My Poem/Sermon on Romans 5:12-19

Yesterday at Upper Room, I preached a sermon on Romans 5:12-19 and Genesis 3:1-7. Early on, I decided that I should write this sermon in a unique. So, I wrote a poem. Or at least something resembling a poem. Reading poetry, especially my own, was a new experience for me, and I found it very different from preaching. I felt much more exposed and vulnerable.

The sermon/poem was well-received – maybe just because it was significantly shorter than most of my sermons, but hopefully because it spoke to people’s hearts. The text of the sermon is below, but I suggest reading the Romans and Genesis passages first so that it makes sense.

 

You made us… for a garden.

Soil and clay fashioned by divine hands and Spirit-breathed into life,

Made to cultivate and till with the Gardener.

Made to be fruitful and multiply

Made to fill and subdue.

Made not to be alone, but together.

Made to hear your footsteps in the cool of the day,

and come running to meet You,

arms open and nothing to hide,

swooped up in your love and laughing in shared delight.

Made to enjoy Your garden together.

Made for satisfaction.

Made for life.

 

But we chose death.

 

Adam and Eve reached for that fruit

grasping for equality with you.

The trees that you gave us were not enough

we wanted more.

Being who we are wasn’t enough

we had to be like You.

Life wasn’t enough

we wanted life and knowledge of good and evil…

… and we lost them both.

 

We chose death.

The garden where once we delighted in love

became a place for hiding and fear.

Your presence ceased to be our delight

Your presence became our dread.

 

And we spiraled down.

One disobedience leading to others.

Brother kills brother.

Brother steals brother’s birthright.

Brothers sell brother into slavery and traffic brother to Egypt.

 

And death reigned.

 

And death reigns.

 

Death reigns over children robbed of childhood,

toys pried from their fingers and replaced with guns,

forced to kill for the sake of a man they do not know

and a movement they did not start.

 

Death reigns over women and girls locked up in brothels

forced to do whatever men please,

men who are prisoners themselves –

captive to death disguised as desire.

 

Death reigns over the child in the sweatshop –

fingers-worn and soul-wearied,

Just so we can afford to keep up with the fashions

and pretend to look like our silver-screen gods.

 

Death reigns over the girls and boys

who worship these silver-screen gods –

air-brushed idols who demand lives,

starving their followers of food and self-esteem.

 

Death reigns over the woman abused by her husband,

hiding her bruises and fears from the world around her

and trying to keep an illusion of perfection,

hoping vainly that things will change by remaining the same.

 

Death reigns over the consumer

coming home from the store with shopping bags

filled with high-fructose poison

that slowly turns our own cells against us.

 

Death reigns over suburbia –

neighborhoods of half-furnished mansions

freshly mowed and pristine on the outside,

hiding the debt and threats of foreclosure within.

 

Death reigns over our relationships.

We desire connection without vulnerability.

So we give up on people

and seek community on a computer screen.

 

Death reigns over our love.

Wanting control, we kill those we love

through actions and words, withholding affection

and, without knowing it, denying love for ourselves.

Our murderous plans become a suicide.

 

Death reigns

leaving us alone in a self-dug grave

of guilt, emptiness and despair;

life-sapped and soul-drained.

 

Death reigns

leaving us in a graveyard of doubt

afraid to pray

afraid to love

 

Death reigns like an oppressive regime

Mocking their captors into hopeless skepticism

Doing all that they can to rob us of hope,

convincing us that the truest realities are doubt and depression

 

How can this regime be defeated?

Who will free us from this oppressor?

Can an enemy this strong be defeated by anything

but an army of strength and force?

 

We longed for You.

And You came.

But you didn’t send an army.

You sent Christ into this world

not with gun or sword in his hand,

but with a free gift.

 

Christ came to undo what Adam did

by not doing what Adam did.

Christ didn’t grasp for equality with You.

Christ made himself nothing.

 

Christ hangs on the cross

arms open and nothing to hide

swooping us up again in his love,

taking our sin, our doubt and despair.

 

Christ hangs on the cross

And we hang with him.

Christ dies.

And we die with him.

 

Our guilt

Our doubt

Our despair

Ourselves

All dead with Christ

 

Death thinks that it’s won

Death thinks that it reigns

But death died on the cross, too.

 

Death is dead and Christ is alive

The free gift is an empty tomb.

The free gift is a new relationship.

The free gift is new possibilities

 

The free gift has a message attached:

“Death does not reign.”

Christ reigns.

Hope reigns.

Life reigns.

 

Life reigns and sends the Spirit

breathing fresh breath into dry, weary souls.

Redeeming our love and raising our spirits

 

Hope reigns and sends Christ’s light,

piercing itself into dark rooms and cells.

Undoing shackles and revealing true beauty.

 

Christ reigns and stands among us

Next to the griever, the patient, the victim.

Next to the buried, calling them up.

 

Life reigns. And brings freedom.

Freedom to pray

Freedom to love

Freedom to return to the place we belong.

 

Life reigns.

But life is not like death.

Life is not an oppressor.

Life is a free gift.

 

Christ reigns and stands among us,

extending to us in nail-pierced hands

the free gift.

Himself. Life.

 

Life is for us to choose.

And to take it,

all we have to do is die.

 

Christ, we choose life.

Amen. Amen. Amen.

 

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Waiting for the Lord

Today, was my first day of sabbath since writing about “active,” “saying yes” sabbath. After preaching three times in three different churches yesterday, I was spiritually exhausted and ready for rest. After doing my running/psalm-chanting and doing some light reading, I decided to take some time in solitude and quiet. I drove out to North Park, found a quiet spot by the lake and read the daily lectionary readings for today. When I was finished reading, I got up and wandered the park. I eventually found the old nature access trail that my dad use to take my brother and I too when we were little.

As I walked, I cleared my mind and listened for God. A song kept coming to mind. It was one that we sang in the seminary choir, based on Isaiah 40:31 – “but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

I began to talk with God about waiting. In many ways my work in ministry, and my life more broadly is in a season of waiting. Working in New Church Development has meant taking some big steps into unknown territory with the results still not finalized. We’re waiting on grants to be approved. We’re waiting to see who will be a part of the seed group. We’re waiting to see what form this church plant takes in coming months. When will we grow beyond Chris and Eileen’s living room and into a larger space? How will we build bridges with the international and racial-ethnic communities? Now that I’m also beginning with InterVarsity, that’s brought into play even more waiting. When will I have raised enough in support funds to begin? (And on top of that… HOW will I raise enough support???) In all of this, I’ve already seen God’s hand at work, and I know that God will bring the answers to these questions in the right time. Nevertheless, the waiting isn’t always a comfortable place.

God then used the Scripture I had read from lectionary readings to remind me of two things about waiting for the Lord. First, when waiting for the Lord is always a confident waiting. We always know that God will bring the work of the Kingdom to completion. Second, waiting for the Lord is an active, not a passive task.  We get to work with God in bringing his work to completion.

In the gospel lesson, the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25, the wise virgins readied themselves by taking flasks of oil for the lamps. They knew the bridegroom was coming, and they actively prepared for his arrival. The foolish virgins, though, acted passively and brought no oil.

In the lesson from Romans 11, Paul alludes to his expectation of God’s faithfulness to Israel (v. 12: “… how much more will [Israel’s] full inclusion mean!”). Paul’s waiting for God to fulfill his covenant with Israel. He’s confident of it, and at the same actively pursuing the fulfillment of God’s promises with Him. In Acts, in every town he enters, he’s eager to go to the synagogue to proclaim Christ to his fellow Jews.

The author of Psalm 37 is waiting for God to deal with the wicked, and yet at the same time he remains confident in God’s faithfulness and exhorts the righteous to continue living faithfully.

I may be in a season of waiting, but that’s not the same as a season of uncertainty. God will bring this piece of his work to completion. Out of that confidence comes a desire to work with God in bringing about that completion.