February 21, 2016 Sermon “I’m Not Finished Yet!”

posted Jul 6, 2016, 4:16 PM by David Hawkins
Old Testament Reading: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." 

But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir." 

But the word of the LORD came to him, "This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir." He brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Then he said to him, "I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess." 

But he said, "O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?" 

He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." 

He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates."

New Testament Reading: Luke 13:31-35

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." 

He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.' 
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

Sermon: "I’m Not Finished Yet!"             Rev. David Hawkins

There are times in all of our lives when we find ourselves in transition. Psychologists call these times, “Liminal Spaces’, sort of a threshold between seasons of life. We are leaving the tried and true era of one life, but have not yet entered into the unknown of the next. One part of our life is wrapping up, and the next part has not yet begun. 

I remember when I was in high school, the last semester, getting ready to graduate, it seemed like I really didn’t have much left to work toward. I had passed all my required classes, it looked like I was probably going to pass the last of my current classes. I had applied for scholarships; I had applied for college. High school, for all intents and purposes, was over. But it wasn’t quite yet over. I was in the in-between time which we call ‘Senioritis’, and it was hard to get motivated for anything. Parker and Wiley probably don’t know anything about this.

But Senioritis isn’t just for high school students. 

We all find ourselves spinning our wheels from time to time. We all experience the anxious loneliness of liminal space. Parents who take their last child off to college know that ‘empty-nest’ syndrome is a real thing. When your whole life has revolved around the chaos of taking care of the needs of your kids, the silence and peace of their absence can be deafening.  

The mid-life crisis is a liminal space, a time when one wonders if what we have committed our lives to was worth it, whether we have invested our lives in the right things, the right values, whether we have chosen a career that is somehow important, somehow meaningful. This kind of liminal space, if navigated carelessly, can have devastating effects on marriages, jobs, and relationships, as we try to sort out who we really are, and what we really mean to the world. 

Another kind of liminal space is retirement after a lifetime of hard work. This can also trigger feelings of anxiety and fear of what’s next. 

When I was in the military, I would hear stories of soldiers who after 20 years in the military, years of consequential, important work, years during which they were respected and had positions of real authority and leadership, would retire. And within 6 months, an alarming number of these soldiers would die of a heart attack. 

Even I felt a little weird after I left the military, and I was only in for five years. I remember one day Karen caught me standing in front of the closet for thirty minutes, trying to figure out what I was going to wear that day. For five years I had had been told what to wear, been told what my daily schedule was going to look like. And then, suddenly, I didn’t know what I was going to do that day. I didn’t know what I was supposed to wear. It was a strange feeling, and it took a few months to snap out of it. 

Now, these men and women who had retired after twenty or more years were physically fit, they had been doing physical training at 6:00 AM just about every day of their military career. There was really nothing wrong with them, but there was something so catastrophic about the psychological place in which they found themselves after retiring that their bodies just couldn’t take the stress. And too many of them would die too soon after leaving the service.

But retiring is a big deal for those who aren’t in the military as well. A lifetime of work, of responsibility, of increasing importance and regard within the business, the respect of your peers in your field of work is suddenly gone, and you are ‘just’ a retiree. It can feel like you’re nobody special, that there’s no real place for you, no real purpose for your life. 

And then, when we are much older, when we start to feel our biological clock winding down, this anxiousness over what we will leave for the world can be overwhelming. What have we done that is lasting? What have we accomplished that is truly meaningful? Who have we influenced for the better? What is our true legacy?

 I think that we see a little bit of that anxiety in our Old Testament scripture. Abram has, up to this point, done what God asked him to do. He has left his home country, he’s emigrated to Egypt, lived as a migrant in several other countries, he led a life constantly on the run, all because he felt the call of God pulling him forward. 

But now, after a reasonably full lifetime, he wants to know what his legacy will be. He is asking ‘liminal space’ type questions. Will anybody know who I am? he wonders. Will anybody know that I even existed? Who will follow in in my footsteps? Who will carry my name? What is my real purpose in life? 

He’s at that point when the material things of his life are starting to mean less and less, and the intangibles, those things which are hard to quantify, those important questions of the soul, are starting to concern him. 

And so he asks God, “What’s really going on here? I’ve done what you asked, I’ve gone where you directed, I’ve given up home and country for you, and now what? Am I to die childless? Should I just go ahead and hand over my legacy to my household servant? What has my life been all about?”

And God reminds Abram that he’s not finished with him yet. Even at this late stage of his life, God has plenty left to do with him. Even though Abram thinks he’s at the end of his journey, God tells him it’s just the beginning. There is a whole new path that lies before him, and God will be with him, every step of the way. And it will be amazing.

You know, even Jesus went through his own time of wondering who he was, and what his purpose in life was supposed to be. Even Jesus experienced his own liminal space. We talked about it some last week; you may remember, the forty days of testing in the desert. This was his transition between being a carpenter, 30 years of doing good work, solid, honest, even artistic work, the kind of job that was important, necessary, and respected, to being a wandering religious teacher, homeless, country-less, leaving his family and his friends, all for what? 

Jesus knows all about what if feels like to be rootless, to be in between, to wonder what life is really all about. He knows what it’s like to question the meaning of your own existence. He spent forty days in the desert trying to figure this out. 

And then, today, we see that his decision is not met with universal approval. Not everybody is happy with him going around the countryside healing, teaching, reminding us of our commitments to each other, calling us to repentance, to humility, to do the work of the kingdom of God. 

Specifically, King Herod is not happy about Jesus’ decision. And he lets people know about it. Jesus is threatened, and told to leave the area, if he knows what’s good for him. He is not welcome, his messages about how the last will be first, and the first last are not the sorts of things he should be saying, at least, not to the peasants. He’s stirring up a revolution, and let’s be clear: he will be killed if he keeps it up. 

But Jesus is not fazed by this threat, not in the least. he’s going to continue his journey to Jerusalem in his own good time, where he knows in his heart the journey will end badly for him. Meanwhile, he’s got work to do. He’s got three more days, and then he’ll think about moving on. You go ahead and tell that fox Herod that he can stuff it.

You know, scholars have debated what Jesus meant when he uses the word ‘fox’ to describe Herod. Some of them go with the Old Testament understanding of ‘fox’, that it symbolizes destruction. Some go with the Greek understand of fox, someone who is cunning, sly, clever. 

Maybe it’s just me, but I think that Jesus meant something a little more crude, a little more basic. I’m not saying that foxes are not destructive and clever. Anybody who has tried to raise chickens knows what they can do. But, have you ever smelled a fox? They stink. You can smell them from a mile away. There is something rotten about a fox, and once you smell it, you know exactly what you’re dealing with. I think that’s what Jesus had in mind. I think he recognized the corrupt stench of Herod in the threats brought by the Pharisees, and he could care less. 

Because he knew that God wasn’t finished with him yet. There was still work to do. There were still people to heal, souls to cure, lives to touch. And as long as God was willing to use him in that way, there was nothing that Herod could do about it. Except for maybe stink the place up. 

All of us are going to find ourselves from time to time wondering what our true purpose is. We are going to find ourselves thinking about our legacy, wondering what it was that we were supposed to be doing this whole time.  All of us are going to find ourselves being opposed by life, by obstacles, sometimes by actual Herods, people who seem to revel in threats and accusations. 

But as long as we are able to love, as long as we are able to forgive, as long as we are able to touch people with our lives, God is not finished with us yet. There is more to our lives than money, or status, or careers. There is more to our lives in fact, that we can possibly imagine, and what seems to be an ending might just be the beginning of an amazing new journey, the destination of which only God knows. 

Liminal spaces are scary. They are a time of reflection and exploration. They are time of letting go, and a time of searching for what’s next. 

This season of Lent is the church’s liminal space, when we are given the opportunity to take some time, and examine our lives. Are we living in a way that we can look back upon, and feel like we’ve actually done something important? Are we making the sorts of decisions that we can feel good about, in the long term? Are living our lives out of fear of what others might think, or are we living boldly, knowing that the world has no power over us? 

During these forty days, I encourage us all to think about who we really are, and what our true purpose in life really is. We might be surprised by what we find out. We might find ourselves changing, trying new things. Because no matter where we are in life, only one thing is sure, there’s only one thing that never changes: God’s not finished with us yet.

And in the house of the Lord, 
the people said, “Amen”