Sermon: Where are you from?
Rev. Allysen Schaaf
Scriptures: Genesis 2: 4- 15
Nathanael responded, “Can anything from Nazareth be good?”
Philip said, “Come and see.”
August is our welcome and re-connection month here at DPC. During worship, fellowship and faith formation opportunities, we will be exploring a series from Sanctified Art called, “I’ve been meaning to ask.” The goal of this series is to create space for compassionate dialogue and to seek the holy in one another. It’s challenging enough to live in community with one another in “normal times.” So, when the staff considered the ways the pandemic and other issues around us have distanced us…we all felt that the month August, would be a good month to focus on making new connections and reviving old connections. As a part of this our elders and pastors will also be setting up one on one conversations with each of our church members to offer space for you all to “tell us more” about who you are and how you are doing.
Our question for this Sunday is: Where are you from?
My simple answer would be: Lincoln, NE (that’s where I was born)
My more complicated answer is: I’ve also lived in North Carolina, Virginia and Ghana, Atlanta and Tucker. All of these places have influenced who I am today and at one point or another these places have been considered “home” for me.
The answer to the question “where are you from?” really has more than a one-word answer.
Dr. Raj Nadella at Columbia Seminary reminds us that we are the sum of all the places, stories experiences that have shaped us.
We have all been influenced by many different places, people and experiences. So, if we are going to foster connections with one another and work with God to build a world that reflects the good desires of our creator for this diverse world, then we are probably going to need to sit down, pour a glass of tea or water and stay for a while to listen to each other’s stories.
I’ll share part of my “where are you from?” story with you today..
My great grandparents lived out in Western Nebraska and while I was growing up, we would go visit them from time to time. They lived just a few miles from Chimney Rock, a landmark that was a guide those traveling along the Oregon Trail. Spending time out in western Nebraska with my family influenced me to appreciate the simple moments of family time, sharing stories around the living room without TVs or electronics. Being from Nebraska has led me to find peace (rather than boredom) out in the wide open spaces of the Midwest. Many years later when I was working as a chaplain at UNC Hospitals I went in to visit the wife of a patient who was in critical condition. As we talked she said, “where are you from? You don’t sound like you’re from around here.”
(Now depending on the context, the question when phrased like this could make someone feel singled out, like they didn’t belong…so we do have to be careful of that.
But the way she said it was genuinely curious. It was like she should could tell the Spirit was moving us to discover a connection we shared.
One piece of sharing led to another and we found out that she had family who had grown up in Western Nebraska too, just one town over from my great grandparents. She talked about Chimney Rock and how it was a place where she always felt God was a bit closer, like she could yell out into the wide open spaces and God would answer right back. The wide open spaces surrounding Chimney Rock nestled between the sandy plateaus had carved out a special place for her to experience the holy. Sharing where we were from opened a window for deeper connection and talking about God and the struggles and joys of life.
This woman and I stayed connected the entire time her husband was in the hospital. Even after he died months later and she was no longer around the hospital, we stayed in touch for several months, sharing photos of Chimney Rock and exchanging Christmas cards. I have never forgotten that incredible connection we shared and the deeper care I was able to offer her that came out of our answers to, “where are you from?”
So, I wonder, where are you from?
Where were you born? How has that geographical location influenced who you are today?
This summer at the Montreat Youth Conference, our Preacher for the week helped us imagine our “common origin story” as he called it, or as you might know it, the Creation story in the Bible. In Genesis we find several accounts of creation, that showcase ancient Israel’s understanding of God as the Creator and their relationship to God and one another. In Genesis 1 we read that humankind is created in the image of God and that God is the creator of the land, sea, plants and animals. Genesis 2 that we read today, depicts humankind brought to life out of the dust of the earth with the breath of God filling their lungs. This is our common origin story and our shared answer to the question, “Where are you from?”
I wonder if you ever thought about answering that question like that? “Where are you from?” I’m from the creator of heaven and earth. I am from the dust of the earth and the breath of the Living God.
We ALL belong to God and to one another, and that is where our series, “I’ve been meaning to ask” starts off- on common ground and from a position of humility that we live in a world of God’s own making, not our own. And it is from that foundation we are encouraged to listen with curiosity and openness to the unique story that each of us has to tell.
Take a couple deep breaths in and out.
Notice each breath. Think about the Spirit of God that gives you life and connects us all.
I hope we find peace in the common story we share and begin this month from that sense of peace.
Mother Teresa is quoted with saying, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another.” We can see the division, hate, mistrust, violence and judgment between people in our world. It does not take long to be reminded of this and our deep need for peace, belonging and connection with one another.
I saw many people sharing their opinions this week about Simone Biles withdrawing from Olympic competition. What I’ve seen has mostly been positive and encouraging of her choice to care for her mental and physical health and still support her teammates. But there have been many critics out there berating her for her choice. Former US Olympic Gymnast Aly Raisman was quoted saying, “You know, she’s human and I think sometimes people forget that. And Simone, just like everyone else, is doing the best that she can.”
I think I would add, I think we forget, that Simone, just like everyone else, belongs to God and shares a common connection with us all.
If we all share the same origin story and are children of the same God, how do we come to forget that we belong to one another? How did we get to this way of judging and dividing the world that influences the presumed validity of our very being? How did we get to a place where a whole list of things like race, class, ethnicity, or our mental, physical, or spiritual state has pitted against each other rather bringing us together to live and converse with curiosity and compassion?
There’s a whole load of history around this earth and in our country alone that we could list as examples of what has led us to forget that we belong to one another. It’s always more than just one story or one period in history. We are shaped by all of it and by the present stories that are still unfolding. In so many of the stories in Scripture and in human history I see a common thread occurring: a lapse of humility and curiosity and a rise in assumptions and selfishness.
In the Gospel of John text that we read today, Jesus calls some of his first disciples. They begin with curiosity asking, “where are you staying?” Jesus invites them to “come and see” and they follow him and stay among him. Rather than just giving them a short answer (Ex. I live over there, 2nd house on the right), Jesus invites them to come and be a guest where he is staying and to learn about his life and ministry. He meets their curiosity with openness and offers space for deeper connections to be formed.
Then instead of openness we hear one of Jesus’ new potential followers ask a question loaded with assumptions: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Obviously, Nathanael had some preconceived notions about Nazareth (Jesus’ hometown). But Philip, following Jesus’ example, disrupts this assumption and invites curiosity and connection by saying, “Come and see.” Instead of picking a fight or leaving him behind, he invites him come along and learn more.
Jesus models that being a disciple is first about being curious and open and then being willing to venture into another’s space as a guest, not as a conqueror or controlling host. Jesus models for the disciples about how to disrupt assumptions graciously and create space for connection to happen over time rather than letting a judgment stunt the possibilities of a relationship being formed. When Jesus invites the disciples (and those who are still skeptical) to “come and see” he shows us that being the people of God in community together is a journey that takes time, it takes courage and curiosity, it takes humility and willingness to be a guest and share space and power with others and it takes the commitment of time to learn more about each other beyond our short and simple answers and beyond our assumptions and premature judgments.
As we begin a month of church life centered on welcome and connections, I hope we will begin this journey (which is actually lifelong) with: Peace, Courage and Humility
- PEACE that comes from knowing everyone belongs to God and is shaped from the dust of the earth and the breath of God.
- COURAGE to share our own stories and make connections with others by sharing the messy, beautiful, painful and hopeful parts of our stories.
- HUMILITY to listen and create space for others to be welcomed and heard, and the humility to disrupt assumptions and stay curious.
Living with peace, courage and humility is part of our calling to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ. And the good news is that walk forward on common ground, knowing that we belong to God and to one another.
So, when you are at school or work this week,
When you are at home or walking around your neighborhood
When you are sending emails or posting online
Do so with peace, courage and humility.
Seek out connections with others,
Listen intently and be courageous to share your story because this is holy work for us as God’s people.
As we came into worship today, we circled the places we are from and places that have influenced us. If you didn’t get a chance to do this, I invite you to add your marks as you exit worship or come up for Communion. Those of you at home can contemplate this too- what places have influenced who you are today?
- Consider these points on the map as pieces of our stories that we have the opportunity to share, rather than facts that divide us.
- Consider these points on the map and the points we have yet to mark as differences to be celebrated and experiences that will shape our lives to share God’s love and peace in the world.
- Consider these points on the map as opportunities for conversation and connection rather than assumption and judgment.
Friends, no matter which point on the map you come from, you are a beloved child of God, created to connect with God and one another. Come and gather at the table today and be reminded of this story we share in common, be nourished and filled for the journey ahead and may our steps forward leave dust trails of peace, courage and humility. Amen.