Posts Tagged community

Morning Worship: Put trash in mulch pile and let new, beautiful things grow

by MARY LEE TALBOT on 

“Humor and laughter are the most powerful gifts in life,” said the Rev. Susan Sparks at the 10:45 a.m. Sunday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. “The congregation this morning is a visual reaffirmation of faith in the church, in that the numbers here this morning rival the numbers at a screening of ‘Harry Potter.’ ”

Senior Pastor Susan Sparks Delivers Her SermonDuring The Sunday Morning Worship Service . PAULA OSPINA / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Her sermon title was “The Mulch Pile,” and the theme was letting go. The Scripture reading was Colossians 3:1-2, 8-14.

Sparks said she and her husband were traveling across the country, and to the west of Minneapolis they saw a billboard that had a picture of a casket “Minnesota Cremation Society — Think Outside the Box,” it read.

“That is what humor does — helps you think outside the box, see in fresh ways, and it builds community and bridges,” Sparks said.

Sparks quoted theologian Karl Barth, saying that humor is the closest thing we have to God’s grace.

“We can feel hope in our hearts,” she said, “because humor is there even if the world tries to beat it out.”

Sparks recently ended a three-month sabbatical. For the first month, she and her husband rode their Harleys around the country.

“That’s right, you have a biker chick and a comedian for a chaplain this week,” she said.

The second two months they spent in their cabin in Wisconsin — a place they visit regularly. It is near a town much like Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon: 2,000 people and 17 Lutheran churches.

They have a ritual for their first morning — first, making “really bad coffee,” and then fishing for bluegills and other small fish and then cooking breakfast. During one visit, they threw the fish guts and egg shells into the trash after breakfast and went out to run errands. They had no air conditioning and the day was 93 degrees — “you can see where this is going,” Sparks said. When they got home, they were hit with the smell.

“I made a small gas mask out of wet paper towels and went in and got the trash and ran it out to the mulch pile,” Sparks said. “As you gardeners know, the trash turns into rich, dark soil that grows daylilies or tomatoes.”

In the Scripture reading, Paul tells the Colossians to get rid of their anger and malice and clothe themselves in a new self.

“Paul was writing in 60 A.D. and the danger he was writing about was gnosticism,” Sparks said. “He urged the Colossians to clothe themselves in the teaching of Christ. Paul is reaching out to us in the same way today and asking two questions — What trash are you carrying that needs to be put in the mulch? And what beautiful new thing can grow in its place?”

This is the arc for the week in her sermons: to look at what the trash is that needs to be put out on the mulch pile and, on Friday, to sum up what beautiful new thing might grow in its place.

“What trash are you carrying?” she asked. “Do you even know? Are you carrying anger, resentment, fear or self-doubt? Are you carrying racism, homophobia or other hatreds?”

Sparks said that sometimes when we are in denial, we don’t know that we are carrying trash or we have lived with generations of disregard for the problems. As an example, she said she threw her back out once and had to lie on the floor for almost a week. On the fourth day, after having read every newspaper and magazine in the house and binge-watched reruns of “Dr. Phil,” she was bored and her only view was under the furniture.

“I saw dust balls the size of ferrets, some leaky pens and paper and a strange orange square thing. It turned out to be a cheese appetizer from a cocktail party two years before,” she said. “I would not have known it was there unless I had been forced to look. You can’t take out the trash if you don’t know it is there.”

The second action in taking out the trash is letting go, and that is easier said than done. There are many things that we are used to but are useless to us.

“My father had a big old Buick boat of a car and he kept two spare tires, food, water, blankets and a foil space blanket in his trunk — in case there was a blizzard — to drive the 0.1 mile to from our house to his office in Charlotte, North Carolina,” she said.

We, she told the congregation, need to let go of privilege, apathy and ego as much as a foil blanket. She told the story of a man who fell off a cliff and was dangling from a tree, calling for help. A voice came from the heavens, saying, “Let go, my son, I have you.” The man thought for a moment and said, “Who else is up there?”

It can be hard to let go, but if we carry this trash too long it begins to define us. Ralph Waldo Emerson said what we worship, we become.

“I have a friend who calls it the 3Bs — believe, behave, become,” Sparks said. “What we believe drives our behavior and what we believe drives who we become.”

Sparks cited the first part of the Serenity Prayer, attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, which reads: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

She prefers the Senility Prayer: “God, Grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into the ones that I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.”

“We have got to let go and throw things onto the mulch pile and in that moment, greater forces will take over,” Sparks said. “When we hand things over to a greater power, to Jesus Christ, it fades and changes into something beautiful and new.”

For instance, she said, we have to throw out our judgmentalism of others in order for mercy, empathy and forgiveness to grow.

“We judge people by the craziest things, like color, language or religion that have nothing to do with their being a child of God and our brother and sister,” she said.

She told a story from Jack Kornfield about two prisoners of war. The first one asked the second if he had forgiven their captors. The second one said no. “Then they still have you in prison,” the first one replied.

“We have more in common than we think and we have to start living like it,” Sparks said. “We have to begin with ourselves and forgive ourselves so we can forgive others. We have excuses for why we can’t do that, but if we have any lesson for today, it is that this body is our house, this heart is our house, this country is our house, this world is our house and it is our responsibility to take out the trash even if someone else brought it in.”

Poet Mary Oliver wrote, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

“If you care about this gift, don’t waste it on what weighs you down,” Sparks said. “Fling it on the mulch pile and clothe yourself in something beautiful and new.”

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Community, Intimacy, and Sovereignty – Chautauqua Institution – June 30, 2014

By Mary Lee Talbot

Deep theology and humorous asides characterized the sermon by the Rev. Raphael G. Warnock Sunday at the 10:45 a.m. morning worship service and sermon. “If I were at Ebenezer [Baptist Church] this morning, I would say, ‘Let the Church say, Amen,’ ” Warnock said. The Amphitheater congregation responded “Amen,” and he said, “Y’all did pretty good.” The title of his sermon was “Our Father in Heaven,” and the selected Scripture was Luke 11:1-2 and Matthew 6:9a.  The “Lord’s Prayer” will be the subject for his sermon series this week. Warming up the congregation, Warnock said that he was grateful to be back at Chautauqua and talked about trying to describe Chautauqua to his friends. “I tell them about the programming that goes on, the friends I have met and the lively conversations, but none of this captures the place. The best I could come up with is that Chautauqua is a vacation for nerds.” He continued, “What am I going to talk about? I am not at Ebenezer — I am at Chautauqua, so I am going to talk about 10 to 15 minutes. I am going to talk about the Lord’s Prayer, specifically the first line, ‘Our Father in Heaven.’ ” Warnock characterized the prayer as the great prayer of the Christian faith, taught by Jesus at the request of his Disciples. It is prayed across all denominations in all nations. “This is the ‘Abba Father’ prayer that reveals an intimate relationship with God. God is not far from any of us; we pray to Dad, Daddy, ‘Yo, Pops.’ God is not far from us,” he said. “Father” is not a reference to maleness but to the parent- hood of God, he said. God is spirit, and any anthropomorphism can’t contain God. “ ‘Our Father’ points to and about God; God as protector and provider,” he said. “This is not maleness or patriarchy but closeness.”

Warnock said that many Christians recite the Lord’s Prayer but do not really hear it — memorize it, but don’t know what it means. Sing it, but “do we really mean it?” In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is praying, and the Disciples ask him to teach them to pray. “This was simple but significant. Whatever they saw arrested them and they would not let go of it. Of all the things they saw Jesus doing, they asked to learn how to pray,” he said. Jesus’ Disciples witnessed a lot, he said. They saw Jesus take two fish, a loaf of bread and open a fish shop and bakery and feed the multitude without charging them a penny, but they did not ask Jesus to teach them that. “Jesus took spit and dirt and made contact lenses in less than hour, but they did not ask him to teach them that,” War- nock continued. “Jesus healed lepers and the lame, walked on water and, at a wedding, made plain water blush into wine. “They witnessed all that, that we would bottle and sell for a dollar, but they would rather Jesus teach them to pray,” he added. “They asked Jesus for that ‘thing that makes you do what you do when you do that thing.’ ” Warnock noted that Jesus’ Disciples often looked two steps behind and bumbling in the Gospels, but here they were onto something. They wanted to learn where Jesus got his power.

“Prayer in the human breast is the breath of God coming into us,” he said to the congregation. “It is deep calling to deep. It is a text message with the eternal. It is antivirus soft- ware, prayers enables us to be who God is calling us to be. “Jesus deliberately began his prayer with ‘Our Father in Heaven,’ ” Warnock said. “He could have begun with ‘my father,’ but ‘our father’ guards us against a narrow, individual parochialism and chauvinism. We are all God’s children no matter where we are born. “We are overwhelmed by hyper-connectivity yet we are isolated from one another,” he continued. “What used to be ‘ours’ is now ‘mine.’ Four people sit in a car, each talking to someone else. Everyone in the house has their own TV, computer, iPod, iPhone, email. We used to take group photos at weddings and graduations. Now, we take selfies of ourselves — by ourselves. “We used to watch Tom Brokaw. Now, on YouTube, we have our own channel broadcasting stuff no one should have to see. We are foolish to think we can do the faith thing by ourselves,” he told the congregation. “This is not the perspective of the Gospels. Faith is personal, but not a private journey. If you really want to be a Christian, then you have to hang out with other Christians  because grace can only flourish when you meet the ungracious; healing only comes from hurt; strength comes from struggle.” Warnock continued, “God is our authentic connector to each other. We have to reach up to reach out beyond our comfort zone. God does not hang out inside your box. You may possess God, but you don’t own God. You may possess a husband or wife, but you don’t own him or her. You may possess a house, but if you pay a mortgage you don’t own it. Just try missing a payment or two and find out the bank owns it. Your name may be on the life insurance policy, but cash it in and your name is not on the list of beneficiaries. “God is bigger than individual churches, denominations or traditions,” he continued. “Jews do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah; Muslims don’t recognize Jews as the only chosen people. Protestants don’t recognize the Pope as their spiritual leader, and Baptists don’t recognize each other in the neighborhood liquor store. God calls us to transcend our own tribalism — the particularities of our own traditions.” Warnock recalled a conversation he and Robert Franklin had with their waiter at the Heirloom Restaurant at the Athenaeum. He asked the young man what he wanted to do with his life. The waiter said his mother was in law enforcement and he thought he might go into law enforcement.

“Dr. Franklin asked him, ‘How about going to law school?’ It had never occurred to him yet here were two men responding to the talent he so obviously possessed.” Warnock continued, “God is bigger than our whole imagination and looks beyond our needs. God dreams dreams for us until we dream them too. I am so glad that I have a God I can call and not talk to the secretary’s secretary. God still answers when we are disappointed. This is the God of the universe, and you are in the company of the God who refuses to be without you. “If the ‘our’ in the prayer means community, and the ‘father’ means intimacy, then heaven means sovereignty,” Warnock said. “Heaven is not a geophysical place. It is not an eschatological category. The one who is in charge, the one who we can call father or mother, is in charge.” Warnock said that young boys in his neighborhood, wrestling with each other, would pin each other, and then “ask each other this profound theological question, ‘Who’s your daddy?’ and the response had to be: ‘You’re my daddy.’ ” “Life may have you in a headlock,” he continued. “You may have a problem you are trying to figure out, and God is asking you this theological question, ‘Who’s your Daddy?’ ” The God who created exnihilo, who moves the ocean currents, who makes the planets march to the drumbeat of eternity, who makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust, is the one who is asking, Warnock said. “Are you here all by yourself, all alone, struggling for your own self, or do you have cosmic companionship? You have a friend — Our Father in Heaven.”

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168 Ways To Communicate Better Now Plus Two – 114 – 115 – 116

114. Trust.

It builds relationships.

It creates harmony.

It is prized by everyone.

It builds community. 

115. Use silence effectively.

Silence can be nourishing.

Silence promotes a sense of well-being.

Silence can be a sign of strength.

Silence often speaks louder than words.

 116. Use vocal inflection.

You won’t bore people as often.

You’ll create interest.

People will follow your points more easily.

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Random Acts of Kindness – 83

There is someone who can benefit from your vision of community. Share with her or him what community really means. You will be glad that you did.

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