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Unraveled: Unexpected Joy and Surprise

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If you have read the eNews, or if you glanced through today’s bulletin, you might have wondered the upcoming bible study and sermon series on which we are embarking today entitled Unraveled: Seeking God When Our Plans Fall Apart. So, I liked to start be telling you a bit about why we are going to be reflecting on the ways in which life becomes unraveled, and the unexpected that meets us there…

As I get together with people in the community, and gather in the homes at members and friends of the congregation, and talk with those who gather for bible study on Wednesdays, it has occurred to me that there is a truth to be named—a truth that we should not be afraid to name. In fact, it is something that we are talking about all of the time, but that we’ve been hesitant to embrace in worship because it might seem that… well… that things are unraveling…

In our “Midwest niceness” we hesitate to talk about anything that isn’t “good news.” Positive. Uplifting. Especially during worship. I also believe that “Church” (big “C”) is having its own crisis because it has not had the strength, the will-power, the bravery to speak this truth. The truth of which I speak is the truth that we are in a time of spiritual crisis. Not necessarily a religious crisis, for I think that the Spirit is weaving in all sorts of Good News! Yes, church is changing, because Church continually needsto change. But there is a wider, spiritual crisis. Or, maybe you would call it a moral crisis. Whatever words you use, there has been a disconnecting of the treads that bind us together. Across our country, and around the world.

An unraveling.

And this unraveling is not all necessarily bad. There are ways in which we have been living, particularly here in the United States, that are not sustainable for the good of the earth. At Memorial UCC, as a church that is often focused on creation justice, we have been purposefully seeking ways to live differently, individually and as a faith community. We have embraced the use of solar power, and installed solar panels last year. We recycle. We have encouraged each other to use multi-use bags at the grocery store, rather than single use plastic.

Yet there is embedded in our local action and advocacy a deeper truth. A truth that I think we as human beings need to seriously consider. More and more scientists, and people in this community, are acknowledging that we need to start shifting the conversation from “what can we do to avert catastrophic global warming?” to “how are we going to live in a world that is irreversibly already changed?” A world in which cataclysmic extinctions of plants and animals is well underway. A world which is experiencing the largest mass migration of people in history. A world in which there are climate winners… and climate losers.   

We are… I believe… in a spiritual crisis. And this is not something at which to laugh. I believe that this spiritual void stems from our disconnect. The threads of the Holy Weaver that draw us together have been loosened. The threads of life that were to connect us as individuals and as a global community, with the natural world around us, and with our God, have been severed—or at least tossed aside.

Just what is unraveling?And where might there be a single filament, one small fiber of hope, that the world can be transformed before everything unravels?

What surprises might the Holy have in store for us?

Focusing on Sarah and Abraham, and in particular Sarah’s laughter, we step into a sacred story of life unraveled. For Sarah and Abraham’s lives had unraveled. Life hadn’t turned out the way they expected. At various points of our own lives we know all too well what that is like, right? In Sarah’s case, it was not having had children. This is a common story many can tell. For others, it might be not finding the “right” person to marry. Yet for others, having been married, it is the realization that… for one of a gazillion reasons… this is a marriage that must end. For some people the unraveling comes in the form of an unexpected health diagnosis. The underlying “thing” of our unraveling is often a multitude of happenings. We each have our own experiences with “unraveling”.

I, of course, have my own life stories, which are different than yours. For example, job security (and thus financial security) has not alwaysbeen in my life experience. One of the repetitive narratives in my life has been job layoffs as the companies I worked for merged, went bankrupt, discontinued services, and/or learned that a grant would not be renewed. The threads of employment I relied on unexpectedly came undone more than once. 

Reading the bible story in Genesis this week, I found that I have other things in common with Sarah in the unravelings of life. As a grandparent, I think it is fair to say that I too can be described as “having grown old…” just like Sarah. I too, have found myself in an unexpected life moment, laughing at God. For me, one of these moments was when God showed up and gently nudged me (and sometimes not so gently) to serve the Church. You may have heard me say that I was, for most of my adult life, a solitary spiritual seeker. For God to have the audacity to instill in me a love of Church, a passion for preaching, a desire to be immersed in a faith community, seemed to me—at first—to be Holy Folly. And yet this is exactly who God created me to be.

Thus, I found myself inserting my own story into the narrative this week. Instead of Sarah, who “laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old… shall I have pleasure?” I laughed at myself saying, ‘After I have grown old… shall I serve the Church?” I read on and heard… “And so God dealt with Kristin as the Holy had said, and God did for Kristin as God had promised.”

Oh… wait… no… that was supposed to be: “The Lord dealt with Sarah as God had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as God had promised.

Wandering back to Sarah’s story, and Abraham’s, we learn that in the midst of God’s promise there is a crisis, or crises, of spirituality. In fact, there are multiple crises of spiritually in the story of Abraham and Sarah. I encourage you to pull out your bible this week and read through the sagas of infertility, forced migration, political and social deceit, and human sacrifice (Genesis 12-23). But for now, let’s just say things often don’t go so well for Sarah and Abraham, and that the narrative is complicated!

Yet this is our scripture. There is truth here in the complexity of the stories and the reality of imperfect lives. Walter Brueggeman writes that, “Once again, this story shows what a scandal and difficulty faith is. Faith is not a reasonable act which fits into the normal scheme of life and perception. The promise of the gospel is not a conventional piece of wisdom that is easily accommodated to everything else… (by the end of the story) Sarah laughs because ‘God has made laughter for me.” By (God’s) powerful word, God has broken the grip of death, hopelessness, and barrenness… Laughter is a biblical way of receiving a newness which cannot be explained. The newness is sheer gift—underived, unwarranted… It can now be laughed at because there is ‘full joy’.”[1]

I believe that there is Great Joy in Holy Folly. These unexpected, exuberant moments in which people reconnect. Hear God in a new way. For example, I believe that there is creative spirituality in the youth movement that is sprouting up through social media. This Friday, September 20, youth around the world are organizing a Global Climate Strike. Responding to the urgent need to respond now to complex, interconnected, borderless global concerns, they will be walking out of school, gathering on the streets, telling their stories, and being leaders NOW. If you are interested, you can support the youth and witness their movement. Across our county interfaith groups will be gathering at 4 churches around the Capitol from 10:30-11:30 am. A concert is planned at noon at the Capitol. The youth have then organized additional events, a march, a rally, and even a pizza party, that run through 5 pm (if anyone would like to join me downtown on Friday, let me know).

Rabbi Nahum Ward-Lev writes that, “… the heart of the covenant to which Abraham and his decedents are called (is) to pursue the well-being of people who are not within one’s family or clan. The stories clarify that the intent of the covenant is not to set the family of Abraham apart from other peoples but rather to bind them to concern for the welfare and blessing of ‘all the families of the earth’ (Gen 12:3).”[2]

I believe that the Spirit is weaving all sorts of Good News. There is a spiritual movement emerging in our world today. An urgent reconnecting. A pulling together of the tapestry that binds us together. Unending surprises in unexpected places. Great joy. All tightly knotted together in God’s Love.

May we be weavers… weavers of this love.


~ Pastor Kris

Reflection on Genesis 18:1-15 and 21:1-2 offered on September 15, 2019

[1] Brueggemann, Walter. Interpretation: Genesis. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982. 158-9; 182.

[2] Ward-Lev, Nahum. The Liberating Path of the Hebrew Prophets: Then and Now. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis books, 2019. 62.