"A Letter to My Son"
Preached at House for All Sinners and Saints
Seventh Sunday of Easter
20 May 2012
Day Texts: Acts 1.15-26
1 John 5.9-13
(Audio available at the conclusion of the sermon text below)
I always feel more religious in the sunshine,
especially if it’s not hot and the place is pretty
and most people can’t afford to get there or just
don’t bother. Morning has broken and all that.
And so the rattle of rain on the tarp doesn’t really
make me count my blessings, the stray drops
beading my borrowed rain pants don’t bring
me bliss, the fact of fewer mosquitoes
than yesterday does not make my heart leap up.
But I know that one day I must learn
to give up for good on getting dry,
to love the hiss of water meeting water,
the gray lake accepting the gray rain,
so little between them, our slender place
between the great sky and the stones.
Hold tight, I tell my heart, here we go.
-So I know the last thing you’re probably looking for from your preacher father is a personal letter...in the form of a sermon. But look on the bright side: we both know if I were left to my own devices, this could get pretty lengthy. As is, I’ve got to keep this thing under 10 minutes, or the people listening in are gonna revolt. So the community’s got your back on this one.
-I was really excited to preach this week, because it’s the one time each year that we get to read about the one story where your name is mentioned in the Bible. I wanted to preach about why we chose to name you after Matthias, the disciple chosen by rolling dice to replace Judas…and also why we had to change your name three times before your slightly perfectionistic parents finally chilled out and settled on it.
-But then this week happened in Denver. This week, our lawmakers at the capitol voted to ban outdoor camping in the city - effectively displacing the homeless folks who are an important part of our family's community. This week, they also voted down a proposal to allow civil unions - effectively denying them to GLBTQ folks. So this week, many of our friends and family here in Denver are experiencing pain, rejection, anger, frustration, and betrayal. It’s been a pretty bleak week. It’s a week that makes me want to say, with Jesus in today’s Gospel, that we “do not belong to this world.”
-And listening to Jesus, you can just hear the struggle in his voice as he says a final prayer over his followers before he goes to the cross. He obviously loves these faltering friends of his. He’s protected them and guided them. Taught them about peace and love. And now, he prays to His Father: “as you have sent me into the world, so I am sending them into the world.” And we all know how that story ends for Jesus. The cross is hardly the kind of thing any father wants for their son.
-Definitely not what I want for you, Tai-Tai. Because as I hold you in my arms, thinking about this text and you, the last thing I’d want to do is send you into a world like this. A world where, if it turned out you loved men instead of women, you would be denied the gift of a marriage covenant with the person God had sent to intimately teach you about love, and forgiveness, and holiness, and grace. A world where, if it turned out you ended up homeless, you would not be allowed a place to sleep. A world where politicians use and abuse us for the sake of votes and salary, where churches attack others instead of facing the Spirit’s call of death and resurrection. A world that Sin, Death and the Devil have made into a playground of self-interest, rather than a good gift to be shared in love.
-No, I’d want to take you out of this world. To the kind of world like we glimpsed this weekend, on the House for All retreat. Up into those mind-blowing mountains, where I can keep you wrapped in my warm flannel shirt as we walk through the mist at sunrise. Where the clouds come so close to the earth that its hard to know where this world ends and heaven begins. Where friends love one another, and sing together, and pray together...and even roller skate to bad '90s music together. Where even your crying all night is a grace, because it means more time getting to hold you close, safely next to my heart.
-Maybe it's less about taking you out of any particular place in the world. Maybe it’s just keeping alive within your soul a place where you can remember the truth about this home God has created for us. Because look, son. God delighted in making this world, and God made it good. God made this world’s people so brilliantly glorious that if we could see them in their true nature, I believe that, as CS Lewis once said, we’d fall down and worship each other as gods. God made nature so amazing that if we truly appreciated it, we’d gladly switch places with all those homeless folks, wanting to sleep out of doors every night, just to gaze up at the stars in endless childlike wonder. God made communities - even churches! - so powerfully intimate, that in spite of the ways we use and abuse one another, God is committed to bringing us back to one another again and again.
-So I hate to say it, but it seems there’s a tension here. A paradox. (Hey, you’re Lutheran -get used to it.) It’s both-and. “This world” is a place God delights in and loves, and sent Jesus to redeem, and the Spirit to re-create and sanctify. But it’s also a place covered in darkness, bent away from the light - what one of my friends this week called a “Shadowed Cosmos.”
-But see, that’s why I think Jesus’ prayer for us is so powerful. In preparation for living into this both-and tension, he asked God to: “Sanctify them in the truth.” Now, on the one hand, that’s a very mean thing to ask for us. Because it’s gonna mean having to see things as they really are. And before we can truly see the glory, we’re gonna have to see the shadows. And not just the shadows cast by those capitol hill politicians. We'll also have to confront the shadowlands of our own hearts. And that's not gonna be fun.
-But Jesus refuses to protect us from the shadows, because he doesn’t want us to miss out on the light. Jesus doesn’t want us – or anyone - to miss out on the glory of this creation that God pronounced “good.” So Jesus calls us out - just as he called out that first Matthias, and says, “be witnesses to the resurrection.” Tell them a better story. Tell them about the truth – about the real world.
-Tell the world God loves that the heart of the universe is not rot, but resurrection and new life. Tell the world that God loves that there is a Creator, that there is a Savior, that there is a Redeemer, and that this God isfor you, for me, and for us all. This God will be for you, no matter where you sleep at night, no matter who you marry, no matter which party or church you join. This God gives us permission to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, bless the outcast, sanctify the sinner, marry the unmarried, and proclaim Good News. Even if it means defying the devil, defying the state -and even defying the church. This God frees us from cynicism, since this God frees us from concern about results, or success, or failure, and asks solely that we delight in trusting God to make this story our story.
-This God became incarnate in Jesus Christ, and lived, served, was crucified, died and was buried, descended into Hell, rose again and ascended into heaven, so that we could be free to love and serve one another, and share the blessings of this insanely marvelous creation with all peoples and all nations in peace.
-And that, my Little Man, is why I begrudgingly want to pray Jesus’ prayer for you. That you be sanctified in the truth, as you are sent into this world. It’s a world that will break your heart with its horror. But also a world that God gave you to melt your heart with delight. It’s a world God will never give up on, no matter how dark we make it. And God will never give up on you either – you, or me, or anyone else.
-So, Matthias, may you be in this world, and may you learn to delight in it as God delights in it, as you learn to tell the story of the resurrected Jesus. When grief threatens to crush your spirit, let there be mountains, let there be community, let there be singing and wonder, and yes, let there even be roller skating. May you be sanctified in the truth. May you delight in being a guerilla for grace, and in practicing resurrection. And may the joy of Jesus be made complete in you.
-I love you.