A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church of Prairie Village, Kansas. September 9, 2012. The second of a six week sermon series on The Marks of a Relevant Church.
I want to share a poem entitled Daybreak:
Early Morning. Early spring.
Light comes to the earth’s lip, a taste of day’s dawn.
Coffee comes to my lips, a sip of brewed awakening.
This time alone—the furnace still asleep at its nighttime setting,
the dog unmoving among the muddy boots
piled in the pantry—
I sit in a chair that sighs as I settle.
Outside, a few crows caw plots of thievery.
They are like noisy shadows,
dark harbingers of tomorrow’s troubles.
Outside, thawed soil has recently endured the overturning blades.
It curls back upon itself row upon row, open and receptive.
I drain the cup and pause, struck by the fullness of gratitude within me.
In spirit I am myself a lengthening day, a land furrowed and ready.
And there is work to be done.
* * *
In my house, silence is hard to come by these days.
There is often yelling – playful, most of the time,
drifting up from the playroom downstairs where my daughters
are making some obstacle course contraption
or the regular protest that their machinations have broken down
over disagreement about who gets the first crack
at their gigantic plaything.
Or there is the whirr of the dishwasher, the busyness of getting dinner on the table
the clanging of plates, the chink of the glasses.
the chatter, the cleanup, washing hands, brushing teeth, moving on
to the next thing….
But its not just in my house.
I leave every morning and enter a world that’s a blur.
Cars buzzing along.
Radio stations keeping us taping our feet on the daily commute
or informing us of the daily news.
Interactions at the workplace: water cooler conversations
the constant humming of the air-conditioning unit
the click of the keyboard as we work along…
I don’t think that my life is all that unique.
I spent some time this week engaged in conversations with colleagues
and intentional observation about the space I happened to be in
coffee shop and grocery store
baseball stadium and walking down side streets
here in Prairie Village.
And I think it safe to say that
We live in not just a busy time, but a noisy one as well.
This may be one side-effect of urban and suburban living.
It is definitely more difficult here to escape the drumming noise of human culture.
But friends tweeting me from rural communities report this too
the din of life.
So hard it is for us to slow down and pay attention to it.
* * *
One thing I like about this poem, and a reason I return to it from time to time.
There is something peaceful, tranquil about it.
It speaks about a longing to dwell for a bit in silence.
To pause and rest and wait and listen.
These are not easy attributes for me.
I am an extrovert. I get recharged and renewed in community.
I’d prefer to be at a party than at home reading a book.
I’d rather my house be noisy with activity than empty.
But even so there are times when I need to pause and dwell in silence.
Where it is good for my spirit to do so.
To try to turn things off and to find a quiet space
and to just BE.
My wife will tell you that her favorite thing to do—when she can do it
is to go out back at our house with a cup of coffee
and just sit there.
I think she is praying there… for the kids to stay asleep just a bit longer.
But for her it’s the same thing: needing to recharge after such a busy, noisy week.
Needing some time alone. Some time without phones chiming
or people talking,
or tasks to accomplish.
Some time to just BE.
We have begin this sermon series reflecting on the marks of a Relevant church.
Jeff and I have tried to offer some preamble to the series in the Newsletter
and in his introductory sermon last week:
What is it that the 21st Century person yearns for in life
and what is the word that the Church has to say to her?
That is what we mean by relevant:
how do we as the Body of Christ connect with and meet what we need
OUR need, AND the need of those
who don’t make it to church on Sunday Morning.
Preacher Fred Craddock tells this fascinating little story in one of his books:
The young woman, twenty-eight years old, at St. Mark’s Church in Atlanta
said to me: “This is the first time I was ever in a church.”
“Well,” I said, “how was it?”
She said, “Kind of scary.”
I said, “Kind of scary?”
She said, “Yeah.”
And she said, “It just seems so important.
You know, I never go to anything important. This just seemed so…important.”
What we do here every Sunday should be important.
Not necessarily in a large scale, huge, MOMENTOUS sort of way, all the time.
But the things we talk about should MATTER.
They should mean something to you, to me, to the world.
What we do here should CHANGE us, shape us, mold us,
heal us, nurture us, prepare us.
That is what we mean by Relevant. This. Should. Matter.
Because if it doesn’t matter, why bother?
Why make a community of faith your own, if it doesn’t do anything for you?
If it doesn’t speak a word of truth to you,
doesn’t help you live your life better
doesn’t touch your heart and help you love deeper?
Marks of a relevant church.
Last week Jeff talked about community: about how badly we need connections
where we can depend on support when we are in need
a kind word when we are down
a casserole when our beloved gets the cancer diagnosis.
In the weeks ahead we will preach about the reality that doubt is ok at church,
that God may not be democrat or republican
but cares deeply about the polis, human community, and therefore the political
the ever increasing importance of hope in our time,
and the radical, inclusive love of Jesus.
You’ll note that nowhere are we preaching about different worship styles.
There are no plans to tackle the debates about
whether rock bands ought to play in church
or whether sanctuaries are passé
and should be more like stages, auditoriums.
No discussion about screens or visual images.
We are looking instead at the needs of the contemporary human heart
and how our tradition as something to offer it.
And one of those needs is a place, a space, an encouragement to PAUSE.
We live in such a noisy, busy world.
We are, as Jeff mentioned last week, connected to each other
through computers and phones and gadgets like never before
all asking for our time and our attention.
News stories occasionally pop up about
sociologists and anthropologists doing studies on people taking their
cell phones and laptops into their beds at night..
to stay connected
and the studies are interested in the affects on marital happiness
and overall wellbeing.
Other studies report that we are packing more into our days, our weeks
and this is true whether we have kids —and their soccer practices
and swimming lessons
or if we do not—and spend our free time with more work
or more avocations
or more church committee work.
We are a culture becoming more exhausted, stretched, burned out.
With more tools to keep us connected, to make our hectic schedules possible
but also more weary than ever.
One thing Church should offer is a space to slow down and just BE.
To BE in the presence of Jesus, our friend, our companion of faith.
To BE in the presence of God our creator.
To BE in the presence of the Spirit.
To BE in the midst of beautiful music, inspiring space.
To BE in a precious moment of silence.
To BE, lost in thought about important things, things that matter.
The church should offer a space to slow down and just BE.
These scripture passages are amazing.
The story in First Kings, where Elijah is stressed and running from danger
and is looking for a word from God….
looking for comfort and assurance.
And where is God to be found?
Elijah finds God not in the great, mountain splitting wind
not in the roar of the earthquake
not in the crackling pitch of the fire.
but the text uses this beautiful phrase
Elijah finds God in the sound of sheer silence.
What does sheer silence sound like?
I’m not sure I have any idea.
But the notion that God sometimes SPEAKS to us,
not through more NOISE
but through SILENCE
We forget that to our detriment.
And then this passage in Luke.
Jesus, weary and in Jerusalem during holy week
is preparing for his final encounter with the Jewish authorities
and the Roman state.
He travels to the Mount of Olives to encounter God himself, to worship, to pray.
His disciples go with him—his family, his community, his beloved.
And they huddle for a moment. And then Jesus….
WITHDRAWALS from them…about a stones throw
to engage in his own prayer and meditation.
Jesus, connected to his community, takes TIME for himself.
Jesus, seeking to connect with God, finds SPACE for silence.
And it is in that space and time that he renews himself for the hours to come.
I think we often miss the importance for recharging, renewing,
that we see in the life of Jesus.
That at his busiest moments….he took time to break away, to pray, to ponder.
When the community longed for him…they found him in solitude meditating.
Jesus, I think, knew something about how important it is for us
to stop and rest, to pause and to LISTEN for the voice of God.
After all, if we keep moving, how will we hear if God is trying to use
the sound of sheer silence to tell us something…
There is a lot that we do here that keeps us busy.
For many of us, Church is another component of our full schedule.
Committee meetings and activities.
Rehearsals and volunteer hours to clean classrooms
Classes in those classrooms, and clubs, and programs.
It can be a lot.
And for many of us it works.
And for many others it scares the living daylights out of them.
Church cannot be a place where we require getting plugged in to all that
in order to be part of the community.
Sure, everyone is invited to join in, and to use their gifts in whatever way
can feed THEM …and nurture the COMMUNITY.
But Church should not be another requirement for busyness
in an already too busy, overworked, stressed out life.
The call to participate, to serve, to love, to belong
is NOT the same as the call to serve on a committee or to come to a class.
The call is to BE.
To find a space, YOUR space. And to BE.
Your space may be to simply come to worship,
to meditate here
to listen for God here
to be moved and equipped
and then to go home and sit with it.
Your space may be to find a corner during church school
where you sit in the chapel instead.
Your space may be that you feel moved and inspired by this story
so you want to learn more about it in a class
so that you can then go home
and listen for God tomorrow morning
when you wake up with that cup of coffee.
Your space may be to withdraw a stones throw every now and then
to pray and ponder and renew
before engaging once again in leadership or in a committee.
Your space may be to respond to what Word of God you’ve already heard is telling you
where you’re ready to get to work on some project here at the church.
I can’t tell you what your space will be.
But Busyness is not the point. More noise is not the point.
Rather: finding your space, where you can hear and respond to God, THAT is the point.
A relevant church provides many avenues for each child of God to find their space.
For an extrovert, wanting conversation over coffee.
For an introvert, needing quiet reflection alone.
For the overworked family, who has trouble rounding up the kids but once a month (if that)
For the one who, you know, is doing ok, and is ready to GIVE to
some vital mission project or activity here at the church.
For the seeker, who doesn’t quite have all the answers.
For the skeptic, who is sure that things don’t quite add up.
For the tired, who just wants to rest
For the overburdened, for whom the yoke of Jesus is supposed to be easy and light.
For you, whatever God is calling you to do and to be….
A RELEVANT church seeks to understand our busy, complicated, overworked lives
through simple welcome,
through opportunities to worship and just BE
in the presence of God.
And so, may we pause sometimes, and just listen…
waiting for the voice of God in the sound of sheer silence
and when we hear it, to let it nurture us
and feed us
and keep us going on God’s journey, where ever it is taking us.
Poem Daybreak by Glen E. Rainsley in Thanks Be to God: Prayers and Parables for Public Worship (Cleveland, Ohio: The Pilgrim Press, 2005) p. 148.
Fred B. Craddock, Craddock Stories Edited by Mike Graves and Richard F Ward (St. Louis, Missouri: Chalice Press, 2001) p. 132.
[Image: A Can of Silence by Flowmarket]