Wednesday, April 23, 2008

On Trees and Kindness

“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these,…”

I speak with you in the name of the forgiving God. Amen!

Good evening [morning]! A Saturday ago, the 12th of April, I experienced something spectacular that I can only describe as the grace of God in the form of a random act of kindness. Y’all remember the weather last Saturday, don’t you: gray, snow flurries, cold, and windy? Now, some of you know I love to complain about the weather. I am an expert at it. Indeed, it is my role within my family. My brother, who lives in Mississippi, emailed the family this past January fearful of driving on a mere two inches of snow and dreading a blistering low temperature of 28 degrees. Try as I might, well I really didn’t try that hard, but I just could not stop myself. I wrote an email to the family patiently describing the fact that I had woken that morning to a temperature reading of 10 below with hopes that day of maybe reaching zero and snow had been on the ground since November. I told the family that from now on, I would take over the duties of complaining about the weather.

So, I was up early a Saturday ago heading into the church to get some paperwork done. It was cold, with no sunshine or hope thereof. It was early on a Saturday and I was headed into work. I had every reason and every intention of being cranky and complaining about the weather all day. I stopped to fill my car up with gas, which considering the price and standing in the wind, my mood only worsened. Then a wave of self indulgence wafted over me, and I decided after topping off the tank that I would drive thru Scooters coffee shop and not only get a piping hot delicious cup of coffee but I was going to get a warmed up chocolate muffin as well. Plus, with the diet already shot to pieces, I might as well get the icing on the muffin too. With this hedonistic decision made, my mood lightened slightly as I pulled out of the gas station and over to Scooters.

I pulled in behind another car in the drive thru lane and placed my order. Then the car ahead of me pulled away and I pulled up to pay and receive my glorious supplies of decadence. Now, if you are like me, you are probably thinking that my moment of grace was in the consumption of the coffee and chocolate muffin with icing. For indeed, as a good friend of mine says, coffee is one of the many ways God says I love you.

Furthermore, Chocolate, as one of my favorite pastors says, is like the gospel, it is something sweet that comes into our lives and changes everything. Now despite this glorious bounty of gracious sustenance I was about to receive, the food was not my moment of Godly encounter.

See, when I pulled up to the window and handed my money over, the barista said, “The guy in front of you paid for you.” Now, I was shocked and made a forceful and incredulous response, “why did he do that?” “I do not know she said. He does it all the time.” I finally overcame my shock a bit and requested she tell him “thank you” next time she saw him.

As I drove away, in the gray dreary morning, I realized, in a glorious epiphany, I could not be cranky and irritable that day. It would be insulting to this random guy’s act of kindness, to his capacity to love his neighbor, for me to cranky. The rest of the day, whenever I felt the urge to be irritable and ungrateful, I thought about what this random child of God had done for me.

Okay, keep that story in the back of head for a bit, we’ll come back to it. I would like to talk for a moment about trees. I love trees they are wondrous things that can teach us a lot. See the deeper a tree’s roots grow the taller and stronger it becomes, the more it grows to point to the beyond. We should be like trees. As we sink deeper into faith through scripture, reason, and tradition, the more we grow to point toward God. Planting a tree is a spiritual exercise. Planting this object in the ground, connecting it to creation so that it may grow reminds us to plant ourselves in the grace of God, to sink deep roots into faith so we can drink in the water of life and point to God.

Now, you might be thinking at this point, “We get it. Someone was nice to you and you like trees. That’s real nice for you, preacher, but what does this have to do with the Gospel. It’s Sunday morning and we came to hear the gospel preached. Well, let me tell you then.

In our Gospel today, we hear part of what has come to be known as Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse” from the Gospel According to John. On the night before he died for us, he was at table with his friends, and knowing what was about to occur he gave them parting instructions. Jesus said that belief in him will enable us to do, not only the wondrous works he did, but, astoundingly, he said we can do even greater things then he did.

Now, that is shocking and it bears repeating. If we believe, then we can do greater works then Christ. I do not know about you but that seems more then a little intimidating if not implausible. However, it becomes less unlikely and indeed attainable if, like the guy in the car ahead of me at Scooters, we think of more than just ourselves. By myself, as an individual, I do not have enough faith, barely a mustard seed, to do anything near the works of Christ. I would hazard to say that, as faithful as I know y’all to be, as an individual none of y’all can surpass the work of Christ. This is where the church comes into the equation. Together, as the body of Christ working in the world, there is no limit to what we can accomplish. One of the purposes of the church in general and specifically the congregation of All Saints is to provide opportunities for us to work together as the body of Christ to bring about the kingdom, to provide opportunities for growth in discipleship.

Having chosen to be a part of this congregation, this particular manifestation of the Body of Christ, there are a plethora of opportunities for you to serve God and do wondrous works, to be like a tree and always point to God. If you receive our newsletter, “The Witness”, you saw in the issue that went out this week page after page of opportunities to give of time, talent, and treasure, all for the glory of God and the building of the Kingdom. I hope, if you are not involved in any of them yet, that you’ll consider getting involved. If you are already heavily involved, as I know many of you are, I hope you’ll take this opportunity to invite someone new to join your efforts of discipleship.

Now, you might be thinking I’m making a bit of a hard sell this evening [morning] on discipleship. I am! The question, however, is not why would I dare push for increased discipleship, rather why would we dare not be stupendous disciples.

Remember that guy at the coffee shop, the one whose small act of kindness and grace demanded I go through my day with a better attitude. Well, let’s compare his small act to the acts of Christ. See, we are important enough, this creation every single thing, being, and atom, is important enough that God entered this creation. God did not and does not exist solely outside the realm of space and time; rather God became incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ and lived for us, died for us, and ultimately was raised from the dead so that we might have life and have it more abundantly. Furthermore God continues to enter creation through the Body of Christ.
Doesn’t this gracious, stupendous, sacrificial, bordering on insane act of God demand a response from us. How dare we not care for this creation if God thought it important enough to not only create it but to join it? How dare we not face the day with gratitude and joy at the gracious act of God for simply having air to breathe? How dare we, when Christ was and is willing to die for us, not live a life worth dying for?

Now my brothers and sisters, I’m not the best at remembering the grace of God. I love complaining about the weather almost as much as love coffee and chocolate. I need reminding. I need to be continually called back to meditate on the grace of God. I need outward visible signs of inward spiritual grace. I need trees and the random act of kindness of a guy a coffee shop.

My brothers and sisters we all need reminding. We need to be continually called back to meditate on the grace of God. We need outward visible signs of inward spiritual grace. We need trees and random acts of kindness. Now, it just so happens that every time we gather in this house of God and humbly approach God’s table we are remembered and reminded of the sacrificial grace of God. We know our Lord Jesus in the breaking of bread and the pouring of wine. In knowing Jesus we come to know God. We are given a vision of wholeness and holiness so that we can then go be that vision of wholeness and holiness to the world. So, I invite you to come. Come remember and be remembered. Amen!

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