Why I Didn’t Want To Recommit
October 17, 1999
When I was asked to preach one and a half months ago I was asked to preach on the new Recommitment statements and process that we were planning to use today. I tentatively titled that sermon "An Inclusive Language Recommitment: A Change for the Better." But then that process was somewhat delayed and I couldn’t preach that sermon any more.
My second thought was to preach on "Why You Should Recommit" and in the time honored Brenda tradition I was going to disregard the assigned lectionary scriptures and use the text where Jesus washes his disciples feet.
But then I realized that by the time I would get up here to speak we would have already recommitted and so I had to think of another sermon. So…today’s sermon is entitled "Why I Recommitted Even Though I Didn’t Really Want To."
Why I Didn’t Want To.
I am call-less in a community where call is everything.
When I first came to Seekers I had no call. But gradually, I heard a call to our children and became the leader of the Sunday School program. I followed this call for four and a half years. But then others began to have a different call for the Sunday School and two and half years ago I stepped aside.
I wish that I had done it as gracefully as those words imply, but I didn’t. I was angry, hurt and I said hurtful things. But underlying this was fear. Yoda, the great Star Wars theologian said "Fear leads to the dark side," and he was right!
- I was afraid that the call I had been following had not been real.
- I was afraid to trust call if it could remain so strong in me and yet another call emerge that was so different. And…
- I was afraid of being call-less, again, in a community that values call so highly.
Strangely, I found that call and hearing God’s voice seem to be integrally related. For almost two years God was silent and I was in the wilderness.
When you are in the wilderness you need comfort food. When Moses led the people of Israel through the wilderness they had manna every day- as a symbol of God’s unchanging love.
In my wilderness years I realized how out of place I am here. I am more conservative than most. In terms of Ron’s sermon of last week, I am most definitely a "Faith in Jesus" person rather than a "Faith of Jesus" person.
I long for traditional non-inclusive language hymns. Saying the Lord’s Prayer in the language that Jesus used — the King James Version. I want to preserve language like "He rose from the dead," because I believe in the possibility that that is exactly what happened.
When you are in the wilderness you seek what is of comfort, you go to places where you found strength before, but it was hard to find those places at Seekers.
And so I wondered whether I should move on.
So why have I stayed?
I Am Known.
A few weeks ago, Jane Engle came up to me and asked why I cry every time I do a Children’s Sermon. I think I gave her some non-answer about being sensitive, but I continued to think about what she had said.
We talk about this place as being safe, and in one sense maybe it is. But I think what is happening, at least with me; is that each time I do a Children’s Sermon, each time I speak to you, is a strip tease of the soul.
Each time I reveal another layer I wonder, "Will you accept me even now?" And as I get closer and closer to the core, it gets harder and harder.
In today’s Epistle reading Paul talks about two women in Phillipi. He urges them to settle their differences and then urges the church leaders to help them, because Paul knew them, had worked with them and had struggled with them.
Being known is risky, but in times of trouble those who know you are willing to speak out on your behalf. They remember who you are in your totality, and are willing to speak up for you even when you are acting in unloving ways.
In the Hebrew scripture reading it says that God knew Moses "face to face."
There is probably nothing scarier in the Bible than those words. I think we all believe that God knows us. He is after all, God. But the phrase "face to face" modifies that and changes it. A meeting face to face implies that nothing is hidden. That it is all out in the open, and what is more scary- we see ourselves as we truly are, stripped to the core, reflected back in the face of God’s glory.
But this didn’t happen to Moses overnight. To know God means that you must know yourself and that takes preparation. He was in training with the Israelites for over 40 years. His community was helping him know himself so that he could know God "face to face."
Which brings us to the second reason that I recommitted.
Recently I saw Isaac Stern, the famous violinist, interviewed on TV. He said, "Music is not something extra in life, it is necessary to life." Well, community is not an extra to spiritual life; it is necessary to spiritual life.
Community is a mirror. It is where we are surrounded by people, rubbing up against them, getting angry, being comforted, and being confronted by things that we would rather not confront. It is by being hurt and vulnerable that we become aware-aware of ourselves and aware of God’s voice, and by this process we are changed and are transformed.
Last week our community gathered for Steve and Amelia’s wedding. It was a beautiful wedding. Amelia had a beautiful gown, Steve had on a suit and bow tie. But what was really interesting was to see other Seekers all dressed up! Peter, Ken, Billy, Keith, David and Manning all wore suits and ties. Jane Engle had a gray scarf tied around her head turban style. Sue had on beautiful blue and purple pants suit. Kate Amoss wore a purple suede silk dress that showed off her figure. Sonya wore a stylish, purple two-piece dress. We were transformed! Gone were our jeans and our "casual Friday" look. We were elegant!
The gospel lesson for this week is also about a wedding celebration. But this celebration has gone awry. The intended guests have refused to come and so the host has invited anyone and everyone. At last the celebration begins and everything is fine until the host sees a guest without the robe that has been provided for him. When asked by the host about why he is not wearing the robe, he has no reply and the host instructs his servants to throw him out.
This is obviously not a story about clothes or the fashion police!
But it is a story about transformation. In some commentaries I read, the robe was supposed to symbolize joy, love, righteousness and justice-seeking intent. That may be true, but what I am interested in is that the guests had a choice. They could wear clothes that transformed, them or they could choose not to.
And this is the crux of the Kingdom of God. When we come to the wedding feast we must be willing to face the consequences of being transformed. We must choose.
And in this expression of God’s wedding feast we do that once a year by recommitting. Recommitting again that we are willing to be transformed by God.
And so I recommitted I choose transformation.
But what happens after we choose? What does transformation look like?
The Legacy of Commitment.
It is a simple story, nothing very dramatic, just simple ordinary people hearing God’s call and being committed to following the call that they have heard.
Almost 40 years ago, my parents and I went to Japan. I was two and a half. My father was from a small town in Wisconsin. He had not graduated from college; he had only a degree from a three-year Bible School. He did not know Japanese and didn’t know whether he would be able to pick the language up easily or not. My mother had been a missionary previously. She had met my father, who was in the Navy, in Japan, and in the face of opposition from the head of the mission had continued a relationship with him. When she married my father she did not know whether God would call him to Japan as God had called her, but she was sure that she was supposed to marry him and so she did.
My parents worked in Japan for over 30 years. Three years before they were going to retire, the pastor of the first church they had worked with and three couples from his church approached them. They asked my parents to help them start a new church and so my parents did.
Tomorrow, my parents leave to go back to Japan to visit that church. They have been invited to the 10th Anniversary of Megumi (Grace) Church. Everyone is so excited to have my parents come back. My parents got word recently that they are booked solid for two weeks- breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Although Moses could only see the Promised Land from a distance my parents are going back to what they had only dreamed about 40 years ago. The three couples that worked with them are still at that church. The church has a new pastor, the son of one those couples.
When I went back this summer to Japan I visited that church. The missionary couple that is there, the Thompsons, were very excited about meeting a Helland. She told me, "All we hear is Helland Sensei (honorific title meaning teacher) this and Helland Sensei that." With the help of this church the Thompsons have recently begun a new outreach in a town not too far from Nagano, and when they leave in about a year the church plans to continue that work too.
That Sunday, one woman came up to me and told me that she was so glad that my parents were returning to Japan for this visit. She told me that her mother who is 80 really wanted to see my parents but didn’t know how that was going to happen until she heard that they were coming back to Japan. I wondered what connection my parents had with this family and this mother that made her so desperate to see my parents. The woman told me that my Dad had visited her father as he was dying in a hospital, week after week. With tears in her eyes she told me how much that had meant to her and to her mother.
I realized then that this is what commitment means, this is what it looks like — to be there, week after week maybe for 30-40 years. To do the little things that come across our path. To be faithful to God’s call. That is the legacy of commitment.