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Making a Way

Sermon - 3/21/10
Rev. April Oristano
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Isaiah 43:16-21

Our second lesson today comes from Isaiah, chapter 43, verses 16 through 21:

This is what the Lord says –

He who made a way through the sea, a path through the might waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, snuffed out like a wick:

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up, do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.  The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.”

 

Looking at my life, laid out like on a canvas, looking at my life I can say now, oh look, there is a path, I can see how I got from here to there.  But back then, when then was a now, a present moment, not a clue.  How about you?

Even this week, when I’m reading and re-reading this small part of Isaiah, and working to build a sermon I found myself saying something quite similar…where is this going to go?

Our good news today is also a challenge to the mind and heart God is doing a new thing.  Always a new thing – and we haven’t but maybe a small clue about it.

There is comedy, at least to me,  in the way this section of Isaiah begins – This is what God says – yes, the god you know – the   The one who parted the sea and made a way for all those Israelites?  That one?  Right? 

We get this image of who God is, what God does, pull it into the front of our minds and boom.  The first thing out of God’s mouth is:  stop thinking about the past, the way I used to do things….yes that’s how you knew me before, and now I am something new. 

Second piece that caught my attention is the beneficiaries of God’s new work – the animals - And the animals that will rejoice – it was people that rejoiced in the former story of the exodus – here it is nature that rejoices, and not just the deer and the bunnies – no, it’s the jackals, the buzzards, the coyotes, the owls…depending upon the translation it’s a different set of animals –  and in my novice reading about each of these animals, they run round in groups of 1-2, on the outskirts, nocturnal, adaptable, especially the coyote.

Now, I couldn’t stop myself from asking, when you think of adaptable coyotes, a coyote that always finds a new way, who do you think of?

Oh but he can’t do it alone, can he?  Even Wile E. Coyote, this wild animal, needs help.

 

 

I watched Where the Wild Things are while I was trapped in a airplane ride from Chicago to San Francisco earlier this month. This is a movie based on a children’s picture book.

A story of a young boy named Max:

. . . a troubled, lonely young boy whose life is changing - doesn’t want things to change, he wants things to be like they were in the past – when he remembered his family intact, simple, when the rules weren’t so constricting, and his mother gave him the attention instead of the new boyfriend. Or his growing, changing, uninterested teenage sister.  And at school, he’s learned in science class that one day the sun will die and the effects that will have on living things on earth, not to mention the rest of the solar system.  He just wants things to be normal again – not so confusing to his young mind.

One night he cannot take it anymore.  Bad day at school, his sister is only interested in her music and friends, and he wants to play with his mom – and she says not right now.  He’s 8, 9 years old.  He throws a fit, he screams, she yells “You Wild Thing!”, he throws things, she tries to stop him, he bites her.  And he promptly runs away from home, to be alone, to be independent, to be the king of his destiny, he runs away to Where the Wild Things Are!

 

And as much as he wants to be free and in charge, he is mostly confused, sad, scared, lonely.

I am not unlike this little boy, I’m just wrapped in a little older packaging.  Why do we look back and long for the way things were?  Because we learn so much from our experiences, no doubt.  And the longer we live the easier it is somehow to look back – we have more to look back on.  We look to our past to get clues to the ways in which we’ll see God in the future

But we can’t live there God says, because God has got something new in mind for us.  Happening even as we speak, building, bursting, oozing in this moment, can you not perceive it,  God asks?

 

Did you have to climb the mountain to the top before?

We’re hitting the valleys next… 

And after his adventures with Carol, KW, Judith, Ira…he runs into his future, runs home to be with his family because he understands now, like an adult, that things change, and someone has to lead the younger ones through.  That new doesn’t always mean bad, that change can be weathered and that frankly, it’s better to do it with someone who knows you, that you trust.  This is supposed to be a kids movie – and on the surface it is, it’s about imagination and play and growing up, but looking deeper its actually a lesson that the we non kids need in understanding our own future, newness, change.

By the end of the movie I felt just like Max.  We are all wild things in our own way. 

Inside each one of us is hope.  Inside each one of us is fear.  Inside each one of us is Adventure.  Inside each one of us is the continual growth and work of God in some unknown way.  Just like Max, God is making a way.

 

The landscape of the desert is a powerful image for us this morning – one look at all that sand and I think “which way do I go?” 

And such a question leads me to another group of wild animals in our world --the college student:

 

Ah, the college student, another lonely predator out there in America.  Actually found in habitats all over the world…seeking opportunity.  Highly passionate, curious, independent.  Do not try to catch one alone.

But seriously, life for a college student is all about hope, journey, adventure, questions, deconstruction, oh lives change in college!  It’s said that a college student these days changes majors about 4 times.

And in the church we often look at college students and think – Why don’t’ you come to church?  We could take care of you, help you in this wild and crazy life to help you find your way…why don’t they just do it like we did it? 

What would God say about that this morning?  I’m doing a new thing!

Campus ministry across the county is in a make it or break it point – and churches too, and if both want to remain relevant and significant at all to this age group –  some are finding a new way.

Because old way – the way that worked for me, a Gen Xer, and Boomers too (any boomers out there today? )  And the Greatest generation too  - we were raised in the church, we were in youth group and Sunday school and all those traditional trappings that prepared us to seek out friends and companionship and support from the campus ministry office.  And they would bring you to church. 

This was a good way.  That’s why it’s so sweet to look back, because it was fun that way.  But God is working in a new way today.   

The question campus ministers come back to the churches with today, to the question, Why don’t college students come to church anymore? Is this response “why don’t you go to them?” 

A Pew Research Center Study was published a few months ago and the results indicates that 1 in 4 persons, ages 18-29,  have no faith affiliation whatsoever – no tie at all, and I don’t mean they are attending a non-denominational church.  No affiliation at all.  Atheist, agnostic, nothing in particular. Just about 50% of those surveyed under 30 say that religion is not that important. 

However this does not mean that they do not have faith.  64% are certain of God’s existence – so I know these are just a bunch of numbers but to me they speak to a vast change in our make up as Americans.    

Where are all the college students??? – is actually to be a  future workshop at the next general assembly…in 2011 in Nashville… because the church needs not only a reality check and fast!  And we need to learn from those chaplains and campus ministers how to be effective in reaching that 25% but also the 64% who do have faith affiliation but do not attend weekly worship services. 

Ministry to the wild things at our local universities and colleges, and to the wild things living on the street, and to the wild things that are living in the house next to us – is an exercise for us in thinking outside the box – because our box – church – is no longer recognizable and no longer comfortable for most that we hope to meet.  We used to think that if people could just make it in the door they would see that we are the sort to hang out with – the sort to worship with – and this is true, that we as a community have something to offer others. 

And to us this seems a loss, because we love what happens here.  And is a loss, but not a complete loss.  We can look back, and see how much we too have changed, how our whole lives tell a story of change and renewal – and how

This is not a loss, it’s just not the way things used to be. 

God is calling us to think of a new way to be connected to each other – isn’t familiar anymore.

Let’s think momentarily about the vision of this church:  to attract well educated, theologically liberal, un-churched, de-churched, and rather than assimilate these new persons into the institution of FCC, this congregation seeks to assimilate people into the faith and into faithful lives of discipleship. 

That has college and university student written all over it. 

Eddie Gibbs, professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, he calls what I just read out of the strategic plan:  "churches moving from attracting a crowd to seeking the lost."

There is a significant and not completely obvious difference between those two.  That the church, in it’s attempt to meet the seekers, the church itself becomes the seeker.   There are some who have taken this challenge – to meet the students on their path and see what develops.

So there are some who are doing just this – making a new way – I want to show you some images to help you see these new ways:

So when you think of college students what is one of the first things you think of?

 

Answer:  enormous piles of laundry!  You know what I’m talking about.

Well In Kansas at KU and in Oklahoma in Muskogee, churches are providing students with high-speed wireless internet access, specialty coffee drinks, study areas, and FREE laundry facilities, and a couple residential rooms for students.

Free Dinner every Thursday to boot. (some things, like food, still work).

The University Alabama Huntsville Baptist Campus Ministries As Christian community living and residents also work on special projects such as rebuilding abandoned bicycles to give to international students who need transportation.

 

Northwestern University & CA House in Davis are intentional Interfaith communities, establishing this intentional community is to offer students an extraordinary opportunity to live in a multi-religious environment, to learn about the beliefs and practices of a variety of religious traditions, and to explore more deeply their own understanding of religion and spirituality.  It is an opportunity to discover and appreciate similarities and differences, to come together with others who share common interests and goals.

 

UCSB – occasionally they will lay out the canvas labyrinth on a open quad – giving permission to be spiritual during the day but not requiring students, faculty, or staff to leave campus.  Then at night the chapel offers its traditional classes but also yoga:

 

UCSC  - This is where I was a campus minister and the one I have most familiarity with.  In 2007 our campus ministry group of 5 – we called ourselves FEAST – well we heard there was to be a Freedom to Marry Day on campus and we asked permission to have a presence, a table, offer prayers, blessings, and resources for same sex partners to find a church. 

 

And it was at that same time that we entered a national campus ministry contest, called Campus Chaos, where groups put a mission or service event in the contest and everyone votes

 

Now I know this is controversial in the church, whether the church should marry couples of the same gender but out there, on the university campus, it is not.  And to this group of students, they paused to say, what will the local churches say – they did – what would my parents say, my grandma say.  But what spoke to them more was God – when asked what they thought Jesus would say and what God ultimately wants for us – the new and unknown path was all they could see.

As good Disciples, even on campus, we brought communion, and when students and staff would go through a mock marriage, FEAST students would offer a prayer, blessing, and communion. 

…and I tell you the truth, I watched that online voting and watched Freedom to Marry Day make it through each bracket. To win Campus Chaos 2007 – Christian college students, in the deep south and far northwest and northeast and Texans in between. 

 

And yes we had a lot of pride as a group that day – but the real measure of success was that we were invited to start meeting at the LGBTQ center for our weekly prayer meetings and bible studies – but the group doubled in a month.  Still growing today.

There are a lot of wild things out there.  Rejoicing in what is new.

What if to find the wild things, to understand the wild things in our world we must come to know the wild thing in ourselves. 

And if we were, to forget the past, and embrace the wild and new in all of us, God might create opportunity for us to, as Paul says in Phillipians 3, press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us. To be a light in the heart of Eugene.

 


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