Notice the gaps. The cracks, the crevices that lurk all about. The shifts, the movements, the things we know so well… that are all changing.
So pay attention.
Acknowledge the reality.
For the reality is that in the tension new hope emerges. New stories. Stories that are coming out of the shadows, shattering the shame. Pushing back against the fear. Revealing the Good News that this world can be, must be, will be… different. Be inspired. Notice the gap between what is, and what can be. Today we acknowledge that the images are graphic. That the actions Jesus calls for are drastic. That Jesus calls us out, and draws on the urgency with which systemic changes must occur.
This is our now… the gap between what is and God’s hoped for heaven on earth.
This week the magnitude of the stumbling blocks before us reverberated in the Senate hearings. We as a nation are maimed. We have stumbled. I want to lift up in this sacred space that many of us here have been reliving life events we have wanted to forget. That tear at our souls. But it has happened. The Great Truth of the #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport has been spoken, released into the gap of the reality that we know all too well. If you need a space to talk—please do. Know that I am here to listen. And other resources, people that are oh-so-much-more able to support you in the healing, the moving forward, and counseling, are available too.
(National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800.656.HOPE
Rape Crisis Center: 608-251-7273
DAIS: 608-251-4445 or 1-800-747-4045 toll free Dane County)
It is into this hot mess that James beseeches us to #BeTheChurch.
Are you hurting? Pray. Do you feel great? Sing. Are you sick? Call the church leaders together to pray and anoint you with oil in the name of the Master. Believing-prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet. And if you’ve sinned, you’ll be forgiven—healed inside and out (James 5:13-15, The Message)
Last week in worship, we witnessed Jesus in the midst of a tension filled room, with threats from the Empire and the arguments amongst his friends energizing the evil narratives of anxiety, fear and shame. We looked on as there, he took a child in his arms. And today Jesus continues to hold on to that child of God, that little one, and holds her close: “If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me…”
Children of God—know that Jesus sees you, God embraces you… and we believe you. #IBelieveHer
These are the gaps. The raw spaces between what is, what must be… and what already is… heaven on earth. Into this hot mess that I beseech you, beseech me… us… together… to #BeTheChurch.
For the reality is that in the tension new hope emerges. New stories. Stories that are coming out of the shadows, shattering the shame. Pushing back against the fear. And this… this we will do together. This week we are starting an 8-week reflection on stewardship… and on gratefulness. Stewardship, the caring for each other, for this building, this land, this community, only happens when each one of us participates. This was to be a reflection specifically on stewardship and the upcoming Cottage meetings. That sermon was written, but it will be shared another day. Today we look at stewardship through the lens of caring for one another, for this we are called to do… as the Spirit draws into a special, sacred space this day.
This is the sacredness of gratitude in the context of hot messes. The cracks into the ugliness and the crevices that lurk about. A divine space of gratefulness in the gap between what is… what is yet to come… and the Holy that is already here. Over the next 8 weeks, we will be exploring together the impact that the simple faith practice of gratitude can have on our individual, and communal, lives. In worship, we will be delving into Diana Butler Bass’ guide to 7 practices of gratitude. We begin with this week’s theme “Notice the Gaps.” And there are… great… gaps. Bass writes that, “We know that gratitude is good and we want to be grateful, or feel gratitude, or be seen as thankful people… But inwardly, we know how difficult it is to practice and sustain thanksgiving—to live a truly grateful life.”
Gathered here, the words Jesus speaks echo anew: “In the midst of hot messes, living in a society fueled with unquenchable fires—In this context misogyny, sexism, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism…The worm of the patriarchy never dies.”
In the gaps, in the need to seek healing, inside and out, I invite you, I invite us… together… into to take a moment and practice faith. A practice of gratitude. For the gratitude exercise that Bass shares with us this week encourages us to pay attention to one thing each and every day. In the gaps… In the tension… In the busyness… In the midst of hot messes…
- What made you feel grateful?
But in the gap, in the shift, in the turn to something new… I continue the charge for you this morning, a call and response that consists of 3 steps:
- First, if you have your phone with you… turn it on.
- Second, if you your phone is a smart phone, and if you are on FaceBook, I invite you to “check in” to Memorial UCC. Share the good news. Share the good news that you are here in this place of worship with others.
- And… now… your third faith challenge is… as you check in… post why you are grateful for Memorial UCC.
For those of you who REALLY like a challenge, I ask you to add the hashtag #grateful to your post. If you prefer to text, or if you are on Twitter, Memorial’s Twitter handle is in the bulletin. My cell phone number is also there, so you can alternatively text your response to why you are grateful for Memorial UCC. You can, of course, also text me your concerns. Your prayers. Another option is to write your response on the blank piece of paper that is in your bulletin today and place it in the offering plate later in worship.
As we read from the book of James, it is clear that James’ understanding of Church does not describe “church” in the same way that you or I experience church today—and it shouldn’t. Church should, and always has, changed. Aspects such as prayer, songs of praise, confession, reading the bible, are still a part of what we do. This is how we Be Church. But our understanding of what faith is needs to be interwoven into our specific time and our specific place – our own gaps. Our own hot mess. This is what John Dorhauer (General Minister and President of the UCC) reminds us is the work of the “Holy Spirit, and that we should trust it… the world has shifted so dramatically, the Spirit is birthing a new way of being Church so that the gospel message can be heard, received, and transmitted in ways (people today) world can accept.”
Birthing something new is always messy. Whether it is in church, or in our culture. There is pain. Bodies broken. Anger overflowing. Tears shed.
Yet… in the gaps… there is also hope. A space for dreams. Life. Transformation. Gratitude.
There is real urgency to change the systems of oppression in our country today. Bass’ primary vocation is as a historian, and she “often look(s) to the past for understanding. Many commentators have pointed out parallels between our times and the 1930s in Germany… Then, a citizenry well-versed in a theology of grace—that all good things come from God—had turned gratitude into a path of individual salvation and personal comfort, all the while allowing deep social discontent and anger to fester in public life… A young pastor named Dietrich Bonhoeffer noticed this gap. He accused his fellow Germans of embracing a diminished form of thankfulness. He called it ‘cheap grace’… Bonhoeffer began to preach about the importance of a costly faith that embodied a transformative practice of gratitude…”
Transformative practices. Costly faith. Come. Notice the gap. And then step into it. Practice gratitude. Here. For this is where the Spirit moves. In the gap. This is where new hope emerges. Through gratefulness, God’s heaven is born. In stories shared. Shadows shattered. Fear pushed back. The sharing of the Good News that this world can be… must be… will be different.
Children of God. The change has started. We will not go back. And for this I am grateful. The world will be healed, inside and out. Heaven is here. Heaven is now.
And this is Good News!
Reflection on James 5:13-20 and Mark 9:38-50 offered on Sunday, September 30, 2018
 Bass, Diana Butler. A 7-Day Guide To Gratitude. Day 1-Notice the Gap.
 Dorhauer, John. Beyond Resistance: The Institutional Church Meets the Postmodern World. Chicago, IL: Exploration Press, 2015. 66.
 Bass, Diana Butler. Grateful: How a Spiritual Movement of Thankfulness Is Transforming How We Connect to God and Others. HarperCollins Publishers, 2018. xix-xx.