Good morning. I’d
like to talk about sign this morning: I don’t mean prophecies
and portents; I mean actual placards with letters and messages.
Things we say about ourselves as individuals and as the church.
My husband, Tim, has said that he will never put bumper stickers
on his car (two-thirds of our children are here today and they can
back me up on this). He’s a private person and doesn’t
want to broadcast to complete strangers where his kids go to school,
what sports they’re in, or if they made the honor roll, what
his hobbies are, who he’s voting for in 2016, how he feels
about gun control, abortion, or various breeds of dogs. I shy away
from bumper stickers for slightly different reasons: many of them
are badly designed and have ugly type fonts, and if you put it on
crooked or off-center, you just have to live with that. That is
difficult for me. You might think I’m kidding: I’m not.
I do keep a Life is good window cling on the back window of my car,
and I am happy to consider that a statement of belief, as well as
a line of cute sportswear products.
As you might guess, the McFadden yard isn’t exactly bristling
with yard signs encouraging folks to Make America Great Again or
telling them that we’re Stronger Together. It isn’t
that we don’t have convictions about political candidates,
we just prefer not to put those out in public. Other people make
other choices -- that’s fine. About the only yard sign we
put out is in August for the Creekside Fish Fry. Someday we’ll
probably have to put a realty sign out when we sell the house.
Signs are tricky things, because communication is a two-way process,
and we can’t control how other people receive our communication.
This got me thinking about church signs. Not the printed part of
church signs, which typically have the name and maybe the denomination
of the congregation, but the part below for movable letters where
the message can be changed for information, events, or clever sayings.
I know you’ve seen these signs -- we have a sign like this
at the end of our driveway at Creekside. Ryan and Jessica Prahl
do a great job of keeping it updated. They ask me what to put on
the Creekside sign, and I try to give this careful attention, because
poorly chosen words are at best confusing, are sometimes comical
in ways we did not intend, and occasionally embarrassing or offensive.
Let me show you some examples:
Slide 1. Eat
This is a punctuation problem
Slide 2. Texting
This is kind of clever, I suppose. But if anyone ever got into
an accident because they were reading a church sign, this one
would be a candidate. Really, what’s the message here? Don’t
text and drive? We need a church to tell us that?
Slide 3. Worries
I don’t think this one is a mistake. Can the church help
people with anxiety, or are we just making fun of them? Or do
we actually mean to say that our church is a toxic environment
which will increase your stress?
Slide 4. Sleep
I’m sure this is intentional. I don’t know if the
preacher knew about it ahead of time, but would you want to go
to a church that publically belittles their pastor? What does
this imply about biblical teaching?
Slide 5. Satin
I don’t think this intended to be a statement about shiny
fabric. It ends up being a statement about spelling.
Slide 6. Prophecy
This was one of my favorites. I can’t tell if this is a
legitimate announcement or a great piece of irony about not being
able to tell the future.
Slide 7. Go
Cubs And finally, sometimes we can’t get the messenger out
of the message.
I chose not to show, and I will not say some of the signs which
I found offensive. I wish that no church would broadcast messages
of condemnation, bigotry or homophobia, but some do. And wrapping
these things up in cute sound bites doesn’t make them any
less poisonous. If your church sign says something your church does
not believe, it shouldn’t be on your sign. If your church
sign has a cute saying that doesn’t have anything to do Christianity,
why bother? I don’t think the role of the church in our culture
or any culture is to provide comic relief. What we as individuals
and what our culture needs from the church is hope.
Our text is from Paul’s letter to the Romans. He was writing
to the Roman church at a time of unrest, political tension, and
international persecution. In short, a time very much like the one
we live in today. Actually, if we’re honest, the state that
the world is in all the time. If not here at this precise moment,
then for Christians somewhere. It’s a pretty safe bet that
at any given time or place, the people of God need to hear and proclaim
a message of hope. Here’s what Paul writes, ”For in
hope we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes
for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait
for it with patience.”
I’d like to share some words with you from author Clarissa
Pinkola Estes. She wrote these words following the terrorist attacks
of 9/11, but I believe they are relevant to us today. I will quote
her at length, because her words are much more beautiful than mine.
My friends, do not
lose heart. We were made for these times. I have heard from so
many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are
concerned about the state of affairs in our world now. Ours is
a time of almost daily astonishment and often righteous rage over
the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary
people. Yet, I urge you, please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing
these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope.
I grew up on the Great
Lakes and recognize a seaworthy vessel when I see one. Regarding
awakened souls, there have never been more able vessels in the
waters than there are right now across the world. And they are
fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before
in the history of humankind. Look out over the prow; there are
millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you.
In any dark time, there
is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or
unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. There is a tendency,
too, to fall into being weakened by dwelling on what is outside
your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is
spending the wind without raising the sails.
We are needed, that
is all we can know. And though we meet resistance, we more so
will meet great souls who will hail us, love us and guide us,
and we will know them when they appear. Didn't you say you were
a believer? Didn't you say you pledged to listen to a greater
voice? Didn't you ask for grace? Don't you remember that to be
in grace means to submit to the greater voice?
Ours is not the task
of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out
to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. What is
needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding,
adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take
everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small,
determined group who will not give up during the first, second,
or hundredth storm.
One of the most calming
and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world
is to stand up and show your soul. To display the lantern of soul
in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy
toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.
Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit
and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult,
this is one of the strongest things you can do. There will always
be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair in
my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain
it; it is not allowed to eat from my plate.
The reason is this:
There can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth,
who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and
the good deeds we do are not ours. They are the words and deeds
of the One who brought us here. In that spirit, I hope you will
write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored,
it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great
ships are built for.
Brothers and sisters, I have an assignment for you. I’d like
you to pray for words in the coming week. Not a lot of words --
if you are as articulate as Clarissa Pinkola Estes, God bless you,
and let me know what Sunday you want to preach. Here’s what
I would like to hear from you: Why are you here? Or to borrow the
ship image, What were you built for? if you had to put a statement
about yourself or your convictions on a yard sign or bumper sticker,
what would it say? Would it give your name and your job title? Is
that what you’re here for? Would it give your name and say
how many children or grandchildren you have? Is that what people
need to know? Would it be a message of judgment or condemnation?
Would it be a statement of belief? Hope? Peace? Justice?
There aren’t right or wrong answers, only answers which state
what’s important to us. What drives you and what you do? If
you have an opportunity to tell someone about yourself and why you
go to Creekside Church, what are you gonna say? I think the Spirit
is more likely to help us with the words if we’ve given it
some thought beforehand, so I’m strongly encouraging you to
do that. We’ll let you in here to worship next week even if
you don’t have words to share. But please, let me know through
the week or by next Sunday morning at the latest, what that statement
would be for you. I’ll share them -- including mine, without
names attached -- next Sunday. Thank you, and may the Spirit of
grace and peace move in your hearts in the coming week. Amen.