February 28, 2021: In Search of the Kingdom of God: Being Desperate
In Search of the Kingdom of God: Being Desperate (but in a good way)
Matthew 5:7; Luke 10:25-37
- Prelude – “O Lord Most Holy,” arr. by Lyndell Leatherman; Pauline Olsen, organ
- Welcome – Pastor Brad Beeman
- Hymn 577 – “God of Grace and God of Glory,” by Harry Emerson Fosdick; Sue Ninemires and Ken Burres, vocals; Pauline Olsen, organ; Donna Grubbs, piano; Terry Reitz, bells
- Prayer Time – Rev. Dr. Kathleen Charters
- Special Music – “Three Interludes,” by Starling Goodwin; Terry Reitz, organ
- Scripture – Matthew 5:7; Luke 10:25-37; Gay Lyn Lillagore
- Sermon – “In Search of the Kingdom of God: Being Desperate (but in a good way),” Pastor Brad Beeman
- Hymn 292 – “What Wondrous Love is This,” by Paul J. Christiansen; Sue Ninemires and Ken Burres, vocals; Pauline Olsen, organ; Terry Reitz, keyboard; Donna Grubbs, piano
- Postlude – “O Rest in the Lord,” by Felix Mendelssohn; Pauline Olsen, organ
In my letter this week you’ll hear about my personal Lenten Study, of exploring the Beatitudes at a more personal level. It is my hope that you take on a study whether around these sermons or something else, and allow yourself this time to deepen your relationship with your Creator, with Christ, with the One I’ve called, “the disciple whisperer.”
Given that I wasn’t with you last week, first I wanted to thank Pastor Kathleen for stepping in and sharing perspectives about Ash Wednesday and Lent. And now, I hope to combine these next two to Beatitudes…yet with more of a focus on what means to hunger and thirst for God, and of being filled with the right stuff.
It was in August of 1979. I had taken a group of high school guys up to Mowich Lake on Mt Rainier. It was an August youth group outing with just the guys. We camped at the campground, 4900 feet above sea level. We would take day hikes from there. I’ll never forget the day I took them climbing high enough to be above the tree line, headed to Mount Pleasant, and on the way to Spray Falls. It was a bit cloudy but didn’t seem threatening. We kept climbing. As we reached about 6500 feet, a pretty fierce storm descended. It came on so quickly that we had to hunker down behind a somewhat small rock outcropping just below Mount Pleasant. Directly above us, the wind had increased to the point that we could watch the stream of clouds and moisture flying parallel to the ground just above our heads.
Hours went by until finally, things calmed. By the time we were able to leave safely, we were out of water. It took hours to get back to camp. By the time we left the outcropping, the weather had cleared, and the sun was out. It had turned hot, and had become incredibly humid. Once the guys stumbled into camp, they immediately dropped their day packs and headed for the lake’s outlet waterfall. They were hot, dehydrated, thirsty, and desperately wanted to get their body temperatures down. I had warned the boys about drinking the water. They were, however, desperate.
To be fair, our campsite was just down from the short waterfall. I knew they were hot and certainly knew that all they wanted to do was get wet and cool off. I gave them the warning one more time. Don’t drink the water.
As I said, it was the outlet to the lake; you know, a large, standing, not really moving, did I mention, a large body of water that could grow parasites. Yup, you guessed it. They not only stood in the waterfall but put their heads up and allowed the water to run down their throats. I mean, what harm could it do? They were really, really hot and really thirsty. The trip home the next day, after a very long, violently ill, loud, horrible sounding night was anything but peaceful. If I recall it correctly, we had to stop dozens of times so that one or two or more of them could, well, take care of business. It was awful. They still talk about it today…heed the warnings, no matter how hot or thirsty you may be. But desperation causes us to do things we may not otherwise do in ways we may otherwise not normally do them.
I’m not sure many of us know what real hunger is. Maybe some of us have experienced real thirst. Have you ever experienced a time when all you wanted, all you needed, all you could think of, for fear of your life, was food; any food, just something to stave off the hunger. I would ask the same question about thirst. I wonder how many of us have ever fasted, particularly beyond one meal, or even one day, and I don’t mean waiting to have blood drawn or having some clinical procedure.
Or better yet, have any of us been so lost that we had no idea where or when our next meal might come, almost ready to eat anything, all within the desperation to be found. Or so thirsty, beyond thirsty that the mud puddle, or greenish kind of pond, or even that stream that you know has come down the mountain with stuff you don’t want to deal with is right there, so you drink it anyway. It’s worth the risk.
Desperation can become the priority of the moment. Desperation, in a good way, can be focused toward our relationships with Christ. That desperation, that approach to faith, can become the priority for a lifetime. That’s why this Beatitude is here…to help us understand that it needs to be a priority throughout our lives, so much that we can’t afford to miss it.
As I look back again at the original languages, this one seems to make more sense. What I’ve just described is the image that needs to come to mind when examining this Beatitude. It is about absolute desperation…absolute.
That desperation becomes the singular focus of our lives. And as we examine that, let’s first look back at what got us here. Remember, “blessed” means taking on the attitude or action of, kneeling, whether physically or emotionally before the God who created us, ready to receive a gift. That is the first requirement…humility but the anticipation of something coming. From there, we allow ourselves to become aware of our own spiritual poverty, and our need for God. That is an inward movement and something that opens the soul for whatever might come next.
And what comes next is an attitude of mourning, and mourning is deeper than sadness. Mourning comes to the forefront in what we lack in our relationship with God, recognizing those things we do or have done that have created separation from God, and then extending that outwardly to our personal relationships. Even that requires what comes next. We become blessed when we become meek, and meek does not mean weak. It means being led by God, inheritors of what God seeks to bring right here on earth to us and the world around us.
We become the receivers of this disciple whisperer, filled and focused so that God can work through us. It’s from there that we can turn to hungering and thirsting. From naming our need for God, taking up that attitude that opens us up, knowing the emotional state we are to take on, mourning when we let God and each other down are all foundational to this next piece. Here we turn and reach out, knowing that we will be fed and our thirst will be quenched. It is in a kind of desperation that opens the deeper sense of self to God. It’s no longer that we simply want to be fed. We absolutely need to be fed. It’s not that we’re simply thirsty, we thirst for the living water that is God.
As we do, we become fed. As we do, our thirst is quenched. God fills and feeds and nourishes but it begs the question, how?
It’s from this place that we open our Bibles knowing something will be given to us. We study a certain book, or a certain topic. We can take on something like what I’m doing with the Beatitudes. Beyond that, we spend time in prayer, and not just for ourselves, but for each other, the community, the country, and the world.
God will help us focus those prayers as we hunger and thirst. It is from this place that we can pray for and even love our enemies, whoever they may be. We can receive, and maybe more importantly offer mercy and I’ll talk a bit more about that next week. Mercy helps us focus on specific actions we can take that will change lives. From here we can seek and offer grace and forgiveness. The filling that occurs when we take on this practice is life-changing, at least that’s what it’s designed to be. It’s also world-changing, even more than what it’s designed to be. But it also begs the question, how will we know if it’s happening?
This is where Paul helps us, and maybe this can be a Bible study focus. In Galatians, Paul writes about the outgrowth of being filled, of hungering and thirsting. He calls it the Fruit of the Spirit. As we practice opening ourselves to God something happens. The more we practice, the more these elements become defining. Look at them again, and I’ll talk about each briefly.
Love – this is that servant love, the kind of love that happens when we offer ourselves to God and the natural outgrowth of that is the love we share with each other. So, where do you feel this, and where do you not, or have not allowed yourself to experience this kind of love?
Joy – this is greater than happiness. It is deep, down to your toes kind of joy that is almost overwhelming. Sure, it’s being happy, but when you’ve experienced joy, real joy, it just goes so much deeper than happiness.
Peace – is not the absence of war kind of peace, nor is it even the absence of conflict. This kind of Peace is something that lay beneath all of it, a peace that passes understanding; a peace that comes from God, and allows us to, within the many aspects of our lives, find a level of comfort from within, that defines every other aspect of our lives and our relationships.
Patience – what can I say about patience, it’s tough but is so essential as we work through all manner of things; things like our relationships, our patience with ourselves, and even our patience with God.
Kindness – I get to see and experience kindness every Tuesday and Thursday as I walk the cars in line for the vaccinations. The first is overwhelming. It comes from every volunteer, every member of the medical staff, everyone involved in getting these vaccines out to our community. The kindness, the joy, the patience, the generosity, combine to bring people peace. I’ve seen it over and over and over again. But I’ve also seen it from those waiting in their cars. This is a community of kindness on so many levels.
At the same time, I have to ask, are there places where you might need to extend deeper kindness to others, either in word or deed? Let’s look at that.
Generosity – I could talk vaccinations again, particularly what the Tribe is doing, but I also look at you, this congregation. You are generous in ways that go way beyond financial giving. Yes, you financially give in ways that allow us to continue to offer ministry even in the most trying of times. You are also a church that is constantly giving back, constantly going that second mile, and constantly doing for others. I still have to ask if you have places, people, areas of your lives that need deeper levels of generosity. God will help find those if needed.
Faithfulness – is something that holds it all together; faithful to God, to each other, to the neighbor, and the world. Yet it’s these next two that can challenge us in ways that may go beyond what I’ve already mentioned. The first is:
Gentleness – it is that kind of touch that allows people to know that we care about them. It is the kind of words we use to express ourselves. It is the kind of communication, beyond our words that help others know that we are followers of Jesus. It’s sometimes tough to find gentleness when in the midst of doing something with great passion. But gentleness is here, and it is important.
Self-Control – I believe there is a reason that Paul lists this one last. If we don’t have self-control, none of the others will work. Self-control isn’t just about not eating too much. Self-control is also the discipline that allows us to practice the Beatitudes. It’s about appropriate choices; appropriate priorities, and even appropriate attitudes. So, how’s that going for you?
So there you have it…hungering and thirsting desperately for a God who is also seeking to desperately love us. But it’s the promise at the end of this Beatitude that should give us the courage to take all of this on…we’ll be filled. And who doesn’t want to be filled by those things I just mentioned? This is a generous, gracious, loving God we seek to follow, and it is His Son that has become the example we can follow. What a gift! Let’s pray…