“Until we learn to truly listen, until we care more about how someone else feels than about the letter of the law, until we stop forcing our agendas and start treasuring children of God, the world isn’t going to change.”
Sometimes being seen and heard is all it takes for everything to change. That’s a fundamental conviction I carry with me in all that I say and do as a pastor. We don’t need to put on some idealized or cartoon-ish mask of holiness and perfection. We aren’t called to say the right “church words” or hide behind Christian sounding concepts and ideas. We need to be seen and heard for exactly who we are – and to realize that through Christ we are loved and treasured all the more for it. If we know that kind of embrace, there is nothing we cannot do or face in life. If we never find it, no amount of knowledge or action or fight will stop the ground from shaking beneath our feet.
To be seen and heard does more to empower the life changing work of God’s grace than any tidbit of knowledge or interesting idea or compelling argument ever could. The most pressing and needed work of the church is to create the space in which God’s children from all walks of life are able to come together and experience what it means to be seen and heard. To be treasured is to know the sure foundation of the love of God, AND to offer that love to neighbors near and far.
Date Given: 6/18/2017
They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain.3Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites:4You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.” 7So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. 8The people all answered as one: “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.” Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.
“I hope you have a son just like you.” My dad used to say that to me a lot. I’m not sure exactly what he meant, but he only seemed to say it after I did something stupid or stubborn. So, I don’t think he meant it as a compliment. But I would always get a smug smile on my face and respond – “Thanks dad. I hope I have a son just like me too.”
My dad and I have always had a pretty good relationship. I was never the rebellious child, which Sallie would tell you is probably quite the understatement. My personality and sense of humor were quite a bit like my dad growing up. I always thought I was his little mini me – and maybe one day I’ll have a mini me too. More recently I’ve realized that I’m actually more like my mom in quite a lot of ways. The clearest example of that I’ve shared with most of you before – my dad had a heart attack several years back while we were out at my in law’s lake house. You’d think panic would be the order of the day, but my mom and I simply got into the car and drove him quickly, but safely to the nearest town to meet the ambulance. Nice and calm as ever; until the emergency part was over.
I imagine being so much like my mom is actually what has helped my dad and I get along so much over the years. But whatever the reason, I am quite thankful to have the dad that I have. I even lucked out and have a great father in law that I love and respect as well. I don’t know that it would actually be a good thing to have a son just like me, but I absolutely hope that if I have a son, he will feel just as loved and treasured as I do.
I could probably stop right about here in this message on Father’s day and end by simply saying that God loves and treasures us even more than an earthly father ever could. That would probably be a fairly accurate message in its own rite, but it would stop short of the entire point scripture is trying to make when it talks of God as Father, or love, or pretty much anything else.
Today’s scripture reading has us joining with God’s people in the midst of the exodus. God had told Abraham and Sarah to get up and Go, their children would be blessed and become a blessing to all the nations. Abraham and Sarah’s descendants found themselves enslaved in Egypt after a few generations, until finally Moses came and led God’s people out of bondage and toward the promised land. The people have just arrived at Mt. Sinai after leaving egypt, where God gave the law that would give shape to their lives and the promise of what God had in store for God’s people. This is one of those moments when everything changes; a moment that sets up and defines all that is to come.
Our scripture tells us – they had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of sinai, and made camp there in the front of the mountain. Moses acted like a spokesperson for God. He went up to the mountain where God called to him and said, “Here is what you are going to tell my people. You’ve seen what I did.” It was with many signs and wonders and deeds of power that God broke the bonds of slavery. Like a powerful and majestic eagle, God carried the people out of Egypt. “If you obey my voice,” God said, “and if keep my commandments and you shall be my treasured possession.” The whole earth is mine anyway, but you will be a priestly kingdom, a holy nation.
Moses told the whole crowd what the Lord had said and of course the people said Amen. “We will do everything the Lord commands.” Now I don’t know how much of the Old Testament you’ve read, but I have to say first that it did not take long for God’s people to go back on that whole promise to do “everything that the Lord has commands.” It was just a couple of chapters later that they were making an idol of the golden calf and I could easily take up the rest of your time with stories of how far short they fell from actually following the commands that God gave to them, whether that be the big 10 or all the rest. Everything did not mean everything for long.
But here’s the really remarkable thing. No matter how conditional God’s statement sounds, God’s people were loved and treasured by God even when they did not meet the conditions. God may have said, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you’ll be treasured; but the many deep failures of God’s people never cut them off from the faithfulness of God. God loved and treasured this people no matter how far they fell or how much they screwed up. They had their ups and downs, but God is faithful even when we are not. God showed us faithfulness once and for all by sending His only Son. Jesus died and rose again because we are God’s treasured possession.
And like I said, we could stop here and have a really nice little Father’s day message. Our heavenly father treasures us, just like he treasured the Israelite people in the wilderness at Sinai. Now let’s all hug one another and sing kumbaya because it’s great to feel loved and treasured. But to stop here would miss the entire point of being blessed beyond measure as God’s treasured people.
Feeling treasured, feeling loved by someone in our lives is perhaps the single most important thing that makes it possible to live and move through life – no matter what happens next. But to stop at the point of feeling treasured far too easily encourages us to turn inward, to focus on me and my needs, to think that love is some kind of zero sum game – if someone else feels loved and treasured that must mean I am loved and treasured less.
That’s not at all the way God’s love works. Focus on self is not at all the point of God calling us a treasured people. To be treasured is to know God’s love that cannot fail and never ends – AND to be that kind of presence to the people in our lives. That’s how God transforms the world. That has been God’s plan all along, starting with Abraham, made explicit through Moses on Mount Sinai, fulfilled and perfected through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are the sons and daughters of God. God loves us beyond measure in the hope that all our sons and daughters, all our neighbors near and far will feel just as loved and treasured as we are.
The most challenging part for us is that so many of God’s children do not yet feel as treasured as we each are. Without that solid foundation, without experiencing what it is like to be called a treasured son or daughter; it becomes so much more difficult to love and relate to one another. It becomes so much easier to draw the little boxes in the sand that we so often love to create – we pick sides, we lack trust, we fear difference. I don’t have to tell you how far down that road we’ve gone as a nation in recent months.
Just this week, the police officer who shot and killed Philando Castille in a routine traffic stop was acquitted. The single most tragic aspect to me is that we can’t even seem to mourn together. We can’t find it in our collective heart to deeply lament such a tragedy no matter what we think about laws or race or police or guns or anything else. We all have to pick our sides first, tell our opinion of what mattered and why and how we’ve come to think about it. There’s no space allowed to say Philando’s mother has every right to be mad as hell, even though I understand why the jury made that choice AND even though something has to change so this doesn’t keep happening.
Until we learn to truly listen, until we care more about how someone else feels than about the letter of the law, until we stop forcing our agendas and start treasuring children of God, the world isn’t going to change.
It’s so easy to see difference, to watch someone fail, to expect nothing more and to make all the wrong assumptions. We see good guys and bad – black and white – plain and simple – but that is so rarely if ever the truth of the matter. Inside us all is a little kid – desperate to feel loved, wanting to be treasured by mother and father, in need of that sure foundation. And we almost never give each other the space to express those desires that reside deep within our souls.
I want to read you a couple of poems. These were put together by a group called Iconoclast in Houston. Iconoclast works with low income schools and juvenile detention centers in Houston. They provide the space for kids to express themselves through art. These are 3 poems from 2 of the juvenile detainees. [POEMS]
I don’t know the full stories of these 2 youth, but I can tell you I’m amazed by their willingness to get to the place of deep honesty that it takes to write down these words. Underneath all the bravado and any veneer of accomplishment or success or toughness in life, we all come from the same place – wanting to be heard, needing to be embraced – hoping to be treasured and loved. If you have never felt the depth of God’s love, if you’ve never heard that you are God’s treasured son or daughter – it is my deepest hope that you would find God’s open arms waiting for you here.
And if you have felt that kind of love, if you know how treasured you are, it’s time to get to work. God’s love doesn’t stop with us, we are invited to be signs and instruments of God’s love for our neighbors near and far. We are called to look beyond the lines in the sand and the limiting boxes that we so often put people in. We’re called to make space for God’s children to be who they are and to be loved all the more for it.
That’s exactly the opportunity we’re seeking to embrace in our next season of life together. We desire to know that the love we have experienced from God, the love and legacy passed down from our mothers and fathers in this church, that love and legacy from their mothers and fathers in the faith long before that – to know God’s love doesn’t stop with us. God’s love empowers us to walk beyond the walls and go beyond the boxes of the way things have always been.
God called the Israelite people His treasured possession on Mount Sinai – and thus began a whole new way of life for God’s people. We are still God’s treasured possession even now – and thus we begin a whole new chapter in our life together. Now is the season, this is the time – to be sure that the love of God does not, cannot, and will not end with us. It is our hope that all our sons and daughters, all our neighbors near and far, will feel just as loved and treasured as we have been. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.