Tuesday, June 5, 2007

June 4 - Sermon for Communion

Galatians 5:20-21, Romans 5:1-5

Are you getting enough fruit in your diet? The new food pyramid guidelines suggest that everyone include 2 or 3 servings of fruit in a healthy, well balanced diet. But, being your pastor, rather than your dietitian, I am less concerned about your strawberries and cantaloupe, and more concerned about a different kind of fruit – the “fruits of the Spirit” that Paul writes about in Galatians. These spiritual fruits also make for a healthy and well balanced life. And each Sunday in June, we’ll take a look at a few of these fruits, suggesting some recipes for including more of them in our daily routines. The hope is that we will grow more and more into the spirit filled Christians God is calling us to be.

Now, are you getting enough country music in your diet? If you have a country music deficit, we’ll address that, too. Because, as Harlan Howard, dean of Nashville songwriters has wisely said, the definition of country music is “Three chords and the truth.”

This morning’s fruits are Love and Joy. Let’s begin with Joy – the fruit that seems to grow naturally when we are most in tune with God’s creation. And let’s start with an old favorite cowboy song. Well, it’s not a cowboy song. But, it’s sung by a cowboy. Well, it’s not actually sung by a cowboy. It’s sung by an actor playing a cowboy. But it’s from Oklahoma. Not the state of Oklahoma. The Broadway musical Oklahoma. And it is written by the famous cowboy composers, Rogers and Hammerstein. I think it’s Roy Rogers and Slim Hammerstein. Anyway, let’s take a listen:

O what a beautiful Morningfrom Oklahoma
There's a bright golden haze on the meadow
There's a bright golden haze on the meadow
The corn is as high as an elephant's eye
And it looks like it's climbing right up to the sky
O what a beautiful morning, O what a beautiful day
I've got a beautiful feeling, everything's going my way

The reason “O What a beautiful morning” is a classic song is because it expresses human beings’ soul felt response to the wonder of creation. How many of us, when asked when we feel closest to God, answer “When I see a gorgeous sunset, or on a trip to the mountains, or days when I’m fishing?” Lots. Creation connects us with our Creator God in a primal way. It’s always been that way. Think again of Psalm 8, that we read this morning. Thousands of years ago, the Psalmist was just like us, looking up at the summer night sky, seeing the starscape – the universe stretching out beyond all human understanding. “When I look at the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have created . . . O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
The most reliable trigger for JOY is the wonder of creation – whether in its largest or smallest manifestations: The heavens are huge. A baby’s toes are tiny. But when we look at either one, JOY and awe well up inside us.
JOY is a quite distinct spiritual experience. Sometimes it is confused with happiness – or people attempt to substitute happiness for joy. But there is a big difference. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard people say that Happiness is about external circumstances, but joy is about your spiritual state.
I want to get to the clue that Paul gives us in the word “Re-joice” Rejoicing – like RE- peating, Re-turning, Re- flecting is ReFlexive. It begins with God’s action – and then reflects it back to Him. The favorite Christmas hymn, Joy to the world – REPEAT the sounding joy! Repeat repeat the sounding joy. Rejoicing, which is what Paul tells us to do, is a reflecting back of God’s joy.
That makes Re-joicing is really another way of saying “Thank-you”
My internet buddy Peace Bang’s (Victoria Weinstein) deal on thank you as a spiritual discipline fits here.
My parents raised me to write thank you notes for everything, and to basically understand that without people’s help there is no life and you’ve got to thank folks. All of that emphasis on thanking people really influenced the person that I am today: a person who is attentive to blessings and really, truly grateful. I may be a cranky, nasty wench, but boy, I’m sure not an ingrate.
As you all know, I spend a lot of time grousing in my head about the state of the world. but If I did not spend at least as much time thanking God for my blessings as I do bitching about the brokenness of the human species, I couldn’t bear to stay here. My inner voice of anger and disappointment with myself and other humans would drown out the music of what’s really going on, and although I’d probably survive in body, my soul and spirit would be numb and dead.
But mostly, I just don’t get it when people accept generosity and don’t express thanks. It just seems to me that their lives must be kind of impoverished for that, because I know that when I express thanks, it has the pleasant effect of prolonging the goodness of whatever I am thanking someone for.
Training ourselves, training our children to say thank you is not just a matter of etiquette. It is a shaping of our souls to fit them for rejoicing. Re-joice.

Paul’s letter says Rejoice even in circumstances that cannot make us happy. This is not a recipe for spiritual fruit salad: Suffering plus perseverance , a dash of character, chill one hour with hope .. . Turning this into a formula results in theology that leaves a bad taste in our mouths: “You should be glad your spouse left you, your truck broke down and your dog died.” That would make a terrible country song. And Paul’s not saying that either. He’s saying, We rejoice because God’s work is a mystery that we cannot see completely. But we know that God is in for the long haul. God will bring something joyful, even out of pain.
Joy is a long crop. It’s born in what God has done, nurtured with thank yous and a willingness to endure what we cannot understand. But when we bite into those joyful moments of life, it is a feeling that can not be compared.

Here’s a country style snapshot of such a moment:
Artist/Band: Clark GuyLyrics for Song: A Nickel For The Fiddler
Chorus Well it's a nickel for the fiddler. It's a nickel for his tune. It's a nickel for the tambourine kind of afternoon. And it's a high holiday on the 21st of June. And it's country music in the park and everybody's ruined. Instrumental break Well it's fountains full of dogs and kids. And it's freaky apple pie. And it's the ones who came to play. And the ones just passin' by. And it's coats of many colors. And it almost makes me cry. Lord it's ice cream on a stick. And it's somethin' you can’t buy.

Each and every day – The Spirit offers opportunities for joy and rejoicing. Include 2-3 in your daily spiritual diet.


Wasn’t that joy music upbeat? Well, now let’s turn our attention to the Spiritual Fruit of Love. What’s the common denominator between country music and the Gospel when it comes to love? Perhaps Patsy Cline can tell us:

Written by Floyd Tillman (As recorded by Patsy Cline 8/24/61)
I love you so much, it hurts me
Darlin, that's why I'm so blue
I'm so afraid to go to bed at night
Afraid of losing youI love you so much, it hurts me
And there's nothing I can do
I want to hold you my dear, forever and ever
I love you so much, it hurts me so

I love you so much it hurts me.
Yep. Country music in a funny way, and Christianity in a profound way, share this insight into life: The greatest of all good involves pain. Love hurts.

Love that is easy, or painless; Love that requires no sacrifice and no change; Love that involves nothing but pleasure . . . well, country music doesn’t sing about that. Merle Haggard has a song, “It’s not love. But it’s not bad.” And that’s true. It’s not bad. But it’s not love. It’s not a spiritual fruit. It’s more like sugarfree bubblegum. Ok for a while. But you couldn’t live on it.

It is true that love hurts when a person loves another person, as Patsy sings. When you love someone you give up something to them. Your parents, your children, your friends, your church, your God. A healthy love is a love that puts the beloved’s best interest ahead of oneself. That makes it bittersweet.

The spiritual fruit of love is a bittersweet fruit. – It takes a certain amount of effort to add it to your daily spiritual diet. But when you do – there’s nothing more satisfying, more healthful for you. There’s not a better spiritual fruit than love.

We started with a morning song – The last song also begins in the morning, and includes a walk under the night sky – like the Psalmist. It’s Big Al Anderson’s bittersweet song about trying to find a better word for love.
A BETTER WORD FOR LOVE Al Anderson/Gary Nicholson

The ultimate expression of love – of God’s love – is also of a love that is bitter sweet. God searched and searched for the words to tell us how he loved us. Then, at the fullness of time, God sent, not more words, but the Word – his Son Jesus Christ. God’s greatest act of love was giving his life for us in the cross of Jesus Christ. It was God’s perfect love for us that was willing to bear the worst of life’s pain. And it was by this pain that, as Paul writes, the love of God is poured into our hearts.
As we come forward to share the bread and the cup around the table that Jesus has set, we receive his life, his love, poured out for us, poured out into us. At this table we encounter love. At this table we are filled with joy. May we come fully open to receive the gifts of God.