Rev. Debra M. Whitten
Minister of Congregational Care
God’s Pleasure in the Process
Sunday, July 10, 2005
Psalm 119: 105-112
God’s pleasure in the process using the guiding light. Hugh and Jennifer did a nice job with our lectionary scriptures today, and I am a lectionary preacher. So that means that there were four scriptures that we could have heard today.
One of them was taken from Genesis, chapter 25, with Rebekah and her twin sons. It starts off when she was pregnant. She was pregnant and couldn’t figure out what the problem was. There was this struggling going on inside of her and she didn’t know she was having twins. All she knew was this was uncomfortable. After a while, she finally said to herself: “I think I am going to go ask God what’s going on here.” And when she went to God, God said: “Rebekah, you have two nations warring within you, two nations struggling within you.”
Well, at that point, who gets out first? I love that story about Esau and Jacob as it goes into the part where they are born. What we find is that Esau comes out first, red and hairy. Jacob comes out clinging to his heel. I was thinking this week, maybe he wanted to pull him back in and see if he couldn’t squirm by him and get out first.
But that story goes on to tell us a little bit more about Jacob and Esau. You see, Esau was a hunter and loved to go out and get wild game. He would come home and sometimes he would have some, and sometimes he wouldn’t. When I was reading the story, I thought Jacob must have watched his brother time after time. He had a plan. He might not have been able to pull him back into the womb, but he had a plan. His plan was to make the best lentil soup every time his brother went hunting. Set out a nice layout, a nice enticing layout, to be ready for him when he returned. Add those nice little herbs to it, and be eating a bowl when his brother walks back in empty handed and with nothing to eat.
Esau walks back into the camp one particular day and he was not successful. He was hungry and hadn’t eaten all day. He sees his brother there and there is this red stuff in the pot and he says: “Give me some of that. I want some.” And Jacob says to him: “For your birthright you may have a bowl of stew.” And Esau gives him his birthright.
I really wonder if Esau realized the treasure he had in his hands that day, a very wonderful treasure, because, if we will remember, these are the sons of Isaac. The forefathers of the Israelites are Abraham and Isaac. They are the people who started off to bring us where we are today. In Esau’s hand, he had the riches of his father, the leadership of God’s people. He had it all.
recall in scripture, it says: “The
So, what treasure could Debra possibly be talking about? I wanted to take us back to our psalmist for today. This is what the psalmist said: “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light for my path. I have taken an oath and confirmed it. I have dedicated myself to it. I have said this is what I will do. My word is my life and all that I have. And this is the oath: I will follow your right ordinances, your righteous laws. I have suffered much. Preserve my life, O God, according to your word. Accept my praise. Teach me your ordinances.”
This person goes on to talk about how life has thrown him this way and that way. This person goes on to talk about how they are attacked from outside, how things would pull them away, but their first love is God.
If you look at the Romans scripture that is from chapter 8: just before it, Paul is writing his letter to the Romans and he is talking about how he is always doing what he doesn’t want to do. He knows what the treasure is, but there is always something struggling with him and pulling him away.
was learning how to be a lay person at annual conference in my own conference
before I started all this ordination stuff, I had a bishop, a wonderful
bishop. One of the things he used to do with us is he used to come in with
the Book of Discipline which is our tradition rule and he would say: “What
are the general rules of the church? Do any of you want to share the General
rules of the
Do no harm. Do good. And attend to all the ordinances of God.
For me, that is the treasure, a treasure always to hold up and hold forth. What our psalmist is talking about today is the fact that we have a treasure. The treasure is the ordinances of God. Where is he coming from? To what destination is this person hoping to arrive when he has completed the process of living? He says what I am looking for is life, abundant life, fulfilled life. Which one of us is not looking for abundant and fulfilled life? Any one of us?
He is not just looking for life. He is looking for peace. If we have been looking at television this week, which one of us is not looking for peace? We are not looking for a fake kind of peace that is just there because we kind of make it up. We are looking for the peace that God has – that long, abiding peace that is deep within us. It is the kind of peace that means that we can live this life with assurance, that we can live it deeply, that it holds us well, that we truly are who God would have us be.
Well, becoming who God would have us be is a process, isn’t it? Are you who you were yesterday? No, we are not who we were yesterday. Are you who you will be tomorrow? Hopefully not and hopefully we are all getting better and better little by little as we work through our lives.
But here is the key. Here is the part that I think is really important for us as we look at the process through which we go to find that abundant life and live that peace on earth. I went back to the Book of Discipline again. I opened it up and I read the section called “Our Theological Task.” Sound like interesting reading? It was to me. I read it and then wondered whether people that went to general conference read this section of the Book.
It is a very interesting section. I invite you to come to the office, to borrow a copy and read it. Within that section of the Discipline, it has Wesley’s quadrilateral; there are four parts to it. Scripture is primary – it reveals God’s way. Tradition is what the people before us—our spiritual forebears—have all understood and set into ritual, passing it on to us. We have orders of worship. On certain Sundays, we celebrate certain important events—resurrection of Jesus; birth of Jesus; birth of the church; etc. Tradition – what we always do. But the one thing we have that they used back in their time that we can use now is our experience. That is what we bring to the table fresh and new. Things that go on in our lives, the gospel of our lives, how God interacts with us. Then we use our reason. We use our reason to weave those three together and hopefully we come up with something that God says: “See, you’re getting so close. You’re drawing nearer to me.”
Now does that mean that God is standing next to Debra and you are all drawing near to God and me? Of course not! I am not in the circle with God. God is in the circle all by God’s self and each of us are striving towards God. That’s the point of the process. We are striving towards God. Abundant life doesn’t come from any other place but God. Peace comes from no other place but through the plan that God has set forth in our lives.
I don’t have the right answers all of the time and across the board. You don’t have the right answers all of the time and across the board. The person you don’t agree with all of the time, even when you’re talking about God, doesn’t have all of the answers all of the time and across the board. Who has all of the answers, the right ones, all of the time, and across the board? God.
So, what we have given to us in tradition is a great, great tool to think about. And that tool is to look at scripture. That’s why we have Sunday school classes. That’s why we have Christ Care groups. That’s why we try to get together for any kind of a Bible study. That’s why we read it at home, think through it and pray through it. It’s why we look at scripture because it starts giving us the basis for which God is saying this is how people have related to me. Imperfect people, people who are just like us – they don’t get it perfect all the time, but they work at it and they work at it. And we can do the same.
Then God says that there have been people who have been working at it all the time. You look back in history and you cannot tell me that you don’t look back and say things like: “What were we thinking when we had those crusades? Why in the world did we have to kill each other when we wanted everybody to relate to God during the Reformation?”
I don’t know. I question that. I was going through church history thinking to myself: What? You were arguing over what? How will you help anyone else when you are arguing over that?
But the most significant thing that you and I have to bring to the table today is what we have experienced. We can’t get away from scripture. We look at tradition because those people weren’t stupid. They didn’t just do stuff that we can’t understand today. They did some really significant things. They called us away from complacency a lot of times. They said don’t just let the priest sit up there with his back to you while they’re serving communion. You have no idea what’s going on. They said learn about it. Learn to read your Bible. Learn what God is saying. You don’t just let them tell you anything they want to tell you. You know what it is. When Jesus came, Jesus said it’s in your heart. Each one of you has it in your heart. Debra is supposed to be having it in her heart this morning.
We carry it together. How do we do that? I preached before about holy conversation. I said that we need to be in conversation with one another. The righteous way of God is not me all unto myself. That would be pretty boring. I agree with myself almost 100 percent of the time. I can tell you this: I am willing to bet I might be able to find someone out there who, when I start saying “I believe things should go this way,” they would say “Yes.” When I say “I believe that things will go this way and should be done this way,” and they’ll say yes to me. And will we have had a hard time? I’m not so sure. It’s pretty boring when someone is always saying yes to you.
But then there are new ideas, struggling here and there, having somebody present something that we’re not so sure about. We’re not sure we can go there with them, but it helps having it presented to us in a way where we are able to take it in and think about it, to ruminate over it, to reflect back on it, to listen to them, and to have them listen to us. That’s the process that our theological task talks about. It talks about the task – that we’re not just supposed to be saying that it’s this one person’s experience or this other person’s experience.
We are supposed to be taking all of those in and saying: what is God saying to us today? We are supposed to prayerfully consider it. We are supposed to meditate on it and listen for God’s words on it. We are supposed to be taking it deeper and harder, with a passion. We are supposed to be talking to one another, hearing one another. It is not my job to convince you or your job to convince me. It is our job to share what God has illumined in each of us, to vivify what we have been doing in the past, to pull out new stuff, to help us see something, to begin whatever the process is God is sending us through. We’re trying to improve. We’re trying to become better people. We’re trying to become more of who God would have us be – that we can relate to one another well, that we can love each other the way we ought, that we can live so that peace will abound in all over the earth.
If you listen to Romans, it talks about things of the flesh. It talks about how it makes us not quite who we ought to be. It talks about pulling us away and not giving us abundant life. But through the means of the Spirit, through sharing with one another, through talking together whether we agree or not, through being respectful, through hearing each other’s stories, through knowing each other’s struggles, we can move closer and closer to the community God would like us to have. Not just you and me, but with everyone across the world. Our goal is life abundant, a wonderful, peace-filled life. I invite each of you to have that peace-filled community, one with another, to share your stories, to hear your differences, to struggle with them with God, to know them as a changing force in your life. And God will bring you some of the best treasures you have ever seen.