Sermon of the Week:
When Your Baby is in Danger
Week four of a nine part sermon series:
I Feel Seen: Ancient Stories and Modern Wisdom
Keywords: Birth of Moses, New Ruler, Oppression, Ungallant Heros, Church. #pcusa
Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-733469. All rights reserved.
I was thinking this week about Elsie McCulloch.
Our kids had a birthday this month, and we were talking to them
as you sometimes do around a birthday
about what a gift they are to us
and we reflected a bit about what it was like waiting for them to join our family
and even how we selected their names,
and that made me think of Elsie,
one of the names we considered but didn’t choose, in the end.
Elsie McCulloch was my friend.
She was a Saint of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Saint Louis,
the church that formed me as a teenager
the church where I sat in an old oak pew
and listened to ancient stories
and pondered humanity and our relationship to God
and doodled spaceships on my bulletin to stave off boredom.
Don’t worry kids, I was you once, bored during the sermon.
And I grew up to be a pastor. Its ok.
That small, urban, diverse congregation
led me through confirmation class
and encouraged me to push, to struggle, to ask questions and to wrestle with things,
and, ultimately, when I was ready,
to join them
as an official “adult” member.
At age 14, or something like that.
Elsie wasn’t able to walk with me through any of that, really.
She was already too infirm by that time
to attend church very often
but she lived in an apartment complex down the street from the church
and she’s the one I remember
that first summer I spent in Saint Louis
after moving there from rural Iowa when I was 12.
Elsie was warm and friendly and instantly loved me, like I was family.
Details are fuzzy, as are many memories from childhood,
but I remember spending time with her in an art class
in that lobby where she lived, a retirement community kind of place
and later having lunch in her apartment, where she fed me an avocado salad, I think.
This was way before avocado toast became all the rage.
Elsie was warm, and gentle, and maternal.
She showed me that I was home: home in a new home, home in a new school
home in a new world
home in a new church.
As I think about, I don’t know much about her as a person, really.
I came to know her much too late in her life,
and I was much too young to get the importance of history for a relationship
too young to ask more about her and her family and her past
her loves and her struggles and her failures
and her sense of God’s love through it all.
It didn’t matter, not ultimately.
Elsie was a saint to me.
And even though she died not that many years later
when I was still a child really,
she made an indelible impression on me in those first teenage years,
her gifts of welcome and care
have been with me my whole life.
It might feel like, everywhere you turn,
this church thing we’re doing this morning gets a bad rap.[i]
You don’t need me to recite the survey data
that tells you that more and more people associate “church” with negative experiences.
Too many churches have given up deep conversations
about things that matter,
for flash and spectacle instead.
Too many congregations have adopted code words and phrases
that only insiders understand
words like transubstantiate, hermeneutic, perichoresis
and trust me, as a lover of words, and a lover of theology
I love words like that,
I’d love to sit down over your favorite beverage and talk about what we mean about God
when we dive into those words
but, yeah, if that was all we talk about here
you’d be doodling spaceships on whatever paper is lying about too.
Too many churches put all their focus on upgrading their coffee bar
or the seating or the lights,
that they take their eyes off of the community that God gave them to love
just outside their door…
Too many communities of faith focus on such trivial things to fight about—
whether you should say “merry Christmas”
instead of “happy holidays”
or what have you,
while every day we see a world suffocated by poverty,
and authoritarianism: and in the face of that stuff,
the silence from too many of those merry Christmas churches is deafening.
Too many say that they love everyone
but their love doesn’t really look like love:
not to those who see the way of Jesus a bit differently, or who love differently,
not to those who have rough edges, a few tattoos, who stand up for their Transgender friend,
not to those who are told that they aren’t welcome unless they conform.
I know people who have been hurt by those churches.
You probably do too.
So I thank God every day that Westminster wasn’t a thing like that.
Well, we assumed you needed to dress up a bit on Sunday morning,
they could have done better with that….
but, come to think of it,
no, that’s not true.
There were folk there who couldn’t stand a tie
who couldn’t afford a suit, who were more comfortable in jeans.
There were people who tested the ‘come as you are’ attitude there
and they were loved.
I know this, because I came as I was
and I was loved: by Elsie McCulloch
and the Dablers
and the Shaws
and the Dibolls
and the Williams
and a host of other saints
who countered each and every one
of those modern misconceptions about what a true church should be, could be,
through their genuine love and care,
love not just for me, but of a host of others too.
I thank God that Westminster wasn’t like that.
Nor was First Presbyterian Church of Grinnell
or First United church of Oak Park
or any of the churches that were formative, life giving, healing for me.
I thank God that our church, The Kirk, strives to be a genuine, honest to goodness
community that seeks after God on the way of Jesus.
In other words, there are actual churches out there being the real deal,
even as it pains me to see others that are not.
And while I fear that far too many churches are more about the coffee bar
than they are truly seeking out Jesus,
what are WE to do about it, other than live differently,
lean into the life of sacrificial, abundant,
overflowing love Jesus wants us to live?
Yes, “church” may get a bad rap, but
our job isn’t to worry so much about that, about those places,
as it is to be the Kirk God wants us to be
and thus to take our place among the unheralded communities of God
that are oases of hope, of caring, of living water
in the parched desert of this community, wherever we might happen to be.
So today we’re transitioning from Genesis to Exodus
from the story of God’s relationship with the family of Abraham,
Isaac, Jacob and Joseph,
to the story of how Israel becomes a Nation
a people centered around a purpose.
We, as the Kirk, seek to be a people centered around a purpose. [Read more…]