My final sermon to the people of St. Matthew's, preached at our transplanted beach service, church sanctuary, during the summer, 2019.
Back in the day, way back in the 1980’s, when MTV - Music Television - actually played music videos, the punk rock band DEVO produced a lot of entertaining videos full of middle-school humor. DEVO was not one of my favorite bands. I didn’t like their music really. But they were always entertaining.
In one of their videos, - filled with whips and chains, - they sang a lyric, “Step on a crack, break your mama’s back.” This superstitious lyric, "step on a crack, break your mama’s back”- filled me with terror. The sidewalks in New Orleans are full of cracks. The roots of the ancient Oak trees, tear apart and push upward all the sidewalks, so cracks, bumps and outrageously large humps make walking on New Orleans’ a mountain-climbing adventure.
“Step on a crack, break your mama’s back.”
I had a vision of downtown New Orleans filled with hunched over moms trying to make their way to Woolworths or to our local department store D.H. Homes. So many cracks. So many moms. So many possibilities.
In my mind, cracks were something to be afraid of.
“Step on a crock, break your moma’s back.”
There are cracks in our scripture readings this morning. From the Hebrew Scriptures, we encounter the prophet Jeremiah. He is not doing well with all the cracks. Jeremiah loves the people. He is known as the empathetic prophet. But the cracks have nearly broken his back.
We hear Jeremiah, - putting on the voice of God, - warning the people, “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, - - and dug out cisterns for themselves, - - cracked cisterns - - that can hold no water.” The pottery is cracked and is leaking.
Jeremiah, who lived 600 years before Jesus Christ, sees the people’s faithfulness, draining away. They have lost faith in God. They are losing hope in each other. For over 45 years, through the reigns of terror of three evil kings, Jeremiah constantly called on the people to recognize the cracks.
Perhaps cracks are not always bad. Cracks can destroy if not recognized and examined. But not all cracks need to be repaired. Cracks release pressure. Cracks create room. Cracks give us a glimpse of what is in between. Cracks create opportunity. Cracks open up providing more space. - - Cracks are an invitation to look at things differently, to reshape the mold, to build something new. Perhaps Jeremiah was called by God to discover opportunities in the cracks.
Last week, we read God calling Jeremiah. Jeremiah shared this about his call from God, “Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, ‘Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.’” This is what God called Jeremiah to do. Lucky for him, Jeremiah’s call came with a speech and instructions. Most of us aren’t that lucky.
We are all “called” by God, whatever that means. Calls are weird things. But in my experience, calls from God and responding to them, are more often overwhelming, nebulous, and mysterious.
We are all called to let God shape us. We are called to work with God, accompanying each other on the journey of faith.God calls then patiently waits for a “yes.” What is God calling you to do, - today, tomorrow, in the days and weeks ahead?
One night, 45 years ago, at an Easter vigil, at All Saints’ Church, on the levee in New Orleans, I believed God was calling me to be a priest. This took me by surprise. I was eight years old. I can remember the moment as if it were just yesterday. There was a brief moment
of calm. Very brief. Followed by an overwhelming sense of panic.
Unlike Jeremiah, whose call came with a set of instructions, my call did not. Me, a priest? I wanted to be a filmmaker. Me, a priest? I certainly did not possess the calming attitude of being a non-anxious presence. Me, a priest? Beyond the Lord’s Prayer, I really didn’t know how to pray. Me, a priest? Maybe, I will be be a priest but work full-time at a television station. At least as a television producer/director, I can people what to do. As a priest, everybody around you is always telling you what to do. I know I do not have the patience for that! Being called to the priesthood cannot possibly be what God is calling me to do. But I said “yes” to the call, not fully understanding - or even being able to predict - the implications of moving forward within that reality.
Do we ever truly ever know what we are saying “yes” to when we say “yes” to God? I wonder what God is calling me, calling you to do, today, tomorrow and forever.
Will the cracks and crevices in my heart, and in my mind, and in my body, be way, way too much to handle?
Cracked cistern. Cracked pottery. Cracked soul. Cracked heart. Crackpot.
God promises to be with us, even to the end of the ages. God is the alpha and the omega, - the beginning and the end, - and everything in between. So I said “yes.” So say “yes.” Say “yes,” even when you are not sure what you are saying “yes” too.
I have said “yes” to working with people living and dying with HIV/AIDS. I have said “yes” to being present to homeless youth on the streets of Chicago. I have said “yes” to gutting houses in New Orleans and partnering with Episcopal schools in Haiti. Never, ever, ever, did that 8 year old at that Easter Vigil so long ago imagine the things he would say “yes” to during the course of a lifetime.
Right here, right now, what is causing a restlessness in your heart, an unsettledness in your soul, making you feel unsatisfied with the way things are? That is the stirring of a call. Perhaps God is calling you to something new. God is constantly compelling all of us, hoping that we don’t let the cracks, the anxiety, the insecurity, the lack of time, to prevent us from saying “yes.”
As Tod Bolsinger shares in his book Canoeing the Mountains, “we start (by) looking at our (cracks) differently, acknowledging each time anew that... (there) is an opportunity for adventure, exploration and transformation.
Three years ago, we said “yes.” We opened our doors to the children of the neighborhood for our first-ever, - now annual, - Vacation Bible Camp. Our theme was “digging for treasure.” We had 23 neighborhood children and 27 volunteers. We prayed. We sang. We made things. We ate. We ran up and down the stairs chasing after some of our more active campers. Some of us took time off from work to serve. Others, who were enjoying retirement, came over to shepherd children. By the end of the week, we were still standing. We had done something new, discovering talents that many of us did not even know we had.
Advertising a church congregation is a difficult proposition. How do we tell people who we are and what we believe? Can we do more than publicize our worship times? How do we engage our community showing that love is an action and that we are acting right now? We took a risk and said “yes” to being sponsors of the YWCA’s “Race Against Hate.” The Ricky Birdsong memorial race invites the people of Evanston to stand up against racism, discrimination and run together for social injustice. We chose to make ourselves known and visible as people of faith to our neighbors. We said “yes” to publicly worshiping with an early-morning mass on the grass. We said “yes” to welcoming and feeding and talking to runners and their families and friends at our hospitality tent.
Our presiding bishop was there too, right out front, pretty stiff, but still a big draw, inviting people to take a selfie, grab a bite to eat, and pick up a brochure about St. Matthew’s and the Episcopal Church.
Tod Bolsinger, in his book Canoeing the Mountains, says “Adaptive Change“ is a (congregation’s ability) to (move forward and discover a new relevance within) shifting values,
habits and behaviors in order to grow and discover solutions to the greatest challenges brought on by a changing world.”
For me, our Formation Committee is all about adaptive change. At the beginning of every program year, the formation committee gathers, planing events. We said “yes” to workshops for children and families, the Inquirer’s U(Chariost)! and Thursday evening Community Nights. We said “yes” to buying greens and candles and calendars so we could make Advent Wreaths together. We said “yes” to planing, writing and performing the Christmas Pageant. One year even featured a talking donkey! We gathered together to create a “Stations of the Cross” worship service for Good Friday where we walked and prayed with Jesus.
In Canoeing the Mountains, Bolsinger points out that in order “To learn and (grow and transform), we need new creative (gatherings which build relationships and common purposes.)”
I believe this love and care and concern for each other is St. Matthew’s biggest strength. I believe continuing to remember the importance of relationships is key to discovering what new tools of transformation are needed for this holy community to build the future church together. -
St. Matthew’s is a social congregation. It is a church where a murder mystery or a lobster bake buy-in party - up for bid at the annual gala - is more popular then Sunday worship. It is a community where several teams of home communion ministers share the sacraments with our home bound parishioners and those recovering from hospital stays. - -
In addition to preparing our sanctuary for worship every Sunday, our four altar guild teams pack up worship to go for all of our summer beach services. Countless others have said “yes” serving at the altar and reading from the scripture, healing by the baptismal font, singing from both sides of the organ, and studying together during all the moments in between.
We have a growing partnership with St. Andrew’s Pentecost which began with to priest colleagues evangelizing together to our neighbors, which has evolved into advocating for compassionate, Bible-based immigration policies. We have movie groups, trustees, finance committees, Stephen Ministers, and a vestry, - all intentional gatherings which are working together, to transform us into the Church of the future. It is no wonder that our vessel is
cracked, overflowing, seeking wisdom as to what the Church of the future looks like. We have to keep saying “yes” to God’s call. Even if we don’t know where it might lead.
The prophet Jeremiah pointed out the cracks, calling on the people to be awake, to be creative, to lean in and to step out into the future. A call came to Jeremiah in the middle of the night. God said, “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So Jeremiah went down to the potter’s house, and there he had a vision of how God works in our lives. Jeremiah saw God as a potter, working at the potter’s wheel. God was making a vessel of clay but it seemed to break in God’s hands, and yet God used the cracks and the mud and the clay to rework it creating a new vessel, which could and would eventually crack, and God saw it was good. So it is with us.
I believe cracks are worth celebrating. God is always shaping and recreating but we need to be open to trusting God and working with each other. We just need to keep saying “yes.”
12 Pentecost / The Rev. Kevin M. Goodman
Cracks and Crevices / YR C 09/01/2019
JR 2:4-14; PS 81:1, 10-16; LK 14:1, 7-14