Sermon transcript for October 12, 2014 (8:15 a.m. service)
Nick Baird Chrisohon
“The Grace of Getting Over Myself” : A Sermon on Romans 12:1-8
Sermon for Belmont UMC, 8:15 service
October 12, 2014
I have a confession to make: About ten years ago there was a trend of music known as “emo.” Some of the older adults in the audience may have no idea what I’m talking about, but I’d be willing to bet many parents and friends in my generation have experienced “emo” in one way or the other. Think of it as old “woe is me” country lyrics backed by whiny rock ‘n’ roll. This music had a powerful effect on younger generations. Parents dealt with moody, dark teenagers who thought “things are so hard,” or, you were like me and were the moody, dark teenager.
I really liked the emo scene, because they were generally accepting people, but if you’ve spent more than a minute with me, you would quickly realize I didn’t quite fit the aesthetic. I smile too much and eyeliner is super hard to put on.
What drew me to this kind of music was its honesty – albeit somewhat fabricated and a little too dramatic – because many of the artists asked some very hard questions about the human condition. Themes like “I’m not perfect,” “what if no one likes me,” “Am I relevant,” “who cares,” “what if I’m not good enough” and on and on. These are valuable issues to young minds, and I don’t believe we ever really escape our curiosity of our own value. We all struggle to understand the potential we have and hate it when we fall short of perfection. It seems like everyone is telling us what we can be and should be, but that kind of pressure can make it difficult to get out of bed. The weight of the world somehow hangs on your shoulders, and that is a terrible burden to bear.
That’s where music came in to play for me. It was the best way I could rebel against my own feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt [and it was a great way to get girls to notice me, too.] Obviously, we have to go through the risk of understanding our identities, but after a while, our obsession in knowing ourselves leads us away from fruitful self-reflection and into darker realms of depression or narcissism.
Add to that problem the fact that as we get older and adjust to who we are, we start filling our lives with things to do, places to be, friends to see, and on and on. Between work, kids, church, and the myriad things that demand our attention, we become taskmasters of a neverending calendar of “stuff I have to do.” I call this the vice of busy-ness. For whatever reason, we fill our calendars to the point where spending time with loved ones has to be “penciled in.” Isn’t it weird how troubled teens I knew from a decade ago have transitioned from hours alone with their radios and MP3 players wallowing in their emotions all of a sudden become driven robots who barely have time for a cup of coffee? Again, matters where we are not fully engaged in something other than ourselves signals a need for reflection. They sound so different, but I don’t think they are.
So, in light of concerns about ourselves and how we go about living, today’s passage from Romans sounds like a tall order. It says all of those concerns are the wrong concerns, and we are to sacrifice what we have and who we are to God. The ideals that we hold so dear – being accepted, being noticed, being “good enough,” having a good life, having tons of friends – these are all goals of the same self-centered mind. We build noise into our lives to the point where everything becomes a static-y mess. Our hopes toward understanding who we are built on our accomplishments rather than our status as children of God.
What are we to do? Paul is telling us to have the grace to get over ourselves.
We have to put down what we want in sacrifice to God’s wants, but sacrificing your life to God is the opposite of what the world demands, and we like the world. We are producers and doers so we can have more stuff. We spend years in school before all that to get the degree that will qualify us for jobs that pay lots of money (if you have a liberal arts degree, just nod) because we think money brings happiness and stuff and the way to get there is by doing whatever it is we do best. We turn back to what tells us that we are special and should forge our own paths to greatness. We hold on to what we think we should do tightly, because we can’t be bothered to do what God asks.
But we have to. We have to give it up.
Paul exhorts the audience to take whatever it is they do well and see it as a God-given gift to use for the greater good. The request is to be sober – not dramatic buried in our own self-doubt or clutching to what we think is ours – and to assess what it is that we can offer simply because we should. As someone who continually struggles with the definitions of purpose and call and career, it is indeed a welcome sobriety to be asked to see what it is that I do well and to only focus on that and give up the rest. Paul says, if you’ll allow me to paraphrase, “just go with it.” Getting over myself is the greatest luxury because I don’t have to prove my worth to anyone. I just have to what I already know I do well and use it for the work toward God’s ministry of creation and recreation.
Romans offers a promise for our compliance: laying down our lives leads to transformation. God’s working in your life will be brought to perfection in God’s will. I think this is what John Wesley was pointing to when he laid out the process toward Christian perfection. We answer the calls of God’s grace, and by continually laying down our will , we are given the will of God that leads to what is perfect. Your desires for busyness are gone. Money loses its power. Self-doubt cannot survive. There is no emo in perfection.
The road to perfection doesn’t ask much of us..” Paul says, “teachers will teach, preachers will preach, cooks will cook, givers give, etc. etc.” I do not see this as a limit – merely an encouragement to hone our gifts and not force ourselves to be jacks of all trades. I do believe that if the entire church could manage to find their one thing to do in service for God, we wouldn’t have people asking us to join yet another committee.
Sacrificing your life to God is the ultimate expression of freedom. It is total acceptance and validation of the self. It is what makes it all worthwhile. You are welcome to build upon your one thing and be good at multi-tasking; however, this passage speaks directly against our society’s demands to juggle many things and be successful at most or all of them and continually work and produce and be super all the time [breathe] because that is exhausting.
The church was not designed to be full of multi-taskers, either. It is a collaborative effort. All of the many parts of the body working together is what we call mission. Paul is telling the Romans to think beyond their own value and to discern God’s perfection in the world, and they are to be actors in it. If I am not using my gifts to point to the holy beyond me, what good am I? If we as the church aren’t pointing to God, then why are we here?
The world teaches us that our life’s mission is to do great things for the sake of building up our own assets and living in security. Somewhere along the way, the American church took that definition of manifest destiny of capital and sprinkled in language of God and Jesus. The same thing was true in Rome. Power and wealth were the same then as they are now, and the way we get them is to produce and accomplish more than others.
My friends, you have been told that mission means we must accomplish something. Paul’s letter makes no mention of “accomplishing” or “succeeding” but rather asks we reimagine our lives as part of the greater body of Christ. Mission is not living independently and striving alone; mission is recognizing your gifts as being of immense value – knit intimately into your being from your very beginning – that are also part of the grand tapestry of God’s kin-dom of heaven come to earth.
As the body of Christ, it is your responsibility to see that happen. By offering our bodies and lives as living sacrifices to be transformed into perfection, we welcome God’s mission into our lives.
We are to welcome mission in our lives whether it asks us to open a permanent homeless shelter in our community center, open our doors to local schoolchildren who go home to empty houses while their parents work to make ends meet, or to simply be open to prayer.
We are to cook dinners for the hungry, for those who think church is full of naïve fools, and to share the table with those who express religion in other ways. We are to give what is left to those who ask for it without being suspicious of whether it gets eaten.
We are to give our money to research to solve disease, to the Global Board of Ministry and UMCOR who heal aches around the world, give to the shelters that need to expand and renovate so a roof over a needy person’s head can also be a place where they are safe to sleep. We are to give in hope and not in cynicism.
We are to teach those who don’t speak the native tongue. We are to teach those who learn at a slower rate than others. We are to teach the community that there is hope for a better world, and Belmont wants to lead the way.
We are to grow community gardens and community outreach. Build playgrounds and relationships. Comfort crying babies and crying elderly. Belmont, you show such great efforts toward doing the mission of God here and abroad, but we all know that we can do more.
My friends, before you can hold on to this call to mission, you have to go back to the good news: doing mission isn’t all that hard. It takes our desire to reimagine our gifts in ways that can be used by only being present enough to ask, “God, what can I do?” How do I do that?: It takes having the grace to get over myself.
Go out and be a blessing to the world. Give of both your time and your resources. Yes, you must give to the church so the church can sustain its mission, but also sacrifice and give of your being. Earlier, we read pieces of a Wendell Berry poem called the “Peace of the Wild Things.” I believe this is the perfect meditation to step back and see the path towards mission. To close, let us read that piece one more time.
Sermon transcript for October 12, 2014
Belmont UMC—October 12, 2014
Ken Edwards, preaching
There used to be a television show called “What Not to Wear.” In the show an unsuspecting person has been nominated by friends, relatives or co-workers because he or she has become a caricature of the fashion faux pas. Sometimes they are guilty of wearing clothes from a past decade, not for fun and not to be retro, but because they have not kept up with the current fashion trends. They wear baggy sweat suits to work or they have an inclination toward cut off t-shirts and bandanas.
These candidates for the worst dress list are surprised by 2 fashion experts, or as I like to call them “fashion Nazis,” who go through their current wardrobe and make sarcastic and critical remarks about the victim’s lack of style. (I have had some fear of being nominated for this show.)
The good part of the show is that the poorly dressed victim is given helpful advice and cash to spend on a new wardrobe, plus they get a new hairstyle and makeover. They go home to a party of their friends looking better than ever.
Clothing styles are an interesting sociological and culture phenomenon. We’ve had a tendency toward more casual attire over the last couple of decades. A few years ago I was called to a meeting with my then Bishop. I put on my best suit and drove to his office. The bishop was wearing blue jeans and a polo shirt and I was way overdressed. I’ve noticed that my colleagues in ministry wear neck ties less than they used to.
When I was child we wore dress shirts and ties to church on Sunday mornings. Ladies wore their best dresses and sometimes their fanciest hats. When we came to Belmont a little over 7 years ago, we came from a fairly casual church. I told my 3 sons that they needed to dress up a bit for Belmont and they complied. When we arrived on that first Sunday we found all the young people in short and casual shirts, so I was given the eye roll that said, “Dadddd!”
Sometimes people will call and ask how we dress for church and I tell them that some folks wear suits and dresses and some wear blue jeans and t-shirts. The term “Sunday best” doesn’t mean what it used to.
Today’s parable is the “what not to wear to a banquet” parable. The rather over-the-top story is about a king who had a wedding feast for his son and he sent his servants out to deliver the invitations but the invitees did not come. So he tried again and they made light of the invitation and went their way, and some mistreated or killed the king’s servants.
The king sent the servants out to invite others—those on the streets, good and bad, and invite them in to the feast, and they did just that.
When the king came in and found one guest who was not wearing the appropriate wedding clothes, he said, “Friend, how did you get in here without a robe?” The man did not answer so the king had him bound and kicked out into the farthest darkness (scary).
This parable is an allegory and not realism. It is about a king who throws a wedding banquet for his son. It is a story about Jesus and later Matthew’s disappointment that so few of God’s chosen were heeding the invitation to the banquet.
The latecomers represent the Gentiles, who often acted as though the invitation gave them permission to act anyway they chose. It is thought that the wedding hosts provided guests with garments to wear, but for some reason this one guest did not think he needed to wear it.
The parable reminds us that everyone is invited to the wedding banquet. First the invitation is offered to those who have proved themselves worthy and then the invitation is offered to the rest—the good and the bad. God’s invitation is always in the mailbox, no one is excluded.
When my oldest son was a child we lived in a parsonage next to some neighbors who were very unfriendly. They put a big fence up around their yard and put No Trespassing signs all around it. They were sort of snobbish and it was said they were disappointed that they could not afford to live in a better neighborhood. One day I was in the front yard working when the little girl from next door came over and announced to our son, “I’m having a birthday party on Saturday and you are not invited.” Lars was very hurt, but not surprised by her attitude.
I very quickly said, “It’s okay son because we are going to do something really fun on Saturday.”
He asked, “What, Dad?” I told him it was a surprise but the truth is I had no idea since I was making this up on the spot.
God’s having a party and you are all invited. The blessings and festivity of the salvation banquet are for all of us!
The parable teaches us that there is a dress code for the banquet. It’s not a white tunic embroidered with gold thread. It’s not a beautiful dress from Neiman Marcus or a rented jacket from Tuxedo World. It is a way of life that honors the invitation, that honors the host. It is a life that rises to the occasion.
Karl Barth wrote about the man who is kicked out of the banquet, “In the last resort, it all boils down to the fact that the invitation is to a feast, and that he who does not obey and come accordingly, and therefore festively, declines and spurns the invitation no less than those who are unwilling to obey and appear at all.” (Church Dogmatics, p. 588)
And so the parable challenges a culture of indifference and apathy toward the spiritual. The mistake of those who were invited is that they made light of the invitation. What we are part of here in this place today is to be valued, treasured, treated with reverence and respect. Our Bishop uses the word “excellence” a lot and he’s trying to create a culture of excellence among clergy and churches, that dispels mediocrity and rises to the occasion of the banquet to which we’ve all been invited.
Years ago, as a young pastor, our church was having a work day to attend to some things around the building and the grounds that can go untended. Some people were working in the yard; others were inside cleaning and repairing things. I heard one of the men who had completed a project say, “Well, it’s not very good, but it’s good enough for the church.” In Jesus parable he would have been the one without the wedding clothes, the one who didn’t rise to the occasion, the one who made light of the invitation.
The parable reminds us that we are invited to the kingdom of God and our response to this grace-filled invitation and how we live in obedience to that love and grace are the most important aspects of our lives. The story reminds us that our relationship with God is central to all that we do and all that we are.
Jesus’ parable teaches us what to wear. We are to wear a heart filled with anticipation. If a child is invited to a party, that child will talk about it all week long with excitement and enthusiasm. We may not be at the ultimate wedding party Jesus speaks of in the parable but we are at the dress rehearsal for it. So we can come here each week with hearts filled with anticipation because we never know what wonderful things will happen at God’s party.
We are to wear a life lived in reverence to God. In our Covenant Bible Study last Wednesday we talked about reclaiming a kind of awe and reverence for the holy. I see this on your faces on Sunday mornings when the choir is singing one of those beautiful anthems or the pianist/organist plays something that takes us to a better place than we were in when we arrived.
I see it in your faces during Holy Communion. Our staff has observed that the people of Belmont will look you in the eye when you are serving communion and there is a kind of longing anticipation in the faces of our people.
I see it in the faces of our acolytes, as they know the light they bring represents the light of Christ.
In my last appointment there was a little boy who loved to be the acolyte. His mom said, “On Sundays when he is scheduled, he talks about it all week. He gets up on Sunday before everyone else and lays out the clothes he wants to wear, even though they will be under his robe. He wants to come early so he can practice. When he comes down the aisle he watches the flame on his wick as though he is looking into the face of God.”
He teaches us what to wear to the party, our Sunday best, the best our heart can muster.