07/08/2018 Sermon

Sermon by Elisa Owen
Crescent Hill Presbyterian
July 8, 2018

Knowing God, Learning Brokenness
Ephesians 1:  15-23

We hear that information is power.  So we should want it.  What the writer of Ephesians asks God to give us, however, is not mere information, but the power of true knowledge.  The difference?  True knowledge makes its way from your head down into your heart and soul and, in so doing, changes your life.  Let us pray.

You by whom we are fully known, help us to fully know you, that trusting your goodness we will find the courage to submit our broken hearts to the power of your love, so that they may be filled with your grace, the grace which binds up the wounds of the world.  Amen.  
This is the age of information.  Often stated as obvious fact, it is then repeated as if it is a very good thing.  Almighty technology.  Television.  The internet.  Cell phones.  Artificial Intelligence.  Self Driving Cars.  We in this advanced age of human made wonders have the world at our fingertips.  Choose a question.  We’ll get you the answer, immediately.  Distance?  Bows before human ability to move and communicate across it.  Germs?  Genetic maladies?  Both flee before the potency of modern medical research.  In fact, it is insinuated, it is simply a matter of time before all things, including our own doubts and fears, find their proper place under the feet of human ingenuity.  That’s the implied promise in all the hype about the information age.  It will bring us tremendous power.

And how has it delivered for you so far?  Digital information successful at feeding you on hope?  How is it at nurturing you with the things that make for peace?  Tutoring you in love?  Have computer bytes eaten away all your grief?

If you can’t answer in the affirmative to these questions, know that there are those mavericks who are suspect of the ability of mere information to save us from the heartbreak that at times seems to have subjected our world to itself.  The writer of our passage from Ephesians is one of them.  Marva Dawn, professor of Christian ethics, is another.  Dawn writes about the dissonance caused by our current confusion between mere information and true knowledge.  “In my naivete”, she says, “I believed that most people put truth into practice.  That is, I thought we all seek coherence between what we know and how we live, that knowledge leads to integrity of character and of life.  Now it seems indisputable to me that the information age has habituated its watchers to a low information/action ratio, that people are accustomed to learning very good ideas, even about God, and doing absolutely nothing about them.”[1]  We are bombarded, in other words, with overwhelming amounts of information, but none of it appears to affect who we understand ourselves to be.

Dawn is not the only information age skeptic.  Listen to this poem by David Whyte,[2]  “This is not the age of information.  This is not the age of information.  Forget the news, the blurred screen, the radio.  This is the age of loaves and of fishes.  People are hungry!  And one good Word is bread for a thousand.”  Whyte, I suggest, is another who agrees with the writer of Ephesians about who we are and what age we live in.

What age is that?  Well, ours is an age in which people like us are desperately hungry for the bread of heaven.  One in which starving, embattled hearts; hearts beaten down by threats of loss, frantic activity, nagging emptiness and constant anxiety, long for the glorious inheritance of all the saints.  Ours is an age in which all things still, still cohere around the hope to which God in Christ first calls His church, so that she may then use the Church to breathe this hope into all the world.

But how is it that the eyes of our hearts will be enlightened so that we may, at last, know fully the hope to which we have been called?  How is it that we are to come to know the God that calls us out of ourselves and into mutuality with all other living things?  Know that God so completely that we can do no less than place all that we are and every last thing that we know in the service of the One who is hope itself?
When Christ was raised from the dead by God, says the writer of Ephesians, he was placed at his right hand.  There Christ sits, above every name that is named, sovereign over everything we think we know.  There he sits, sovereign over our pasts and our futures, sovereign over our dreams and hopes, yes, but perhaps more importantly, also sovereign over our despair.  And his sovereignty extends not only over this time and place, over this age, but also into all the ages to come.

This very fullness of Christ’s Lordship is why the writer of Ephesians prays first and foremost that God will give us a spirit of wisdom and of revelation, so that we may come to know this Lord to whom all of our personal history, all history in fact, is hinged.  The writer asks this above all because he knows that only through personal experience of he who has all things under his feet, will we come to understand the proper place for all things.  And to do that we must befriend our own brokeness – a process that makes it possible to be gentle to it – and because of that learned gentleness toward ourselves, also to the brokeness of others.  This is the process that births the compassion that belongs to all that is holy.  And, it is aprocess that gives us the strength we need to face the truth that to every last cradle comes a cross.  We learn that the shadow of that cross will fall over our own safe, comfortable nests.  And from that place of infantile dependence, we learn to ask God of love to take up residence in the terrifying abyss our hearts become when they come face to face with the glory and agony of being bravely, completely, fully human.

For you see, resurrection hope is nothing less than this.  That the God we worship has the power to raise the dead.  And that God does, and God will, every single day, for our sakes.  This is no light and airy Word.  It is instead the heavy mystery of God’s love for this world.  And what happens when, from our own suffering, from the fact that we have been shaped so that we might come to have compassion for the suffering of the world’s children?  We, as church, are shaped to take that love back out into the world.

Which is why we are bothering today to make 30 beds for children who have been homeless.  Who, when they lost their shelter, their place of safety and rest, lost all material security and comfort.  You think someone scrambling to reckon with being homeless along with her young children is going to also scramble to put furniture in storage for the future?  We are bothering because we know that the only way to combat the darkness, the darkness of the cross – the darkness of our country’s division, and rancor, the darkness of selfishness and greed, the darkness of political policies that favor the few over the many, the darkness of principalities and powers who would sacrifice children to make a political point, the only way to combat that darkness is to invite in the light.

And then to invite in others who love the light, regardless of creed or political party, as much as we do.  That we may face the dawn of compassion and unity that must rise over our land if we are to not only survive, but thrive.
To be remade in Christ’s image, to come to know God, to be fully human, to be instructed in the walk of love, is to come to know the totality of human brokenness, and thus the power of the cross.  The immeasurable greatness of God’s power is made perfect not in spite of our weakness, but in it and through it.  It is when we come to the end of ourselves, the end of our ability to combat a death dealing culture of individualism and “self help” on our own that we seek solace among citizens of a better country, those who long for the city whose builder and maker is God.

Because it is a difficult Word, it is tempting to relegate it to the edge of our carefully developed and nurtured, if narrowly focused, striving.  To let it fade out of our lives like one more pop up ad that swims its way through the safe but sterile blue light of our computer screens.  But, make no mistake.  This is a Word that will not grow weary of its own unconquerable desire to speak its way into our hearts.  Truth does not grow weary.  Truth is eternal.  And it is the truth of God’s Word in Christ that lends it its power to take hold of even our lives and remake them from the inside out, shaping and molding, until Easter morning’s wings find us sheltered in a community who still believes in the power of God’s love to change the world.  And lives out its despair shattering, if fragile, hope by insisting on sharing that message of love with the world.
May this be true for you and me.

Elisa Owen
Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church
Louisville, KY
July 8, 2018

[1] Dawn, Marva.  Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down:  A Theology of Worship for This Urgent Time.
Eerdmans.  Grand Rapids, Michigan.  1995.
[2] Whyte, David.  House of Belonging.  As printed in Yoga magazine.