Friday, September 7, 2012

Living Boldly--Living Well

Living Boldly—Living Well
NW MN Synod Women’s Organization Convention
September 8, 2012
Calvary Lutheran Church, Park Rapids, MN
Isaiah 35:1-10
One of my favorite Prairie Home Companion sketches is entitled Rhubarb.   It’s a story about Dorothy the cook at the Chatterbox Café.  
Dorothy makes the best rhubarb pie on the planet.   When she bakes a fresh batch of rhubarb pies, word travels quickly up and down the main street of Lake Wobegon…and before noon all the pie is gone.
Patrons in the Chatterbox (mostly men)  moan and groan in rhubarb-induced ecstasy.   They fairly swoon over Dorothy’s great pie.   Tears of gratitude stream down their faces as they toss down their  2nd and 3rd helpings.
There’s just one thing, though:   Dorothy herself never eats her own wondrous creation.   She bakes the most scrumptious rhubarb pie in the galaxy—but she never quite gets around to sampling her own masterpiece.
"How can the bringer of such good things derive no enjoyment from it?" Pastor Ingquist  of Lake Wobegon Lutheran Church wonders, as he sits on a stool at the Chatterbox counter, savoring the last morsel of his piece of rhubarb pie.
I’m going to guess that most of you have a bit of Dorothy in you.   You are hard-working servants.  People look to you for leadership in your women’s group and congregation.   You are often the first worker to show up and the last worker to leave, whenever there is a church “doing”.
And I’m also guessing that sometimes you’ve had it up to here with all of that!   
…because you serve others to the neglect of your own needs—you make the best rhubarb pie in the world, but seldom save a bite for yourself.   And that, my friends, is a “health and wellness” issue.
So it is to you specifically that I want to speak.   It is your self-sacrificing, servant hearts that I wish to address in these moments.
Let me suggest three reasons why folks like us don’t always derive the joy that we might from serving God and his people
First there is the tyranny of time.   I bet that most of you are busy folks.   You burn the candle at both ends and have a hard time saying “no,” don’t you?
Although we have all the time in the world, it never feels that way.  So we complain about being “short” on time or “out” of time….and we also want to make the most of our time (that’s in the Bible, isn’t it?)….but no matter how hard we try to do that, we always come up short.
So much to do; so little time to do it.   The tyranny of time sucks the joy out of our serving.
Second, there is the weight of sin--our own sin and the sin of those all around us.  That, too, robs us of happiness as we bring God's good things to others.
Of course everyone on the planet is a sinner….but servants of God feel the weight of sin more keenly, because (frankly) we live with such high ideals and lofty expectations.
We servants expect a lot of others and even more of ourselves.   Because we serve God and God’s people, how could we not?
But our high expectations and lofty ideals set us up for miserable failure.   Christians are supposed to be joyful, loving, generous people….never cantankerous or impatient or grumpy or (as we like to say) dysfunctional.   And yet, with breathtaking frequency we are all of those things….and that too—the weight of sin--robs us of the enjoyment we should derive from delivering the good things of God.
Thirdly, there is the burden of servanthood that also blunts our joy as workers for God.   Because servanthood is hard work, entailing deep sacrifice and often yielding little thanks for our efforts.
I remember how my late mother used to slave away when it was our family's "turn" to host the relatives for holiday meals.  She would rise long before the first rays of sunlight pierced the eastern sky--peeling potatoes, stuffing turkeys, and baking pies.  She would fuss and stew all morning, worried that something would not turn out just right.
And when dinner time arrived Mom would make endless trips back and forth between the kitchen and the table, bearing platters of steaming food, obsessed with making sure that all her guests were well-fed.
Only after repeated pleas, only after everyone else was stuffed, would my mother FINALLY sit down and eat her own tiny plate of the now-cooled-off food that she had so lavishly dished up.
Is that the model of servanthood too many of us have embraced-- a model in which we take "losing ourselves" too seriously, a model in which we take ourselves too seriously?   Must feeding the hungry forever entail the starving the one who feeds?
You know how, just before takeoff, airplane flight attendants always runs through the safety instructions.   One of the things we’re told is that if the passenger cabin should lose air pressure, oxygen masks will automatically fall down above each seat.   When that happens we’re commanded to do something that always seems wrong to my servant-heart:   put your own oxygen mask on before you help your neighbor put on his or her oxygen mask.
No, no, no.   That can’t be right.    Shouldn’t we help others before we help ourselves?  
Not in a jet plane flying at 39,000 feet above sea level….because if you don’t put your own oxygen mask on first, you may not be conscious or even alive to help your neighbor.   You owe it to yourself and to others to breathe first, before helping others breathe. 
That is why I am so glad you are here today.  I rejoice that God has cut through the tyranny of time for you to be in this place....where you can lay aside the weight of your sin and reconsider the burden of servanthood.
Think of this day as your opportunity to strap on the oxygen mask and breathe deeply from the restorative oxygen of God’s Word.
And who better to guide us than old Isaiah the prophet?   Faced with the question of why the bringers of good things derive no enjoyment from it, Isaiah doesn’t scold us or tell us to get a better attitude or suck it up or try a little harder.
Isaiah points us instead to God, to what God is doing in our midst.
Did you notice, here in Isaiah 35, that excess, that over-flowing-ness in the Word of God that is always catching us up short?  This passage is about the wilderness, after all—the dry, parched places of life where we feel utterly cut-off, bereft of all hope.
But this wilderness in Isaiah’s prophecy is turning lush and verdant, as God renews all things.   “It shall blossom”—not just a little bit, not just “enough”—but “abundantly( v. 2).
And the lame don’t just limber up—they aren’t merely content with hobbling around—no, “they leap like a deer!”  (v. 6)  
The speechless manage to do much more than croak out a few syllables—rather, “they sing for joy.” (v. 7) 
The dry land doesn’t just show a few hints of greenery—it becomes like a northern Minnesota wetland in summer, teeming with life.
And right through the middle of this barren, God-forsaken “dead man’s gulch”—the kind of place any sane person would avoid at all cost—right through the middle of it we see not just a narrow rocky trail—but a wide highway, the Holy Way, the way back home for God’s exiled people.
Here in Isaiah 35 God invites us to set our hopes too high for a change—because the higher we hope, the higher will God outdo us in giving us all that we will ever need. 
If the tyranny of time, if the weight of sin, if the burden of servanthood leave you parched, dehydrated and shriveled up...unable to enjoy the good things you are constantly bearing to God's people....I invite you stop, here and now, and listen to these words:
It is for you that God is at work, reclaiming the whole creation in life, death and resurrection of  his Son, Jesus Christ. 
It is for others, too--make no mistake about it.   But right now, in this moment, it is for you.
It is the tyranny of your time that God means to undo, in order to say to you:  "Be strong, do not fear!"


It is the weight of your sin that God in Christ chooses to bear to the Cross and the Grave--freely, willingly, that you might be numbered among the redeemed and the ransomed.


It is the burden of your servanthood that God would lift from you, at least for that God's own everlasting joy might be upon your heads, so that sorrow and sighing might flee away.


You have God's word on it.


In the name of Jesus.  Amen.



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