Sermon

September 11, 2016: Dr. Buz Wilcoxon

Julie was sitting in a freshman biology class during her second semester of college. On this particular week they were studying a section of the course devoted to the respiratory system of the human body. This was all stuff she had learned before in high school. She know the big picture, but this was college, so that meant she’d be held to a higher standard of knowledge. In class that day, the professor was lecturing about the mechanics of breathing, how the diaphragm muscle contracts and causes the volume of the cavity where the lungs are to increase. This change creates a vacuum effect, causing air to rush into the lungs. Julie was interested as she heard the professor explain how this biological process depends on the basic principles of physics. Physics? That was a completely different class, but it seemed to matter in this one as well.

Then the professor went on to describe the intricate details of how the oxygen molecules that are sucked into the lungs diffuse through very thin tissue and connect with protein molecules in blood cells. Now they were talking about chemistry. Julie knew the rest of the story, how those oxygen rich blood cells went throughout the body and all that they did to keep us alive. But what fascinated her in that moment were the connections. The overlaps. Biology, Physics, Chemistry. All working together. And then in a flash of mental recognition her mind jumped back to the previous semester when they learned about the process of photosynthesis in plants, how they make their energy and spit out oxygen as an unneeded byproduct. We breathe that oxygen in and breathe out carbon dioxide that the plants need. And this intricate and interconnected cycle goes on and on and on. In a feeling that was hard to describe with words, Julie, sitting in that science classroom, had a movement of revelation. She was moved to a state of awe and wonder and curiosity and a little bit of fear and a little bit of joy as she realized, really for the first time, just how deeply interwoven and interdependent all life is with one another. How so how many different systems were working together just so that she could be sitting there in that moment, in a classroom, breathing, and thinking and living! It’s all connected. It is woven together.

The author of our scripture lesson today from the book of Psalms is writing about a very similar moment of revelation in his life. The psalmist looks back on his many years and sees all the ways that God has been and continues to be present. In poetic words, the psalmist proclaims how before his birth it was God “who formed [his] inward parts; [God who] knit [him] together in [his] mother’s womb.” Each and every tissue and cell carefully and purposefully threaded together by God. Not just at the beginning, but all throughout his life, the psalmist sees how God continues to connect parts and pieces, “ You hem me in, behind and before”—woven together from the beginning an to his final end.

It is this kind of life-long, journeying and connecting approach to the Christian faith, that many thinking churches seek to foster in their shared life. Presbyterians have long had a reputation for being a pretty deep-thinking, question-asking, connecting crowd. For centuries, our tradition has emphasized the importance of life of the mind and heart, woven together in service to God.

A friend recently shared something his father, a retired minister, used to say about the importance of life-long Christian growth and that comes through reflection and serious study. He said, “As adults we wouldn’t be satisfied with a second grade reading level, would we? Then why should we settle for a second grade level of faith development?” No, life-long process of Christian formation is about learning and connecting more and more of the ways that God’s deep wisdom weaves in and out of our lives, looking for new ways that God’s love intersects in our world–sometimes in surprising places. It’s all woven together.

This church is one that seeks to foster just such a deepening sense of faith development throughout all of life. From foundational children’s ministries that nurture faith in the early years, to formative youth ministry building authentic community during the critical stage of adolescents. From college ministries creating safe spaces to wonder and wander, to vibrant adult classes that ask you to bring your full mind to the table and refuse to settle for easy answers, this church has a strong sense of what it means to grow in faith throughout all of life’s journey. Not only that, but when we are at our best, the connectional model of our life together doesn’t just move in a straight time line through the years. It also moves back and forth, weaving around as memory and hope intersect connecting us to those who have gone before us and the generations that will follow after us. So too, the various aspects of our congregation’s life such as worship, mission, stewardship, fellowship, and of course Christian education all organically overlap in ways that make it hard to draw sharp distinctions between our ministries. When we foster these intersection in our live and our communities, we grow more and more into the integrated people God creates us to be.

Celebrating this intersecting, integrated, intergenerational ministry is part of what Rally Day is all about. It’s the official kick-off of the church year, the grand opening of our “Woven Together” theme that we will encounter throughout the months to come as we bring the beautifully diverse threads of our lives and ministries together into a tapestry of faith that God is weaving here.

Now, that may all sound nice and tied together with a pretty bow on top. But what we are talking about is much harder and much more real than just a nice sounding catch phrase. Being woven together as people and as a community is very very difficult work, for we live in a disjointed, disconnected, isolating world. A world where we fragment and compartmentalize in order to survive. A world where divisions build power and win elections. A world where the pressures to succeed at all cost means cutting ties with anyone who can’t help your advance. A world where we build neighborhoods, and schools, and social systems intended to segregate us from others in our own community. We live in world that seems bent on tearing apart those whom God has woven together. Our brokenness, division, and separation as a human race continues to grow. On some days, days like today, the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, on days like today that brokenness and division seems right in our face.

Fifteen years ago today we stood still in fear, watching the scenes unfolding on the TV screen. We learned in the hours and days that followed how hatred and division on the basis of culture and religion and worldviews had motivated atrocities that sought to tear us apart as a people, as a country, as a world. In the 15 years since the September 11 attacks, we have become so accustomed to hearing the word “terrorism” in our cultural vernacular, that sometime I wonder if we’ve become overly accustomed to it and we’ve forgotten its true meaning. Seeing it in the news daily have we forgotten how foreign it is to who God created us to be. Terrorism, by definition, of course, are actions done for the purpose of inspiring terror—calculated, symbolic acts with the intent to divide people. Acts of terror are meant to create an intensely rigid emotion of fear so sharp that it cuts apart the fabric of lives and societies. As awful, and horrific, and painful as that that day was, one that we will never forget, perhaps the greatest terror is that it was only one day in an ever increasing line of horrific moments around the globe and in our own back yards. Violence and bloodshed committed against those of different faiths and most of the time against those of the same faith continue at an ever increasing rate. There is so much that seeks to tear us apart.

And yet…and yet, the message of our Christian faith is that God is weaving us together. God is knitting us together as individuals and as communities, even as an entire human race. In the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, God was reconciling us, weaving us back together with one another and with God’s very self. As our New Testament lesson this morning describes, God calls those within the reconciled community of faith to life together, united together with love, “which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

How do we confront acts of terror, meant to divide us apart? The scripture suggests some particular, symbolic and real actions on our part that involve “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bear[ing] with one another … forgiv[ing] each other.” How do we confront terror, meant to divide? With love “which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

There is a tradition at the United States Military Academy at West Point. At the beginning of their senior year, each cadet receives a class ring. But what’s interesting about West Point rings, is that after someone graduates and wears there ring throughout their life, when they die their family can donate their ring back to the Academy. The gold from those old rings is melted into the metal that is use for future rings. So each hand bears a very real connection to the past. Forged to honor those who serve, worn by those who give their all, then returned to their source to be reformed for a next generation. It’s a beautiful image of connectivity and inter-dependence. It’s all woven together.

Well this year, senior class at West Point decided to add another tradition. For the first time ever, in addition to those gold rings from previous graduates, there will also be steel taken from the wreckage of the World Trade Centers that will be melted down into each class ring.(1) This physical and symbolic act is meant to connect each graduate to their country’s memory and hope, loss and pain, heroism and gratitude, melted down, woven together, and cast into the world for a new future.

Friends, it is with such a sense of deep connectional binding within each of us and among all of us that we launch into this year ahead. Into a journey of faith that seeks to integrate and celebrate what the world would rather divide. On this day, and on all the days to come, let us journey on this path together, knit together, woven together by God’s love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

To God alone be the glory.

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(1) http://911families.org/why-theres-ground-zero-steel-in-west-point-class-rings/

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Scripture

Psalm 139:13-14, 16-18

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.
For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end—I am still with you.

Colossians 3:12-14
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

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