Sermon of the Week
Elements of Worship–God Calls Us
Keywords: Dentist, Job, God is God, Humility, Theodicy
To set the scene for today’s sermon,
I want to tell you about my dentist appointment this week.
I know the dentist makes some people cringe. I get it.
Even though we count a quite gifted, and gentle, dentist among our members,
for some, a trip to the dentist is something they least look forward to.
People feel that way about visits with a pastor sometimes, too.
I’ve always gotten along well with dentists, and hygienists.
I think it’s because I’ve never really had dental problems
unless you count having six wisdom teeth a problem.
Insert your favorite “he’s a wise-guy” joke here.
On Tuesday I went for my semi-annual check up
with my regular tooth cleaner
and she did her work and the dentist checked me out
and I went on my way.
All was fine.
Most of the dental appointment is spent chatting with the hygienist
or, to say it more accurately, to enjoy listening to her talk to me.
It’s not really possible to have an equal, give-and-take conversation when
she’s got all those tools in your mouth.
Over the years I’ve gotten to know quite a bit about her and her family–
she has a couple of boys, one in middle school and one high school now.
They’re about the age of our kids, so we can commiserate and celebrate
about a lot of the same things.
Sometimes, when she shares some of what’s going on with her older boy,
I can anticipate a bit about what our kids will go through soon.
I enjoy these conversations.
I like my hygienist.
She’s friendly and gentle and clearly tries to be a good parent
which has nothing to do with her cleaning skills
but makes chatting with her more comfortable.
On Tuesday, we were talking about what kids do during the summer,
when they don’t have the structure, or the stress, of school to contend with.
Her boys, for years, have gone away to camp in June.
Kids get a break from the parents. Parents get a break from the kids.
Win-win, she sees it.
Her younger boy went to camp this year as well.
She had hoped the older boy would go, too,
but it turns out that he wants to try out for JV soccer this year
and staying home to participate in the weekly kick-arounds
would be helpful for his prospects.
So, alas, no camp for him this year.
But she sees the summer like we do,
that it’s better for your kids to have things to do,
and since he’s old enough, they told him he’d have to get a job
if he decided not to spend the summer at camp.
So he got a job. He’s a lifeguard at a local pool.
It’s his first job: and he’s learning about schedules and getting there on time
and everything that goes with employment.
The older boy is fifteen and a half, so he has a restricted driver’s license
and he’s able to drive to and from the pool for work.
And they’re a three-car family, my hygienist told me
as she was working on my molars,
but two of those three are stick-shifts, alas,
and her son can’t drive a stick-shift.
So he drives her car, to and from work,
and she gets to drive the third one.
I didn’t get the impression that she is fond of this arrangement.
Last week, apparently, an indignity happened.
One of the other family cars broke down, and went to the shop.
So mom the hygienist got her car back
and the son had to ride his bike to and from the pool.
I didn’t catch how long that situation presented itself.
Maybe a day or two?
But it prompted her son to bring up the car to both parents
one evening at dinner.
So, when do we think I’ll get my car back?
Mom looked over at him:
I think you mean my car, don’t you son?
He looked back at her, without missing a beat:
I think, at best, we should say that it is our car, don’t you think Mom…
She laughed at that, to me, at any rate,
The hubris, the gall.
I think her response to him at the time
might have sounded more like our reading today from Job.
The kid didn’t even really help pay for gas
much less insurance and upkeep and car payments
or property taxes that help maintain the roads.
She didn’t mention it, but I wondered if you could add to that
a good car wash or even emptying out the back seat from time to time.
But you could tell that the conversation that night wasn’t all that pleasant
as they reminded their boy that just because he used that car
it wasn’t anything close to being his.
Who knows, maybe he rode his bike a few more times this week
just to drive the point home a little bit.
It has been a while since we’ve read from the Book of Job in worship.
Job is in a section of the Hebrew Scriptures called the Ketuvim
which translates, simply, as The Writings
eleven books that aren’t the musings of the Law, or the Torah
and aren’t the testimonies of the prophets, which are called the Nevi’im
The Ketuvim, or the writings, include works like Ruth, and Esther, the Song of Songs,
Lamentations and Ecclesiastes
as well as the Psalms and the Proverbs.
These are wisdom writings.
Narratives about faithful people.
Poems and songs and aphorisms about the good life following
the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Job itself is a treatise on why people suffer
why people experience evil and hurt, and where is God in the middle of all of that.
It’s an extraordinarily intricate and impactful book
even if things look a bit different 2500 years after it was written
particularly after the life and ministry of Jesus leads those of us
who follow the way of Jesus
to interpret Job with a measure or two of nuance.
Job was said to be a faithful man,
an exceedingly faithful man
and under the narrative device of a wager between God and the devil
God struck Job with calamity after calamity
wherein he loses all he has: his family, his beloved, his possessions.
We don’t think God does that, by the way—
reign down suffering on people.
But that’s the context of Job’s treatment of the topic.
His friends come up to him and try to help him make sense of it all
using the conventional wisdom of his day:
oh, you must have done something to deserve all this, Job. Find out what and repent.
It’s all your fault.
But Job will have none of this.
He knows he’s been exceedingly faithful.
But still, he suffers.
He raises his voice to God, demanding answers,
in the very best of the Jewish tradition of contending with God
as when Jacob wrestled with God at Penuel and was renamed Israel for the effort
the name Israel meaning: one who contends with God.
There’s too much there to unpack today.
This isn’t a sermon on suffering and heartache
and where God is in the middle of all that.
We’ll explore that on another Sunday,
maybe when we look at Jesus urging compassion for those who suffer
whether they’re born blind or are hungry due to systemic poverty
or, continuing on the best of the Hebrew Bible’s tradition
urging compassion for the foreigner in the land – often the Samaritan, in Jesus’ examples.
In the end, the answer Job gives isn’t all that satisfactory,
at least not to me.
The answer is that God is God, and we are not
and who are we to know, to question, to scrutinize the actions of the almighty?
It is that latter part that I quibble with,
and, again, we see different answers in the life and death of Jesus the Christ
who brought redemption to our suffering and a resolute NO,
NO to death and pain and heartache
but I think we shouldn’t jump too quickly, because of that quibble,
to miss an aspect of this answer in Job that we might need to hear.
Part of God’s answer to Job
is that God is God, and Job is not.
That is true.
God is the creator, and we are the creation.
God is infinite, and we, well, are finite, often broken, regularly conflicted
sometimes depressed, occasionally bitter, petty, jealous, narrowminded
you get the point.
God is God, and we are not.
And one of our human failings, far too often
is hubris, is thinking that we are bigger than we really are
more powerful than we are
maybe less sinful, less confused, than we really are.
Sometimes, we think we have it all worked out,
and don’t need any help—thank you very much.
I mean, at best, we can say that it is our car, mom
when do I get the car keys back?
Did all the repairs get made and its ready to go?
Come on. Hurry up. I have things to do.
My trip to the dentist helped me remember
how easy it is for us to puff ourselves up with
pride or self-importance or arrogance of all sorts
any of us, not just kids who want to use the car.
This prideful position is easy to take when you’ve got privilege
or when things are going pretty good right now
or maybe when you’ve been hurt and you’re on the defensive
and your fight-or-flight mode has been switched on.
This isn’t just a 15 year old’s problem, in other words.
I knew that, as I was listening to her talk about her son
because I could see myself
forgetting to be grateful when other people help me out
forgetting to acknowledge that I am dependent on the gifts of others
forgetting to be amazed at the God who is always there with me
even when I suffer and hurt and struggle.
And I imagine that we can all see ourselves in that place from time to time.
Jesus once cautioned us about this
the danger of pointing out the splinter in the eye of a neighbor
when we miss the log in our own
a quite clunky way of suggesting that we shouldn’t be so judge-y
when we have our own quirks and failings to tend to a lot of the time.
All of that is true
and, when we extend it, it helps us to remember
that God is God, and we are not.
That God created the world. Set its frame.
Has care on God’s mind for the animals and the oceans and the cosmos.
God’s focus is infinite, boundless, encompassing.
And we, for our part, struggle to remember, sometimes, what we had for lunch…
or struggle over how we can do good in the world, or if we even want to be bothered,
or we get exhausted by all the stuff happening out there
that we just want to turn it off
rather than face what we’re facing
rattling sabers with Iran,
arguing that its ok
for immigrant detainee children to be deprived of soap and toothbrushes and beds
and so on…
We struggle, in all these things, because we are finite creatures
with finite abilities and finite perspective.
God is God. And we are not.
Remember that, God said to Job.
And it left Job quiet, and reflective,
and ready to listen and respond to what God had to say.
God is God. And we are not.
This is one of the main reasons we come together for worship.
There’s a lot of things we do when we gather for worship.
And, truth be told, if you visit a lot of different Presbyterian churches
you’ll see quite a few things that vary.
Maybe the style of music: organ or piano or guitar or praise band sometimes.
The pastor may preach from a pulpit,
or she might pace the chancel in front of the congregation.
The order of things may vary a bit here or there.
Some may recite creeds.
Others may focus around prayer stations and interactive activities.
But there are some common elements in all of them
that we are going to explore in this sermon series over the next six weeks.
What are the essential elements of worship?
Why do they matter?
Why do we do them, and why should we attend to them?
The idea is that we gather to worship God
not just because God is amazing and God is God and so we SHOULD worship her.
That is true.
But we gather to worship God because what we do in this hour
prepares us to be God’s people the rest of the week.
What we learn here helps us to be better, stronger, healthier, more loving people
and, really, that’s why seek to be together in the first place.
we offer words of confession, here on Sunday morning,
so that we learn to be a people who tell the truth,
and who are prepared to share words of contrition
with a co-worker or sibling or partner that we hurt,
and furthermore are postured to hope for his forgiveness after we do so…
we hear words of assurance of forgiveness, here on Sunday morning
so that we are ready to consider forgiveness
when someone reaches out to us with words of apology, honestly offered.
That’s next week’s sermon: the path of reconciliation
inherent in our practice of confession, assurance, and peace.
It is true for the other essential things we do in this hour, too:
from hearing the word proclaimed, here,
so we can have practice to think about God out there, for instance,
or how we practice praying together,
so prayer becomes as natural to us as breathing. And so on.
What we learn in here helps us to be more whole, more true,
more prepared to better navigate this world we live in.
It helps us order things correctly,
so that we can engage the world with faith, and hope, and love.
Today, we’re considering how God calls us together
invites us to worship
a reminder to check our hubris at the door
and to gather, all of us, as God’s creatures
grateful for God’s gifts of love and welcome and grace.
The Gospel of John is a good text for us to focus on
when we talk about the way God gathers us in.
Every worship service we have starts with a call to worship
or sometimes we call them opening sentences.
They could be excerpts from scripture
or prayers that people have written for that particular purpose.
But the call to worship asks us to focus our attention on why we’re here
and what it is we’re all about.
To remember that God is God.
That we are God’s creatures.
That it is by God’s love and grace that we are gathered here
to learn about the Holy
and to claim God’s care for us as we live out our days.
The Gospel of John begins with a word that orients us to this reality.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
Everything came into being because of God.
The creating God gifts us with this world we live in,
the amazing, wonderful bodies and minds and souls that make us who we are,
as well as the amazing, wonderful bodies and minds and souls
of our partners and our friends, our neighbors and everyone else too.
All that is, is because of the grace and love of God
and not only that, but God becomes flesh in the living Word, Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus, the one that John the Baptist came to tell us all about.
So, one day, says the Gospel
John is hanging around with his friends, his disciples,
when Jesus walks by,
and, seeing him, John points over to him and says:
LOOK. There he is. The Lamb of God.
And for the disciples, that’s good enough for them,
so they turn and they follow.
Jesus, looking over his shoulder
and seeing that he has new people tagging along,
asks them: what are you looking for?
And they ask him where he is staying,
and Jesus doesn’t quite answer them,
he just says: “come and see…”
It is an invitation to relationship,
a calling to enter into a give-and-take experience
not unlike worship,
when we gather to see what God is up to
mindful that this God creates, sustains, redeems
and is working to make all things new again.
We gather for worship because God calls us to worship
so that we can remember that God is God, and that We are Not
and because of that, we all have something to learn
we all have something to experience
we all have something to look for.
And when we can remember
that God is God, and we are not,
maybe we can adopt a posture of openness and humility and thankfulness
that can help us navigate this bumpy world of ours
because that posture of openness and humility and thankfulness
is the heart of a life of love for neighbor, and love for self
that God calls the greatest of commandments,
it is what makes relationships possible
it is what can give us hope for the future.
My friends, we’ve been gathered into worship by an amazing, loving, almighty God,
so may we, with gratitude, thank God for God’s amazing deeds of love
and remember to do what John’s disciples did:
follow after Jesus, the Lamb of God, watching and looking for HIS examples
of faithful living and joyful welcome
so that we might be able to be more humble and open and thankful
every day of our lives.
May it be so. Amen
photo credit: F Addison The Voice and Word of the Holy Spirit | “When It Comes to God, What Is Your Understanding” via photopin (license)