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Pull Up a Chair

Sermon - 7/23/06
Eliza Drummond
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Ephesians 2:11-22

Our text for today:

So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by those who are called ‘the circumcision’—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God..


I have a sign above my computer in my studio.  It reads "Whine. Pray. Meditate. Wine." It has been there for five years. Someone gave it to me when I started school again and I was having a hard time getting back into the groove of studying.  It is a constant reminder to me that the creative process is never a straight path.

Over these years, as I have stared at that sign more than once while I was ripping the sleeve out of a sweater, pouting because I couldn't get the right color of green, rewriting a paragraph for the third time, or happily putting the finishing touches on a shawl, I have come to realize that this sign is a reminder of how it goes with God.  Just as running has become a metaphor for my journey, this sign is a reminder of the inner process.

So I would like to take the next 15 or so minutes to break this little saying down for you, read the sacred text about a pretty well known whiner and others (last time I did doubters, so this time I thought I would do whiners), tell a few stories, and end with a psalm.  Since sermons about prayer expose some very personal opinions and ways of doing things, I thought I would include the following disclaimer: The opinions contained in this sermon are the property of the speaker, and are not meant to judge, imply, or infer. Your mileage may vary.


I have my own history as an exemplary whiner.  My parents didn't call me Sarah Bernhardt (after the famous theater and silent film actress) for nothing. As a child I was a fantastic emoter.  I don't think that I ever got down on the floor and banged any fists and feet, but I think I came pretty close.  Did it get me what I wanted…some of the time…and I think it also added to my character.  Now when I see little kids, or adults, doing the same thing, I think to myself…you are so busted.  Takes one to know one.

The Old Testament is filled with wonderful whiners.  Take Jonah for instance. We all know about Jonah being in the belly of the big fish.  He got there after trying to take a detour from God's instructions to him.  And it's interesting that while he was in the belly of the fish, he prayed his Thanksgiving prayer (our Old Testament reading for this morning).  You'd think that would be a good place to whine a little.  But Jonah realized that God had sent the vessel to save him and perhaps to give him a little time to think about what had just happened.  Jonah got a three-day time out for his behavior, and during the process came up with a prayer of thanks.  If you have never read Jonah's story, go ahead…it's short.

But hear what happens after Jonah gets to Nineveh (and it's interesting that this is the part they never taught us when I was a kid).  After he gets to Nineveh, and the people there repent their sins to God, and even the cows are wearing sack-cloth, God decides to spare the people, everybody.  He doesn't destroy them as he said he would.  And where do we find Jonah the next day: pouting under the sun.  He is angry at God for not destroying the people of Nineveh.  He came all this way to do his duty, he has given his heartfelt thanks, and now God is not holding up his end of the bargain.  And God does what any good parent would do.  He listens, he even tries to reason a little, and then basically says "eh….get over it."

But even as he chastises us, God is also willing to go to the deepest places of despair with us.  A friend of mine told a wonderful story the other day about hard times she had with her son when he was a teenager.  At one moment, when she was really angry at her son because he was acting destructively, she confided in a friend "I don't know whether I can do this right now…be a loving mom.  I mean I love him so much, but I am so angry at him."  And her wise friend reminded her to go to God.  To not be afraid that just because she was angry, God might not listen to her.  God is big enough to handle her anger, and is ready to go to that place with us.

Nor does God expect us to be perfect all the time. In an interview with John Purdy, Roberta Bondi, author of To Pray and To Love and To Love as God Loves writes:  People are also struggling with a perfectionism that may have started in their families, but which churches seem to endorse.  Our churches project an image of what you're supposed to be like when you go to church: you have to be successful, you have to have a happy face.  You may be going through a divorce or your kids may be on drugs, but you still need to look like you've got it together.  All this indicates to people that God is interested only in people who have it together.  If God is only interested in the together people, or the ones who never get angry or depressed, He must be a wimp. (http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=302)

So I guess that is my point:  that God is capable of listening to us even in our deepest need, when our facades have been stripped away and we are not on our best behavior….and if we are willing to listen back, might even have some answers.

Before I move to the part about Prayer, I would like to tell a little joke told to me by a good friend:

A man was going through an incredibly tough time and prayed
to God for help.

"Please God, let me win the lottery" He begged.

Two days later, the man's car was repossessed. Again the man prayed.  "Please God, let me win the lottery, they have taken my car."

A week later, the man lost his home. Again he prayed. "Please Got let me win the lottery. My home is gone."

Suddenly a deep voice came out of the sky and spoke to the man.  "Would you at least buy a lottery ticket?" J



Prayer is such a personal event.  We pray for assistance.  We pray for help, for guidance, for health, for us and for our loved ones. Some people pray for others in the form of intercessory prayers:  And these prayers have great benefit, not only for the person receiving them, but also for the person sending them.  Intercessory prayers are about compassion and empathy. Studies have shown that prayer for someone, whether they know you are praying for them or not, help to focus positive intention in an incredibly powerful way.  And then there are arrow prayers.  Quick, immediate prayers offered up in the moment we think about someone, or are in distress ourselves.  I have a friend who spins daily, and sends arrow prayers as she spins.

But prayer can also be conversation.  An Irish Catholic teacher explained that in her native country, the word prayer was synonymous with conversation.  This is the time when we hang out with God around the table or go for a walk and try to hash things out.  In Genesis, Chapter 18, verses 16-33 we read of the Lord and Abraham walking together negotiating just how many innocent people God would let die if he destroyed Sodom.  They are having a conversation just as you and I might, and God seems to be quite comfortable changing his mind because of Abraham's strong arguments.

In verses 22-26 we read:  22 While the two men walked on farther toward Sodom, the Lord remained standing before Abraham. 23 Then Abraham drew near to him and said: "Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty? 24 Suppose there were fifty innocent people in the city; would you wipe out the place, rather than spare it for the sake of the fifty innocent people within it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to make the innocent die with the guilty, so that the innocent and the guilty would be treated alike! Should not the judge of all the world act with justice? 26 The Lord replied, "if I find fifty innocent people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.

And Abraham, a true negotiator, continues with his argument until he gets God down to 10 innocent people.  At the end of the story we are reminded that God remembered his promise to Abraham and spared Lot and his family.

Let's compare these forms of prayer to the kind from the man in our Joke…He seems to think that he has no part to play in the outcome.  I think that is why the words on my sign are important to me:  they direct me to have a deeper and more internal process the farther into it I go.  After I am done whining, my sign directs me to pray, and after that, to meditate on what comes to me.  It's an inwardly moving spiral that can move me closer and closer to resolution.  So…if the story about the man and his troubles were real, and he was engaged in prayer and conversation with God, perhaps his prayer might go like this:  Dear God, I just lost my car.  I need to spend some time with you trying to figure out how I can make some money to get a new car.  Maybe that will be in the form of buying a lottery ticket, or some other method, but I have to try.  Or in the circles in which I move, I hear this one a lot:  I just wish God would inflict {insert name of disliked governmental leader here} with a horrible disease that keeps them from office.  Instead, a heartfelt conversation with God might result in the following:  Me: "I really don't like so and so. I wish you would do something about him."  God: "Me, you want me to do it…what about you, what can I help you do about it?"  Me: "well, I could spend more time sharing my ideas for change."  God "that is a good start."

If we just pull up a chair, God often has some pretty good ideas.

Before we move on to the next part, I wanted to express my excitement about our General Minister and President, Dr. Sharon Watkins' program called "10,000 Disciples Pray."  Patty made me aware of this program and I thank her.  You can purchase this little book, with wonderful prayers in it, and for the techie inclined, you can even sign up on the Disciples web site to show your intention to pray daily for a year.

So now we move on to Meditate.

Have you ever sat around the living room with someone you really like? Perhaps you were reading the paper, or listening to good music, or perhaps this occurred in the car on a long trip, but at some point you fell into a companionable silence…This is how the meditate part feels to me sometimes. This is when I am quiet and can just be with God.  Roberta Bondi reminds us that we need to stop thinking that a relationship is constituted only by language.  She says: "The closer we get to other people, and the better our friendships are, the more silence these relationships contain.  The people we talk to all the time are probably the people we don't know terribly well and whom we don't trust.  The issue is not so much 'Does God talk back and if so how?' but whether we can learn just to be in God's presence."  Some people call this kind of quiet time centering prayer.  The title helps to remind them that they are in a prayerful intention.  Some people even pick a word to meditate on that helps them to return to the intention when their mind wanders.  But Father Thomas Keating, who has been writing about centering prayer for the better part of twenty years, writes "The only way you can fail at centering prayer is to not show up!"  Imagine how God would feel if you were a no-show for a date.

Meditation is the time when I listen for God's answers.  When I quit whining, quit negotiating, and quit asking questions and just listen.  You don't have to be still to meditate.  You can walk and meditate, or spin and meditate.  But you have to be willing to be honest with the thoughts that crop up.  To sit there and be with them.  Some of them aren't going to be particular wonderful feelings or thoughts, but if we remember from the beginning that God will remain with us no matter what, perhaps they are a little easier to deal with.  Or sometimes it is good to have a guide, a trusted individual with whom you can share what comes up.

When people write of being in God's will, I think this is what it means to me. To meditatively consider God's plans for me.  And sometimes to be honest enough to say that I think those plans are yucky, but that I hear them and understand that if I do otherwise, I am exercising my right of human free will.

Hopefully as I spend more time meditating, and listening deeply to what comes up for me, I will learn more about who I am and who I can become, but for now I understand that it's good enough that I showed up and that I am trying.  All God wants is for us to pull up that chair.

Before I finish, I want to share a psalm with you that I think sums up what I have been talking about.  It is a new translation of Psalm 64 by Christine Robinson, a Unitarian Universalist minister who took a year-long sabbatical to pursue the goal of rewriting her favorite psalms to make them more contemporary and gender inclusive.

Psalm 64 -Whining

Hear my voice, O God, when I whine
about my fears
about my failings
about my foibles
about all my discordant selves
They bring me down!
They work against me
They hide within me.

My mind and heart hold a Mystery--
You are also there.
You show me all my facets
and bring new life from within
I see your work--
I put my trust in You
I rejoice.



And finally there is wine!  Like Christine says, Rejoice!  Celebrate!  Give thanks to God.  Lift your voices and your hearts.  God does now want us to worship with our heads hung in shame, but with joy and laughter.  And what better way to do that than in community.  To give thanks to God for sending a teacher ho understood what it meant to be in a complete relationship with God.  

Although the words of Paul in our reading from Ephesians (Chapter 2:11-22) were about bringing together the Jews and the Gentiles, in this moment and this time, we can read it as being about us, our group here, as some of us are new to Christ, and some have lived by His teachings for a long time.  We can celebrate that when we live by his teachings, we know Christ is our Peace, the one who broke down the walls of enmity, the one who holds this structure together that is sacred to God.  We can celebrate that together through Christ we can build a place of God's spirit of peace and love.

And as we respond to that loving call in our lives, we can carry this prayer from the first chapter of Ephesians for our journey:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ ... may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know God, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which God has called you....Amen.


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