In my former life I was a studio art major.
I remember when the college I attended hired the new painting instructor—a man by the name of Joseph Petro.
Up until that point I had spent most of my time with Design instructor Louise Calvin—a gentle woman and eclectic spirit, and Pottery instructor Dan Selter—another gentle person and incredibly talented artist.
As an art student I was used to messy. Our work area was the basement of the Fine Arts building. The clay room was, well, messy—the sculpture room was messy—the design room was messy. It’s not that we didn’t pick up at the end of the day; it’s just that every day the wet clay went flying off the potter’s wheel, the wood chips landed in our hair, and the paint fell in our laps and onto the floor. We all lived in tattered jeans and tee’s, even overall’s, including Ms. Calvin and Mr. Selter. You were crazy if you didn’t.
Imagine our surprise in the fall when all of us were moved to the painting gallery on the second floor the administration building—classical in design with its large multi-paned windows and white walls and molding—lovely—and Mr. Petro stepped in; a petite man with closely trimmed hair, a suit jacket, dress shirt and tie and dress pants.
There we sat with our art supplies: a masonite square and rabbit skin glue for making our own canvas, painting palette, oil paints and brushes, turpentine and cotton baby diapers for cleaning brushes, and a stack of newspapers to cover the work area—which is short-hand for MESSY—in front of our very tidy new painting instructor.
He dressed like that every day.
Like our other instructors he was of a gentle nature, and an accomplished artist. In fact, Mr. Petro had been commissioned to design the Kentucky bicentennial postage stamp for the US Postal Service. He was known for his medical illustrations, equine art, paintings and murals.
If you’ve ever taken an art class, you understand that there’s a lot to learn, and unlearn, when it comes to creating a painting. Mr. Petro had so much to offer from how to hold your canvas (sometimes upside down) to brush strokes and oil paint colors to avoid when creating your color palette. I was overwhelmed. It was truly like learning to paint all over again.
“It’s all about technique,” Mr. Petro would tell us. Before he’d paint a bridle for a horse he’d spend months researching rust.
Some of my peers grew restless. They didn’t want to learn the techniques, they simply wanted the results. When it came time to display our artwork at the end of the year, it was easy to tell who was following Mr. Petro’s instruction, and who wasn’t. Some people’s artwork was spectacular and people asked if they could purchase their work—while other paintings went unnoticed.
In the scriptures you and I hear God say through many, many worthy teachers, be they Abraham, Moses, Mary, or Jesus, “If you trust me I will bless you.” Another way to hear God is like this, “If you give me your whole life; your purpose, I will provide for you.”
This is what’s called a covenant. A covenant involves action from two parties, for example Abraham and God; you and God. “You give me this,” we hear God say, “and I’ll give you THAT.”
What does God want from us when God says TRUST ME? God is asking us to live very close to God and God’s dream for the earth. Turning to Jesus, we get a visual of what trust looks like—prayer; retreating from the busyness of the world to rest in God—and love—helping people, restoring honor to everyone: the little, the lost, the least, the loveless, the last.
“DO this,” says Jesus to the young lawyer in the parable of the Good Samaritan, “and you will live.” Live, we understand, is related both to our quality of life now, and emerges from our life with God. There is a way to live in the world NOW that has God’s hands, or heart, as the author—God the Bestower, the one who Blesses. This “way” IS the blessing.
Peter touches on this in his statement about the goal of baptism vs. 21 of Chapter 3. “Baptsim,” writes Peter, “isn’t about the removal of dirt from the body, it’s about an appeal for a good conscience.” Peter writes, “Baptism saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience.”
Over the years I’ve come to understand that there is more to a good conscience than being able to sleep at night because I don’t feel guilty because I did the right thing—it’s also about surrendering to God’s grace; God’s way within me, which is love.
In other words, God’s going to change us from the inside out—change our awareness, which of course will change our behavior—and we, like Christ, will be something to behold: loving, patient, kind, merciful, generous, faithful (from Galatians 5)…grateful for the opportunity to discover God in our losses, eager to make peace (the Beattitudes). Perhaps a few other good words for us to consider this morning when it comes to understanding God’s blessing, or gift of good conscience, is enlightenment; seeing as God sees. The Beattitudes are a great place for us to start when it comes to appealing for God’s good conscience; God’s enlightenment (in which there are many gifts.)
Why does Peter bring up baptism? Baptism, we remember, is where we said to Jesus, “I will follow you.”
Have you, as a disciple of Jesus, ever wanted the blessing, the good conscience, the enlightenment--- without the following?
That’s what Peter wants to know. He certainly can identify with us if we answer yes because, he, too, tried that path:
1. He tried to walk on water AND worry at the same time.
2. He tried to stay close to Jesus and deny him at the same time.
3. Peter lamented the time he had spent with Jesus which produced little in the way of material possessions. Peter thought that he could have both; faith in money and in God.
What about you?
1. Have you ever tried to find the capacity for enjoyment through worrying?
2. Have you ever tried to find God’s good conscience, God’s enlightenment, without creating time for prayer, or service to your neighbor, or to understand a dream, or consider the lilies?
3. Have you ever tried to love money and God at the same time?
There are more questions:
4. Have you ever tried to sleep peacefully AND hold on to grudges at the same time?
5. Have you ever tried to avoid pain AND grow deeper spiritually?
6. Have you ever tried to avoid people—and love God at the same time?
Just like my friends and I couldn’t produce paintings that were beautiful works of art without following the instructions of our painting professor Joseph Petro, neither can you and I experience the gift of God’s good conscience if we don’t follow in the footsteps of Jesus:
*love your neighbor
*retreat FROM the world, retreat WITH God
*clothe the naked
*visit the imprisoned
*restore sight to the blind
*love your enemy
*see the potential for suffering and loss to bring you closer to God
Christ, God’s good conscience, we see, isn’t found in the head—in an IDEA about who he is and how he is related to God—Christ is found in the following, in walking in his shoes, one step at a time.
There simply aren’t any shortcuts.
Did any of you read your Billings Gazette this morning? Did you notice my letter to editor? I’m writing in support of the Nondiscrimination Ordinance—speaking up for the least of these—our LGBT citizens.
This has been God’s prayer in me, that I ACT on what I believe, and I believe God’s love is inclusive, and that Christ modeled how we are to be with people who are excluded—a friend and an advocate for their inheritance, which is GOD FOR US.
May 13, 2014
Dear City Council and Billings Gazette,
Several years ago I found myself sitting on the other side of the desk of a high school track and football coach, and Athletic Director. I made the appointment with him on behalf of our congregation’s youth group. They were observing discriminatory behavior delivered by persons they had been asked to respect and obey; their weight coaches. They were afraid to talk to power, so they asked me, their pastor, to approach the AD with their concerns.
The young adults shared this story with me, “When you don’t meet the weight trainer’s expectations, they call you ‘gay.’ We are sad for our gay friends. We are shocked that the school thinks it is okay for these adults to talk this way. We are amazed that our parents think so highly of these individuals. If only people knew.”
Children can be great leaders and motivators.
Discrimination means “acting on one’s prejudice through denial of information, access, or opportunity because of group identity.” Discrimination negates a person’s reality; minimizing their experience. Let’s not limit this to bullying. LGBT persons are denied housing, employment, and public services including admission to parks, pools and restaurants. In our country, the Declaration of Independence supports a different experience for persons. It affirms that people are created equal, and have the right to pursue Life, Liberty and Happiness.
As our children remind us, discrimination happens in broad daylight and behind closed doors. I would love to see the city in which I work pass the Nondiscrimination Ordinance so that no one will be impacted by hurtful words and actions. I would love to see us declare Billings, Montana to be a city aligned with the intent of the Declaration of Independence.
Rev. Dana L. Keener, Pastor
Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
1221 16th Street West
Billings, Montana 59041
I wouldn’t ask you to do something that I wouldn’t do.
Will you pray with me? Wonderful God, may we say yes to YOU; your life within us. May we have the attitude of Christ who said, “Not MY will, but YOUR WILL be done.” May we learn to say thank you when we see your goodness radiating from us. Amen.
(This sermon was shared with the congregation at Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Billings, Montana by Reverend Dana Keener on May 25, 2014.)