its still a draft, the first, but it is a formulation of what will become a sermon.
How do we Respond
Front Yard 1 Juniper hole
My front yard needed something to replace the juniper that had taken over the front of the porch, toxic as it was to some of us living in the house. So I bought a plant to replace the juniper that was cut off last fall leaving a stump.
The Question of the sermon: how do we respond?
Through all the lessons for today a theme winds its way: How do we respond? Who do we respond to?
In Isaiah, God is ready for the people to respond to God, but they tell him to stay away. The Psalmist cries to the Lord for rescue from the enemies, God saves the Psalmist, and the Psalmist with all who fear the Lord, sing God’s praise. They remember who God is and whose they are.
In his letter to Galatians Paul recounts how we are to respond to the demands of the Law. We can set it aside. And how we are to respond to the Gospel of Jesus. We can trust it fully to justify us before God, for our faith is a gift from God and it alone is what we need to be counted among God’s own children, and heirs of God’s own Kingdom!
The Gospel story recounts how a mass of demons respond to Jesus’ arrival with great fear, how the herders respond to the drowning of their pigs in the lake, and how the towns people respond to Jesus driving the demons out of the man they’ve possessed for so long. Most significant is how the healed man responds. He sits at Jesus’ feet in worship, asks to come along, and when denied that request follows Jesus’ command to tell everyone all that Jesus has done for him! He becomes the one who proclaims in this foreign land Jesus’ Good News!
This past week Trump found himself in another brinkmanship showdown this time with Iran. He stood minutes away from ordering an attack that would break out in another long and costly war. Threatening had spiraled down to making good on extreme threats, had come to ordering a military preemptive response.
Despite advice from many corners to stop such brinkmanship showdowns, and this one in particular, Trump had carried on. Then a phone call from Fox News came, alerting Trump that his planned attack would certainly lose him the next election. So Trump stood down the military attack.
Front Yard 2 Snow-shovelled ‘salted the earth’
My front yard also needed something to fix a foot wide strip of grass along the driveway where no grass will grow. Each winter snow was shoveled to the side of the driveway, the only place to shovel it, and all the salt from the vehicles from the streets has been dumped on the lawn. Generally it’s suffered, but that first foot has been thoroughly salted earth. A few brave weeds try to conquer it each summer with little success. I had tried, as many others had, to ignore that I’d salted the earth there, but enough was enough.
So I planned to put in some kind of walk way, which would absorb the salt and snow melt, and not need to have anything grow there, without just extending the ‘salted earth’ effect another foot into the lawn.
Responses that deny anything is wrong
Sometimes it is just easier to deny that things are wrong.
In Isaiah, God stands ready and eager to have the people respond, but they do not. They go so very far as to tell God that they want God to stay far away.
Tevye, in the Fiddler on the Roof, when he is asked, proposes such a blessing for the czar: He asks God to bless the czar and keep him from them very far. Of course the Czar wishes no good for Tevye and his community. Good wishes Good for us all!
Sometimes it is just easier to assume that someone else is the source of the problem that we encounter, or to pretend there is no real problem at all, even as life itself seems to melt away to viruses, antibiotic resistant bacteria, or cancer.
Woman without the Cookies
A woman waiting to catch a flight bought herself a book and a bag of cookies, settled in a chair, and began to read. Suddenly the man beside her started helping himself to her cookies. Not wanting to make a scene, she read on and ate cookies. For every cookie she took, he took one, too. She got more irritated and muttered, “If I wasn’t so nice, I’d give him a piece of my mind!” She wanted to move the cookies to her other side but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. When only one was left, with a smile on his face and a nervous laugh, he took it and broke it in half.
Then he offered her half, and he ate the other. She snatched it from him and thought, “This guy has some nerve, and he’s so rude. He didn’t even show any gratitude!” When her flight was called, with relief she headed for the gate, refusing to look at the ungrateful “thief.” She boarded the plane and sank in her seat, reached in her bag to get a book to read and to forget about the incident.
Next to her book … was her full bag of cookies.
Front Yard 3 Porch covered HOLE
My remembering had not completed the whole picture. Under my front porch, with the ground for a good 12 to 20 feet around, there is a sinkhole in the corner of the foundation that had dropped a good three feet below grade. The sump pump was right there. Good. It pumped out the water about 12 feet away along the other wall right at the rhubarb plant just three feet from the porch corner where the juniper stood, so all the water freely flowed right back down the foundation to the sump pump again. No wonder the rhubarb and juniper did so well every year, no matter how dry a summer we had!
So I planned to fill that sink hole in with extra black dirt, but then thought that I’d better fill it with clay, so the water would not just seep through the black dirt.
Cookies, Clay, Good Creatures, possesed but redeemed by Jesus
Sometimes we not only get it wrong whose bag of cookies we are eating from, we forget the big hole that we have at home, right in our own hearts, and we simply do not remember what will fill it.
Clay is fine for my hole under the porch. But what of all the holes left by all the losses we encounter through life? What do we fill them with?
According to the Norsky Sunday School song, the workers wouldn’t work and the painters wouldn’t paint, so God in creating the earth thought the quickest thing to do was to fill it up with dirt.
But when God came to us humans, God did not create with just dirt. God breathed into us, gave us spirit and life, memories and regrets, and thoughts and hopes. God gave us the ability to fear and love God, and each other. God made us Goooood. Then when we were possessed by the demons of sin and evil, God sent Jesus, God’s own Son, to demonstrate for us what we can barely comprehend, but we can remember: God so loved the world and all of us in it that God rescues us from all the demons.
In our baptisms God claims us and makes us God’s own children. There is no greater thing that God can do for us.
ML Baptized I live in the face of all demons
Martin Luther knew about demonic powers. In his early adult life, after being near-struck by lightning he completely gave himself over to fighting against demonic powers. He became a monk serving God with his whole being, disciplining himself harshly, even flogging himself, to drive the devil’s demons out, and to make penance for the many sins he committed every day.
Then one day, Martin Luther again read the letter to the Galatians. That simple word, justified by faith, not by works, turned his whole understanding of his part in God’s Kingdom right-side-up. Luther read that it was not his doing or even believing the right things that saved him. Rather God acted, through Jesus, to create faith in him, a faith that trusts the story of Jesus’ sacrifice for him. This faith saved him.
Thereafter when Luther encountered demons he fought them off with a little word: “I am baptized” (although he said it in Latin). …He did not battle Satan with, “I believe in Christ” or “I am a Christian.” His confidence was not centered on his faith or beliefs, but on an act of God — God’s claim on his life given in baptism. (Stoffregen 2010- reworked )
After baptism, after we know we have faith given to us, then the battles against demonic powers are not ours any more. We simply surrender 100% of our lives to Christ, and the war is won, though the battles still rage on.
Lutherans believe that trusting God’s actions to create faith in us is the Gospel within the Gospel. It is the central Word of God by which we discern the Word of God in the rest of Scriptures, in the rest of literature, in the rest of our lives.
We respond to God’s gifts with fear, love and diligence: We pray as if everything depended on God. But we do not rest. We work as if the salvation of the world depended on us.
There are pathways to be built, holes to fill, grass to sow and plants to plant. There are broken hearts to heal. There are broken dreams to re-form into something possible. There are the denials of sin and evil to overcome … not with more threats, but with love and the promise of healing.
Like the man free of the demons, we each have a story of God’s work in us to heal us and give us new life. Our work is to tell our stories, which are really God’s story of God loving us, and to tell it with an abundance of love for each other, even love for our enemies.
Front Yard 4 Remembering the whole project together
As I shared with Tim my plans to plant that replacement for the juniper, I remembered that the sink hole would be filled part way with the clay dug out from along the drive where the earth was salted. The whole area where I wanted to put that plant would be a construction site, and it needed to be this summer.
I also remembered that all the ground around the porch, rhubarb, and the new plant spot needed to be sloped with fresh black dirt so that water drained away from the building towards a trench in the lawn that would take it to the street.
I also remembered that flagstone was possibly the best for that path: solid but with space between the rocks to allow water and salt to seep down.
Well, I was reminded so I remembered, which was just as good.
So I went to Burnco to chose stone with Tim, and then got out of the way as he took his three days plus to pull out the juniper stump with the truck, dig out the salted black dirt and 8 inches of clay along the drive, toss that clay and more under the porch more than filling the hole. He then layered the bottom 6 inches of the resulting trench along the drive with road crush and topped that with a layer of sand. With help from Richard lifting the heavy rock to save Tim’s back he danced the irregular stones into a pattern for the walk and filled in the gaps with more sand. Then he took new black dirt, re-sloped the grass area to be, and planted seeds.
That’s when I stepped back in to help ensure the area was watered lightly many times each day. A week later the seeds have sprouted.
Remember that was all to replace the juniper with the plant I bought two weeks earlier. Meanwhile it had to be planted elsewhere, to be out of the way, and so as not to die in it’s pot.
Respond by remembering, working, fearing, praising and telling
How do we respond? Sometimes it’s all about remembering.
Remembering how God created us, made us good, and sent Jesus to save us from our sins. Then we can see the steps, hard as they may be to bring living beauty back into our lives where something toxic has grown and even the ground has been salted.
Sometimes, remembering will remind us that there is a great deal of work to be done. God needs us to be the hands of Christ to make things happen, to make the Goodness of Creation possible also today. Often that will be something completely new, un-imagined until we see the desperate need of those around us.
As we remember God’s great gifts given to us, we will be fearful, awestruck, and we will give God praise. We will go out to tell all everything that God has done for us, healing us of our every ill, naming us as heirs to God’s great promises.