Monday, January 11, 2010

George's Sunday Sermon: Anticipation

Amanda reminded me after Thursday’s choir practice that this morning, I would be preaching to the choir.

I got to thinking about that, because I use the term often. Preaching to the choir means that I am delivering a message to a group that is already well aware of the message.

The difficult part of delivering a sermon, for me, is this:  I’m always uncomfortable suggesting that I have any special scholarly insights for you. So please understand, this morning, that I know I am preaching to the choir.

In today’s Gospel reading, the multitudes are anticipating the arrival of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist tells them, “he who is mightier than I is coming.”

What are you anticipating as you sit in your pew this morning?

If you are anticipating a profound message from me, you are about to be sorely disappointed!

Let me ask a different question. When Pastor Munson tosses out an open-ended question and looks hopefully at you for a response, do you cringe?

Our faith is not for spectators. We’re not here to be entertained by the folks up front. We are expected to get onto the field, into the game. This is not a one hour every Sunday event. It’s an every minute every hour every day commitment.

Sure, it’s not always comfortable. Sometimes what we’re called to do is well outside our normal boundaries. But it is what is expected of us.

It took a long time for me to understand this, and even longer to act on the understanding. I’m still working at that, actually.

When I was a kid, every summer we attended Methodist Camp in Winthrop. Because I also lived in Winthrop, I would leave camp in the evening to play in my little league baseball games. I was on the field and in the game. But it was the wrong field and wrong game.

Even after Lin and I started attending church here in Readfield, I was still a spectator Christian, happy to deliver our kids into the care of Susan Baker, enjoy the service, and go home. I soon joined the choir, but I got more enjoyment out of the singing than I ever brought to anyone else by my singing. I was in the choir for me.

But then one year I participated in a small group learning about the power of prayer. That led, eventually, to joining the prayer tree. And then the church fair became an eagerly anticipated event in my life, a time for fellowship and service.

No one needs another committee meeting less than me, but I joined the SPRC, and found myself actually enjoying this opportunity to serve. The meetings are stimulating, full of fellowship, offering an opportunity to get onto the field and participate in God’s game.

And finally, after waiting a while for someone – anyone- to step up to chair our Finance Committee, I stepped onto that playing field this month. Of course, if I had known that it included an evening tutorial from our long-time Finance Chair Rocko, for which he brought the Gritty’s, I might have signed up a long time ago!

And believe it or not, this diversion leads us back to my original question: What are you anticipating this morning?

Let me start the confessions. In my pew on Sunday morning, I am often anticipating the writing of my newspaper column. It must be submitted no later than Monday morning and I often write it on Sunday afternoon. And there is many a Sunday morning, as I sit here in church that I have no clue what I’m going to write about. Karen bails me out quite a lot, by giving me an idea for a column subject as she presents her morning message.

Lin always knows when this happens because she’ll glance over and I will be writing feverishly on the back of my church bulletin.

In my pew, I am anticipating the game of volleyball that Robin will be leading from 4 pm to 6 pm this afternoon.

A lot of the things I anticipate as I sit in church are pleasurable, mostly things I do for myself. It’s still, regrettably, all about me.

Anyone here this morning anticipating some fun events in your own life? Maybe an upcoming vacation? The Patriots game on TV this afternoon? How many are eagerly anticipating that?

We drove by a church yesterday that displayed this message outside the church: Come visit our home Sunday before the game.

It is also possible that you are anticipating bad things in your life. Surgery. An unpleasant task at work.

We all bring our anticipations to church on Sunday morning.

And for me, the challenge is to change those anticipations from things for and about me to things for and about God.

You all know that I love to hunt and fish. In my world, God made nothing more beautiful that a brook trout – especially a trout attached to my line.

My favorite fishing quote is this: “the charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.”

Imagine applying this thought to every minute of your life, spending that life in the pursuit of what God has made attainable for you, a perpetual series of occasions for hope, realizing that God’s playing field may be elusive, but its always attainable, and anticipating those opportunities to play in God’s game. Those opportunities are available, and not just for an hour on Sunday morning.

They are attainable in everything this church offers and does, and in so many places, on so many fields, outside of this church.

I gaze around every Sunday and find occasions for hope supplied by members of this congregation who live their lives on God’s playing field, teaching Sunday school, serving at the food bank, going to Slidell or Cambodia to build houses, traveling all the way to Kaoma to teach children. I admire each of you who sit here this morning anticipating these things.

And I recognize that you spend more of your time on God’s playing field than I do. Most of my time is still spent in my own game, for my own pleasure.

But when I do get out of my own game and into God’s game, I am so richly rewarded as to wonder: why don’t I do this more often?

And then there is that greatest of anticipations: that when the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there. Ah, that elusive goal, but a goal that is attainable. I hope!

I was writing legislative testimony early Wednesday morning, anticipating a very busy day at the State House, and happened to look up from my laptop to see a beautiful sunrise.

Suddenly, the day’s anticipated events seemed far distant, and I marveled at the beauty that God puts in front of me every day. My day brightened, even before the sun rose over Bowen Hill to the east. And I wished I had more time to spend in God’s game. But I had to get that testimony done.

My prayer for you is that every one of your days may be brightened by all that you anticipate, that your feet may be placed down on God’s playing field every minute of every hour of every day. And for me, that once in a while, I will join you there.

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