Sermon Archives

Scorched Earth ~ Matthew 22: 34-40; 1 Cor. 13: 8-13

The sermon begins just before the 32 minute mark.

Last month I read in the New York Times an article entitled: “The Mysterious Landscapes of Heat-Scorched Britain.” Did any of you see it?  It was a very hot summer throughout Britain and Europe; I mean, really hot.

Unlike a summer when Deanne and I were living in Scotland that was also “hot” and we were listening to Wimbledon on the radio. The announcers were saying that people were fainting in the heat – it was all of 75 degrees! (Having grown up in the heat and humidity of D.C. summers I felt morally superior!)

But this summer, it was so hot in Great Britain (how hot was it?) that roads melted in Wales and wildfires burned in the moors around Manchester.

Paul Cooper, the author of the article, writes: “The heat has changed the landscape… all over the country, ghosts have been rising up out of the earth. In the fields of England, Wales, and Ireland, the lost lines of houses and settlements, barrows, and henges, the street plans of ancient Roman times to the Paleolithic and the Middle Ages – everywhere the past is returning, written on the landscape.”

You see the heat and drought have burned away the usual lush green foliage of the usually well-watered countryside and revealed what is under—what was there before.

Some see these revealed land inscriptions as signs of hope, others as omens of doom. People have pondered, “When we’re gone how will the land remember us?”

As another powerful hurricane smashes the East Coast, I hope there will be land to remember us!

But what caught my preachy attention – was this: When drought comes, what is revealed? What is revealed in you, and in me, and in us, when things get tough? What marks and scars are left and shown during times of spiritual drought, or tensions that change the landscape of your life?

Maybe what has been covered up by years of plenty –but now after an operation, or a death, or a divorce, or almost any change that shakes the status quo – when you strip it all away what is left? What shows through?

It is interesting that weddings often reveal deep tensions within families. Deaths certainly do the same. Most celebrate the outstanding public face of the deceased but the children know what was beneath it all: gentle and affirming or judge-y and cold? Maybe both?

Stuff happens and things are revealed.

I hope that if anyone remembers what I am about to share, you will have a chuckle and forgive me. It was years ago. I was on my bike during a pouring rainstorm. I was absolutely focused on the road ahead, possible potholes, traffic bearing down; I was very tense. A car came by honking. I did something for which I am ashamed. Something that pastors should never do – but I did it.

And to my horror, in the car that was honking was a church family. They were waving “hi!” They rolled down the window and asked if I was OK. As I remember no one in the car looked particularly shocked by what I had done, so either that means that they didn’t see what I did or that they weren’t surprised that when the pressure is increased I sometimes lose it. Maybe they knew me too well!

So yes, just like the drought reveals what’s underneath, unusual things can reveal what is usually covered up in your personality.

Of course, it can go the positive way too.

I remember the story of two people who were diagnosed with the same cancer and the same prognosis. One patient went into a self-absorbed funk that never left her – she was a victim. The other found a new energy of compassion and liveliness she hadn’t had before and she made things happen until her death. They both revealed underlying marks in their personal landscapes.

During the holocaust, the Nazi years, those bitter years uncovered horrible things about humanity’s inhumanity and evil. In fact, in Germany today, the rise of the nationalist right wing, shows that the signs of hate remain under the topsoil of decades of prosperity and introspection. I see signs of this in our own country, right now.

But during the holocaust there were also individuals who didn’t stand by in fear but reached out in faith and protected Jews. There was that village in Southern France that invited Jews to come to them.

After 9/11, I was moved to tears by the people who came out to help clear rubble – there were Muslims, Christians and Jews and gay and straight and black and white – and out of the horror came the best of human nature. Etched on the ground of our being was compassion.

In our nation there is a drought of truth. The scorching heat of fear has revealed the lines of tribalism that scare me. And yet, at Senator McCain’s memorial service other lines were revealed; marks upon our national soil that gave me hope. Aretha Franklin’s memorial as well, called for a deeper R-E-S-P-E-C-T that I believe is inscribed upon our longing hearts.

In the “Questions of Faith” adult education class, we listened to the testimony of pastor and writer Brian McClaren. He was a conservative evangelical who, shaken and stirred by the questions of his parishioners began to change his mind – he wanted to get down to the basics of his belief.

And he came to a new understanding that was as old as Christianity: our faith is not about soul separation of those who go to heaven and those who go to hell. What Jesus came to preach was not about an angry God who would just as soon damn everybody – but only those say the right words get in.

When the drought of faith came for McClaren, the scorching heat of probing questions revealed what for him are the underlying marks of the gospel – and that is L-O-V-E.

God is love. God yearns for each one of you to know such love that is inscribed in and on you! That is what baptism is – the mark of what is really your identity! God desires that each of you show compassion and inclusion beneath it all. God hopes that each of us furrow the ground of being, plowing daily the practices of prayer, cultivating the soil of the divine relationship so that when the tough times come we act in a way that reveals God, our scars reveal Jesus, beneath it all we show who we really are as beloved children of God.

And even if we don’t show it, or don’t reveal it, all the time – the good news is that God’s love for you is sufficient – God has etched in you the divine image and likeness. In Christ, God has shown the breadth and depth of the divine love for the whole world. IN the coming of the Holy Spirit, God has gifted all of us, the spirit has been poured out on … all flesh. ALL FLESH! God recognizes the divine in all of creation!

I believe our job is to help folks get down, beneath whatever is on top and get down to the burn marks of faith, hope and love. Let the refining fires of God’s love burn everything else away!

This is what Paul is talking about: you can have all sorts of spiritual gifts. You can move mountains and speak in tongues, and do all sorts of cymbal banging, and wordsmithing – but beneath it all is love. And without love – it doesn’t really matter, we just aren’t. Faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love.

Jesus also gets beneath it all. The Jewish laws are like a plush growth of well-watered crops. Jesus does not dispute this. However, he reminds his followers and he reminds us: that there are only two things that matter: two markings on the ground of our being that are of any importance: Love God and love neighbor.

The rabbis of Jesus’ day and ours know this to be true as well. I remember a rabbi writing: Love God, love your neighbor, all the rest is commentary!

So I pray for drenching rains in Britain and return to that beautiful emerald island which is Ireland, which, as a tourist, is what I want to see. I pray for us to thrive in this exciting new time of pastoral calls!

But before the track marks are re-covered in new lush growth let them show the record of the ground and what is furrowed into it.

Don’t be afraid to let the drought come, to reveal in you the marks of your baptism, the marks of your faith, and above all the marks of you love.

Amen.

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