Rev. George Miller
June 25, 2017
When we last gathered in worship, we discussed work. Today we discuss the intentionality behind the work.
But 1st- a true-life example.
On Tuesday a large envelope appeared in the mail, exquisitely detailed with calligraphy and a hand drawn bouquet of flowers.
Inside was a post card announcement about an upcoming event, a personally laminated copy of the ticket, a letter of instruction, and a frameable print-out of a quote from Vincent Van Gogh.
Touched by the class and amount of work done by the sender, I contacted her to give my thanks.
Her response was humble- “I was just in the mood. I want those I know who are coming…to know I care…It’s nice to have people we enjoy around us.”
Her generosity, rooted in love and thankfulness, branched out to others, intentionally expressing “I care for you.”
The author of today’s reading is very intentional in his theology and purpose of composition.
Romans is an undisputed letter of Paul, addressing several issues- sin, grace, baptism, and the Crucifixion.
I can’t say that I agree with everything Paul writes. These are, after all, the views of a man living 2,000 years ago, speaking about cosmic events that, for him, were new and very local.
Paul is writing through the lenses of his culture, his time, his biases, and what he thinks his Still Speaking God is saying.
He does not have centuries of Christian study behind him, or knowledge of modern medicine, or the latest psychological studies about behavior or the brain.
Paul knows what he knows, and there is an intentionality to his opinions.
For example- his view of baptism. He doesn’t treat it as an afterthought or just a simple ritual.
Paul does not approach baptism as a pre-cursor to having cake or getting gifts.
For Paul, baptism is not just an act- it is an identity.
Baptism is expressed as intentionally becoming a part of Christ; to intentionally die on the cross with Jesus, to intentionally rise up from the waters, resurrected with the Lord, a brand new person, dead to the power of sin’s hold.
I appreciate Paul’s notion that baptism alters our present and shapes our future, and the importance he places on baptism- how it unites us to Christ, unites us to one another, and opens us up to new life, freedom, and the eternal.
Paul’s view of baptism reflects an experience that took place 3 weeks ago at Jacksonville Beach.
I was there for a boundary workshop, and the night before I went for a walk along the shore. What I saw in the surf surprised me- hundreds of people gathered around the water.
Baptisms were taking place for the congregants of a church made up primarily of people from Slavic descent.
It was beautiful.
Teenagers gathered in groups of four based on their gender. They all wore white, from top to bottom; the girls in dresses that would do for a prom or a wedding, the boys in jeans and pants
The girls held hands; the boys wrapped their arms around one another.
Each group of four made their way to the surf while loved ones surrounded them with flowers and music.
One by one, each teen waded into the waves by themselves, making their way to the baptizer. They were leaned back into the ocean, and when they emerged from the waters, they were greeted with the applause and cheers of the crowd.
These young adults were not only being intentionally baptized into the life of Christ, but they were being brought into the life of their community, as parents and relatives, some of them clearly from the mother-country were there to show their support.
Why do we do what we do?
Why do we come to church? Why do we do the work we do? Why do we make offerings? Why do we sign up to bring in food or to sit on a committee?
Why are we here?
Why with this particular group of believers, seekers, sinners, saints, and sojourners?
Why Christ? Why not Zeus, or Vishnu, or the tree outside, or yourself?
What is our intentionality?
Is it to placate an angry entity? To please a personal savior? To seek a spirit? To give thanks to a generous god?
What is our intention for being here?
To seek wisdom? To share in the wonder? To be spiritually strengthened? To feel safe?
Why are we here?
Is it because that’s what we’ve always done? Is it because there’s nothing else going on? Is it to experience an oasis in the midst of a desert?
Is it because of a hunger, a thirst, a loss, a gain, a question, an answer?
Why do we do what we do, and what is our intentionality?
Think of how the Gospels portray Jesus. How intentional he always seemed to be, even when he was interrupted, even when he acted extemporaneously.
If Jesus was about to speak to the masses he made a way onto a boat, or up a mountain, or sat upon the earth.
If Jesus was about to do a miracle, he focused his attention on God, gave thanks, included others, made it a teachable moment, or a time of celebration.
Jesus is always portrayed as aware, in control, as fully present and completely rooted in God.
What is our intentionality?
Is God pleased with empty rituals or does God enjoy genuine acts of gratitude?
Is Christ calling us to say words of “Yes” that we don’t mean, or to do ministry that we actually feel?
Is the Paraklete expecting us to speak up about the things we know nothing about, or to become courageous about the things we truly care for?
Does God want us to be puppets that are going through the motions of faith?
Or does God want us to be like surfers, playfully and intentionally riding the waves of the Holy Spirit, wherever they may lead?
Yes, work may be an important component of our faith, but so is the intention and heart behind it.
In conclusion, remember that packet of mail that was referred to earlier? Inside was a quote from Vincent Van Gogh.
Here is what it said-
“Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.”
In other words- if the intent is love, then love is what is accomplished.
Can we get an “amen”? Let us all say “Amen.”