Sermon of the Week
Be Thou My Vision: Thy Presence My Light.
Keywords: Daylight Savings, Stewardship, Be Thou My Vision, OCD, foolishness.
I have always been nervous on these days when we change over our clocks,
leaping ahead in the spring
and leaping back in the fall.
Are you like this?
Maybe it is just me.
Maybe it is because I have to get up early on Sunday and get going,
that I have responsibilities on Sunday,
and most people have a more leisurely start…
and I have kind of a thing anyway
about things I’m responsible for,
which is why, for example.
I always have to circle back and make sure I closed the garage door
when I leave for work,
because I’m never quite sure that I have…
My kids have gotten used to me doing this.
Sometimes they will tell me, before I ask,
“Hey Dad, good job closing the garage door.”
There’s something similar going on every time we change over our clocks.
I always wonder if I’m doing it right.
For instance, these days we rely more on computers for everything,
and our clocks are often automated.
My cell phone is my alarm clock, for instance.
You might think that this would allay my concerns, but no,
today my first sleepy question when the alarm went off was whether
the phone company programmed their computers correctly,
or, instead, if I was going to wake up an hour behind schedule.
Then there’s the question: did I change the time on the oven and microwave already,
or is that the wrong time?
Maybe we really turn them ahead an hour in November, not back.
It doesn’t help that I’ve just woken up and I’m so tired when I worry about all this,
even if, like this morning, I got an extra hour of sleep. No matter.
I’ve always been a little bit nervous when we fiddle with time this way.
Again, is this just me? Maybe so.
But somehow it all works out.
I’ve always set them right, before going to bed.
Sprint gets their computer systems working ok so my cell phone is reliable.
And the same for everyone else
All of you somehow figured out how to adjust as well.
It is a major feat of societal agreement, concord,
all of us deciding that we’re actually going to call 11am, “10am,”
at least until next spring, when we’ll change things back.
And we do this, even though it annoys parents everywhere,
or pet owners, or, let’s be honest, most of us,
because our sleep schedules are not connected to what time the clock reads,
but to the normal patterns of our internal biological clocks
and the amount of sun outside our bedroom windows.
All of that is to say, bravo, on your successful efforts today.
I was thinking about all of this over the weekend,
when I was pondering the hymn
that is going to be the centerpiece of our sermon series here in November
as we begin to think a bit about Stewardship and Thanksgiving and Community.
Every fall about this time, we start talking about Stewardship,
which is what we call our collective efforts to build a strong congregation.
Stewardship is actually bigger than that, bigger than church.
The idea goes all the way back to the book of Genesis,
the story of God’s creation of all things
earth and sea and sky, plants and animals
with human beings there in the mix
and a special responsibility given to us
to till and to keep God’s good earth,
to be good stewards of what God has made, what God asks us to take care of.
So Stewardship means we have a calling to care for all sorts of things,
our families, our neighborhoods, our nation, our planet,
and, most certainly, our church, this church, this Kirk.
Stewardship means committing our time, our energy, our commitment, our money,
to making sure that these things thrive.
More, specifically about that, next week,
but today we dive into all of this at a moment of societal transition.
Sure, we’ve changed our clocks.
That’s a big enough change.
But it is also the time of year
when we start looking ahead toward themes of Thanksgiving,
of harvest abundance that will prepare us for another year.
All of the ‘Orange’ in our stores that was focused on Halloween last week,
is now yellow and red and brown as well, with more turkeys and pumpkin pie motifs.
I think they still keep Pumpkin Spice Lattes around, though.
Those serve a double purpose.
November, for many of us, is a time for taking stock.
A time of getting ready for winter.
Which means checking to see if we have enough provisions to make it through
the bitter cold months ahead,
and gratitude that, yes, all should be well.
We have, most of us, had a decent year, all things considering.
This winter should be ok.
And, if our heart is in the right place,
we think beyond ourselves,
hoping that our neighbor has enough, too,
enough food in the pantry
enough insulation in their homes and coats in their closet to keep them warm
a place to call home.
These are some of the reasons, I think,
why this is often the season of the philanthropic pitch,
when churches and non-profits alike ask for your support for their work to come.
As things get colder, and the leaves start to change and fall,
we become more acutely aware of the blessings we have
to be prepared, to be ready for the harsh times to come,
and, perhaps, the thinking goes,
we’re of the mind to want to make sure that these blessings can be shared.
I’ve always marveled, with a sincere gratitude,
the generous spirit that becomes obvious this time of year.
And that is true of all of you,
the way we push a major mission focus in the month of October
helping on service teams to paint and rebuild things
collecting cans of beans and tomatoes and soup for food pantries
weaving plastic bags into portable sleeping mats for the homeless,
to give a few examples.
These amplify the good work we do year round
to care for those God gives us to care about,
whether they be Center Elementary school kids
or long time Kirk friends who are going through a medical thing
or any one of the other projects we might do together.
But a church conversation about Stewardship is always more expansive
than a philanthropic pitch.
It is always MORE than the request from your favorite charity
to make an annual gift.
Don’t get me wrong: Those charities are important.
There are good organizations doing important work
and they need our support.
The Kirk sends some of our annual resources to some of them, too.
But a congregation is always a bit different.
It is always more,
and that it is, in part, because of our focus and our aim.
We are focused on God, as led by Jesus Christ,
and we aim to be the sort of Spirited Community
that provides meaning and belonging to all of God’s children.
The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church in Corinth
trying to get them all on the same page about what they were up to.
Apparently that wasn’t an easy task.
Paul had built them into a community, stayed with them for a while,
and then had to go,
called off to do the same in another town down the road.
And when he left, things were going ok for a while,
until they weren’t,
and the now tenuous church in Corinth wrote Paul asking for some advice
about how to get on track,
to keep their focus,
to get on the same page about everything.
That’s what this first letter to the Corinthians is all about,
answering their concerns,
offering suggestions and motivation and, most importantly,
a theological focus for their work together.
In this letter, in the chapters that follow what we read this morning,
Paul says something like this:
Don’t sweat so much the differences you all have.
Some of you are really good teachers.
Some of you are really good accountants.
Some of you are really good plumbers.
God has good use for all of you,
and will use you,
so long as you stop trying to out do one another
but instead keep working for the common good, for this new thing
that we call the body of Christ…
and remember that you have something special,
you have faith, you have hope, and you have love.
That is Paul, trying to help convince a diverse group of people
that this enterprise called the church is going to happen
is going to be OK,
because it is God’s doing, and God will make it work.
That God calls us together, and that God will help us to thrive.
Paul can hear the grumblings about that,
the skeptics and the doubters and the people concerned.
He knows all about them,
but he writes this letter anyway.
He’s convinced that God is doing a new thing,
an important thing,
something healing and redemptive and beautiful,
something worth it.
Today’s excerpt from the letter gets into that part of it quite well.
There are people out there that demand something of God
that isn’t what God’s going to give them.
Some demand signs. Some want wisdom.
No one expected that God would be found
in a carpenter’s son from a backwater town in the middle of nowhere.
Certainly everyone thought that Jesus was finished
when he was arrested and tried and crucified,
because God wouldn’t be found THERE, in the middle of that.
But there God was,
showing a different form of power, and a more powerful form of love,
breaking the power that death has over us,
helping us see new life and new growth and new possibility
in our own times of doubt and helplessness.
Most expect God to work in certain ways, says Paul,
and through certain people,
not through the poor or the weak or the outcast,
but there God is,
choosing what is foolish, choosing what is weak
to show that new things are possible,
that hope is alive.
Alive if we can see it.
Alive if we can look for it, and claim it, and follow it.
It may be foolishness to some,
but for those with that vision,
it is the very power of God.
Be Thou my vision,
O Lord of my Heart,
Naught be all else to me,
save that thou art,
thou my best thought,
by day or by night,
waking or sleeping,
thy presence my light.
Following God on the way of Jesus
has always been just a little bit counter cultural.
There is always something unexpected in Jesus’ teachings,
challenging our presumptions, urging us to dive deeper
or to love stronger
or to break down the things that separate us
so that we can see each other as children of God
and see ourselves that way too.
This song has its roots in a really old Irish monastic prayer,
possibly as far back to the sixth century.
In this current version,
it takes the form of a petition,
asking God to guide us
as God shapes us to be disciples
as God helps us form communities, like The Kirk,
built around a focus on God’s purpose.
There are some really beautiful images
in this first verse:
There’s the use of intimate, personal language:
Thou, be THOU my vision
reminding us of the relationship we have with God,
that each of us matter,
so much so that we can use familiar language.
This isn’t a formal prayer.
Sir. Lord Sir. Please Sir.
Here it is ‘Thou’.
We don’t use that word very much any more,
but THOU suggests something much more close
than a God who is far away and distant
or stuffy and formal and demanding of respect and deference.
That God is the God who is the Lord of the heart.
That God is the one who will be who God will be,
naught something that I want God to be
naught what I might imagine God to be
but as you truly are, God,
my best thought, day in and day out,
awake or asleep,
central daylight time or central standard time
your very presence my light.
The Church is always a little different
because it is led by that God
in what we say and do and believe.
It is because of THAT God
that we at The Kirk are a welcoming, inclusive community of faith
that seeks peace and justice and reconciliation in the world.
It is because of THAT God
that we put so much energy into serving and loving our neighbors.
It is because of THAT God
that we do any of this,
gather for worship
study together and build lasting friendships with each other,
drive each other to doctor’s appointments
help care for each other’s kids
learn about poverty and gun violence and racism
and struggle about doing our part to help stand against them.
It is because of THAT God that we go to church,
and hope that we might catch a vision of that God somewhere,
a vision that can carry us through the week
a vision that can help us find joy and purpose.
We can’t be the church without people who are
captivated by that vision,
who trust that God will make it all work out,
who believe that the foolishness of God is, in fact,
the most true and sensible and wonderful and beautiful thing in the whole world:
that God loves you, and me, and is working through us to make things right.
That God takes ordinary people,
people like you and me,
and helps us be extraordinary,
because in God, we are extraordinary,
we are transformed into loving, caring disciples,
the very hands and feet of God.
The word we like to use for that is Saint.
A Saint isn’t someone magical, or sinless, or without fault.
A Saint is someone who shows holiness by pointing to the holiness of God
through their acts and way of life,
or through their humility and kindness,
or maybe through some happenstance where God kind of bursts through
all other things notwithstanding.
I was once serving a church as an intern
and there was an epic conflict between two long standing families.
Both families had 20 year or more histories in the church
and before I got there, something had set them against each other.
I think there was a wedding, and an incident with the punch bowl.
Someone had a shirt forever stained.
I didn’t get the whole story,
but it was maybe the most churchy conflict story ever
because no one really remembered why the families were at odds with each other.
But they were, and they weren’t very kind about it, to be honest,
or worked very hard at reconciling their differences.
All I know is that the pastor sighed privately when one of them left a message to call
because he knew what it would most likely be about.
About eight months into that internship,
the session was debating something or other about their church basement.
They were hosting a homeless group once a week down there,
and they were trying to work out the schedule,
who could volunteer for which shifts, how they’d make the whole thing work
and it soon became obvious to all of us
that a situation was brewing.
Two people had to be on every shift,
and most of the positions were covered,
except the overnight host position,
because the regular was sick, in the hospital,
threw out his back,
and they needed some help,
or they’d have to close down, turn the shelter away.
Well, the other regular on that shift was the guy in this long-standing feud
and the only other person around the session table that was available
was… the other guy.
And eyes turned to him,
and he laughed, and said
“I’m not going to let our silly differences
get in the way of our church’s welcome.”
And that was that.
The shelter stayed open.
The two worked that shift together. Not sure that they spoke much to each other.
But the shelter stayed open.
And the work of the church was done.
Saints are not perfect.
But we can see in them and through them something of the reality of God.
God can take imperfect people,
people like you and me,
and through us build a church.
On this All Saints Sunday,
we remember the faithful people, past and present,
who help lead us in the faith,
and help us look to God to be our vision, our best thought, our light.
May we seek to do our part,
to be guided by the Spirit,
to pursue the Peace of God,
as we follow Jesus out into the world as his Community, as his Kirk.
That is what stewardship is all about.
Thanks be to God for those who have helped us along the way,
and may we find ways of doing the same for those in our time, in this place.
May it be so.
Header Image from pixabay, shared under a creative commons license. Picture can be found at https://pixabay.com/photos/city-night-dark-architecture-lamps-89197/