Monroe Congregational Church, U.C.C.
September 9, 2001 - Pastor Diane Schmitz
(Diane Schmitz' last Sunday with the church)
Scripture: hymn: "Morning Has Broken" <Click to hear>
We are poised this morning to enter a new land as we come to the end of our time together. Like the Hebrew people we are unsure of what exactly is ahead. But, we, too, are reminded by the scripture passage that God walks with us providing the way by which we re-create our lives once again.
Darlene, a student I know from Seattle University recently moved to Seattle from Bainbridge Island where she had been living for 9 years. She completed her master's degree this past June and was starting a full-time job in Seattle and no longer wanted to face the ferry commute. "I didn't know moving a distance of just a few miles would be so difficult," she said. As we had lunch together one day, her voice grew more agitated as we talked. "I have to find a new dry cleaner, I don't know where the nearest bank branch is and I don't know where the bus lines go here." I looked at her anxious face and heard the subtext of what she was saying: "I don't know what it will be like to no longer be a student" "I'm anxious about how I will do in my new job." "I am sad about leaving my church community" "Will my new roommate and I get along?" Darlene was facing the challenge of the unknown and the risks of venturing into a new kind of life.
I passed a reader board on a Seattle street last week. It said, "Life is always at a turn." Every day we face choices about how we will live. The turn may be simply how we respond to a new person we meet or it may be how we respond to the new situation of a parent moving into dementia or a child going off to college.
We do have a choice about how we respond. As the bumper sticker says, "Life Happens" but our willingness to let each choice be a moment for the Spirit to recreate us makes all the difference.
The scripture passage from Deuteronomy tells us how to live in a way that is blessed: to love God, to walk in God's paths and to observe God's commandments.
Loving God, the one who knit us together in our mother's wombs, is an act
of praise and thanksgiving. When I woke up yesterday morning I remembered
a dream. I was in a church sanctuary that looked much like ours but I was
seated at a round table up in the front with about 6 other people. We were
talking and planning things; it felt more like a business meeting at my
job at Seattle University. The music began to play for the service and
I felt a sense of loss; I would not be here anymore. I looked out to the
congregation filled with people. There was a look of sadness about them.
The air was palpable with a sense of "what do we do now?" All of a sudden
without conscious thought I felt compelled to jump up. I held out my arms
to everyone and said, "Let us praise our God. Let us praise our God."
Everyone stood and I awoke. As I recalled the dream I realized that in
times of anxiety of transition how vitally important it is to give praise
to our God. In that mode of thanksgiving we are reminded of God's continuing
presence in our lives.
The Deuteronomy passage encourages us to walk in God's ways, in the paths of God. Often we wonder which paths those are. Our psalm reading this morning reminds us that there is no place we can be outside of God. God is behind and before us, was there as we were created and looks for us. The psalm says: "You search out my path." Last week we pondered God as a verb, an initiating activating presence available to us in every moment. Every path has God on it if we listen and look attentively for the guidance of the Spirit. This is a radical thought. It also requires a radical response for it gives us no excuse to stay stuck on a path that is deadening rather than life-giving. It asks us to refuse to stay safely in a comfort zone when God is calling us to walk forward. God's ways are ways of risking, daring to make choices that transform our lives, the lives of our churches and the lives of our world.
"Observe God's commandments" says our reading. Observing God's commandments is not something done from afar. Observing means responding to God's constant invitation to new life.
Meister Eckhart says, "From all eternity God lies on a maternity bed giving birth. The essence of God is birthing.
God as a midwife does not force us into new birth. We have a choice but God invites us to "Choose Life." Laboring into new life is a difficult process. It requires us to surrender ways we have known before we experience the ways life will newly be. There is that liminal time where we are suspended; waiting, wondering, and breathing hard.
I remember preparing for the labor of one of my son's birth. I had a special birthing room and surrounded myself with symbols and pictures that were meaningful to me. The midwife had told me that it would be good to bring some object I could focus on when labor got intense. I had that special object; a beautifully crafted work of art. But, as labor began to intensify I found my focus going to the clock on the wall where the second hand kept moving around. It was a plain, utilitarian, black and white clock. When the labor got particularly intense I would zero in on the center black dot from which the hands of the clock went outward. It is amusing to me that despite all my grand preparations and expectations of how that labor experience would be, one of my strongest memories is the center of that clock.
We often have ideas about how our transition, our birthing will be. But, when it comes down to it we take each moment as it comes and hold fast to what helps us connect to the center of our being where God resides. It was not the black dot that held me but the focusing on that pushed everything else out of the way except my connection and surrender to the Spirit moving in me in miraculous ways in that moment.
And something miraculous was birthed. That is God's promise to us. No matter what circumstance we find ourselves in there is a way to "Choose life" and bring forth some fuller expression of God's love in our world.
Every time we birth more of God's love into the world everyone benefits. Every time we support the birth of someone else everyone benefits. We are all connected: Our personal births, the birthing in our church, the birthing in our Pacific Northwest, our country and our world. Choose life so your descendants may live. How we choose affects not only ourselves but also all of creation to which we are connected.
We sang "Morning Has Broken" this morning. That song has special significance to me. When I was a teenager a popular artist recorded a version of it that I liked very much. Soon afterwards I became the organist at a small UCC church in Spokane. I was delighted to find that song in the hymnbook and played it often as a prelude. Since then it has continued to "show up" in my life at important moments.
On Easter morning, 1993, I drove my car into a parking lot near the church where I would be attending services that morning. As I got out of my car, I turned to discover two men in front of me, one holding a gun. "Give me your keys," said one. I did. "Get out of here," said the other, and I ran from them wondering if I would be shot in the back. As I dove into some bushes and lay there trembling, I knew that my life had been forever changed.
I had previously committed to flying to California four days after Easter to give support to a friend facing a serious surgery. I did go. On that Sunday morning while in California, I had a strong desire to go to church although I was still quite nervous about even being in a car. But, I borrowed my friend's car and drove to a nearby UCC church. As I sat down in the pew and looked at the service bulletin I saw that "Morning Has Broken" was the first hymn.
I returned to Seattle and returned to church but would not park my car in the lot I had used that Easter morning; too many tough memories. But, there came a day when I was ready to confront those fears. I drove into the lot, my insides shaking. I got out and walked the block and a half to church feeling both unnerved and triumphant. The church service began; the first hymn was "Morning Has Broken."
The point of this is that when we risk, when we are vulnerable enough to let ourselves be re-created, the Mystery we call God affirms and confirms that courage to "Choose Life." It's often not easy to allow ourselves to be remolded and remade but that is the life to which God calls us; as individuals and as church.
Let us walk into our future remembering that God is on the path with us. Let us be faithful to the call to be re-created knowing that amazing things are possible through the powerful love of our God. May the activating presence of the Spirit flow through us re-creating a new day. Amen.