How What We Leave Behind Changes Us

By Rebecca Messman
Burke Presbyterian Church, Burke, VA
October 30, 2022

Luke 19:1-10

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.

Let us pray – Lord, you see us and call to us and show up at our house without giving us time to straighten everything up. Startle us again with your nearness. And Lord, help us to respond with joy. Amen.

 

It’s a rare person who likes being called in October: called on for a major gift of time or money, called on for their vote, called to bring snack for the Halloween party, called to account for the year’s spending. Many people chuck the letters, send the calls to voicemail, or feel stressed by all the people shaking the trees this time of year.

But have you ever wondered if, instead of the letters, the minutes for mission, or Zaccheus up in that tree every October, what if congregations were funded by advertising? It seems the way that most industries are moving. Think about it: people invited to the communion table, brought to you today by the good folks at Pepperidge Farm. Or there could be product placements in sermons… The pastor eating a large bag of Skittles while preaching on Noah and the Flood, and then gazing at the camera and saying, “Taste the Rainbow.” Or churches emulating the airlines. They might label the back pew “premium seating” available for only $39.99 a month. Churches could sell headsets that allow worshippers could pick a sermon topic and music tailored to their mood that day. And then, the ultimate package, for only $100 a month, we might guarantee someone’s salvation, after-life insurance of sorts, a “get out of church free” card if you will. Makes a great stocking stuffer.

All of this sounds mildly offensive or completely absurd, except something like that actually happened. In the 1500s, the church had major building campaigns to fund, so it began selling indulgences, which were in essence a forgiveness surcharge. There was even a ditty that went, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul out of purgatory springs.” And it was that practice that ultimately led Martin Luther to nail his 95 theses to the door of the Cathedral in Wittenburg, 504 years ago tomorrow, which kicked off the Protestant Reformation. Luther called the church out for its manipulation and abuse of power. And he called us back to the deep theology of the Gospel, whereby our salvation is not ours to buy or earn by certain acts, but it is a gift of grace through Jesus Christ. And that gift elicits from us deep wells of gratitude and joy.

Luther would have great material from today’s text: Enter Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus didn’t care much if he looked strange, sprinting ahead of the crowds in his expensive clothes, shimmying up a tree to get the prime view even if that spot was usually reserved for kids. It mattered not to him. There was something about being filthy rich and short that had cultivated in him a bravado that few people understood. His career had given him audacity and an ability to take freely from other people, and his height, that thing that he couldn’t change about himself even with all the money in the world, it had given him an early taste of social rejection, and after awhile, a person can get used to that. There he waited in the tree, like a silly piñata beaten around by the crowds, but also like a hawk eyeing what it wanted.

Jesus had been covering some ground along the Jericho Road, stopping to tell some parables that mentioned tax collectors specifically, how they might be the kind of outcast who gets special attention from Jesus, telling some parables about how rich people struggle to enter the Kingdom of Heaven like a camel trying to get through the eye of a needle, and, he had stopped to play with some kids, mentioning that the kingdom of Heaven came easily to them. And then just on the outskirts of Jericho, Jesus had stopped to heal a blind beggar that the crowds had considered a nuisance. So we know that in the crowd that passed Zacchaeus up in that tree there was an astounded no-longer-blind man whose eyes were probably weeping with all the new color of the world.

And despite all those interactions, it is still a complete shocker that Jesus stops the whole parade at the foot of a sycamore tree and calls out this Zacchaeus by name. “Zaccheus, hurry on down, I’m staying at your house tonight.” And while it might have been in character for Zacchaeus to wave Jesus on and avoid the eye-rolling crowd, the Bible says that Zacchaeus was happy to welcome him. The word here is Kairos, which is a holy kind of happiness. I am not sure what I would feel if Jesus invited himself to my house today – Most likely I would want 10 minutes to feverishly tidy up my house and be sure breakfast plates were in the dishwasher. But Zaccheus was full of joy.

Then to continue the shockwave, once Jesus came to his house, this rich man gave away half of his fortune to the poor and repaid his fraud four times over. Scholars are still fact checking this radical pledge. Some wonder if he offered it in the moment but walked it back later, and others believe he meant every word of it. To me, it doesn’t matter. Both sides look like miraculous generosity. If Zaccheus was bluffing, Jesus offered radical salvation to a wanton sinner, and therein we have a fine Reformation Sunday message. But if Zaccheus was sincere, somehow the camel actually went through the eye of the needle and an unpopular rich man completely changed his life at the proximity of Jesus. And what’s more, a crowd that was short on empathy, short on hope, weary of people who climbed over others to get to the top, a crowd not unlike our weary nation, had their vision restored to the full color of grace and hope.

The church in the 21st century might feel out on a limb culturally. Shorter in stature than we used to be and sometimes met with suspicion. What would Jesus find if he barged in on the 21st century church today? Would he be disoriented when someone asks him to pose for a selfie? Would he groan as people pepper his tunic with campaign stickers? Would he be exhausted when he’s reminded that he’s late to the billions of meetings started ostensibly by him?

Likely he would call us down from whatever we have been using to keep a safe distance. That is what Jesus does. And likely we would be called toward the crowd where there are real hurting people. They are all around us. Crying out from the Donbas and Haiti. Crowded in detention centers and shelters and under the overpass we drive by every morning and overdosing by the thousands. We said we wanted to see Jesus, and he would grant us that. There he is in the cancer unit and pushing a grocery cart down the sidewalk. And the closer we get to them, the more alive we feel. We realize that we are made for this calling. We are saved by this calling. And like Zaccheus, we are called by name.

The word for church, ecclesia, means called out. We are the called out ones. Jesus’ words echo in our ears… that those who seek to preserve their lives will lose them, but those who lose their lives for the sake of the gospel will find them. So like Zaccheus before us, suddenly it is not anxiety or intrusion we feel at all when we shimmy down the tree into thrum of humanity, but sudden all-encompassing joy, determination, and purpose. And the next thing we know, we sit down to dinner and find ourselves giving more and forgiving more than we ever thought was possible.

And it is at that table, in our case the communion table. that we understand in our bones that God never asked anything of us that wasn’t already given to us to begin with. We remember that history does not swing on the actions of our human heroes or villains, nor does it depend on our acts of generosity. It hinges on an empty cross. Where God came to our house to dwell with humanity once and for all. Hope did not die on that tree but came down and flooded the entire universe with lavish grace, wild hope and new vision. A vision of people loving their enemies and serving their neighbors and trusting in the quiet of their soul that death does not have the final word.

There’s a quote I say to myself from time to time when I am tempted to stay in the safety of my sycamore tree… What I spent, is gone; what I kept, I lost; but what I gave away will be mine forever” (Ethel Percy Andrus).

It reminds me of a woman named Ina Ingraham. She was my confirmation mentor and kept in touch with me for more than 20 years after my confirmation class. She’d served more than 50 years as a Presbyterian elder. God knows how many meals she delivered. God knows how many cards she mailed. God knows how many checks she wrote. God knows how she endured the death of her beloved husband and showed up the next Sunday to serve communion. God knows how many people in that town were touched by her life. When I was newly in ministry, I called her to ask what did it for her. Did all this devotion come from a great connection with a minister? Was it a certain way they did the stewardship ministries at First Pres.? Some catchy ad campaign or brochure? I wanted to know. I would take notes. But her response touched me and called me back to the truth. “Oh honey, just gratitude and joy. What else is there?”

That might be the truest stewardship message I have ever heard. Why do you schlep cans for ECHO? Why do you secretly support a preschooler’s education costs in Kenya or plant flowers on Burke Center Parkway or call upon a woman who can’t get to church or drive down to ChristHouse or head back to Montreat even when your life is far from perfect and you are feeling squatty and out on a limb in general? Why do you do whatever it takes to be in the presence of Jesus, no matter how hard and unfair life can be? Another chance to be with the one who has saved us in every way and will again and again. Another taste of gratitude and joy. What else is there?

 

How Covenant Changes Us

By Catherine Taylor

Burke Presbyterian Church, Burke, VA

October 16, 2022

 

 Luke 18:1-8         

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my accuser.’ For a while he refused, but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

2023 Stewardship Campaign: A Life That Says Thank You!

As we embark upon our annual stewardship campaign, there is no better time than now to contemplate how we can praise God for all our blessings. Many have a tendency to think of stewardship as giving some of our income to the church, and although that is important, it’s certainly not the entire story. A life that says thank you is grateful for the sense of purpose that comes from helping another, the warmth of loving relationships, and the joys of community. Let our stewardship be a united thank you, given with love from our hearts!

To make your annual pledge today, visit our webpage for A Life That Says Thank You.

If you would like more information about this year’s effort, please join your Stewardship Team at a town hall meeting on Sunday, October 16 at 12:30pm in the library and on Zoom. Or, reach out to Stewardship Elder John Ariale (johnariale@gmail.com) or the church office (office@burkepreschurch.org, 703-764-0456) with any questions.

What’s the deal . . . with The Church these days?

By Rebecca Messman
Burke Presbyterian Church, Burke VA
Sept. 18, 2022

I Timothy 2:1-7

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and acceptable before God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all—this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth; I am not lying), a teacher of the gentiles in faith and truth.

Let us pray: Good and gracious God, we pray for all people. We desire to live peaceful lives. Uphold me that I might uplift thee. Amen.

 

The glossy newsletter had just announced a new pastor at a big church in Durham NC. In the newsletter photos, I’m sure the new pastor looked competent and relaxed, but back home in Greensboro, facing a challenge like this, my friend Chris was daunted. Daunted by following in the footsteps of a pastor who had served that church for decades and was known by everyone to be “larger than life.” Daunted by the strange clunking noise coming from under the hood of every church that was not going to fix itself. Daunted by the enormity of suffering in the world and the needs of his young family. Now, self-help books might have told him, “Daunted means preparation for excellence!” But his gut probably said, “what have I just agreed to?” Two days later, he received a letter in his actual mailbox. It was from the former pastor.

“Mary and I just returned home from the weekend away and have read a copy of what was given to the congregation. We have already heard many of the celebrations about your call to Westminster and read the brochure you wrote.” He then went on the detail a few specific things he noted, ending with the key detail that he learned from their friend Johnny Atkins that Chris also didn’t like mayonnaise, surely a sign from the Lord. He then wrote this: “I want to insure you that I will be the chairperson of your fan club. Nobody wants you to succeed and prosper in this call more than I do. I am including a copy of the promise I made to the Session in 2006 and I intend to continue to honor it.”

You may be glad to know that I received notes of encouragement from seven former pastors of this church when I started here at BPC (from Revs. David Ensign, Meg and Jarrett McLaughlin, Jay Click, Beth Braxton, Mary Ann McKibben Dana, and Emily Berman D’Andrea).

Now, let’s turn to young Pastor Timothy who was just starting out in ministry in Ephesus. He had been an intern of sorts to Paul during his second tour in church planting and was on his maiden voyage of leadership at a time when things were rugged for the church. No doubt he was daunted. Daunted by the narcissistic leaders of the Empire who required you to worship them or face their wrath. Daunted by the needs of widows, young and old, and by what was generating so many widows to begin with. Daunted by the onslaught of preachers whose messages sounded nothing like Jesus but turned quite a profit. Daunted by preachers who kept restricting access to marriage and certain foods in ways that sounded more like legalism than love. Daunted by folks who were leaving in droves because of the hypocrisy they saw. And daunted by the normal running of the church among leaders who sometimes squabbled with each other or showed up with wine on their breath or repeatedly called him kiddo.

And around that time, I imagine a courier or mutual friend passed him this encouraging papyrus letter, that we call 1st Timothy, that spoke to his ache for encouragement.

Timothy, you’re like a son in the faith to me. Yes, prayers, intercessions, petitions, thanksgivings are for all people…. Leaders and kings included. And yes, Jesus is for all people… He gave his life for everyone. I am not lying… ” (1 Tim. 2:7). That is what I have been heralding all over this world. He commiserated with Timothy about how hard it is to compete with the peddlers of theological short-cuts by saying, “Without a doubt, the mystery of godliness is great” (1 Tim. 3:16). “The love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). And he took time to coach Timothy on what made for good elders and deacons. Unfortunately, Paul’s words about women’s leadership and slavery in this letter have historically caused a ton of the strife Paul was trying to avoid when he hoped for quiet peaceful quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. But Paul never set out to be Christ himself, which he also said in this letter, full disclosure, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.” In this letter most of all we hear Paul, chairperson of the Timothy fan club, say, “Do not neglect the gift that is in you (1 Tim. 4:14). Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called. Grace be with you (1 Tim. 6:12). ”

What a blessing to read that. What a blessing to receive this message especially when the wind is in your face, especially when people leave the church, especially when kings and leaders and influencers sell people on the myth that there are short-cuts to a life of peace and flourishing. Short cuts like: This diet will give you the life you want. A better job and more money and a better house will calm the churn within you. A new relationship or a different church or strict set of laws will quell your loneliness. A new political leader will fix things.

Paul wanted Timothy to know that ministry was not hard because Timothy was young or in the wrong town or lacking the proper gifts or just a few centuries too early to see big church numbers. It was hard because it was hard. And you know what is even stronger than all that seems to conspire against you? The grace and love and eternal life that dwells within you.

What a blessing Paul gives to us now when we may feel daunted. According to the new data from the Pew Forum, Christian affiliation in the US dropped from 78 percent in 2007 to 63 percent in 2020. This change highlights the rise of the “nones,” those whose religious affiliation is ‘none’ or nothing in particular, and the research details what we already know, that ages 15-29 are when religious switching most often happens. It notes an uptick in disaffiliation among older adults and says that disaffiliation is concentrated among Protestants, both evangelicals and non, more so than Catholics. We might also feel daunted by the climate crisis or the long shadow of Covid or racism or the blinding speed of technological change and mass migration. And more than likely, we are daunted by our workload or how our loved one sounded the other day on the phone.

So how are things going in this church? Here are some numbers you might feel: 225 of you were here for worship in person and online last week, up from 123 on January 9th. In 2017, around the peak at BPC, worship attendance was 395. It’s easy to let those numbers define us. But, how about these numbers: 58 calls or visits by the deacons last week. Half a ton of food collected for the ECHO food pantry on Saturday. 42 hot dinners shared at Community Table. 58 preschoolers walking finger on the wall in the hall. 31 youth throwing colorful chalk straight into Adam’s beard at their kick-off event and 16 confirmands.

How do you account for the thousands of tears the flowed at funerals that were consoled with hugs and cookies and the promise of resurrection? How do you account for the widow who gets a ride to church and a smile that declares her pricelessness before God? And how do you account for the quiet prayer in the meditation room that lightened the 10,000 pound load on a mother’s heart? And how do you assess the intrinsic beauty of memorial stones and trees or a perfect anthem or a youth who experiences true belonging or words from scripture that feel like a telephone line through time? How do you measure the weight of a hymn sung full blast by the bedside of a woman with just a few dozen breaths left in her body or the lump in the throat of a parent as their child is baptized or says “I do”? And back to the story I shared at the beginning, how do you measure the impact of a former pastor like Rev. Holderness? By the church he helped build or the non-profits he started in Durham? By his son who won the Amazing Race and talks about church as part of his life to his millions of followers on YouTube? Or, by my friend Chris, now seasoned in ministry there, some 14 years later, who at Rev. Holderness’ memorial service, in a sanctuary swollen with sorrow and love, stepped into the pulpit and read that letter one more time?
How do you measure a year in the life? Cue all my music lovers out there.

The truth is… on the balance sheet of grace… all of it comes from God. All of it comes as a gift. All of it flows from the heart of our God mediated through Jesus quivering through in our hearts through the Spirit. It is daunting in the best way to stand on promises that have echoed over millennia, daunting in the best way to stand on the shoulders of giants who lived and died in the faith, sinners and saints, misfits and mystics, who made love visible in this world in pulpits and pews but also in peace efforts and protests, in public schools and libraries, Presbyterian hospitals and universities, and of course the pastor of public television, Fred Rogers. Seen that way, our lives become prayers. Our jobs become praise. Our church becomes a pallet in the hand of the divine painter. A packet of yeast to leaven an overbaked world. A pinch of salt in world starving on bland mass-produced food. A pop of light that the darkness cannot overcome.
Margaret Mead, an anthropologist who not coincidentally also helped draft the Episcopalian book of common prayer, famously said, “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Amen.

 

Encounter: Collateral Beauty

By Rebecca Messman

July 17, 2022

Burke Presbyterian Church, Burke VA

 

Exodus 33:18-23

Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord,’ and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one shall see me and live.” And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

Let us pray. Lord uphold me that I might uplift thee. Amen.

I think I would love stargazing more if it didn’t happen so late at night. I am better at star grazing or star lazing, which is the rigorous practice of seeing a few stars just before dozing off. Despite my “morning” orientation, several years ago, our family visited Joshua Tree National Park because it has some of the best stargazing in the country. And the whole place was breathtaking. Giant yucca plants with arms outstretched in praise stand stunned on sandy plains, adorned with granite monoliths and yellow rock piles. People and lizards climb all over the rocks that are set up like a life-sized Godly play scene. The sun rolls over the rocks by day heating the surface to 180 degrees at times, a punishing fireball, and by night, you can actually see clouds from the Milky Way. Dave and the kids scaled massive rocks and waved down at me, safe on the sand, like a shrub, taking pictures of their daring. I call myself the Momarazzi.

One morning, we went into the park extremely early, and from the cleft of a rock, we saw the stars fade and the sun rise, and we just sat there in awe as if God were passing by in the flaming royal procession of dawn. We probably would have stayed there for hours teary at the beauty of it, maybe saying quite Biblical things like “Who are humans that you are mindful of them?” or singing with voices echoing off the rocks, but that was not possible. Tears would soon become sweat and that safe rock, a pizza oven.

I think of that morning when I imagine Moses in today’s text. Moses wants to see God, face to face. He wants some proof, some certainty, that God is there. “Please show me your glory,” he begs. He is pretty desperate at this moment. His people had just melted all their jewelry into a golden calf, and in this usually overlooked conversation in Exodus, Moses wants something tangible of his own from God. We probably recognize his plea. He’s lonely and disappointed in other people. He’s tired after a journey that went on way longer than he thought it would. He’s doubting himself at this point, that he has enough charisma or vision to lead the people anymore. He’s doubting humanity in general, that his community would talk so much about freedom and faith and then as soon as they were free, they resumed their complaining and found some new shiny version of God to follow. And with all those clouds of doubt rolling in, the gleaming faith he once had started to fade too.

So, from the cleft of the rock, he said something like, Lord, show me some kind of sign that this is all going somewhere. Give me something undeniable, something certifiable, something tangible so I don’t have to rely on hope or faith anymore.

As a pastor, I have heard this plea more times than I can count. The person with cancer who says, “I just wish I had more faith, maybe then I wouldn’t feel so scared or angry or disappointed.” The Mom whose beloved son is somewhere in Florida on a bender again, probably safer in jail than wherever he is, who says: “I just wish he knew how loved he is. I wish God would scare some sense into him so he might have a chance at living his life.” And, I have probably said a version of Moses’ plea myself, “Show us your glory, God. Show us your realness. Everyone is upset. One on extreme, people are making craven images as if you are an American God of war. On the other extreme, people mock the idea of you completely, as if you are a security blanket of weak-minded people. Show yourself.”

Have you ever been in the cleft of a rock like that? Longing for a nod from God, a bowl of certainty in the morning so that the hunger of doubt goes away?

God tells Moses it would actually be impossible to see God face to face. So here in Exodus we get this image of God placing Moses in the cleft of a rock, shielding him from all that he could never comprehend and survive, then blasting Moses with the infernal beauty of God’s back. As ancient as this story is, some 4,000 years old, I find this remarkable. It reminds me that God gives us something better than bite-sized certainty and tiny trinkets of temptation. It promises me that in the wake of every place God has been, which is every place, there is ineffable astounding beauty. And it invites me to consider that, like Moses, we are often shielded from what we simply cannot take in.

I was a doozy of a kid in Presbyterian Churches. I was that dreaded hand that went up during the children’s message asking, “So how do you know that?” The one who made the minister clear his throat. My confirmation mentor was a man named Bob Knowles. Bob was an ordained pastor whose ministry was serving the poorest of the poor in Danville, and it was clear he was not daunted by my questions. One church night supper, I was absolutely grilling him on God and Jesus and the sticky societal problems I knew about in 1990 over a plate of turkey, green beans a perfect scoop of mashed potatoes, and he finally said, “You’re trying to see God through the windshield. But I have to say – I see God clearest through the rearview mirror.” I’ll never forget that.

Dutch theologian Soren Kierkegaard said it this way, “Life is lived forwards and understood backwards.”

The poet Emily Dickinson said it this way, “Tell the truth but tell it slant. The truth must dazzle gradually or every man be blind.”

I think this is different than saying everything in life will make sense. Different than saying we’ve seen the spreadsheets, and the Year To Date accounting of God’s receipts is to our liking. Different than answers to our pleas for signs and certainties. It is more like taking a break from control for a minute to gaze at the collateral beauty in the rearview mirror. It’s like watching a sunset so red on the clouds that it hushes your frantic questions and gives you whole new ones.

My friend Janet had been a widow for 2 years when we started going to breakfast. Then one day, over grits, I asked a newbie question, “Do you ever get over it? Grief, I mean.”  She said, “Believe me, I don’t plan to get over George. But there was a day when dinner rolled around, and I realized had been too busy that day to be sad. I’d played cards, gone to lunch, and worked in the garden. All these little shoots of life sprouted up without my knowing it and I said, “well, would you look at that?” I tell people, God’s healing sneaks up on you like that.”

The term collateral beauty was a gift from a woman from my former church. Her beautiful, creative, deeply attentive son struggled so much. She wished he felt the warm wash of welcome that other kids did but as a gay kid, some of his light was on a spectrum that other people couldn’t see, including himself. But, over 15 years, she would send me these beautiful text messages, like snapshots from the cleft in the rock where God had brushed past. Something their family built together. #collateral beauty. His beautiful faith statement in confirmation that brought everyone to tears. #collateral beauty. A note from one of her ESL students saying “You helped me get better and in other classes I did not get better. You made me feel welcome. I hope God blesses you.” #Collateral beauty. Those texts were her view from the cleft of the rock where she couldn’t see everything but saw enough to know beauty was there and beauty is God’s handwriting.

Today’s Gospel reading wonders if maybe the reason we don’t experience God’s beauty is not doubt actually, but distraction and worry. There is Martha, upset at those who seem to be enjoying life rather than trying to fix it. She works so hard because she truly wants the itinerary of God on her clipboard to work out. Truth be told, I am firmly in her camp most of the time. So are most Presbyterians. We would like for God to stand at a certain point in the bulletin, and ideally, notify us of any holy plans a few weeks in advance. And we exhaust ourselves doing so. New York times writer Tim Krieder calls this the “Busy Trap,” where “busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness” (https://archive.nytimes.com/opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/)

And then there is Mary, Martha’s sister, just sitting there at Jesus’ feet. She is not building an institution. She is not answering to the crowds. She is just experiencing a kind of incarnate grace that for a moment is in her living room. And, in the kindest way possible, Jesus says Mary is on the right path. Mary is experiencing God in the here and now rather than bookkeeping for the past or the future. Mary, like Moses long before her, sat in the cleft of the rock with the light of the world. She couldn’t control it anyway so she let herself enjoy it.

When I saw the images from the James Webb telescope this week, it took my breath away. There it was: the red tail of an expanding universe captured on film. The glory of God shown to us, on the front of the Washington Post. The reminder of how much is there that we cannot see, yet it is as true as anything, and beautiful as a billion sunsets. It is infrared so our eyes can’t register it. It travels over billenia and our bodies are briefer than that. But nevertheless, it is undeniable. Certifiable. Tangible. Granted, seeing those images didn’t make my day all of a sudden easier. I still had to make lunch and drive a child to camp and take out the trash. I still experienced waves of grief for the dying stars in my own life. I still had to bring this little light of mine to bear on the issues facing the here and now. But I let myself sit in the cleft of the rock and enjoy the beauty, a universe 13+ billion years old and somehow still benevolently bringing forth tomatoes in the neighbor’s yard. The Mary part of me quieted the Martha part of me, and I delighted in the eternal and ever new light of God right there in my living room.

Maybe there are some here today who feel anxious, who have been making urgent and reasonable pleas for God to show up, who feel tired and distracted. Today invites you to look with intention to the rearview mirror of your life for collateral beauty. Share it. Let it fuel your hope as you serve in the here and now. Today invites you to trust that the light of Christ is with you even if it is at a register your eyes can’t receive yet. Trust that it might just sneak up on you. And finally, if that kind of joy is in your living room, for heaven sake, don’t rush it away.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning said it this way, “Earth is crammed with heaven and every common bush afire with God but only the one who sees takes off their shoes.”

 

 

Farewell to Pastor David

Rev. Dr. David Ensign has served our congregation as Interim Pastor for almost two years. This Sunday, September 19, is his last Sunday with us. Please join us as you feel comfortable for worship, when we will reflect with much appreciation on Pastor David’s ministry with us.  A light reception will be held outdoors after the service. #receivelovegiveloverepeat

Building Project

“Word Up: The True Friend Zone”

Rev. Jarrett McLaughlin