A Sermon by guest preacher Stephen Courtney
Hello everyone. Very nice to see you on this rainy day.
May these words find meaning for and bless you. Amen!
As with my last two sermons, I’ll start and end with Pooh-Bear quotes:
“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. Pooh?" he whispered.
"Nothing," said Piglet, taking Pooh's hand. "I just wanted to be sure of you.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
I just wanted to be sure of you. I just wanted to be sure of you.
Wouldn’t that be nice? Piglet being sure of his friend. You being sure of your friend. Your friends. Your co-workers. Your business partner. Your mate. Maybe your God. Maybe especially your God!
You know, Really SURE. With capital letters: S-U-R-E.
Even in today’s lectionary reading from Psalms 42 the line, “Where is your God?” appears twice.
Now, why doesn’t God give us that? That, that real sureness? Wouldn’t THAT be the peace of the world? Why must we have faith? Why must doubt be all balled up in there?
In the lesson from Exodus today, God seems to go out of his way to assure the people that he is the Great I AM. From Verse 17: “Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God.”
To meet with God! Wouldn’t that be nice? Wouldn’t that help us to be sure? To see with our own eyes…to hear with our own ears…Verse 19: As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.”
The voice of God! Wouldn’t that be nice?
Well, well, well. As you will now hear, my faith journey the last two weeks has been intense.
My normal faith stuff is fairly vanilla…you might say luke warm…the spitting out kind, really.
But not today.
And in reality, I’ve bitten off much too big a subject for the 5 to 8 minutes allotted me, so hold on tight as I speed us through.
I’ll jump right in with the story…
In my last sermon, I talked about my plan to go to my 23rd straight men’s conference in upstate NY at Lake Champion where over 350 men gather from eastern United States to in short “remember” as in “put back together” the body of Christ. It’s a wonderfully bucolic setting around a 40 acre lake.
One evening after the lecture, a recent movie was offered for viewing. The movie, God's Not Dead which according to Wikipedia is a 2014 Christian drama film directed by Harold Cronk.
The main story line involves a philosophy professor that asks all his students to turn in a sheet of paper saying, “God is Dead.” so that he can dispense with that part of the syllabus. One Christian student couldn’t comply and was challenged by the professor to give a series of talks in debate with the professor to state his case. I quite enjoyed the movie, saying a little rah, rah for our Christian champion when he “won” the debate in the end.
Play forward. Somehow, on the 4 hour drive home a couple of days later, I began to ponder the atheist logic. Had I done the work necessary to really know where my God is? If IT is…the Great I AM?
The next day, I read the God’s Not Dead movie reviews and to summarize, they were not very flattering, the most damaging from folks within the church body. These reviews did not help my growing faith crisis. My “Surness”, what little I had of it left, was sliding toward an abyss.
The last sermon I gave here not long ago, I spoke about how God loved us more than we can know, even though we are bigger jerks than we can imagine. And now I’m wondering if IT IS. This should have our spiritual leader, Joy, thinking twice about me being in the pulpit.
The time after the 4 day retreat was one of those crazy travel periods, a conference in San Francisco, that week, then a client meeting in Detroit with a stop off for a project in Connecticut. A last minute cancellation of the CT meeting lands me very early in the Bradly International Airport to wait for my flight to Detroit. Well it’s a very rare opportunity for me to buy a book and have a leisurely meal in wait. A rather thin selection of books presented themselves at the airport concession. Being a pedantic reader, one book would be plenty, but two, one then another, caught my eye.
Both are non-fictions – “True Stories.” Both were about patients with brains under attack. Both books were published in 2012. Both books were part of a read and return program. And one was half price to boot. So I got them both and read a chapter each going back and forth between them, till about half way through. Then I focused on and finished Brain On Fire before I arrived home from Detroit. Proof of Heaven I didn’t finish till last night.
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness again according to Wikipedia is a 2012 New York Times Bestselling autobiography by New York Post writer Susannah Cahalan. The book details Cahalan's struggle with a rare autoimmune disease and her recovery.
It was the autoimmune disease subject that had initially caught my eye as my family has had recent related health difficulties.
The second book, again from Wikipedia: Eben Alexander III is an American neurosurgeon and the author of the best-selling Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife, in which he describes his 2008 near-death experience and asserts that science can and will determine that heaven really does exist.
In the autobiographical book he asserts that his body and near death experience (NDE) while in a meningitis-induced coma, proves that consciousness is independent of the brain, that death is a transition, and that an eternity of perfect splendor awaits us beyond the grave – complete with angels, clouds, and departed relatives. Alexander says, “I intend to spend the rest of my life investigating the true nature of consciousness and making the fact that we are more, much more, than our physical brains as clear as I can, both to my fellow scientists and to people at large."
Frankly, Dr. Alexander sounded like one of those nut cases – though I must admit I’ve never studied the NDE phenomenon. Why study it, don’t we KNOW that is just a bunch of hallucinating. What’s there to study? A waste of time. I’ve never read another book about a NDE, but OK I’ll give the subject a try since it involves another brain on fire.
Dr. Alexander has his critics as you may imagine. But those with Near Death Experiences, NDE’s now with is its own acronym, number over a million people.
Why were both of these books put conveniently in front of me? In both of these “True Story” books there appeared to be some effective community praying and virtually miracle recoveries. Was I supposed to read these books to help to rekindle the fire of my faith, my sureness?
Then late last week, I got an email asking if I could do the sermon today…how could I say, “Yes.” in the middle of all this unsureness, yet how could I say “No.” with so much non-vanilla faith stuff going on. When I emailed one of my sons of the request he wrote back, “Congrats!”
So, at risk of being viewed as one of those crazy NDE folks, I offer my own personal mysterious encounter with what I will call the greater consciousness. I’ll make it quick.
Back around 1995, my business partner, Bud, and I were driving towards RI’s TF Green Airport for a trip to Erie, PA. We were late. Late, like we were going to miss our flight late. So I was pushing it on the back-roads of eastern CT. This next part will be hard to believe.
Mid-sentence in my conversation with Bud, I felt a finger press gently, on the very top of my head. A calming, warm sensation flowed from my head down to my feet, which was saying clearly, “Slow down, no need to rush.” The sensation left me with a peaceful calm. I remember this as clearly as the day it happened. Now you can equate me with those crazy NDE people. But did our common collectiveness reach out to save an unwanted accident? Or did the Great I AM simply want to bless me in a new way? And you in this hearing?
And, in fact, the “message” was correct. We got to the airport, parked the car and found that the flight had been delayed, “No need to rush.” This was not my imagination. But I can understand if you think so. I would normally do the same. It could be the reason that it is the rare person who has ever heard this story. Same on me really. But we live so much in this world, even to think about, much less talk about the mysteries that might be beyond are rare.
I offer this encounter story with renewed faith, less doubt about where my God is and more conviction, which may, just may, help you find your own.
So this brings us around to the top. Maybe the Great I AM, knows that it’s difficult without “sureness.” Maybe, once in a while, IT offers us a glimpse of sureness in a not sure world.
And closing with Pooh-Bear:
“Rabbit's clever," said Pooh thoughtfully.
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit's clever."
"And he has Brain."
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit has Brain."
There was a long silence.
"I suppose," said Pooh, "that that's why he never understands anything.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
Lord may these words be heard in your Glory. Amen
Our Benediction from Romans 15:5, 6
Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
King's Chapel often asks guest preachers to provide sermons for services. You can read the sermons of our guest preachers here.