Sermon October 2, 2011 “Becoming Given”

“Becoming Given”

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20.

Matthew 21:33-46

             Over these last few weeks, we have considered that the purpose of our faith journey is not to prove our worth to each other or to God.  Nor is it about earning God’s grace, even though we around here we have the tendency to joke about awarding God points every good deeds, every time we weed the garden or move a couch out of the Sunday school class room,. 

            Instead we have considered that the purpose of our faith journey is to know that we are beloved.  T.S. Eliot has a wonderful line out of his poem Little Giding in the Four Quartets where he says, “ the end of all of our journeying is to arrive at where we started and to know the place for the first time.”   What if the purpose of our journeying is to arrive at where we started on the dawn of creation, to arrive at the truth of our belovedness and to know that belovedness again, for the first time.

            Will you pray with me?  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer.  AMEN.

             For these past several weeks we have been following the journey of the Israelites from the book of Exodus. We have heard of how God chose them as God’s beloved people and freed them from the bondage of Pharaoh.  We have heard about how these beloved people discovered their own brokenness in the wilderness of the Sinai desert as they turned on Moses and turned from God as they struggled with hunger and thirst.  And we have heard how God has been with them through it all, ministering to them in their needs, coaxing them to uncurl themselves from a closed up posture of self preservation and to open again to trusting in God. We have seen how this journey as been as much a spiritual journey as it has been a physical one.

            Today’s passage from the book Exodus is a familiar one.  The people are gathered around the foot of the mountain. Moses has gone up into the clouds to receive the word of God, the 10 commandments.  We know them well right?  All of those “you shalls”  and “you shall nots”.  Now for most of my life, I have thought of the ten commandments as a kind of holy rule book. Following them would earn one God’s favor.  Disobeying them would earn one God’s wrath.  They were posted on the wall in my Sunday school classroom and I remember thinking that they were like the rules posted by the doorway in my elementary school, rules that were to keep us well behaved insisting that we walk in single file, don’t talk in the hallways, that we do not ever chew gum.  

            But reading the words over and over this week I began to hear something I had not heard before.  I began to hear in these words from the Book of Exodus an echo of the same voice that spoke on the dawn of creation.  I began to hear not rules but the re-creation of God’s people.   

            God speaks from the power and might of the mountain top to a people whose journeying has prepared them for this moment, a people who have opened themselves to be re made as God’s people.  Just as it was in the beginning when God called forth the form and shape of all creation, so too is it now as God’s words from the mountain call forth the form and shape of God’s new people, of how they are to be in the world.  This is a genesis moment.

              To borrow the words of TS Eliot, the people today gathered around the mountain are returning to their starting place and knowing it for the first time.  In the power and might of God’s vision for their life, God is creating them anew.  Returning them to the place before the oppression of  Pharaoh, before the destruction of the flood, back before the rivalry of Cain and Able.  With these words of formation, God is taking the people back to the time when God first took the dust of the ground and formed into the beloved human being, back to the time when God breathed into this beloved human being and gave it live, back to the time when God first spoke God’s word of instruction Adam and Eve about how they were to live in the sweet shalom of the Garden.  And  so is it now as God speaks the 10 commandments to the newly reformed beloved people, God tells them how they are to live in the sweet shalom of this new land they were about to enter. The journey out of slavery and into new life with God is a journey of regeneration, of rebirth.

            Today we gather with the people of the world for our own mountain top experience, our own genesis moment of being once again being formed and shaped as Gods beloved.  Gathered around the glow and power of this communion table and we will take Jesus life and teachings into ourselves as bread and wine and we will be re-newed as God’s people.      


            Now across many faith traditions and spiritual practices there is a phenomenon that is fairly consistent.  And that is as one draws closer to the that place of resting again in the hands of God, of returning again to the starting place of belovedness, that there arises a powerful desire to give and to be of service.

            Theresa of Avila, a kind of hero of mine who was a Spanish nun living in the 16th century writes in of her own spiritual formation and says that the end of all her journeying is to arrive at a place of pure communion with God.  Where she is perfectly at peace and full of the same love that animates the entire universe.   And it while resting in this profound place of peace that she experiences an eruption of irrepressible joy and desire to give. It is like a spring, she says that rises up within her any rushes out into the world.  Communion with God and service to the world are two sides of the same coin she says.

            And this of course is Jesus teaching the parable this morning from the Gospel of Matthew.  Jesus indicts the Chief Priests and Pharisees by comparing them to tenants who hoard the bounty of the vineyard for themselves.   To think that we are to receive God’s grace only for our own enrichment and well being is to miss the Gospel message completely.

             So it is no wonder then that Henri Nouwen writes that the final movement in the spiritual journey to being the beloved that we are is to be given.  Jesus took bread and blessed it, he broke it and gave it to them.  Nouwen says our humanity comes to its fullest bloom in giving.[1] He says our deepest human desire is to give ourselves to each other as a source of physical, emotional and spiritual growth. P. 89

            We at the Union Church, whose front lawn is covered with pumpkins to raise money for Zambia, who children gave of themselves on Thursday as they prepared back to school supplies and clothes for children in need.  We at the Union Church know what it is to give not to earn God’s grace but because it is an expression of who we are.  Spiritual formation and mission are two sides of the same coin here at the Union Church.

            I invite you to take the learning up the learning of these last few weeks.  And to think about how you over the course of this coming year will move closer to the truth of your belovedness.  What practices will you engage to help you discover your choseness, to accept your brokenness, to move into that place of communion where the renewal of belovedness can begin.   Will it be prayer?  Bible study?  Worship? Or a gathering of fellowship?

            And how will you share the gift of being beloved with the world around you. How will you become bread for those that hunger to know that their lives matter, that they are chosen by God, forgivine and given by God to also be bread for a hungry world.  How will you become the cup of blessing for those that are thirsty for justice.  How will you address injustice, and labor for the day when all will have enough?

             “Jesus took bread and blessed it, broke it and gave it to them” May our journey of becoming beloved,  and of becoming bread, Christ’s body in the world, begin today.  AMEN

[1] P. 85