Tuesday, September 16, 2014

sermon on Romans 12:9-21, conversation, and jerks on campus

This past week at UC has been crazy. A week and a half ago, the students returned to campus and the university put on a ton of events to welcome them, to help them make friends, to encourage them to join extracurriculars, to encourage them to do things other than drink themselves silly. It’s called Welcome Weekend and they say, if you’re not completely wiped out by the end of it, you’re not doing it right.

Check out some of the people who came to the-Edge-House-sponsored Board Game Extravaganza—I stopped counting at 200.

And here’s a shot of our Giant-Sized Settlers of Catan—it’s a strategy board game from Germany, very fun. We just made it bigger fun.

We took our espresso set-up onto campus to give out free iced lattes and we had some great conversations with some of the 150 folks who partook.

Earlier in the week I got to speak again to a roomful of technical theatre students at CCM about spiritual wellness. I don’t have a picture of that, I’m afraid, but it was all about how, just like a play needs actors and costumers and set-builders and stage managers and lighting designers and all the people to make it work, so do our lives. Don’t do it alone.

And so it goes. Days on end of deeply emotional and draining events. Ya’ll should come next year, it’s great!

One of my students has been working for a year on a collaboration between DAAP design students and both the Women’s Center and the UC counseling services called #consentculture. It’s in response to the statistic that 1 in 4 collegiate women are sexually assaulted in their college careers. And that first couple weeks of the school year is what they call the “red zone”—more of the assaults happen when folks are new and vulnerable. So my student Heather and others have created this amazing brand and set-up where people can come over and learn about it and pledge to support consent—verbal, ongoing consent. Beautiful. Wednesday, I went to sign the board. As I turned to speak to the woman staffing the table, a young man came up and said, “consent culture? I believe in consent to rape.” Yeah. I figured he was a freshman, didn’t know how offensive he was, so I said, “that’s not funny. Please don’t say that.” And he proceeded to spout a lot of garbage—and that’s the nicest way I can say it—garbage about men and women and our place and men’s right to receive something back. When I noticed aloud that his argument wasn’t logical, he insulted us by saying that lesser minds wouldn’t understand his argument nor his entitlement. Maybe you’re familiar with some of the rhetoric another young man in California spoke before he shot up a sorority house recently? It was like that. And. It was…alarming. And disgusting. And we who were there at the booth did an admirable job of not flying off the handle but I’m going to be honest with y’all: I was angry. I was furious that he and anyone else could believe that women were objects who owed him something. And I was furious that there is a culture that would teach him this. And, weirdly, of all the things in that moment, what was the most frustrating was his unwillingness to allow anyone else to speak. He approached alone, looking for a fight; he left alone, having gotten one.

I’m not offering a treatise on feminism today, nor a travelogue on the Edge House’s Welcome Weekend adventures. But I am going to insist that we talk to and listen to one another.

Paul’s words in his letter to the church in Rome have been bouncing around in my brain all week. Paul says a lot of things about how to live in Christian community—look back at that in your bulletin [on the screen]. “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
This may seem to be a kind of grocery list of virtues that we want to do but know with that sinking feeling that we can’t hope to live up to. And we Lutherans—ahem, y’all Lutherans…—might even go so far as to get comfy with that. You might think that since there’s no way we can check off all that blessing and persevering and living peaceably with everyone, and since we are saved by God’s grace, let’s just not worry so much about it. Our everyday failures to be kind and forgiving aren’t such a big deal in the end.
Yes and no. I mean, yeah, it’s good not to be so nitpicky of ourselves and others—we don’t want to become micromanagers of other people’s lives—it’s exhausting for one thing. And we don’t want to end up hating ourselves for our failures. But. But.
What this is about is how much we need each other. How much we can’t do it alone. Paul is talking about being present, about showing up to our relationships and working to release our own self-interest. He’s talking about reflecting back grace and love and forgiveness rather than our normal, easily-justifiable rejection and annoyance. I won’t go so far as to say that we’re hateful people—seems like our day-to-day sin is annoyance, it’s eye-rolls and unwillingness to engage with the humanity of those around us. None of us here want to destroy the people we meet, but neither do we want others to disrupt our comfortable routine. And Paul’s all about disrupting that comfortable routine and requiring the believers to engage day-to-day kindness. He wants them, basically, to recognize that they need each other, like those theatre students need each other to produce a play and to, you know, live their lives well. Paul’s not saying, “go out there, team, and save the entire world!” He’s saying, “next time you meet that one lady you don’t care for so much, try to be a little gentler, know she’s struggling as well.” He’s saying, “next time you find yourself knowing you’re right, maybe allow for the possibility that you’re not, know that the other person has a story to tell.”

This storytelling and, maybe more importantly, story-listening, might be the thing that saves us. And really listening to someone else’s story is not easy. You might hear something that makes you uncomfortable or something you want to combat. You might hear something that resonates with your own deepest truth and it makes you weep. You might hear something ­­­­­­­­­­that opens your brain or heart to something unexpected and transforming.

For us to be able to do what Paul’s saying, to love with mutual affection, rejoice, be patient, persevere, extend hospitality, and live in harmony, we have to be vulnerable with each other. We have to be willing to actually talk to each other about more than the weather and the budget and our children and grandchildren. All good things, all good things. But we have to be willing to disagree about how to live out this divine love we’ve been given and still sit down to worship together.

So I want you to partner up. Turn to someone near you and if you need to add a third person because of where folks are sitting, great. Pulling from Paul’s letter to Rome, I invite you to share with your partners when was the last time you extended hospitality to a stranger? What difference did it make? I’ll give you 4 minutes to talk…

…friends, I invite you to turn your faces and hearts forward again.
Without sharing confidences, what was that like for you? What did you learn?

Now, that was only 4 minutes. Imagine if our lives were shaped by listening to each other and to looking for the ways in which we need each other?  Imagine if we weren’t so concerned with looking for big burning-bush signs and looked for the signs in each moment of God’s action? If a single smile from your mother suggested God’s toothy grin. If the bubbling laughter of a vacation reminded you of God’s playfulness in creating us in the first place. If a frown or a tear reminded us of God’s brokenheartedness at our self-centeredness. If doing the dishes reminded you of your baptism.
Friends, the church only functions because we have musicians and readers and ushers and offering counters and council members and Habitat for Humanity volunteers and students and teachers and prophets and apostles. It doesn’t function because we’ve all got it figured out. Just like how this place runs, so are our lives. Don’t do it alone. Know that no matter what things look like in any given moment, you are not alone. You are welcomed into the Kingdom. And the people who annoy you or you roll your eyes at or you avoid, they’re not alone either. Because they have you. We are a people of welcome. Let’s offer that welcome in the ordinary moments of our lives.