First Congregational Church
July 15, 2018
8th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Fresh out of business school, the young man answered a want ad for an accountant. He was being interviewed by a very nervous man who ran a small business that he had started himself. "I need someone with an accounting degree," the man said. "But mainly, I'm looking for someone to do my worrying for me."
"Excuse me?" the accountant said. "I worry about a lot of things," the man said. "But I don't want to have to worry about money. Your job will be to take all the money worries off my back.” "I see," the accountant said. "And how much does the job pay?” "I'll start you at eighty thousand.” "Eighty thousand dollars!" the accountant exclaimed. "How can such a small business afford a sum like that?” "That," the owner said, "is your first worry."
I’ve been reading the last of a series by Bernard Cornwell, about an English archer from the 1300s who is on quests to find certain things. In this last book, one of the things he is looking for is the back story for a picture he comes across. It’s an outdoor scene, in the winter, and while there are a couple of buildings in the background, the focal point is of a monk, sleeping on the ground. It may sound rather usual, except that while there is snow piled up all around the monk, he is sleeping peacefully on the grass and there’s no snow on him. Scenarios like that painting, of peace while being surrounded by a tempestuous storm, is part of the picture that came to mind when thinking about this morning’s scripture passage - after thinking about it.
Before we get to the passage, there is a word that will come up in the version that will be read from The Message: the word signet. For the those who haven’t watched a lot of movies from the 13, 14 and 1500’s, a signet is a seal, either like a stamp or a ring, that is pressed into liquid wax or ink that seals a letter or marks the paper that people sometimes use instead of writing their name or in addition to their name, to make papers and letters official.
Ephesians 1:1-14 (NIV)
1-2 I, Paul, am under God’s plan as an apostle, a special agent of Christ Jesus, writing to you faithful believers in Ephesus. I greet you with the grace and peace poured into our lives by God our Father and our Master, Jesus Christ.
The God of Glory
3-6 How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.
7-10 Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.
11-12 It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.
13-14 It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.
Thank you, Peyton. There’s a pastor named Nadia Bolz Weber, whom I’d love to meet. She and I don’t bear much resemblance from any which way you would look at us. She’s tall, thin, wears sleeveless black shirts with tab collars like Catholic and Lutheran clergy wear - since she’s a Lutheran pastor. She often uses hair product to add to the style that she boldly wears on her long arms, that are covered in grand tattoos in vivid colors, which are just as vivid as her language. She’s currently looking for a new gig, having just resigned from the last church that she started, called The House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado.
In a sermon she wrote for a bunch of Lutheran pastors, she talked about worry. She said, “I began to realize that, on some level, worry is nothing more than fear. Fear that either I will not get something I want or fear that something I have will be taken away. And both of those fears seem to be centered on finitude.” She goes on to remind her colleagues that while there is finitude - limits and bounds - to the stuff of earth, that Jesus reminds us that there is no finitude to God’s grace and love.
It was at a miniature golf course on a brutally hot day when Lena saw a father with 3 kids. "Who's winning?" Lena asked cheerfully. "I am" said one. "No, I am" said another. "No," the father said. "Their mother is!"
I came across a quote this week by author Sam Keen that is just luscious. “Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability.” Then there was this one by Nancy Gibbs. “What is it about summer that makes children grow? We feed and water them more. They do get more sun, but that probably doesn't matter as much as the book they read or the rule they broke that taught them something they couldn't have learned any other way.”
We are in the height of vacation time in Benzie County, including all the family and guests and celebrations that happen during these precious weeks. Even as I am thinking ahead to my tribe coming east for a week in August, I find myself thinking of all the things that we could be doing during their time, and in some small way, find that “thinking”, although it may not be worry, it is certainly an entity that lives rent free in my head, thus being robbed of opportunities to just “be” - with a movie or brushing a cat or sitting on a porch.
Maybe there are some others today, beside myself, that need the reminder to not get too caught up in “what to do” and just let things happen a little more. I’m guessing that there are not a lot of folks that have deep-seated theological angst among us today, but should there be, take another run at this morning’s passage, a phrase at a time, and let it ruminate in your head.
As theologian, Scott Hoezee said, “in a mere fourteen verses Paul manages to include every significant topic of Christian theology. The Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Redemption. The seal of the Holy Spirit. Salvation by grace alone. The doctrines of creation and providence. Eschatology. Faith. Sanctification. The proclamation of the gospel. It’s all here. Of course, each topic could be fleshed out, but by the time you finished fleshing them out, what you would have would be close to a complete seminary curriculum.
Hoezee finished his point with this. “But let me point out something even more remarkable. Throughout these verses–words that range over the height and breadth of all theology–we human beings are all but completely passive. God is the chief actor and is the subject of every active verb.”
One of the other passages that goes along with the one from Ephesians today is the 23rd Psalm, the shepherding psalm about lying down in green pastures, beside quiet streams and head anointing. Seems there’s more to that aspect of faith, too.
I saw a post on Facebook about sheep getting horrid little flies laying eggs in their nostrils which turn into worms and drive the sheep to beat their head against a rock, sometimes to death. I looked it up, and yes, sheep get diseases, their ears and eyes susceptible to tormenting insects. So the shepherd anoints their whole head with oil. Then there is peace. That oil forms a barrier of protection against the pests that tries to destroy the sheep. This passage from Ephesians 1, is like that protective barrier for our minds and hearts, that God has all things in hand, so that we can do the ultimate of unwinding in the gift we are given in lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.
I don’t know about the veracity of the story, but apparently there was a timid older lady who approached the front desk of an insurance office during the great depression. When she was asked what she wanted, with trembling hand, she took from her well-worn purse an old policy and explained regretfully that she was unable to meet the current premium. She explained that it was hard for her to get work and what little she did get was hardly enough to clothe, feed her and keep a roof over her head.
After quick investigation, the clerk recognized that the policy was very valuable. He warned the lady that she was making an unwise move to stop payment. Did not her husband have anything to say? It was his policy made out to her benefit, he explained. “My husband? Oh, he has been dead for three years,” she remarked sadly.
Immediately the company officials went into action. They soon discovered that she was indeed telling the truth. What she didn't understand was that the policy was her husband’s and that she was the beneficiary at his death. The company rightfully refunded the overpaid premiums plus the full amount for which the husband had insured his life in her favor. The money was sufficient to keep her in comfort the rest of her life.
As the great Desmond Tutu puts it, “There is nothing we can do to make God love us more” and “there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.” It’s a done deal, so if there is any worry about where you sit, in terms of the state of your heart and mind, you can check that one off your list, sit back in the sand, under the umbrella or on the rocker of the front porch, and sit a spell with the blessedness of being loved by the very God who did not send God’s Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Let us pray.
Merciful and Lavish God, we thank you for the abundance with which you bless our lives, most especially for those things to which we give the least thought. Help us to set aside some time in the coming week, if even ever so briefly, to bask in the glory of your love for us. Help tormented minds to unwind a little, that they can rest - really rest - in your love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, wisdom, joy and provision. Then out of that blessedness, help us to treat those around us a little more tenderly, with more kindness and patience than we can do on our own, that we take up our apprenticeship with you in the care of your kingdom a little more refreshed. For blessings and purpose and direction, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.