Saturday, we gathered as a congregation out in our barn on a beautiful, cool August evening to worship, to celebrate our partnership with Heartland Camp over these past 10 summer weeks, and to bless our children and educators (and their backpacks) as they are headed back to school this month.
Our scripture for Sunday evening came from Ephesians Chapter 2.
8 Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it.
It’s God’s gift from start to finish! 9 We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! 10 No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do,
work we had better be doing.
– Ephesians 2:8-10
We read Max Lucado’s children’s story, You are Special, together. In it there is a village of wooden people, the Wemmicks, who were all made by the woodcarver Eli, who lives on a hill above the village. The Wemmicks, have developed a system of judgment and evaluation that they execute via stickers – grey dots and gold stars that they run around distributing to one another.
Grey dots are bad and gold stars are good and the Wemmicks dole them out based on their own perceptions of another Wemmick’s value and worth.
The story centers around Punchinello, a gray-dot covered Wemmick, who feels isolated and alone until he meets Lucia, a Wemmick with no dots nor stars and asks her how she does it. She tells him that she spends time with the woodcarver everyday and encourages Punchinello to go do the same.
Punchinello’s first visit to Eli reveals that the one who made him, knows him and loves him just because he is. Eli doesn’t pay attention to the gray dots nor the gold stars, because they aren’t the truth about any of the Wemmicks. The truth instead are these words Eli speaks to Punchinello, before he leaves his wood shop on that first day they were together,
you are special,
because I made you and
I don’t make mistakes.
I said those words to each of our children and educators as they came forward to have their backpacks blessed on Saturday, encouraging them to trust God’s love for them more than any other person’s evaluation of them as they headed back to school.
In the background of all of this, of course, were the images I would guess most of us carried into that barn that evening as we gathered to worship – images from Charlottesville of members of the alt-right movement, the Neo-Nazi’s and the KKK wielding Tiki Torches and hatred as they marched on the campus of UVA the night before and through Emancipation Park earlier that day. Outside the wooden world of the Wemmicks and their gray dots and gold stars, humanity’s systems of classification and judgement – racism and anti-semitism being the ones most fully on display in Charlottesville – are too often executed with much more violence and force and with much deadlier consequences.
When we worship on Saturday evening, we spend the next day practicing Sabbath on our own at home or out in the community. As I awoke to this week’s Sunday Sabbath, I struggled to be grounded in a day of rest, when the nation was reeling from the turmoil of the weekend’s events. Sometimes, the idea of Sabbath can sound or feel like an escape from the world or life’s daily obligations. Yet, escapism is not what our God calls us to on the Sabbath day. This week, the Sabbath day became for me a day of reflection as I carried the weight of the world’s news and the call of the Gospel with me throughout it.
The simple truth we were proclaiming to our children on Saturday night, directly counters any marginalization and oppression of any group of God’s people. God made us all – we are all works of the Great Maker – people created in the image of God – beloved by God – the God who doesn’t make mistakes. Every time we degrade a particular group of people (or any individual for that matter), we are acting in direct opposition to the Gospel – in direct opposition to our God – and in truth, in direct opposition to our true selves. Every time we participate in the degradation of other human beings – we hurt them, we hurt our world, we hurt our God, and we also harm ourselves.
This is why, the call from Jesus’ sermon on the mount kept coming to my mind on Sunday – the call to love your enemies (Matthew 5:44). A call that countless other times in my life has seemed impossible and felt no less impossible now. Yet, I kept thinking of those words said over and over again on Saturday – “You are special, because God made you and God doesn’t make mistakes.” These words would be true even when said over a tiki-torch carrying, hate wielding member of the KKK. God doesn’t make mistakes. We do. We make so many mistakes. We fail to trust God and God’s love for us. We mistakenly let fear replace love in our hearts and let it morph into hate of those who are different than us, those who we think threaten us. We feed that hatred and allow it to grow until it pours out in evil and violent acts – degradation of God’s good creation.
“Love your enemies,” Jesus says. He is telling us, don’t just repeat the same mistakes your enemies have made. Don’t let fear win, don’t give it a chance to morph into hatred within you, hold onto love, trust me. Let love grow in your hearts until it pours forth to resist sin and evil at every turn. I created you in Christ Jesus so that you might do my good works. So, be who I created you to be. Get out there and be a part of my good work in the world.
When we ask people to profess their faith in our tradition – at their baptism, at their confirmation, when they unite with a congregation – there are three questions we ask of them:
- Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?
- Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Lord and Savior, trusting in his grace and love?
- Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his Word and showing his love?
We’ve been created for good work in Christ Jesus.
It is work we had better be doing.
If you, like me, are wrestling with what this looks like in your life and our world today, I’d love to talk more.