One of my preaching professor’s used to describe a sermon that wandered without focus as “going all over preaching the gospel.” I’m afraid that’s what may happen this morning. I’ve been all over receiving and gathering pieces of the gospel that I want to share with you this morning. Trust me, it’s all about becoming a disciple and the reason that I think we become disciples is that we are seeking God’s face. There! That’s what we’ll call the basket in which we gather the pieces.
Let’s start with the gospel story. Jesus lived in a culture that espoused one faith and he spent his life talking about who he knew God to be and how God wanted us to treat one another. There were plenty of people of other faiths around, like foreign traders and Roman soldiers, but Jesus talked to the people of his own faith who were weighed down with burgeoning laws, not unlike the United States legal code or The Discipline of the United Methodist Church. We know that it is difficult to navigate the U. S. court system without representation by an attorney whose extensive study has prepared them to research and offer interpretation of the law. Yesterday the Hesses and Steve and I attended the memorial for Bishop Jack Tuell, who wrote much of the newer additions to the ever-expanding Book of Discipline. Several bishops in their remarks spoke of depending on Bishop Tuell to interpret the Discipline. Bishop Cal McConnell remembered asking, “I know the chapter and paragraph, but what does it mean?!” Isn’t that how we often approach the Bible? Three different bishops mentioned rereading Bishop Tuell’s book From Law to Grace. Let me read you a couple of short paragraphs about his faith journey. (p. 41-43 selections)
I love those words, “God’s self-revelation to humankind, especially in the person of Jesus the Christ.” Jesus cut through the constrictions of the law to reveal God’s face of compassion and love. Jesus moved his followers from the letter of the law to the heart of the law, God’s heart that desires freedom, joy, and peace for all of Creation. Working men were willing to walk away from their businesses to see what Jesus saw. I believe people long to know freedom, joy, and peace. They long to be loved. Take a look at the cover story of this weeks’ Time magazine, “The Mindful Revolution: The science of finding focus in a stressed-out, multitasking culture.” People are hungry for a deep sense of peace. For Christians that starts with a sense of being God’s beloved child—in other words, enough, loveable just as you are. That may not be the message you’ve heard from the Christian church—it is a human institution that loves its laws! But if you follow Jesus, you will learn from Jesus that God’s face is full of kindness and forgiveness, even for a disciple who would betray is master.
There are two readings from the Psalms that are paired in the lectionary with Matthew’s story of Jesus calling disciples. We hear in Psalm 27:
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life:
of whom shall I be afraid?
One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the LORD,
and to inquire in God’s temple.
“Come,” my heart says, “seek God’s face!”
The other is from Psalm 139:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
You [tuck] me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
That’s the face of God I want to see! That’s how I want to know God!
So Steve and I found ourselves on Friday night in the home of our friend, the Rev. Katie Ladd, with a group of people, clergy and lay, who gathered to explore shared spiritual life. Some of you met Katie when she offered a class on keeping Sabbath here two years ago. She invited people who have supported the Well at Queen Anne United Methodist and who have been interested in trying fixed hour prayer or intentional community. We sat around bowls of soup and bread and shared what we longed for in our journey and whether or not we might be interested in living a rule. For those of you who may not be familiar with the idea of a rule, it is the structure around which a monastic community orders its life. We talked about keeping fixed hour prayer, perhaps with modifications, reading scripture, weekly worship, keeping Sabbath, connecting with each other weekly by phone or internet, and eating together regularly, whether it is weekly or monthly. The idea is to journey together and hold one another accountable as we seek God’s face through spiritual practice. We gathered late on my sixth day of work, and I have to admit that I was too tired to even articulate my soul’s longing. But as others shared what they longed for and how they found companionship and depth in online spiritual communities that led them to seek an embodied intentional community, I woke up. We are in a position to do both here. Those of us who met at Katie’s are going to practice living in a ruled order during the forty days of Lent. If you are interested in joining us, or in forming your own group, talk to me. I am so excited about the possibilities! I see some groups already here—the Monday covenant group, the men’s ecumenical Bible study on Saturdays—you may know of others. What can we do with our online presence to help others who are seeking God’s face to find embodied communities in which they can become disciples?
At the end of Bishop Tuell’s memorial service, we honored a practice in the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference. At all of our annual conference meetings, the clergy sing the Bishop’s Hymn to our Bishop, and we always stand to sing it at clergy memorial services. If is a hymn that holds a powerful promise for a life of discipleship. I won’t sing it for you, but these are the words of the chorus:
Beloved, beloved, we are the children of God,
and it does not yet appear what we shall be,
but we know that when Christ appears,
we know that when Christ appears,
we shall be like Christ, we shall be like Christ,
we shall see God face to face.
That is the promise for those who follow Jesus! May it be so for each of us.