Lost in the Fog
This morning I start by asking you to think back to your years in school. For some of us it was literally only yesterday or the day before yesterday—like for Zoe Jaeger who had her last K-12 class on Friday. In this season of school year endings and graduations—almost all virtual--we lift up the students and educators who are weathering the challenges of the pandemic and quarantine on learning and teaching. Educators are frontline heroes in my book—and we have two of them helping lead worship this morning, Melanie and Todd. Thank you! Thank you for helping form the next generation of thinkers and leaders and people who care. To all of you: think back to your years in school, and see if you can remember a teacher you really learned from. Note: I didn’t say your favorite teacher—because maybe the teacher you learned the most from wasn’t your favorite. Think of a teacher you really learned from. Folks at home go ahead put the name and grade into the Facebook comments and why you think you learned so much from that teacher. People here in the sanctuary, who was a teacher you really learned from, what grade, and why do you think you learned so much? [ ]
For me it was Mrs. Layman, my 5th-grade teacher at The Langley School. She was rather strict, I remember, and had high expectations, but she was also an incredibly interesting person who knew a lot about a lot of subjects and places and cultures. As a young woman she had been an opera singer with the San Francisco Opera; she traveled the world with her husband who was a professor of classics and archeology; she could also race horses and shoot a gun. What made her such a great teacher, however, was her capacity to connect with her students where they were at. She was so smart, she was able to link what the curriculum offered with the children’s experiences and literally lift our awareness and knowledge base from where it was to where we needed to reach---whether that was social studies and world religions, Mark Twain, or prealgebra.
I thought of Mrs. Layman this week as I prepared for services this Sunday, and read through the first reading from Acts 17, the apostle Paul’s missionary visit to Athens. What do you know about Athens? [ ] Athens was the center of classical culture and political power. Instead of heading to a Jewish temple to reach Jews with the message of Jesus—what Paul usually did when he arrived in a new town—Paul heads to the center of public discourse in Athens, the Areopagus, the rock outcropping west of the Acropolis, where some judicial decisions concerning homicide and religious matters were decided. Before the elders of Athens, Paul holds a speech. Paul cleverly does what my 5th-grade teacher Mrs. Layman so skillfully did: he uses something the people of Athens already know to introduce the idea of God, begetter of Jesus Christ. Paul reminds the Athenians about a statue he has seen in the city—a statue to an “Unknown God”—and then Paul tells them this unknown God, this is the God he knows and loves: the God who created all things, that protects all things, that is the redeemer of all, our ground. Paul even uses a reference to Greek poets to describe God in language the Athenians would understand: as the being in whom “we live and move and have our being.”
As a preacher, I have always marveled at this speech by Paul, by his evangelical capacity to bring the message of God to the unchurched or under churched in ways they can understand. And it reminds me that we the church today still have the same challenge and the same obligation---to bring the merciful God that we know and love—to the unchurched and under-churched in ways that connect with their lives. As the church, as the Lutheran church, we haven’t always been so good at that. As we have watched the religious landscape in our western cultures shift, we have seen churches shrink and disappear---even before this pandemic started.
The pandemic and quarantine we are in have only added new challenges to our struggle to bring God to people who do not yet know the God we know and love….the God that loves us, is merciful, holds us in our sorrow, forms us in our being and doing. The pandemic and quarantine have only added a new challenge. But I have to admit---I think the pandemic and quarantine have also created opportunities for us to take risks and do things in new ways. Because we have to.
I’ll be honest with you—even with the technical difficulties we sometimes encounter when we are livestreaming our service on Facebook—-I am actually really enjoying leading worship for both those few who are present in the sanctuary as well as for those many who are present in their pajamas. There is something liberating, less confining, more expansive, more open, more public, more publicly accountable when we worship and I don’t know who exactly might be watching. It feels more evangelical. And by that I don’t mean American right-wing evangelical. I mean evangelical in its root sense: Evangelion means gospel—good news; I feel we are being more evangelical when we are live streaming because we are proclaiming the Gospel as we practice it here at St. Matt’s more broadly, more loudly, more powerfully. The “ Evangelical Church” is the name that Martin Luther gave to the newly reforming of his day; I feel that we are reclaiming that name by publicly broadcasting how we understand and live the Good News of Jesus Christ here at St. Matthew’s. A Good News that includes divine love and liberation for all people: Gay, straight and everything in between; Deaf, hard of hearing, hearing; poor, hanging-on-to-middle-class with a thread, and rich; graduates with Ph.D’s and graduates from the school of hard knocks. We are an evangelical people: with this pandemic, we have the opportunity to act and speak like the apostle Paul; to find the points of connection in people’s lives where God already is at work and help them to see the God of mercy, love and justice in whom “we live and move and have our being.” So share our worship on your social media. Talk about how St. Matt’s witnesses to God’s love with your neighbors. Spread the good news of our loving God.
The book of Acts was written nearly 2000 years ago. Think about that. Paul lived and taught almost 2000 years ago. I think Paul understood something about human nature and human need that still hasn’t changed in 2000 years. Human beings still have a fundamental longing for love and purpose and restoration.
We all long for love and purpose and restoration, in our personal lives and in our communal lives. We long for it, we look for it, sometimes we find it. Paul uses the phrase “groping for God” for that longing. Now, the word “groping” is a difficult word to reclaim in this era in which we have finally begun to name the damage and destruction done by sexual harassment and abuse. When we hear the word “groping” we might first think of the sexual harassers and abusers who grope and violate other bodies. That is not what Paul means in our reading today. Paul is describing the condition of being lost in darkness, unable to see, enveloped in a thick fog, unable to find a way forward—and reaching out into that fog or darkness for that being, that force, that power that can lead us forward, to that better future, the divine future we long for.
I think we all know the feeling of being lost in the dark, of feeling enveloped in a thick fog, unable to find a way forward. I want you to think over your own lives. When have you felt that sense of feeling lost, in the fog, blind. Maybe that was some time in the past; maybe that is today. If you want to share when that was/is—feel free to put a comment in Facebook. Or call it out here. When have you felt that sense of feeling lost, in the fog, blind. [ ] Depression, fear about the future, discrimination, feeling trapped in the closet because of your sexual orientation, being Deaf in a hearing dominant world that doesn’t care about communicating with you, loving with you, financial stress, trying to make decisions about jobs or moving or college. Feeling like COVID-19 is hitting poor communities unfairly, and less-impacted wealthier white people don’t seem to care.
What Paul tells us, what Jesus tells us today is that we are NEVER ALONE WHEN WE ARE LOST, WE ARE NEVER ALONE IN THE FOG, WE ARE NEVER ALONE WHEN WE CAN’T FIND THE WAY FORWARD. God is there. Jesus is right here with us. The Holy Spirit is right here with us…even if we cannot see. We have to try to remember to feel around more, reach out for God more right in those moments. I have to admit…..yesterday morning was a time when I really felt lost in the fog. I don’t quite know why. I just know I felt lost and unable to move forward. I didn’t feel like writing my sermon. (which never happens!) I didn’t feel like posting something inspiring on Facebook. I didn’t even feel like reading the psalms. I was lost in the fog, and I didn’t feel like groping around for God. I just felt like sitting in the fog. But I knew I had to do these things because I have an obligation to you, beloved people of St. Matt’s, to make God present for us. And so, sitting in that fog, I started groping around for God. I prayed, I walked Max, I talked with my children, I groped for God in my love and obligation toward you all. I groped for God in getting this week’s drop-ins for people experiencing homelessness organized. And eventually, eventually, groping and groping, I didn’t feel alone in the fog. I was feeling around and finding God.
This week, this week my friends, if you find yourself lost in the fog, remember you are not alone and God is right there with you. Reach out for God in prayer. Reach out for God by loving someone. Reach out for God by being part of a community, this community of love. Reach out for God in the pursuit of justice. God is there. Even in the fog. God is there. Amen.