The Rev. Dr. Duane Larson, Interim Pastor
I’ve learned that the “dog days of summer” last months here. Air-conditioning helps. I sincerely answer the usual question about “how are you coping with the heat?” with “fine, really, it’s not all that bad.” I get a common response that says as much about your gutting it out as it does about your care for me, which is “just wait till October.”
The phrase “dog days of summer” brings to mind the big ol dog in the shade of the front porch, as still and bored though not so stupid as a box of rocks. In the dog days there’s just a whole lot of waiting and procrastinating, while still much is happening all around, but just not seen or considered.
So, I ask, how are you coping with the heat? Y’all here don’t look and act like sleepers on the porch. But, because I am practiced at it too, I know that appearances can be deceiving. I’m not asking so much about our congregational life together in an odd time of both normalcy and change, as I am asking more about your individual spiritual health, just like Luke has been asking us these past Sundays about our relationship with and active concern for God and neighbor. The question of spiritual health attends every stage of our lives. Spiritual fitness always concerns my relationship to God and neighbor; it is always about what God with and through neighbor is calling me to be about. My spiritual health is directly related to my future and the present state of God’s world, including you and the many I touch and am yet to touch.
What is God calling me and you to do now and next? The question is as urgent for me now as it was thirty-seven years ago when ordained and fifty years ago when baptized. The question is as life-giving for you now as when you assumed your professional vocation in answer to your baptismal call decades earlier to serve God and neighbor. You know how to answer the introductory question of “what do you do?” when it comes regularly around. Is the answer as robust in faith terms when you are asked “why” you do what you do?
I confess that sometimes I do not want to engage another person about my own faith life. My reticence is particularly acute when a fundamentalist dentist asks about my faith while I am under the influence in his dental chair. There are surely times when I have mimicked the big ol dog lyin in the heat of the day. Still God surprises us even in our torpor. I was impressed this past week when, as I left the gym after my regularly scheduled trainer supervised torture, a young African American man with dreadlocks that would have made Bob Marley jealous joined me and asked “how you doin man?” I answered, “pretty good” (I had survived the workout, after all), “how about you?” He answered, “I’m blessed, man! I have this great new uniform that keeps me cooler in the heat” (he was on his way to work somewhere as a security guard) “and God is just blessing me every day.” I don’t remember the rest of the short exchange. But I was struck deeply by the fact that (1) he initiated this conversation when the atmosphere is rife with racial relation heat, (2) that he was secure enough in his relationship with God to talk with a stranger about his life in a dangerous job, and (3) he was just one happy dude. He knew down deep in his way that God had given him the kingdom and that he need not fear. Therefore he could embrace his wild and wonderful future with care for others as best he could with what he had been given. I don’t know that he knows about the Christian notion of vocation, much less the Lutheran version, but he sure is living it.
Theologian Joan Chittister asks several compelling questions of people and communities concerning their spiritual fitness. “Is there energy of heart shining out in the eyes there? Is there a pounding commitment to a wild and unruly gospel there? Is the spiritual life aglow there? Is there risk there? Is there unflagging commitment, undying intensity, unequivocal determination to be what I say I am? Or has the old glow gone dull? Is life now simply a matter of enduring days and going through the motions? Or is religious life in a brand new arc demanding more discipline from me and giving more life through me than ever?”
There is an impulse in any faith community to sigh that we’ve aged and we rue the world’s energized turn for the worse. So, we say, let’s put a needed action on hold until the next leader arrives, let’s just pause and regroup, and so on. I personally might sigh that “I’ve lived long, I’ve seen loved ones change and I carry much grief; I’ve gained and lost so much. I’m tired. I’m afraid. Time to nap on the porch.” That’s our natural tendency, especially when face to face with suffering and the cross. But it is not natural for God’s Spirit to rest at any cross. God’s Spirit has proven so active with you! God’s Spirit creates life. At any age! God’s Spirit raises the dead. At any time! God’s Spirit gives patience to older dogs enough to stick with and guide young pups, while God’s Spirit gives young pups the dreams that make old dogs dance. That is so true here!
God has given you this time of your lives individually and as Christ the King Lutheran Church to welcome God anew. God has given you the grace upon grace of skill and smarts, profound resources, and generous hearts to live-love-and act with unflagging commitment and undying intensity. God presents us with an exciting new world that demands more from us and promises us more too. There is no final reason for fear or flagging as if this is a dog day. God bids you to claim now as October, because already God has given you Easter.
Sermon for C Pentecost 12 Based on Luke 12:32-40
Duane Larson Christ the King Lutheran Church Houston, TX.