1.   So Much Depends Upon “Anyone Who Has An Ear”

 

In 1923 a pediatrician wrote a poem, a simple, eight-line poem with no capitalized words and one lonely period at the end of the last syllable.   His name was William Carlos Williams and these are the words that he put to paper: 

so much depends

upon

 

a red wheel

barrow

 

glazed with rain

water

 

beside the white

chickens.

 

Now, if (after hearing me read that poem) you’re wondering what in the world “The Red Wheelbarrow” has to do with the book of Revelation, I am eager to tell you.  Or, perhaps to show  you.  First and foremost, let it be known that the last 22 chapters of the Bible are pure, unadulterated poetry.  Where William Carlos Williams sees a red wheelbarrow, the writer of Revelation sees seven golden lamp- stands.   Where the poem from 1923 notices beads of “rain water,” the exiled Jewish Christian notices “the tree of life” and “the sword of my mouth.”   And finally, where William Carlos Williams fixates on the proximity of “white chickens,” John spends his time on the island of Patmos being haunted by images of “the Lamb who was slain.”    

“Let anyone who has an ear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches…”

   

 

 

2.   Religious Noise Is Not The Same As Spirit Speech

 

Not too long ago, I may have told you about my experience at an African American congregation in West Philadelphia.    We had been invited to lead worship and after I had finished preaching the Right Reverend Archibald McCalister whispered something to me as the organ intoned the closing hymn.   He said something like, “I’d like you to open the doors of the church.”    So, without hesitation, I stepped down from the elevated pulpit and walked up the aisle to the narthex of the church building.   I then unlatched the big heavy wooden doors and stood there, leaning against the archway.   As the hymn came to a close, the minister could not contain his laughter.   He told the congregation that he had asked me “to open the doors of the church” and that’s exactly, literally, what I did.   But what he really meant for me to do had been to extend a verbal invitation for people to accept Jesus into their hearts.   He meant the expression as a poetic device, and it simply flew over my head.

 

Now, this is what I’m wondering this morning.   I’m wondering two things.   I’m wondering, with books like Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth and with Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series, if we’re not failing to grasp the poetry.   I’m wondering if we not watching too much Jack Van Impe Presents and Kenneth Hagee’s Countdown to Armageddon, and therefore not really distinguishing between religious noise and what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

 

3.   Commit To Listening Locally

 

“The churches,” you see, are critical to our understanding of Revelation—both the churches in Asia Minor in the first century and the churches, like Latah Valley, which are coming into existence here and now.  

 

In his book, The Intrusive Word, William Willimon tells the story about an evangelism program that went terribly wrong.   Here’s what happened: 

“…the church growth  program advocated a system of door-to-door visitation.  So we organized ourselves into groups of two and on an appointed Sunday afternoon, we set out to visit, to invite people to church…

          Helen and Gladys were given a map.  They were clearly told to go down Summit Drive and to turn right.   That’s what they were told.  I heard the team leader tell them, ‘You go down Summit Drive and turn right.   Do you hear me, Helen, that’s down Summit Drive and turn right?’

          But Helen and Gladys, both approaching eighty, after lifetimes of teaching elementary school, were better at giving than receiving directions.   They turned left, venturing down into the housing projects to the west of Summit Drive.  We told them to turn right; they turned left.

          Which meant that Helen and Gladys proceeded to evangelize the wrong neighborhood and thereby ran the risk of evangelizing the wrong people.

          Lte that afternoon, each team returned to the church to make their report.   Helen and Gladys had only one interested person to report to us, a woman named Verleen.   Nobody on their spurious route was interested in visiting our church, no body but Verleen.   She lived with her two children in a three-room apartment…  Although she had never been to a church in her life, Verleen wanted to visit ours.”

 

Now the dynamic of this story that I truly love is how it meanders from the general and the generic to the particular and the peculiar.   What starts off as an ideal program for getting a certain caliber of people to come to church leads to Helen and Gladys not really listening to the program, but to something else, to something happening locally. 

 

4.   Don’t Submit To Outside Experts

 

“The next Sunday, Helen and Gladys proudly presented Verleen at the eleven o’clock service, along with her two feral-looking children.   Verleen liked the service so much she said that she wanted to attend the Women’s Thursday Morning Bible Study…”

 

Which she did.   Pastor Willimon was leading a study on Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.  He asked this question,

“Have any of you ever been faced with temptation and with Jesus’ help resisted?”

          One of the women told about how, just the week before, there was some confusion in the supermarket checkout line, and before she knew it, she was standing in the supermarket parking lot with a loaf o bread that she hadn’t paid for. 

          ‘At first I thought,’ she confessed, ‘why should I pay for it?  They have enough money here as it is.’   But then I thought, ‘No you are a Christian.’  So I went back in the store and paid them for that loaf of bread.’

 

Pastor Willimon, the expert, made an approving comment.   And then it was time for Verleen to speak:

“A couple of years ago, I was into cocaine really big.  You know what that’s like!  You know how that stuff makes you crazy.   Well, anyway, my boyfriend, not the one I’ve got now, the one who was the daddy of my first child, that one, well, we knocked over a gas station one night—got two hundred dollars out of it.  It was as simple as taking candy from a baby.  Well, my boyfriend, he says to me, ‘Let’s knock off that Seven-Eleven down on the corner.’   And something in me, it says, ‘No, I’ve held up that gas station with you, but I ain’t going to hold up no convenience store.’  He beat the hell out of me, but I still said No.  It felt great to say No, ‘cause that’s the only time in my life I ever said No to anything.  Made me feel like I was somebody.”

 

And, you see, when Verleen feels like somebody—when she feels her worth as a child of the Living God—so much depends upon “anyone who has an ear.”   So much depends upon us listening to our local situation and not deferring our imagination to so-called experts.   Revelation 2, verses 7, 11, 17 and 29 all repeat this egalitarian refrain.   Anyone.   Let anyone… listen…  Anyone.   Listen.  

 

5.   Latah Valley Amplifies   

 

I am not complaining.   In fact, please believe me when I say that I am so grateful for the men, women and even children who have made a big effort at preparing our future Latah Valley site for worship.   It’s truly going to be an awesome place from which we might listen for God’s voice and begin to follow his call.   Amen.   But, in the interim, I must admit, it’s noisy.   With all the walls being ripped out, and the new doors being installed, and the plumbing pipes being re-routed—it’s been hard for me to think.   With all the boards being measured and cut, and all the holes being drilled and all the dirt being moved—solitude has been in short supply.   So, in the midst of all the carnage and the mayhem, I glanced at this poem by W. S. Merwin.   It’s called “Thanks,” and begins like this: 

Listen

With the night falling we are saying thank you…

 

Over telephones we are saying thank you

In doorways and in the backs of cars and in

          Elevators

Remembering wars and the police at the back door

And the beating on the stairs we are saying thank

          You

In banks that use us we are saying thank you

With crooks in the office with the rich and the

fashionable

Unchanged we go saying thank you thank you….

 

Anyway, based upon what’ I’ve heard over the previous month and (I expect) into the next month, I’d like to offer you these locally expressed words.  Let anyone with an ear listen to the way we amplify:

 

“Hey, turn off the water.  Turn off the water.”

Thank you.

“Howard, I think we’re gonna have a problem here.”

Thank you.

“Aren’t you done with that job yet?”

Thank you.

“Harry, check to see if we’re level.”

Thank you.

“Al, are you down there?”

Thank you.

“The sandwiches are ready.”

Thank you.

“I have just the right tool for that.”

Thank you.

“Is anybody gonna need the toilet in the next hour?”

Thank you.

“God, I can’t figure out what this guy was trying to do here.”

Thank you.   Thank you.   Thank you.

 

Amen.

1.   When In Doubt, Translate The “And”

To adequately Say Thank You With Your Life  there is a biblical word that we need to translate.   The word, And, in the Bible happens to be a fairly popular conjunction, as it happens to be in conversational English.   But what’s peculiar about the Bible’s over 41,000 instances of the word, And, is that we never quite know what’s on the other side.

 

For example, if you send me to the grocery store for a head of lettuce, I may return with a head of lettuce And a block of sharp cheddar cheese.   It’s been known to happen.   Moreover, if you’ve ever received a hand-written note from Selina Slater, you will be encouraged, not only by her prayers, but that at the bottom it has been signed by Selina And Bill.   You see, And has a way of lumping things together like that.   But what if we were minding our own business reading the book of Jonah, and in the very first paragraph, in the very first sentence, in the very first Hebrew word, we noticed that on the other side of the word, And, we had “the word of the Lord.”  

 

Most English translations of the book render the word, vayhi, as “Now it came to pass.”   But I’m going to recommend that we simply go with “And the word of the Lord came to Jonah…”  because my sneaking suspicion is that when the word of the Lord comes today and to people like us that it always comes in between all the other busy things and projects and programs and procedures.

2.   Creation Swallows Our Avoidance Whole

By now, most of us think we know how the story of Jonah plays out.   It’s sort of like the Rated G version of Jaws, without the gore of the severed body parts and without Steven Spielberg directing.   We know someone is going to be swallowed and we know that most human beings would prefer not to be swallowed.   But if you really want a thrill, pay attention to the way that God orchestrates the creation.   Pay attention to the storm that comes when Jonah tries to escape God’s presence.   And pay attention to the sailors who will not allow him to travel anonymously.   You see, it’s not just the monstrous predator in the water that’s scary.  It’s the avoidance. 

 

M. Scott Peck tells about hitting bottom in his marriage.   In his book, A World Waiting To Be Born, he’s just spent the day, leading men and women on retreat at a small convent.   He’s exhausted and in the evening has a few drinks before sitting at the feet of Sister Lucia.   Her face seems to beam down on him, when he blurted out what he had tried to avoid all day.   He said, “I have failed at my marriage.”  

 

There was a moment of silence until Sister Lucia responded, “Oh, I’m so glad for you.”   Scott Peck looked up, confused and suddenly annoyed.   He shouted, “No, no, you haven’t heard what I’ve been saying…”  

“I’ve heard and understood you perfectly, young man, replied the nun, “You’ve been telling me that you have failed at your marriage, and I’m glad for you.  Do you know how terrible it would be never to fail.  Oh, that would be dreadful!”

 

3.   Our Prayers From The Deep Have A Homing Signal

Believe it or not, I’ve had a weird feeling about Latah Valley this week, and I’d like to share it with you.   It’s a feeling like we’re riding a strong current, like the body of Christ is body-surfing.   But the weird aspect of this sensation is that it started when this guy from Southside Christian Church asked me if this were my home.   That is, he asked if I had been raised around Spokane.   I told him No, but that I had lived here twenty years ago, and that the First Presbyterian Church had been the first place that I remember failing.   I failed as a junior high youth minister.   And, as far as I was concerned, I couldn’t get out of town fast enough.   As far as I was concerned, back in 1991, I shook the dust off my feet as testimony against the entire Inland Northwest.   And then…

“Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish…”

“Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; how shall I look again upon your holy temple…’”

 

Thomas Merton has this memory to which he returns in prayer.  He offers it in The Seven Story Mountain as a kind of confession.  He says that once he and his friends had gone into the woods to build a tree house.   They wanted it to be a place for the older boys, and when Merton’s younger son, Paul, tagged along, they pushed him away.   They actually picked up rocks and threw them in his direction.   They yelled epithets and told him to get out.   And yet, no matter how much they hurled objects and insults, Paul remained in his place, just out of range.  He watched and waited as if he were watching the ocean.  

4.   We’ve All Been Re-Called to Nineveh

You see, I’d like to point out the ebb and the flow of God’s Mission.   God’s Mission is going to Nineveh.   All of us, by the power of the Crucified and Resurrected Christ, are being called and called again to the very place or to the very circumstances to which we would have never gone by ourselves.  

When despair grows in me

And I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water,

and the great heron  feeds.  I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief.  I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light.  For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 

This poem by Wendell Berry touches, I think, on the most ironic thing about finding the ebb and the flow of God’s Mission for our lives.   We are never more free.   And we are never more still.   We are never more free than when we surrender our fears and our failures to God.   And we are never more still than when we move with the current of God’s grace into the world. 

 

5.   Why Latah Valley Will Never Be Tarshish And Why That’s Good News

 

Freedom and Stillness.  Jonah, at his best, experiences that freedom and that stillness.   But finally, I’d like us to notice something that he never experiences, and that’s his intended destination of Tarshish.

Tarshish, as we noted, is that exotic and idyllic locale where no one has a care in the world.   Tarshish is that Hukuna Matata paradise in The Lion King, where Simba doesn’t have to go back home if he doesn’t want.   He doesn’t have to restore the kingdom if he doesn’t want.   Or does he?   Doesn’t he want?  

 

I believe that Latah Valley will never be Tarshish because I believe that God is always going to be using this fellowship to call us back, back to Nineveh, and back to the world where all relationships are restored in the ebb and the flow of God’s Mission.  

 

Amen.

PRACTICE ONE-ANOTHERING

November 11, 2008

1.  Don’t Be In A Hurry To Choose Your Own Clothes

I am painfully embarrassed to admit to you this morning that my Mom used to pick out my clothes for me.  She would do it, of course, because she cared for me and because she didn’t want me to be too cold, or too warm.  And she didn’t want me to be exposed to the ridicule of those who might make fun of a child whose shirt didn’t match his pants, or who hadn’t washed his socks in a few weeks.   But the crux of this confession it that once upon a childhood I couldn’t have done it without the help. 

 

Eventually, however, things changed.   Eventually I went from a very needy and very spoiled Elementary School Student to a very ornery and very independent Junior High School Student, and that’s around the time that I wore the orange pants.  I wore the orange pants and the shoes with the two inch heels probably because I personally identified with the Philadelphia Flyers, whose team colors were orange and black, and the shoes probably had something to do with the height differential between me and the girl across the street.   Anyway, I became (during that year) a victim of my own choices.   And I will never forget the sadness that I experienced when I realized how it would only get worse—and how each impending choice would only intensify the feeling that I could make the wrong choice—and that my mother, for all her good intentions, couldn’t make them for me.   And, you see, it’s with this personal experience in mind and with something sociologists have called, “the tyranny of choice,” in mind that I pause over Colossians 3:12. 

2.  Getting Dressed In Christ Requires Lots of Help, But It’s God’s Choice

“As God’s own chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves…”

 

To be chosen by God, of course, is no small thing.   But what might that chosen-ness mean for all the other choices that are seemingly forced upon us, or for those choices that we must make in the heat of the moment?    For example, in the film, Dead Man Walking, Susan Sarandon plays a Roman Catholic nun who refuses to wear the traditional nun’s head covering or habit.   To the real life Sister Helen Prejean those clothes are nearly as important as the death row inmate that she meets in the Lousian State Penitentary.   Sister Helen meets Matthew Poncelet after his convcitiion for rape and murder, a verdict that he continues to deny until the final week of his life.   The victim’s family, as you might imagine, is put out by the nun’s compassion.   They would rather her show kindness to them and to listen to them as they rail against the ugly and vile man who has taken so much away from them.   But the day of the lethal injection arrives and this is what Sister Helen decides to do.  She declares to the one who everyone hates, “I can’t bear the thought that you would die without seeing one loving face.   I will be the face of Christ for you…”   And so, when the sentence is about to be carried out and nearly all the people in the room feel it’s their God-given duty to despise and to punish this reprehensible human being, there is at least one person who clothes herself with “humility, meekness and patience.”   And because Sister Helen makes that choice, the perpetrator of the crime with his final words can ask for forgiveness, and feel as if he’s been chosen too.  

 3.  One-Another Mutuality Clobbers Unilateral Acts of Kindness

Two verses in today’s passage from Colossians, chapter three, offer some profound insight into how we are to make important life-choices.   Verse 13 commands that we “Bear with one another” and verse 16 goes one step further, declaring, that we must “teach and admonish one another.”  And, what’s most intriguing about these imperative verbs is the object.   The object of bear with is not ‘me’ or ‘him’ or ‘her’ or that stranger over there, but “one another.”   The object of teach and admonish does not reinforce the hierarchical, finger-wagging relationship between the teacher and the student, or between the boss and the employee, or between the good citizen and the criminal.   The object of the sentence, and the true goal of Christian faith, is “one another.”   And, you see, the mutuality of that phrase clobbers any unilateral act of kindness that we can imagine.

 

In our last church we had a little nine year old girl, and she just happened to be mentally retarded.   We loved her dearly and more to the point, she loved us.  In fact, she loved everybody and would demonstrate that affection with lots of hugs and kisses and cudos.   Anyway, we had another college age guy who got hooked on drugs and eventually had a car accident.   He had been hospitalized and bearly survived.   But, according to the girl’s mother, something very strange happened right around the time of the accident.   The college student had been life-flighted to the hospital and miles and miles away, out of the blue, Riley is humming to herself, when suddenly she says to her mother:  

“You know, that boy…That boy… he’s gonna be alright because God’s with him…”  

 

4.   We Are Invited To Dance

You see, I don’t know whether or not we believe it’s happening, but people like us are continually invited to dance with the Triune God.   Right now, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are swinging and swaying to some mutual music, and ordinary people like you and me and Riley and Gian are welcome to cut in.   Right now, in the midst of the very life of God, there is there is a beautiful tune, and the only question is, will we submit to the one-anothering rhythm?    

“And with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do , in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:16—17).

 

I once knew a person would give and give and give.  She gave of her time.  She gave of her money.   She sent cards.   She sent flowers.   She prepared casseroles.  She vacuumed carpets.   But when she did all those things, we had the strange sense that she did it so that we would depend on her, so that we would look up to her, so that we would honor her, which we did.  And yet, here’s the thing that I noticed; whenever anyone tried to give to this individual, she couldn’t take it.   Whenever anyone tried to discern her needs, she would try to hide them.  And whenever anyone tried to have a discussion about weakness or personal loss, it always turned out that her failure was something like caring too much.

 

Now, you may be wondering today about how to allocate your time, about whether the raking of the blessed pine needles at the property constitute the gift that you’d like to offer.   And, of course, there are other ways to give.   But please consider the following.

5.  Latah Valley:   Dress Rehearsal Begins Now

Barbara Brown Taylor talks about a service that had been planned for the late evening at an Episcopalian church.   This happened to be one of the fanciest congregations in town and they actually had cameras positioned around the ornate sanctuary so that if you were in the office or in the hallway you could see what was happening.   Anyway, about six hours prior to the start of the worship service a homeless man came to the office and asked if he could spend a little time in prayer.   The administrator said yes, and the man thanked her and went into the sanctuary and laid his body on the floor directly in front of the altar, totally prostrate and with his arms out wide.   Everyone who came into the office that day could see the man in his raggedy clothes lying there.   They could see him because of the cameras.   And then, as people who would lead the worship service began to arrive, folks in the office became nervous.   They asked the pastor, they asked Barbara Brown Taylor to tell the man that a worship service would soon begin and that he had to leave.   So, reluctantly she went in.   She felt strange getting on the floor and whispering to the man, who indeed had been moving his lips and mouthing prayers for six hours.   She told him about the worship and how folks needed to practice.  They needed to get ready.   He raised head and nodded and Barbara Brown Taylor left the room.   She felt hypocritical asking him to leave, so she turned around in the hallway and went back in.   She went back to tell him to stay, but he was gone.   And already the dress rehearsal had begun.

 

Latah Valley—that same dress rehearsal begins now.

BE TEACHABLE

November 2, 2008

1.  May We Know…?  Yes!

 

I remember the day that I learned to drink coffee and like it.   It was a Monday morning class in Oriental Philosophy, and by drinking twelve ounces of the hot, black beverage, and by wolfing down two double chocolate donuts I could at least keep my eyes open during what seemed to be the most tedious lecture of my life.  So that’s what I learned.   And I don’t think I’m alone in that process.

 

In fact, given the passages that we’ve read this morning, my suggestion is that human beings are always learning.   We’re always learning—not necessarily the subjects that we start off wanting to learn or that others have been paid to teach.   But we learn nonetheless.   And when it comes to learning about matters of faith in Jesus Christ, one of the first things that we glean is that whatever information we absorb has to be embodied in relationships.  

“So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons and also in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.  Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him.  Some said, ‘What does this babbler want to say?’  Others said, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.’… So they brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?’”

 

May we know…?   And, of course, that’s a great question.  That’s a fantastic question, to which the apostle Paul might answer YES.   But instead of blurting out a response I’d like us to notice how Paul cultivates three very distinct ingredients.   Into the mix of philosophy and religious studies he adds a pinch of curiosity, a dash of context and a smidgeon of continuity.

2.  A Pinch of Curiosity—A Dash of Context—A Smidgeon of Continuity

First off is a pinch of curiosity.   And in this regard I want us to notice something in Acts 17:17.   Paul has been waiting in Athens for his traveling companions, Silas and Timothy.  And while he waits he pokes around the city and can’t help but notice all the sculpted stone and crafted woodwork that are intended to represent various gods and goddesses.   Verse 16 says that he had been “deeply distressed to see them,” but then surprisingly, instead of debating with those who manufacture and endorse these idols, verse 17 says that he “argued in the synagogues with the Jews and with other devout persons.”  My question is, what’s he arguing about?   And why the Jews?   And my theory is that he’s contending with them about why they’re not more curious:  Aren’t you curious about how the God of Israel may want to relate with those who worship the mythic deities of the pantheon?   Or do you just want to keep to your own like-minded, insular group of people?   Don’t you want to explore?   Don’t you want to try and understand the possible connections to be made?   And so, the next ingredient to being teachable has to be a dash of context.  

“What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.  The God who made the world… does not live in shrines made by human hands.”

 

You see, that’s context.   If I were to tell you about an elderly woman who died alone in her bed on Christmas Eve, you might be moved a little bit.   But if I then backed up and told you about the small boy who used to bring her groceries you might want to learn more.   You might even be motivated to continue the story yourself.

You might be curious, for example, about how Peter Michner would get paid twenty cents for doing chores for Mrs. Johnson.   And every week Peter would race down to the corner pharmacy store and buy a comic book.   He was about ready to do this when the old widow asked him to sit down at the table with her and enjoy some freshly baked cookies.   He took a bite of one cookie, and listened impatiently as Mrs. Johnson told him about her childhood home.  “It was beautiful,” she said, “nestled among the trees, with a cozy fireplace and a barn filled with hay and horses around back…”   After a while, Mrs. Johnson could see how eager Peter was to get going.   She paid him his money and he raced to the store.   Next to the comic books were some Christmas cards, and the image on one of those cards made Peter feel something he’d never felt before.  He used his hard-earned twenty cents to buy that card, scribbled his name upon it, and delivered it to Mrs. Johnson’s mailbox.   On Christmas Day, when the Michner’s had expected their lonely neighbor to come for dinner, she didn’t make it.   Peter and his mother knocked on the door and no one answered.   They got the spare key, let themselves in, followed the light to the bedroom, and there, snug, under the quilt and the covers lay Mrs. Johnson.   She appeared to be sleeping.  She appeared to be sleeping the most pleasant sleep of her life…  And on the night stand, Peter saw the card that he had given her.   It had a picture of home, nestled among the trees with a brick fireplace and a barn out back.

 

 

3.  Caution:  Everything Created By God Is Good

 

“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected provided it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer (1 Timothy 4:4,5).

 

Think for a moment about the way that Paul writes to his protégé, Timothy.   Timothy comes from a mixed marriage—one in which his father is Greek and his mother is Jewish.   And when his teacher cautions him about “deceitful spirits and demonic teachings,” he doesn’t give him a list of rules and regulations.   Instead, he tells him that “everything created by God is good.”   That doesn’t mean that good things can’t be perverted and twisted; they can be, and often are.   But “provided it is received with thanksgiving” God may continue to teach us, by using anything and everything the world has to offer.  

4.  Communion Takes Communication One Step Further

 

Relatives once gave us a Christian-themed board game, in which the object seemed to be the acquisition of as many Christian virtues as possible.   There were tokens that designated our positions and there were dice that we threw and arrows that we spun.   But among the highlights of this wholesome and highly educational activity were the Humility Cards.   Drawing a Humility Card meant that the player was about to be rewarded for being humble, which in our competitive household, produced the opposite effect.  Upon landing on the appropriate space, our youngest son clapped his hands, puffed out his chest and did his best impression of a professional athlete on steroids:   “Alright, A Humility Card!   That’s right!   I’m humble!”  

Now, if you’re wondering, as I am, about what’s missing from those teachable moments, I think the answer lives in the difference between communication and communion.  The Truth of the Christian Faith cannot be communicated by playing a board game, in which we pit ourselves against one another.   By contrast, if there are “instructions” to a game that encourage us to do battle with ourselves, 1 Timothy 4:6 says then “you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of faith and of the sound teaching that you have followed.”

 

Think about this.  The goal of being teachable is communion with God and one another.   As we said last week, it’s not to win the argument, but to participate in the reconciliation of all things.  

 

5.  At Latah Valley We Learn To Serve and Serve To Teach

 

In the award-winning foreign film, Babette’s Feast, a woman from France has suffered the loss of her husband and her son during the violent overthrow of the monarchy.   As the story unfolds she is sent to live and to serve the unmarried daughters of a puritanical minister.   The minister has since died, but his bitter teaching survives.   The daughters, at a younger age, had actually been courted respectively by a military officer and a famous opera singer.   And yet, because of their father’s fear of the outside world, they never marry.   But then, one day, Babette receives a large sum of money and with that fortune, she plans to serve an extravagant meal.  And it will be a feast that will teach the village about the grace of God.

As many of you know, next Sunday we will host the Fall Extravaganza that includes Hot Soup, Festive Songs and the blessed raking of the blessed pine needles.   And I’d like to highlight the word, blessed.   I know that to most of us pine needles have nothing to do with blessing.   Blessing is something that we feel in our hearts and think about in our heads.   Blessing is something we read about in the Bible and that we can get only if we say or do the right things.   But, you see, I’m counting on the fact that you and I are teachable.   God can teach us still.   And if God blesses the pine needles that fall from the trees at the Latah Valley, maybe there’s something we can learn there.

 

Amen.