November 25, 2018
Isaiah 56:1-8, 57:14-19
Thus says the Lord:
Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.
Happy is the mortal who does this,
the one who holds it fast,
who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it,
and refrains from doing any evil.
Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people’;
and do not let the eunuch say,
‘I am just a dry tree.’
For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.
And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.
It shall be said,
‘Build up, build up, prepare the way,
remove every obstruction from my people’s way.’
For thus says the high and lofty one
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the humble,
and to revive the heart of the contrite.
For I will not continually accuse,
nor will I always be angry;
for then the spirits would grow faint before me,
even the souls that I have made.
Because of their wicked covetousness I was angry;
I struck them, I hid and was angry;
but they kept turning back to their own ways.
I have seen their ways, but I will heal them;
I will lead them and repay them with comfort,
creating for their mourners the fruit of the lips.
Peace, peace, to the far and the near, says the Lord;
and I will heal them.
I spent my summers during college working at Suttle Lake United Methodists Camp in Sisters, Oregon. It’s in the cascade mountains, right off the Pacific Crest Trail. Suttle lake is a beautiful Moraine Lake. It was formed when a glacier, flowing off hthe nearby Mount Washington, gouged out a shockingly deep valley, three miles long, and about a half mile wide. As the glacier melted, it filled the valley, and formed a natural dam at the end of the lake that our camp was at.
Suttle Lake, on first glance, was a pretty traditional place. It had been built during the 1920’s by Methodists from a few hours West, attending Willamette University. During their summers, they were encouraged to come out for the season and build the camp and meet the other eligible young folks in the area. While building cabins and the lodge, they formed friendships and laid the foundations for romances that resulted in marriages that provided campers to stay in the cabins. It was a fairly ingenious arrangement if you ask me. By the time I showed up, I knew third generation Suttle Lake families, who had been campers, counselors, and staff.
We had the usual water weeks, and as a lifeguard I loved those; we had creek walks, late night canoe paddles, swimming in our lake and nearby Scout Lake, and water games in our field. There were middle and high school adventure camps, complete with white water rafting and backwoods hiking, and Teepee Camp, up above the ridge, in a secluded glen where campers cooked their own food for the week.
Our staff commitment was for 6 weeks, plus training, but we were invited to stay for eight weeks, having a week for fun, and then Strength for the Journey. You wouldn’t think that one week of camp could transform a place, with traditions and generations as Deep as Suttle lake, but the world is full of surprises.
The Temple in Jerusalem, the Temple of the Holy One of Israel, the great I AM God, is not where most of us would imagine that there would be a lot of innovation. And yet, the Living God, who will be who She will be, is full of surprises. That’s what it means to be the Living God: Not to be set in stone, not bound by tradition or, well, anything.
So, it shouldn’t be too surprising that, when foreign people start showing up, whose interaction with the temple necessitates innovation, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob gets to creating. God does a new thing and removes barriers that would keep people away. The Temple, and the People of God, now face a choice; they can do things the ways they always have, because, well, that’s the way it’s always been done, and the Priests like it this way, and the people like it this way, thank you very much, or they can get involved with what God is up to. This isn’t an easy choice, and it’s not surprising that Isaiah is preaching about it. The Temple serves an important function, one that keeps chaos at bay. There are values being lived out, and traditions that are meaningful to folks, and people find comfort when the chaos of the world, can be made sense of. The Temple is a place where folks can act in a way to bring about change in a world that is, at times, terrifying. Who wants to mess with that? Who wants to include people of other nations and with different bodies, when some of the challenges the People of God are facing are caused by the very people God is drawing near?
God leads the people through the discomfort, and removes the barriers, not only in the institution, but in people’s hearts. The Priests, and the People, they change their beloved institution, the way they do things, because new people show up. And for the God of Israel, the One we worship and serve, people are more important than things, than traditions, than institutions any day. The community, who says “We love our temple this way,” those are the people who raise their voices. But what always happens in a community, in a family, in any gathering of people, is that there are others who, well, they don’t say anything, but they’ve been struggling for a while. The Temple isn’t meeting their needs, but there’s not a good option of how to do life differently at the moment. Or maybe they’ve tried to innovate and seen it fail. But now, some new folks show up, Eunuchs and Refugees and Immigrants, people who didn’t grow up with these traditions, and WOW. Here is an answer to prayers some old-timers couldn’t even put into words.
I didn’t realize how much of a traditionalist I had become my first season at Suttle Lake, until we started to prepare for Strength for the Journey. Our campers were all adults, all men who were HIV +, and a group of nurses and a chaplain who came with them. We started preparing for their arrival by cleaning the entire camp, in a way we only did once a year; we sanitized every surface, from plastic mattresses to couch cushion covers, mopping the floors and bathrooms with an extra bit of bleach, just so that none of our guests was exposed to any extra germs. I was assigned to help prep a Green Cabin, making the space hospitable for our guests. Medical Marijuana was legal in the state of Oregon, but we were on National Forest Service Land, and so we needed to make sure there was a discreet place that patients could use their prescriptions. We had special blinds we set up in the cabin, used once a year, that we set up, and created a comfortable, private space. That same day, I climbed up into our attic to get some supplies out for their craft tables. Many of the guests spent hours making masks of their faces, that they painted and decorated throughout the week. We unpacked many, that had the names and dates of those campers who had died. I was working with my bosses, Jane and Daniel Petke. They are two of the kindest, most mild-mannered Methodists I’ve ever met, extremely gentle, and quiet, and funny. So, you can imagine my surprise when I came across a bag of the largest high heels I had ever seen in my life, with Daniel’s name on them. “Oh Good! There they are! Grab those, I’m going to need those for the Drag show.” This didn’t seem like the quiet, nerdy couple I’d been working with all summer long.
When our campers arrived, I got to know so many of the guys, hear their stories, enjoy their laughter, their sense of awe at how long they had lived, and how healthy they had become due to innovations in treatments.
During Strength for the journey, we made all kinds of innovations and accommodations to our guests, and I watched as our staff was transformed as well. We had to cater to the needs of folks with different needs and abilities than us, who brought their own culture and traditions to us, and we had to work together to figure out new experiences together. When we came to t the end of the week and had our drag show, I was blown away by the performances of our campers, along with, to my deep surprise, some members of our camp staff, including our Cook, Wendy, and my bosses Jane and Daniel, with those outstanding high heels.
Beloved, the people of God, in our text this morning, are called to innovate, to adapt, to change. They don’t make others change to fit into the traditions of the temple, but instead, they are opened to new realities of God in the lives of others who they hadn’t seen God at work in, Eunuchs and Immigrants.
Innovation is hard. No family is the same after someone leaves, or someone joins, and it can be a struggle to feel that we still belong when we are called to innovation. We can try to shape others to be who others have been in the past, who we think they should be, or we can be open to being shaped by the people they are. We are called to be stewards of innovation or be left out of what God is doing in the world. This morning’s Baptism is a moment when we realize Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit are adopting people, and children into our family, and what a blessing that is! It begs the question though; Will we grow and innovate so that we can continue to be a part of what God is up to in the world? Because if we don’t embrace God’s call to innovate, we will be the ones outside of what God is doing.
God innovates through people’s presence in our lives, who bring all of who they are, and our recognition that sometimes, we need to grow our understanding of the Holy One, of our life together, so that all may be home. This Stewardship Season, as your pledge cards and asset maps start arriving, I’m inviting you to be a part of Innovation, based on some of the needs expressed by folks in our midst. And what’s surprising is that these innovations might answer needs you didn’t even recognize you had.
I’m inviting you to consider joining me during our children’s chats to read a book to our youngest ones, or to be a part of intergenerational events, where you can develop relationships with the children of this church and their families.
In January and February on Wednesday Nights, I’m inviting you to write your own statement of faith, to consider What is it that you believe, at this point in your life. So many folks have shared that they’re not quite sure what they believe, and that their faith has shifted and changed throughout the years, and that sometimes it’s confusing to not have an idea of where we are now on our spiritual journey’s. We will be using the book A Faith of Your Own: Naming What You Really Believe by Ronald Allen to see how we have grown and changed and see how we might be called to change.
During Lent, I’m inviting you to attend our Lenten Study, titled “The Beloved Community: Holy Listening.” We will learn and practice the art of listening deeply to one another, and those outside of this place. We will be trained in Relational Meetings, the “world’s most radical tool.” Relational Meetings (or One-on-Ones) form the basis of community organizing, a way of creating the Beloved Community that Jesus calls us to form; one where people of diverse races, backgrounds, economic resources and educations are united for the benefit of our communities.
Beloved, The God we serve is on the move, adopting people into the family of God, helping us to innovate so that all may truly be home. We may find that we need to celebrate what once was, and ask that God heals us, so that we can step forward into the community God is forming. But when we are rooted in the lives of one another, when we risk having empathy for those who are experiencing inclusion, we can be in relationship with the Living God in new and powerful ways.
Let it be so.
In the Name of the One who Was, and Is, and Ever More shall be, Amen.