Rolling Up Our Sleeves
You’ve probably noticed that, from time to time, when I’m about to begin my sermon, I take off my jacket or robe and roll up my sleeves, and my father turns over in his grave. I do this for two reasons: it is just plain too hot up here, or it’s time to get down to it.
Today, Jesus is rolling up his sleeves and getting down to it, down to God’s work of redemption. It has been God’s work since Adam and Eve strolled out of the garden. It was a work Abraham was called to. Work that Moses took up, and Isaiah, Elijah, and John the Baptist, just to name a few.
After hearing God call his name in the Jordon, after discerning this call in the wilderness , it’s Jesus’ turn to take his place in the long history of those who have actively pursued God’s mission of redeeming the world. So what’s the first thing he does? He goes and gets help. Notice what is intentionally absent in this scene. No individualism here. No doing this on your own, no pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. No, “you can handle this, so buck up buttercup.” Rather, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” I.E. “Follow me, and more people will come. Follow me and you will never be by yourself.” That’s why he calls them two by two Simon and Andrew, James and John. Discipleship is not an autonomous profession. God knows we can not do discipleship on our own. We can not do life on our own. We can not live our vocation, our truth, on our own. We can not follow the way of Jesus on our own.
This is not only the beauty of our church but the necessity of our church. The structure of our United Church has grown out of our Congregationalist roots. We believe the strength of our church is found in our local congregations. It is in congregation that we spiritually develop, we find our fellowship, we worship God together, we exercise our spiritual muscles.
To put it another way, it is through our local congregations that we learn to love. Not just talk about love, worship the God of love, pay homage to love but to allow love to drench our hearts and change us, redeem us. We learn tolerance, not just learning how to put up with more, learning to count to 20 instead of just 10, but to listen respectively and openly, to hear the truth in another’s defensive tone and address this with compassion and understanding.
We learn about grace as we walk together, both receiving it from others when we mess up and learning how to offer it without condition, because if we did, it wouldn’t be grace. We learn together that forgiveness is an act that unshackles the heart of the offended. We learn to trust in the destiny God has for us as we uphold each other throughout times of uncertainty. We are always afraid that we aren’t going to meet our budget and we are going to have to close the doors. We have been fearing that for more than 50 years and here we are. The handful of people who first built Robins Hall weren’t sure they could pay for it. Sunday School and coffee hour will be held there today.
In 1984, we weren’t sure we could afford to build a new sanctuary, but here we sit. Didn’t think we could build WRRV when we still had a mortgage on the sanctuary. There it sits. These are lessons of faith that can not be found in a book. They need to be lived, experienced, so they may be etched in our souls, redeem who we are, change us and empower us to join God’s mission of redeeming the world.
Let me quickly share with you the story of my own redemption. As you know, I grew up in a family business, one I am proud of… well, because…as they say ‘we never asked nothin’ of nobody.’ We worked, sometimes unreasonably hard, through many adversities to get where we are.
When I responded to God’s call, I thought I knew what that meant, what I was called to do, my role in the church. Never did I comprehend that my journeying in community with others would redeem me. I have come to understand the microcosm once I lived in it. My values were formed and constricted to an imperialistic, capitalist world. As I journeyed together with others who were also committed to redeeming God’s world, I was encouraged by their graceful love to embrace the diversity of this community and to equate their values with my own.
I began to understand how I had travelled through this world as a white, privileged male. I became to understand what that privilege cost. How my gathering of possessions to illustrate my success in life was the consequence of sucking the life blood out of mother earth and was choking her ability to breathe. How I lived on land stolen from indigenous people, believing our imperial society was so much more advanced that somehow we deserved to take it from these primitives. How my privilege has caused division, alienation, and marginalization in this world.
Unbeknownst to me, taking up the same call others have for thousands of years, has redeemed my understanding of who I am in God’s world, my place here, and what it means to live in God’s truth. It is not an easy journey and sometimes I feel very much alone, for the world still screams those values of success through consumption. That’s why being in community together in this place is so important. Discipleship is not an autonomous profession.
I will also offer you this confession. I was raised in the ‘Leave it to Beaver” era were Ward went off to work to provide for his family and June swirled around the house in perfect hair, make-up and dress, taking care of the domestic duties.
Working in a factory , I was indoctrinated with the concept that there was ‘men’s work and women’s work’. You might have guessed by who I am married to that I have been redeemed from this close mindedness, a pervasive way of thinking that has been handed down through a long history, which caused women to suffer for the right to be recognized as human beings within our constitution let alone be ‘allowed’ to vote. There are still, unfortunately, bastions where men still bar the doors and lock the shutters of their upper rooms, fearing a loss of power.
I want the women here this morning to know that it has not only been my living with my wife but living in relationship with many of you that has helped redeem me. I consider many of you my heroines. The concept strength for me was totally redefined when I heard the story of a woman standing in her shower after months of chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer, whispering to herself, “I can’t do this anymore.” Yet she does, because her family needs her.
Women who have for generations defined stewardship for me in their constant willingness to work for this church, day in and day out. To answer the call. To address the need and to always do so with grace. Women, I have known who have suffered from a demeaning and abusive past, yet who have refused to let the dark side tarnish the beauty of their own souls. Women who have lived for me the strength of forgiveness, which allowed the beauty of their own souls to arise. I have been shown power redefined in grace, kindness, strength, courage, dedication and faith.
The bottom line is I am grateful to be part of a community who have redeemed me. Now is no time for us to stop. The world is as lost today as it was when our ancestors wandered in the wilderness.
Knowing the living power of God, which we experience as our own lives are redeemed in this place, we need to continue to take up the call to others, to join in God’s work of redeeming this world. So let’s roll up our sleeves and get down to it.