Sermon: True North

05 August 2007

Congregational Church of Brookfield (UCC)
Rev. Jennifer Whipple


Psalm 107:1-9
Colossians 3:1-11

Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts gathered here today be acceptable in Your sight, O God, our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.



When I envisioned this sermon three weeks ago I had planned on sharing with you a bit about the fact that I am by no means a directional genius.  Having been an active girl scout for 13 years one might think that I would have a better grasp on things like the use of a compass or finding my way out of a paper bag, but I do not.  However, considering we cannot control the world and the things that happen in it, our plans can often change in the blink of an eye.  That is what happened when I heard the news about the bridge collapse in Minneapolis last week. 


[The question that often arises surrounding events like this one is two-fold.  “If God is in control how can God allow something like this to happen, and what are we to do in response?”  Now I do not claim to have the one right answer to this or any other major theological question for that matter – as I continue to seek just as you all do.]  But in reading about the bridge I learned that it had received one of the lowest safety ratings in 1990 when it was last examined by a group of experts.  And yet it was not scheduled to begin repair for another 13 years in 2020.  I am convinced that God weeps with us when events like this happen -- when tragic things happen as a result of our negligence or as a result of people vying for power in our world.  God understands, as much as it must hurt to do so, that we are fallible.  In our free will we sometimes make decisions that will not benefit ourselves or others.  And God rejoices with us when we make the right decisions in our lives regarding how to respond to the events that happen each day…responses like those based on the message that we find in the letter to the Christians in Colossae – responses that allow ourselves and others to experience true abundant life – to focus on our True North. 


Ryan and I saw an interview on CNN with one of the survivor’s of the collapse [who wrestled with these same questions].  She had been running very near the bridge and cleared it less than a minute before it began to crumble.  She heard the sound, turned to see what had happened, and when she realized what was going on her response—knowing that it was too dangerous to go near the bridge as this was taking place -- was to look at a group of people who were gathered in a nearby area and to ask them if they would like to pray with her.  She said that she just kept screaming to people asking them, and in only a few moments when she had a few people who decided to join her, they began to pray for the people who were in the cars and trucks that were trying to make their way across the bridge when it began to collapse.  They prayed for the rescue workers whose sirens could be heard on the way, for the families of the people who were involved in the accident.  They prayed for safety for those who were alive inside their cars and for the rescuers who would work to get people out of the wreckage.  They prayed for peace for those who would not make it, for strength for the families who would spend the next hours awaiting news about their loved ones, for knowledge of what they could do to help the recovery and rebuilding efforts – rebuilding not only the bridge but the lives of all those affected by this inconceivable situation. 


            No matter what it was that she had been thinking in the moments before the collapse, no matter how many different directions her mind and thoughts were going in, in that moment she settled on True North – looking to God for direction, for help in comprehending what was going on around her, for help in determining how best she and the others around her could be servants in this situation.  Last Sunday I spoke a bit about growing our faith by engaging it in addressing the issues and events of our world today.  That is what this woman did in the moments after the bridge collapsed.  She did what she knew best, which was to engage her faith in trying to comfort herself and those who were watching this take place, to look to God for guidance in how to react and respond, to pray as the Israelites did so long ago for deliverance for the people who were involved.


            It is that kind of focus that was the main reason for the writing of the letter to the Christians at Colossae .  The author wanted to focus the community of Christians, their thinking and the continued growth of their community on the teachings of God through Jesus Christ – to give them a central focus despite the competing voices in their culture – something that was reliable.  You see at the time there were people who were trying to spread many different philosophies of living.  A combination of Gnostic and Jewish Practices, as well as some other types of philosophical and religious speculation, were being touted as the way to go – distributing the powers on which people depended among a variety of sources like angels, all manner of deities, and other human beings as well.  In contrast, the author of the letter to the Christians at Colossae advocated that Christ was the visible image of the invisible God come to earth – that the present could be transformed by faith – that Christ had come to teach people the right way to live, had died for the sins of all, and had risen to power with God.  What more did the people of the time need as proof of who it was that they were to strive to be, where it was that they were to share this new knowledge of the love and power of God, and how it was that they were supposed to make decisions and act?  What more proof do we need now?


I believe the idea that once you have begun to live a life in Christ – you cannot go back.  If you try to—there is always the knowledge of who you should be, what you should be doing, or how you are to make decisions in your life.  And the disciples, Paul, and his followers were trying to educate people [and us through their writings] to let them know that they need not retreat from the world to live upright lives but have power here and now through Christ to act morally.  And that one of the ways they could learn, grow, and wrestle with what they were called to do was in community – the community of their families, the community of other believers, the community that is built when we truly enter with our full selves into the world.


The moral codes and instructions in the Bible are laid out in pretty plain ways at various points, much like in the letter to the Colossians.  It says in one translation, “That means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like when you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy.  That is a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God…Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life.  It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you have stripped off and put in the fire.  Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe.  Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator with his label on it…From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.”  And in his letter to the Philippians Paul also writes, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any virtue [excellence] worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil. 4:8)  It is in acting like this, in making decisions against the things that will cause us and others to falter or suffer and in basing our decisions and our actions on these virtues – by looking to our True North – that we are able to uphold the covenant that we each stand and proclaim as we become members of this community of faith, and the one that God has held with God’s people since the beginning of time.  It is through the upholding of this covenant that we are able to experience God’s most basic blessing – that we should have true life.


As I was preparing for this sermon I did a google search of the phrase “True North.”  And the response that I received back was of course about the directional aspect of True North, but there were also at least 5 churches with the name True North, 4 ministries both outdoor and educational, as well as some Christian recording labels and publishing companies within the first page hits.  One of the churches had as its mission on its website the following words, “ True North Church is all about presenting the unchanging message of Jesus Christ in the midst of a changing culture.  We think you’ll find it to be an authentic community that is relevant, life-changing, and full of hope.” 


We certainly live in a day and age when we understand what people mean when they say there is no such thing as indisputable truth.  Wars rage on throughout our world.  Bridges collapse in the middle of the rush hour commute.  People go without the basic necessities of food, shelter, and water.  Things that we have planned and thought through for months and even years of our lives are changed while others go off without a hitch.  As people of faith trying to make sense of our constantly changing and confusing world, the unchanging message of Jesus Christ can provide us with hope, with a sense of security, with a transformation to a way of thinking and living our life to the fullest that we will not be able to find in many other places in our world and in our lives today. 


As we gather at the table today we remember that unchanging message.  We are forgiven. We are the children of God and are called to live that title not only in thought and word in this place as we gather for worship, but also as we go out into our everyday lives.  We are gathered from the north and south, from the east and west to sit at the table this day – a table that represents sacrifice, a table that represents relationship and community, a table that represents forgiveness of our human fallibility.  But it is also a table where we can come to share our thoughts and feelings about the things that seem to be ever-changing in our world, the places where we agree and disagree in love and respect.  It is a table where we are nourished in body and spirit – where we palpably experience our True North, and by that experience are called to have courage to live by its teachings in strength and hope. 


As we gather at this table of memory and deep meaning today, let us remember to seek our True North – to call upon God when we need direction and guidance…to continue to engage our faith with the issues of today.  And let us give thanks for the unchanging message that we connect with each time we remember the meaning of the bread of life and the cup of the new covenant.  Amen.



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