Tumbling in the Sand
(This sermon was preached at a yearly ecumenical worship service at which the Episcopal, Congregational, Methodist, Lutheran, and often other churches in town gather to worship together. This recording is a re-recording because this sermon was preached outdoors on the town green. It was a bit loud…)
It is so great that we can gather together here and worship together
around the same communion table, even
something, that only a few years ago, would have seemed strange
But, I am grateful for the work of ecumenism over the fifty or so years
that has made this possible.
You know, we have a tendency in our ecumenical relationships
—in our understandings of each other
to lean toward one of two extremes:
to either divide or erase.
At one extreme we have: “they are different, they are wrong.”
And of course, we add, piously, that their wrongness will condemn them
and our rightness will redeem us.
… never mind that the cross of Christ and the work of God redeems us, not ourselves.
At the other extreme, though,
is our tendencies to claim that differences don’t matter at all
and we are all the same.
And, I think I hear this a lot today
We’d rather pretend the differences don’t matter and we all basically believe the same thing anyway, so whatever.
I don’t think that either is fair or faithful.
I don’t think that either gets at the spirit of the text today from Ephesians.
Which holds up the truth that there is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of us all
And, that each of us—individually and communally, denominationally
—has been given gifts to share
gifts to challenge each other with
and build each other up with
and to equip each other with.
In reality, we might be united but it’s only in our diversity and differences
that we find strength in unity
And we need each other’s diversity and differences
today more than ever before.
We need each other
in order to be the witnesses of God’s work in this world
that we cannot be without one another.
It might be easy to want to slide into thinking about days of yore — like the 1950s
when the church was thriving
when each denomination and each church building was full
And had volunteers galore
and we didn’t have to work together.
Not necessarily because we didn’t like each other
(though, in some cases there was that)—
but because we didn’t need each other.
But I think that that mindset, that longing, that nostalgia
is not so different than that of the Israelites in the wilderness
we remember the past far more positively than we should.
Those good ole days of the church
were not the good ole days for many or most
and, from stories I’ve heard,
we inflicted spiritual abuse upon way too many people who
came looking for God at our doors
And way too few voices were allowed to be heard
and way too few were allowed to serve the way that God was calling them.
The reality is that the past is not as great as we remember.
not to say that everything is great now, mind you
actually, that’s probably why we long for the old days
things aren’t so great — we are in a wilderness time
when less than 30% of people regularly attend worship anywhere in the whole country
— and here in New England, the most unchurched region of the country
far fewer than that come with anything even approaching regularly— as in less than 20%.
We are in a wilderness time
when our institutional structures seem poisoned with racism and violence
and we are ever more aware and ever more cynical about it all
We are in a wilderness time
when the amount of need around us starves us
and our resources seem short.
And many of us find ourselves in our own personal wilderness times
where we don’t seem to have enough — time, energy, money, love
where death seems to be ever near
where we feel incredibly alone wondering if God has abandoned us to the
sandy wastes of the wilderness.
But, I think, even in this wilderness time,
that God still has something for us
I think, in fact, that God has great things for us
that in the wilderness, God does amazing things
God does redemptive things
God does new things.
In the wilderness, God recreated a rabble of freed slaves into a community and nation
In the wilderness, God taught God’s people to trust
In the wilderness, God gave God’s people a promise and a law
In the wilderness, God made water break from a rock and rained bread from heaven.
In the wilderness, God fed God’s people with mystery after mystery after mystery.
Manna, after all, is the Hebrew question, “What is it?”
In the wilderness, God can show us that what we do not fully understand sustains us.
In the wilderness, God can teach us to live on what we cannot control
In the wilderness, God can help us learn that what we have for today is enough
In the wilderness, God can grow us into people that understand that we need each other and we cannot horde for ourselves.
While it is certainly not an easy time
this wilderness wandering for the church
We know that it is the wilderness that God can make bloom
and it is from the wilderness that God’s prophet’s speak.
And so let us learn to journey in the wilderness
together, with all the gifts and diversity that we are given giving us strength
trusting God is with us
trusting that there is enough for today
enough for us to move out into the wilderness today
enough to be faithful people in a world in desperate need
of the faithful witness that God is generous with life-giving mysteries in desert places.
And that is enough.
Featured Image: “Manna in the Wilderness” acrylic on canvas by Paul Oman. See more of his work and ministry here: Paul Oman Fine Art