Anchorage Presbyterian Church, Louisville, KY
Sunday August 21, 2010
Readings: Romans 12: 1-8 and Matthew 16:13-20
Call to Worship
One: If it had not been the Holy One who was on our side, let us all say now:
All: we would have not survived
One: If it had not been the Holy One who was with us
All: We would have not come this far
One: Hatred would have swept us away
All: and despair would have taken us over
One: Conformism and carelessness would have eaten us alive
All: And we would have not been able to care for anyone
One: But the Holy One has kept us alive!
All: Our help is in the name of the Holy One, who made heaven and earth. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
Good morning. May the peace of Christ be with you all. I am delighted to be here this morning and to worship God with you. I want to thank Rev. Dee, Rev. Tara and Rev. Andrew for this invitation, for allowing me to preach here, I am deeply honored. Also I’d like to thank Rick Ari, my good Brazilian brother; it was a joy to get to know him here in Louisville.
Just this past week, I was talking to a friend who was describing me the place he lives. He said he lives in a middle class cul-de-sac neighborhood here in Louisville. He knows a lot about what happens in that neighborhood and he described me the situation of most of the families around his house. Here’s a sample with his own comments:
One house has two drug addicts and almost never leave the house;
One house has a former drug dealer who now lives alone because his wife wanted to continue to ride in expansive cars and he cannot afford that anymore;
One house has a woman living by herself because her husband got a job in Asia and she didn’t want to go;
One house has a Muslim family that never talks to anybody;
One house has a man who is alcoholic and is not in jail because somebody in the family is a lawyer;
One house has a couple who are a strong Tea Party supporter; One house has a hardcore liberal family;
One house has a family who goes ghost hunting on the weekends;
One house has a divorced woman who was left by her husband;
One house has a sick man who cannot afford a good enough health insurance to deal with his illnesses;
One house has an Asian American couple and there are no blacks on that cul-de sac. A lot of people there seem to smoke weed.
I was kind of shocked when I heard this description. I’ve been to his house and it looked like a perfect middle class neighborhood where life is almost perfect. But that is not the case. This neighborhood shows a bit of what life in United States is about. A place of diversity, fears, economic dowsizing, brokenness and dreams of unity, safety and happiness.
Don’t we all live in the midst of diversity, brokenness, economic downsizing, fears, and dreams of unity, safety and happiness?
We all carry something in us that is on the mend, that is on the waiting list to be fixed, that are yet to be healed and transformed.
I believe that one of the reasons for my surprise with this disarranged and broken cul-de-sac was that I let myself be ruled by myths of happiness. And I think I am not alone in believing in these myths. So help me here and tell me if you can also identify these myths.
We live under the myth that family life is a unity of peaceful and united people when many times what we experience is the harshness of a real family that is often broken and made of difficult relationships.
We live under the myth that our churches are a place of love and caring people who will never hurt us or do anything wrong or that they will never disappoint us when in truth we are always wrestling with our one another.
We live under the myth that love for two people is supposed to be joyful, harmless, peaceful, full of passion and whole all the time when in fact, a life of love between two people entails constant work and rework, huge efforts and need to forgive and to be forgiven.
We live under the myth that the United States is a white middle class Christian country when in fact this country is a mix of ethnicities, races, religious pluralism and also poverty.
We live under the myth that the American dream is for all when in fact, there are many people who cannot get even close to the idea of this dream.
We live under the myth that our natural resources will always be available for us and that we will always have clean water once we turn on the tap.
And we increasingly believe that we should not share our lives with anybody else and that communities are for those who still bother to waste their time with somebody else. I continue to hear people say: “I’d rather live in my own sane personal bubble.”
These myths, all of them broken, are the reality of that cul-de-sac and in most places around this country. And that is because life is often out of place, disarranged, misplaced, thrown into places that we would not like to imagine.
Don’t you feel lost sometimes? Out of balance? OR feeling that life is unfair? Or that life does not seem to quite be where it should be?
Our worlds, be it personal, local, religious, global are always in flux and constantly changing and disarranging us. It has become more difficult to live. The amount and the spread of knowledge, the pluralism of things, uncertainties, the shaking of our beliefs, everything threats to disturb our organized world, to disrupt our ordered cocoon, to displace our protected zones.
Due to all that, we Christians are constantly challenged to rearrange ourselves in God’s love. For God’s love is the place where we should return to as often as possible to be rearranged and gain new perspectives, gain new tools to deal with life and new hope and faith and love to move on, to be reorganized once again.
As the Psalmist reminds us: “If it had not been the Holy One who was on our side, (rearranging us) let us all say now, we would have not survived.” The Psalmist is reminding us that we are not alone in this world and if everything around us is trembling down, God’s love will be a place of refuge.
Then the apostle Paul reminds us that to live in this world we must not be passive but active. He says: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
To rearrange ourselves in God’s love we must be continually challenged to discern what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. The will of God is the best place to be and we will only know where this place is if we live this gospel fully, not conforming ourselves to this world of injustice and death, but using together our bodies and minds and hearts to the transformation of the world with the life of Christ.
Our call is not to be passive spectators of this world, is not only to receive the will of God to us every Sunday and forget about it during the week but instead, it is about discovering this will in our everyday lives, in whatever we do, with whomever we live with.
The good and acceptable and perfect will of God is out there for us to perceive, to engage, to see, to taste, to touch, to move and also to feel inside us.
To find the will of God is to see that the world may be collapsing God will find a way to undo this collapsing and we will be God’s agents to promote the rearrangement of this collapsing world. Our personal lives might be a wreck but if we search for the good, acceptable and perfect will of God we will always be able to rebuild our lives, to reconstruct that which we lost and rename death with the name of life in Jesus Christ.
What is, brothers and sisters, the acceptable, good and perfect will of God for us together and for each one of us individually? Because there is no way to find the will of God for each one of us if we don’t engage with the community of saints.
It is the continuity of this living together in God’s love that will be the ways in which the Holy Spirit will guide us to find the good, the acceptable and the perfect will of God for us. If I engage with you, if I learn how to love you, how to honor you, then I will be very close to understand the good and acceptable and the perfect will of God for me.
The rearranging of my life in God’s love depends on my living with you, my renewed desire to stick to you and learn from you and see you doing well. If I am able to see you living the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, I will also be on my way to find the good and the acceptable and the perfect will of God for me and my family.
See, we depend on each other to gain balance, to understand the good and acceptable and perfect will of God and rearrange ourselves in God’s love.
Let me tell you a story: It was in 2000, I was a pastor of a small church of non-documented immigrant people in MA. It was already a tough time for my people to live as immigrants being underpaid and being abused by some of their bosses.
One day I am at the waiting line to park my car at the main post office and while I am in the car, a spot clears towards the back of my car.
The car behind me just made the move and took the spot before me even though I was the next car to park. Well, I think you know the story… I left my car and went to the woman who was driving her car and said: “Madam, there is a line of cars to be parked and I was in front of you, you should wait for your turn.” She doesn’t listen to me and continue to park her car at that spot. I say again: “Madam, there is a line of cars to be parked and I was in front of you, you should wait for your turn.” At this time she looks at me and says: “you are not even a citizen of this country, you should wait until all Americans find a spot and then if there is any spot available than you park your car.”
When she said that, I froze. Hatred took not only my heart but my entire body. I couldn’t move. A white cloud took my eyes and I don’t know how long I was there standing. When I finally came to my senses, her car was not there anymore.” I went to my car and stayed there for almost 3 hours…
It was a Friday morning and Sunday I need to preach in my church. I wrestled with my sermon and I wanted to vent all of my anger and hatred… But then, when I got to the church I told my people we would have for the first time, a worship service with closed doors. I then told then what had happened to me and asked them if they had similar stories.
One after the other, people stood up and told horrific stories of discrimination, violence and even sexual abuse. That sanctuary became heavy.
I then turned to them and said: “Friends, this is just one part of our stories. The other side of our stories are made of love and care. We have brothers and sisters from the Presbyterian church who loved us even before we got here.” And I told them the story of this pastor from Connecticut who dreamed of this church and raised money to bring a pastor to this community so that people like us all would be served with the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we were there, regaining our strength and be rearranged in God’s love was because there was a group of people who loved us dearly. Then I asked then to tell a story of welcoming, of care, of love that they have received.
And one by one, stood up again and told the congregation stories of love, of care, of being welcomed.
Then and only then we were able to perceive the good, acceptable and perfect will of God.
That reminded me of that passage we read from the gospel today. Jesus asked the disciples what people were saying about him. And the responses were:
‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’
It was after listening to my brothers and sisters in that Presbyterian church in Fall River that I found out about this faith, about Jesus Christ and about God once again in my life. I was filled with God’s love once again.
Along with my sisters and brothers there, I regained a better sense of who I was and whose I was. I regained strength for my faith, I rediscovered God’s will to me and realized who Jesus Christ was for me and for us all.
At the end of the service we realized that the good and acceptable and the perfect will of God was to live together, announce this wondrous gospel of Jesus Christ and fight for justice. At the end of that service we were all able to say that like Simon Peter: Lord, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’
It was only after been drenched in God’s love through the love of our North American brothers and sisters that we, foreigners in this land, could be rearranged in God’s love again, that we were able to believe again, to tend our troubled hearts, to organize our thoughts, to gain a new breath of life and to believe that the church of Jesus Christ was the best place to be!
Like Jesus said to Peter, “the gates of Hades will not prevail against my church. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’
The keys of the kingdom of heaven are in our hands sisters and brothers… By the power of the Holy Spirit we can open the doors of heaven to one another as we help each other to balance our lives in God’s love.
Let me tell you another story: last May I was mugged by three men on my street. They thrown me on the floor and kicked me and stole my phone and my money. I went back home all bruised and hurt and sad and scared and angered and frustrated. When people knew about it, I started to receive so much love and care. People came to my door to leave food and cookies and cards and poured out wonderful expressions of love to me. Rick Ary called me several times just to check on me. When I experienced all of this love, I was drenched in God’s love and that helped me to rearrange myself and gain new vision, new perspective and new tolls to deal with my own life. Then, after the manifestation of such a love, I realized that the good and acceptable and perfect will of God is to be with my brothers and sisters.
With so much love, I was able to pray and say: “God, your love in Jesus Christ through my sisters and brothers is what keeps me alive and keeps me going.”
Brothers and Sisters, we will only know what is the good, acceptable and perfect will of God to us and to be able to say what Jesus Christ is for us if we live together and drench each other in God’s love. With the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can bind things on earth and in heaven, we can regain new vision to live by the dreams of the Kingdom of God and not by the myths of happiness of our society.
We might live in a cul-de-sac all destroyed, we might live in a dangerous place… that doesn’t matter. If we have a community of people to love us, we will be able to be constantly drenched in Gods love and we will be rearranged by God in this love as many times as we need. DO you believe that?
May God bless us and rearrange ourselves in this beautiful, powerful and healing balm of God’s love o