Martin Luther tended to define the world through dialectics: two opposing arguments that are both true. Some examples you should know are: we are simultaneously sinners and saints, or “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none, and a Christian is a perfectly bound servant of all, subject to all.” Well, in fine Lutheran tradition, I’d like to start today by offering a dialectical proposition
1. Nothing special has happened here this week.
2. Everything that has happened here this week has been special.
The discourse follows.
I was talking with Kristi and Karen earlier this week about anxiety. We see it in the churches we serve and the communities in which we live. We are a people running scared. Jobs are scarce. The illusion of control is gone. So me and five of our Campus Ministry students decided that the best way to escape that anxious world was to ride 31 hours on a train, 30 minutes on a bus, two hours on a boat, and 45 minutes on the loudest bus in America to join you all and do chores. Really. I can wash dishes at home. I can bake bread at home. I can hang sheetrock at home. As a matter of fact, my wife WANTS me to hand sheetrock at home. A mouse crawled into the wall of our basement bedroom, had a litter of baby mice, and they all died there. They were spread through four gaps in the framing, so I had to cut four chunks of drywall out of the wall to clean up the mess. It’s been there for over six months – and here I am, leaving my wife and two daughters to go hang sheetrock in Lodge 3. So that’s what I mean when I say “nothing special has happened here this week.”
And at the same time, everything that has happened here this week has been special. Maybe you all don’t see it because you’re here longer than we are, but it’s true. The atmosphere here is filled with the holiness of everyday life. What we’ve seen here are people who understand what the psalmist means in Psalm 90: “…teach us to number our days that we may gain a wise heart…Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands – O prosper the work of our hands!” Kate and I were talking on our way down the hill from the hydro plant yesterday about the true sense of vocation we see here. Everyone here, from the most over-educated manual laborers to the most under-qualified utilities worker, has a part in God’s mission for Holden Village. So, everything that has happened here has been and continues to be special, because it all matters to God and to this community.
I’ve been wrestling with these things in my own faith life for some time now. I’ve been wondering what it really means to live as a follower of Jesus Christ in the world. I’m trying to be a realist about faith and life and how they transform each other, because I think it’s the most important work in front of the church in this present age. I think the world is tired. I think the world is tired of the shrill, anxious nature of life in this present age, and the last thing a tired world needs is another Christian handing out promises God will never keep. So I try to be a realist about who we are and what we can expect as followers of Jesus. No matter how wonderful the Sunday morning worship service is, someone always has to clean up the communion chalices and wash out the coffee pot. No matter how good the Bible study is, someone always has to print the copies, set up the chairs and clean it all up in the end. As the psalmist says, the path of life always goes through the valley of the shadow of death.
Jesus says in Matthew 11: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Did you notice that last verse? For every follower of Jesus, there is still a yoke. There are still burdens to bear. There are still chores to be done – dishes to be washed, sheetrock to hang, lumber to move, diapers to change. The question is, can we see those ordinary things as the special work to which God has called us today?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian who wrestled with these questions, too. In July 1944 he wrote the following sentences in a letter to a friend:
“I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith…By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world – watching with Christ in Gethsemane…that is how one becomes [human] and a Christian. How can success make us arrogant, or failure lead us astray, when we share in God’s sufferings through a life of this kind? May God in mercy lead us through these times, but above all, may [God] lead us to [God]self.
There’s nothing special happening here. But it’s all special. You are special. The work you do is special, and I hope you realize it today. Wash those dishes, move that lumber, hang that sheetrock and bake your bread in the name of the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of life, and with thanksgiving in your heart, for in your work you are throwing yourselves into the loving arms of God. Amen.