Sunday’s Sermon: Christians Say the Darndest Things

  • In 1995, beloved comedian Bill Cosby hosted a TV special that simultaneously tickled the funny bones and touched the hearts of so many Americans that it became a full-season show 3 years later and ran from 1998-2000.
    • “Kids Say the Darndest Things”
      • Ask question → sometimes innocuous, sometimes a little more leading
        • Harmless: What’s the best way to eat a hotdog?
        • More leading: Should a man be with an older or a younger woman?
      • One thing you could count on with this show – the answers were always a little absurd → what made it so funny
        • But on the flipside, what made these answers so heartwarming is that often buried in all those absurdly unexpected answers were nuggets of truth.
          • Questions may be absurd
          • Answers may be absurd
          • But that absurdity doesn’t negate the truth being spoken. The Bible, history, and certainly our own lives are filled with God’s messengers who could only be described as absurd. But the absurdity of God’s many messengers also emphasizes the unifying nature of God’s message – the universal truth of God’s love and grace.
  • See absurdity of God’s messengers in today’s texts
    • I have to admit that what initially caught my attention and sparked this sermon idea was Isaiah’s description of the seraphim. – text: Seraphim were in attendance above [the Lord]; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of [God’s] glory.” [1]
      • Absurd creatures that capture the imagination
      • And yet from the midst of this absurdity, we hear words of adoration and glory: Holy, holy, holy … the whole earth is full of God’s glory!
        • Words that we continue to use in worship
          • Often part of the communion liturgy
          • Familiar hymn: “Holy, holy, holy, God the Almighty! Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee” [2]
        • Unifying message that has brought worshipers together down through the ages – declaring God’s sacred otherness and lifting our voices together in devotion and praise
    • But the seraphim aren’t the only absurd messengers in our Old Testament reading this morning. Isaiah declares himself to be an imperfect mouthpiece for God – an absurd choice for the role of “prophet.” – text: And I said, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips!” [3]
      • Scripture = full of people like this
        • Jonah – the reluctant, runaway prophet
        • Hosea – prophet from a thoroughly broken home
        • Matthew – hated and probably corrupt tax collector turned disciple
        • Paul – malicious persecutor and religious hard-nose turned evangelist
        • All absurd choices for messengers from God … and yet God worked and spoke through them.
    • Absurdity of messengers throughout church’s history
      • John Calvin – extreme introvert who would’ve just as happily spent his entire life in a scholastic ivory tower but was forced to lead a new religious community in Geneva
        • Battled interior demons – far from what we’d call a “people person”
        • Battled physical demons – serious, extremely uncomfortable digestive issues his whole life
        • And yet God continues to speak through John Calvin – through his theological works and through the many churches that stemmed from the Reformed faith which he fathered.
      • Hildegard of Bingen – 11th cent. mystic, began seeing visions at age 3 [4] → had everything stacked against her
        • Female
        • Low in the birth order in large family
        • Sickly her whole childhood
        • Given to the church by her parents
        • And yet despite all of these things that counted against her during her lifetime, God continues to speak through Hildegard’s theological treatises and through the hymns she wrote that we continue to use today.
          • E.g. – “O, Holy Spirit, Root of Life,” #57 (NCH)
    • Absurdity of contemporary prophets – Nadia Bolz-Weber and Jay Bakker
      • Heavily tattooed
      • Lots of piercings
      • Overcame parental legacies
        • Bolz-Weber grew up in fundamentalist faith tradition that doesn’t ordain women
        • Bakker, son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker – televangelists whose very public fall from grace included fraud and jail time (in Rochester!)
      • And yet God is speaking loudly and boldly through these pastors on the front lines of the church today.
        • Making message of the gospel accessible to those who feel left out or left behind by the mainline church
        • Being super real about grace – what they’ve experienced
  • That’s a lot of absurdity – a lot of people who the world might say are too imperfect to relay God’s message. But then we encounter Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians this morning: God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. [5]
    • Let this speak to you this morning! You see, we tend to think that because we aren’t perfect … because we have flaws … because we don’t think our hearts or our spirits or our faith is strong enough. We think we’re absurd choices for messengers.
    • Found a great contemporary example as I was prepping this week → You know I like to listen to music as I’m working on my sermons during the week. Well, one of the songs that I was listening to this week was so appropriate that I decided to play it for you this morning. So you can follow along, I’ve included the lyrics in your bulletin this morning.
    • Popular saying: God doesn’t call those who are equipped, God equips those who are called.
      • Reiterated by Scripture: Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. [6] → This sounds to me like the tobyMac song. The scenarios he presents are absurd, foolish – packing bags when he should stay, chasing whims like the breezes that blow by. Toby knows that without God, it’s just absurdity, but with God, anything is possible.
        • God can make foolishness wisdom
        • God can make weakness strength
        • God can make those whom are called perfect for the job
        • Doesn’t mean that everything we say as Christians is golden → Like the kids on “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” some of the things we say are crazy. Some are inaccurate. Some are absurd. Our perceptions, our understandings, our take on things can be skewed. But God works through our words, often in ways we don’t even hear or understand.
    • But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. – scholar: Our prophetic response to contemporary issues should come out of our deep experiences of holy mystery. And our encounter with the Triune God leads us to our responsibility in the world: To enact the love and justice of [God] and to spread God’s peace to the world [7] → To enact the love and justice of God and to spread God’s peace to the world. A nugget of truth in the midst of the world’s absurdity. What more can we be called to do? Amen.

[1]  Is 6:2-3.

[2]  “Holy, Holy, Holy,” New Century Hymnal, #277.

[3] Is 6:5.

[4]  “Hildegard of Bingen.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hildegard_of_Bingen. Accessed 3 July 2014.

[5]  1 Cor 1:21.

[6] 1 Cor 1:26-29.

[7]  Kee Boem So. “First Sunday after Pentecost (Trinity Sunday): Isaiah 6:1-8” in Preaching God’s Transformative Justice: A Lectionary Commentary, Year B. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 263.

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