Sermon – March 15, 2015

Categories: Church,Sermons

Rev. Joe ConnollyCovenant, Part IV: Embracing Our Work of Art

by Rev. Joe Connolly

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“For we are what God has made us, God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to do the good things, which God prepared for us to do beforehand, from the beginning, to be our way of life.” — Ephesians 2:10.

The Rev. Ms. Nadia Bolz-Weber is an interesting person. She is a Lutheran. She is the founding pastor of the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado.

That church is in the denomination known as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America— the same denomination as the folks from Christ Lutheran, right here in Norwich. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America labels the House for All Sinners and Saints as a mission congregation. I am not sure why that church carries this label, since it is an active, growing church of several hundred in the middle of a growing major metropolitan area.

Perhaps some of the label has to do with the fact that a staid Main Line Denomination is less than comfortable with either the Rev. Ms. Bolz-Weber or with the make up of the congregation. Neither of those— the pastor or the congregation— can be labeled as staid or fits preconceived notions of what a staid Main Line church looks like.

As for the Congregation, a story on National Public Radio described the people who attend the church this way: the congregation follows traditional Christian rites and a service looks like the traditional service in many other churches. At appropriate and appointed times the people sit and the people stand.

The people sing very traditional sounding hymns. However, the congregation does not seem to quite fit a traditional mode in terms of who attends. They look more like a crowd at a downtown metropolitan bookshop — hipsters, college professors, gay couples, grandmas in jeans and sweatshirts or hood-ies— than they look like the usual suspects.

As for Ms. Bolz-Weber— NPR used this description: the pastor, in her early forties, has short, dyed, moussed hair. She also has arm-loads of religious tattoos.

And yes, I’ve seen pictures of Nadia. Her arms are plastered with tattoos. Further, though she always wears a Roman collar signifying her office, she often wears short sleeve shirts. This sartorial choice means her tattoos are on full display. [1]

Additionally, I need to point out Pastor Bolz-Weber is a writer. Her books include Salvation on the Small Screen? 24 Hours of Christian Television and Pastrix— that’s p-a-s-t-r-i-x— Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint.

In a recent sermon Bolz-Weber told a personal story. She started by explaining why she missed Vespers the previous week. The fact that this congregation has a Vespers service tells you something about an adherence by this congregation to basic Lutheran traditions. In any case, she missed Vespers because she was in bed, sick with the flu.

These days she stays in bed when she has the flu because of something which happened 12 years ago. At that point in time, still in school, she felt driven to prove herself by finishing a thesis while having 2 pre-school children at home and maintaining a high GPA. She was convinced that she would, thereby, impress all her professors.

Well, when she was sick those 12 years ago with the flu, instead of going to bed, she kept going, kept working, not missing a beat. But she was so sick she passed out while driving, while behind the wheel of a car.

She is thankful it happened near her house, in her neighborhood, and not on a highway. Therefore, instead of crashing into other cars, she merely plowed down a neighbor’s mailbox before her car stopped in their snow covered flowerbed.

After the crash, when she came to and opened the door of the car, she passed out again in a snow-bank. The next time she regained consciousness paramedics were standing over her. Having earlier in her life been addicted to alcohol, the first thing she said to them was, “I’m not drunk.” Then she passed out again.

Later the ER doctor insisted there not a thing wrong with her except she had the flu. Then the doctor added, “When you’re that sick you need to go home and lay down. Do not, under any circumstances, drive.”

In that sermon Pastor Bolz-Weber said she hated that idea of going to bed. Why? Because it was a disruption to her very, very driven personality. You see, she placed her trust in her ability to perform. She placed her trust in her ability to do it all. She thought she was the one who controlled the possibility of perfection. [2] (Slight pause.)

These words are from the work known as Ephesians: “For we are what God has made us, God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to do the good things, which God prepared for us to do beforehand, from the beginning, to be our way of life.” (Slight pause.)

Early in this reading from Ephesians we hear the word “saved.” Being saved— not a term heard very much in Main Line churches these days. Perhaps it conjures up too many recollections of old-time revivals, when and where people “got saved.” Even if only for a short spell— that got saved.

On the other hand, “saved” is a prominent biblical term. We also heard it in the Gospel reading. Perhaps we need to dust it off and have another look at it.

In fact, let my give you an interesting definition. I want to suggest saved means “life.” Indeed, saved means God gives life. Saved means we have God given life. (Slight pause.)

The entire history of both Judaism and Christianity agree on this: God gives life. Put another way, God is the prime mover. Hence and therefore, we are what the writer of Ephesians says we are— we are (quote:) “God’s work of art.”

So, the question for me is not “how do I grow into that?” I am there. You are there. We are God’s work of art already. Indeed, if we are God’s work of art, the question becomes, “How do we become comfortable with that?”

And that, I think, is the rub, the problem. I think we are not often comfortable with that. You see, when earlier I said Pastor Bolz-Weber placed her trust in her ability to do it all, I think that often we all fall into the same mode. We place our trust in our own ability to do it all.

When we place our trust in our own ability to do it all we forget two things. We forget we need to place our trust in God. And we forget we are God’s work of art.

The Lenten Devotional from Luther Seminary we made available for the asking this year puts it this way. (Quote:) “I used to think it was my job to save the world. It was exhausting, not to mention misguided. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when I began to understand that it is God who does the saving”— and remember, in the context of Scripture saving means life giving— “I began to understand that it is God who does the saving. And I learned it was okay to surrender to God’s work and enjoy God’s gift of grace.”

That booklet continues: “Paul points out to the Ephesians that Christ invites us to partner in God’s redeeming work in the world. It’s not up to us alone to save; nor are we given an extra star on our heavenly deeds chart for the good we do. Each of us is particularly equipped by the Spirit to serve our neighbor and through faith we trust that God works in, despite and through us.” — words from A Lenten Devotional. [3] (Slight pause.)

I am well convinced that in order to deeply and truly love ourselves, we need to understand ourselves as God’s work of art. I am also well convinced that once we deeply and truly love ourselves because we are God’s work of art, then we become empowered to love others.

And what does it mean to love others? Often to love others means to simply be there for them, not to fix anything in particular, but just to let them know we are there to be present, to be a presence, to support, to offer care.

To be gentle in that way can be quite hard— to be a presence— to be gentle in that way , since fixing is something we humans like to do. Again, like Pastor Bolz-Weber, often we believe it’s our job to preform, to get results, to fix things, to work until we make perfection our own possession. (Slight pause.)

Well, I need to notice the track of this line of thought takes. First, once we recognize we are God’s work of art we can then come to a deeper and fuller understanding of what it means when it’s said God loves us.

Once we come to a deeper and fuller understanding when it’s said God loves us, we realize two things. First, perfection is not our doing nor our work. It is the work of God. Second, God calls us to love others since they are also God’s works of art.

Put differently, understanding we are God’s work of art, understanding God loves us that much, empowers us to love God and to love neighbor. Gee— love God; love neighbor. I think I have heard that somewhere before. Amen.

03/15/2015
United Church of Christ, First Congregational, Norwich, New York

ENDPIECE— It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Congregational Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “These days a lot of people talk about spirituality. Theologian Richard Rohr has this to say on that topic: ‘Authentic spirituality is…. is not and never has been about trying to change anyone else.’ I need to add something else: true Spirituality is about arriving at a deep understanding that we are not God. Only God is God.”

BENEDICTION: There is but one message in Scripture: God loves us. Let us endeavor to let God’s love shine forth in our lives. For with God’s love and goodness, there is power to redeem, power to revive, power to renew, power to resurrect. So, may the love of God the Creator which is real, the Peace of the Christ which surpasses all understanding and companionship of the Holy Spirit which is ever present, keep our hearts and minds in God’s knowledge and care this day and forever more. Amen.

[1]
http://www.npr.org/2013/12/20/255281434/pastor-leads-a-new-brand-of-church-for-sinners-and-saints

[2]
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2015/03/a-sermon-on-addiction-and-the-problem-with-our-me-based-solutions/

[3] It should be noted that it’s unlikely Paul wrote Ephesians despite what the Lenten Devotional said.

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