Sunday, July 21, 2013

Ordinary Time 16C Sermon: Chillaxing in Community

What follows is a draft of the sermon I preached this Sunday at Saint Peter's Church for Jazz Vespers.  It's primarily on Genesis 18: 1 - 10 and Saint Luke 10: 38 - 42, two of the appointed lectionary readings for the day.

So I have a confession for all of you… for much of my life, I wasn’t a big fan of going to church… I really disliked it actually, because I thought it was a waste of time. It wasn’t that I didn’t love Jesus, or faith or Christian community or anything like that… I’ve pretty much always really dug those things and have found them immensely meaningful in my life. But the specific act of what many call worship, the roughly hour and a half of sitting and standing in the pews, the singing, praying, listening to typically boring folks like me talk for typically way too long up front Sunday after Sunday about archaic things I couldn’t care less about… I never really got the point of it. And furthermore, as someone that’s always been really into the service and social justice side of faith… feeding the hungry, accompanying people living under the oppression of poverty in their long walk to freedom, organizing the community against all manner of social ills, I definitely thought the immense time and resources spent by most Christian communities on the act of worship was simply a distraction from what was truly important. And while my thinking on such matters admittedly started shifting after I entered seminary, even last year you’d have typically found me sending out emails about an initiative to make campus more environmentally friendly and or supporting the local Occupy movement rather than attending daily chapel services. Even once I starting getting a vague notion of its importance, I still didn’t think I had time for worship, or to put it slightly more colorfully, I didn’t think I had time to “chillax” with God and by doing so “chillax” with my sisters and brothers in Christian community.

To chillax… it’s a “word” I think I first heard sometime in high school and have occasionally used ever since when attempting to sound hip around folks a bit older than me or when vainly trying to impress a girl or the like. It occurred to me this week though that such a word could be repurposed for the far more noble use of summarizing both the importance of worship I have learned this year from all of you at Saint Peter’s and the immensely good news that is at the heart of today’s gospel message. For combining the two verbs ‘to relax’ and ‘to chill’ into ‘to chillax’ really ends up making for a profound concept. It means not only to take a pause, to take a breath in the midst of the chaos that surrounds you, but to do so not for your own sake, nor under your own initiative. Instead, chillaxing is solely done for the sake of the other and solely as a work of God. You see, when chillaxing a pause is made, a breathe is taken, a separate space is created away from one’s own life in order to see another being for who she or he is truly is, to listen carefully to that being, and in fact to share in the realization of a sacred moment with another broken yet beautiful child of God. To chillax… it’s what worship and what today’s readings are all about… and the simple reminder to chillax, the simple invitation that we can’t help but say yes to, that simple invitation my sisters and brothers is immensely good news.

Let’s look at our first reading today from Genesis… God shows up at Abraham’s tent in presence of three men, perhaps in what Christians would later call the Trinity, in the middle of a hot summer day at Mamre, in a place that would later become one of the three most important and busiest marketplaces in ancient Israel. Despite the sweltering heat, Abraham is invited by God to take some time along with his wife Sarah to first recognize the physical needs of his three visitors by providing them with water. A sumptuous meal is then prepared and a holy moment is shared under the shade of a tree while the meal is enjoyed. In other words, Abraham chillaxes with God and then Abraham and Sarah receive the immensely good news that God will soon return to them in this face of a newborn child.

Today’s gospel story from Saint Luke also puts forward a powerful of message about chillaxing with God and with one another, and this time without the inherent patriarchy of the Genesis passage. The story takes place immediately after the Good Samaritan story we heard last Sunday... Jesus shows up at Martha and Mary’s house, and much like with Abraham and Sarah, He does so to invite them into a holy moment over a meal. In other words, Jesus shows up to chillax. Martha welcomes Jesus into her home, and gets to work busily preparing a meal. Mary on the other hand, defies the gender norms of her day by sitting as a disciple at Jesus’ feet, listening to him. Martha in turn reasonably gets pretty upset that she has to do all the work. Lovingly, Jesus proclaims back to her, and to us in this time, in this place, in this exceptionally busy of cities, the immensely good news that at the heart of the matter it’s not about what Martha, or what Mary or what you or me, or any of us are really doing at all… Rather, it’s about the most amazing act of liberating love God is working in Christ.

For you see, what I’ve certainly come to learn this year from all of you, is that when we gather around this table, and when we chillax with beautiful Spirit-filled jazz and join in mutual conversation, a most divinely holy moment, and most profound space of liberating love occurs. A space where folks who live on the streets and folks who can afford plane tickets to fly in from all over the world gather together and mutually recognize each other as broken yet beautiful children of God (and thus learn from each other) is created in Christ. And in such a space, supported by each other, we can’t help but cast ourselves into the arms of a God who is lovingly aching to share Her presence with us. God chillaxes with us, welcomes us, gathers us up in loving arms into community with Herself and one another and thereby strengthens us to go out and proclaim Her message of liberating love to a city and world profoundly hungry for the gospel. And this sisters and brothers, is profoundly good news. Amen.

Dustin currently serves as Vicar at the Lutheran Office for World Community and Saint Peter's Church in Manhattan, having recently completed his second year of a Masters of Divinity program at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. While seeking ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, his focus is on the intersection between worship, service and justice in de-centralized faith communities unencumbered by a traditional church building. In his free time, Dustin likes playing frisbee, hiking and pretending to know how to sing.

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