Sermon: Saved from Aimlessness

28 February 2010


The Rev. Jennifer Whipple
Congregational Church of Brookfield (UCC)

Second Sunday of Lent
February 28, 2010

“Saved from Aimlessness”

Psalm 27 

Prayer:   “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our minds and hearts here together be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.”

             I graduated with my Master of Divinity degree from Yale University School of Divinity when I was 24-years-old.  I tell you this not to sound self-important, but because when I am asked about my background and say that people tend to go…Oh…or Wow…or Really? You? … or some other expression of awe or surprise.  The funniest part of the whole thing is that I graduated with a very definite sense that, first – I was not a master of anything, and second, that I was perhaps sucked deepest into a journey of aimlessness at that point in my life than I had ever been…or hope ever to be again in the future. 

For starters, I was 24-years-old.  Having been in school from the time I was 3-yars-old, I had never done anything else in my life other than be a student.  Yale Divinity School was the place of scholars, which makes me wonder to this day how I ever ended up there in the first place.  Preparing students for “practical” ministry, at the time, seemed to play second fiddle to preparing students to go on to get doctorates in their preferred field of study.    And to tell you the truth that really didn’t matter much to me because I wasn’t certain what I wanted to do with my life anyway – even despite internships and summers spent in chaplaincy.  (Rest assured that YDS is much improved now at the whole ministry prep deal, from what I hear!)  I surely was not certain that the church was where I was supposed be.  And so it was that with tens of thousands of dollars in loans to pay back – the only exciting part being the name Yale attached to them – I took my first baby steps out into the real world.  I say baby steps because I was still living at home with my parents, and that was about the biggest and best safety net and blessing I could have imagined. 

            Before long I was doing the things that I never even really did in college like sleeping until the wee hours of the afternoon, heading out to the bar on any night of the week because Ryan (my boyfriend at the time and now my husband) had begun his gigs as a karaoke DJ, and whittling away hours doing Lord only knows what – the entire time pretending like I was looking for something to do with my life.  I can imagine my parents must have been thinking and perhaps saying to each other some of the things that I hear both parents and others alike say about their loved ones who seem to be in a web of purposelessness… things like, “Now that we have paid a million dollars for college if only she would figure out what to do with her life.”  Or, “Her behind would look much better in a job, internship, or volunteer opportunity even, then as a permanent fixture on our couch!” 

            The saving grace in my life at the time was that I had come back home for Divinity School so I was still deeply tied to my home church, was there every Sunday, and therefore a part of a community who could help me in my discernment of gifts and skills, supported me in my wandering, and yet gave me a swift kick in the pants by offering me opportunities to do things like be part of adult education classes, connect me with folks who worked for non-profits, even ask me to preach every now and then.  My faith in God had not faltered, but my enthusiasm and energy for searching for what was next definitely had.   I was without purpose. And, as they say, that is when God offered me a few different opportunities to end my searching – first in the chance to help a friend with a starter project for his non-profit, then to work with a local YMCA and a whole bunch of children and young folks, then to go away and live as a missionary in the Dominican Republic, and finally to return home to an opportunity to meet with a search committee here at the Congregational Church of Brookfield. 

During the two years between graduating from Divinity School and starting here at CCB, I managed to be a shining example of faith at moments and a total stupid head, as my nephew would say, at others…one minute helping my community and the world community and at any other given moment hurting some of the people I loved most by doing or saying something that I could never take back.  Needless to say, after those years, Lent became pretty important to me – needing to do some self-examination and make some serious amends with others and with God. 

            I tell you all of this not as some major pastoral or Lenten confession but rather, as we continue our sermon series on the United Church of Christ Statement of Faith, because I have lived this week’s highlighted sentence.  In speaking of our God we confess, “You seek in holy love to save all people from aimlessness and sin.”  In all my wandering and stupidity, there were moments when I knew that God was not proud of me or of who I was at the time, but there was not a moment when I didn’t believe that God, in holy love, was not wishing and hoping and working to pull me out of whatever it was that I was going through – working to save me from aimlessness and sin – even if it was like pulling all of the world’s teeth to do so.

            I have been reminded in these past few weeks that in order to even begin to think about sharing our faith stories we first need to be willing to look at our own history – the good, the bad, the ugly, and the blessed.  A few weeks ago I had the opportunity with some of our confirmands and their mentors to visit Congregation Adath Israel – the synagogue in Newtown.  As we sat in an orientation meeting before the service began, Rabbi Praver reminded our group that in order to be true Christians and understand who we are now we need to remember where we came from.  And then during the service we read from the Psalms, many of which are attributed to David and record some of the deepest and truest human emotions that have been shared with God – alive and in the moment.  The Psalms remind us that sin and aimlessness, bounty and blessing, trial and rejoicing are not just things that we deal with in our modern day and age – but rather are part of the condition and relationship with God that has marked human history. 

             Psalm 27, also attributed to David, is no exception to this.  David was in the Lord’s sights from the time he was a young shepherd boy.  In his 70 years on earth David had his ups and downs with others and with God.  In his brief life he managed to slay a giant, upset kings and nations alike, both be on the run and settle his people Israel in Jerusalem (the center of his faith), act improperly at banquets and have a man killed for love, as well as secure his place in history as a great king and father of the descendants that would lead to the throne of the Messiah.  Throughout his life David spent a good deal of time interacting with God, praying that God would save him from aimlessness and forgive him his sin, and offering thanks and praise.  In one seeming breath throughout Psalm 27 David both says that with God he cannot fear anyone and acknowledges that his life has offered him many adversaries and many who are speaking violence against him.  He also prays that God will not turn away in anger and will lead him on a level path – teaching him the way to be…offering him a will and a purpose so as not to be caught up in a sense of aimlessness.  Finally, David says that despite all that has happened and will happen between he and the Lord and he and others around him, that he believes in the goodness of the Lord – and that he recognizes it in his life (in the land of the living) – and insights others to be strong, to take courage, and to wait for the Lord no matter where your situation in life might find you.

            Much like David, we today have many enemies or things we can fear.  They may not necessarily be people, but rather can be things like the economy, addiction, temptation in many forms, and even – as we have seen now in various cases over the last few years and months – natural disasters.  These things can lead us to stand still in our tracks or to go out and do whatever possible to fulfill our desires as many before us have done – even our friend David.  We can allow ourselves to fall into the doldrums and routine of life – only fulfilling part of the purpose God has laid out for us as his beloved children.  That is certainly one choice, and one that some of us, myself included, have fallen into in the past.  However, that is the choice that God in holy love seeks to save us from by calling us to a much better way. 

            If we are courageous enough to keep the knowledge of God as our light and our salvation, as the stronghold of our lives, ahead of us – and are willing to ask for God’s guidance – then we have proof throughout our faith history, and even in some of our own personal stories, that God will guide us in that better way.  We just need to be solid enough in our faith to follow the clues! 

During this Lenten season, God calls us to that better way.  God invites us into relationship – into a relationship in which God is first, and we are willing to put the will and purpose of God before the wishes, desires, and enemies of this world.  God invites us to spend time alone with him and with one another in study, in devotion, and in groups (whether in study, committee work or outreach) where we can help acknowledge the gifts and skills of others – as well as recognize what is the fullness of life that God is seeking for us.  We are being called to reach out to others -- whether through a call for food and goods for those in need, a note or prayer for those who are grieving, the offer of a listening ear for those who are dealing with the enemies of this world, or an invitation to help support our community here at CCB through our stewardship campaign.  These are just a few of the things that help us to fulfill God’s purpose for us and help save us from aimlessness.

            So, in this Lenten season let us pray earnestly with our brother David: The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?  Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path…for I do believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Despite all of the things that might seek to get us down, may we be strong and take courage, working against the forces of aimlessness and sin by dedicating ourselves to the will and purpose of our loving God!  Amen.   


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