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God is Still Speaking
Progressive Christianity
United Church of Christ
Northern California Nevada   Conference of the UCC

 

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Recent Sermons

When All Seems Lost

 

Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
August 13, 2017

The Book of Genesis is all about beginnings. "In the beginning God created...and called it good." But...Ever since Adam and Eve were thrown out of the garden humanity, and the people who claim to know God, have done just about everything they could to betray the love and blessing of their creator.

We have been following the story of Jacob from his early years when his parents pitted his twin brother Esau against him, to his journey to his grandfather Abraham's homeland to find a wife, that was complicated by his first love Rachel being the younger daughter of a father who insisted he marry her older sister, Leah first! And we haven't even talked about how those two sisters must have felt about all this! We walked through his vision of a ladder reaching up to heaven that gave him courage to go forward; and through his wrestling with God that blessed him with his new name of Israel "One who wrestles with God," and gave him the courge to face his brother Esau and return with his sons and wives to the promised land.

Now he has continued to be fruitful in the promised land but he didn't learn from the tragedies of his youth. He too chose one son, Joseph, to be his favorite. He spoiled him and set him above his 11 brothers. He set in motion the events that followed in our reading this morning. But the brothers must be held accountable for their acitons.
        
What is to become of Joseph, the favored son, who has been taken into captivity and is on his way to the land of Egypt?

When all seems lost, how do we respond?

For the Hebrew people, history is a fulfillment of promises, not in a straight line, certainly, but God is never far from God's people. This belief has been challenged again and again, but the liberation of the people through the Exodus and the leadership of Moses continues to inspire inspite of all the dark times (inquisition, holocaust, and continued persecutions). nothing prevents the annual celebration of Passover and the remembrance that they are a people of the promise.       
We too are people of the promise. Jesus, our historical teacher and guide, was crucified, a most terrible way to die. But we still claim him as the Christ, our liberator, our Savior, our Messiah. When Jesus' first followers found that empty tomb, according to our oldest version of the story found in Mark's Gospel, they ran away in terror. Richard Rohr, in his book "Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self," said:
         "We are made for transcendence and endless horizons, but our small ego usually gets in the way until we become aware of its petty       preoccupations and eventually seek a deeper truth. It is like mining for         a diamond. We must dig deep; and yet seem reluctant, even afraid, to do so.... The first desciples themselves were not the 'true believers'    that we now try to be. One can only presume it was historically true or they never would have said it this way. (Or maybe it is a recognition that doubt is the necessary partner to real faith.)"

How do we respond When all seems lost?

In Native American lore when a person is preparing to become a spiritual leader, they are asked to dig a deep hole in the ground and spend the night alone there, listening to the wild animals, experiencing the desolation, their own fears. They create a physical way to experience transformation.

For most of us, life has given us times of darkness and doubt, even despair, but we are still here. How have we managed to come through? What strengths sustained us? Did we know, even beyond reason, that somehow, as Julian of Norwich reminds me, "All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well?"
        
In the most challenging days of my life I put a quote on my refrigerator that said, "You are exactly where you need to be no matter how things may seem to appear." I took it on faith that God would somehow get me through, that I would carry meaning and lessons from the experience even as I doubted that I could survive; even as I questioned my own sanity.
          
Perhaps the ability to embrace doubt, to wrestle with God, to take one step at a time forward in the dark, is what God requires of all of us in order to carve out space for the sacred, for the humility, for the presence of God to reside and guide us. What do you think.

In the early church prophets and preachers shared their thoughts, but people learned by sharing their responses together. They needed to internalize the teachings that were meaningful to them. Many of us learn best by sharing what we are thinking and experiencing. The early Congregationalists included a time of sermon talk back in every Sunday meeting. And when I visited College Heights Church two weeks ago they include a time of sharing their thoughts and asking questions every week as well. So today, I ask, What do you think?
                 
Do you have any questions for me? How do you respond when all feels lost? How have you walked through dark times in the past? How do you deal with darkness now?

(Several folks shared the ways they find strength in difficult times...remembering Jesus offering water...family and friends and the support of this community...reminding us that our white priviledge allows us to feel comfortable when too many can't, but knowing we are waking up and beginning to do what we can...learning that there are some things we simply can't control and then just letting go...remembering the unconditional love and grace of God that is always with us...)

We are blessed to be able to support and share with each other1

May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to God this day and everyday. Amen. Awomen!