Monday, August 22, 2016

Created for Good, Revisited

A Sermon Given to Haven Fellowship Church
By Stephanie Little Coyne
July 31, 2016

In the beginning, God created:
“Let there be light and darkness.
Let there be waters and earth and skies.
Let there be green plants and fruits, trees and vegetation.
Let there be fish and birds and creeping creatures and wild animals.”
And God paused.
“Let there be humans—male and female.
Take care of the waters and the earth and the skies!
Take care of the green plants and fruits, the trees and vegetation.
Take care of the fish and birds and the creeping creatures and wild animals.
Take care of all these things and enjoy them; delight in them as I delight in you!
Take care of each other.”

And it happened, just as God said. And God believed it all to be beautiful and good.

Part I:
We are God’s children and God’s call to us starts in the story of creation.
In the very beginning, God crafted and composed this Earth and everything in it. And everything that is on this Earth has the opportunity for renewal.
From the very beginning, God gave humans the opportunity to be caretakers—an opportunity that is both a gift and a charge. God gave humans plants, but God also gave humans seeds—seeds that need to be planted and tended to.
Such as humans are caretakers of Earth, WE are also caretakers for each other. And not only are we caretakers for Earth and for each other, we are UNIQUELY gifted caretakers; each of us has a role to act out and a talent to perform.
God, whom we believe to still be present in this world, still creates, and God still gifts us with chances to cultivate.
We watch as others grow, we teach, we pass on. We cheer on and we share. We are taught and we hold each other’s hands.
It’s a beautiful picture of things that are and of possibilities that may be. And pieces of that picture were drawn long ago, introduced into our beings long before we were.
God is Love and God is Grace. And we were made in the image of God, therefore, we too have the components of love and grace within us.

We have been created for good.

Part II:
For me, Ephesians 2:10 ties this Sunday morning together. This verse reminds us of the creation of our very selves and it reminds us that there is a Holy portion within us, as we heard from Genesis.
It reminds us that we are not created to sit around and look pretty—pretty as we are—and we have been told this morning of many, many ways that we can share and do good works in this church and in the community. These words in Ephesians are an encouragement for us to do—to share, to forgive, to welcome.
You know that book of the Bible that we have no chance of knowing by heart?—Leviticus—the book of instruction and procedure and law…after law…after law. Love was written into that law and Jesus reminds us of that fact just like he reminds that sassy lawyer—there, in Leviticus chapter 19, verse 18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And again, in verse 34, “you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” 
As we keep reading in the Old Testament, we are reminded to choose compassion. In the book of Hosea, of which we read just a portion of the passage earlier in the service…The whole of chapter 11 tears at your heart—its words are filled with emotion that speaks to that of an adult who is trying his or her best to teach and raise a child. Yet, the child, or in the passage of Hosea, the Israelites, keep complaining, they keep disobeying, they keep showing that they are an ungrateful people:
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols.”
And then, instead of an outburst of anger, we hear these words from God, the father:
“Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.”
Instead of showing Israel Divine anger, God chooses Divine compassion.
God has taught us to be compassionate; even in situations where our judgements and perceptions may be correct and even though an outburst of anger might be well-warranted.
The Coyne family is very partial to the animated Disney movie, The Jungle Book. Rather, we are partial to the soundtrack of The Jungle Book and that is mainly because the CD was stuck in our car’s CD player for 3 years. We just sold that car; we hope that another family is enjoying it as much as we did.
As with most Disney movies, the book The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling is slightly different than the animated illustration. Baloo the bear is much more fun-loving and carefree in the movie than he is in the book. And Baloo, who has a rather rough hand with Mowgli, makes sure that Mowgli knows the varying languages of the different animals in the jungle so that if he encounters any of them, he will know their language and will know how to speak to them in a proper manner…so that he can speak and be understood, so that he can listen and understand.
And on more than one occasion, Mowgli is able to get out of trouble because he is able to adapt linguistically in a situation.
Again, in the Old Testament, God sends the prophet Ezekiel to a group of the exiled Israelites and says to him, “sit there, by the river, among the people. Sit there and watch. Learn who they are. Hear their language.”
Before God tells Ezekiel to say a word, God tells him to sit among them and be quiet. And for seven days, Ezekiel sat, “stunned.”
God has shown us how to be voices of Truth.
Oh, God has His share of loud entrances—but this is not one of them. Ezekiel is sent to an exiled people—a people with no home—and instead of a grand announcement of the arrival of a prophet, God tells Ezekiel to go live with these people for a while—“see what life is like as an exile before I give you the message to give to them.”
This is another act of compassion from God—this method of message delivery is the most compassionate and the most loving method. God made sure that the Israelites would hear from Him in a language that they could understand. It was up to them to listen and to act.
God has made sure that we can hear the Message in ways that we can understand through the life and ministry and teachings of Jesus—sent as a man to live and walk among humans. It is up to us to listen and to act.
We know that life is a gift.
We know that God is love.
And we know, especially when we look to Jesus, that we are called into a Christian Mission.
The rich man in Luke, chapter 12, doesn’t get it—What of your wealth and abundance, rich man? What does the storage of your goods say about your life—does it say that God is of your utmost concern or does it say that you have faith only when you HAVE? On this very day, your life is being demanded of you!
The lawyer doesn’t get it—“Love the Lord your God, love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
The Righteous in Matthew 25 don’t get it—“Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Even the disciples didn’t always get it—“Let the little children come to me; and he took them up in his arms and blessed them.”
Do we, Haven Fellowship, do we get it?—“Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.”
Consider the exiles and the aliens—consider them and love them because You were once exiled, You were once the alien.
Consider the outcast and the lonely—consider them and love them because You were once an outcast, You were once the lonely.
Consider the widow and the orphan—consider them and love them because You were once or will be the widow, You were once or will be the orphan.
Consider the child and the elder—consider them and love them because You were once the child, and You will be the elder.
We are not this or that, us or them. We are children of God and we have been given chance and chance again to be renewed, or re-planted. Through our caretaking of others, in our partnership with God as we move forward on this Christian mission, we are able to tell others about that vehicle by which they too can find renewal. We are able to speak to them about of the love and grace of Jesus Christ, because we ourselves have seen this creation as a miraculous thing.
Darrin, one of our many bright and perceptive children here at Haven, pointed out something to me last Wednesday. We were completing sheets that, when filled in, read as verses from Genesis 1, “On this day in this month in this year, God made Mary Beth. God put graciousness and love in his/her heart.”
And then, the next line was, “She/He was ___________.” I intended the line to read something like, “He was good,” as God declared the rest of creation to be. But Darrin pointed out to me that the language I used was the past tense and he made the very appropriate case that we are, and all that we are, are in the present. We are good, from our first moment to this very present moment.
Darrin gets it. Darrin, with his thought, learned the lesson and point from our whole summer—We are who God has made us right now, right in this very minute.
God has declared us good. And God has created us for good. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer
We are grateful, dear Lord, that you have given us this gift of prayer. That even in your design of all of creation, you have written in a way for and given us the space to converse with you, to offer to you the things which we carry around with us—the things which lighten our feet as well as the things which weigh us down.
And we are grateful for this church who values prayer enough that her individuals offer the names of people whom most of us will never know—the daughters of daughters and the sons of sons—we are grateful because despite our human limitations, they offer those names to you because they believe that you are unlimited; they believe in your power and they believe that you care.
And of those names, we offer those who are in our church community: Be with our pastor and his wife as they travel and be with other members of our church who are traveling as well, enjoying these last few days of summer vacation. 
Be with those individuals whose names we know who are ailing--________________ _______________________________________________________-- and we pray that you erase infection and pain and restore them to health.
We offer you the known and unknown names of those families whose houses and lives have been destroyed by fire and flood, across this nation and throughout the world. We pray that you will comfort them and help them establish new foundations.
We offer you the known and unknown names of those families whose lives are affected daily by war and violence. We pray that you intercede with great and everlasting peace in those places.
And finally, we offer to you, oh God who is all-knowing, those prayer requests which are too personal or too scary to vocally name. Dear Lord, we know that you hear even those prayers that we cannot voice out-loud.

Be with us through this day and into this week. We are your beloved children. Amen.