Sunday, October 19, 2008

Performative Utterances

Philosopher J.L. Austin pointed out that there are statements which are "performative utterances." That is, "there are there are certain things one can do just by saying what one is doing." For example, "I promise" or "I take Thee to be my lawfully wedded husband."

Today, at worship, we witnessed a performative utterance, one exhortation, and one "walk the talk."

Yesterday the papers announced the foreclosure of a multi-million dollar real estate development in which X had a large part. He has lost everything. Today X stood at the pulpit to read 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10:

We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia--your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what happened when we visited you. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

My spine tingled. X was imitating Paul all right, and the gospel was coming full circle, in power through his reading of the Word. As the Lord's message rang out from X, he became a model to the believers in Eugene.

Then Steve preached on Matt. Matthew 22:15-22, "Tax Time."
It's that famous passage about "rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's." IMO it was one of his more creative sermons, telling the story from the point of view of the denarius that Jesus held. The sermon concluded:

"This world is better when people like you remember what I learned that day in His Hand. When you remember how God owns you, how He both made you and then bought you again with the blood of His own Son, you will care much less about owning me. You will simply delight, like I did, to be used for His purpose, to answer His call and His desire.

So if, by His good purpose, I should come into your possession, do me a favor. Please don’t hold me tightly. That’s not His way. That’s not what I am for any longer. I don’t really belong to you. Nor do you yourself even truly belong to you. We are not our own. We are His. So do me a favor. Give me up. Give me away. Give me away for Jesus. And then we both will have known the joy of resting in His Hand for awhile. May that gracious Hand bless you.

But just before he got up to preach, someone handed him a card, and Steve announced, "Whoever has a white Honda, you need to go to your car. Someone has broken your front window has taken your purse from the front seat." Up jumped Y. and her son Z., and a couple of men from the congregation to accompany them. We all met in the parking lot, in front of her new Civic hybrid. There stood a neighbor who related how she saw a man on a bicycle come between the cars, smash the window and grab the purse.

"But it wasn't a purse! " Y. exclaimed. "It was Z's lunchbox! He was going to Mt. Pisgah to do his community service after church, and that was his lunch!" Broken safety glass glittered on the pavement. "Why would anyone take a lunchbox? And look--here's a shopping bag on the floor with a birthday present in it. Why did they take the lunchbox, and not the present?"

She stared in disbelief, then exclaimed, "Just think, of all the people that this could happen to, isn't it best that it's me" [she is a professional] "and of all the times that it could happen to me, isn't it incredible that it was today, when I am surrounded by my church family?"

S. and W. got a broom, dustpan and bucket, and began cleaning up the shattered glass. Someone else offered her a car to use until hers could be fixed.

And now as I reflect on the morning, I realize how blessed I am to live and serve with a people who are receiving God's Word and living Christ's life. They are choosing to be used for His purpose, to answer His call and His desire. They are letting Him sweep away their brokenness. They are seeking to have their words and actions form a seamless garment, so that the saying is the doing and the doing is the saying.

1 comment:

Rick said...

What a powerful sermon...what a powerful day.