if it is important to you:find a way [a sermon]

a sermon preached with the texas youth academy 2015 on discipleship day (july 16, 2015)–in a world worship service at southwestern university–perkins chapel.

deuteronomy 11:18-21 you shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the lord swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.

brothers, sisters and siblings, i wonder if you know what it is to be held in tenderness. for someone who loves you to cradle you in their arms and hold you. maybe the warm embrace from a parent, or a kiss on the cheek from a grandparent, or a touch on the arm from a mentor or teacher. i wonder and i pray that you know that touch–the physical manifestation of compassion and love.

if you would, put your hands out like this: close your eyes with me–and i want you to think about that sort of tenderness–with your hands still up and your eyes still closed, try to remember a time where you were upset and someone wrapped you up tightly in a hug, or held your hand or placed their hand on your shoulder or a shared moment of eye-contact where you feel the connection [hand on heart, hand outstretched] so intensely it feels like you’ve made physical contact. remember that time and try to remember what it felt like–the weight of their hand, the warmth of another living being coming into contact with you. hold that moment and that feeling in your hands:

and now if you would pray with me--holy and compassionate and tender god, open our ears that we may hear your voice, our minds that we may build a higher ceiling for those who come after us, our hearts that they may look like yours and our hands to share your gentleness with our neighbors. and may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, o lord, our rock and our redeemer, amen.

you may open your eyes–and if you are still holding your memory and feeling of tenderness, cup it gently, don’t forget it–we’re coming back to it, soon.

if it is important to you–you will find a way. if not you will find an excuse.

the theme for today has been discipleship. in general to be a disciple means to be a follower. what we are talking about here is to be a disciple, a follower, of jesus christ, son of god, in trinity with the holy spirit. we are not talking just about the twelve disciples of jesus we read about in scripture–but also us who have and us who continue to, day by day and those who will one day respond to the nudges of the holy spirit through prevenient grace to recognize our place at the table with those called christian.

it is evident, by your being here, that each of you is a disciple of jesus–we may carry questions and pain and secrets and serious doubt about this god and church thing: but you showed up to ask, and learn, and question and seriously (and sometimes not so seriously) reflect on a life of faith. you found a way to be here.

lets check on our tender moments: may i see it? good, good. thank you. keep holding them.

this pericope, or reading, opens with “you shall put these words of mine…” whose words? what words? looking backwards in deuteronomy we learn that moses is our narrator–and the words he is talking about are the words of god–behind us we have, among other things, the decalogue or ten commandments and we have the shema–like katie preached on our very first night here together. these are the words god is telling us to put in our hearts, bind on our hands and fix upon our foreheads.

i would like to couch my next statement by saying that i am not condoning secretly getting tattoos behind your parent or guardian’s backs. n-o-t not the point of the following story.

when i was nineteen years old i got my first tattoo. it was the summer after my first year of college and my childhood best friend and i wanted to commemorate our friendship and an amazing summer of working at camp together with matching tattoos, right here:

we were nineteen, it was the early two-thousands, and so of course we got matching icthus (christian fish) tattoos at the end of the summer on our way back to our homes. i had almost almost almost made it through the week or so back in my parents home before heading back to university when i was finally found out. i was ever-so-innocently loading the dishwasher the evening before i was to leave–and leaned across to put a dish in when i suddenly felt a rush of air on skin that shouldn’t be feeling air. before i really had time to process what was going on i hear my mothers lamenting cry, “what did you do to that perfect body i made?!” and i said: ” :\

and it was really just the beginning–i now have five with a few more in the works. some of you today at lunch asked about the raven on my shoulder (if you weren’t there and you want to know, you can absolutely ask me later) and while i was telling you about its meaning i also told you why i have tattoos in the first place: it is because i am forgetful.

if it is important to you–you will find a way. if not you will find an excuse.

i need a way to remember the “these words” from god that are referenced in deuteronomy–and for me, my tattoos are one way to put them in my heart and soul, to bind them as a sign on my hand and to fix them as an emblem on my forehead. as a disciple i need these to remember.

this morning andy taught us about a middle eastern, what? middle eastern understanding of discipleship. this whole discipleship thing isn’t just about me and my jesus. we do not claim ourselves as individual 10 feet away from everyone trying to only have our personal relationship with jesus–no, no… true discipleship is we claim ourselves together with one another having and being 1 foot friends.

if it is important to you–you will find a way. if not you will find an excuse.

when we are looking for god not just in the sky above us and not just inward inside of us–but with our heads up and looking for who are still ten feet away we are doing the work of a disciple.

i recently had the privilege to make pilgrimage to israel and palestine under the leadership of our bishop in the texas annual conference. while we were in jerusalem our group had the opportunity to go and pray at the western wall-sometimes called the wailing wall-on the temple mount. this wall was build by herod the great in 19BCE and is believed to be the wall that would have been closest to the temple where the holy of holies rested. where god’s presence dwelled. and, once a year, the high priest would enter into the holy of holies–the sole human to enter into god’s presence.

this place is considered holy still today by our jewish siblings–and so when our group gathered we saw men and women praying at the wall. in judiasm they take this passage from deuteronomy very literally–and we saw what are called phylacteries bound to the heads and forearms of those praying. a phylactery is a small leather box that you tie to your forehead, and your left arm when it is time to pray. inside of that box is the shema–do you remember it? “hear, o israel: the lord your god is one. you shall love the lord your god with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

we as christians tend to not physically bind these words to our bodies. (except perhaps those of us with theological tattoos.) even so, remember what i told you: i can be a bit forgetful and sometimes ADD takes over–so i have to find ways to remember. while standing as a group i had stopped listening closely to our guide and was watching a group of teenagers in military uniforms who were regathering from their time at the wall. when i looked our group had already dispersed- i was a little confused about where to go (because i had missed our instructions) and saw bishop huie walking, and so followed along behind her letting her, unknowingly i think, show me the way.

tears came to my eyes as i walked behind my bishop to an ancient place of continual and constant prayer made holy not only by god’s ancient presence in the holy of holies, but by the presence of the holy spirit gifted to us through jesus’ incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension and by the prayers and tears of millions of jews and christians and wonderers through the centuries who have touched that wall and tucked their prayers on paper into its crevices. in that moment her embodiment of discipleship was for me a living, breathing, has skin on, embodiment of a phylactery. she had bound those instructions upon her heart and soul and served as a physical reminder for this sometimes forgetful disciple.

it is good to practice being a disciple even when we aren’t sure anyone is paying attention. you never know who may be following you.

if it is important to you–you will find a way. if not you will find an excuse.

we are called to be disciples. we are called to follow jesus not because it is good for you or i individually. but because we cannot be us without one another.

do you still have your tender moment? it’s time for it. go ahead and hold it in your hands –it is okay to keep it in your lap, or hold it up somehow–just hold it. close your eyes for a moment again and feel that embrace, that hand on the shoulder, the power of eye contact. feel it in your heart, your fingertips and your tummy.

and picture the scene of jesus and the disciples around the table of the last supper. and remember how much trouble jesus got into for dining with people who weren’t jewish. jesus took that old law of only like going with like–with only those born as jewish and “able bodied” as worthy of god’s love and said “this is not how it is going to be anymore.” those who were sick, those who had differently abled bodies, women, sinners were left only scraps that they had to scavenge from under the tables of the wealthy, well connected and born by happenstance as jewish. through his incarnation, life, death and resurrection he placed his wounded hands on each of their faces and tenderly lifted them from underneath the table and said, “no, not down there–not scrounging for scraps–that is not where you belong. you belong here at this table–you can have my seat.”

take the tender moment you have been holding and feeling and expand it as far out as you can imagine. and if you do that right now, you are going to encounter someone else’s hands–someone else who is a part of this family of disciples of jesus christ. it is your job, siblings, now that you are seated at the table to look around and see who is not with us. and to extend your hands and body mind and soul in tenderness and say “we are not us without you.” that is what it means to be a disciple.

if it is important to you–you will find a way. if not you will find an excuse.

who is missing? are there people who don’t look like you at the table? are there people who don’t think like you? whose theology or politics are different than yours? who is missing? are your enemies missing? are you willing to make space for those you hate? for those who smell bad, for those with untreated mental disabilities who say things that don’t make sense? what about for those who are mean and violent? jesus still says they’re invited. and if you are a disciple you are still tasked with saying “we are not us without you.” who is missing? are the rich at the table? what about the middle class? what about the poor?

the potentially offensive thing about grace is that it is actually for everyone. everyone. we are not us without you.

it’s hard. and frequently makes us uncomfortable, and we feel compelled to do weird things like get into a swimming pool fully clothed because it makes somebody smile. or get knocked on the head a toy because we wanted to be close. weird things like sit on the ground under a bridge, holding a strangers hands and praying with your eyes closed. y’all. that’s weird. but it’s right.

we are not us without you. and we are not us without them.

this is not your home. your homes are out there–we have been here together to learn and play and worship and create and become family, but it is almost time to go home. and your job, dear TYA family, is to go be a disciple out there. take these practices home and share them. remember that tender feeling and look to see who is 10 feet away and invited them into this 1 foot space with us. remember that we are all sometimes forgetful and need human phylacteries. pass the mac and cheese. and remember that we are a people who are radically inclusive–everyone is welcome.

if it is important to you–you will find a way. if not you will find an excuse.
we are not us without you.
we are not us without them.
find a way.

thanks be to god, amen.


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