Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sermon: What Kind Of Child Are You?

A Sermon preached in 
Christ Church, Grosse Pointe, Michigan
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse, Associate
The First Sunday of Lent, Year C
14 February 2016

Listen to this sermon here.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts
be always acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen

When I was beginning middle school,
my teachers used to ask me,
“are you going to be
like your oldest sister Karen, or
your next older sister Lauren?” 
As you can imagine,
this was a loaded question –
having something to do with their trust in me –

What kind of child will I be? 
A gifted, artistic and rebel child, like Karen?
Or an all-A’s, girl scout, obedient child,
like Lauren? 
Who are you, they meant, and
can I trust you - the bigger question.
Oh, we sisters have shared the stories!

This passage from the gospel reading today
is about Jesus’ identity –
his identity as fully divine, and fully human. 

The scripture just prior to this text
outlines Jesus’ genealogy
from when he was about thirty years old
and he began his work. 
Jesus was known as
the son (as was thought) of Joseph
son of Heli,
son of Matthat,
who was son of …
all they way back to Adam, son of God. 

The sacred story connects Adam
to Jesus, who, so unlike Adam,
was baptized with a voice from heaven,
“You are my Son, the Beloved;
with you I am well pleased.” 
Jesus’ baptism affirms that
he is the son of God.

The pursuant temptations ask,
what kind of child will you be?
Will you be like Adam or like God? 

Let’s find out, the devil pursued,
with temptations of bread, power and safety.

With each temptation,
The devil tried to undermine Jesus’
trust and confidence in God,
pulling him away from his identity
as God’s son.
Each temptation offered
relief from his mission as a human. 
Each temptation tried to erode and undercut
Jesus’ trust and confidence in God.

When the devil first tempted Jesus with bread,
Jesus picked up on the real test:
a detraction from confidence in God.
Jesus responded by affirming his trust.

When the devil next tempted Jesus
with world power
(in return for allegiance to
and worship of the devil)
the game was pretty clear –
Jesus knew his allegiance
could only be given to the one
from whom Jesus had received his identity. 

When the devil finally bullied Jesus, suggesting that God was not trustworthy,
and so Jesus better test that relationship,
Jesus refused to do so. 

What is the deal with temptations?

Pastor David Lose offers insight here
about the nature of temptations. 
He says, “…temptation is not so often
temptation toward something –
usually portrayed as doing something
you shouldn’t –
but rather is usually
the temptation away from something – namely,
our relationship with God
and the identity we receive
in and through that relationship.”[1] 

In each case, these temptations attempted
to tear away at Jesus’ confidence
in God and in himself. 
In each case, the devil tried
to erode Jesus’ self-understanding
that he is enough,
that he is secure,
that he is worthy of God’s love.

In each case, temptations attempt
to tear away at our confidence
in God and in ourselves as God’s children. 

In each case, temptations try
to erode our self-understanding
that we are enough,
that we are secure,
that we are worthy of God’s love. 

We, too, are tempted to be pulled away.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be
bread, power and safety. 
For us, it might be youth, beauty and wealth. 
Or self-reliance, fame and security.

We are surrounded with media messages
from advertising whose goal is to create in us
a sense of lack and inadequacy,
with the implied promise that
consuming the product
will relieve our insecurity. 

Political messages often tell of
insecurity and fear:
can we trust this politician to make us safe? 

These tempting messages
try to lure us away from allegiance to the God
who created us and redeemed us.  

We wonder, who are we? Are we enough?
Is God really sufficient to meet our needs?

In the face of the temptations,
Jesus returned to the sacred story of Israel.

He asserted to the devil
his part in that story
and therefore he reaffirmed,
each time,
his identity as a child of God. 
Jesus remembered his story – our story -
from the scriptures –
and was reminded
not only that he has enough
and is enough
but that he is of infinite worth in God’s eyes. 
And through this testing,
Jesus was prepared for his mission.
He was ready for ministry.

In the face of temptations,
we are tempted to pull away from God’s gaze. 

We are tempted to forget
our relationship with God
and the identity we receive in and through
that relationship. 
We are tempted to forget our sacred story:
that God loves us more than anything. 
We are tempted to pull away from the fact that
God loves all of us, enough
to send God’s only Son into the world,
to take on our human nature and
to suffer the same temptations and wants,
to be rejected as often as we feel rejected and
to die as we will die,
so that we may know God is with us
and for us forever. 

When we are tempted,
we can connect to our sacred story,
affirming that through Jesus’ resurrection
God’s love is found more powerful than
all the mistrust and hate in the world. 

The life that God offers
is more powerful than death.

See, we receive this sacred story
into our whole being at our baptism
but we are tempted to forget.

This Lent, I invite you to take on
a simple practice of remembering. 
Remember your baptism, by simply
tracing the cross on your forehead
and say to yourself as you do so,
“I am God’s beloved child.” 
Silently or aloud, would you try this?
(do this now). 

When you are tempted to be pulled away
from your allegiance to God, try this
and remember “I am God’s beloved child.” 
In this way, you can affirm your relationship and remember that God draws near to you. 
In every moment, God crosses your forehead and says, “you are my beloved child.” 

Lent is often full of
self-denial, sacrifice and resisting temptations. 

Perhaps this is an ideal season
to remind each other of the love and grace
encouraged by this Lenten Prayer[2]:
Fast from fear; Feast on Faith
Fast from despair; Feed on hope.
Fast from depressing news; Feed on prayer.
Fast from discontent; Feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger and worry; Feed on patience.
Fast from negative thinking;
Feast on positive thinking.
Fast from bitterness;
Feed on love and forgiveness.
Fast from words that wound;
Feast on words that heal.
Fast from gravity; Feast on joy and humor.

This Lent, we are invited
to remember our sacred story
in that difficult image of the cross,
where we can trust God’s empowering love
for us and all the world. 

Jesus was faithful to God
and so God is faithful to us. 
When we are tested and led
to places of hunger and despair,
we learn dependence on God,
who defines who we really are. 

God loves us and will keep loving us
no matter what. 
For this reason we are enough. 
I know that I need to hear this declared
again and again,
in the face of messages to the contrary.

Who are you?
What kind of child are you? 

God’s beloved child, that’s who.

[2] adapted from A Lenten Prayer by William Arthur Ward as quoted at on February 13, 2016

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Sermon: God calling

A Sermon preached in Christ Church, 
Grosse Pointe, Michigan
by The Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

31 January 2016

Jeremiah 1:4-10

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
To listen to this sermon click here.

All week, I found myself 
reflecting on Jeremiah 
and what it means to be called by God.   
Maybe it was the debates on TV, 
the candidates expressing how they are “called”.
Maybe it was a former youth member
asking for a reference letter to a college 
“certificate” program on public service,
to which he said he felt called. 

I mean, calls from God are scary. 
Do we say yes? Do we wiggle around it?

In some cases, the call is so clear,
like the proverbial lightening bolt. 
In other cases, not so much. 
Maybe God’s call is a thought
that you can’t shake, or
an idea that seems crazy or
appears as if it is impossible. 

“The owls that bring Harry Potter
invitations to attend
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
were like a call from God. 
Harry’s less-than-kind foster parents try,
as best they can,
to destroy the invitations. 
They even try escaping to
a remote cabin on an island. 
Finally, the umpteenth letter arrives
personally delivered
by an angry giant of a man named Hagrid. 
God’s call was like this for Jeremiah –
relentless and inevitable.”[1]

What does it mean to be called by God?
Jeremiah received the call from God
and immediately responded
that he was not able to accept. 
“Thanks, God, but I cannot. 
I’m too young, too unskilled,
too unfamiliar with that kind of work. 
I’m just a kid.”
Jeremiah resisted God’s call –
he believed he was not up to the task.

This sense of inadequacy
is actually typical of “call” stories. 

When God called Moses
to bring the Israelites out of Egypt[2],
Moses had all kinds of questions, 
including, “What do I call you?
What if they do not believe me?
I have never been eloquent,
neither in the past nor even now …
I am slow to speech and slow of tongue.”
When God called Gideon[3]
to deliver Israel from Mideanites,
Gideon asked,
“How can I deliver Israel?
My clan is the weakest…
and I am the least in my family?”

Gideon, Moses’ and Jeremiah’s fear,
sense of inadequacy, and
maybe even resentment of being called
are all understandable. 
Sometimes we, too, think that we are not able 
to accept a call from God.

Maybe God is calling us to forgive someone.
Maybe God is calling us to work
with someone we don’t like,
or to love someone who we think is disgusting.
Maybe God is calling us to serve somehow
that is way out of our comfort zone.
My biggest fear
when working as a hospital chaplain
South Carolina was being exposed 
for not knowing the bible well enough. 
I was anxious that care receivers
would ask me to quote scripture,
and honestly, my biblical knowledge
was just not that strong. 
I didn’t grow up with the bible. 
My fear sometimes paralyzed me with care receivers 
and affected my own self esteem
as I feared judgment of my colleagues.

Maybe you can relate to a sense of inadequacy,

“Oh, I couldn’t possibly do that, I am …
(fill in the blank)
 Too “young” in my faith journey or
Too “old” and set in my ways.
Too unskilled to know how to pray for my enemies or
Too sure that God won’t listen anyway.
Too busy to serve as kitchen helper 
or too fatigued from caring for a loved one.
Maybe we realize we are too anxious
to answer that call,
as it might reveal some vulnerability
or might invoke criticism or judgment
from our friends or our intimate loved ones.

There are myriad ways that we feel 
inadequate or unprepared to answer God’s call.

Jeremiah’s (and our) fear, anxiety,
sense of inadequacy are all understandable – 
and here’s the good news;
these feelings did not disqualify Jeremiah
(and do not disqualify us)
from serving God’s intentions. 

God chose Jeremiah. 
The word of the Lord happened to him. 
God insisted on the call that came
“before I formed you in the womb,
I knew you, I consecrated you …”
This call had nothing to do
with Jeremiah’s capabilities,
because the role for which God chose Jeremiah
was made before Jeremiah was able
to merit his selection.

God promised to guide Jeremiah
to whom God will send and
God promised to give Jeremiah
the words to speak. 
God responded to Jeremiah’s objection
by granting him the capabilities
and promising faithful companionship. 

Jeremiah’s call story
reminds us that we do not choose God;
God, mysteriously,
and even sometimes against our will,
chooses us. 
God prepares us
to live out the vocation
for which we were created – 
the vocation God prepared for us
before we were able to merit selection. 

Reasons for not doing something
related to God’s work
are often reasonable and justifiable. 
And the good news is that
God grants us both the capacity
and the companionship.

Perhaps you have seen
the posters around campus and website,
“you have been called to serve”? 
If these notices have peaked your interest,
God might be calling you
to serve at Crossroads in two Sundays,
February 14th.
You can respond to this call by following
the link on the website
or contact Rev. Areeta for more info.

Perhaps your heart is broken
by the water issues in Flint.
Is God calling you to respond?

Our feelings of inadequacy
do not disqualify us,
nor does our achievement
or our self-confidence qualify us
to answer the call from God. 
Basically, it’s not about us.

It’s about God’s intentions.
God prepares a call.
God promises companionship.
God grants us the capacity through
the interests and abilities
cultivated in our hearts. 

This story from Jeremiah shows that
the calling to serve and
the capacity to fulfill it flow together
in a kind of dance.
There is a synergy between
divine and human activity
to build up and to plant green shoots
for God’s dream to come to fruition.

We co-create, in effect, God’s kingdom
through God’s call to us
and our responsive, “yes.”
And what happens when we say “yes” to God?   
God says yes to us.

This poem from Kaylin Haught[4] 
captures this dance quite well:
“I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don't paragraph
my letters
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I'm telling you is
Yes Yes Yes”
See, if God’s call was about
skills or experience,
God would have said to Jeremiah,
“don’t worry, I have a trade school for prophets. 
You will learn it all there.” 
No, instead, God just said, “Don’t be afraid.”[5]   
God says to us, “Do not be afraid.”

God calls every Christian
to live the radical gospel of Jesus Christ –
loving our neighbors and serving the poor.

Today’s good news is that
God grants us the capabilities
to answer God’s call and
God promises companionship along the way. 

Answer God’s call.
Say yes to God
and you will know that God says yes to you.


[1] George H. Martin, “Pastoral Perspective: Fourth Sunday After The Epiphany,” Feasting on The Word (290-292)

[2] Exodus 3-4

[3] Judges 6:11-15

[4] Kaylin Haught, “God Says Yes To Me,” from The Palm of your Hand, 1995, Tilbury House Publishers, Copyright 1995

[5] Inspired by George H. Martin, ibid.