A sermon delivered by Keith Herron, Pastor, Holmeswood Baptist Church, Kansas City Mo., on October 2, 2011.
Proverbs rule the day. They have the power to shape our thoughts and are the sound bytes of the psyche. They are powerful means by which the world is shaped and moved. Besides, just imagine if we didn’t have proverbs, the bumper sticker business would go out of business. Politics would be nothing but droll speeches no one paid attention to.
What I didn’t know is there are specialized kinds of proverbs. Jack Adams sent me a list of paraprosdokians this morning. A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected and because of the surprise ending, one re-evaluates the first half. This is the kind of humor that made deadpan comedian Steven Wright famous. But he’s not the only one. Winston Churchill once observed, “There but for the grace of God … goes God.” He also described Clement Attlee, who succeeded Churchill as Prime Minister, as “a modest man, (a man) who has much to be modest about.”
Jack sent me a list that included one I want to draw on this morning: “You don’t need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.” The mundane version of that is, “What goes up must come down.” It’s a proverb we all know. It’s the law of gravity in a nutshell anyone who’s ever tossed a ball up in the air can understand. Some say in wartime the anti-aircraft gunners would take a shot in the air for luck. But they also understood that the shrapnel shot into the air had to come down so they took caution to not shoot straight up.
But it has more meaning than that doesn’t it? It’s a saying that in different contexts could be truthful because the principle is the same. It could be a way of describing the Stock Market or the balance on your credit cards. It could be a description of your life cycle from birth to death or your love life.
This weekend, a long-lost and abandoned satellite, the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, came crashing back to earth. As predicted by NASA, the resistance by the ever-dense atmosphere fractured it into pieces although some two-dozen pieces were expected to survive the burning of re-entry where they would hit the earth’s surface (the largest of which was estimated would weigh over 300 pounds). NASA reports that the satellite hit the East Coast around midnight Friday night with no known damage. Just as advertised, the satellite obeyed the law of gravitational forces even though it orbited for twenty years and three weeks until it came crashing back to earth.
But “what goes up must come down” is also true in our spiritual journey. We rise and fall in our spiritual journey experiencing the heights and the depths of our experiences with God. Greg preached last week on what we go through when God seems distant and we don’t hear God in response to those dark moments when we call out and need God’s intervention.
There are other times when the nearness of God is so palpable we think we might be swallowed up by God’s immensity. That’s what the prophet Isaiah experienced as he did what all of us have done this morning by mindlessly showing up for worship. Since you walked in, did the ceiling crack open shattering this quiet place revealing the immense temple of God in heaven? Did the angelic choir sing so sweetly you thought you’d pass out in rapturous bliss? Did the holiness of God become a light so hot and pure you felt your shame about the sin in your life and you wished you hadn’t been born?
From God’s silence to God’s overwhelming holiness … how shall we speak of how those can both be true? Maybe it’s the humble recognition that what goes up also comes down and God is present with us in both the highs and the lows of the life of the spirit.
Perhaps this is what Simon Peter experienced when he was on the mountaintop with Jesus who had been mysteriously transcendent where the voice of God was heard and the Hebrew giants of Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus to talk things over. Instead of the wisdom of saying nothing, he blurted out in the moment, “Let’s build three tabernacles! One for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah!”
Almost everybody’s got a version of this desire in your experience. Climb to a scenic mountaintop and you’ll feel an expanded sense of the world that creates awe in your heart. Step out on the balcony of a tall building and look down on the city below with an appreciation for it, the beauty of how it’s pieced together, in a way you hadn’t felt before.
This week I had an evening flight home and even from 30,000 feet I could easily see the nighttime lights of the cities and towns below. They were more like Christmas ornaments on the ground marking the path home. It was a sight I couldn’t get enough of, watching as we flew high above the small towns and villages of our country where undoubtedly people were cleaning up from dinner or watching television or sitting in a coffee shop reading a book or checking their email. They may have been reading a story to their child before bed or making love or paying their bills or taking their dog for a last walk so she could do her business for the night. All in all, they could not have known I was watching them with a sense of awe and gratitude that such heights give us.
Coming down off the Sinai, Moses had tucked under each arm the tangible evidence he’d met with God. His face and beard glowed from his near-death experience with the Almighty and carved into each tablet was half the Decalogue, the ten words, the ten sayings, the ten commandments, God had given him to put in place as the law by which the people of God were to live.
But while Moses was with God on top of the mountain, the people were down below molding a golden calf as a substitutionary reminder of God.
While they were down below melting all their gold into a physical replica of God as a calf, Moses was up in the upper reaches listening to God and carving out the law that would guide their behavior and shape them into the people of God. The law was being given and the people were already violating the first of those laws, which commanded they have no other gods before God. Today, the law continues to beckon us to a more pleasing way of living that if we truly paid attention to them, our world would be more like the world God intended it to be.
At an organizational training session, the executives were asked to imagine setting out on an adventure with only ten items in each of their packs. What would they take? They busily thought through what was important, what was necessary for this imaginary adventure.
A few minutes later, after sharing with one another in small groups what they had chosen, they were instructed they could only bring five items; consequently, five items had to be left behind. Now what? Then they were required to reduce their possessions down to three items, and finally down to one item. What would you choose to keep and what would you leave behind under such stringent instructions? And what would be the remaining possession you could not see yourself without?
Today is World Communion Sunday. We are reminded through this table that we are a not yet people and God is a not yet God. We’re like the people of God camped out at the base of the mountain and we’re waiting for Moses to come and show us the way. We’re like those sojourners because we’re impatient, restless for a guiding word. The tables that we gather around all over the world today are “Not Yet” tables. The Kingdom will come…just not yet. This table is not a table of holy perfection, a Martha Stewart table, with everything perfectly set and in its proper place. This is a table that gets rearranged frequently and is never completely, fully, finally set.
At this table we remember that we have not achieved perfection, we have not arrived yet. We are in process, moving toward the fullness of God’s future, not our own. Instead, this is a table of hope… At this table, we pray for peace and an end to violence, because it hasn’t happened yet. We pray for justice to roll down like waters on all nations and all peoples, but it has not come just yet. We pray for wholeness and ripeness in our love and understanding of the faith, knowing that we are a work in progress.2
And so we come to hear the welcome of God to meet at the table. All are welcome at the Lord’s Table when it is served within our fellowship. All Christians, all denominations, all creeds are welcome. If you believe, or want to believe, or are searching, you are welcome to share. Nobody is left out. Everybody is included, even you and even me … no matter who you are, no matter what you have done, no matter what somebody has said or done to you. There is a place for you at God’s table, a card with your name on it, a standing reservation at God’s great wedding feast. Let’s prepare ourselves to feast at God’s table …
 Adapted from Clay Oglesbee, “Living By the Word,” Christian Century, September 20, 2011, 21
2 World Communion Day thoughts from Rev. Patricia de Jong, First Congregational Church – Berkeley CA, http://www.fccb.org/worship/sermonsPast/1990s/sermon991003.php
After serving as bridge pastor at First Congregational Church of St. Louis, Missouri, during the past year, Herron moved recently to Lawrence, Kansas, where he will continue to minister in interim settings. He is author of Living a Narrative Life, Exploring the Power of Stories (Smyth & Helwys, 2019).