Saturday, September 29, 2012

September 30 - Stained Glass Windows Week-2

The Division between Faith and Life
John 2                                                                                          Stained Glass Windows Wk-2

I. Could we live our Christian faith so that it is woven through our daily lives? Could we live our Christian faith so that it is woven through our daily work?Quick answer: not easily. The world we inhabit has been sub-divided into the larger world of secular, daily life AND the smaller world of holy, Sunday life.
            A. We go through our work days and school days without much need for the presence of God – or so we are being taught by the times in which we live.
+For drivers, the rules of the road are on the driving test every teenager takes. The world tells us that we do not need faith in God for that.
+The requirements and necessary skills of our many professions are bound in large books of regulations and best practices. They are taught by the finest schools which have little need to refer to the scriptures for guidance.
+The values we practice are catalogued under headings like GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles), the Tennessee Code Annotated, and the United States Tax Code.
+What kids have to learn in school is outlined in the syllabus handed out on the first day of the term. Again, the State of Tennessee doesn’t bother to include any requirement that students turn to God in order to meet the requirements – though there are students in every course who will only get a passing grade by the grace of God.
Day after day, we make our lives from dawn until well-after-dark out of sight of any necessity for faith in God. At its most benign, this division simply ignores the need for faithas we live in this world.
            B. The role for faith is reserved for the edges of life. Just on Sundays. Just at the edges of life far from the ordinary center. Only at the edges, where the ordinary center runs out of answers, do we turn to faith as a last resort: facing the death of a loved one or our own, the coming of war, or responding to a great defeat. Only at the edges, where the answers and structures of secular society seem too trivial to bear the weight of the decisions before us, do we turn to faith for convictions robust enough to meet the need: the vows to marry, for example. Welcoming a child into the world seems to require a baptism. There are those occasions and commitments that require more gravity and moment than the secular world can provide.

            [ILLUS: Where Holiness is Found]
            Wendell Berry said:Whoever really has considered the lilies of the field or the birds of the air, and pondered the improbability of their existence in this warm world within the cold and empty stellar distances, will hardly balk at the turning of water into wine    which was, after all, a very small miracle.  We forget the greater and still continuing miracle by which water (with soil and sunlight) is turned into grapes.
      What the Bible might mean, or how it could mean anything, in a closed, air conditioned building, I do not know.... I know that holiness cannot be confined. When you think you have captured it, it has already escaped; only its poor, pale ashes are left. It is after this foolish capture and the inevitable escape that you get translations of the Bible that read like a newspaper. Holiness is everywhere in Creation, it is as common as raindrops and leaves and blades of grass, but it does not sound like a newspaper (1).

Wendell Berry’s objection to the newspaper is that its news and its language grow tired in the short space of 24 hours. In contrast, the news and the language of the Bible are timeless. Most of us can repeat stories from the Bible; many of us have memorized passages word for word. Its language and its message are that dear to us. Sadly however, society provides less and less room for the role of faith in God. Over the decades, society has demanded less and less room for the role of faith. Somehow, we keep the life of faith separate from the life of everyday work. And we are poorer for it.

II. The stained glass window we focus on this morning has no interest in any division of our thinking. The window, in fact, preaches an eloquent sermon on the unity of faith and daily life – especially our work life.
            [WINDOW: FIRST MIRACLE] At the top of this window are two miracles: Jesus “Changing water into wine”on the left and Jesus “Feeding the 5000” on the right panel. The window was given by long-time members of the church, Mr. and Mrs. Alvin Murphy.
            You’ll notice that Jesus is much larger in these pictures than other persons. While you might expect that Jesus would be bigger than the little boy who shared his lunch in the Feeding of the 5000, the servants in the picture on the left are also much smaller. It was the artist’s way of telling us that Jesus should stand at the center of our faith; his impactis bigger than life-size.
            In the panels below the two miracles, the artist begins his sermon: The many figures reflect our work world, which is so different from Jesus’ world. The figures include:
+Iron Founder
+Steam Shovel
+Drawing water
+Builder [RETURN].
Certainly, some of these skills existed in Jesus’ day, but the skills by the 1940’s were far ahead of the skills of Biblical times. The occupations for the electrician, the mechanic, the steam shovel operator, the chemist, the scientist, and the chlorinator did not exist. By the way, the “chlorinator” is the technician at the water utility who uses chemicals to make the water safe to drink. While we easily assume that the water from the faucet is safe to drink, we must remember that safe water is a fairly recent development in history – allowing the rise of great cities free from water-borne diseases. And yes, there are pictures of a steam shovel and a microscope in this window.
            The sermon this window preaches begins with the miracles of Jesus; he had the power to turn water into wine and to feed 5000 with a few loaves and a couple of dried fish from a boy’s lunch. In the same way, we exercise the *modern miracles* pictured in the window in the service of humanity. The sermon is built on the conviction that these modern miracles are just that – God-given miracles by which we make the world a better, more livable place. These are God-given miracles to which some of us are called to practice as our Christian service. They are God-given miracles by which we are empowered to bring the goodness of God to those around us.
            Now, don’t make the mistake of thinking that these miracles can be reduced to figuring out the science behind each of these tasks as we do with projects in chemistry, building, and such. In generations past, people tried to figure out how Jesus changed the water into wine. Whether figuring out his process would have caused them to appreciate Jesus more or whether it would have discounted the miracle, I’m not sure. Regardless, that is not the point.
            The point of these modern miracles is that we are using the wisdom and abilities God has given to us to make the world a better place for all of us.
+The doctor who performs life-saving surgeries extends the life-spans and the quality of life of the patients – a godly work.
+The builder who builds a house that shelters the people who live in that house offers protection against the storms that come – a godly work.
+The technician at the water plant who faithfully keeps the water clean of disease-causing microbes, helps people stay healthy – a godly work.
Each of us are called to use the daily work we do to accomplish that godly work by which communities are stronger, people live longer, and people see a better life before them.
            [ILLUS: Baker for God]
            Imagine a Christian pie baker, working in her shop; preparing the crusts, baking the pies and selling her products to her customers. In a world that sees division between the sacred life and the secular life of business the pie baker would be expected to witness for Christ. She might employ Christian staff who would be of a good moral standing. Her day might be interrupted with moments and even time set aside for prayer, especially asking for the ability to take advantage of the opportunities for witness that may occur during the day.
            There is another model, too.
            Imagine the same baker, instead of seeing her baking as a vehicle for sharing the gospel, saw it as an act of godly creation in itself! The very act of baking pies being the work of God! She is a pie baker for God! Her bakery is not just a business place where attempts are made to witness, but a place where as a co-worker with God, she bakes pies. The very act of making pies is a divine moment of creation where the baker participates in the creativity of the God of the universe.

            Jesus changed the water into wine, and we admire the miracle. God has given humanity the tools to imagine far greater miracles than that one. Jesus’ miracle changed the course of a wedding for one couple, long ago. The miracles that come into our hands change the course of life for people across this nation and around the world.
            The challenge for faith is that we work in this world aware that we are serving the God who has called us to lives of energy, imagination, and integrity. Are you and I doing the work of making pies for God? Well, we are not all pie bakers, of course. But, are we doing our daily work offering it all as our service to God? That is God’s call for us.

1.  Wendell Berry's new book Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community (New York:  Pantheon Books, 1993), as referenced by Martin E. Marty in Context, 25 (1 December 1993), p. 6.

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