Sermon October 14, 2016; ‘Streams of Faith – The Sacrament of Incarnation’
Richard Foster, Streams of Living Water – Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith, HarperCollins, 1998.
James Bryan Smith, Spiritual Formation Workbook, Harper, 1991.
Pastor Ruthie Tippin; First Friends Meeting Indianapolis
When I was in 7th and 8th grade I took summer school music lessons – violin – at Wilson High School in Portland, Oregon. Mom dropped me off in the morning, but it took me 45 minutes to walk home, and it was always hot. I used to love to stop at Burlingame Market and get a Carnation Ice Cream Sandwich. I’ll never forget what those ice cream sandwiches tasted like. And you might say, for the sake of our conversation together today, that once I ate one, I’d become ‘in-Carnationed’!!! The ice cream had become a part of me. Once wrapped tightly in its foil enclosure, it was now opened and consumed. It became a molecular part of me – a tangible yet invisible, and indivisible, part of who I was.
To be incarnate is to be integral… to have such a thin expression of yourself that you cannot tell what is carnal and what is spiritual… what is of earth and what is of heaven… what is actual and what is ephemeral. The sacred is expressed in the mundane. The mundane is expressed in the sacred. And this is the life Christ calls us to. This is the life of integrity and purpose we are called to as Friends.
In his book, ‘Streams of Living Water’, Richard Foster says this: ‘The Incarnational Stream of Christian life and faith focuses upon making present and visible the realm of the invisible spirit. This sacramental way of living addresses the crying need to experience God as truly manifest and notoriously active in daily life.” God – notoriously active! Not God bumbling along, but purposely, intentionally making God known in each one of us, and in the world. God means to be God – in and through us!
Sacrament: an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual divine grace… what does the integration of God in us look like? What is ‘God made visible’ in our lives? Do we, must we, carry around a foil wrapper, showing everyone what of God we hold? Not if we live a sacramental life – a life of faith so well integrated that the secular and sacred merge.
Dag Hammarskjold lived a life like that, weaving his spiritual and secular life together. When he died in a mysterious plane crash in 1961, the Secretary-General of the United Nations was lost to his family, and to the world. His personal papers and effects were taken to Sweden, and given to a long-time friend. Among the papers was a diary of sorts, titled “Vagmarken” – Markings. These pages have become a spiritual classic. It is said that “Hammarskjold does not make a single direct reference to his distinguished career as an international civil servant, neither does he mention the many presidents, kings, and prime ministers with whom he had dealings, or the dramatic historical events in which he played so central a role. Instead, with merciless scrutiny and absolute honesty, he plots the intricate and sometimes tortured path of ‘God’s marriage to the soul’… His vocation became the supreme place for living out his deepest spiritual convictions. In so doing, he bridged the chasm between the world of devotion and the world of work… His political work was sacramental living of the deepest sort.”
How successful are we at weaving God into the fabric of our lives? At weaving the invisible into the visible. Faith and work. Sacred and secular. I’ve been studying the incarnation of God in our lives, reading the Book of Jeremiah, and listening to the news – it’s hard not to. Regardless of our political stance, our sacramental posture as a nation is in peril. The margins are very clear. The distance between sacred and secular is obvious. The Democrats and Republicans sound an awful lot like the nations of Israel and Judah… the seed of the same nation, divided. Jeremiah told the nation of Judah then, the same thing we are seeing now… we cannot have it both ways.
“Thus says the Lord; Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. For if you will indeed obey this word, then there shall enter the gates of this house kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their servants and their people. But if you will not obey these words, I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that this house shall become a desolation.” Jeremiah 22:3-5
According to Jeremiah, the sacred nurtures the secular, and the secular exercises the sacred. They’re meant to work together! Societies, individuals have a sacred responsibility toward one another, and God has a sacramental relationship with us – God’s children, God’s creation.
Jeremiah grieves for God’s people, and then promises this: “Behold, the days are coming declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.” Jeremiah 23:5-6The Lord is our righteousness. Thank God for that gift.
That same righteous Branch appears centuries later in the Gospel reading we heard today. Right in the middle of political and religious tension, we find Christ living out the incarnation of God in humankind, God in us, God made visible. James Bryan Smith: “We see no division between sacred and secular in the words and deeds of Jesus. In this Gospel passage, who Jesus was at the core of his being, flowed out in an act of mercy as he observed the sacraments of his Jewish faith, shattering the fragile wall separating faith and work, sacred and secular.
We forget. Or we’ve never learned. In the rush of life, in the hurry of a debate, or a rushed phone conversation. In the craziness of life, we forget who we are, or we’ve never considered it. We get so focused on attention that we forget intention. We act, think and speak out of the raw, rather than the reverent. We have not learned the importance of an integrated life in God. We, like those in the synagogue that day, like the nations of Judah or Israel, like Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, have not been careful to center ourselves, our lives, our spirits in the righteousness – the rightness – of God, the Divine. How different would our neighborhoods, our nation, our world be, if we would all live integrated lives, with no difference between our spiritual and secular lives? If they were one and the same?
Our lives can reflect that of God in each of us… Friends are some of the first to understand the indwelling of God’s spirit in all of humankind. How do we cooperate with, rather than resist the Spirit? One first step is to imagine no boundaries between faith and work, soul and body, spirit and matter. Open your day with a prayer, a conversation with God, acknowledging God in all things – your body, your life, your rest the night before, the work of the day ahead, the things you dread and those things you look forward to. Invite God in. Extend yourself out. And watch for God. All the time, everywhere. Before Jesus ministered on a hillside, he did so in a carpenter’s shop. Imagine him (this is not sacrilegious) walking through sawdust, a pencil over his ear, laughing and talking with his Dad’s friends. “Measure twice – cut once.” So you, in your office, at the kitchen sink, driving your truck, walking through your world, are Christ, for others, too.
If you need a foil wrapper to remind you that you’ve been ‘incarnational’… if you have to put on coveralls that have a name badge sewn on them to tell you who you are, you’re in trouble. God doesn’t want us to ‘dress up and play the part’. God wants us to strip down, and live a real, natural, true, honest, seamless, life of integrity. Micah told us what that would look like: doing justice, loving mercy, walking in humility with God. Jesus showed us what it looked like. And we have the pure pleasure of learning, day by day, hour by hour, what that feels like.
“… let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16
‘With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.’ Abraham Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address: SATURDAY, MARCH 4, 1865