Sufficient Grace



09052101~Click here for audio


Partial text of today’s sermon  on 2 Samuel 6: 12-23 and Psalm 100. I didn’t include the retelling of Francine Christophe’s story but rather included a link to the video of her talking about it. It’s worth seeing.


How much joy do you have in your life? How often are you startled out of your everyday, casual existence and struck by awe and wonder? Teilhard de Chardin is quoted as saying “Joy is the surest sign of the presence of God.” Recently I read a blog by a young mother who wrote about the aftermath of 9/11. She described in glowing poetry the drive up to her home as she returned from a flight across the country, a home she hadn’t been sure she would see again after these attacks. She talks about the ecstatic joy on her youngest child’s face when he raced to the car, arms open, crying out, “Mom, you’re alive!” It seems he had been listening to adult conversations and trying to make sense out of them, but as children do sometimes he kept his fears to himself as he tried to figure things out. What he knew was that his mother was far away and needed to fly home, and that this was particularly frightening at that time. His joy at being reunited with her was poignant.


For this woman the joy visible on her child’s face was immediately relatable to the joy of Christ’s presence. She writes:


“We pray to be invited to taste not just the joy of those who recognized Jesus, but Christ’s own joy in sharing the news of redemption. I can’t make these contemplations without thinking of the look on my child’s face as he came out the door to see me, and my own joy in knowing that he was again safely anchored by my presence. “ Michelle Francl-Donnay


What keeps us from experiencing the joy of being anchored in God’s presence? Joy is both a hallmark of God’s presence and, often, is somehow uncomfortable, unsustainable. It’s as if we are so certain that we can’t keep it, that we prefer not to have it at all. Experiencing joy is terribly vulnerable. It is to wear your heart on your sleeve and let the whole world know just how much this moment, this person, this experience means to you. Isn’t that what makes geekiness and nerdiness so adorable and wonderful? It’s all about being so passionate, so over-the-top that to those who don’t understand it just seems, well geeky. Brene Brown, a researcher who studies whole hearted living and who inspired this sermon series, says that, ”Until we can tolerate vulnerability and transform it into gratitude, intense feelings of love will often bring up the fear of loss.” The opposite of joy, she says, is not sadness, but fear.


Imagine the experience of Michelle’s son, his whole world hanging in the balance until that moment he saw his mother again, alive and whole. His joy was unmitigated, unrestrained; it was whole and complete. The travelers on the Emmaus walk say their hearts were burning inside of them. The despair of having lost their teacher, their dear rabbi, was upset, was turned upside down when the realization burst in on them that no one and nothing could ever come between them and Jesus. Fear was cast out in those moments. Fear was completely overwhelmed by the whole hearted acceptance of love.


Adela St. Johns tells us that “Joy is a light that fills you with hope, faith, and love.” It is a step beyond happiness. It is not dependent upon events, time or place, although it may be influenced by them. And…it is not constant. I don’t want to suggest that we’ve found some formula that if you follow it only joy will ensue, but we can choose joy, again and again. Joy is a choice.


If we look at the Greek word for happiness we find makarios, which described freedom from care, a sort of happy-go-lucky wealth and good fortune. Chairos, the Greek word for joy, is more of a culmination of being, a good mood of the soul. It implies a process which arrives at a place of joy, not a condition which may exist one moment but be gone the next. We can be intentional about viewing life through the lens of joy and this practice is gratitude. The two go together.


The difference between these two words implies that even Job at the height of his troubles, could have felt joy, could have abided in joy, and that perhaps this carried him through. Viktor Frankl describes people he met in concentration camps who abided in joy; who gave graciously of whatever they might have and that this abiding in joy sustained them, gave them meaning and purpose. So, yes, joy is not a constant but is a process which is not dependent upon external things.

Sermon illustration:

Our scripture today talks about David bringing the ark home, seeking the blessing of God’s presence. In Christianity we tend to hold one or two hours on Sunday as sacred time, whereas in some other faith traditions, there is a tendency to hold a space as sacred, but what happens when you invite God, very God, into your home, into the whole of your life? This part of the story speaks of David dancing before the ark having already made the decision to bring the ark home, but just prior to this David had been in fear of God, had been angry because Uzzah had been struck dead for touching the ark in order to keep it from falling. David had left the ark behind, not wanting to be exposed to the uncontrollable power of God, but those he left the ark with experienced renewed blessings because of God’s presence, and David wanted that.


He had to face his fear. He had to acknowledge his mortality and his vulnerability before he could invite God fully into his life, but when he did, when he did, he danced ecstatically! When he did he showed no shame, he was over the top exuberant, he was filled with joy and happiness! Happy and fulfilled he went home to bless his family.


I sort of wish the story had stopped there, a happy ending for everyone, but that’s not the end of the story maybe because if it had ended there it would not have involved the whole complexity of our lives. Have you ever seen preschoolers give a dance recital? It’s so refreshing and amazing! One of the cutest things ever, because often there are one or two who have no shame, who show up fully as exuberant and out there as they can be! But usually we learn to check ourselves somewhere along the line, we learn to hold back a little until we know it’s safe and even then, well being as fully passionately present as a child is just really vulnerable so we don’t go there, we hold back a little. Because if we don’t there is always Michal to remind us, “Look at you out there, dancing like a fool! Nearly naked!” We have all had these Michal people in our lives haven’t we? The ones who remind us that being filled with inexpressible joy is, well a little silly and over the top and people are going to notice.


We recognize this belittling, this shaming as a wound that is all too common. Today I want to look at Michal. I want to look at the lack of joy, creativity, and abundance in her life. Michal, the daughter of a king who went mad and tried to kill her soon to be husband. Her bitter response to David’s open show of joy and exuberance betrays a deep wounding. I want to invite you to go a little offscript and wonder with me, a midrash-like pause to wonder what Michal’s childhood would have been like, who she might have been. To wonder what might have happened that brought such bitterness, such gall to her when she witnessed unbridled joy. Just take a moment and think about that, there are no right answers; midrash invites us to consider the unwritten implications of the text.


You see, Michal’s bitterness left her barren. It left her empty. Brene Brown tells us that, “Until we can tolerate vulnerability and transform it into gratitude, intense feelings of love will often bring up the fear of loss.” Something was triggered in Michal, some memory of loss or pain and it’s easy to imagine this given that her father Saul had gone mad in his later years, soothed only by the sound of David’s lyre. She could not tolerate vulnerability and could not transform it into gratitude.


We live in an age when scarcity and fear of scarcity is advertised, promoted! You’ll never be good enough, thin enough, rich enough, smart enough, successful enough…it goes on and on. There isn’t enough and you can’t be enough. This fear of scarcity drives some incredibly unhealthy behavior. It increases our anxiety and fear separating us from joy, from gratitude.


We are encouraged to believe that there simply isn’t enough to go around and what we have everyone else wants—but is this true? “My grace is sufficient” God tells us. How do we manage to rest in this sufficiency? If we can rest in this sufficiency will it allow us to feel safe enough to be vulnerable? To dare? To go on great ventures?


“My grace is sufficient for you, there is enough. You are enough. Do not be afraid, be grateful instead.” Our psalm reminds us that we are the Lord’s and he has created us, that he will be faithful to us all the days of our lives. There is enough, you are enough.


This year we have been working on revitalizing the church. It’s a process that conventional wisdom tells us takes about five years, only we don’t have five years. Our finances are tight and we knew that, at best, we had two years but this month we are having to face the possibility that we won’t have two years. The culture of scarcity in which we live suggests that we will lose. Our faith, however, suggests that, no matter what happens, God will be with us. We get to choose which voice we listen to. Joy is the result of a choice, the choice to practice gratitude every day.


As we face the possibility that this church may not continue as we know it and have experienced it, can we rest in God’s grace, God’s sufficiency? Can we turn away from the culture of scarcity and acknowledge that God has and continues to provide us with many, many good things. We have enough, we are enough. Can we pause and admit that, although change of one form or another is coming, nothing need ever separate us from the ones we love and nothing can ever separate us from the love of God? Can we dare to be curious about what God is saying to us, and wondering about what might come next? Knowing and trusting that there is a next, even if we don’t see it just yet?


For my part I am committed to being here and being with you throughout whatever comes. I have committed all of my resources to being the best pastor I can be. I am not tucking away savings or preparing to leave. I firmly believe that God is not done with this little church although he may be asking us to do something entirely different and new. I don’t know what that might be but today I am resting in deep gratitude for all of you, for this ministry, for the beauty of Jasper, for the invitation to this ministry. Today I choose joy.



A Credible Witness, living authentically

09043002~ click here for audio.


What is the poetry of your soul? What is the song of your heart? What is it that makes you come alive? Our psalm today, in the New Jerusalem version, reads, “Deep calls to deep by the cataract’s roar,” one of my favorite verses. The depth of the mystery, of the majesty of God, calls to all that is deep within you, in the midst of life, near the streams and roaring waterfalls, near the rush of traffic and the busy roar of humanity, in the silence of the woods and the rushing roar of all that is in your heart longing to be be spoken. The depth, the mystery, the majesty of God, of God’s love, calls to you, in your deep, quiet, hidden places, and will not be still, will not be quiet.

It speaks to that internal space where all your possibilities take shape and form. To the possibility that you may retire, pull away, diminish your presence, saying: enough, I’m done. To this, God whispers love and compassion, urging the heart to break and call you into service and care for your neighbor. It speaks to the thought that you are not enough and can make no difference, bring no change to the world, saying: you are exactly as I created you and you are exactly in the place I brought you, that you might be who you are fully and without hesitation and this will change everything. Howard Thurman once said,

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then, go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive!”

So what makes you come alive? What is the poetry of your soul, the song of your heart? Where does God’s deep, mysterious, loving call resonate in your soul? What is it that insists on being spoken, brought to life and lived through you? The world is incomplete, unfulfilled without your contribution.

Several years ago a particularly creative individual wrote a 3000 word love story and wanted to see it embodied, lived into. So..he put an ad in craigslist and asked people all over the United States if they would be willing to have one word of this love story tattooed onto their flesh and he received thousands of Yes’s. Each person was sent just one word and at a pre-appointed time they all gathered together and a small child was led through the crowd, reading the story, one word at a time. You see the story couldn’t be told, would always be incomplete, unless everyone showed up. All the small words, the “a’s” and the “The’s” the big words, “recognition,” “fulfillment,” all of them needed to show up before the story could be told. What is your part of the story? Here in Jasper, we know that we are part of a greater, larger story, what is within us that longs to be spoken, to be told? The world hungers for this! Longs and groans waiting for all of us to show up.

This weekend the internet was again filled with grief, with loss, with tears, as we all, from a distance, witnessed the death of an innocent, young boy, the tears of his father who cried out against his inability to save his family, that his arms were not strong enough to hold them. Across the world people rallied and cried out with him, that our collective arms have not been strong enough, our will too lax and feeble. People posted photos side by side of this fragile child’s body and images of groups of people rushing to save beached whales asking why we rush to the one and not the other. The whole world, groans and cries out waiting for all of us to show up and sometimes, sometimes we do. Even before the death of this child Iceland responded to the refugee crisis by offering up their homes, 10,000 of them!

God created humankind and sitting back and observing said, “ah, this, this is good!” and I have to believe it is these Icelandic people, it is the Turkish people who came to the beaches, it is all of us who cry out against such suffering and loss that God referred to. I have to believe that is our ability to transcend suffering and loss, to break through shame, guilt, and fear and reach out to those who are in need that God was referring to. I have to believe that is our interconnected nature, that we were created in relationship, for relationship, that God evoked the response, yes, this is good!

This is what lives deep inside us, in all its beautiful complicated diverse patterns. We need one another. Our story, God’s story, is told through us. When we show up and commit to following through, we bear a credible witness to the God of our understanding, but we have to show up.

A few years ago I was in Guatemala, on a mission trip with Habitat for Humanity. One of our projects was to build a “smokeless” stove for a family in a nearby town. We arrived early that morning in the drizzle and met the family, the neighbors. Our presence was not unanticipated. The family had been hard at work preparing and purchasing necessary ingredients. One of the ladies present spoke forcefully. Even without an interpreter it was easy to hear how important it was to her that we hear her. Through our interpreters we heard this message, “You Americans, you come down here all the time and you promise us great things. You’re going to help us rebuild our homes, you’re going to help us develop sewage systems, and give us new stoves, but then you always leave. You want me to thank you now for what you are about to do, but I will thank you when it’s done.” It made me wonder what had happened in the past to all those good intentioned Americans who hadn’t stayed the course. What this woman was telling us was that she needed a credible witness, not someday promises but a witness, hands reached out, roofs raised, food supplied, now, not someday, and we complied. We worked hard and we demonstrated what I hope is a credible witness to the love of Christ for all people.

Living an authentic, credible life is about getting into the arena, getting one’s hands dirty. Theodore Roosevelt’s famous speech, the man in the arena, suggests we all need to get in the arena and out of the stands. He said,

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. “

Living that full, authentic life, responding to the call of all that is deep within us, that longs to be spoken and brought to life in the world is to be in the arena. It is to be passionate and a little over-the-top, to be too much and to be OK with being too much. Something in us becomes small and timid when we relegate ourselves to the stands, to witness and watch the struggle of others. We are called to be in the struggle, passionately in the struggle and to bring forth the poetry that God has written in our hearts, the song that is playing in our souls, the unique and weird contribution that God has given us.

Authenticity means giving people a piece of yourself- nothing counterfeit, nothing withheld, covered up or apologized for. To risk giving a piece of yourself, your heart, trusting that in doing so, the world becomes a better place. Trusting that God created you worthy of contributing and knowing that the world longs for you to show up and be exactly who you are as fully and passionately as you can.

In the deepest moments we are asked to open our hearts our very selves and give what is there without censoring, without holding back, give. Give the awkward, the not yet ready for publication, the raw truth of one’s self. We are called to be terribly vulnerable and let ourselves in all our unique complexity, be seen. We are called to show up for one another and show up again and again.

It is what comes out of a person that gives witness, not what they eat or wear, not their social ranking or privilege or lack thereof, but what comes out. What is your credible witness? What comes out of you? Is it the warm greeting of a man greeting others wholeheartedly and without reserve? Is it the willingness to spend hours toiling so that your neighbors might have the same opportunity that you have? What is the witness that you would be?

Deep calls to deep by the cataract’s roar; God has called you into being because you, exactly as you are, matter, because you, in all your unique and weird glory, are an essential part of the story. All that is deep, hidden, and mysterious in God is calling to all that is deep, hidden, and possible in us, that we might step forward, into the light and be seen as God’s children, as God’s credible witness in the world.

Abba James said: We do not want words alone, for there are too many words among people today. What we need is action, for that is what we are looking for, not words which do not bear fruit.

The book of James insists we be ‘doers of the Word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.”

The call to an authentic life is a call to the arena, to get out of the stands where we might witness and applaud or criticize, but to get in the arena and to dare greatly and by doing so to enrich the lives of all those we touch. It is not a call to success, it is not a call to a perfect life, but a call to dare greatly and show up fully, to be seen in all our passion, in all our love and risk it not turning out so well. All the world cries out for this witness, longs for this witness.

Deep calls to deep

By the cataracts roar,

All your waves and breakers

Have rolled over me.

In the day God sends his faithful love

And even at night; yes at night,

In the dark and in the quiet, all alone,

The song it inspires in me,

Sings through me,

Breathes in me,

Is my prayer to the living God.

Is my witness and my heart’s song,

This then, is my song, is my witness, to the breathe of God moving through me, shifting within me, calling me into the fullness of being, a fullness that I must not diminish nor hide away, but must let shine in all its geeky and passionate splendor, as weird and wonderful as it was created to be. The story is incomplete without my little piece, without your piece. The world longs to hear this story told and who are we to withhold ourselves? We are followers of Christ; we do not belong in the stands watching and applauding but in the arena, in the grit and mire, striving to live fully as children of God.

May it be so.