June 19, 2011

"Simple, Yet Subtle"
Jason Crosby, preaching

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Luke 24:13-35

I appreciate Greg giving me an opportunity to share a few words for our journey together today.  Today is my first Father’s Day as a father.  Our son, Brooks, arrived at 6:30pm on October 20, 2010.  Brooks came amidst much hoopla and fanfare.  We are most grateful that was the case.  Just a few days before his birth, you all - this congregation - showered us with prayers and gifts to help us prepare for life with Brooks.  We received many visitors, calls, cards, and meals expressing congratulations and support in the days and weeks following his birth.  Thanksgiving and Christmas were even more exciting and celebratory last year with Brooks in the mix.

Brooks’ birth also dramatically altered the flow of my daily life.  Brooks’ birth significantly changed what I do and when I do it.  For instance, before he arrived, I could not have imagined myself changing a diaper on a busy sidewalk along Bardstown Rd. on Saturday night, but that actually occurred last week.  I find myself spending more time cleaning and preparing bottles than reading the newspaper in the mornings now.  Regular sleep patterns are a thing of the past.  I no longer set an alarm in order to wake up at the same time each morning.  Brooks now serves as my alarm, and there is no way of telling when that alarm will sound.  Brooks’ arrival has come with joyous hustling and bustling, and Brooks’ arrival has altered how I spend my days. 

But, in the quiet, via simple acts, I sense other unexpected profound, changes brewing.  In these simple exchanges, I feel change unexpectedly stirring deep within me that has shown me a new dimension of love.  Through more public, pronounced, and intricate moments I have also felt moved and altered.  In January, when you all blessed Brooks and pledged to help Kate and I raise him to walk in the way of Jesus, I felt overwhelmed by love and support.  I anticipated that I would feel that way that day, however.  I did not anticipate being stunned by the sensation that overcomes me when I peek in on Brooks while he sleeps.  I did not anticipate being bewildered by the feelings that overpower me when he sees me and smiles.  I did not anticipate being so strongly affected when I heard Brooks squeal “hi” for the first time.

Jesus’ followers certainly did not expect what happened to them.  After discovering the empty tomb, Jesus’ followers were caught up in the excitement.  They were hurriedly swapping stories and sharing their opinion on what they thought had happened.  They were so enthusiastic and distracted by the enormity of what had taken place that they failed to notice who accompanied them on the road to Emmaus.  Later that evening, they gathered around the table for meal.  Jesus took a simple food item, bread, and performed a simple act.  He broke it and offered thanks.  At that moment, the scales fell from their eyes and they realized the true of identity of their companion – the risen Savior, Jesus Christ, had been traveling with them all along.  It was only when they gathered around a table together and they paid attention to a simple act performed in their midst that they recognized that the God they sought was sitting right there with them.

God molds and shapes us through the simple and quiet, just as frequently as through the bombastic and jaw-dropping.  For every Damascus Road experience, where God presented Godself to Paul with shining lights and booming voices, there is an Emmaus Road experience, where God becomes apparent on the heals of simply breaking a loaf of bread.  For centuries, Christians have understood God possesses a multi-faceted nature.  Today, Christians all over the world reflect on the Trinity.  The Trinity defines God as three unique persons – God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  In part, the Trinity informs us that God comes to us in various forms and methods. 

Like the shifts in my soul that have introduced me to a new understanding of love I have sensed by watching Brooks conduct the simplest of acts, God works within us deeply and profoundly, albeit subtly, through the simplest of means.  You need not be a parent to discover big change God has in store for you embedded in simplicity.  Through simple actions, God is shaping us to be God’s loving and merciful image in this world.  Through simple acts like prayer, meditation, partaking of the Lord’s Supper, baptism, writing a note of encouragement, sitting with someone in need, driving a van, and singing God changes the hearts of the giver and recipient alike in ways beyond our comprehension.

This invitation to pay attention to the simple things is not the most natural course to take.  Already, I have noticed that I have a tendency to focus on and obsess over Brooks reaching major developmental milestones.  I keep hoping he will say “da da,” rather than enjoying his ga gas and goo goos.  Likewise, in an environment that values the flashy and loud it can be difficult to develop an appreciation for the simple and quiet.  

Several months ago the staff participated in a retreat at the St. Meinrad Monastery situated in a rural Indiana cornfield.  While there, we regularly joined the monks as they prayed the hours of the day.  Praying the hours is an act where people engage in prayer every three hours beginning at six o’clock in the morning and concluding at midnight.  The practice predates Christianity.  Praying the hours was a Jewish custom that the early Christians continued.  At first, participating in this ancient, simple, quiet exercise felt very uncomfortable for someone so soaked in contemporary culture.  It felt wasteful to expend so much time and energy in prayer, when so much needed to be done.  Before long, however, I felt my internal clock adjusting to a way of life where prayer governs the structure of the day.  Before long, I realized that I was not wasting time, but by waiting in prayer I was actively aligning the rhythm of my life to better match the beat of the universe kept by God. 

God is at work in the simple and quiet, shaping and making us more loving and merciful, but why?  Why change hearts and minds through simplistic measures, when God could flex God’s muscles and change the course of human history in the blink of an eye?  Why mess with the simple, when power and might are at your disposal, God? 

Perhaps, God shows us love via simple means because simplicity is an essential ingredient that must be present for us to love others.  Perhaps, God loves us through simple acts, so that we may simply, and therefore authentically, love others.  Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Jesus needs followers, not admirers.”  God is not looking for spectators who sit back and marvel at God’s power as God redeems creation. 

Perhaps, God uses simple gestures of love and kindness to redeem all creation, more so than via big sweeping, flashy, dramatic, noisey, mind-blowing acts, because it is via such actions that we really come to know and share love.  Perhaps, for God’s grand kingdom to come, Christ’s followers must humbly and persistently do the simple and routine.  At least at this point, Brooks doesn’t care about whether or not Kate and I provide him with the nicest toys or most stylishly designed nursery.  He doesn’t care how much money we make or what kind of cars we drive.  He wants someone to comfort him when he is upset, and someone to laugh with him when he wants to play.  Ultimately, that’s what Christ directs Christ’s follows and the church to do.  Comfort those in need for whatever reason, and celebrate life’s abundant blessings with one another.  If we dedicate ourselves to loving God and others quietly and simply, first and foremost, God’s Spirit, which works subtly and mysteriously, will bring about radical and enormous change.  This lesson is one that has become clearer to me since I became a father.  However, it is not a lesson learned only in fatherhood, motherhood, or parenthood.  Regardless as to how it is learned, this lesson – do the simple and God will subtly make big changes – is one that Christ urges us to learn and apply to our lives so that we may partner with God to construct God’s magnificent kingdom.  May it be so.  Amen.