Come to Your Senses (Five-Part Sermon Series)

January 10th, 2013

This five-part series focuses on experiencing God through each of the five senses. Each sermon deals with “common” ways of experiencing God – ways available to persons not thoroughly trained in spiritual disciplines. In other words, these sermons explore the everyday experiences of God that we tend to easily overlook, by using each of our five senses.

1. Taste and See That the Lord is Good

Psalm 119:89-103

Certain tastes bring to mind specific memories from our past: persons, places, events, feelings. Christmas Apple Cake always pleasantly reminds me of my mother-in-law, for example, because she made an apple cake every Christmas as long as I knew her.

I shared a story about some Christians imprisoned in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. They began to gather secretly for brief periods of prayer. One day, they celebrated a silent Holy Communion, pantomime style, for they had no bread or wine. One man said that when it came time for him to “take, eat” he could feel and taste the bread, and the wine. That specific taste reminded him of God’s abiding presence even in the worst imaginable circumstance. His faith was renewed and strengthened, and he found the wherewithal to survive the camp. Let the bread and cup remind you of God’s abiding presence in your life, and also remind you, whenever you taste the bread or drink of the cup, that God is good.

Make this the message on a Holy Communion Sunday. To enhance the experience, we had bread machines baking bread in the sanctuary from the beginning of the worship service.

2. Touch and Know That the Lord is Good

Psalm 18:1-19

On my first Sunday as Lead Pastor, as a part of the congregational welcome, I was presented a prayer shawl knitted by the church’s prayer shawl ministry. Every time I touch that prayer shawl, I am reminded of the love and support extended to me by the congregation. I shared stories throughout the sermon of people (names changed if they so desired) who make the prayer shawls, deliver them, and the ones who receive them also testify to the spiritual reality and power they experience.   

God’s love can be experienced through tangible gifts, given to meet needs, bring comfort, or express care for others. Each time a child picks up a donated backpack, a cancer patient wraps up in a prayer shawl, or a mother touches a special piece of jewelry symbolizing her child, the power of God’s love is felt.

We had prayer shawls circulating through the congregation throughout the sermon. At the very beginning of the sermon, I requested that people pray over the shawls, asking God to touch any and all who touched these shawls. Congregations who do not have a prayer shawl ministry could pray over other items that could be distributed to people in need of prayer as tangible symbols of the prayers being offered on their behalf.

3. A Scent Pleasing Unto the Lord

Psalm 141:1-2; Revelation 5:8, 8:3-4; Acts 10:4

Imagine the smell of an infant. I think of talcum powder and the clean, fresh smell peculiar to babies. Now, I know that babies don’t always smell nice; but when they do, I find it to be a wonderful smell that elicits memories of other babies, including fond memories of my own babies. Of course, it works the other way around, too. If I think of babies, I am reminded of that particular smell.

Throughout the history of our faith, scent has been a significant dimension of the experience of the faithful. From Abraham’s time and the ancient sacrifices of burnt offerings, to our own time with incense, candles, flowers and the like, scents have become connected with worship, reminding the faithful of the presence of God and symbolizing our worship rising to God. When the story of Cornelius is told in the 10th chapter of Acts, the reader is informed that the piety and holy acts of Cornelius have ascended before God as a beautiful scent.

This imagery raises questions for you and me. What is the quality of the scent we are lifting before God? Does the quality of our piety and righteous deeds rise before God as the pleasing aroma of incense or as a stench?

I scheduled an infant baptism on the day I offered this sermon. We used potpourri pots with apple and orange slices to scent the sanctuary.

4. Listen and Hear That the Lord is Good

Psalm 81; Psalm 5                  

When we think of hearing God, we probably remember situations in which we have heard the voice of God in hymns, sermons, writings or some other form of verbal communication. No doubt we have had profound experiences of being aware of the very voice of God in one or more of these ways.

But today I want to concentrate on another aspect of hearing God: the sound of your own name or other terms of endearment, spoken by people who love you. Remember the loving parent or caregiver who tended you when you were but a child. Or perhaps you are thinking of a dear loved one who held your hand and said to you, ‘I love you so much.” Did you not hear God in those affirmations?

Our daughter Emily became suddenly ill when she was about five. Her temperature rose quickly and she was drifting in and out of consciousness as we rushed her to the hospital. The emergency room physician ordered an ice bath to get her temperature down quickly. Though unconscious, Emily fought going under that ice-cold water. Her cries and struggling brought tears to the eyes of her parents, the doctor and nurses and the brawny orderlies who were holding her under the water. Suddenly her eyes opened as she regained consciousness and her temperature dropped. Her hand reached out for her mother as she shouted, “Mommy!” In that cry, I heard the voice of God. I think others in that emergency room did, too.

As a part of this worship experience, specifically as a part of our Scripture reading, we had a video recording of children repeating the words of the 23rd Psalm.

5. Look and See That the Lord Is Good

Psalm 27; Psalm 119:105-112

I love the work of artist P. Buckley Moss. Many of her paintings are of Amish scenes from the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, offered in her distinctive style. She loves the valley, and it is obvious in her paintings. For P. Buckley Moss, and others artists as well, it seems clear that there is a little piece of the artist in the art. Of course this insight is true not just for professional artists. I shared a picture drawn for me recently by a child in the congregation, and explained how I can cherish this in part because the child put a little bit of himself into the painting.

The same dynamic applies to God, the Creator of human beings. God, the artist who created you and me, imbues each creation, each person, with a little of the artist. For this reason, we should see the element of the divine in each person we meet. Do we show equal respect and compassion for everyone who crosses our path?

Later in the sermon, I brought the aforementioned child’s drawing back out, tore it up and let the pieces fall to the floor (and then quickly explained that this was prearranged with the child) and asked the congregation to think about how they felt when they saw me tear it up. This little kid had given a part of himself, and I had treated it with disdain.

Think of how God feels when we disrespect the precious persons God has created. We are called to be a community of God’s people, helping the world see God at work, actively engaged in our and others’ lives. We must see God’s activity and work right here, right now, in every single person. Then we will see and help others see the face of God.

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