Monday, October 12, 2009

Preacher Mama

Well last night was extremely interesting. And so Feminary. I was assigned to preach 5 mins at our worship service we're helping run at Church of our Savior, and then lead a discussion after, St. Gregory's style. I wrote what I thought was a very nice little sermon (I'll paste it below). But I guess I was thinking too much of my writing or preaching abilities, or something, because Somebody decided to take me down a few pegs. Well not really God, actually - my daughter. I was not two seconds into the thing when she decided to have a major meltdown of Biblical proportions. She'd never done this during a service before. J tried to remove her from the room, but she was screaming so loudly that everyone could still hear her a block away. I realized I was losing them fast, and I also couldn't keep it together (I was alternating between frantically trying to think of how to rescue my sermon and wanting to crack up at how ridiculous she was being - I did actually snort once, I believe).

Anyway, round about paragraph four, when I was about to start quoting Jesus re: little children (what a fortuitous choice of text!), I said, "Excuse me" and I walked out of the church and went and got Maggie, brought her back in, and finished the sermon holding her in my arms. That was that. And of course she totally behaved (except when she tried to grab the candle behind me at one point but several kind congregants yelled out before she got it).

It was totally not what I was hoping for, for my big return to preaching. But I guess it didn't bother anybody, from the comments I got afterwards. And although my perfectionist nature was disturbed, J said he almost could have thought it was all planned, that Maggie was my dramatic illustration of the text.

When I got to the end, about how crazy trusting you have to be as a child - how you have to completely throw yourself on the mercy of those around you - having a sniffling, but now content, baby in my arms was the perfect picture. I could not have planned that better.

So hats off to the kiddo. Guess she & God had that planned better than I did.

Anyway, here is what I intended to preach. I got through about 2/3 of it, skipping a lot of the middle section (the depressing stuff anyway, ha ha), and focusing on the bits about being like a child. Enjoy.

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age--houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions--and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” [Mark 10:29-31, NRSV]

Leave your house, your family, your fields, for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, and you will receive it back – a hundredfold – now in this age.

Leaving your family meant losing your place in society, your inheritance, and really, your identity. Identity, in the first century, was not about your job, or where you lived or where you were from. It was based on whose child you were. Giving up family meant giving up your self.

Leaving house and fields means giving up your place in the world and your means to make a living. When Jesus suggests leaving family, house, and fields for his sake, he is saying you’ll lose your identity, your livelihood, your security, your home – all the things that make you who you are (or so you think).

This scene follows several gospel texts with a similar theme:

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.

“Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.

I admit that as a new mom, I might be a little obsessed with children. But I don’t think I’m just seeing things here. Jesus is also a little bit obsessed with children, because they are one of the best ways, in first-century society, to explain the powerlessness and loss of self that must come with following his way. So, if you haven’t understood yet what Jesus means when he tells you to be like a child, here he is explicit: you have to give up everything that makes you who you are, that gives you security in this world – house, family, fields – everything that you rely on to take care of yourself.

The promise that goes with this sacrifice is that you will get it all back. Not the same, but more, a hundredfold, and in this age, to boot. But it will come to you Jesus’ way. He adds that little preposition: “with”, and a nasty noun: “persecutions.” The way of Jesus is the way of the one who cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Getting it all back a hundredfold – your identity, your life’s work, your home – is not some kind of health-and-wealth joyride. It means living a tension-filled existence: one in which you look around and you know who you are, what you are to do, and where and to whom you belong, but you also are living that Kingdom reality in the midst of the present age, in which living Jesus’ way rains down persecution on your head. At best, you will simply be misunderstood, perhaps labeled “weird”, certainly thought of as confused as to what’s really important in life. You will not pursue the same goals as others: you will care less about the size of your house, the schools your children attend, the car you drive, the advancement of your career. At worst, you will be ostracized, humiliated, or even killed. You will almost certainly be poor. You may never have what others would consider security. But you will know what you have. You will know who you are. And you have a house, a family, and a life’s work. It is just under Kingdom jurisdiction.

This is what the rich man in the beginning of the story could not understand nor accept. Giving it all up. Not just your stuff, and your home, and your livelihood, and your family – but your security, your purpose, your identity, and your destiny.

I understand why the man walked away from Jesus. How can we do this? “Who has any chance at all?”

“Jesus was blunt: ‘No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it.” [Mark 10:26-27, The Message]

God has to do it for us. God can handle the things we don’t understand, or fear, or are simply incapable of doing.

Maggie wakes up each morning and her breakfast magically appears. She doesn’t worry about what she will wear, or if there will be milk in her sippy cup. Confusion and insecurity are easily dealt with by grabbing Mommy’s leg. She knows she doesn’t need to be afraid, or worry, or even understand anything, as long as her parents are around.

This is what God wants to do for us. To be for us. Not just Lord, but Father. We have to become like a little child: that helpless, that trusting, that humble. And we must reframe our thinking so that we can be happy with the “house, family, and fields” of the Kingdom. That’s our challenge.

You don’t need a house because the whole creation is your home. Your “fields” are those in which the harvest is ready, but the workers are few. Your life’s work is to sow the seed of the gospel. As for family, the Father has adopted you, and your identity is now determined by whose child you are.

Your home, your security, your identity: back, a hundredfold, now. And in this age – and in the age to come – eternal life.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Why I Don't Pray (Killing the Buddha)

This puts into words how I've been feeling for a good long while.

Why I Don't Pray from Killing the Buddha

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