to remember the drowned Syrian boy who washed up on the Mediterranean, the Chibok girls taken hostage in Nigeria, those dead in a Yemini hospital. We need to remember a world with seemingly too many wounds to heal.

The Church of the Brethren has been faithful in its commitment to peace and stability in many of those forgotten places – especially Nigeria. The Church should be proud of its work, but we need to know there are still many places left untouched by a helpful hand.

The last part of the scripture is about humility. The Pharisees laud the heroes of the past and distance themselves from those who murdered the prophets. Jesus bursts that prideful bubble and tells them to own both the failures and successes of their ancestors.

Paris, too, I think has broken the West’s pride. There is a sense that the West is insulated from the problems of the rest of the world. The wars we fight are overseas – not at home. The events in Paris show that the bubble is broken. We stagger in disbelief: “This doesn’t happen here!” Our pride is our ignorance, and we need to admit that, through a series of unfortunate events, we played a role in this tragedy. As we move forward, we need to do so with humility. A recent international poll says that the US – not Russia, Iran, or North Korea – is the greatest threat to world peace. Even when acting with good intentions, this country has been both a direct and indirect cause of suffering in the world. How we move forward matters.

We also need to watch where we go after the initial shock of Paris goes away. Paris is fast becoming a symbol, and while support rains down now, where will that energy go? Will we be a shield that protects human dignity, or a sword that severs people from it? If we take the second option, are we forfeiting our own humanity? Jesus tells the Pharisees they have ignored the higher duties of justice, mercy, and faith. He told us to love our enemies. In a time where the world is so emotionally invested, I think the greatest challenge will be forestalling the call to vengeance, tempering our justice with mercy, walking forward in faith, loving our enemies. Our world needs this more than ever.

I don’t offer any concrete course of action, 1) because I don’t have a clue where to begin and 2) because I don’t think it is time. Emotions are high. Action is important, but any step forward needs to be done with a level head.  In these troubling times, the world needs to hear our prayers for peace. Jesus’ story promises redemption. May we redeem this world by remembering our kinship to all persons, especially those who commit violence out of hate. May we climb this mountain with humility, sending our loving voices down through the valley. May we take to heart the words of a true disciple: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” All this falls upon our generation. In God’s peace, amen.

Benediction:

God, we come to you in the need of prayer. We ache and mourn for those in Paris. We hear their cries. But we know their cries are but an echo, for all over, fear and terror and violence rule the lives of so many. God, send your love to the people of this world. May it heal those who hurt and transform those who hate. Be there in the midst of suffering. Be there with policy makers as they discern the fates of nations. Be here with us as we struggle to find our place amid madness. We pray for peace and we pray for your light in the weeks ahead. Amen

GOIN’ ON A GOD HUNT

Ephesians 5:15-20

Jeff Davidson

Not too long after we started dating I said something to Julia, I don’t remember what, and she replied, “Jeff you don’t need to give me an idiot lesson.” I didn’t know I’d given her an idiot lesson. I didn’t even know what an idiot lesson was. It didn’t make sense to me – who would want to take lessons to be an idiot? I’m not even sure anyone even needs idiot lessons. I see lots of people I think are idiots on Facebook or Twitter – they seem to come by it naturally.

Julia set me straight. A side note – this happened back when we were dating, so it was way before the Internet was a thing. I googled “idiot lesson”   The main responses were about guitar lessons for a Green Day song called “American Idiot” and lots of things where it said something like “I was an idiot. Lesson learned.” The actual phrase “idiot lesson” in the context in which Julia used it wasn’t there.

Anyway – according to Julia, an idiot lesson is when someone tells you something so obvious that you’d have to be an idiot not to know it. If Julia is driving and she says, “I wish we could go faster” and I say, “Why not press on the accelerator?” that’s an idiot lesson. A more current version of the same thing might be if someone said something and you replied “Thanks, Captain Obvious.” The Hotels.com chain is running a series of commercials featuring Captain Obvious. One of them says, “Whatever the temperature is in your hotel room, it’s room temperature.” Anyway, you get the idea, right?

When we start out with our scripture reading from Ephesians, Paul sounds like he’s giving us an idiot lesson. “Don’t live like ignorant people, but live like wise people.” Doesn’t that sound like it might be an idiot lesson? I was having soooo much trouble which was better, to be stupid or to be smart. I just couldn’t figure it out. I appreciate your help, Apostle Obvious.

It’s actually not that obvious. Paul didn’t say what I did – Paul didn’t say “stupid people” and “smart people.” Paul didn’t say “dumb people” and “brainy people.” Paul says not to live like ignorant people, but to live like wise people.

I hope I’m not giving you an idiot lesson, but “ignorant” is not the same as dumb or stupid. “Ignorant” means that you just don’t know. I’ve been to school, I’ve got a Bachelor’s degree, I’ve got a Master’s degree, I’ve read a lot, I’ve been published – I’m not dumb. But when it comes to physics, or to chemistry, or to science in general, I’m ignorant. I just don’t know it. I have a friend who’s retired from the Army. He’s an IT guy – very bright, very intelligent, knows computers backwards and forwards. He’s not a sports fan. Doesn’t know the first thing about baseball. He may not even know what the Washington baseball team is called. He’s not dumb. He’s not stupid. He just doesn’t know. He’s ignorant of it.

So to be ignorant is not to be stupid or to be dumb. To be ignorant of something just means that you don’t know that particular subject or thing. You just haven’t had to learn it. Maybe you’ve never really needed to know, maybe you’ve never been interested, but for whatever reason you are ignorant of it.

On the other hand, being wise isn’t the same as being smart. My grandfather did not have a lot of book learning, but he was one of the wisest men I ever knew. He taught me a lot of things about life, and faith, and living. He was not an educated man, but he was very wise.

So Paul is not giving us an idiot lesson. He’s not saying, “Don’t be stupid.” Paul’s saying, “Don’t be ignorant.” Don’t ignore the knowledge that you need to have. Learn the important stuff. Educate yourself. Not just book learning, but the stuff that really matters. Live like people who are wise. Live like people who know what they need to know.

So what do we need to know? What are the things that Paul wants us to learn? How do we become wise? Here in the scripture reading we’ve got finding God’s will, being filled with the Spirit, singing and praising with God in our hearts, and always giving thanks for everything to God. Finding God’s will – another way to say that is looking for God’s leading. Being filled with the Spirit and praising with God in our hearts – that could be looking for God within. Always giving thanks to God – maybe that’s looking for God’s activity around you. Looking for God’s leading, looking for God within, looking for God around you.

In short, Paul is saying that wise people are people who are always looking for God. Ignorant people are people who just aren’t paying attention. If you want to be ignorant, just go your own way and don’t worry about it but if you want to be wise, you’ve got to look for God.

I do not want to be ignorant. I want to be wise. I hope you do too. I invite you to join me in an effort to become wiser. I want to look for God, and I want you to help me. I am inviting each person here, young or old, male or female, member or regular attender of this congregation or a visitor for the first time – whoever you are I am inviting you to join me in looking for God. I’m inviting you to come with me on a God hunt.

Maybe you’ve never been on a God hunt. That’s okay. When I was at camp years ago I got sent on a few snipe hunts, but this is different. Maybe some of you remember a camp song called “Goin’ on a Lion Hunt.” “I’m goin’ on a lion hunt (congregation repeats) but I’m not afraid (congregation repeats.) Do any of you know that song? This is different than that too.

This is an important thing for me because I admit it, I sometimes take God for granted. I sometimes kind of go through the day kind of vaguely knowing that God’s around, but not really giving God credit for anything, not thanking God for the many good things in my life. I think we all can and sometimes do take God for granted. A God hunt, then, is where we’re paying attention to what God does, it’s where we’re seeing things and saying, “Yes! That’s God in my life. Yes!  That’s God’s Spirit, that’s God’s presence.” A God hunt can keep us from taking God for granted.

It’s also important for me because, I confess again, I don’t always feel like God is there. I sometimes feel like I’m far away from God. If I’m on a God hunt, though, if I’m looking for evidence of God’s care, if I’ve got a list of the kinds of things that I’ve already seen that God has done, then I can’t really feel as far away from God.

When you get a letter from a friend, or nowadays an e-mail or even a meme, you can feel closer to that friend. At least you can while you’re sitting there reading the letter or the e-mail, while you’re reading your friend’s words and thinking about your friend’s life. If I’m on a God hunt and I’ve got a list in my pocket or in my hand or on my smartphone of the things that God has done today and yesterday and the day before, it’ll be much easier to feel closer to God.

When you’re on a God hunt, you won’t be ignorant. You won’t be ignorant of God’s presence in your life because you’ll be actively looking for that presence and trust me, when you honestly look for God you will find God.

I used to work in radio and one of the stations I worked at was a Christian station, WFCV. One of our programs was Chapel of the Air, and this was originally their idea. There are four God hunt categories. The first – an obvious answer to prayer. God doesn’t always answer prayer exactly as we want or as we expect, but God does answer prayer. The second category – unexpected evidence of God’s care. We sometimes get sick, we sometimes have accidents, but sometimes there are also little miracles of protection – like when you miss the traffic pileup because you forgot your wallet and went back home for it.

The third God hunt category is unusual linkage or timing. You may discover that God led a person to pray for you at the very moment that you were in trouble or you needed it – and vice versa. These mini-miracles are more common than you might think. And the fourth category – help to do God’s work in the world. Maybe you’ve just read something about the grieving process – and you get a call from a friend who’s upset about a death. You can use what you just read to help talk with your friend. God provides the resources that we need to do the work of the Kingdom, even if we don’t always realize it.

So those are the four types of God hunt sighting – an obvious answer to prayer, unexpected evidence of God’s care, unusual linkage or timing, and help or resources to do God’s work. Let me tell you a God hunt sighting, and you tell me the category.

Julia and I were once at a stoplight getting off the interstate. A couple of cars had pulled over across the way and the two drivers had gotten out of their cars and were physically fighting. This was back before cell phones and they were across the way so there wasn’t anyone to call or anything to do. Julia kept saying over and over, “Please God make them stop. Please God make them stop.” And they did! By the time the light changed and we were leaving they were getting back in their cars and driving away too.

So – obvious answer to prayer, unexpected evidence of God’s care, unusual linkage or timing, or help and resources to do God’s work. Which one is that? I think there could be two categories. Obvious answer to prayer is one, but also unusual linkage or timing. We just happened to come along at just the moment this thing was going on. If we’d not been there at that moment, who knows? Someone might have been hurt. It was an obvious answer to prayer, and the timing was just right.

Now let me tell you a couple of things about a sighting. First, it doesn’t have to be something that dramatic. That was an unusual example, for me anyway. Second, the key is your attitude. You’ve got to be looking for God and when you do see something, you’ve got to believe that God is in it.

I’m looking for a parking place. I’ve been around the block three times. I’m getting ready for my fourth trip, and I pray. “God, I’m going to be late for my appointment and I’m going to be in trouble. Help me God, I need a parking place.”

Just then a car pulls out of the space just ahead of me, right next to the entrance of the building where I have the appointment. I pull into the space, look up, and say, “Never mind, God – I found a space.”

Attitude is important. A God hunt sighting is a time when God works in or touches our daily lives and we choose to recognize it to be God. How you see it really matters.

So join me on a God hunt the next few weeks. Try to remember to write down or make a note of your sightings every day. If you want to post them on my Facebook wall or send them in an e-mail that’s fine, or on the church’s wall too. I won’t be preaching in two weeks but I will probably be here, and I will try to remember to ask us to share a little bit. Once you start doing this, it’s kind of fun.

It’s fun, but it’s also important. It’s important because you’re looking for God. When you look for God, and start to see God more often you begin to realize how close God is to you at all times. And when you know God is close, when you are fully aware of God, that is the end of ignorance and the beginning of wisdom. And that is not an idiot lesson.

I’m goin’ on a God hunt. And I’m not afraid. Come with me. Amen.