how'd you do?

god be with you

A few months ago I was talking with a friend and he told me a story about when he was in the UK promoting a book he wrote.

He told me about how after one of his talks a woman in the audience invited him over to her home saying her family has been making chocolate for hundreds of years,
and she’d love to show him how its made.
So he, of course, said ‘yes’ and went over later that evening.

And he told me the chocolate he tasted was the most amazing,
most delicious,
most exquisite thing he had ever tasted.
Chocolate, he said, had taken on a whole new meaning.
A whole new world had opened up to him.

He said this to the woman, saying:
“Oh wow, this is so much better than a KitKat.”

And the woman replied:
“KitKat? Oh, that’s not chocolate. That’s mere confectionary.”


I love this story because for me, it reminds me why we’re here.

We’re here,
as church,
in community,
on a Sunday
because we are those who want more something more than mere confectionary.

We here because we want new meanings and worlds opened up for us.
We want something that just hums with reverence.
We want a life and not just an existence.
And we’re here because we’re each looking to create a life that is full of meaning, joy, love, and beauty.

Are you with me?


And a lot of what we do together is designed to help move us beyond confectionary and into something big, mysterious, and alive;
and this morning I want to talk about one way we can continue to do that,
both as the church and as individuals.

And so today, I want to talk about:

that thing we do, the number 183, and the thing I’ll ask you.



Part of my job is to help us understand and enter into that life we’re talking about;
and one way we do that is through the things we do together here on a Sunday.

We call it ‘liturgy’
and its, literally, the ‘work of the people,’ the stuff we do together which shapes and forms us to be a particular kind of people.

And as I look at the different things we do together,
and some of you know this already,
there’s a part of Sunday morning church that I really struggle with;
this part that doesn’t sit well,
this part that I know is important but which needs to be nuanced so it can draw us deeper into the kind of life we’re pursuing.

And it’s the part at the very very end of chuch,
that part after I give the blessing,
that part after I walk down the middle aisle ….
I’m talking about that part where I shake your hand as you leave the sanctuary.

And the struggle comes from that thing we do during the handshake.

This part where you offer your really wonderful, kind, and thoughtful comments about the service and sermon, saying things like:

“You did great with that passage.”

“Wonderful sermon, pastor.”

“Well done on the service.”

And I say ‘Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it.’

And I don’t struggle with it because I don’t appreciate your words;
Im so grateful for you and for them and I see your heart behind them and it, in turn, fills mine up.

My struggle is this:

its how that exchange of ours is symptomatic of a larger cultural issue,
one that can really get in the way of us creating that kind of life we’re here to find together.


And that issue,
and we’re going way beyond the handshake exchange here,
can be summed up like this:

we live in a culture where we don’t listen in order to understand and engage,
we listen in order to reply and critique.

The culture in which we live, move and have our being,
is one of consumption, critique, and evaluation,
where stating one’s opinion and perspective is more important than hearing fact or understanding experience;
one where we’re more caught up in the exchange than in actual engagement.

Anyone know what we’re talking about?

We see it in the automated conversations.

We see it in the trolling and hate on social media.

And we see it, most visibly, in stuff like this:




And for us in the church, for us looking for a very particular kind of life, here’s the rub:

We can’t create the kind of life we’re looking for in that kind of culture.

That kind of culture doesn’t have the right kind of environment for a deep and expansive life to flourish.

The only kind of life this culture creates is a life that’s fixed and self contained,
where the limits to which it can be stretched is what it already knows and has experienced.

Its a life removed from wonder, mystery, and reverence.
Its a life removed from vulnerability and community.
Its a life that is static and stubborn.
And its propped up by a wisdom that looks an awful lot like ego.

The problem with this kind of culture is that it creates a life that exists but certainly not a life that lives.

And for those of us interested in chocolate,
for those of us wanting a different kind of life,
a life filled with wonder, mystery, and reverence,
a life that moves and becomes,
a life rooted within an ancient wisdom,
we need a different place to live.


And while there are all sorts of places we could turn to look for that place,
here in this community,
the first place we always turn to is Jesus,
the one who our tradition says embodies the very wisdom and source of that life we’re seeking,
the one who shows us what it means to be truly human and alive in the world.

And one of the places we could look at to find out if Jesus offers another place to live and another way to build that life is all the questions he asked.

Jesus asked a lot of questions.                                                                                                      Throughout the Gospels Jesus asked a total of 183 questions.

Questions about taxes, God, faith, prayer, gender equality, race, worry, food, politics, scripture, money and life,
questions about how to have a life that is full of meaning, joy, love and beauty,
questions about a life that is more than mere confectionary but a life that is bigger and better than anything you’d experienced before.

It’s important we see this because it tells us something really important about Jesus and the kind of life he opens up to us, the very kind of life we’re seeking to create.

these questions show,
is not a giver of advice.

He doesn’t give us a neat list of 5 ways to be closer to God.
He doesn’t offer quick spiritual tips.
He doesn’t provide easy answers.

he asks hard questions
and gives paradigm shifting parables.

So if that’s the way he is,
the question for us becomes:

Why have we paid so little attention to this Jesus who asks questions?

Here is the Catholic priest Richard Rohr’s response to that question

“[Answers] give us more of a feeling of success and closure. … 
Easy answers instead of hard questions allow us to try to change others instead of allowing God to change us.”


As people who are looking for a life that’s more than confectionary,
this is something we can’t afford to miss.

We cant miss it because it offers a wisdom we need to hear:

The only way to get close to the God,
the only way to create that life we’re looking for,
is through engagement and wonder,
through listening to understand,
through getting curious and venturing into what we do not know,
through wrestling and struggling with whats going on in and around us.

It’s a life that can only be created when we listen to what the Universe is offering and ask ‘what do I need to do with this?”


What would happen if we chose to live in that place?

What would happen if we chose to take this year to be more intentional and purposeful about creating that life we’re looking for?

What would happen if we each chose to do the hard work of receiving and rumbling with what God is offering us?

What would it look like if we fostered that kind of culture?

What kind of life could you have?

I think its worth finding out, don’t you?

Lets commit to a being a people to receive and engage.

And maybe we can try doing that like this, each of us having a role to play:

I’ll commit to my job:

through the sermons, events, programs, and spiritual direction I offer,
I’ll work hard to start the discussions,
to help us explore and embrace the heights and depths of our humanity,
and to do what I can to ask the questions and frame the ideas to help us explore what it means to be human and alive in this world.

And I ask you to commit to your job:

to engage with what we’re doing,
to be practice receiving,                                                                                                                                to rumble with whats being opened up for and in you,
to not to participate, to share, to ask, and wonder alongside me,
to wonder throughout the week, to follow up, to begin conversations,                                              and to sweat – to do the hard work of creating this life of reverence, beauty and meaning.

And why not start today?

So,                                                                                                                                                                         my friends,                                                                                                                                                    today, at the end of the service,                                                                                                             after that benediction and after I walk down that aisle,                                                                  and when we get to that point where we shake hands, high five, or hug it out,                           here’s what we’ll do:

you can offer those lovely and kind words of ‘thanks, you did great’,

and I’ll say:

‘Awesome. Thanks!
Now, how did you do?’


sermonsNicholas Coates