Sunday, July 6, 2014

Missing the Blessing

Today as we began worship, I had one of the kids hand out glow sticks, but only to one side of the worship space. I told him to make sure everyone on the one side had glowsticks and then to sit down with the bag until later. As we were finishing our series on the 10 Commandments today, today was the day to focus on the two coveting commandments. So after the reading from Exodus 20, and then a reminder of the dialogue between Jesus and the expert in the law, I asked if everyone on the one side had a glowstick and handed out one to the person who still needed one. I reminded the congregation of my personal love of glowsticks, and asked if anyone on the side without glowsticks liked them too, and a few people raised their hands. One person wondered aloud why they had not also been given glowsticks. So I asked what they would be willing to do for a glowstick. That’s what coveting is about. Someone has something and we want it, and we set out to figure out how to get it. Specifically how to get theirs. Whenever we do this we upset people’s lives.

It all starts with a look and deciding to act. And usually it involves bigger things than glowsticks. But whenever we try to get the things others have or change relationships, we cause hurt and damage. And it usually leads to those bigger commandments. And we stop trusting in God to provide for us.

Of course we also remembered we are to share and later we did handout glowsticks to the others because Jesus calls us to love and to share.

So then we were ready to move on to the rest of the sermon, but as a way of background, last Monday, a gentleman who worshipped with us week in and week out, died suddenly and unexpectedly of cardiac arrest. He was a quiet man who sat alone each week. A few years ago he had lost his voice in a bout with throat cancer but was able to communicate with an adaptive device. Having met his family for the funeral I learned there was so much more to this man than I knew, and I felt the sting of not knowing more in my three years as pastor. And I was surprised how little anyone else knew as well. I sat with that this week and wondered how God was speaking. And so today’s sermon was in part a moment to draw together as community and start a risky conversation, knowing everyone of us needed to. And for people to hear how a quiet man saw this place in ways he also never shared.


Perhaps one of the most notorious cases of coveting is David and Bathsheba. Bathsheba was bathing on the roof, which I know seems odd now, but then it wasn’t. She was bathing on the roof and David caught a glimpse, and she was hot. It only took a look. From then on he just had to have her, and he made it his purpose. It led him to send her husband Uriah into battle to fight a fight he couldn’t win, which also means he sent a whole army into a fight they wouldn’t survive. And he had to because he and Bathsheba had already gotten together and she was pregnant. Today on Facebook, we’d say their relationship status was “It’s Complicated.” Massive destruction of relationships occurred involving killing and lying and stealing and adultery. But it all started with a look and a desire. To have something that wasn’t his.

Coveting itself isn’t about infidelity or theft- those are other commandments. But these two coveting commandments are given, according to Luther, to show us that it is a sin to desire or in any way aim at getting something of our neighbor’s- their spouse or their possessions. It’s about relationships.

Yesterday I conducted a funeral for Art and as a part of it got to meet his wife Elizabeth and his family. And you might wonder what on earth that has to do with coveting. Well, Art had been a member here at Holy Spirit since he was a child dropped off at the Childrens’ Home nearby. And as many of you know it was the practice of the late great Pastor Radcliffe to bring children from there to here so they could have a church home. They were adopted if you will into this church family. So much so that when Pastor Radcliffe retired and later died, it was like losing a Dad for those people. Art was 79 and had been worshipping here for about 70 years. He say over there in the last row, and was usually about the first one here. Week after week.

Elizabeth has been a lifelong Catholic. And the family was raised in the Catholic church. So many of the life milestones happened there. But over the years, Elizabeth shared with me that she and Art came to agree that though they worshipped in different places, God would give them the strength to respect each other’s faith. The most important thing was being active in their faith and church. And frankly I think that there were times when as a spouse she would have had a right to say the family ought to all be together. And maybe even times they did try to influence the other. But she recognized the role this church played in Art’s life, and that he was only really going to be a Lutheran, and that his being here strengthened him to be the husband and father he was. So she didn’t work at trying to get him to change. She saw that God’s family is bigger than we think.

That’s what these commandments get at. That even if by right you could obtain something, we shouldn’t alienate someone from it. And it was obvious that Art’s life was blessed by being here with all of you. But there is another aspect of this relationship that ought to be explored and I am going to risk discussing it.

In spite of the fact that Art was here for all these years, when I was announcing his death, it seemed that not many people really knew him or who he was. That most did not. And frankly I myself, as the pastor here for three years, had to ask why I knew so little. Yes, he was quiet, but still I wonder. And it makes me sad.

And I want to suggest a very subtle aspect of coveting that churches can fall into. When I first came here one of the things people wanted me to do as the new pastor was to get everyone back who left. And the truth is that some of them had found other churches. As much as I like you want the place to be filled, going after people who have other churches is coveting. And it was important to say that trying to lure them back would be wrong. We want this place full and sometimes we are very focused on wondering how to draw more people here. At the same time however, coveting skews our perspective. Because when we get so focused on the blessing we are so sure is somewhere out there, we lose sight of the blessings in our midst. That’s the consequence of coveting- missing the blessing.

And Art was a blessing. I have heard stories of how much he adored this place, and all of you. He kept coming year after year because of you. And the encounter with God in this place. Even if you never knew it. He talked about this place with love. I wonder how many of us knew?

Last Sunday none of us knew what Monday would bring but last Sunday I preached on loving the neighbors right in front of you. And during the sharing of the peace, I have heard several of you remark that Art made a point of shaking your hand, every hand, more than usual. Loving all of you.

And then we had anointing as we do on the last Sunday each month- for healing, forgiveness, wholeness. And Art has come to receive this before, but this past Sunday he was intentional, and stood ramrod straight before me so I could make that cross on his forehead. And he was obviously pleased- he smiled, there were tears in his eyes. He was overjoyed to be here.

And I think about the beauty of the Catholic faith where anointing is a sacrament. Last rites and anointing should be offered whenever possible. And I am struck by knowing that last Sunday, Art was blessed to be in this fellowship and at Christ’s table, and to receive that cross on his forehead, the same one made in baptism, one last time- like a bookend in his life. That cross that tells us we are adopted into God’s family, and that salvation is ours. What a blessing.

It reminds us who God is for us in Christ. And we’re freed, to live. Today I hope we can remember that we should never be so focused on looking elsewhere for the blessing we miss out on how God is blessing us right here. God’s celebration is better than we imagine. And if there is someone here you realize you really don’t know- reach out and ask. No one is going to tell you it’s too late. Don’t wait- let’s live into the blessing of God’s reality now.

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