Wisdom of Our Wounds: part two...

NOTE: This is the first exploration of a set of spiritual practices for the 21st century church that I will be writing about - and sharing in worship - over the course of the summer. The series - Learning the Unforced Rhythms of Grace - is an experiment in both reforming some of the traditional and/or forgotten spiritual practices of Chrisitanity as well approaching them from a counter-intuitive perspective. If postmodernism has brought us anything it is clear that our discovery of the truth has to "bubble up from below." So, if you are in town at 10:30 am on Sunday, please stop by and join us. Please note that the second part of this message will be posted next week - and shared in worship - next week, too.

This morning, as we talk about the wisdom of our wounds, I would like you to open your hearts and minds to the living spirit of Jesus and his kingdom of grace. Specifically, let me invite you to playfully search for new insights: encountering an ancient truth in a fresh way, you see, is one of the ways to stay grounded in the unforced rhythms of grace. It is much like the story of the wise and learned rabbis of Eastern Europe who would gather from time to time to study and argue over Torah. As a rule, this learned consortium of scholars “boasted of their distinguished rabbinical genealogies – it was a given, you see, that gravitas came from deep roots.”

But Rabbi Yechiel of Ostrowce was an exception. He was the son of a simple baker and had inherited some of the forthright qualities of a man of the people. Once, when a number of rabbis had gathered at some festivity, each began to boast of his eminent rabbinical ancestors. When Rabbi Yechiel's turn came, he replied gravely, "In my family, I'm the first eminent ancestor."

His colleagues were shocked by this piece of impudence, but said nothing. Immediately after, the rabbis began to expound Torah. Each was asked to hold forth on a text culled from the sayings of one of his distinguished rabbinical ancestors. One after another the rabbis delivered their learned dissertations. At last it came time for Rabbi Yechiel to say something. He arose and said, "My masters, like my father, were bakers. They taught me that only fresh bread was appetizing and that I must avoid the stale. This can also apply to learning." And with that Rabbi Yechiel sat down
. (A Treasury of Jewish Folklore: Stories, Traditions, Legends, Humor, Wisdom and Folk Songs of the Jewish People, ed. Nathan Ausubel, p. 51)

Fresh insights – ancient truths – and how they can either heal or hinder our real lives is what we’re after today. For we are talking about making the words and ideas of the kingdom flesh within and among us – living into the blessings of Christ’s unforced rhythms of grace – incarnating the wisdom that Reinhold Niebuhr expressed so well when he said:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

This is kingdom wisdom, my friends, the practical application of the upside down and counter cultural mysteries of Jesus. Most of the time Sunday morning messages are not given over to the practical application of kingdom mysteries: preachers have been called to proclaim biblical truth, theological insights and doctrinal instruction to their congregations. We are the heirs of a 500 year old commitment to cracking open the scriptures in bold and declaratory ways on Sunday mornings.

Just a few miles down the road – in Northampton for a while and later Stockbridge – the father of New England congregational preaching, Jonathan Edwards, said: “I think I have found that no discourses have been more remarkedly blessed, than those in which the doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty with regard to the salvation of sinners, and his just liberty, with regard to answering prayer and succeeding the plans, of natural men… have been insisted upon.”

Another Reformation preacher was more blunt: “It must be understood that the preacher does not share, he declares. It is for this very reason that small group Bible studies can never replace the preaching of the gospel. Preaching is not a little talk. It is not a fireside chat. To substitute sharing and discussion for preaching is to risk the integrity of the gospel itself.” (Arturo Azurdia, Spirit Empowered Preaching, p. 88).

+ But that assumes that contemporary people not only have time for small group Bible sharing and conversation – which I would suggest to you has become a lost treasure – but that we still value and benefit from an old, top-down style of religious communication.

+ And in our ever fast paced, postmodern, plugged-in and hard wired world of instant communication, pop culture and never ending consumer choices, let’s just say that even Dunkin’ Donuts has had to learn something from Starbucks, ok?

I’m talking about connecting to the real needs of real people – and that is true for coffee shops as well the 21st century church. Sunday morning teaching has to be different: we need to be more consumer-friendly and accessible – more “we’re all in this together” than “hear ye the word of the Lord” – and we have to be grounded in sharing and teaching the blessings of Christ because we’ve forgotten how to pass on his joy.

We have some work to do, yes? We have to learn again how to live into the blessings of Christ’s unforced rhythms of grace. We are being called by the Lord’s friend – the Holy Spirit – to take what time we have – Sunday mornings – and use it for healing and hope.

So, let me sketch out for you the first of five interrelated steps to what I call “the wisdom of our wounds” and then we can talk about how they work, ok? The first is what the old monastics and spiritual masters used to call the Paschal Mystery: God’s ironic and healing commitment to take even the worst sins or tragedies and work them towards good. St. Paul summarized the paschal mystery like this in Romans 8:

We believe that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And we know that in everything God works for good with those who love the Lord and are called according to God’s purpose. Therefore, we are sure that neither death nor life, angels nor principalities, things present nor things to come, powers, height, depth or anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Nothing – not addictions or sexual abuse, physical pain or psychological shame, wars, economic collapse, the death of our dearest loved ones – nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. That is the promise of the paschal mystery – that what God worked in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is what God will work in our lives, too – if we love the Lord.

Is that clear? It is the totally counter-cultural, upside down claim of the kingdom that God will do in our lives exactly what happened to Jesus from Good Friday to Easter: the worst and most offensive evils and wounds can be used to bring blessing and healing.

Not that the wounds will go away – not that they still won’t hurt – and not that they won’t have consequences; but rather that they will not be the end of the story. That God will use even the worst to advance the best in our lives and in the world. Makes me think of that great old song: "Grandma's Hands..." (and this is a killer version by Take 6)

The old gospel preachers used to say: God can work a something out of a nothing – so hold on, baby, it may be Friday but Sunday’s a’ coming! Dr. King was a little more philosophical when he said essentially the same thing: “The arch of the moral universe tilts ever so slightly towards the good, the noble and the true.”

Now, this is a faith claim because you have to have the counter-cultural eyes of God’s kingdom and a true commitment to using your imagination to both see and trust this as reality. If all we're looking at is what we can see... Lord, have mercy. Our vision is too limited - our sight too small. Which is why Jesus spent so much time helping his disciples see into the upside down reality of God’s kingdom. How did the gospel for today put it in Matthew 13: 44-45?

Are you listening to this? Really listening? God's kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for years and then accidentally found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic—what a find!—and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field. The person is energized – charged-up – by the treasure, right?

This person is energized – charged-up – and on-fire for the treasure, right? Owning the property is not the issue: getting to the treasure is what this story is all about. One scholar wrote: "The treasure is so valuable that it is worth doing new, joyful, risky, and costly things to posses it .... He sells all that he has and buys that field. This is a risky act which could threaten his life, but it is worth losing even his life… because the kingdom requires setting aside all other priorities in wholehearted commitment.” (Stoffregen, www.crossmarks.com/brian/matt13x31.htm)

+ So what do we feel equally energized about?

+ What would we risk everything to possess?

I think the parable pushes us to ask: have we become so comfortable in our congregations (and everyday commitments) that we no longer risk doing new, joyful and costly things because of the kingdom? At how many meetings has something like this been said, "We don't have the money to do that?” Or, “I don’t think our people would go for that?” In contrast, I recently heard of a family who was so committed to a mission project at their church that they took out a second mortgage on their house to pay for half of it."

The kingdom of God is not a treasure we possess. It is something that grasps us. Could we push the image even further and suggest that the pull of the treasure is corrupting? Can the power of the kingdom cause those caught in its grasp to associate with sinners and tax collectors and other unclean and unsavory types - to give away money and time – maybe even give up American materialism and consumerism in order to faithfully follow? (Stoffregen)

The paschal mystery – the wisdom and counter-cultural truth of the kingdom and the parables– are one. And they can be life changing – dare I go so far as life-healing – if we let their subversive truths speak to our hearts and minds? The same is true for the communion meal we will share together in a moment:

+ We can treat it as another formal ritual – something we do in church because someone told us it was important – or we can see in it the upside down, radical hospitality of Jesus in action.

+ It can be a little feast with stale bread, or, a celebration where we practice serving one another – treating everyone as equals – and making certain that NO ONE is left out.

I am here to tell you that I don’t have a lot of time in my life for empty rituals any more, dear people: I need the real deal – the radical community of upside down love – where children are rabbis, the outsider is welcome and each of us has a place to share love and hope. I hope you will join me – at the table in just a moment and throughout this summer - as we continue to explore what it means to live as the upside down people of God for this moment in time - for this is the good news for today for those who have ears to hear.


Paul Durwin said…
Now children, said the teacher, what do you think? Little did this small town preacher know what his words and later his actions would unleash among the people. The spark he ignited that early summer Sunday was to start a movement that now many years later we look back upon as the defining moment when that small church turned the corner and began to become what we all know today as the source of "The Movement". Next week we'll discuss chapter two about how the people reacted, some positive, some negative and what were the next steps in their spiritual awakening.

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