Monday, July 28, 2008

Night Time Walk & Reflections...

Last night I went for a long walk along the beach to think, reflect and meditate on some of the things that have been roiling around within me ...

As I walked my thoughts focused on four main statements ...

1) God don't make no junk ...

2) my soul yearns to colur outside the lines ...

3) the place where prophets cry out ...

4) Words are cheap preacher ...

Last night as I walked these statements rolled through me as I thought about the last couple of years ... the transitions I've been experiencing ... the reality of the sting of rejections (and shunning) that has been an ALL too real part of my journey ... the uncertainty of the path ahead ... and the place (or lack of) for me in the Church ...

The first statement is a tee-shirt once cited by a mentor and friend who used it as a reminder of the radical nature of God's Love and Grace ... if we embrace this notion EVERY human being has value ...

The second statement is a line by a song by the Canadian Church oriented singing group Common Cup that was used as a hymn in the Sunday Morning worship service I had attended yesterday ...

The third statement is a line from the call to worship of that same service - a line that resonated deep within me and my understanding of ministry as a call to prophetic faith that asks the tough questions and challenges the people in the Church to consider if their actions are consistent with their faith ...

And the fourth statement waa good natured gibe directed my way from a friend when I was in ministry in amongst the Nuxalkmc in Bella Coola BC ... I hear the voice say partially in jest, and partially in derision - "talk is cheap preacher ..." and use it to reflect on whether my words are hollow or meaningful ...

As I walked, I realized just how cheap words have become, not only in the Church, but also in our society ... we fill space with noise ... we surround ourselves with a cacophany of audio interference that drowns out the world around us ... and perhaps most ominiously of all - we say words without thinking about the meaning for us, or for the listener ...

Just think about how easy is it to say - "I love you ..." without considering the full impact of the words, or what they really mean ...

I've mused previously about the flippancy and ease by which we say the word "Welcome" in our Churches, when in truth we are not offering a inclusive unconditional welcome, but seek to welcome in only the select few who meet our strict criteria for welcome and inclusions. Our 'welcome' sign has a hidden asterix that lays out those exclusions - one that becomes apparent ONLY when a community is under stress and living with fear ...

Today I listened to a sermon that highlighted the disconnect and the ease by which we say things without reflecting on the implications of our words ... the sermon was borrowed and simply read ... but it's message jarred with not only my understanding of faith, but the perspective of the community in which it was read ... The writer had taken Jesus' Parables on the Kingdom of God that were part of this week's lectionary reading, and used them as a launch pad for a proclamation on the merits of a Prosperity Gospel that benefits the chosen, while rejecting the un-chosen ...

The heart of the sermon was the example of an upper-middle class couple who "had it all" and decided that they needed more ... as an act of faith, they cashed in their investments, leveraged their capital and opened a franchise donut shop in their community and began to reap the benefits of being willing to risk their security in a business venture. I was OFFENDED by the example, but more than that I was offended by the implication that God had rewarded this couple for the faithful action of selling, leveraging and risking thier capital to open a business ...

There was no reference to social justice ... action ... no advocating of volunteering one's time, or donating one's wealth to groups like Habitate for Humanity, or other agencies addressing poverty, food and housing issues amongst the poor ... there was only a blatant celebration of this couple's faithful risk that paid off so richly, and using it as an example of what the Kingdom of God SHOULD BE like ...

Tonight as I walked in the darkness and thought about the four statements above - I realized the profound truth of - "talk is cheap preacher ..." The sermon was cheap talk ...

It spoke not to the needs of our society, or the challenges that the Church COULD be facing if it took it's faith seriously ... but rather it sought to comfort the comfortable, and to offer a prosperity Gospel that erroneously tells its followers that if they are faithful and dare to "reisk" they will be richly rewarded for their "faith".

There is NO outreach to the poor.
There is NO care of the needy.
There is NO tendingthe poor and hungry.
There is NO discomfort ...

There is only - take a chance and God will reward you ...

Life is simple ... be faithful and focus ONLY on your comfort and wealth and God will protect you.

THAT IS NOT THE KINGDOM OF GOD as I've come to see and understand it ... and that reflection jars with the underlying message of Jesus himself ... His vision of the Kingdom was NOT about accumulating wealth and being secure in your prosperity ... His vision was about feeding the hungry (and not charging them two fifty for a coffee and donut) ... clothing the naked ... housing the homeless ... tending the sick ... and visiting the lonely ...

You can wrap a Tim H's franchise in the niceties of a Prosperity Gospel ALL you want, but it still isn't a faithful response ... it is a shallow mis-reading of the Gospel and of Jesus' teachings ... a mis-reading the Church has embraced at it's own peril ...

Last night I realized my shunning and rejection BY the Church has as its causative factor THAT mis-reading of the Gospel ... I won't temper my tongue and tell the rich - "it's okay to donate their pennies to the poor ..." I preach from the place of the prophets who warn the fatted cows that they are WRONG ...

Today the Church needs prophets ... and it needs to hear the prophetic voices that tell it that the Prosperity Gospel that has taken hold is not only unfaithful it is just plain wrong ... Sadly though, there are few voices that have the courage to raise that message ...

... and those of us who have dared ... are increasingly finding ourselves outside lookingin... but fortunately - GOD DON'T MAKE NO JUNK ... and in my yearning to colour outside the lines, I will continue to heed the Spirit's calling that tells me to continue in the call to Ministry that I feel in my marrow and I have never doubted ... I just don't think my PLACE for ministry is in the United Church right now ...

And that is OKAY by me !!!

God's will, not ours will be done !!!


4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Shawn, found some sayings that really fit here:

SOMETIMES in the winds of change, we find our true direction.

Keep your face to the sunshine and you will not see the shadows - Helen Keller

Me

heartnurse said...

The preacher wrote a shallow sermon made for grade 3 congregation.
Problem is, in churches out there, there are a lot of grade 3audiences when it comes to their life on this eath waiting for their next big Mac.
That is why your job is just not working for you. It doesn't work for me as part of the congregation either.

shawn said...

another saying - one of my OWN ...

I DON'T preach no junk !!!

Amen Heartnurse ... you are SO right ... too many of my colleagues undervalue and under-estimate the ministry of preaching and offer what amounts to pablum and that green goop that comes in jars when we live in a world diverse in flavours, textures, spices and everything else culinary ...

We as preachers do a disserve to ourselves, our profession, our Church and our congregations when we offer tripe ... and sadly, too often tripe is the only item on the menu ...

When I preach - I craft a sermon by listening to the Spirit, and in ALL of the criticism leveled my way, I've NEVER been criticised for weak preaching ...

Caron said...

Thank you. I really appreciated your article.

And amen.

You may appreciate the work of Justin Peters. See: http://www.justinpeters.org and be sure to watch the "demo."

Keep pondering, keep contending.