July 26, 2012

Idle and Blessed

A couple of weeks ago the New York Times had two articles about one of the odd and troubling aspects of modern life. One, in the Review section, was about how busy we are, how being busy has become a mark of meaning, a sign of importance and worth. We are too busy to see friends, too busy to take a day "off," too busy to step out of the ratrace even for a moment. The other article was in the Travel section and was about how hard it is to unplug on vacation. The ubiquitious email, the "bing" of messages, the vibrating phone -- all those divide our attention. We keep one ear listening for the sounds of work in case we miss something important. And what happens is that we risk missing that which is truly important, and we are never fully present where we are in the moment. Children are laughing, old people are telling stories, young mothers are singing babies to bed, the ocean is washing the cares of the world away -- and we are busy listening for the latest office email.
I have been more intentional this year about giving my wholehearted attention to the place and the people where I am. I have been spectacularly un-busy. I have had fascinating conversations with a three-year-old, and have listened to the prayers of tiny toddler. I have sat on the beach and dozed. I have napped. I have cooked with my mother and brother, read the paper every morning with my father, and shared a bed with sister just as we did when we were little.
I have been idle and blessed, and it has been like an unceasing prayer, a prayer of thanksgiving for all the bounty of this life, this family, this time. Amen.
The Summer Day by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?  
from New and Selected Poems, 1992 Beacon Press, Boston, MA    

July 11, 2012

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

What’s Your Story?

Mark 6:1-12

For the past several weeks, we have been reading stories about the early days of Jesus’ ministry.  The stories tell of Jesus healing and raising people out of death, stilling the storm, casting out demons.  There are miracles at every turn, it seems. 

Great crowds gather to watch, some out of curiosity, no doubt, wanting to see this spectacle; others out of need, seeking healing and wholeness for themselves or someone they love.  Some see and believe that this is godly power; others dismiss Jesus as just another trouble-maker or a heretic. 

But whatever the crowds think, the stories spread.  They inspire the faithful and challenge the skeptics.  The stories are told and retold. And eventually, they are written down and spread even further. 

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the story of Jesus returning to his hometown and going to the synagogue.   We’ve heard Mark’s account this morning, and it is a little different from the other versions.  That is understandable, isn’t it?  Two or three people can be involved in the same event and each one will have a different perspective. 

As Mark tells the story, we know how Jesus’ visit to Nazareth affected him.  The negative reaction of the people is powerful and makes it all but impossible for him to minister among them. 

But there are other stories here, too.  What about the people who heard him teach that day, those who were offended by his teaching?  How were they affected?  What story would they tell about this encounter?  I invite you to imagine one of those stories with me.

Well, I’d known him all his life, and he was always a nice boy.  His mother was glad to have him take up the family business and support her, and he was a good carpenter, steady and strong.  But he always seemed to be thinking about something else, and that cousin of his, John, was not a good influence.  One day, he just up and left, went to see John in the wilderness somewhere down near Jerusalem, where he got baptized or something. 

He came back home after that but he was not the same.  That was when he started his work as an itinerant preacher.  It just about broke his mother’s heart when he left home.  And the stuff he was saying and doing – oh my goodness – we all knew he would get into trouble with the authorities.

I remember that Sabbath when he came back to Nazareth to visit.  In our synagogue, men and women worshipped together and I was there that day when Jesus stood up and started to teach.  We were all so impressed by his confidence, his knowledge, his wisdom.  But the more he talked, the more it seemed he was challenging us.  His interpretation of the scriptures was not what we were used to.  And somehow I felt …accused…or guilty….or something. We were good people, weren’t we?  But I felt like I needed to defend my beliefs against what he was saying.

And then I just got angry.  I think a lot of us did.  I mean, who did he think we was to presume to teach us about God, to tell us what it meant to be faithful.  He was only a carpenter, after all, not a rabbi, and not even from a respectable background.  Of course, Joseph had raised him, but we had never been quite sure about who his father really was. And where was his respect for his elders?  I was old enough to be his mother; I’d changed his diapers, for goodness sake. And now here he was, acting like he was God or something. 

We never got to see any of those miracles we’d heard about.  And when he left us that time, we knew he would not be back.  It was almost as though he had shaken the dust of Nazareth off his feet and moved on.  And I’m sorry that it turned out the way it did, but we were right about him getting into trouble. I just never thought he would get himself killed, and certainly not like that.

You know, I’ve thought a lot about that day in the synagogue since he died.  I can’t remember exactly what he said but I know now that he was trying to show us some deep truth about God, and all we could see was an ordinary person we’d known all our lives. 

I’d give almost anything to be able to sit in that synagogue and hear him teach again.  And maybe I can.  The ones who were with him while he was alive say that he is still present, that he is alive in a new way.  I don’t know what to make of that, exactly.  But I do know that he keeps on teaching.  I hear his stories all the time.  It is as though he left parts of himself behind in those who were willing to take what he offered. 

I didn’t do that when he was here, but I’m doing it now.  I’m looking for him in the most ordinary places; I’m listening for him in the voices of those around me; I’m trying to live so God can use me to do that for others.  And maybe there has been a miracle in our midst because I feel like I’m meeting Jesus in a whole new way.  I feel like I’ve been given another chance to know him.  

And that’s my story. 

What’s your story? 

Are you one of those ordinary people who bears God into the world?  Are you one who teaches Christ?  What story are you telling the world with the way you live your life?  You may be the only gospel some people ever hear. 

And where do you yourself meet Christ?  Do you expect to encounter him in the words of a brother or sister, a familiar friend, an ordinary person?  When your faith is weak, do you draw strength from the Christ in another’s heart? 

Jesus is in our midst, still teaching, still healing, still challenging.  All we have to do is receive what he offers.  The great story of God’s love, God’s power made perfect in weakness, God’s all-sufficient grace, was lived out in Jesus; and now that story lives in us. 
Go and tell!