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Open to Joy

Sermon - 5/22/11
Rev. April Oristano
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Ecclesiastes 11:1-9

For 4 weeks we have read together from the wisdom book called Ecclesiastes.  Right from the start we read the existential angst of the narrator. And it resonated with our own questions – our own journey and experiences. 

We all ask the question – WHY, God, is the world the way that it is?  And How, am I to be at peace with the world and how can I offer peace to this world?

The teacher’s observations ranged from his beliefs (that God is in charge of this world and our every action, and administers consequences) to His real fears (He wrestled with his experience as it challenged his beliefs – why when we see injustice does God not intervene and protect the oppressed and punish the oppressors?  Why, for all the good or bad deeds we do we ALL end up dead and without a future?  What difference do our actions make if God will not correct us?) to his hope – found throughout but most noticeable in the concluding chapters of Ecclesiastes (10-12) and I will read today from Chapter 11: 1-9:

Send out your bread upon the waters,
   for after many days you will get it back.
2 Divide your means seven ways, or even eight,
   for you do not know what disaster may happen on earth.
3 When clouds are full,
   they empty rain on the earth;
whether a tree falls to the south or to the north,
   in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie.
4 Whoever observes the wind will not sow;
   and whoever regards the clouds will not reap.

5 Just as you do not know how the breath comes to the bones in the mother’s womb, so you do not know the work of God, who makes everything.

6 In the morning sow your seed, and at evening do not let your hands be idle; for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.

7 Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.

8 Even those who live for many years should rejoice in them all; yet let them remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity.

9 Rejoice, young man, while you are young, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Follow the inclination of your heart and the desire of your eyes, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.

 

Be generous: Invest in acts of charity. Charity yields high returns. 
Don't hoard your goods; spread them around. 

Be a blessing to others. This could be your last night. 

When the clouds are full of water, it rains. 
   When the wind blows down a tree, it lies where it falls. 
   Don't sit there watching the wind. Do your own work. 
   Don't stare at the clouds. Get on with your life. 

Just as you'll never understand 
      the mystery of life forming in a pregnant woman, 
   So you'll never understand the mystery at work in all that God does. 

Go to work in the morning and stick to it until evening without watching the clock. 

   You never know from moment to moment how your work will turn out in the end.

 Oh, how sweet the light of day, 
   And how wonderful to live in the sunshine! 
   Even if you live a long time, don't take a single day for granted. 
   Take delight in each light-filled hour, 
   Remembering that there will also be many dark days 
   And that most of what comes your way is smoke. 
You who are young, make the most of your youth. 
   Relish your youthful vigor. 
   Follow the impulses of your heart. 
   If something looks good to you, pursue it. 
   But know also that not just anything goes; 
   You have to answer to God for every last bit of it.

------------

Beneath the layers of uncertainty and worry is an openness to the power of joy – a trust in the way of the world.

For the future is unknown, unrevealed.  God’s role and activity in the world is debatable.  But though we may never understand we do not give up trying.  And even though have no assurance that there is future reward for doing good or consequence for doing bad.  It is in the present that we live and the teacher’s conclusion is to do good now – be a blessing to others.  That is how you make a difference.  And yes, He still believes that at the end God will be there to judge us for our actions. 

That is an image of God that was very active this weekend, no?  (The impending rapture…) On your minds, no doubt. 

-----

Life happens.  And more evident everyday in our culture is how wishing life’s circumstances to be different than they are will not make it so.  You can, however, adjust how you relate to life circumstances– and maybe then you have a hand in shaping the future. 

Your whole life is constantly moving, changing, morphing.  What you know about yourself today and how you tell your story of faith will change over time. Our religious community is also constantly changing.  Isn’t it funny how church is still a place that we depend on deeply to help keep constancy, steadiness – but we too are always new.  Life on earth is a continuously evolving organism.  It is the way of life, it is the Way of God:  changing, wrestling, seeking to understand as to be understood.  This is another way that we have a place of deep connection with Ecclesiastes. 

Deep resonance. But not the same. We have the advantage of more time – Thank you Quoholet, for your tedious work and for writing down all your observations and wisdom and here, thank you.  But you might want to see what we’ve written down since your time…(cue the library, Web MD, National Geographic)

We now have a greater understanding of the mystery of life the teacher refers to in v. 4 - how life grows inside a woman’s body.  This translation says we will NEVER understand – oops – never say never - but I think we can say it would have stretched his imagination to think we could have miniscule cameras to go inside a woman’s body and observe. 

We know a great deal more than you, teacher,  but we can’t say we know it all.  Maybe we could just update the text to be more relevant to us like “Just as you will never understand…how matter travels through a black hole, so too… ”

So the future is unrevealed –  now what?

Hear this wisdom:  You can get up every morning, and go to work.  You can count on not knowing the outcome of that work.  But you can take delight in each hour of your work.  Pursue goodness, listen for the impulses of your heart and go for it. 

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Yesterday was the Oregon Disciples Regional event “Why Reinvent the Wheel”?  – a pilot program where on the off years of assembly (the business end of things)  we gather the congregations and listen to the communal wisdom – bring worship and wonder communities together and here what’s working, what’s not.  Gather the global missions churches and share how we are partnered with various other communities.  What happens when you put all the food ministry programs of Silverton, Eugene, Salem, and others together and share ideas? And add to the mix not only the wise but the curious.  Good things happen is the answer.  Two things I will share this morning:

We were lucky to have Bob Shebeck from Global Ministries with us at the event – he had been travelling all month through Central America – Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador he is an executive at GM in Mission Interpretation and Education- And his message was one of joy.  He celebrated our partnership as a region with FEDICE and all other global ministries partners.  We prayed in French, Spanish, Congolese dialects I do not know the name of, English too.  He recognized 4 new congregations in the region, including ours, as new Global Missions Partners. 

His joy was in being with us – celebrating what we are, what we are hoping to be, what we are working towards.  Not trying to change us or fix us - And he pointed out how 5 of the 7 markers of a global missions church are in the being with one another – not the doing.  And Global Ministries is in the business of doing things.  Changing lives.  Making a difference. But to be a mission partner we first pray, seek knowledge, share our vision, build relationships and then Give.  Never a more poignant example than the Ecuadorian community of Guanando, that lives in the volcanic ash, still spewing out – because this is where they live.  Have work.  Have families.  Have homes.  We are not going to make that volcano stop but we can stand in solidarity with that community.  He brought us that joy.  The joy of being.

Oh There were many good things that came from the event yesterday but the other one that touched me was when Steve Knox, pastor at Silverton FCC, addressed the group and reflected upon his learning curve as Silverton congregation launched this new ministry of weekly dinner.  Short background: the congregation  saw a growing need n their community – 3 families in the church lost their jobs in 2008 and in the search for the new one...what can we do?  Let’s feed em, said the church.  Well then the invitation grew to bring their friends.  That turned into 37.  Which turned into 60 the following week – they have been going now for 2 ½ years and they feed 450 a week. 

This is a pastor’s dream, right?  Well Steve humbly told the assembly that when first approached about a weekly dinner he thought – “well I’m not doing this by myself – I can’t run a food program once a week – but the people want to do it.  Step in the right direction,”  – but he admitted that he NEVER believed it would last.  “I know ministry” he says, “especially in a small town, this will last a few months, we’ll mostly feed our own church members, they will feel good about it but that’s not church, it’s no big deal.” 

But the foundation was laid – with the intention of bringing a little joy.  The reality was there wasn’t much more they could do - Can’t hire these out of work church members, can’t afford to support these families finances while they look for work but what could they do?  We can feed them dinner once a week.  Let them know we love them. 

And I asked him afterwards – what now?  How long can this go on?  He laughed and threw his hands up in a completely joyful way – he said “we are feeling their way through together – I never would have thought it would work, I was wrong.  And we don’t really ask why it’s working right now – and who knows about tomorrow?

And I said, Thank you, Steve, you sage.  You just wrote my sermon. 

----

There are people this morning who woke up and felt lost: woke up and asked, in earnest, “Why did my faith fail today?  Why god?” (I’m specifically referring to those who feel Left Behind but honestly there are others, who woke up, rapture aside and had the same questions). 

They feel very far from God right now, very confused – and are desperate to find something – a reason, mathematical error– to make the old world-view fit.  To make it go back.  But the truth is the world has changed and so has the person.  And the growing edge is to find joy, find God, beneath the layers of worry, find joy in the unrevealed, and in the constantly changing. 

So I ask, Will you pray with me?

Holy Spirit guide our hearts.  We give ourselves permission in this time to reveal the true longing in our hearts – to be connected to you, to one another, to build a kingdom of heaven right here on this earth.  We allow ourselves now to reach out for your Spirit to risk opening ourselves fully - and feel the joy, love, and peace of your presence. 

And now we send our joy, love, and peace, now to all those persons who cannot feel the joy for fear that you have abandoned them.  Do not experience joy in the present because of the effort put into changing the past or assuring the future.  We pray that the veil be lifted from their eyes, from their hearts, that what is revealed is your constant presence no matter the circumstances. 

We pray that will continue building a community of believers who are open to joy in a world filled with invitations to fear, hate, destroy one another.  As each are on a journey we commit to being as present in our joy as possible that it may be a light to others.  Amen.

 


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