We Have Not Lost Each Other: Closing Worship with Amy Butler

Amy Butler
Amy Butler
Amy Butler

Drawn into worship with yearning for God’s continued presence in hearts and lives, Brad Froslee called Festival participants into their last service together at #Homiletics2019 with centering prayer and song repeating the refrain; Oh God, we call, from deep inside we yearn for you. Moving into a prayer of Remembrance for Rachel Held Evans, beloved author and Christian voice who recently passed, participants were invited into a time of silent reflection.

We wrapped up our week of powerful sermons with “Sink or Swim,” a message shared by Amy Butler, Senior Pastor at the Riverside Church of New York based on excerpts from Genesis 6-9. In the sermon, Butler dug into a text many preachers like to avoid, the story of Noah and the Flood. The story of Noah does not appear in full in the lectionary. Maybe because as Butler put it, “The story of Noah and the arc is pretty much a terrible story…The plotline centers around a natural disaster that destroys the whole world…and God is a terrible character in this story.”

Neither God nor humanity come out ahead in this story. The anger of God leaves preachers and parishioners alike wondering, Does God really get angry? Regret decisions? Change God’s mind? Play favorites? Butler boldly declared, “The one thing we can be sure of in this text, is that God is male…I mean look at how emotional he gets.” Much of the crowd responded with laughter and applause. Beyond that one thing, Butler argued that we can only watch in wonder as God evolves and humanity wades through waves of trauma and survivors guilt. As Butler put it, “The story you learned in Sunday school is not true. It didn’t end as beautifully as we all imagine. Noah and his family had lost so much.”

Since Noah’s time, humanity has continued to live through story after story of sin and loss. “A lot of us have survivors guilt, and trauma and fear and so many questions just like Noah and his family,” Butler pointed out. “But we are still here. We’re still trying to do this work. We still believe.” Ending her discussion of a difficult text, Butler urged Festival participants not to give up because there is solidarity in the work of muddling through in faith. “We may have lost the benefit of the  doubt, but we have not lost God and we have not lost each other.”  

Offering from the service benefits Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness (DCEH) , a shared project to provide Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA). Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) is a program to provide personal support and funds to stop folks from being evicted and cast into experiencing homelessness. The participants are connected with congregations, return volunteer hours and are supported in their journey.  To date, the program is 85% successful in helping people remain in stable housing. Last year over $250,000 was provided for this program by the inter-faith, downtown congregations. See their website: http://www.dceh.org/ 

Our final worship service was sponsored by Working Preacher, a trusted source of inspiration, interpretation and imagination for preachers across the globe.

Many thanks for a great week! We look forward to seeing your next year at the 28th Festival of Homiletics: “Preaching a New Earth” in Atlanta, Georgia May 18-22, 2020. Registration opens Nov 1st 2019.