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Watch Your Mouth; A reflection shared by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC, September 16, 2018, the seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost. “Activate” series. Text: James 3:1-12

September 17th, 2018

Watch Your Mouth

A reflection shared by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC, September 16, 2018, the seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost. “Activate” series.   

Text: James 3:1-2

A man went to his rabbi with a question. “Rabbi, I understand almost all of the law. I understand the commandment not to kill. I understand the commandment not to steal. What I don’t understand is why there is a commandment against slandering the neighbor.”

 

The rabbi looked at the man and said, “I will give you an answer, but first I have a task for you. I would like you to gather a sack of feathers and place a single feather on the doorstep of each house in the village. When you have finished, return for your answer.”

The man did as told and soon returned to the rabbi to announce that the task was complete. “Now, Rabbi, give me the answer to my question. Why is it wrong to insult or gossip about my neighbor?”

“Ah,” the rabbi said, “One more thing. I want you to go back and collect all the feathers before I give you the answer.”

“But Rabbi,” the man protested, “the feathers will be impossible to collect. The wind will have blown them away.”

“So it is with the lies and ugly things we say about others.” The rabbi said. “They can never be retrieved. They are like feathers in the wind.”

This parable illustrates the wisdom we receive from James today: words, once spoken, are just out there, floating where they will, without any chance of being taken back.  And words can do great harm.  The old child’s rhyme lies when it says “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” The smallest, careless word can be like a small spark that starts a destructive fire.  What can be hurt or destroyed by our words? Feelings, relationships, confidence, trust, peace, and joy—all of these things are laid waste in the path of thoughtless slander or careless conjecture or cruel teasing or hateful speech.  Words “activate” things—either for good or ill. We bless or curse with the words we speak.

When we are hurt or angry or exhausted it’s hard to hold our tongue.  Words sometimes just flow.  I’m an extrovert who needs to talk to process things…the struggle is real.  If I’m not careful, that can be used as an excuse for thoughtless speech.  Then there’s “venting,” a common codeword for running our mouth.  Who doesn’t love a good “vent?”  And there are ways this can be a “healthy” practice.  We truly need safe spaces and confidential conversations in which we can process difficult experiences or frustrating relationships.  But we also need to take great care in where and how and with whom we speak about things that can do harm.  We need to take great care that our offering “safe space” for others to “vent” isn’t simply fulfillment of a need to be in on whatever gossip and drama is available.

Our world is full of harmful words, careless words, bullying words, disrespectful and dehumanizing words—splashed across every kind of media and infiltrating all the places we are.  My hope and prayer is that Foundry can be a community in which we seek a different way—that when we cross the threshold of this place and engage in relationship with one another, we will practice with one another a different economy of speech.  And it will be practice. We won’t always get it right…

But what if we intentionally tried to let our words be measured, fair, and shared in appropriate ways and places; to take a breath and take thought before speaking—especially before speaking about someone; what if we intentionally tried to engage in direct conversation with a person with whom we may have an issue, seeing that person as worthy of such respect.  And when we speak words that hurt, as we inevitably will, what if we were willing to ask for forgiveness; and when words have hurt us, to be willing to extend grace.

May our words be firefighters rather than fire starters. May our words activate compassion and hope rather than conflict and anxiety… Pray that God will grant you grace that your words be for blessing and not for curse. Amen.

 

 

 

 

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Where’s The Beef? A Sermon Preached by Rev. Dr. Ianther M. Mills at Foundry UMC, September 9, 2018, “Pulpit Exchange, Asbury UMC”

September 13th, 2018

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Wanted: Doers! A Sermon Preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC, September 2, 2018, the fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost. “Activate” series.

September 4th, 2018

Wanted: Doers!

A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC, September 2, 2018, the fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost. “Activate” series.   

Text: James 1:17-27

 

We sat on the floor, facing opposite directions, with our shoulders touching. From this position with our partner (someone we didn’t know all that well) we took turns responding to the same question. This exercise was part of a month-long yoga training intensive and the goal was to focus our attention on how we listen. Our bodies, feelings, and point of visual focus were all factors to explore.  All the participants in the training were hearing persons; the exercise would be done differently with persons who are deaf.  But for all of us, whether hearing or deaf, the fact is that listening—truly receiving what another person is communicating—takes practice.  It takes awareness of ourselves and intentional focus on the person we are trying to listen to.

I’m coming off a week of another kind of listening exercise. I was privileged to be invited into an experience with United Methodists from across the country and world. Siblings from exotic places like Idaho and New Jersey mixed with others from the Philippines and Cote D’Ivoire with one primary goal: listening to each other.  

The United Methodist Church is a global church and is rapidly growing in places like Congo. It is easy to stereotype our siblings in other countries and regions and lump them together into a faceless collection of issues or perspectives. What a gift it was to experience the beautiful, alternative, diverse truth—to hear the scriptures read in such distinct languages and voices, to sit next to a young adult from Congo, see her face and listen to her story as a woman in leadership, to draw near to a brother from Mozambique and listen to his story as a father, student, and pastor.  What a gift to at least try to listen.

At the beginning, the American contingent was reminded that our culture doesn’t teach us how to listen. American culture breeds a tendency to invade and dominate the listening space (a learned behavior growing from our colonialist roots?) and to assume we know things before ever really stopping to listen. Perhaps it should come as no surprise, but for many folks from the U.S. the most difficult conversations were among ourselves—and the discomfort centered around the dynamics of race and gender and power. An African American woman voiced the discomfort and tension of being told that she should hesitate to speak up, that she should listen, in the conversations with international folks. Her point is that she’s been taught her whole life to be quiet, that her voice was not welcome or valued.  And once again she is being told to hold her tongue?  It’s not that she didn’t understand the reasons; but it was important to name the complicated intersections of culture, race, gender, and power.  That kind of self-awareness and willingness to give voice to the inner tensions and to be vulnerable—that’s what we were there to practice.  And practice we did.

The epistle of James is all about how to practice faith. And our passage today from the first chapter gets right to it. “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.”  In the radically polarized moment in which we live, this admonition is not just difficult, it can feel impossible.  Listening well is never easy, but right now, everything trains and tempts us to be quick to argue and attack, not quick to listen.  Trigger words and assumptions, stereotypes and self-righteousness, weariness and worry—all of these things get in the way of listening…  And while things are really ramped up in this season of our history, it’s likely part of that American tendency I mentioned before.  An African colleague shared that her experience of many Americans is that we start talking and responding before the conversation partner has even finished expressing what they are trying to communicate.  She connected this to our need to take action and our struggle to be “still.”  We are not socialized to be still, to wait, to be quick to listen. We are socialized to be quick to speak or quick to “fix” or quick to explain—whether with a partner, friend, colleague, or adversary.

The writer of James understands that listening is the starting point for what we do—or as is written, for “worthwhile religion.”  Religion is what we do.  It is the practice of our spirituality, the way our faith gets enacted.  And what we listen to, who we listen to, whether we truly listen—all of these things have a direct impact on what we do or whether we do anything at all.  The passage says, “welcome with meekness the implanted word that has power to save your souls…be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” As Eugene Peterson paraphrases: “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear!... Anyone who sets himself up as ‘religious’ by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God…is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.” (James 22, 26-27)  A slightly gentler shorthand of the teaching might be, “humbly listen to the good news and let it take root within your heart; let the good news of Gods love grow into concrete acts of love and care for others.”

Working with this teaching as we kick off this month’s sermon series, “Activate,” I’ve been thinking about the way that we can hear something—even experience something—but not be moved to any kind of concrete response as a result.  The image that keeps coming up for me is the story Jesus tells of the seed that falls on different kinds of soil.  Some seed falls on hard soil and doesn’t take root. It just sits there or gets blown away by the wind or eaten up by the birds.  Such seed doesn’t get “activated,” it doesn’t connect with the earth and water in a way that help it grow. This, I think, may be what James is getting at.

Listening, really listening, is the first thing we can do to “activate” the word within. And I’m not talking about one moment that passed through you without really landing. We might get very riled up at a rally or in response to a sermon but, after the moment passes, we are literally unmoved.  What is it that helps the word “land” and become “implanted” in your heart so that you’re activated to do something?  There are lots of motivators—self-interest, love, fear, pain, anger… What voices are able to cut through this stuff to help you act in a way that is good?  Who do you listen to?  Whose voice has taught you and formed you so that it continues to motivate your actions and priorities? 

For me, listening to another real person, hearing their story and entering into a relationship with them is one of the most powerful activators.  What will get me to show up at an event when I am worn out and would rather stay home?  A person I care about is going to be there or tells me it’s important or asks me to come.  What is it that inspires me to give my money?  Relationships of love and trust that help me know my resources are supporting something or someone good.  What convinces me to do something hard and scary and uncomfortable?  The promise of friends who will be in it with me and the greater promise of the God I trust that I am participating in God’s work of mending and love in this beautiful broken world.

Relationship, an activated faith, growth in love begins with listening with an open heart and open mind in a way that will move you to action.  And that takes practice.  It takes humility.  It takes a willingness to deal with your own emotional responses and a willingness to be vulnerable.  Without those things, the word won’t land, the stories will pass through and leave you untouched, unmoved.  And that is like looking in a mirror and seeing the life that you’re invited to and then walking away and leaving that life behind—forgetting that you’d ever seen what was possible. 

I pray that the stories shared by my African American and Latina colleagues of being silenced and dismissed and overlooked will not simply “pass through” or get left behind, that the stories I heard from colleagues from other countries and cultures will have a lasting impact on my life, that all these stories will change me and strengthen me for the journey.  I continue to hold close to my heart the story of a Nigerian sister who, because of her public solidarity with LGBTQ persons on the floor of General Conference, lost her husband, her appointment, and her home; was humiliated in front of her annual conference and had her ministry undermined publicly.  Even still, she continues to fight for justice for herself and for the oppressed. She could easily emigrate to the U.S. but chooses to stay in Nigeria and remain in the struggle for women’s rights, for equity, justice, and care for all people.  God help me if I receive such a witness and remain unmoved.

So two things that I invite you to think about and practice.

First, think about how you listen.  Practice listening.  Listen to those who are difficult to listen to.  Listen to the real voices of others. Speak to ask questions that help you listen more fully. Be willing to hear things that make you uncomfortable, sad, or angry. Manage your own emotional response. When it is your turn to speak, do so with humility born of love and self-awareness. Create space within your heart to receive a life-changing word.

Second, cultivate relationships that will help activate your faith—in all the places you connect, including here at Foundry through classes, small groups, and fellowship.  Listen with real intention to one another and to the opportunities to participate in changing the world.  And let that listening move you to do something.  Your action may be internal—a shift of perspective or attitude.  The thing you do may be engagement in a group or project. You might also be moved to give money toward a program or ministry. 

Let the word of God’s love and mercy and justice really take root and grow. Listen…and then do something!

What Not to Wear: A Sermon Preached by William E. Green at Foundry United Methodist Church August 26th, 2018

August 27th, 2018

“What Not to Wear”
Preached by William E. Green at Foundry United Methodist Church (Washington, D.C.)

August 26th, 2018

Y’all! Isn’t it good to be the church this morning?! After a week of—well, the sadly routine—what a gift we have been given in this space, to come and gather and remember and celebrate and reclaim and proclaim the Gospel, the Good News, of God’s all-saving love and ever-present grace. You know, it’s good to be the church this morning, as we gather around two baptismal candidates and conclude our Art of Music Ministry series where we’ve been so blessed by our outstanding Music Department under the leadership of Stanley Thurston and, today, Paul Heins?

           Now, if you’ve come today for fashion forward advice for the modern Christian, as some have implied my sermon title might suggest, let me apologize now. I will never be known for my fabulous heels, like Pastor Ginger or our faithful sign-language interpreter Michael. The closest I got to well-dressed was when my mother and grandmother tricked me into a plaid sportcoat and wingtips for my fifth Easter—something for which, when I want to give my grandmother a hard time, made coming out 15 years later unavoidable.

           Instead, today, I want to spend my time with you today asking this question: if we are to be about the work of Kin-dom of God and to proclaim the Gospel of Christ in sustained, transformational ways—think, “Love God, Love Each Other, Change the World,”—what must we first let go of, shed, or empty out of our spiritual wardrobe? In other words, what’s NOT to wear?
Let us pray:

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of Hosts! For indeed we are a people who wander in a weary land. We are overcome by anxiety. We are beset by stress. We are broken apart by the ever-present raging of the powers and principalities of this world. Yet here you remind us that you have not left us. Here your word is proclaimed and your Spirit made known. Here we find embodied among these with whom we gather the hope of the beloved community--from which all strength, love, and hope flows.

 

Send your spirit then, O God, to renew the face of the earth and hearts of your people. Through the proclamation of your Word this day might we open ourselves once more the wonders of your love, be transformed in its hearing for your work in the world, and be emboldened in our witness to make known the mysteries of your Gospel.

 And now, O God, I am your servant. Whether through me or in spite of me, may your Word come alive in this place. Speak, O Lord, for your servants are listening. Amen.

 

  1. Introduction

 

           The Letter to the Ephesians, as we learned last week, is not a traditional epistle written to address a specific concern, problem, or challenge within a particular Christian context—think the Philippian, Roman, or Corinthian epistles. Rather, its more likely intention is establishing among the churches of Asia Minor a shared theological identity. An orthodoxy from which they could draw strength, understand their purpose, and collaborate in ways which furthered the Gospel.

           This purpose is evidenced though out the letter, who’s first chapters focus on the unity of the body of Christ and assert the universally salvific—meaning salvation for all people—nature of Christ’s action in the world, as well as the work of Christ to unite people for the common cause of the Gospel. There are astonishing assertions here, especially in an era of increased tribalism and deep economic and political division—not that we D.C. folk know anything about that, right— that the whole world, not just the Roman empire, Gentiles, or Jews, have been saved by Christ and for relationship with one another, created anew with a common purpose, and chosen by God to serve in union with Christ in the proclamation of the Gospel.  But then we hit our reading from today.

           This passage we’ve read enjoys what prolific preacher-teacher Fred Craddock calls the power of the familiar. The armor of God. A elementary Sunday School teacher’s best friend to corral kids with an easy craft and quick connection to the Superhero du jour. Sadly, if you grew up in small-town Vacation Bible Schools like I did, that familiarity might require a trigger warning. Any skepticism you feel is not unfounded, not in a world where multi-million dollar military parades—almost, amen— the violent colonization of communities through gentrification—dressed in battle gear and carrying automatic weapons—which criminalizes color and values ones views of the city over the lives of ones neighbors, and the militarization of our borders which has resulted in the dismantling of the families—the opposite, I’d say, of protecting family values—and the deaths of millions necessarily demands our interrogation of a text which calls upon us to wear armor of any kind.

  1. Armed to What End?

           So before we can continue, we have to ask to what end we supposed to arm ourselves. Because to focus only on the author’s admonition to wear the “whole armor of God”[1] is to miss the point the author is trying to make. That is, that the simple assertion of the Gospel and it’s expected outcomes in the lives of the believer is not in and of itself the accomplishment of that Gospel. In other words, it’s not just enough to talk about it—it being the Gospel of Jesus Christ or its implications for the work of justice and sacred community—or for us as individuals to conform to it. Because, by virtue of its proclamation and manifestation in us, it will necessarily invite the opposition of the forces and realities which it threatens. Before we even get to the armor itself, Scripture says,

“…our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers,

against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness,

against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places…”[2]

 

Thus all those amazing claims about God’s work in us in the world do not mean we’ve got it made. Indeed, the transformation of the world and the lives of the church through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is the very nature of sacred resistance—that is, as defined in Pastor Ginger’s book Sacred Resistance:

 

“…any word, deed, or stance, that actively counters the forces of hatred, cruelty, selfishness, greed, dehumanization, desolation, and disintegration in God’s beloved world.”[3] 

 and invites rebuke and retribution from that which we are resisting, in this case not individuals, but rather the systems, cycles, and injustices which pervade our lives and the world.

           And let’s be clear, this is not about getting shouted at during a protest. It IS about the systematic ways that evil functions in our society—both consciously through the powers of empire and economy—and subconsciously through our own privilege to tear down and tear apart any perceived threat to its reign. These are the cosmic powers of institutional racism that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sacrificed his life to challenge and on whose altar we are still sacrificing black and brown bodies every day. The spiritual forces of that evil called homophobia that faithful folk must still fight daily in our own United Methodist Churches. Forces which have locked our denomination in a 40 year battle questioning the call of Christ on the lives of faithful queer folxs to faithful participate in the church—an question, by the way, answered by Jesus’s matchless grace and love long before we even thought to ask it. This is the tyranny of the rulers of this age who foster war between us—battles of identity politics and partisan saber rattling—dividing us from one another because they know when we’re divided from one another we lack the strength to stand up against them.

           To this end, then, faithful discipleship—in addition to God’s faithfulness and work in our lives and our faithful response through transformed living—is for the author of the Ephesians means being prepared for and ready to participate in what Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called “the slow work of God.”[4] The work of showing up and sustaining our witness against the ranting and raving of empirical powers and tyrannical tweets which would erase our witness and con us into believing that truth is not always truth.

The command to take up the whole armor of God is reminder that discipleship means being in it for the long-haul, and that God gives us what we need to sustain us in our witness and strengthen us in our resolve. More importantly, it’s a call to shed ourselves of any lingering savior complexes which plague us so that we might be free for joy even in the face of adversity. Those things against which we fight—spiritual forces and cosmic powers—have already been conquered through the loving action of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. As we read earlier in Ephesians:

“But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which God loved us…

made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—so that in the ages to come God might show the immeasurable riches of God’s grace.”[5]

This is an important reminder, perhaps the most important for us that we have not be saved for ourselves OR called to action only in a particular moment—be it one of political turmoil or denominational dis-ease—but are rather together caught up in the ways that God is daily saving us and the world. 

III. We Are What We Wear…

           So, about this armor, huh? So let’s pause here for a second and turn to the field of social psychology. A little lighter fare for a hot minute. While I was researching my sermon and trying NOT to use it as an excuse to watch Queer Eye—a new Netflix re-make of the similarly named Queer Eye for the Straight Guy—I ran across a theory developed by two Northwestern professors called “en-clothed cognition.” They argue that the clothes we wear distinctly impact not just OTHER’S perceptions of us, but our own psychology and sense of self.

           And that doesn’t seem too crazy, does it? Think about it for a moment. Those ‘magical’ lucky jeans that give us the extra boldness we’re lacking. A particular tie or set of heels we wear because we feel just that much more confident when we see ourselves in the mirror. That comfortable, well-worn hoodie who’s warm embrace calms our most anxious moments. Science actually suggests that these things we wear make a difference and that our awareness of that opens up a whole new way for us to to be our best and most true selves. In a manner, then, it’s true that we are not only what we imbibe but what we wear.

           I can’t help but wonder if the author of Ephesians knew a thing or two en-clothed cognition. The appeal to military garb common among the Roman Legions makes a lot of sense. Generally speaking, the reader would have associated someone wearing armor with a well-organized, unified and prepared body of people prepared to confront any onslaught—like the author says Christians must be. In a sense, they were forerunners of peace, associated with the spread and defense of the Pax Romana, the Roman Peace, that was associated with the growth of the empire (neveryoumind such peace was mostly reserved for Roman citizens in good standing). Proclaimers of a different kind of peace, let’s say.

           It’s actually a quite beautiful metaphor. It simultaneously draws on images that embody the author’s call for early Christians to maintain unity amid diversity, admonitions to stand firm in their conviction and belief, and responsibility for proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ—-while also subtly co-opting weapons of war that were used to subjugate anyone who dared anger empire and to defend a false—i.e. Caesar’s—peace.

            However, it’s quickly clear that the armor of God ain’t the armor of Caesar.  It’s parts are for the protection of the body as they together—the repeated directives, though using the word “you” would be better read “y’all”—proclaim of Gospel of REAL peace through which God desire to heal and unify a broken world. A gospel in which all have a place and because of which transformation of heart and life is possible.

           What’s important here, of course, is not that we imagine putting on breastplates and helmets before venturing into the world—no matter what VBS might have told you—but rather that if we are to be sustained and faithful in our witness we must have in our spiritual wardrobe the kinds of “armor”—practices, communities, commitments, and values—which keep us rooted in our identity as those whom God calls beloved, sustained in our knowledge that God’s got our back and that it’s in God’s strength we live, and move, and have our being, and grounded in what matters so that we can lay down and let go of what does not.

Putting on the “whole armor of God” has never then been so much about going to war, there’s no “onward Christian soldiers” here. But so that we might, as the author says “be strong in the Lord and the strength of God’s power…,”[6] so that we might “stand” and “withstand” the inevitably weariness and jadedness and unbelief that comes from doing the work day in and day out and feeling like nothing’s going to change. So that we can continue to show up, engaging in that ministry of presence that T.C. so often talks about and faithfully lives, a reminder that our work in the world, our witness to God’s goodness and light is often less about what our protest signs say or which rally we attend or what legislation we write or pass and much more, much more about the ways our personal relationships and faithfulness under fire point to the inevitable triumph of Gods grace, mercy, and light.

           A more modern “armor,” then, might include the raised fist of resistance and the open hand of peace modeled in our new “Sacred Resistance banner—a sign of solidarity and a commitment to the radical hospitality through which all people find their place at God’s table. Perhaps the silenced cellphone of real presence, a commitment made to not simply show up but to be fully present to those we encounter. Possibly holy habit of weekly sabbath—something with which I still daily struggle—in which we take in the beauty of the world and give thanks to God, as we began our time today doing, for the wonders of God’s love and grace even in the midst of a messy world.

           Whether the armor you need for the living of these days involves some old school Roman armaments or a comfortable pair shoes and an on-point printed tee (FILL IN HERE)

  1. What’s in YOUR Wardrobe?

           But of course, putting something on requires, at the least, choosing not to wear something else, if not taking something off. Several weeks ago Jack and I traveled with two of our friends to Vancouver, British Columbia. During a stretch of switchbacks on a 12 mile hike, I was surprised that while we’d donned hiking shorts and opted for a small bag with bottles of water, we passed scores of folks carrying what looked like mini-fridges complete with bluetooth speakers and all other manner of electronic accoutrement worn precariously via backpacks and straps to their person, even someone pushing a kayak on a wheelbarrow. What became abundantly clear is that there were plenty of people who were unable to see the beauty unfolding them—or to be present to their experience with others—because they hadn’t first to ask what NOT to wear.

           So then, I return to the question I asked at the beginning of my time with you. What have we been wearing on this  journey of discipleship, need to change out of so we can change into the armor of God, that is the practices, values, relationships, and commitments which ground us in God’s love and help us to stand firm as we proclaim the Gospel?

           Where have we wrapped ourselves in self-righteousness, not only protecting ourselves from the people and things that cause us pain, but keeping out the experiences, stories, and relations with those that—though we might not agree with—are nonetheless as much a part of God’s beloved family as you or I? Where have donned our anger and frustration like a Sunday church hat, proudly proclaiming to all who will hear it the point of our discontent without care for who it will hurt or how it will affect the communities we call our own? Where have we shod our feet with the clunky-soled weight of our fear, allowing ourselves to grow comfortable in our complacency rather than daring to dream bigger dreams? When have we allowed our relationships, worn threadbare by old wounds and long-held grudges, to wither and fade rather than confront our complicity in their brokenness and work toward healing?

           Perhaps, perhaps, the invitation to take upon ourselves the whole armor of God is also the invitation to take off, put down, free ourselves from the attitudes, places, and relationships that have bound our confidence, drained our energy, and kept us from living fully in to the life God has created us for.

  1. Conclusion

           Helmet of righteousness or silenced cellphone of real presence, we conclude any encounter with this text certain of two things.

           First, how we prepare ourselves for this journey we’ve been called to matters. For the living of these days and in the face of all that lies ahead of us—called General Conferences and mid-term elections and the weight of another year with it’s uncertainties and unknowns—we cannot expect the proclaim “with boldness the mystery of Gospel” without the proper wardrobe. So, then, knowing the journey isn’t over take the time to get some shopping done now. Pick out a pair of spiritual practices or two that keep you grounded every day. Try a bible study or small group on for size and build the kind of intentional community through which we find strength and accountability for our faith journeys. Slip into a new volunteer opportunity and see how it feels—whether it’s youth week or Great Day of Service or our growing opportunities for pastoral care and visitation.

           And most importantly of all, this work we’re called to, and for which we’ve been thus equipped, is one we do not labor in alone. Remember, we do this thing in community. No resistance undertaken on our own is sustainable, and we need one another for the living of these days. And God is faithful. God is faithful, friends!

………………… (AD LIB)

 

[1] Ephesians 6:11; 6:13

[2] Ephesians 6:12

[3] Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, Sacred Resistance, pg. 1

[4] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Patient Trust

[5]Ephesians 2:4, 8

[6] Ephesians 6:10

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Imbibe: A Sermon Preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC, August 19, 2018, the thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

August 20th, 2018

Imbibe

A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC, August 19, 2018, the thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

Texts: Ephesians 5:1-2, 15-20, John 6:51-58 

What do you imbibe? I’m not asking about your drink of choice, though that is the most common association with the word “imbibe” these days. To “imbibe” is from the Latin embibere, meaning “to drink in.” This can be used literally as “drink a liquid” or figuratively as “drink in knowledge.” There’s a sense in which the word can mean “to soak up,” or “internalize”—that is, to unconsciously assimilate an attitude or behavior from what’s around us. We imbibe a lot, don’t we? What do you consciously or unconsciously soak up, internalize, drink in? 

 

The letter of Ephesians offers both a filter and a recipe for what followers of Jesus take in.  Ephesians was written—whether by Paul or a later disciple (as many scholars believe)—not as a letter to one church (as with the letters to the Corinthians) but rather as a general message to many churches—a teaching bulletin to the regional congregations, if you will—about the new way of life offered in Christ, a way very different from the predominant culture.

 

This new way of life is modeled on the self-giving love and mercy of God revealed in Jesus Christ. A one-line summary of the letter’s message is found in the first two verses of chapter 5: “Be imitators of God (creative, merciful, steadfast, just, relational), as beloved children (here is found your dignity and worth!), and live in love (not hate, fear, or greed), as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  A “fragrant offering” here is not referring to a fancy, fragrant floral bouquet, but rather the wonderful smell of roasted lamb, the central course for the Jewish feast of the Passover.  Christ gave himself to us sacrificially, to feed us with what we need most of all.

 

The Gospel of John, uses this same theological metaphor, describing Jesus as the “the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:29).  In John, Jesus is recorded as saying, “I am the bread of life (Jn 6:35)…the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh…(Jn 6:51) Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life (Jn 6:54).”  This talk freaked people out from the beginning.  Flesh-eating zombies and blood sucking vampires may not yet have been thing in Bible times, but certainly human sacrifice was practiced in some pagan rites and cannibalism would have been anathema to many peoples even then. But the point throughout the Gospel of John, the point in the letter of Ephesians, is not about literally eating human flesh and drinking blood.  The point is that we are given an opportunity and the means to drink God in, to soak up the way Jesus lives, to become like Christ, to imitate God.  We are called to a new life that is qualitatively different from life outside Christ—a life formed according to God’s wisdom and way of compassion and justice, that shares in God’s work in the world, that is filled and fueled by God’s steadfast love.  That love is our sustenance, that love is our freedom, that love is shown to us and offered to us in the flesh-and-blood gift of Jesus.  We are given this way of life, this way of love, to eat and drink, to soak up, to take in, to imbibe. 

 

Our passage from Ephesians says, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit.” (5:18) Wine isn’t the problem here (Jesus drank wine regularly, even made it on occasion), but rather the result of alcohol abuse, or drunkenness is the issue.  This is described as “debauchery”—in the Greek is asōtia, a form of the word used to describe the behavior of the so-called “prodigal son” who “squandered his property in dissolute living (asōtōs).”[i] (Luke 15) So it seems that thoughtlessly, greedily wasting time, wasting resources, wasting your life on things that separate you from love, from health, from God—that’s the problem. The alternative choice is to be filled—drunk—with Spirit; imbibing Spirit promises a different kind of exuberance, confidence, and freedom than wine or drugs and is said to result in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22)

 

What do you imbibe? And what is the result?  //  When we are children, we only have so much control over what we imbibe. Children soak up everything…the energies, attitudes, language and practices of the adults around them. And parents and caregivers can protect children from only so much of what is streamed into public consciousness through images, television, internet, and more.  As we grow up, we still can’t control what is happening around us, but we can become aware of those things and learn that we have choices to make.

 

I’m not sure why it is the case, but we humans often struggle to choose wisely.  What you take in to yourself changes you.  What you imbibe affects everything.  As the old saying goes, “You are what you eat.”  So why don’t we consistently choose to consume Christ and walk in freedom and joy and justice? Why not daily drink in Spirit and be filled with love?

 

Well, the truth is there’s a lot of juicy, tempting junk food and drink around that is often much easier to take in than what Jesus offers.  Junk food tastes good in the moment, but has negative effects.  Just as self-medicating in the moment with alcohol or drugs can feel helpful in the moment, we know that the fall-out can be a disaster.  Often “junk food” looks better than it tastes and we end up growing unhealthy on food that is not (as my friend calls it) “calorie worthy.”

 

What do we consume that fills us with empty calories?  What do we take in even though it can be heart-clogging, vision-blurring, energy-sapping, and joy-stealing?  We gnaw on negativity, apathy, and bitterness.  We soak up the poison of cynicism, fear, and gossip.  We consume violent and exploitive images and words.  We nurse drinks filled with our grievances.  We take in the message that those who are different can’t be trusted, that there is one right way to do things and it just so happens to be ours.  We take in headlines overwhelmingly filled with violence and bad news forgetting that’s not the only news out there.  We consume the narrative of scarcity and zero-sum games that compels us to look out for number one.  // Even though we know better, we read the comments… // We consume hurtful or limiting words directed at us from others and allow those words to have more power than God’s word of love for us.  These words are destructive; they are junk food; and they cloud our vision and our hearing and fill us up so that it is difficult to receive the spirit and life that Jesus offers. 

 

Things that do harm can be so tempting and addictive.  Why is it easier to focus on the negative, to drink in drama, to believe the bad stuff, to consume that which doesn’t satisfy?  Why is it so easy to allow foolishness to make us turn our nose up at what nourishes spirit and life?  These are the persistent questions and the primary choice before us every day: do we fill our cup with God or with idols, with hope or with cynicism, with grace or with negativity, with meaning or with distractions, with love or with fear? 

 

In thinking about our theme for today, I thought of a metaphor C.S. Lewis provides in The Screwtape Letters.  As many of you will know, the premise of that book is that of Screwtape, a master tempter, writing letters to instruct a junior in the art of deception and recruitment away from God.  Screwtape contrasts the “devils’” goal with God’s goal (Screwtape refers to God as “the Enemy”), and does so in what I find to be a terrifying way:  “To us a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense.  But the obedience which the Enemy demands…is quite a different thing.  One must face the fact that all the talk about [God’s] love for [humans], and [God’s] service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth.  God really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of [Godself]—creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like [God’s] own, not because [God] has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to [God’s own].  We want cattle who can finally become food; [God] wants servants who can finally become [family].  We want to suck in, [God] wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; [God] is full and flows over.”[ii]

 

All that which is not God, the junk food voices that make us shrink and fear and lash out and shut down, want to consume us.  The junk drink energies make us live smaller lives than we’re made for, keep us drugged and dull and want to devour us.  But God wants to feed our hunger and quench our thirst so that we might live more freely and joyfully.

 

Hafiz, the 14th century Sufi mystic poet helps us think about what happens when—for whatever reason—we don’t imbibe what we need. The poet writes:

I know the way you can get

When you have not had a drink of Love:

Even angels fear that brand of madness

That arrays itself against the world

And throws sharp stones and spears into

The innocent

And into one's self

 

O I know the way you can get

If you have not been out drinking Love:

You might rip apart

Every sentence your friends and teachers say,

Looking for hidden clauses.

You might weigh every word on a scale

Like a dead fish.

You might pull out a ruler to measure

From every angle in your darkness

The beautiful dimensions of a heart you once

Trusted.

 

I know the way you can get

If you have not had a drink from Love's Hands.

That is why all the Great Ones speak of

The vital need

To keep Remembering God,

So you will come to know and see [God]

As being so Playful

And Wanting,

Just Wanting to help.[iii]

 

We all know how we get without God’s abundant, nourishing love. So why not take a big gulp? …and say “Thanks.”

 

 [i] Susan Hylen, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=376

[ii] C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, (HarperOne, 1996), 38-39.

[iii] Hafiz, “I know the way you can get” (excerpt), I Heard God Laughing: Renderings of Hafiz, by Daniel Ladinsky, Sufism Reoriented, 1996.

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