The Outrageous Claim—Jul. 7, 2019

Isaiah 66:10-14
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love [14th century]

from Chapter 55 of Revelations of Divine Love:
A mother can give her child milk to drink, but our precious mother, Jesus, can feed us with himself. God does so most courteously and most tenderly, with the Blessed Sacraments, which is the precious food of true life. With the sweet sacraments he sustains us most mercifully and graciously. That is what he meant in these blessed words, where he said, “I am that which holy Church preaches and teaches you,” that is to say, “All the health and life of the sacraments, all the virtue and grace of my word, all the goodness that is ordained for you in holy Church, that I am.”

from Chapter 5 of Revelations of Divine Love:
[Then] God showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally this way, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God. In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it.

Sermon delivered at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, Perkasie, PA

This summer we are doing a little experimenting with worship—trying some new things out. And so Pastor Krey has very wisely selected these two beautiful paragraphs from Julian of Norwich, a nun from the 14th century in England.

She uses a very unusual image to illustrate creation. In the palm of her hand, she says she saw creation the size of a hazelnut—just a little thing. And though all of the universe, in its billions of light years of width and depth, might seem like an impossibly large thing to us… if we stretch our imaginations, like Julian of Norwich has asked her readers to do, to God, all that has ever existed is just like a little nut. And as Julian says, seeing it resting there, “I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness.”

In her poetic image Julian hits the nail on the head—creation feels fragile when relationships fall apart, when nations seem on the brink of war, when your mortality stares you in the face. Our world seems like it might fall into nothingness, for its littleness. And the little god we’ve set up for ourselves, is sometimes not enough to get us through the darkness.

But, nevertheless, according to Julian of Norwich, this fragile creation will be OK. Julian writes that God made it, God loves it, and God keeps it. I know it can be hard to believe this. And I think it’s difficult to trust this reality because we get stuck in ruts.

All our lessons this morning always convict me of being narrow-sighted. God is always bigger than the picture of God I have in my mind and Creation is always more marvelous than I can imagine. That’s partly why Pastor Krey and I are shaking up our summer worship a little. Our god can get very small. Our idea of creation can be a little sanitized. And our familiar way of doing church might reinforce this a little.

But Scripture and the Holy Spirit are here to help us, to guide us. God says today in Isaiah, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.” I will admit, it really can throw me off balance when I get rid of the image of God as only a man with a white beard. God’s divine love contains all the tenderness and the fierceness of a mother too. Even Julian of Norwich from the 1300s thinks so. In her metaphors she breaks apart all normal logic  and says that Jesus is our “precious mother,” and feeds us in Communion with himself like a mother’s milk.

God is far beyond our idea of a father, and using the image of a mother helps us  to grow our understanding of what Scripture says God is really like. God has not only made all that is. But God loves it and God keeps it.

The Prophet Isaiah says another amazing thing about God’s creation. I wonder what comes to mind when you think of “creation,” when you think of all that God has made—everything inside Julian’s little hazelnut. You might think of plants and animals, maybe oceans and even galaxies. But do you think of cities, or the town you grew up in? Do you think of the steel and the glass of skyscrapers, and all the music and foods you grew up loving?

In both the Old and New Testaments both cities and farms, towers and vineyards—and Jerusalem especially—are equally part of God’s creative output as rocks and trees. Isaiah writes that Jerusalem, a city, brings the joy and delight of God, and that it nurses and satisfies hunger. Jerusalem was a city that, obviously, was built by human beings, yet Scripture says that God will feed and console God’s people through it.

What God has created includes more than what we call the “natural world,” (though the natural world is of course stunning and full of beauty). God has created all things, God has made us and all our own creative abilities. And God is in all the cities and cultures we have made, up to the point that they are things that help and serve other people, just like Isaiah says of Jerusalem. So no nation or city, not Philadelphia, Mexico, Shanghai or whatever else, is outside of God’s creation.

And remember that Jesus became flesh and took part in human culture—he took the meal and the bath—bread and wine and water—and made them part of God’s new way of reaching us. Whatever God has created is, inherently, good. God made it. God loves it. And God keeps it.

To go back to worship again: when our young folks don’t understand what we do here, we often blame them. And we blame what our culture has done to their attention span… Well, if worship is about ascribing worth, and praise is about saying thank-you, maybe we haven’t shown them who God truly is, or they feel the god we have taught them about doesn’t actually deserve thanks or praise. Maybe they sense how small our viewpoints can get.

To praise God isn’t just groveling before some far-away-Father-figure, but it’s also to sing out with a Mother full of life and concern for us. To praise God’s creation goes beyond mountains and sunsets, but includes whatever good there is in all kinds of music, architecture and food.

I know you might be thinking that cultures and cities are flawed, just like I know you know nature is ambiguous too, full of carnivores and death. America, as we celebrated on the 4th, is full of all kinds of good stuff, beauty and loyalty. But, like every country… America also has a history that includes betrayal and injustice. Sin, we all know, is still a confusing part of our experience of life.

Just so, Jesus said to his disciples today before they went into the world,“I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” You may call Sin decay or death, divisions or despair—whatever the name, it is all those things that make God and creation seem small and fragile. Sin is what makes it so hard to believe that God has made us, and does love us, and really will keep us.

Jesus in Luke’s gospel calls Sin the power of the enemy. And when Jesus’ 70 disciples go out in this story, when—to their own amazement—they are successful, Jesus is quick to tell them that he saw the power of all Sin crumble in a flash of lightning. Jesus says to them, and to us, “See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you.”

This is a fantastic claim, one that seems to contradict all the hurts we’ve been through. How can this be true? But with this we come back to worship and praise again. Jesus says, not only has the power of Sin fallen away in a flash of lightning, but all the power and authority of Christ has been given to us! This is the outrageous claim we make when we gather as God’s People to worship God.

I know as a kid I didn’t understand what worship was. Going to church on Sundays with my parents—it just seemed like lots of sitting down and standing up while singing old sounding songs to a pipe organ. What matters is that to “worship” is to hang worth on something. We all gather here, battered by the hurts of the world, and defiantly declare: that God has created us, that God loves us, that God will keep us. Together we trust, even if for just an hour, and for this we thank God in songs and prayers.

Our praise might use European culture, or it might come through the cultures of people from Africa or African-Americans. It might be old or it might be new, it might be in Spanish or English or Chinese… God is always bigger than the god in our mind. Creation is always more than what we’ve made it out to be. And though our cultures are created good by God, worship and praise cannot be contained by one cultural expression.

And the reason we can muster even a little bit of praise is because Jesus has given us all authority and power over Sin. So with joyful hearts we worship the only thing worth worshipping—the creator and the restorer of all things, who has made us, who loves us, and who certainly will keep us for all eternity.