Monday, August 1, 2016

Listening Isn't "Normal"

I got to preach at Eucharist Church again recently but it's summer so there's no podcast...and some people have asked sooooooo here's where I posted this thing. Old blog! ha.

Sermon for July 24th. Luke 11:1-13

“Martha, Martha. You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Yup---that’s from last week’s text. But seriously! What did Mary choose that was better and wouldn’t be taken away from her?
--Sitting at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. OK I know this is last week’s passage not this week’s, and Kevin did such a fantastic job with this last Sunday we do not need to revisit it. But I think we need to start here still.

I missed church last Sunday so I did some FB sleuthing before Kevin posted his sermon, to see if there was any online responses to last week’s text. Anthony’s Facebook reflection was my favourite. He said, “I always think Jesus was a little unfair to Martha.” I also always thought Jesus treated Martha a little harshly. Kevin’s reflection last week softened the experience in my mind, but I still feel for her. Mostly maybe because for years I myself have been struggling so hard to learn from Mary. To take seriously what it means to sit at the Lord’s feet and listen to what he says. I’ve taken courses, read books, went to seminary, been a Martha about the whole thing, and still I have constantly found myself worried and upset about many things instead of just straight up saying “Lord, teach me to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Sitting at the Lord’s feet listening to what he says, ignoring what she had previously been taught by religious authorities and cultural assumptions.

So let’s look at today’s passage. One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. Not sure if this is one day after he left Mary and Martha’s place, or if it was one day weeks later, but it follows Mary and Martha’s story on the page so Luke, the author of this particular Gospel account, was using his words to teach us something specific about Jesus.

Jesus chose what was better---he had a habit of getting away from the crowds to go and pray. All over the Gospels. Makes sense to go and pray in places with fewer distractions right Martha? Either way Jesus’ disciples see him going away to pray and then he’s refreshed and he comes back to them to pick up where he left off. Maybe his disciples are jealous of his self-care habits, of his ability to conquer FOMO. I know I am jealous! And so one of his disciples asks him, “Lord, teach us to pray” and we perk up our ears because if they need to learn it even after walking alongside him it’s probably something we all need to learn about over and over and over again. I assume I’m not alone in this?
And because we all need to learn about this over and over and over again, Jesus’ response echoes throughout all the years of Christian history. We recite it every week these days, when we do Prayers of the People together. Kinda funny--I remember one of my neighbours growing up experienced the Lord’s Prayer for the first time at a funeral where everyone around her recited it together without the handy projector screen. She was in highschool at the time, a really nice interesting person with no church experience... and she said it was really creepy! If you don’t know it’s coming or what it means, I can imagine it would be so weird to suddenly be surrounded by people flawlessly reciting in unison words that are thousands of years in existence…

But before we take a brief look at this particular prayer (in ten minutes right Kev?) here’s a tangent I think worth pursuing. What comes first, the chicken or the egg!? Here’s the thing. WHAT IS PRAYER. Let’s backtrack a little so I can lay out some framework for a perspective that has helped me so much this week. In the beginning, God created the world. Genesis tells us that God spoke words and out of those words and that speech, creation exists. Whether you believe in evolution, or 6 day Creation, either way we can give God credit for speaking the world into existence because that’s how the story of creation begins, with creative words.

And God created man---male and female, in his image he created them. With the words he spoke. He spoke our purpose and our calling, spoke blessings over us. After the Fall he spoke the consequences with which we are ALL too familiar today. --This is all in the first three chapters of the Bible. The rest of the Bible tells us how, despite the Fall, we are still the image of God--and even more so since Jesus walked among us. In his life and death, Jesus showed us the clearest image ever of who God is, inviting us to follow in his image. Jesus spoke words with which he painted vast pictures of how we can relate to God and how God relates to us.

But how many times do our words create other gods, either in our own heads or in our communities. We are made in God’s image, and part of what that imaging means is that the words we speak can also create realities, in a way. And so the words we speak about God introduce our neighbours to the God we speak of and like Kevin said last week-----if we’re not carefully listening like Mary, then we risk pointing in the wrong direction. We’re always pointing in a direction. The world knows this, and manipulates the meanings of words like “success”, “belonging”, “need/want”, etc (SO MANY MORE WORDS). so that our world looks nothing like God intended and we get a little (a lot) worried and upset and distracted by it.
Maybe you missed some of what was happening in politics south of the border this week but it’s a great real-time illustration. I dunno how much detail to get into here but: a certain Pastor, from the great state of SOUTH CAROLINA!, prayed at the Republican Convention which seemed to be a big Trump celebration...and the words he used lead his listeners to believe some things that straightup contradict what is taught in Scripture. Again--Kev wrote a really great response to this on his FB wall the other day so if you’re curious what those contradictions look like, I will point you there rather than unpack it all here. But I listened to that prayer and thought, it’s scary how easy it is for so many people--Christians--to believe in a God whose enemy is Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.

For years I learned and thought and spoke about God in ways that made him seem distant, unpersonable, like speaking of him as a friend is actually disrespectful and dangerous. For years I felt uncomfortable if anyone referred to God as a Mother, or spoke of him as if he would just pop in here and there to point out the next person who needed an inspired hug. I never learned to listen to his actual voice in things like my imagination or the wind in the trees---it might be too charismatic or “kooky”, we can’t trust something that John Calvin or other reformers didn’t explain ---and I’ll be working on retraining my ears for a long while yet.

I realized this week that the image of God I grew up with, and my discomfort with anything that felt ‘religiously kooky’, was spoken and taught this way by a certain narrow worldview. The community who knows this version of God is beautiful and strong and desires to follow God’s direction and so many people I love call it home, but it is still struggling together to understand how God views women and our role in the church. (Can women vote on congregational matters? God probably doesn’t want women to vote. Never mind preach. I didn’t share too publically that I’m preaching today because there are people I see regularly who would be upset at me for standing here today…) It’s scary how easy it is for so many people--Christians--to believe in a God who thinks women should just do all the cooking and cleaning and childcare stuff.

OK this isn’t the tangent I wanted to spend time on. But actually it’s somewhere I need to stay for a while I think, personally, because sometimes how I have traditionally related to God is how I also end up relating to other people around me, and vice versa. I think often when I preach at Eucharist I’m actually preaching to myself. Thanks guys for being this stepping-stone in my own walk, and for asking me to take the space to sit with these thoughts.

I feel like that’s also how this sermon came about---technically I should have been looking at the roots of all the key words in the passage and looked up the original Greek in my big thrifted Strong’s concordance to see how Jesus’ Aramaic was translated there, and what his first listeners would have heard and what that means for us today. But for the past two weeks as I’ve thought about this passage, I’ve just received a couple words here and there, or a concept or two, like just this creating God in our image thing, and I’ve been piecing them together for today and it’s felt a little bit weird but it’s been lovely.

That’s a lie, it hasn’t all been lovely. I started out a couple weeks ago thinking skeptically about writing a sermon between my long exhausting workdays, and to be completely honest I was really really pissed for like a week---I was worried and upset with myself that I’d thought I should say yes to preaching again despite how every long day I’m “too tired to read the Bible”, or too busy have anything to talk about up here, let alone make dinner. Worried and upset with God that I get excited about theology things (and so many other things!) but that I’m spending all my time and energy at my landscaping job so please don’t anyone--especially God--expect me to spend my precious few free hours, especially my vacation week, writing a dang sermon at the beach.

And then I find myself worried and upset that I say I believe God calls women to do more than just cooking and cleaning and childcare stuff, because secretly I actually wouldn’t mind doing that instead of feeling called to cut grass right now because I’m TIRED of being tired from cutting grass.

It’s scary how easy it’s been for me to believe that because I’m working a pretty physically demanding job right now, I don’t get to think deep theological thoughts or just to sit and listen or even be home from work in time to eat dinner with friends, and that this means something for how successful I feel in life. If you know me at all you know I love cutting grass and I also hate it and it’s become for me a constant, years long battle in redefining my idea of what a successful life looks like and maybe I’m a walking illustration of this whole thing and that’s fine and you can ask me about that someday if you want to buy me a beer and listen some more.

The point, from my own experience with this passage, is that now I will pray the Lord’s Prayer with these questions in mind. How have I created God in my image? With a dictionary written by the general culture of patriarchy and scarcity and reactionary thinking and capitalism and dutch work ethic and whatever else has been shaping my worldview for the past 31 years.

When we speak the Lord’s Prayer, these words are Jesus’ words, they’re the things he said and is saying to us, and through us, and we create new realities by saying them and listening to each other say them. When we say these words, God’s Kingdom breaks in. Both in our hearts and in our communities as we speak them together, and as we continue reading Scripture together to explore what following Jesus successfully looks like.

We speak the truth until we can identify the lies we’ve been living. We boldly challenge social and cultural norms because the God we serve exists outside those norms and so the image we reflect is also outside those norms. Which I think is what Jesus means in his story in verses 5 through 8 of our text with the midnight traveling buddy, and the guy who breaks those social and cultural norms by asking his already-sleeping neighbour for help feeding midnight traveling buddy. It would have been completely acceptable---and very tempting----for sleepyhead neighbour to roll over and go back to sleep, except that this dude has boldly pulled the father-in-heaven-hospitality trump card,  and invited his sleepy friend to join him in offering a bite to eat to his traveling buddy. (like trump in euchre, not in US politics). Let us not be tempted by the social and cultural norms that let us get away with rolling over and going back to sleep.

All of Scripture is thousands of years of God giving us glimpses of who he is--both in the immediate context on the page and in the years of exegesis which follow. As in the opening words of this prayer, God has revealed himself to us using the generally universal image of a Father, so that in a patriarchal society where the father is the provider and protector and the source of life, these are some of the things we understand God to be for us. Of course there are so many layers that affect how we understand what a Father is and does, but Jesus’ purpose in comparing earthly fathers with our perfectly hospitable Father in heaven is that since it makes sense that our fathers bless us, generally, it makes MORE sense that God our Father blesses us even more.

Does that make sense? If “God the Creator” is the line drawing in the first words of Genesis, then “God the Father who provides better than our earthly fathers do” is the charcoal shading giving depth to the crinkles around the eyes. Jesse’s care for Dot adds some of the quirky eye-brow scruff, and Scott’s love for Morgan and Annika is God’s solid footsteps alongside us. Susan’s constant celebration of her boy Sid’s imagination and creativity adds blurriness to our collective image of God because he’s been clapping and dancing along with us as we rediscover life to the fullest.

And so. When our words can create new realities because we are made in God’s image, when with our words God’s Kingdom is breaking into our world, and when God the Father is SO MUCH MORE than just our Father and we can let him out of that box for once and for all, we can read Jesus’ teaching with crinkly eyes wider than the horizons we’ve known.

With Jesus we pray and we align our hearts and minds with his to see what he sees in these words, despite how kooky and countercultural it may have seemed at the time. In my case it meant just asking God to reveal his word for today and then actually trusting that he means what he says when he says Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you. Let’s remind each other of this every day, and learn to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen together.


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