Friday, June 26, 2009

Pentecost 4, Lectionary 13, june 28, 2009

A sermon preached at the installation of Pastor Marie Hatcher as transition pastor at Christ Lutheran Church, Nashville, TN

LESSONS: Lamentations 3:22-33, Ps. 30, II Corinthians8: 7-15, Mark 5:21-43

Of Faith and Fear

For a few years National Geographic carried a regular feature called Zip Code USA,
in which they focus on the place and people within a particular Zip Code.

In June of 2006, it was 27030, my home town, Mt. Airy, NC.
The article focused mainly on the Bunker twins, Eng and Chang "Siamese" twins, made famous by PT Barnum. When they retired, they settled in Mt. Airy and raised families.

As an aside the article mentioned the local custom of radio obituaries.

Now, for years I have told a story about the "Moody's Obituary Column of the Air,"

The story I have told has to do with eating breakfast at my Grandparents' house.
We all lived on the same farm, in houses about a quarter of a mile apart.
I spent one or two nights a week at my grandparents' house, which was good because instead of cereal I got bacon and biscuits for breakfast, but which was bad because I had to sit very still and eat very quietly so that Grandpa could listen to the "Moody Obituary Column of the Air."

It always began with eerie organ music, then a deep, deep voice said,

And so it went through 5 or 6 names.
Now, over time, I developed the notion that the voice on the radio was the voice of God. Who else would know all that stuff about all those people?

And I further decided that the purpose of the obituaries was to warn the rest of us to straighten up and fly right.

After all, didn't Jesus say that he would come like a thief in the night, and weren't these death stories the first thing we heard in the morning?

So I ate my breakfast in trembling silence, and went out into my day trying to be as circumspect as possible.

One day, my Daddy dropped me off at Elmer Timmons' barber shop to get a haircut while he went to town on business. I liked Elmer's. It was a small concrete building in the corner of his yard. He had lots of Boys Life Magazines and Superman comic books, and always gave us suckers.

I also liked Elmer because his name was a lot like mine. I went in and called out "Hey Elmer!" and Elmer replied, "Hey Delmer!"

There was someone in the chair, so I started reading, when suddenly, my blood ran cold, my heart almost stopped, I couldn't breath, because God had spoken, not three feet away from me, and God said,


And I did what any reasonable, impressionable, imaginative, fundamentalist 6 year old would have done. I ran to the bathroom, turned out the light, locked the door and hid under the sink. (It took quite a bit of gentle coaxing and promises of candy to get me out of that bathroom, where Elmer did the best he could to explain the concept of radio announcer to me)

In our Gospel lesson, I was struck by the words FEAR and FAITH.

After the woman with the flow of blood touched Jesus and he stopped and asked who touched him etc, it says she "came in fear and trembling, fell down before him and told him the whole truth. He (Jesus) said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well."

In the wrap-around story of Jairus' daughter, at this point , the text says, "some people came from the leader's house to say, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?" But Jesus says to the man, "Do not fear, only believe (have faith)."

As demonstrated by the story of the obituaries, when I was a child I had a lot of faith, I also had a lot of fear. My faith was faith in the reality of God, not any sort of trust in the goodness or compassion of God. And my fear was rooted in a fear of the power of that real but vengeful God I had conjured up from Sunday School and Fundamentalist preaching and comic books and horror movies and God knows what else.

As I have grown older, faith and fear have remained in dynamic tension in my life. Just as my faith has matured and become more sophisticated, my fears have grown less generalized and more realistic.

But they are still there as they are for all of us. All of us fear things: terrorism, avian flu, economic collapse, earthquake, fire and flood, to name a few.

And the last few years have shown us that our fears are realistic and founded in reality, not fantasy as were mine. And the question is, as we face these realistic fears, where do we place our faith, our assurance and hope for the future? In money and its accumulation and clout? In armies and governments and secret agents?

The scriptures call us to trust in God, a thing much easier said than done.
Lamentations reminds us "that the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, (God's) mercies never come to an end." and then goes on to talk about those times when one feels abandoned by God, a realistic look at faith in the face of fear.

The Psalm repeats this theme, as in "then you hid your face, and I was filled with fear" but also cries out, "O Lord, My God, I will give you thanks forever." And our lesson from 2 Corinthians reminds us not to hoard our money in time of other's need, but to share our resources with the needy, trusting in God to provide for us through them in our time of need. Generosity is an act of faith overcoming fear.

Christ Lutheran Church is in the midst of its own uncertain times.
A long pastorate has come to an end. As we all know, there was some disagreement and lack of peace and harmony in the last year or so. The question is: are you going to face the future with FEAR or FAITH?

Are you going to reach out to one another the way the woman in the story reached out to Jesus for comfort and healing? Remember; the church, we, you and I, are the body of Christ, and we have God's spirit and healing power flowing through us. ARE WE GOING TO FACE THE FUTURE WITH FEAR OR FAITH?

Today we install Pastor Hatcher as your transition Pastor, it will be a major part of her calling to lead you forward in facing your fears with faith; faith in God and faith in each other as God's People, Christ's Church, Christ's BODY in the world. A body that is called this day both to be healed and to be a healer in the world.

amen and amen.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Pentecost 2/Lectionary 11, June 14, 2009

Pentecost 2/ Lectionary 11 June 14, 2009
Text: Mark 4:26-34
(A sermon preached at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Nashville, TN on the occasion of the Installation of Transition Pastor Gretchen Person and the Dedication of the Dahlinger Fellowship Hall.)

Today's Gospel lesson is the sort of text you might expect an old farm boy like me to really get into. Plowing ground, planting seeds, watching 'em grow, Good stuff, right?

Well, truth is, I wasn't much of a farmer; just never really had any interest in it.

I mean, I could do the work and did it well. It just didn't excite me; I really didn't care very much one way or the other.

Frankly, I found the whole business - well, boring. It took too long; it was too unpredictable; too uncontrollable; too frustrating.

Plow the ground, put in the fertilizer, plant the seed, chop out the weeds, and wait, and wait and wait, and pray and pray and pray.

Pray for rain; pray it doesn't hail, pray for the rain to stop, pray for it to warm up, pray for it to cool off.

While you're praying, you need to be spraying; spray for bugs, spray for weeds; praying and spraying for weeks on end.

And, after all that; it's out of the farmer's hands anyway.

No matter how hard you try, sometimes it doesn't work.

Most of the time; it's too hot or too cold or too wet or too dry or prices are too high or too low.

If it's a good year, everybody has a good year and there's an oversupply of the crop and prices are too low.

If it's a bad year; everybody has a bad year and supply is down and prices are high, but you don't have anything to sell.

In the end, there was too much luck involved for me to be a farmer. I wasn't a very good farmer because I didn't have the right disposition

I'm not patient enough. I'm not comfortable with the fact that success ultimately lay in the hands of fate, or the weather, or God; depending on how you looked at it.

So, you can see, this text from Mark about farming really bothers and challenges me.

If the Kingdom of God really is like farming, like sowing seed and being patient;

or like the text from Ezekiel about planting sprigs and waiting for trees to grow;

well, I'm probably in trouble. Reading this text reminds me that the same things that made me a lousy farmer also work against me as a pastor and a Christian.

I worry too much and I want to be in control and I don't trust God enough. There, I said it and I feel better for it.

There is a difficult lesson her for those of us who have a hard time letting go and letting things take their natural, God-given course.

Jesus says to us that we are to plant the seed and let God worry about the growth.

Jesus says we are not responsible for making the church grow.

We are not responsible for making sure everybody "gets saved."

We are not responsible for making the Kingdom of God a smashing success.

Our job, our responsibility is planting the seed and reaping the harvest.


Faith is often defined as trust, and in this case, faith is trusting that the things we do for God will turn out right, in God's way, in God's time.

Faith is keeping on with the work of the Gospel and trusting that in God's own time the crop will grow, even if we never live to see it.

Faith is, in part, letting go of our control over the results.

We live in a world in which people afraid of losing control; or more correctly, of letting someone or something else control their fate.

We have been taught that in order to succeed one must have a goal - after all, as Yogi Berra said, if you don't know where you're going, you might end up somewhere else.

We have been taught that in order to succeed one must have a plan - a well-defined outcome and strategies for achieving it.

I hesitate to point out that most of the folks who taught us these things were the business leaders and financial geniuses who got us into our current economic mess.

Jesus teaches us that the Kingdom of God; the work of Grace and Mercy and Compassion and peace with Justice in the world; works with a totally different outline.

These parables remind us that we are called to do the work; indeed we are called to do the work to the best of our ability; but they also remind us that the ultimate purpose and outcome of this work is not in our hands but in God's. Which is, I assure you, a reality that is both frustrating and reassuring.

It is frustrating to those of us who don't like to wait, who like to be in charge and in control of our own fate and destiny, who like to see progress being made, who like to be able to measure and calibrate and control.

But it is also reassuring and liberating to know that in God's eyes success is not judged by the size of the harvest but by the faithfulness in sowing seeds.

These are reassuring and liberating words for Pr. Person today.

As she is installed as your transition Pastor, she is assured that she is not personally and perpetually responsible for the success and future of this church. She has a defined role to play for a limited amount of time. She has seeds to sow here, a sprig to plant. Hers is to do that faithfully; how it turns out is up to God.

These are reassuring and liberating words for the congregation, both individually and collectively. You are assured that your calling is to be a faithful, honest active member of the parish, sowing seeds of love and grace in world. Yours is to do that faithfully; how it turns out is up to God.

Some 15 years ago those of us who were Holy Trinity Lutheran Church on West End Avenue entered into a discernment process to discover what God's will for us as a community might be.

We studied and prayed and talked and studied and prayed some more. We sought to discern what our mission was and then we tried to figure out what we needed to do to best fulfill that mission. Selling, moving, building seemed to us what we were called to do.

Today, with the dedication of the Fellowship Hall, we complete one part of that vision, but it would be unwise to judge success or failure at this juncture.

We came out here and planted seeds in this field, a cedar sprig on a mountain top. What it can or will be has not yet been revealed, but of one thing we can be assured, God has not finished the work God began in us.

There's a favorite story in my family about my Grandfather, Reid Chilton, who was just absolutely crazy about playing baseball. He lived with his uncle, a Primitive Baptist preacher who didn't hold with the foolishness of ball playing. One day he knew Grandpa had a baseball game, so he put him to working sowing field peas in the cornfield, where they would grow up using the cornstalks as a stake.

Grandpa knew he didn't have time to plant that whole bucket of peas and ride his mule over to Mount Airy for the ball game. Suddenly, he came upon a burned out stump in the middle of the field. He quickly looked around, saw no one was looking, dumped that whole bucket of peas in the stump and covered them with dirt.

He ran out of the field, showed the good reverend his empty bucket and rode off to play ball. Things were fine until a few weeks later when Uncle Arrington was cultivating the field and came upon a stump over-flowing with pea vines!

I see Holy Trinity like that stump just before the eruption of growth; the seeds have been planted, the ground has been cultivated, the fertilizer has been put in. You have done and continue to do your work. Our calling today is to keep working and to trust that God is still working
in and through us to grow the Kingdom.

Amen and Amen.