Memorial United Methodist Church, White Plains
June 5, 2016
My last Sunday at Memorial
Hymn of Preparation Rain Down, by Jaime Cortez
Better than Perfect
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May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing and acceptable to you, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
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When I was in Turkey last year, I bought a beautiful rug. I would never have guessed I would ever spend so much money on a rug, but I just fell in love with it. The colors, the design. My favorite soft blues. Tulips and carnations and swirls, the effect curvy and geometric both. I loved it. I wanted to see it every day. So I paid for it, and a month or so later, it arrived via FedEx.
I didn’t notice until I hung it up that it has a flaw.
[show the rug]
Look--one of the stripes, either the first one or the last one, depending on how you look at it, is noticeably wider than the others.
At first I was distraught. I kept going and looking at it, trying to figure out a way that this wasn’t true. Trying to see it differently and make it perfect. But that didn’t work. I thought about sending it back, which seemed more than likely to be exactly equal to setting my money on fire. I thought about selling it--getting rid of it because it wasn’t perfect.
It took me a while, but I calmed down. I looked at it some more, and I saw that it is what it is, and it is still just as beautiful as it was when I first saw it. In fact, now when I look at it, I am reminded that beauty and creativity emerge from extra space. I am reminded that there are things that are way more important than being perfect.
Have you ever paid a lot for something, or worked hard for something, and not had it come out the way you expected? What do we do then?
Today’s scripture is about what happens when reality isn’t what we want it to be, and still, God is at work. It comes from the prophet Jeremiah, also known as the Weeping Prophet. He’s got plenty of reason to weep. First, the word of the Lord revealed to him, over and over, is unhappy news. The people of Israel will be going into exile in Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar. Furthermore, this unhappy news is unwelcome news to those around him, and they take it out on the messenger. People in his home town try to kill him. He is beaten, put in stocks. He tries not prophesying, and then God’s word burns a hole in his heart.
Just before today’s scripture, the cheerful prophet Hananiah tells the people, “Don’t worry! Nebuchadnezzar is toast. Peace is coming! You have nothing to worry about.” That turns out to be not true, and God proves it when Hananiah dies.
Then Jeremiah tells the truth: y’all are going to be in Babylon a long time. Settle down there. Have families. Plant gardens. Seek the welfare of Babylon, for your own welfare is tied to it. And even though this is not what you want, don’t worry. Because God has a plan for you. It’s a good plan. Don’t lose hope.
Even though the news isn’t what the people want, this is better than not knowing. It’s better to know what’s really happening, to prepare accordingly, to recognize that God is still God, and God has a good plan, even when things aren’t going the way we like.
Don’t get me wrong--getting what we want is great. Being perfect is really fun while it lasts. But even if we could agree on what perfect is, it doesn’t last. It never lasts. And if you’re not prepared to be not perfect, then you’re really in trouble.
If things have to go right--our definition of right--for us to be happy, then we’re destined to be unhappy.
There are a lot of things that are better than being perfect. Memorial, you are better than perfect.
You are resilient. You have proven that you keep going in the face of disappointments and difficulties. This is a good quality to have, because there will always be disappointments and difficulties. Sometimes it feels like they come in completely unfair quantities, but the story is still the same. Resilience is what matters. Flexibility and persistence and creativity are way more important than perfection. And don’t forget to throw in a sense of humor--that helps a lot.
Memorial, you are open. “Open hearts, open minds, open doors” is actually true here. You embrace people who are different without assuming that you are better. You embrace things that are new, without assuming that the old way is better. You are open to the new and the different.
Memorial, you are at your best when you are loving. When you connect. When you care about each other. When you take the risk of letting yourself be seen, and see each other, imperfect and beautiful. Because it’s not our job to judge, or take on other people as improvement projects. As Rumi wrote: We’re all just walking each other home.
Even though I know that there are so many things that are better than perfect, you know, I like things just right. Especially for my last Sunday here--the stakes are high. And today’s bulletin has a mistake in it. I came over here early Friday, before the office opened--on my day off--to fix it, and Angela was busy and didn’t see it, and it didn’t get fixed.
There was a moment later that morning when Angela and I both thought I was going to make her run off the bulletins again.
What I was going to fix was: the sermon title. Good sermon titles don’t come to me very often. I had thought of a boring sermon title earlier in the week, and then Thursday night this one came to me. This is my last sermon here, and I wanted it to be right.
And then the irony of it struck me. [slide]
Better than Perfect.
[Note: what was in the bulletin was “A Future with Hope,” from Jeremiah 29:11.]
I see you looking at your bulletins out there. You can laugh. And change it in your bulletin if you want. Go ahead, please change it in your bulletin. I'll feel better if you do.
And remember that things aren’t going to be perfect. So keep going. Show up. Deal with reality. Love each other. Love your new pastor. And know that I am rooting for you, and praying for you.
And God is on your side. “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
This is true, even when we can’t see what that future looks like.
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Mark Miller wrote a song about believing in a good future even when there’s not much in the way of evidence.
[Jayson starts playing; I sing the first verse.]
I believe in the sun
I believe in the sun
Even when it’s not shining.
I believe in the sun, even when it’s not shining.
I believe in love, even when I don’t feel it.
I believe in God, even when God is silent.
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Invitation to Communion