Two things seemed to dominate social media this week. The ‘dress’ and the death of Leonard Nimoy. The dress, which apparently appears to be different colours to different people, has something to teach us about perspective. Leonard Nimoy’s life has something to teach us. And I will try to weave those together with our Lenten theme of covenant and our readings for today.
Our first reading speaks of God’s promise to Abraham that he will be the father of many nations. Abraham and Sarah are old, beyond child-bearing years, it is written that Abraham is 99, although that might be just a number chosen to denote a great age. In that society, to be without children, was not only culturally suspect, but also economically risky. Who would care for you in your old age if you did not have family? What would it be like to be old and to hear God’s promise that ‘you will be the ancestor of many nations.’ Would you believe it? I am not sure that I would… In this reading, we don’t hear Abram’s or Sarai’s response… the reading it taken up almost entirely with God speaking. It is written that Abram fell on his face… seemingly overwhelmed at God’s voice.
You might have noticed that in the first part of the reading, the people we know as Abraham and Sarah are called Abram and Sarai. But God gives them new names. Establishing a new covenant with them. And this tradition of new names has continued down through the centuries.
It was often the custom in Roman Catholicism to give a new name at baptism, along with the chosen ones by the parents. Even now, it is customary in the United Church, to ask, “What is the name of this child” when we baptize one. When sisters and monks take final vows, they were given a new name. For us as Christians, it’s to denote a new life in Christ, that we are changed because of our baptism. Not that we are any more loved by God… God doesn’t need our rituals to love us… our rituals are for us, to help us mark a significant event.
I can almost wish there was a ritual for the day when you start to wear a cross. For so many people, it is an almost meaningless piece of jewelry, in fact, in one flyer I saw, it was grouped together with ‘charms.’ But for us, who identify as Christians, when we put on the cross, in effect we are saying to the world, “I am picking up Jesus’ cross.” We are saying, “I am following Jesus’ way.” We are saying, “I will act like Jesus acted.” Big words. Awesome words! Terrifying words!
What does following Jesus’ way mean to you? How does it look to you?
Here is where perspective comes into play.
It may look very different depending on who you are and what your experience and understanding of Jesus’ mission. The dress, that I alluded to briefly at the beginning of my sermon, apparently is seen in different colours by different people. And apparently there is a scientific reason based on how some of us ‘see’ colours.’ I won’t go into that because I don’t really understand it. What I do understand is that it’s not a matter of ‘either/or.’ It’s a matter of both/and. If the dress is blue and black to me but white and gold to you, how are we ever to arrive at some agreement of what colour it is? We can’t possibly without labelling the other wrong. And in this not so important debate, there can be no right or wrong, there can only be both/and.
In a broader sense I had that experience when I went to my first ministerial gathering a week or so ago. I am the only woman in a ministerial that is dominated by denominations that do not allow women in leadership. And while I do believe that that is wrong; what I experienced at that meeting was a sense of the Holy Spirit at work and a profound prayer practice.The meeting was stopped, or interrupted several times, with the request to pray for something or someone. And the prayers were heartfelt and deep. It was a tangible, holy experience that I did not expect and perhaps couldn’t have engaged in if I dismissed those whose history and experience are not mine. In a small way, perhaps that is an example of picking up my cross and following Jesus. Jesus did not shy away from being in community with those who disagreed with him, rather he engaged them. And while many understood his wisdom and way, we know that there were many who did not. Many of the powerful of his time. And he was put to death. By picking up our cross, we can experience the life, death and resurrection that Jesus offers We experience his life when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick and imprisoned. We participate in his death when we die to ourselves… to our ego, to the idea that only our desires and wants are important. We participate in his resurrection when we live our lives for others.
This is not to say that we negate ourselves, for surely in God and Jesus’ sight, each one of us in made uniquely in the image and likeness of God. The way I understand it is that we are to bring ourselves, our whole selves to God, and God’s work. This church does amazing work. The money that is raised by the monthly suppers contributes to the benefit of the entire community. Not just our congregation, but through FRI,How does it contribute you ask? The funds raised go to offset the expenses of being a church. So the money raised supports all the work of the Family Resources Institute. The works, of our hands, whether that is cooking and baking, setting up, serving or cleaning up, or taking pictures, supports the needs of the community. So, as followers of Jesus, we set our aside our individual needs, or perhaps a better way of saying it is, is our individual wants, in order to best serve the needs of the entire community.
Or as Spock would say, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” I didn’t know until Leonard Nimoy died that he was Jewish, born into an Orthodox Jewish family of Russian extraction. Jewish, just like Jesus. And in the many quotes and tributes that have been going around the internet, there are some things that sound remarkably like what Jesus would say. Things like, “I believe in goodness, mercy and charity. I believe in casting bread upon the waters… the miracle is this: the more we share, the more we have.”
His last tweet, I think on Tuesday, said this, “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. Live Long and Prosper.” A final blessing from a man who was much more than Spock, but multidimensional.
Did you know where this (hold hand up on Vulcan greeting)
(I told the story in church; here is the link to Nimoy telling the story.)
So, my friends, we live in the light of God’s covenant that was with Sarah and Abraham.
We live in the light of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
We live in the light of blessing.
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity, amen.
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
March 1, 2015
St. Paul’s United Church