Asbury First United
Text: Hosea 11, Psalm 107", Colossians 3, Luke 18
"Have a good summer!" Has someone said this to you recently? Or, something similar? "Are you having a good summer?" "How's the summer?" "What a great summer!"
For soon to become obvious, selfish, homiletical reasons, I listened, yesterday, all day, through a beautiful Trustees' picnic meeting and luncheon on Keuka Lake, and through a wonderful Stewardship Committee dinner and pool party, for this question, or its variants. Nine hits. Listen and count, tomorrow: "Have a good summer."
It is such a simple phrase, but to the needy, reflective ear, it raises a mortal question, a singular and, perhaps shattering, perhaps justifying question: What is a good summer?
Before addressing this question, I digress to offer a story*. You perhaps know it. Or perhaps you have told it. A farmer had an odd habit of feeding his only pig in a distinctive way. He would hold the pig in his arms, and carry him under an apple tree. There the pig would happily eat his fill as the farmer, arms aching, waited. At last a neighbor asked: "John, that is one way to feed a pig, but, in addition to straining your back and arms, it must take a whole lot of time. Aren't you worried about that lost time?" "Oh", said the farmer, "Of course you are right, it is a lot of time, but, then…what's time to a pig?"
It is a warning to those of us, like me, who raise such questions, and those of us, like you, who chew on them. A mortal question, to be understood, and a saving truth, to be told, depend on hearing. Faith, that is, comes by right hearing, and such hearing by the word of God.
Thus the simple sentence, "Have a good summer," is, like much in life, a very thin ordinary veneer covering a deep, existential interrogative: just what is a good summer? What constitutes a good, a godly summer? Perhaps with your help, and under the shadow of the Holy Scripture, which towers over our experience like a steeple towers over our communion today, we can respond by raising other questions. One good question deserves another.
Has your summer allowed an interruption? Of what? Of routine, of the usual of set patterns, of your own plotting and planning, of comfort, of discomfort, of what has been. Has summer provided a pause?
The parable of the Rich Fool, read today, is a warning word from Jesus for the followers of Jesus. "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."
Wait, stop, think, heal write.
A Hindu proverb says: During its lifetime, the lordly goose looks down upon the humble mushroom. But in the end, they are both served up on the same platter.
Life is meant to become a rich offering toward God, not a laying up of treasure on earth where moth and rust consume, and thieves break in and steal. And speaking of thieves breaking in, please allow this brief digressive interruption. After all, it is summer…
It reminds us of the ostensibly humorous story of the burglar, speaking of greed and covetousness, who slipped with his flashlight into a dark suburban home. He took jewelry and cash. Then in the dark he heard a voice: "Jesus is watching. I'm warning you." The burglar trembled, wondering who had spoken. Turning on the light, he saw a parrot in a cage, who said, "My name is Moses, and I warn you, Jesus is watching." Relieved, for the moment, the burglar smiled and said, "What kind of silly suburban people name their parrot Moses?" The parrot replied, "The same kind of silly people who name their longtoothed, ferocious dog, Jesus. I warned you, Jesus is watching."
Life is more than security. The best things about life are free. Travel light.
Has your summer involved some inflammation? Has the season brought spirit to a fever pitch? Is there around now any love on fire? The mid-west is scorching hot. Mt. Aetna in Sicily is flowing with lava. And in your heart? Where is the fire? What is it that you love so much that it makes you…now nostalgic, now tender, now torrid, now angry, now remorseful, now hot, now vengeful, now envious, now determined, now happy?
The Bible readers among us are right to suspect that Hosea 11, another of today's readings, smolders here. Listen to this loveliest of passages again: "When Israel was a child I loved him…"
I am not talking about passion only, eros only, the body only, feeling only. Though I mean all that. I mean, rather, something beyond mere 'sloppy agape'. I mean the heart. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Julia Kristeva, French philosopher, who recently, and categorically and stridently rejected the 'political correctness' once labeled as her offspring, said this summer that there are "three great things in life: to think, to heal, and to write." A Schweitzer would have agreed, and said, "There are three great instruments—the Bible, the pipe organ, and the stethescope." I say: find a way, your way, every day, to preach and to sing and to love.
Somewhere in every life there is a hot, scorched, midwestern summer. Remember it. Somewhere in every life there is a potent lava flow, about to burst, bursting, having burst. Seek it. Somewhere in every life there is the love of Hosea 11, God like a mother holding an infant to the cheek. Recover it.
Has your summer involved some inflamation?
Has your summer included the care and feeding of an institution? Yes, I could have used another word like 'incarnation', more theological and perhaps more accurate. But then we all would have gone home unclear, unconflicted, unconfronted, and unhelped. Operational incarnation means insitution. Life does not give ground before individuals apart from institutions. Transformation, lasting good change, in history, happens not through individuals only, nor through movements only. Real traction in history involves institutions. Like corporations, governments, businesses, schools, parties, associations, cities, and, yes, churches. In this, as in most things, the radicals have it wrong. A movement is not superior to an institution. A movement is an institution that has not grown up.
Today's Psalm the 107th, recites the tradition of deliverance, liberation, rescue, redemption, that is your birthright…"Until they reached a city in which to dwell." The Lord has redeemed us from trouble.
Marguerite Brown, whom we buried this week, knew this. Hers is a story of a woman who made space for a very worthy institution, Asbury First UMC.
Has your summer involved an institution?
Has this summer brought inspiration? Something? Something fine and true? Something sensual? Something grand and loving? I truly hope so. "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." This very night one's soul may be required.
The last lesson, today's epistle, Colossians 3 ( I commend to you this wonderful chapter) tells us to "set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth."" Rid your life of immorality and lying, so that Christ, your lips, Christ, your reward, Christ, your glory, Christ, your new person, Christ, your Lord may truly be revealed in and through you.
I saw an eagle soaring over our lake last Tuesday. Barth, I recalled, said that "the gospel is the freedom of a bird in flight". And I remembered the proverb: "Three things are too wonderful for me, and four I cannot understand. The way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a ship upon the high sea, the way of a serpent on a rock, and the way of a man with a woman."
Has the summer brought inspiration?
Have a good summer
A summer that allows interruption
A summer that involves inflammation
A summer that includes an institution
A summer that brings some inspiration
(And, as you probably suspect that the sermon more deeply intends, in the same ways, have a good life).