Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Wilderness of Kadesh

This sermon was delivered at Messiah Lutheran Church on January 14th, 2018 on 1 Samuel 3: 1-10 & Saint John 1:43-51 and involved some very, very poor psalm chanting.

(chanted... sort of) The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon! He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox! The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire! The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh! (chanted... sort of)

With those few beautiful, melodically sung verses of Psalm 29 aside, it’s worth telling you about the beginnings of a pretty exciting conversation we had this past week in our Worship & Music team. So, we got talking and were saying that gosh, yes, there’s definitely a lot about our worship services on Sunday mornings that seem meaningful to people… yall helped grow our attendance by around 7% last year by the way, so some things got to be working, but still, there’s a couple things too, that well, just kinda happen because they’ve always been done that way, and probably I imagine just feel like going through the motions in the pews. Last Sunday when we were chanting about Sirion skipping like a wild ox and the wilderness of Kadesh and all during the psalms, folks for the most part didn’t look inspired or grounded or like they were hearing the Good News. Even for me, after four years of seminary education and roughly knowing what the psalm was talking about, it felt like we were just doing something because, well, the hymnal said to do so and that’s how we’ve always done it.

Now I’m not knocking the psalms… they’re the original songs of our faith, with a bit of translation they’re still meaningful songs of resistance against all the forces of darkness in ourselves and in our world, Luther first came up with a lot of his original insights while reading and teaching about them, but what I am trying to say is that gosh, doing something that’s no longer meaningful just because “it’s always been done” is unfortunately something that a) far too many folks rightfully associate churches with yet b) could not be more antithetical to what a faithful life following our God in Christ is truly all about. Let me reiterate what should be truly good news… singing about the wilderness of Kadesh in the same old way just because that’s how “it’s always been done” could not be less like what a faithful life following Jesus is truly about. And gosh, perhaps especially today as we celebrate little Grayson’s baptism and think about what the church ought to be like for him, throughout his life of faith, it’s worth considering what hearing Christ’s call to “follow me” is truly about.

When God called to Samuel in our first lesson, it says “the word of the Lord was rare in those days,” or in other words, people of faith had gotten way too much stuck in “that’s how it’s always been done.” Samuel though said, “Here am I,” and grounded in the wisdom of the past, imagined a new way to prophetically live out his faith. Same too with our gospel… right, the folks Jesus was most critical of wasn’t sinners or the poor, but religious leaders, who had taken the beautiful, ancient, life giving wisdom of faith and once again gotten stuck in “that’s how it’s always been done.” Yet, despite his doubts, Nathaniel heard his neighbor Philip, say, “hey, come and see where God is really at work,” and eventually, he said yeah! Nathaniel rejoins the story at the end of Saint John’s gospel, when Christ appears to his followers on the Sea of Galilee after the resurrection.

Hear the good news, my sisters and brothers, our God in Christ is not a god of “that’s how it’s always been done.” Look rather to the best of our faith community, learn from such things, and imagine all sorts of new possibilities! When we hear God's call to "follow me," we're invited into a much bigger thing than doing the same old, same old. Serving and getting to know our neighbors. Supporting and celebrating with one another. Being reminded that each and every single Sunday that yes, there is a lot of meaning in life and that no, all the doubts and fears and anxieties we feel about ourselves and our world are nothing but a bunch of self-inflicted fake news. Learning about how our faith helps us understand our world (check out the opportunity to learn how faith connects with science during a screening of Journey of the Universe and a conversation between John Cummings, the Dean of the Siena College School of Science and Tom Dickens, a Professor of Religious Studies, this coming Wednesday below, btw).

Staying grounded. Learning about our world. Helping others. Building community. Seeing the world through grace filled eyes and realizing all the incredible opportunities God has placed right in front of us. Not saying “that’s how it’s always been done” but taking the time to dream, to hope, to imagine, to see how God right now and in a bright future is continuing to say to us “follow me.” That’s what Jesus calls us to. That’s what faith is all about.

Dustin serves as pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church, a Spirit filled church following Jesus Christ in Schenectady, New York. An evangelist, urban gardener, mountain climber, community organizer, saint and sinner, he spends most of his professional time wrestling with God and proclaiming liberation in Christ. Otherwise, Dustin likes hiking, playing frisbee, hanging out with his amazing pup Willy Bear and pretending to know how to sing.