My experience at Luther Hostel last week reinforced some things that I think many of us who care about the church sense at some level – that something’s wrong with the church, and that something’s going to have to change to turn the ship around!
I don’t need to list all the evidence that is pointing to a diminished institution as we know it. What do we do to prepare ourselves for the changes – even transformation – to which we are heading whether we like or not?
Probably encouragement. Maybe even challenge. But I suspect some comfort as well.
I’m not going to articulate in this sermon what that specific mission will be because quite frankly I don’t know. In this congregation I’m the new kid on the block and I’m still in information-gathering mode. I’m learning about your history and just beginning to get a sense of what makes you tick, what inspires you, what your passions are in all things church-related. And this is where we’re going to have to start in determining what that mission will be.
But I do believe I know how some of that transformation might take place.
Two things happened on the first day of Luther Hostel to me that may illustrate how new life will come to our lives, our community, our church.
Because early on the first day we traveled on a school bus over an hour to the Six Nations reserve in Brantford I held off my first coffee before the trip. I didn’t want to suffer the bouncing need to use a washroom during the drive. Been there, done that. Not again.
But I also (falsely) assumed that upon arriving, there would be coffee somewhere. As it turned out I didn’t have my first coffee of the day until supper time.
The other disorienting experience was I realized I wasn’t going to be doing any driving, not only that day but for the whole week. As one who now averages about 500 kilometers a week behind the wheel, I didn’t know what to do with myself!
Being without those two, simple, routine comforts disoriented me.
But I soon realized that feelings of withdrawal were a precursor for something good, even better. What initially disoriented me prepared me for a holy re-orientation.
I had to let go of something for the sake of what was happening that was more important. The wider truth of my discomfort is to say that ‘life begins at the end of our comfort zone’ (thanks to @soulseedzforall for that pearl!). Life begins at the end of our comfort zones.
On the first day of Luther Hostel a bunch of us mostly white, ethnically northern Europeans visited Mohawk Institute — the first residential school in Canada. We heard about the painful stories of abuse suffered by the aboriginal, First Nations, children at the hand of church and government leaders there. In the sharing and storytelling I was nevertheless encouraged by our meeting with traditional native peoples. Because the circle of this story-telling was expanding.
There was something going on here that was much bigger than me. I couldn’t let my banal neediness sabotage the important things that we needed to learn that day, however difficult. My life was enriched by that learning — no coffee aside. At some point that morning I had to surrender myself to the experience. It was a giving it up — sort of like in Lent, a discipline. And I realized by the end of the day I didn’t really need that morning coffee.
Jesus often does this to get his point across. He ‘breaks things down’ before presenting the new thing. He disorients his listeners in order to REorient them. In so doing he is consistent with the biblical tradition:
The prophet Jeremiah often uses the language of “plucking up” and “breaking down” in his poetry; he refers to the Israelite need of giving up the securities of land and religion to prepare for God’s next great act in their lives: exile – not something, by the way, they at first welcomed.
In Jesus’ day loyalty to family was the backbone of society maybe even more so than today. But I think we can feel the offense in his statement implying that his own family is inferior. Could he even be universally denouncing the traditional, family unit? We could think so, when he asks rhetorically and maybe even facetiously, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”
But for Jesus to describe the new family his kingdom stands for — inclusive of all people including those at the margins — he first needs to shock us out of our assumptions of what family is. He needs to de-construct ‘family’ before rebuilding it.
Not that he is anti-family. But he holds out for what is better in the long run. What will be rebuilt is much better than what has been.
But first we need to let go. And that’s the hard part, to be sure: In our personal lives do we want things to change for the better? In our economy do we wish for better days? In our church do we want to include more young people? In all these and other areas, in our yearning for the new, the better — what first do we need to question, to let go of, to de-construct?
If the prospect of letting go of something or someone precious frightens us to the point of paralysis, take heart people of Faith!
At the point of Jesus’ deepest letting go, at the point of the ultimate ‘break-down’ of his life on the Cross, he demonstrates a profound love for his mother.
Jesus does love his family. From the cross he prays for his Momma, that she be taken care of (John 19:26-27). In his dying breath he prays for her. At the point of God’s very own death Jesus does not forget us. There is indeed nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Saint Paul, Romans 8:38-39).
But Jesus’ vision is greater than us. Jesus’ ‘breaking down’ is for all people. His kingdom includes those whom at first we might consider outsiders, lazy, second class.
The Cross, according to German theologian Jurgen Moltmann, represents a momentary ‘crack’ between the Father and the Son, revealed in Jesus’ cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) There appeared a break in the Trinity, a crack in the divine relationship, in which Father and Son suffered mutually.
But this crack opened the possibility for the Holy Spirit to enter and bind the Godhead together. So, the triune God experienced a separation of sorts before unity was to be re-established. And God accomplished this reconciliation for the sake of Jesus, and resurrection — new life — for everyone!
At the end of that first day at Luther Hostel, I SO enjoyed my next cup of coffee. And I appreciated the privilege to drive my vehicle. I approached these simple routines with renewed gratitude.
And I look to God’s gracious leading us, in little and maybe big ways, to the end of our comfort zones. To see what happens where life begins anew.