Monday, February 9, 2015

Sermon: February 8

"Don't tell me what you believe.
Tell me what difference it makes that you believe."

Those are the words from the theologian and author, Verna Dozier, whose book The Dream of God, asks us: does the world come nearer to the dream of God, that all of creation will live together in peace and harmony and fulfillment, because of what you believe? It is the question of how you live out your discipleship, how you follow Jesus.

As we listened this morning to the Gospel story from Mark, Jesus answers that question by what he does with his life and invites his disciples to follow.

After his time of teaching in the Synagogue he goes to the house of Simon Peter & Andrew. Simon’s mother in law is in bed and not feeling well and even at that moment of quiet for Jesus, he goes and heals her and in her thankfulness, she goes and serves Jesus, her son in law and their friends.

But that’s not all, people have heard who Jesus is and “they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons and he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.”

In the morning he rose early, went out to a quiet place and prayed. When he was found, the disciples said people were looking for him. Jesus said, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”

For Jesus, he is not interested in a popularity contest, or praise, he sees faithfulness as his calling to go and proclaim and teach and heal. And he takes time to refresh that vision in prayer and quiet.

Likewise, we are to understand our faith by living out our discipleship in the world and taking time out to refresh who we are and what we are doing. I think of a story from the Desert Fathers & Mothers:
Many years ago, there were three friends who wanted to devote themselves to the work of God. The first devoted himself to the work of making peace among those who were in conflict, helping to reconcile the estranged and alienated. The second opened a small house to care for the sick and dying. The third went off to live a life of prayer in the desert.

The first friend worked tirelessly to help warring factions settle their differences, but could not resolve them all. Tired and frustrated over the wars he could not prevent, he went to visit his friend who was caring for the sick, but found that he, too, was exhausted and discouraged in the holy work he had taken on. So the two friends decided to go spend time with their friend in the desert.

They told their friend the monk of their difficulties and frustrations and asked if he had dealt with the same discouragement. The monk was silent for a time; then he poured water into a bowl. “Look at the water,” he said. The water was turbulent and moving. A few minutes later he asked them to look at it again. The water had settled down — and they saw their own reflections in the still water as if they were looking in a mirror.

“In the constant motion of our own lives lived among others, we do not see our own sins and tribulations; but if we embrace the tranquility found in the stillness of prayer, we begin to realize our own shortcomings.”
It is a reminder that we all need times of tranquility, a time of prayer, to settle the waters and to see ourselves clearly, considering who we are and whose we are (that is God’s creation) if we to fully live out our faith.

Our discipleship is rooted in the practice of prayer and worship. 20 minutes a day of prayer; 1 hour of worship a week. And from that time, just as Jesus did, to go out again, and to live that faith inside us, to go out in service in what we do. 5 hours of service a month. These three practices (pray, worship, serve), as we grow into them, will help us live more fully, deeply and faithfully.
But how this is lived out, may change in our lives over time. I think of the life of Dieter Zander. He was a rising star among pastors in America in the 1980’s, pioneering ministry among Generation X. He was a much sought after pastor and musician, working in mega-churches. There was a time when it seemed like everyone wanted to listen to him perform and to hear what he had to say.

On February 4, 2008, Dieter suffered a major stroke, and was in a coma for 6 days. When he awoke, he was as a different man. No longer could he play the piano, his right hand was crippled from the stroke; the aphasia took away his speech and his ability to preach or even talk coherently.

Dieter began to live a simpler life. His creative side was fulfilled with a new interest in photography and he works at Trader Joe’s as a janitor. From an outside perspective, it seems so horrible what has happened to him but he hasn’t stopped living, he continues to help creation be born again through his work. In his words:
“If I’m the king of all I survey, then I am the king of cardboard and spoils.

My kingdom is a noisy, windowless room in the back of a Trader Joe’s grocery store. Here are the haphazard stacks of empty cardboard boxes. Here is the giant box baler. Here are the shopping carts marked “Spoils,” their wire frames brimming with still-good fruit, meat and flowers.

In Dallas Willard’s book, The Divine Conspiracy, he defines kingdom as “a realm that is uniquely our own, where our choice determines what happens.”

My kingdom used to be a stage. A microphone. A piano, and an audience of thousands. My kingdom was a performance. A show. A sham. Then came the stroke.

Now, five days a week, I arrive at Trader Joe’s in the early dark, hours before the sun cracks the horizon…The store is quiet, empty. There is one audience in this kingdom. But that’s ok, because I’m not performing… I’m just me. Just Dieter. The guy who mops the floor, who bales the empty cardboard boxes for recycling, who delivers the spoils to the Salvation Army. There’s something beautiful about this simple, menial work, though…

I used to be packaged as perfect. Back in the heyday of my church career, I was a shiny, unblemished apple. At least that’s the image I polished up and displayed to the pubic. But now, stripped of my talent, my stage and my six-figure salary, I relish the imperfection. I revel in the spoils. I come home after work and I think, “It’s good today.”

It’s not a sermon. It’s not a performance. It’s not perfection. But the cardboard is recycled. The spoils are feeding the hungry. And today I am thinking life is good. It’s very good.” (from a poem on Dieter’s story written by LaDonna Witmer)
Dieter’s story for me is a humbling reminder that no matter who we are, where we work, we are called to live out the fruits of our discipleship, even if life drastically changes for us, from the stage to the backroom. “It’s the way we love the person near us when nobody is looking,” is how one author sees Dieter’s transformed life.

Which reminds me of a quote from Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was finally recognized a martyr for the church this past week, when he spoke of this calling at our baptism, our sharing in Christ’s priesthood:
“How beautiful will be the day when all the baptized understand that their work, their job, is a priestly work--that just as I celebrate Mass at this altar, so each carpenter celebrates Mass at his work-bench, and that each metal-worker, each professional, each doctor with the scalpel, the market woman at her stand is performing a priestly office! How many cabdrivers I know are listening to this message there in their cabs... You are a priest at the wheel, my friend, if you work with honesty, consecrating that taxi of yours to God - bearing a message of peace and love to the passengers who ride in your cab.” (20 Nov. 1977)
"Don't tell me what you believe. Tell me what difference it makes that you believe." For no matter what your work is, preacher, police officer, nurse, teacher, painter, salesman, home maker, cab driver, photographer or janitor, we all can help make the dream of God a reality once again, that all of creation will live together in peace and harmony and fulfillment in our own kingdoms of cardboard and spoils. Amen.

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