26 June, 2013

A Sermon Unspoken

He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”                      Luke 9:3-5 NRSV

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”                            Luke 9:51 ff NRSV

It is the middle of the night. Except for the light from the screen, darkness envelops me.  The words of Luke’s gospel shine from the page and beckon my spirit to engage the Word and Spirit contained within, between, and behind them. 

“I will follow you where ever you go.”  The words of this unnamed companion to Jesus, spoken on the road to Jerusalem and death, echo those of Ruth to Naomi on a road away from the comfort and familiarity of her native land and into the unknown region of her mother-in-law’s home.

These are words not spoken easily in our time.  Relationships are temporary; commitments are fleeting.  “Where ever” is so open-ended and uncertain.  What about my needs and my desires – why commit to the unknown and to that which is out of my control?

Those were my thoughts about ministry some 30-something years ago.  I was struggling to understand whether I was in an accounting degree track for my own purposes or to appease the expectations of others.  The young associate pastor of the Congregational church in town had taken me under her wing.  We’d joined her friend from seminary at a concert at a church in another Boston suburb when she asked me in her off-the-cuff way if I had ever considered going into ministry.  I laughed; and looking them both in the eye I told them that I wanted a job that pays enough to pay the bills and would stay in the office after I’d left for the day. 

I’d seen the incredibly meager salary my small-town pastor was paid.  Even my father – who never finished fourth grade -- made twice what the Congregational church paid the pastor who had a master’s degree.  I’d seen the stress in his thirty-something year old face as he dealt with the strong opinions of the church members; I’d watched him defend the young people’s new ideas and idealistic dreams.  Those crazy church members were mean and nasty when they wanted their way.  I wanted no part of such a thankless job.

It is the middle of the night. Except for the light from the screen, darkness envelops me.  We live and breathe in a time of much darkness.  News of self-serving greed and malice screams from the television, radio, and internet pages.  Politics and society are divided by cold chasms of immeasurable depth.  Ego and greed have replaced grace and faith as the fuel and motivation of actions.  And yet, the Word shines forth from corners; slivers of light mark the path of this journey called life.

He sent his messengers ahead of him into a village of partisan believers.  Because his journey led him toward Jerusalem instead of Shiloh, they turned him away. 

“Be the bigger man,” someone used to tell me.  I didn’t understand how I could be a “man” let alone a “bigger man.”  With time and experience I’ve come to appreciate the phrase despite its gender issues.  Jesus understood the concept; he rebukes the idea that they treat fire with fire and simply moves on.  In Matthew’s Gospel he instructs them with more detail:
As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.     Matthew 10:12-15  NRSV

Shake the dust from your feet as a testimony against them…. this is a strong image that would embarrass the hospitality code of the middle east where a host is expected to welcome the stranger and sooth the tired feet of the traveler.  The metaphor of leaving behind the dust of that inhospitable place is not lost in translation.  Rather than work the divide, rather than expend energy and resources upon those whose faces are set against civility, whose minds are set in their own agendas and egos, take nothing from them and journey on toward the goal.  Leave even their means and methods behind.  Be the bigger man; don’t stoop to the level of those who dwell in darkness.  Leave them to die in their darkness.  Move on toward the light.

It is the middle of the night. Except for the light from the screen, darkness envelops me.  Outside my window, light reflected from the waning moon leaves shadows in the grass and a
neighbor’s cat crouches in the shade of the magnolia tree.  That waning moon, the remains of the super moon of two nights ago, still shines even if less than in its full glory. 

“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Turned down by one village, Jesus sends his followers to yet another village in the same foreign land.  Ours is the journey of faith walking upon a road of grace.  There are no guarantees of welcome or rest; but the promise of light in the darkness remains.  Even the reflected light of a waning moon gives light; even in the night the blade of grass is illumined.  The scent of the magnolia cannot be hidden in the night.  The Word shines with grace that gladdens the sojourner even in the middle of the night. 

“Be the bigger man.”  “Shake the dust from your shoes.”  Journey beyond the reign of darkness in the faith that the dark with fade with the morning star.  

12 June, 2013

What's in Your Spiritual Garage?

Our garage is filled with the tangible evidence of our living. There are bookcases, cooking implements, computer software, a lawn mower, various kitchen utensils, lots of canning jars and a canner, ... well, you get the idea. The garage is filling up with the stuff that we've outgrown, out used, or just won't have a place for in either of our future homes. It's stuff we have to get rid of.

Some stuff has already been given or sold to others. A small TV with a DVD player to a church's nursery; a lawn mower to our neighbor; landscaping tools and some plants to yet another neighbor. Things we asked others if they could use because we thought they might and because we cared about what happened to them.

As I weed through the stuff in this house and think about what I really need for the next, I keep finding more stuff I really don't need. Why do I have so many sets of sheets when I only have one bed? Why so many sets of towels? Why so many curtain rods? Where did all these computer and phone cords come from anyway? The more I open boxes and closets, the more stuff that ends up in my garage for the sale. I really don't need most of this stuff. So why did I buy it in the first place? And where has it been hiding all this time?

Some things I take hold of and wonder if I could possibly live without even though they have no practical or monetary value. It's all in the sentimental or memory value. The box of letters my mother wrote to me over the years, the tattered and worn table scarf that was Dan's grandmother's, my mother’s cookbooks; and the dress I wore to my son’s wedding. These collect dust or sit in a box untouched. Some are too fragile to be handled. Their real value is in the memory, the association to a loved one, the emotional connection. I can't bring myself to throw them away. So into a box they'll go and they'll get moved yet again.

Then there are the things I thought I lost that I'm finding. The keys to my desk and firebox. The box of blank DVDs I replaced already. The angel food cake cutter that I bought in a kitchen specialty shop 20 years ago and only used once and lost. Treasures I fretted about losing that now will be sold in the garage sale. Not so valuable after all.

Moving is always a time to "clean house" and "clean out." We don't want so much weight in that moving van because we pay by the pound. This time, we're moving to a much smaller spaces -- two homes in different corners of different states that don't add up the same space we have now in one place. And, eventually (in 24 months), all the stuff we move to both places will have to fit into just one space again – While the parsonage where Dan will live is half again the size of where we live now, we have to move him on our own and will probably have to move him to where I land as well. So, we really must pare down what we own, sort through our stuff and prioritize what is really important to keep and what we throw away, and what we can pass along to others either through this sale or by donating to a charity. We must make choices today that we may regret later -- either because we got rid of something of value or kept something that has no value at the other end of the move.

What would a "spiritual move" do in our lives? What if we intentionally chose to journey from where we so comfortably live now in the faith to a different place -- a new place? What if we explored a different way to express or experience our faith? What would we need to leave behind, or put in our "spiritual garage sale"? What would we pack away into "spiritual storage"? And how much of that would we later unload?

It was a spiritual garage sale that began our journey to this place – ministry amongst a community in Southwest Indiana that we vowed we’d never live in after an interview here in seminary. We had to move to a whole new place spiritually to put ourselves where we could be open and ready to do God's new thing, re-imagine the Church for a new generation of people. We brought with us the necessities and a few things we didn't need. We left behind those things that were no longer useful. We had to find new tools and means once we began the new work. We made a move. We can't go back to where we were. We can only go forward to yet a new place.

As we ready ourselves to begin a new leg of our journey, moving on to other ministries in new places (yet to be determined in my case), we begin again the sorting and the sifting. This journey begins with divergent paths -- two journeys from one and merging again somewhere beyond the present. What will we need for the journeys? What will we take that we find we no longer need? What will we pass on to others who will find it useful?

Our garage is filled with the evidence of our material living. What is the evidence of our Spiritual living? What have we passed along to others? Given away freely? Offered at a price? What's in your Spiritual Garage Sale? 

Blessings, Carly