Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church (2014:Tipton, Iowa)

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(Photo: Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Supervised Ministry Internship. 2013-2014 Tipton, Iowa)

I’ve been having a hard time ending things lately. I’ll get to the very end of a paper and it’s like I get blocked up, stumped, with only one paragraph to go, what to say, my mind draws a blank. This has been happening all week and it even happened every time I attempted to write this sermon. For a while, I toyed with the idea of indoctrinating you all into silent worship.

Have I spent any time at all sharing with you all the roots of the tradition? In Quaker churches, which are called meetinghouses, Quakers gather on Sundays, just like we do here at Trinity. Only they have no choir, no piano, no organ, no hymns no priest, no sermon. Only they do have those things but they do it differently then we do here at Trinity.

At Quaker meeting, meetings can go from 1-3 hours and they can be programmed, unprogrammed or semi-programmed. Un-programmed means silence, with space for God’s Spirit to move and inspire. Programmed meetings run very much like a traditional Christian service, with music and sermons and such. Semi-programmed has music, a sermon followed by a time of silence. As I said, the time of silence is thought to allow God’s spirit to move and inspire. When people feel lead to share a message with the meeting that they believe God has inspired them with, they will do their best to discern if that message was for them or for others. One doesn’t just stand up willy nilly, one feels a tugging to share a bible verse, a song, a poem, a prayer, an encouraging or challenging word, in community, all attempt to sit with the insights shared and sometimes the end of a very quiet meeting is met by peaceful smiles as we talk after meeting and discover, the same imagery, bible verse or teaching was surfacing in the silence for many or all of us.

Quakers believe God speaks out of a still small voice or a whisper, that you have to be intent and make an effort to listen to be able to hear. This understanding is based on the scriptural story of the prophet Elijah from the book of 1 Kings, which says, “1 Kings 19:11-13 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”Quakers are not just sitting in silence, they are waiting for God to speak and they are doing it together, because everyone seeks to further discern or dispel insights. Sometimes music rises, sometimes words, sometimes the news from NPR that morning, it’s not a perfect system but sometimes, things are said that resonate immensely with people who needed to hear certain things and those that speak them, often have no idea why they feel lead to share what they do until after meeting when someone shares how what had been shared made a perspective shift or more clarity come to them regarding any number of things.

Quakers also believe that they can partake in inner communion and often consider their time of silence to be a time of communing with God. I was so tempted to share with you this spiritual practice because it has been immensely centering and clarifying for me but I am aware that I am not in a Quaker meeting house and you are not Quaker. Not in the traditional sense, but, in some ways, I do find it interesting when we trace our family trees, many of us are more connected than we think. In my family tree, I have found Lutherans, Quakers, Baptists and Catholics just to name a few. Ironically, it occurs to me that by birth and due to a variety of circumstances, I am by birth, a none.

No, not a nun in convent but how many of you have heard of the rise of the None’s?

The None’s are people who on nation wide assesssments say their religious affiliation is none.

How can that be? How can someone be a none?

Well, a few things have to happen. We have heard that religion gets passed down in families and it could be argued that so does atheism. In other times in our history we could have insulated ourselves from people who believe differently than we do. Those days are over. I am not just talking spiritual beliefs here, I am talking everything, from attachment parenting versus the cry it out method, households who eat gluten and sugar and those who do not, running for exercise versus yoga, any number of things, are fodder for political debates. However, different isn’t bad, different is just different. I could tell you so many stories, jokes or even songs to hammer this point home but I am hoping just saying, different is just different, will be enough for it just hang out there for those of you who are willing to take hold of such a proposition.

Going back to the beginning of this sermon, I’ve been having trouble with endings. I can’t deny that a big ending is staring me in the face, leaving Trinity and Earlham, which has been my home away from home for several years now. I feel a bit like Jesus, I feel a bit like Ezekiel, dead bodies, dry bones, endings, scatter the path I have walked to make it into this pulpit. I have lost friends, a church and my faith as I knew it prior to entering seminary. I have been told that women don’t belong in pulpits, I have been discouraged by friends and their parents who didn’t grow up none, they grew up with a box to check when asked how they spiritually identify. As someone who grew up in a broken home I am sad to say that the church itself is a bit like a broken home. Not just one church, but all of them, they’re all so very human and trying to convey and partake in this Divine masterpiece that is life. All are falling short, all are striving to make it through to the next phase. I have heard many tell me, “the church is dying.” If scripture has taught us anything, we can look at the raising of Lazarus, the breath of life, being breathed into and animating the dry bones, the grass starting to turn green bit by bit, every year and we can see, a new beginning in every ending.

But I don’t like endings. Sometimes I do, don’t get me wrong, after this last winter, I think I heard all of Eastern Iowa sigh with relief when the temps got above 30 and stayed there for a week. So I celebrated, I celebrated Spring, I am still celebrating but sometimes endings are hard and Jesus is not shy of that, in our text about Lazarus, also is one of my favorite lines in scripture it is John 11:35 and that verse simply says, “Jesus wept.”

The verse continues with, “ The Jews said, “See how he loved him!” He goes on to bring him back to life. Lazarus again walks and lives. When I did some job-shadowing, thinking about chaplaincy, years ago now, I recall being at the V.A. And having one of the chaplains tell me of a certain patient, “yeah we refer to that guy as ole Lazarus, cuz we were sure he was a goner, but he made a full recovery and is getting discharged soon,” the chaplain told me. Can you imagine? In modern day, we might tip our hat at the medical staff or science which has brought us the tools to pro-long life but in the text between Jesus and Lazarus, we see pure miracle.

If we really think about it though, even medicine is a form of a miracle. Medical staff had to reach certain conclusions and then test them. They had to clear their heads and focus and maybe just maybe they were silent enough to receive inspiration, from the universe, from God, from their research notes, but there it was, penicillin emerged. Fatal diseases went from destroying the lives of many to being able to be prevented entirely or treated easily. I don’t know what’s next for medicine, I don’t know what’s next for God’s church but I do believe the world we live in reminds us constantly that every ending is a beginning.

What is ending for you? More importantly what is beginning? This is where the spiritual gift of wisdom and vision can both enable us to have hope and rest in our faith that God is a God who is, constantly, wonderously, breathing life into dry bones, restoring life to Lazarus and us.

I know I said I thought about introducing you all to Quaker worship and since I still can’t think of a way to end this sermon, I suggest we all would partake in a shortened version of Quaker silence. Briefly. before we do so, I want to say thank you all for everything. Thank you for being a place of both ending and beginning for me but mostly I am thankful to God, who knows what to do, even when we don’t, who brings life where we’re sure there is only death and is always moving us and directing our path, I am so thankful our paths got to cross this year.

Switching gears back to silent worship. If anyone feels that God’s Spirit is leading you to speak, sing, remain silent or read scripture, please do so. Quakers traditionally have known that they have felt what they call a “leading” to speak when they feel a natural urge to rise and speak or share something with the meeting, even if we all stay silent, that is okay too. Speaking or silent, I want you all to join me in resting in God’s ever present, presence.

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