God's Poetry

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 10, 2024

Rabbit holes.
I think we’ve talked about those before. It was originally a term taken from Lewis Carroll. He used it to open Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland—it’s where Alice ended up, chasing a white rabbit. These days, we use it to talk about surfing the web, and getting way too deep in a subject we often didn’t even know we were interested in.

And this has happened to me recently on an app I never intended to be interested in—namely, TikTok. Like just about any website these days, TikTok uses an algorithm that chooses content for each user. My algorithm, believe it or not, includes Boston Terrier videos and cat videos. There’s religion videos, of course. And it also likes to show me language videos and videos with 70’s music. Other stuff gets thrown in occasionally. Sometimes I take the bait, and sometimes I don’t. One recent trend that apparently I’ve shown an undue interest in is police videos, and I have gone way too deep down that rabbit hole.

It's really not a healthy obsession. It’s almost all minor stuff—people getting pulled over in their cars or getting caught shoplifting. I hate to admit it, but one of the factors that keeps me watching #copsoftiktok is Schadenfreude. I get no pleasure watching people who are humble or contrite getting in trouble. When somebody’s honest and truly sorry, it’s easy to remember the old saying, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

But when the accused is arrogant of dishonest or loud or entitled, I sometimes forget to be charitable. Well, maybe not sometimes—more like usually. Now, I never studied that much psychology, so I can’t give a really good answer for why I feel this Schadenfreude. But I think it’s kinda common what I’m feeling when I want people to fail who I think deserve to fail. I think it boils down to the fact that I sometimes need to feel better about myself, to think I’m above other people.

The Bible has lots of responses to this tendency of mine. But a good one—maybe even one of the best (for us anyway)—is found in this morning’s passage. It reminds us that Christians aren’t Christians because of anything we’ve done (or refrained from doing). We haven’t earned God’s love. We are who we are because of the faith within us. And in case we have some notion that we’ve conjured up that faith on our own, Paul reminds us that we didn’t. It’s a gift—a gift of God. And why does he remind us of this? “So none of us can boast about it.” So none of us can look at anybody else, and say, “I’m better than you because I’m a Christian.” So none of us can judge a neighbor, or visit a prison, or watch a cop show, and say, “I’m better than that.”

So God has made us who and what we are. We are God’s ποιημα. Listen to that Greek word. It sounds like a word we know in English, doesn’t it? Well, there’s a good reason for that. It’s the exact same root as our word poem. Some translations simply say, “We are what he made us,” which is kinda boring. Some say, “We are God’s workmanship,” which is closer to the mark. And ours says, “We are God’s masterpiece,” which correctly reflects the nature of what Paul says we are. The Greek word comes from a verb that means create, so Ephesians 2:10 is really telling us that we are God’s artistic creation.

The entire verse says, For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. So the context makes it clear that we’re not individual paintings or poems to be admired by others. But together we tell the story that God composed long ago, before the creation of the world.

And the way we tell this story is actually pretty clear: We do it through God’s work in the world. Probably because of the society that we’ve been brought up in, our first reaction to this is to think of our individual works. Our culture teaches us to value independence, and so we often automatically interpret the scriptures as speaking to us as lone rangers. But clearly that can’t be the case here. Paul is speaking to the church. And it’s for the church that God has planned good things to do.

This doesn’t mean we don’t do good things as individuals. It just means that when we do something good, it’s not adding a thread or a stitch to our own individual tapestry, but it’s adding a thread or a stitch to the tapestry of the church that God is weaving. Or our good works aren’t words or lines in our individual poems, they are words or lines in the epic poem that is the church in the world.

This is an image we can carry with us as we go through our days and weeks, as we go through life. Do our words and deeds add to the work of art that is the work of the church? Do they add a brushstroke of color to the painting or a word to the poem? But more importantly, how is the church working together to make the Kingdom of God a visible reality to those around us?

We can put next week’s offering into this context. It’s just one piece of our work, but it definitely fits into what Paul said in Ephesians 2. When people anywhere are in need, God calls us to share, to act with compassion. And when we receive the special offering we’re looking ahead in time, just as God did when we were created to make a difference in the world. We don’t know what the coming year will hold, but we know that somewhere, somebody will need us. And there’s often very little time for us to coordinate our actions, collect money or materials, find out where to send it and get it there in time. But through One Great Hour of Sharing, we’ll already be there, working together with thousands of other congregations and hundreds of thousands of other Christians, giving what is needed and doing what needs to be done.

It's all part of God’s ποιημα, God’s creativity. Whether you imagine yourself to be working with God on an epic poem, a lavish tapestry, a beautiful painting, or some other form of artistry, remember, we are God’s masterpiece. We’re not doing our own thing for our own glory, but doing the good things God planned for us before the creation of the universe.
©2024 Sam Greening