Sermon transcript for August 10, 2014
FROM MOUNTAINTOP TO SALVATION
Emilie M. Townes Dean and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Womanist Ethics and Society Vanderbilt Divinity School
Belmont United Methodist Church 10 August 2014
maybe you remember this game from childhood: king of the mountain—it was decidedly not the king of the mountain you find in the urban dictionary the object of my childhood game was to try to get to the top of a mound of dirt or snow and stand there yelling "i'm king of the mountain" it wasn't possible to be king for very long since every other kid on the hill was trying to take over the top position it was a rough game and it was rare that no one went home with some part of the body a bit bloody and there were always a fair amount of shattered egos when you didn't make it but many of us kept coming back some of the kids, who had some sense and were good at strategy went to the mound of dirt when the other kids weren't there and sat or stood on top in silent testimony to their good sense
i wasn't terribly successful at playing the game but i do remember how good it felt what a sense of accomplishment wafted over me when i stood or sat on top of that mound of dirt and declared myself king (and later queen) of the mountain even though no one else but God was around to see my victory and share my joy now that i've grown a bit older, i like to think that i don't play king of the mountain any more at least i don't play it the old fashioned way but if i'm really honest with myself i have to admit that there is still some of that old king-queen mentality there and i do find new ways to play that old game from time to time
yes, there is a strong sense in many of us to play the role of king or queen as often as possible we expend a great deal of time and energy climbing one mountain or another in our careers, we may be in the position of having to prove ourselves constantly to co¬workers and bosses so that we don't slide or loose our place on the mountain known as work in the pressure of our work and in our own desire for security and status we may find ourselves leaving others by the wayside as we climb our partners or spouses our lovers our friends our health all these and more, suffer in our climb to success as the long hours and all too frequent preoccupation with work begin to wear them away and we hear ourselves or feel ourselves wondering if being the king or queen is really worth the price we have to pay
and we are tempted into playing king of the mountain in our personal lives too often the goal of being on top of things becomes our guiding principle we think something's wrong with us when we don't have total control of ourselves and the situation we think we have to manage every aspect of our lives—perfectly we have to be
the perfect spouse
the perfect partner
the perfect lover
the perfect parent
the perfect sister
the perfect brother
the perfect son
the perfect daughter
the perfect friend
the perfect student
we drown ourselves and those around us in our drive toward being, doing, giving, and representing it all we take that old army recruiting line, “be the best you can be,” to the absurd and we lose ourselves we lose our spirit in trying to manage every aspect of our lives into perfection and heaven forbid that we should trouble others with our problems because that would be admitting that our perfection has some unpaved places or uncertainty being king or queen of the mountain means being in control and when time and circumstance prevent us from being in control we blame ourselves for being weak or unrealistic or emotional and it frightens us then, for some strange reason we think fear is not human or natural so we withdraw or we spend our time apologizing or avoiding it's hard for us when the king or queen in us faces financial trouble or substance abuse or mental illness or senseless violence or the loss of a loved one it's difficult for us to admit our brokenness and it is oh so tempting to pretend that we don't need any help from anyone or from God like the game of our youth, king of the mountain, it is dangerous to play and it tempting
when we are caught in this game it will help if we remember Paul's words to the romans the word is near you, on your lips and in your heart; because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is sovereign and believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you will be saved brothers and sisters, we have to be willing to be vulnerable we have to get a grip on ourselves and admit our humanness we must learn to confess our faults and our strengths to a power and presence that knew us before we were born and loves us with a fierceness that rocks us when we need to be comforted and challenges us when we need to move out of our inertia such honest confession can only come through a faith which is not content with where it is today but is ever-growing a faith that widens its boundaries and is willing to be tempted and buffeted by
and a new witness
for it is confession and faith to believe with our hearts and be justified to confess with our mouths and be saved it is confession and faith that leads us into new journeys of wholeness and redemption it is confession and faith that teach us about a peace a spirit a principle within a mission it is confession and faith that enables us to ask the important question what's so gosh awful special about this mountain, anyway
we have to remember again and again Jesus' own struggle against the temptations of success and control if we look at the gospel again we see that he could have chosen a much more "successful" path Jesus could have presented himself as the ultimate success story, the epitome of the model of triumph he could have been a flashy leader relying on miracles to prove his authority turning a few stones here into bread, a jug or two of water over there into wine Jesus could have opted to appear to be totally in control throwing himself dramatically off the temple tower and daring God to save him but this was not the path he chose Jesus did not come to us as a miracle worker or magician he was utterly human and wonderfully divine he knew well the struggle of living—it's rough edges and challenges as well as its happiness and joy and he consciously chose not to play king of the mountain in his ministry he chose to be prophet of the valleys one who walked and ate and lodged with those who had been kicked to the base of the hill the ones who the rest of society despised the mountain he chose to climb was a hill called Golgotha where he died the death of a common criminal, not a king or queen
V. brothers and sisters, God does not expect us to always be on top of our lives or the situation even though we often expect ourselves to be let’s live more fully into our humanness—it’s moments of the sublime, it’s times of despair celebrating the living we do in the meantime Jesus is with us wherever we are on life's mountains and perhaps he seems most near when we lose our footing and wind up with bruises and scrapes from a fall O yes, God knows our pain and comes to bind the wounds and to lift us up by God's own tender and passionate grace all we have to do...all we have to do: is accept this gift offered in love offered not by the king of the mountain, but the ruler of creation and beyond thanks be to God!
Sermon transcript for August 3, 2014
Feeding the Multitude
Matthew 14: 13-21
Belmont UMC—August 3, 2014
Ken Edwards, preaching
When Jesus instructed the disciples to feed the crowd of people, the disciples must have felt overwhelmed. Matthew writes that there were 5000 men, plus women and children and we like to count the women and children, too. So the crowd could have been as many as 10,000 people or more. The town in which I was raised had a sign that read, Welcome to Springfield, population 10,000, so I always try to imagine that they were trying to feed my entire home town with five loaves of bread and two fish.
The disciples’ respond to Jesus, “We have nothing. . .” (v. 17a) They wanted to send the people away. No wonder!
I served two small churches when I graduated from seminary. One was a small church and the other a very small church, and though the small church was active and vital it didn’t have much in the way of money. My salary was supplemented by the Conference and my full-time salary the first year was $10,500.
One of the first persons I met was the treasurer, Raymond, who lived next door to the church in a neat, small ranch house. He told me that he had been very close to the previous pastor and when he left he vowed not to get close to another one. He seemed distant and a little crusty at first. Over the next few months he warmed up to me and my wife. My grandfather had died right before I graduated and this man became a surrogate grandfather to me. We would stay up until 1 AM working in his shop, refinishing furniture and telling stories.
I had asked him for a copy of the budget when I first arrived and he said, “We don’t have one; we just pay the bills when they come in. And you need to watch your spending because we don’t have enough money to pay them all.” I had made a case for having a budget but he was unyielding. After a few months I realized what Raymond was doing to balance the budget. He never put any money in the offering plate when it was passed in church. He would wait until he paying bills and he would make up the shortfall by writing a check to the church. His wife confirmed this but Raymond denied it. He was a generous man, even if he was a bit of a liar.
The church didn’t have much but we were doing some great ministry and the church was growing in numbers. We had an active youth group and we were involved in several local outreach ministries. We paid our Conference askings in full every year. Still, I spent a lot time worrying over what little we had to work with.
One day I came out of church and found two women in the parking lot. They were attached to metal detectors and had the headgear listening for sounds that would bring them hidden treasure. They saw me and stopped and frankly the sight of them irritated me. I said, “Ladies, I hope you find some treasure because we’ve been looking for it around her for a long time without success. I’ll leave the front door unlocked so you put whatever you find in the offering plate.”
And then I said, “If you want to find treasure here, you need to come back on Sunday morning and meet the people. They are the real treasure of this church.” The two ladies fled to the car and sped away.
This was a turning point for me. I heard myself say that the people were our real treasure and it caused me to quit fretting over having little or nothing to work with. On Sunday I took a long look at the people (70-80 people on most Sundays) in the church and I said, “God we don’t have a lot of money, but we have a church full of resources. I was kind of like the disciples who said, “We have nothing. . .” But then they added, “but five loaves and two fish.” And Jesus took what they had and managed to feed the town of Springfield with it. Imagine what Jesus could do with 70 or 80 committed disciples.
We are often guilty of seeing what we do not have and forgetting that a little is a lot in the hands of God. Small churches use their size to excuse them from service. “We are too small and cannot do that.” Large churches find other excuses, often focused on scarcity rather than the abundance of God.
In Mary Pipher’s book Seeking Peace, she references the scene in the movie, Jaws, where the local sheriff is chumming for the great white shark. When it appears out of nowhere and its size is so overwhelming, the sheriff says in a major understatement, “We’re going to need a bigger boat.” (p. 176) Pipher was writing of her recovery from an emotional breakdown while on a book tour. In her recovery she realized that she needed a bigger container. She needed God, for prayer and meditation, and space for something beyond herself.
The disciples need a bigger container (and so do we), one that reminds them and us that five loaves and two fish are huge in the hands of God. Once we acknowledge what we have and give it to God, anything can happen. We give what we have to God and God’s deep compassion becomes the catalyst for a miracle.
There was a story being passed around last week from one of the Sunday School Classes in this church. One year the class was signed up for Room in the Inn for the following Friday night. It happened to be Christmas Day and no one signed up—everyone was too busy to host homeless guests in the Community Center. Then one person said, “I could bake a turkey.” (“I could bring 5 loaves and 2 fish.”) And her simple act of selflessness inspired the others and before the end of the day a feast had been set for those who were homeless and hungry.
Today about 400 Central American children will cross our border looking for hope and a new home. They are hungry and desperate and fearful. That’s more than 10,000 children a year; that’s a multitude. Some will say, “Send them away. We do not have anything to give.” Others are hearing the call of Christ to give them something to eat and they are heading to the border to give what they have. Because that is what Jesus would do. And they will watch God’s compassion give birth to a miracle.
“Taking the five loaves and two fish, Jesus looked up into heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled.”
This morning I want to encourage you to come to the chancel as we look up into heaven and bless bread and wine, and I want you to look around at the people in this church. We will not be able to say, “We have nothing. . .” We will say, “We are blessed. We are full to overflowing. We bring what we have and we watch God work the miracle.