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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Is God's Power Old Hat - 09/13/2020

Has the power of God become “old hat” to us?

I first remember thinking about the term “old hat” when playing a game called Lingo back in college. It was an adult party game that tested your knowledge of slang and euphuisms, shop talk, stuff like that. One of the categories was called “Old Hat,” which was slang that even in the 1980s sounded really outdated. It was a good game for a bunch of English majors and newspaper reporters, who might tend to know that a term for a liar and a cheat around the turn of the last century was hornswoggler.

The term “old hat” is used to refer to something considered uninteresting, predictable, tritely familiar, or old-fashioned.

Here is how this term “old hat” came to mind this week as I prepared for worship.

In recent weeks, I have been picking out hymns for a little hymn sing following outdoor worship. This hymn-picking process can be a little more challenging these days. It’s better to shape this part of worship in a group, but since right now I have to know the hymn and be able to play it, I’ve been doing this on my own – knowing, of course, that this is just for now, not forever.

So sometimes when I’m picking these hymns, I start by using the topical index in our hymnals. I read through the texts and identify themes and then I use the index to find hymns that both fit those themes and won’t embarrass me in front the whole world when I sing them online.

So this week, here’s how some of these themes came to the surface.

I read the story of the time Moses and Aaron and Mariam, with God at the charge, led the enslaved and downtrodden Israelites out of Egypt …

… the story of that unimaginable act of God providing safe passage for the people through the sea that separated them from the life God intended for them. The Lord saved Israel that day from all that enslaved them; the Israelites saw what enslaved them dead on the shores of that sea. They saw how God thwarted all that oppressed them. “So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord ...” (Ex 14:31)

I read that story from Exodus and I sensed themes of awe and wonder, of God’s protection and providence, of God-unstoppable in our world.

And then the Psalm. Close your eyes, if you are comfortable, and remind yourself to breathe deeply. Imagine this: The sea, a creature itself, holds back and retreats in the omnipotent presence of God (I’ll read that again); the mountains, granite beasts themselves, skip away like startled young sheep or goats at the sight of God’s mighty works.

Perhaps you now also detect some themes I did … trembling and awe in the presence of God, the cosmic nature of God, our small and humble creaturely-ness in the care of that cosmic God.

And, last but nowhere near least, our gospel story for today … a parable that illustrates to us God’s remarkable mercy and illogical forgiveness in the truth of the debts we y for our sins, known and unknown. And, this parable also puts us on notice. God expects we will respond to this remarkable mercy and illogical forgiveness by living in awe and fear of God and by mimicking it as best we can with one another.

And so here in Matthew we find themes of God’s power over even our own brokenness; themes of humble and obedient discipleship.

As I said, listening for these themes comes in handy when I’m trying to figure out what hymns will help us hear God’s message more deeply, more complexly as we are complex.

And so the hymns that rose up for our attention this week are Word of God, Come Down on Earth, a hymn that acknowledges the power in God’s Word alone; the Word’s ability to touch our hearts and bring to birth faith, hope and love; the Word that came from heaven to be crucified for our salvation.

And also the hymn When I Survey the Wondrous Cross which captures the fear and trembling we ought to feel in the presence of God’s mightiness, in the truth of our complete dependence on this mighty and cosmic God. “Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast save in the death of Christ, my God....”

And finally, the Canticle of the Turning … the song of Mary at the news that she carried the son of God in her womb, a hymn that reminds us of God’s power and activity in this world, especially through and on behalf of those often forgotten, the meek and the poor. It is a hymn still of God-unstoppable in our world.

This week, this search for themes did more than serve as a handy way to select hymns though.

The themes kept bringing me back to that question – Has the power of God become “old hat” to us?

I don’t mean to suggest that any of us would deny belief or a strong faith in our omnipotent, powerful, justice seeking, earth shaking God. Maybe the better question is, do we act like the power of God has become “old hat” to us? Like it is uninteresting, predictable, tritely familiar, old-fashioned?

When God’s mercy and healing breaks through even the darkest, seemingly impenetrable moments of those of us dealing with addiction in some way, do we respond as though that act of God was predictable or tritely familiar?

When God’s wisdom and protection is clearly at work for the family struggling to make next month’s rent, or the elder who isn’t sure there will be enough money for medication and food, or the essential worker who continues to stock the shelves, provide the home care, respond to the 911 call, are we stopped in our tracks in awe and wonder and thankfulness?

When the day comes, and it will, that a safe and effective vaccine is developed for COVID-19, and it is distributed among God’s people, and we are finally able to cross through this chaos into the post-pandemic world God is preparing for us … when that day finally comes will we be as awestruck as the Israelites crossing the sea and seeing God destroy what enslaved them?

Are we so humbled at the belief that in Christ’s life, death and resurrection we are forgiven for that awful thing we did last week, or last month, or several years ago, whenever … are we so humbled that we cannot wait to get out there and be that promise of forgiveness for someone else?

Like I said, I do not mean to offend or question anyone’s faith when I ask: Do I, do you, do we, as Christ’s Church, act like God’s power is “old hat?”

I’m just wondering.

Let us pray. God, you give us all that we need, even though our need for you in all things never ends. Thank you for these stories of our ancestors. May they cause us always to tremble at your power in humility, wonder and awe. Help us to know your mighty presence in ourselves, our community, your whole cosmos, Lord, and stir to respond to your power in ways that demonstrate we believe and we live because of you, our omnipotent, powerful, justice seeking, earth shaking God. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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