And God Saw That It Was Good. (6/11/17)
"St. Patrick's Bad Analogies" by Hans Fiene
This past Sunday was Trinity Sunday. It's important for any pastor to avoid committing accidental heresies in explaining the Trinity. (See the video above; it's really funny!) This means that you have to be really careful when you write your sermon and stay on the script. But I forgot to upload my script and I had to wing it. As I told my congregation, ministry forces you to confront your fears. On Sunday, I confronted my fear of working without a script; my congregation confronted their fear of a 45-minute sermon. Read on if you're curious about the sermon as it was written.
Good morning. How many of you watched the Penguins’ game on Thursday? I hope you enjoyed it—I only saw the highlights. You see, we had a session meeting on Thursday, so everyone who was at the meeting missed the entire first period of the game. That means the game was pretty much over by the time any of us turned it on.
I listened to the second period on the way home from the meeting. Normally, the drive home from a session meeting really wears me out. But at least I got to listen to the Pens score three more goals. Now I’m not complaining about my drive home—I know that some of you have longer commutes than I do. And I’m not complaining about missing most of the game—some very important things were discussed at that meeting. I’m just really happy that the Penguins won the game. For that reason, I’m calling for another session meeting tonight at 8:00, so that we give them some extra luck.
Today is Trinity Sunday, which presents quite a challenge for any pastor. That is: How do I preach about the Trinity without turning this sermon into a lecture? It’s really easy for me to go into academic theology and start lecturing, but we’re not here for a lecture; we’re here for worship. And we worship for the same reason that the people of ancient Israel worshiped: we come here, on the Lord’s day, to give thanks to God for everything in our lives and for all the ways that God remains faithful to us, all of God’s covenants. We remain in those covenants by responding in faith to God, and worship is the formation and practice of our community of faith. That is, we are Christians because we believe in God’s promises to humanity, expressed through the witness of Scripture and the entry of Jesus Christ into the world. And because we believe those things, we gather as the community of faith and give our thanks and praise to God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. We cannot be Christians without worshiping as a community and giving thanks and praise to God. That’s who we are and what we do.
We give thanks for the love in which God created each and every one of us. In this, we acknowledge that each of us is a part of that story that begins in the account of the creation of the world in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis. Now let me be clear about something: Genesis 1 is not a science textbook. It doesn’t explain anything about biology, chemistry, or physics.
Genesis, Chapter 1, is a statement of faith; it expresses the theology of Israel, God’s chosen people. This story was part of worship and it describes the covenantal relationship between God and Israel. That relationship begins with the creation of the world. According to Walter Brueggemann:
In the faith of ancient Israel, the relation of God and the world is not arbitrary, but one in which God’s generative power to create a fruitful, life-sustaining system is exercised as an act of fidelity that evokes glad, ready obedience in response.
That is to say, God didn’t create the world on a whim, nor does God interact with us in random or arbitrary ways, but rather, God interacts with us out of love and faithfulness. The fullness of God’s creation is enough to sustain us, and therefore, we respond in joy and faith. Our obedience assures “that the world as God’s creation will be well ordered in life-giving, life-enhancing ways.”
I love this idea that God creates and provides order, and from that order, we draw life and we gain renewal. Life can be overwhelming. Honestly, life seems a lot more complicated than it used to be. And as a society, we seem to be a lot busier than we used to be. We feel less secure in our jobs and we have many more sources of anxiety. I think a lot of people feel exhausted, even in this congregation.
At the session meeting on Thursday, one of the elders expressed concern over this. He noted that fewer people are participating in committee work and congregational leadership. Another elder pointed out that lots of members have long commutes. I know that a number of you work in Pittsburgh. I know what it’s like to make that drive at rush hour. I made that commute from the Mon Valley to Pittsburgh twenty years ago. Now that I’m 45, I wouldn’t want to do it again. I don’t have the energy.
The world that most of us grew up in was very different. Most of our parents didn’t have to drive more than 15 or 20 minutes to get to work. When I was a kid, most people worked 35-40 hours a week. Some factory workers and miners worked overtime—if they wanted to make extra money. My parents never had jobs that asked them to work 50 or 60 hours a week, or more. My parents never took work home with them.
Today, work follows everyone home. By a show of hands, how many of you check your work email at night, after you get home? Or check it before you leave for work? Or over the weekend? I did. And if you have a job that pays well, it’s just expected that you answer every email that comes your way and you’ll work on projects at night when you’re at home. Because if you don’t, they might find someone else who’ll work more hours. This induces anxiety and fatigue. It turns church into one more activity, one more thing that competes for our time and attention and energy. When that happens, we all suffer.
I think the Book of Genesis offers some clues to a better way, a way out of this cycle of busyness and exhaustion.
In this account of creation, God doesn’t start from nothing. Rather, God begins the act of creation in the midst of chaos; God orders the chaos by separating light from darkness, land from water. The text of Genesis asserts that:
God willed a productive, coherent system of food production; that God designated human persons (male and female) to oversee the generative system; and that God blessed the whole to be an arena of abundant life.
And God saw that it was good. It wasn’t just good, it was very good.
After that, God rested.
This is the culmination of the creation story: God imposes order on the chaos, and then God rests. The Sabbath celebrates rest. It signifies a world that is free of anxiety and it is a sign of a “community that regularly enacts, by its Sabbath, the ordered, reliable, life-giving character of the world as a gift of God.” The practice of the Sabbath defined the Jewish faith in ancient times.
Keeping the Sabbath holy is one of the Ten Commandments. This is foundational—for Jews and Christians, alike. Remember, the Ten Commandments appear in two slightly different versions. First, they appear in Exodus, and then they appear in Deuteronomy, with perhaps a little bit more explanation.
In Deuteronomy, the Fourth Commandment is grounded in Israel’s memory of slavery in Egypt. Pharaoh demanded more and more production out of the people; the quotas were raised; the people were pressured to work every day of the week. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Does Pharaoh demand that you answer your work email over the weekend?
The people who were called Israel chose to act differently; they refused to give their lives over to Pharaoh’s demand for more work. In that context, observing the Sabbath “is an act of resistance against having one’s life defined by one’s productivity.” The Israelite slaves were only useful and valuable to Pharaoh for what they could produce. They were not intrinsically valuable. To Pharaoh, they were neither good nor bad, they were simply the means to an end. The Israelites were a commodity. Their lives were ordered by Pharaoh’s needs and whims. They resisted. According to Brueggemann:
Sabbath provides a visible testimony that God is at the center of life—that production and consumption take place in a world ordered, blessed, and restrained by the God of all creation. Reordering social time around Sabbath is a visible declaration that all times are in God’s hands….
How are we doing with the practice of Sabbath? Are we allowing our lives to be ordered by Pharaoh, or are we putting God at the center? We are part of God’s sacred creation. We are good; we are inherently valuable in God’s eyes. God created order in the midst of chaos, so that we might live abundantly and joyfully. But we seem all too willing to embrace the chaos at the margins of our lives. We will work for Pharaoh if he simply offers to pay us enough money. And we really like the stuff that we buy with that money.
Practicing Sabbath begins with our worship on Sunday morning, but it doesn’t end when I offer the benediction. The practice of Sabbath involves letting go of our work lives and remembering that our true identity is in Christ, not in the jobs we hold; that identity is part of the covenant relationship between God and Israel that begins in the story of creation. And the practice of Sabbath involves all of the things that we do to preserve and equip this congregation for worship.
Obviously, the practice of Sabbath requires your financial support. More than that, it requires all of us to offer our time outside of worship. It means we have to do things like serve on committees and go to meetings. And for those of you who are already doing that, it means you have to teach others to serve, because you need to practice Sabbath from church leadership, too.
But Pharaoh is a demanding boss, and most of us are a little afraid of losing our jobs. To put God, and the Sabbath, back at the center of our lives, we have to start small. We have to work at de-cluttering our lives, so that we are less anxious. And if your life is really cluttered, you need to raise your hand and ask for help. On the other hand, if you’re already serving in leadership and you think you’re doing a good job of putting God at the center of your life, then look around. Look for the other people you might help. And always feel free to talk to me. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I can always listen. Perhaps this is where the renewal might begin in this congregation. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Now, beloved, as you depart from this place, remember that we are called to be a part of the ongoing work of God’s creation. Go forth and be instruments of God’s love and peace and reconciliation—but remember to rest, so that you are not consumed by the chaos of this world. Do not return evil for evil to any person, but know that we are all loved by God, and that we are called to reflect that love to everyone we meet. Go forth and be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, let all God’s children say, Amen!
 Walter Brueggemann. Reverberations of Faith: A Theological Handbook of Old Testament Themes. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press (2002); p. 237.
 Brueggemann, p. 40.
 Brueggemann, p. 40.
 Brueggemann, p. 40.
 Brueggemann, pp. 40-41.
 Brueggemann, p. 181.
 Brueggemann, p. 181.