02 June 2012

Preaching the Love

So they're letting me lead the service at church again tomorrow. YAY. I really do enjoy worship planning. I know. I'm weird. Anyway, since y'all are my loyal comrades, I'm letting you have a sneak peak at the sermon. Here it is (it quotes Bender from Futurama, so I assure you, it's not your usual sermon):

When I was looking at the readings in the lectionary this week to see just what I wanted to talk about, I found myself drawn to the Isaiah reading more than the others. I think because I like the imagery. I like the idea of him saying, "ME? But, I'm just a sinner among sinners!" I like the idea of angels purifying his lips and Isaiah turning around and saying, "Okay, God. Send me." I can almost picture him taking a deep breath and letting it out first.

But as I was looking at all the readings, I was kind of baffled at why these would be the readings for Trinity Sunday, and what in God's name (ha ha!) they all had in common. I don't think I came to any brilliant conclusions, but I found myself drawn to the idea of --God speaks to us-- and we'll hear God if we shut up and listen. Whether we do what God wants like Isaiah did is another issue. But God speaking to us, that's what I want to talk about today.

God's communication with us fascinates me. I'm drawn to language.

I am a geek. Seriously, a geek of epic proportions. I'm sure this brings to mind someone sitting at a computer, bending it to her will, but in this case, I am a language geek. I love language and languages. When I was little, I used to drive my Mom crazy by making up my own languages and insisting she try to learn them. She compromised by teaching me Pig Latin. I'd pour over dictionaries. I'd watch Sesame Street, primarily to learn the French! Now it's my favourite kids' show, because I can watch it for the Spanish. When I got into University, I studied linguistics. I went so far as to get a Master's Degree in it. I loved looking at the way that different languages put sentences together, the way they put words together, how languages changed over time, and how some words didn't have direct translations in other languages. Like how in English, there's no word for the look that two people pass between each other that means, "No, I'm not going to say it, you say it!" There is a word for that in some languages. That is, in my geeky opinion, the pinnacle of cool. So you'll understand that when I say, "God's communication with us fascinates me", I'm taking it to a whole new level. :)

Remember the story about the Tower of Babel? How all the people spoke the same language, and then for trying to build a tower high enough to get to Heaven, God confused them and made them speak new languages. I used to both love and hate that story. I hated it because I thought it was just plain mean of God to do that to the people. Especially considering how much pain and death has been caused simply by mistranslations and misunderstandings between languages. And I loved it because I totally loved the idea of a universal language. A language everyone could understand. A God-given, language innate to humanity.

Now, I'm pretty sure that that story is metaphorical, and that we are to learn from the lesson rather than take the story as literal truth, but at least one linguist of pretty high standing disagrees. His name is Mark Baker, and he has been working on the fundamentals of Universal Language for years and years, trying to get some insight into the nature of God's plan, much like Isaac Newton was trying to find God in science. And that's pretty impressive. I don't know how far he's gotten, and I'm pretty sure he's not talking to God in the ancient language, because God seems to use a lot of other ways to talk to us.

The Bible has all sorts of examples of God talking to people in all sorts of spectacular ways. In Exodus, God appears as a burning bush and speaks to Moses. A few weeks back we heard the story of Samuel hearing God's voice and not recognising it until Eli told him what to do. God spoke to Job through a storm. In the reading we just heard, God's voice is heard by Isaiah, presumably in his language, asking directly, "Whom shall I send?" as though God was asking for a volunteer, privately to Isaiah. I find that remarkably funny, actually. Is God being coy with him? Is it like when I say "I wonder if someone will shut the window for me" when it's only me and Josie in the room. God is gentle though. God doesn't say, "Yo. Isaiah. You're up. Do it or I'm going to bug you for the rest of your days!" Though frankly, that's kind of how God talks to me. Just subtly. For example, a few years ago I was very, very sick. I was walking with two canes, I was taking Percocet for pain, I was a mess. Some strange man stopped me in a health-food store and went on and on about how I was going to die before I was 30 if I kept eating gluten and dairy. I'd only ever heard of gluten once or twice. Didn't know what it was. I dismissed the guy as a nutjob and went home to laugh about it. I tell you. Within the next few weeks, at LEAST 10 people mentioned gluten to me in some way. I finally said, "OKAY! I GET IT! I'LL TRY A GLUTEN FREE DIET!" which startled the heck out of the guy on the bus who was telling me about his gluten free dog food. So I tried it. And what happened? I got better. I am utterly convinced that was God talking to me. Not in a loud voice, but pesky enough that I finally got the hint.

So I've sometimes wondered why God can't be more clear. A booming voice from above would be hard to miss. Light it up in neon. A big flashing sign saying, "People! I told you to be nice to each other, even the people you don't like. Do it, or else!" would be appreciated. I know I could use the reminder some days! So why doesn't God just light it up in letters, sky write it, spell it out in our soup?

Strangely enough, the best answer I've ever gotten for this was from a cartoon I like. It's called Futurama, and if you're not familiar with it, it's silly science fiction, set 1000 years in the future. Anyway, in one episode, Bender, a robot with a lot of vices, becomes a God to a tiny race of people. All the people kill each other off in nuclear war, and then meets the real God. Now, remember, this is animation and not particularly biblically accurate. However, what God tells Bender really resonates with me. Bender is upset that all his people died, and he's lamenting it all to God. God tells him:
God Entity: Bender, being God isn't easy. If you do too much, people get dependent on you. And if you do nothing, they lose hope. You have to use a light touch, like a safecracker or a pickpocket.
Bender: Or a guy who burns down a bar for the insurance money.
God Entity: Yes, if you make it look like an electrical thing. When you do things right, people won't be sure you've done anything at all.

Of course, this is silliness, but there's a grain of truth in it. If God told us what to do in no uncertain terms whenever we asked, we'd get utterly dependent on God in about 40 seconds. We'd fail to learn anything. It'd be like cheating in school. If God boomed commands out from above, how would we ever learn to become the people God dreams of?

So, we have to have faith. We have to listen. We have to do what we know is right even when it's easier to do what's wrong. And when it seems like God's forgotten us or isn't talking to us, we need to remember two things: God is ALWAYS talking to us. And there's a convenient book full of God's words. After the end of each scripture reading we say, "God still speaks to us through the scripture" and it's true. If we're listening, we can learn something new each time.

NONE of us has it all figured out, as much as we'd sometimes like to think we do, and as loudly as some proclaim they have. What I'm pretty confident that I do have figured out is LOVE. God is pretty clear that our job is to love God and to love each other, and that we can do that by taking God's love for us and sharing it with others.

I've always thought that the Good News we hear about is pretty good indeed. The news is that God loves us. We're sinners, sometimes of epic proportions, sometimes so much so that society locks us away in cages to protect themselves from us. And God still loves us. So much so that God sent us Jesus to tell us this and to tell us that all we have to do is love. Love everyone. Love God. Just love. How hard is that? Depends on who you talk to, I suppose.

One of my friends says she's so glad she's Christian, because it's easy. She says that just loving people is WAY easier than following strict rules about which foods you can eat with each other, when you can use electricity, having to give up all earthly cares, etc. She's a pretty awesome person to be around.

And sometimes it's not so easy. How do you love someone who has killed people? Or fed on greed so much that he destroyed the lives of everyone who trusted him? Or hurt children? And what does it even mean to love them?

That friend of mine says that the legal system should embrace these people, show them love and show them just what they've done. That when they come to see it, they can start to heal and start to be productive again. And those who can't, will just have to stay in jail. But we never stop trying to help them. She says we need to stop using the word "justice" to mean "revenge". Like I said, she's a pretty awesome person.

It all comes down to judge not, lest ye be judged. That doesn't mean we can't look at someone and say, "No. What you're doing is wrong." It means we can't say, "No. I don't love you because what you're doing or what you've done is wrong". We need to live with a love that isn't based on merit. Because really, none of us is perfect. None of us can walk on water - unless it's in Saskatchewan in January, and that's just cheating. We need to love unconditionally, and accept the love of others unconditionally. Just as God loves us.

And you know what? That's not just good news. That's great news. Because it's just not that hard. Look at the homeless guy on the street who you just know is an addict. Instead of walking by, smile. Maybe hand him a card for Our Place. Maybe offer to buy some groceries. Jesus didn't tell us to find out if the hungry guy is to blame for his hunger before feeding him. He said, "feed the hungry". He didn't say, "Heal the sick. But only if they have money to pay you. And only if their sickness isn't related to their own actions." And he sure didn't say, "Love your neighbour. But only if they sin the same way you do."

God's Word could not be more clear. LOVE. Just love. Spread God's love around by being instruments of God's love. We're God's instruments in this world. We're the vessels to spread the love. If we truly want to be God's people, we have to love like God does. And like my friend says, that's fabulous, because that's just not that hard.