2 Lent, Year A: Playing in your daddy’s shoes

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Readings for 2 Lent at Trinity Geneva

From “Does God Have A Big Toe?” by Marc Gellman,
a rendition of Genesis 12:1-4a

Most people do not realize it, but God put in calls to other people before finally putting in a call to Abram.

First God called Eber and said, “Eber, leave your country and your neighbors and your family and go to a land I will show to you, and I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great and you will be a blessing; all who bless you will be blessed and all who curse you will be cursed and through you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”

And Eber said, “Who are you?” And God said, “God.” And Eber said, “The god of what?” And God said, “The God of everything.” And Eber said, “Don’t be ridiculous, there is no god of everything. There is a god of the sun and a god of the moon, a god of the night and a god of the day, a god of the mountains and a god of the valleys, a god of the forests and a god of the deserts. If you ask me, you are a little late. Everything already has a god, and there is no god of everything. Maybe if you look hard, you can find something that doesn’t already have a god. As a matter of fact, I think there is no god of frogs at the moment. Why don’t you go check that out and then we can talk, because there just is no god of everything.”

But Eber and God never talked again.

The next person God called was Peleg. God said, “Peleg, leave your country and your neighbors and your family and go to a land I will show to you, and I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great and you will be a blessing; all who bless you will be blessed and all who curse you will be cursed and through you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”

And Peleg said, “Who are you?” And God said, “God.” And Peleg said, “Where are you?” And God said, “I am everywhere.” And Peleg said, “If you are everywhere where do they put your statue so that people can bow down to you?” And God said, “I am invisible and no one may make a statue of me.” Peleg rolled on the ground with laughter. “Now let me get this straight! You are the invisible god of everything with no statue, and you want me to leave my home and follow you to a place you will show me? Do you think I am crazy? Now look, why don’t you go to a good idol maker and have a nice sculpture made of your image, and then we can find a nice place to put it down where people can bow to it, and then we can talk.”

But God and Peleg never talked again.

Then God went to Serug and said, “Serug, leave your country and your neighbors and your family and go to a land I will show to you, and I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great and you will be a blessing; all who bless you will be blessed and all who curse you will be cursed and through you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”

And Serug said, “Who are you?” And God said, “God.” And Serug said, “What will you give me?” And God said, “I just told you.” And Serug said, “You don’t understand. I am not interested in moving anywhere or doing anything just so that my great-great-great-grandchildren will be a great nation. I want to know what is in this deal for me right now. Maybe if you showered me with some of those blessings up front I might be convinced. How about giving me all the money in the world and the kingship of all the lands? What do you say?”

But God said nothing. Then Serug said, “All right, let’s be reasonable. I will go wherever you want for most of the money in the world and the kingship of the five largest countries. How about that?” But God said nothing.

That was the last Serug ever heard from God.

By that time, God was not sure about finding the right person. But God went to Abram and said, “Abram, leave your country and your neighbors and your family and go to a land I will show to you, and I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great and you will be a blessing; all who bless you will be blessed and all who curse you will be cursed and through you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”

And Abram said, “I will go, but there is just one thing I want.” God asked what that one thing was, and Abram answered, “I want to take my family with me.”

God asked him, “That’s it? You just want your family to come with you? Don’t you want to see me? And Abram said, “No.” And God asked, “Don’t you want to bow down to a statue of me?” And Abram said, “No.” And God asked, “Abram, don’t you want anything for yourself?” And Abram said, “No.”

Right then God decided not to ask any more questions, and God let Abram gather his family and pack their things for the journey to the place that God would show to them.

Right then God knew that the right person was going to the right place at the right time for the right reasons. God also knew that such things hardly ever happen.

Link to John 3:1-17:
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+3%3A1-17&version=NRSV

I want to sneak
into the soft tissue of your brain
and lift the flap
on a memory.
It’s a memory of mine anyway,
maybe you have one too.

Do you remember
the sensation of walking
in your mommy or daddy’s shoes?

Or maybe you remember
chuckling at your own children
wobbling in your shoes;
their tiny child-small feet
swimming like a puppy in a pond
inside your boots.

Maybe it is not a memory,
maybe it is now
and it is a grandchild
wearing an adult T-shirt to bed –
a floor-length nightgown
in a shirt too snug for you.

How exquisitely comforting it was

to be in the presence
of a body so much bigger than our own;
for our tiny fingers to be enfolded in the cocoon
of a warm strong hand
so much larger than our own.

But now,
for those of us who grew up
or even grew old,
we live beneath the stars
of a great domed sky
so vast
our own little planet
appears small in the corner
of the canvass
of far distant lights.

Now
we feel the gravity
that keeps us slogging
one foot at time
through the mud of the ordinary.

Now
we feel the limitations
of our threadbare nature,
thin and vulnerable before the Cosmos.

Where is that giant hand
or those big, roomy shoes
into which we can curl up
and feel safe?

Hold that thought,
hold that memory.

By the cover of night
Nichodemus arrives,
a man of stature
in the kingdom of logic.

To Nicodemus, the world is vertical;
a pyramidal hierarchy
of answers
with time-tested structures
holding him
and his cohort
safe when times get tough
and the ladder
starts to lose a rung or two.

By the cover of night
he arrives, too proud perhaps
to recognize he is nervous.

By the cover of night
Nichodemus arrives
and bumps into something
he cannot explain.

Unlike Abram,
who was too dumb
or too wise
or too clueless to ask questions,
Nichodemus bristles
and hardens with resistance
when his late-night talk with the rabbi
takes an unexpected course.
Instead of the smooth
and graceful encounter
he expected,
Nicodemus is twisted with tension.

Nichodemus had arrived
feeling in control
just like he usually did,
armed with an arsenal of answers
and ready to meet up with the respectful deference
due his station and years.
Instead, he steps into the presence
of a wisdom so much greater than he is
that Nicodemus is plunged into confusion
and his mind
flaps with a stutter.

Honestly,
I hope you have had an experience like that;
I know that I have.

You see, we know absolutely nothing
about Grace.
Really, we know nothing
about it
until that bewildering moment
of bodily encounter
with our radical smallness.

We think
we know what it means
to be blessed,
or encounter grace,
or otherwise experience ‘goodness.’
But then, suddenly,
we find ourselves taken up
in an eternal moment
within the absolute
unutterable
vastness
of God.

Am I over-reaching here?
I know that somewhere inside
you have a memory
of wandering within your mommy or daddy’s shoes,
but what about an encounter
with vastness?
What about being blown away
by how small you are
before the vastness of God,
or even the universe – God or no God?

I have to believe
you have encountered that too.

But most of the time
we make small talk about God,
and we preserve our orderly little,
domesticated ideas
about God
and life
and spirituality.

Then, apropos of nothing,
when we drop our guard
and forget to be defensive,
we get slapped
with how little we know,
and how infinitesimal we are,
and how utterly inadequate
our God-chatter
really is.

The shoe of the Creator
is so vast
we wouldn’t even know it
if we were a glob of gum stuck on its sole.

And that right there,
is my idea
about what worship is supposed to be.

Now I recognize
that some of the things we have done
in worship here
since I arrived a little bit more than a year ago,
have been a bit confusing
and maybe even disorienting
to some people.

The fact that worship changes,
the text and the way we do some things,
is because I am guided by the belief
that worship is NOT
about doing the right things
in the right order
over and over and over again –
even though I recognize
how comforting that may be.

But instead, it seems to me,
that worship is about
slipping out
of orderly thoughts about God,
and into a space
where we may just get slapped senseless
by an encounter with God.

An encounter with the holy,

not merely thinking about
or talking about
or regulating the holy.

Entering a place like this sacred space,
ought to be like staring at the ceiling
of a planetarium.
Remember what that’s like?

As the lights fade
and we are captivated
at the dawning appearance of stars,
and as it gets darker,
and the stars more and more profuse,
that gnawing sensation begins.

A vague something
pokes at us from the inside out,
whispering
that we’ve only been living
in one dimension
among many.

Worship
ought to be disconcerting
just like that.

Worship
ought to cause us to recognize
what we do not know,
and remind us
of what we do not see,
and stroke us
with a presence
we do not quite feel yet.

But really,
you and I are pretty ordinary people,
and more often than not,
we come here like Nichodemus instead.
We are more secure
in mathematical thinking
about how life adds up
to predictable sums,
and expecting
not to be surprised.
We expect instead –
I dare say we hope instead –
to be affirmed
in our all our expectations
because that is what we find most reassuring.

More than likely,
most of us come here like Nichodemus,
surrounded with the bubble-wrap of logic
that insists the universe
operates under a strict hierarchy
of pre-determined laws.

We feel safer that way,
more balanced
in the predictability of such a universe,
and not nearly as vulnerable
as we might actually be.

So what I hope for
when we come to a place like this,
is that it will agitate us
and starts to get under our skin,
and begin to make us feel small.

Really, I hope we begin to feel smaller and smaller,
thinner and thinner,
less and less sure of ourselves.
I hope that over time
we begin to feel troubled by a growing doubt
in the ultimate strength
of the scaffolding we assume
is holding the universe up over our heads.
I hope that coming here
will begin to loosen our grip
on the domesticated god-doll
we have been taught to hold onto.

Then, when we feel ourselves wobbling
in shoes so much bigger than our own,
if we are lucky,
we also begin to see that logic
is only a naked stud wall
within a much, much
larger framework.

Then, if we’re lucky,
we will begin to recognize
that the order we see in the universe
is only a small piece of the web.

Hopefully,
unlike Nichodemus,
it won’t take us long to see
the hierarchy of truths we wear
is actually just an umbrella
we’ve been holding up over our heads.
Hopefully,
we will understand, unlike Nichodemus,
that we are not
the masters of our own destiny,
but only dots of color
in an impressionistic painting
rendered explosively,
even now,
from the hand of God’s creativity!

I like to think of worship
as the creation of
a time
and a place
and a space
within which we can become open
to an encounter with God
that rattles our cage
and expands our perspective.
Standing in the presence of God
we know
that no words need be spoken.

Standing in the presence of God
we know
we are people of unclean lips.

Standing in the presence of God
we are filled with awe –
which is a kind of terror,
because we are small
and fragile
and ignorant
in the face of the ultimate
and the eternal
and the endless.

It is only then,
in such a vulnerable moment
that we understand the meaning of Grace.

Standing there
before an encounter with God,
we feel
and know
and recognize
how limited,
fragile,
broken,
and hopelessly foolish we are.

Standing there
we know how dreadfully short we fall
from grasping the high ideals
for which we reach.

Standing there
as ridiculous,
comical,
downright bigoted,
unfaithful,
and negligent as we are,
we can still step forward
into the presence of God’s total OTHERNESS
and say, as Abram did, “Okay, you’ve got me.”

THAT is also what it means
to be born anew –
or as the Greek says,
born from above.

To be born again
means we have stumbled into an encounter
in which we realize our utter dependency
upon the MERCY of God.
To be born again
means to encounter
all the ways we fall short,
which then exposes us
to our utter dependency
upon the WISDOM of God.

To be born again
means to fall flat
into the shallowness of our knowledge,
gasping at our utter dependency
upon the LOVE of God.

To be born again
means to shiver in the shadow
of our self-doubt
exposing ourselves to dependency
upon God’s radical ACCEPTANCE of us.

To be born again
is an encounter with something
so much greater than ourselves
that all we can do
is flap our jaws
in awe.

In the presence of God
we cannot help but feel
the presence of our many failures.
We wear them like stains on our shirt,
but even so, and still,
in spite of everything,
we will feel compelled to say,
as Abram must have,
“Okay, you got me.”

Knowing our smallness
and the scale of our failures,
we will also know
that we are received
and accepted
and loved
and beautiful
just like we are
and without
the least bit of improvement.

THAT
is what I think worship
is supposed to be:
An encounter with a love so exquisite
and an embrace so total
that we are rendered speechless.

In other words,
every week
the pews should be stained
by someone’s tears,
and wiped with someone’s hope,
and silenced by someone’s awe,
and rattled by someone’s insanely holy laughter.

That is what worship is for:
to create a time
and a place
and a space
in which we can encounter God
and be struck stupid
with nothing to do but stutter,

or at the very most,
like Abram, grin sheepishly and say:
“Okay, you got me.”

The rest of the week we can revert
to being like Nichodemus
because we have to function after all.
But when we come here for this,
perhaps we can imagine
we are more like Abram and Sarah
who surely must have been struck stupid
over and over and over again.

And that is just another reason
I am grateful for our silent Lenten prayers
where we can quietly light a candle –
no words,
just a moment of silence
and a droplet of light
holding our prayers
and tears
and awe.