Psalm 107.1-9; Luke 12.13-21
The App Store, on my computer, told me that a program was ready to be updated … I went to the App Store, clicked on the update icon, and the update began … with a little note - to fix bugs and improve performance.
I like that … who doesn’t need an update now and then?
To fix a few bugs, improve performance.
To keep on growing, learning, moving ahead …
The Rembrandt image on the front of our bulletin says it well … the rich man … lives in a tiny, tiny, world … his whole being devoted to the coin in his hand … surrounded by contracts and ledgers …
He could use an update, to fix a few bugs and improve performance.
When we were in seminary, Donna and I spent a few weeks in a Miami, FL church - we lived in the manse with the minister and his family … they went on vacation; he said, “Use my study.” So I did … I browsed through his books, and quickly learned: he hadn’t bought a new book since graduation.
He could’ve used an update, to fix a few bugs and improve performance.
Religion, at its best, is all about updates … fix the bugs, improve performance … until the next update is needed … always bugs to fix, improvement needed … as the world turns … as life moves on …
Next week, we’ll be electing new elders, members of the Session … the “governing board” of a Presbyterian Church.
The new elders will be asked nine questions … nine large questions, nine very large questions … questions that take us back into time, and push us ahead to the future … questions about the foundations of our faith … one of the questions goes like this:
Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?
That’s a large question.
Because faith is large.
Life is large … God is large.
When we say: I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth …
That’s large …
When we pray, Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name …
When we sing, A mighty fortress is our God …
Religion at its best grows the mind with large ideas … big stories …
Religion at its best grows the heart with the large love of God, the infinite love of God, the inexhaustible love of God.
Religion at its best lays before us the largest kinds of requirements: love God with all that you, and all that you hope to be … love your neighbor with all the regard you have for yourself, and your immediate loved ones …
That’s large … infinitely, eternally, large.
Which brings to mind a problem, at least as I see it … I don’t like to dwell on the problem … I’d rather focus on the possibilities, and the promises … but when Jesus teaches, he says, You have heard it said, thus and so, but I say unto you … Jesus is clear about the problems that plague the political and religious world of his time … he’s no starry-eyed dreamer, telling dandy stories to dandy people.
He clear about the problems … one of the problems then, and one the problems now: small religion.
Small ideas, small ideals.
Small doctrines, all the pat answers … the doorways of the mind are closed; the windows of the soul are shut. No updates needed; performance is just fine.
It’s religion, all right, but religion so very small … religion too small for the large God of faith.
Max Morrison … some of you know that name … Morrison Hall here is named after him … Rev. Max Morrison came to Westminster in 1942 and served here for 24 years … he wrote a number of books, one of which is on my desk, Standing Up to Life …
Dr. Morrison writes:
This is what going to church and worshiping does for you. It gives you a broader view of the universe in which you live. It puts you in touch through hymns, prayers, anthems and the spoken word with the Creator of that vast universe and of your own life.
The act of worship opens a door through which you glimpse wider spiritual horizons. Or to change the figure, he writes, it takes ‘your thoughts and your dreams to a hilltop where there is room to stretch your soul.’
People quit religion for all sorts of reasons!
Folks quit because the god proclaimed is too small … instinctively, folks know when they’re being had - the god proclaimed in the pulpit doesn’t square with the God of the universe … so they leave for the quest of the larger world.
Folks quit religion sometimes because the God proclaimed is too large, too large to fit into their little coin purse, too large for their small ideas and ideals … so they leave, in order to safeguard their dandy little world.
Let me tell you a story from my college days … 1963 or ’64 - an anthropology course …
Professor Don Wilson told about American missionaries in the Pacific Islands … the women of the islands wore simple clothing - a bit around the waist, and that was all.
The missionaries were horrified … disgusted with everything native.
The missionaries demanded blouses ... but the only women who wore blouses received them from sailors, for sexual favors.
Those dour and demanding missionaries failed to understand the joy and gift of Christianity - human beings follow Christ in and through their upbringing and their culture ...
God is at home in all cultures … for the women who wear the blouses … and those who don’t … if those missionaries could have learned to be large in heart and mind. They sure needed an update, some performance improvements.
The Pope’s visit to Canada - to apologize for the horrors visited upon Indigenous families … children neglected, abused, buried in anonymous graves, buried by missionaries, preachers, priests and nuns, Protestant and Catholic alike.
The story of the missionaries in the Pacific Islands shaped me deeply; I’m forever grateful … Professor Wilson helped me step into a larger world ... I’m still doing my best to keep on stepping into that larger world … every time I step ahead, the world around me grows larger, still … sometimes I want to say to the LORD, “Enough already,” and the LORD makes it clear, “Tommy m’boy, we’re only just beginning.”
From the streets of Manhattan to the Pacific islands ... from the far reaches of anywhere to the edge of the known universe ... the Christ of hope and peace, the Christ who lifts the fallen and restores the lost ... the Christ who heals the wounded soul, and brings Lazarus out of the tomb ... the Christ of the World, the Christ of eternity … the Christ of you and me ...
It’s good to live in the larger world of God’s larger love, it’s not always easy, but it’s always good … to be large in the things of Christ … large in kindness, understanding, and love … large in patience, and mercy … the larger world of faith and justice.
God’s larger world.
Dear friends, I’m glad to be here, and I know that you are, too.
Amen and Amen!