Speak the word

This past weekend I preached at my internship site on Luke 7:1-10. Here’s what I said:

Grace and peace to you from our savior and Lord, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

It’s a weird time to be a pastoral intern. I mean that in my calendar here – we’re less than three month away until my internship is complete. I wrote in my personal calendar a couple weeks ago all the preaching and worship assisting weekends I have left and got to see what Sunday will be my last one where I preach (I won’t spoil it for you, you’ll have to wait and see).

The thought crossed my mind, “Wow, that’ll be fun, I’ll preach what’s on my heart and what I feel God really wants me to say, and I’ll put it all out there.”

But that’s not really a way to preach on a last Sunday. That’s how you preach every time.

So here we go:

Today’s Gospel story is all about speaking the word.

Because that’s what this centurion, a Roman officer, asks Jesus to do so his servant can be healed. He says speak the word and heal my servant.

Like Ezekiel speaks and dry bones get up and walk like we read in the Old Testament.

Jesus here speaks and heals a man, and he’s not even near him.

Speaking changes things. Speaking changes people.

Speak the word.

Like the apostles dared to speak as they felt a spark of fire on top of their heads after Jesus ascended into heaven.

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Speak the word – not knowing what exactly you’ll say, but trusting beyond a shadow of a doubt that God will speak through you – Christ will bring new life through you – and the Holy Spirit will unite people through you, speak the word.

And yes, I am playing with words here. We use words to write and speak, and Jesus is also the word in the beginning with God (John 1). Jesus found a home here in our skin to know our ups and downs, our emotions and experiences all the way to death on a cross; so that he might give us abundant life…so that we might rise in a resurrection and new life with him. We have the privilege of speaking words and the word.

Now, you might be thinking, that since I’m a pastoral intern and Kathy and Peter are your pastors, that we speak the word, that’s our job, but I have bad news for you: you are called to as well. In Acts 2 it says, “for the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”– a promise that holds you and calls you to speak.

“Speak the word and let my servant be healed”—for Jesus speaks through you for the sake of someone’s life.

This looks like Moses when God spoke to him and called him through the burning bush.

This looks like the women at the tomb who first witnessed the resurrection.

This looks like the Samariatan woman at the at the well in the gospel of John, who for all intensive purposes should not have been talking to Jesus, a single man, in broad day light, but nonetheless went back to her town praising God and calling her people to join in this movement of Jesus.

This year Pastor Peter and I taught “A Year of Living Luke” and together we dove into the book of Luke and had some fun and good questions along the way. During the Spring at the end of every class I asked two questions: now that we’ve read this Bible story, what have we learned about who Jesus is, and who we are? Who is Jesus? Who are we?

I took notes, and over the weeks this is who we discovered Jesus is to us:

Slide A

Caretaker, healer, truth-teller, and yes, at times you can see “frustrated” on the right side.

This is who we are:

Slide B

Seeker, blessed, learners, afraid, filled, wanting, self-centered.

Today we hear this Roman officer strongly encouraging Jesus – speak the word, and let my servant be healed. Let one of my people be healed.

Jesus, let us be healed.

Because at the root of this, and I think you know this, Jesus speaks through you. The Spirit of Jesus continues to soar in our lives, calling us to moments where we can lend a hand, help a stranger, and serve those who are struggling. I think you know this, but Jesus continues to redeem this world, to heal this world, and to bring love to this world, still today, through you. Jesus speaks through you.

You might be wondering though, like I do: What if we don’t speak the word? Sometimes I think speaking the word or a word of love, peace, or hope can be left to the experts; I’d rather not get into that business. Maybe you’re thinking that too.

So what if we don’t speak?

I’m willing to bet that God will find a way to bring about hope and love in this world. It’s not up to us to save the world or heal the world. We just trust God is working through us in some capacity – but what if we don’t. What if we don’t speak the word?

My question back to you: Why does that matter?

Are you asking because you don’t have enough time—time that God gave you?

You don’t have enough money/resources—money/resources that God gave you?

You don’t have enough brain-space—a beautiful intelligent brain that God gave you?

I don’t mean to guilt-trip anyone here. But we’re sounding an awful lot like Moses.

Because Moses was also:

Slide B

Confused. Grateful. Wanting. Filled. Blessed. Afraid.

Wherever Moses was, and wherever you are, the words you speak–of love, forgiveness or healing–matter. Speak the word.

I wonder, do you know why we say the words of institution every week, the words before communion, “In the night in which he was betrayed…this cup…shed for all people… do this in remembrance of me?”

Because you heard these words last week. You heard those words 5 weeks ago. Maybe you heard those words last week on this same fourth weekend in May. Maybe your parents heard those words the weekend they knew they were driving the family to their new home, or the weekend after one of their parents’ passed away. Your pastors heard those words when they were kids. The people who built this sanctuary, this church, heard those words. The people gathered to ordain the first woman in our Lutheran church in 1971 heard those words. This church’s grandparents and great-grandparents. A skeptical yet faithful Catholic priest in 1517 said these words. At the risk of death by their colonizers, the first followers of Jesus said these words behind closed doors. Jesus said these words to help his closest friends know that they are and will not be alone, because his story of abundant love and everlasting salvation holds them.

Because words make dry bones walk.

They help us understand that my story is your story, and your story is our story.

And like the women at the tomb, they remind us with new eyes and new ears that Christ has risen from the dead.

That is not something that you keep in! Speak the word!

I’ll end with two stories.

In New Jersey, a Jewish rabbi heard a window crack and fire filled his room. Someone threw something like a firebomb into their home, which is the second floor of their synagogue. He was targeted in a hate crime because he was Jewish. Days later he was talking with other religious leaders in the area, and the mail started pouring in. Letters of love and support came to their synagogue from all over the country, from leaders of Jewish, Christian, and Lutheran faith communities, colleges and organizations. Those written words were spoken so that this faith community heard loud and clear: fear and death do not have the final word.

At the Spring commencement this year for the Harvard Graduate School of Education, graduate Donovan Livingston shared the wisdom and observation of his 7th grade teacher: “let’s put all your energy to good use.”

In Donovan’s speech and spoken word poem, he then shares what she once spoke to him: “Let me introduce you to the sound of your own voice.”

Let me introduce you to the sound of your own voice–a voice that, in all your imperfections and “not good enoughs,” can speak a word of love and new life.

Speak the word.

A new word is here. What is it saying to you?

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Showing up & being present in our differences

My blog will keep going, but my reflection series from my “Adults and Lifelong Learning” class is done! This post is a little long, but stay with me! It’s been so fun to learn, laugh, and reflect with Prof. Mary Hess this Spring as I complete my Master of Divinity degree. What’s next? I’ll give an update when I have a clear update, ha! … serenity prayer, anyone?

This class has been a significant place of learning in my brain and heart, so thank you Mary! Thanks to Timothy, my spouse, for our conversations that often have been the impetus for many of my blog writings, and bigger life thinking – we’re shaping our story together, Timothy, and my gratefulness is too deep for one sentence (and I thought you were the one who uses run-on sentences). Thanks too to YOU, my friends and family in learning and leading, here in Minnesota, in Washington, in between, and in farther off places than that! Stay in the arena and keep asking questions and leading out a place of hope and passion. I can’t think of a better quote to sum up my hope, and for us, as big-hearted, broken, beautiful people:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly. – Teddy Roosevelt.

I shamelessly pulled this from Brene Brown‘s TED talk, and this quote inspires me to push myself out of my comfort zone, and I think for her too. I think I can safely say that if you read my blog with any regularity, you saw that coming. Oh Dr. Brown. I cherish your email reply to me, even though it was only 12 words long: “Hi Allison, Check out Grounded Theory by Glaser and Strauss. Thanks, Brené.” Yes, she put an accent mark above the “e”. I literally just sighed. Some day we will change the world together, Brené, some day.

Anyway, as Mary and I were batting around possible topics for this final reflection, she suggested looking at a parable through the lens of what I’ve been learning about how people make meaning an all sorts of varied and different ways.

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We literally were sitting like this (not really) when we dreamed up this post. But this is Mary & me!

I said parables are cool, but what about the experience of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well? Talk about two worlds smashing together. A male, a Jewish religious leader in an authoritative position. A woman, unaccompanied, who has been married five times, from Samaria. Running into each other at a well during the hottest part of the day in the Middle East. In the spirit of the Major League Baseball season starting, this is a pickle.

Just so you know, this isn’t an attempt to put a Jesus-bandaid on lifelong learning. I could quote the Bible with glowing images of our beautiful creation, or little smiling children running to Jesus. But I don’t think Scripture was meant to be cherry-picked in order to support a point. At least, I don’t think that gives Scripture enough credit, or really, it’s own voice.

The Samaritan woman at the well is important to consider as we wrap up this class on how people learn and make meaning, because it shows our insatiable desire to be known by our people and by God (and yes, I’m using the Bible to make a point, but as a wider, frequent theme of the Bible I’m going to say it’s ok). This is not a Bible study or a one-size-fits-all reflection. I want to show that there are a lot (a bajillion?) of points of views on the Bible, and as people in the buzz of spiritual questions/reflection, our task is to be empathetic with each other’s ways of making meaning, no matter how well thought out, complex, or black and white they might be. Why? Because your neighbor wants to be loved (spoiler alert: and is worthy of love), just as much as you are.

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The Northern Lights, in a diversity of color like our diversity of reflections on the Bible.

Curiously enough, this is the space and complexity that Jesus finds himself in when he runs into this woman at a well thousands of years ago. Jesus and the Samaritan woman aren’t just neighbors from different sides of town (80-90+% of US citizens live in urban spaces, think about how hard it is to wrap our heads around this?). They are from different nomad, rural traditions and cultures – Jesus, a Jew from Bethlehem, and this woman from Samaria who the writer of John shares little about. These are cultures with deeply embedded communities and practices, and histories that root them not only in centuries but in millennia.

As much as I am scared for them as a former camp counselor (for legal reasons, rule of three), I’m scared for them if their people, or their neighbors, or their family comes and finds them: a woman and a man from differing and clashing cultures speaking alone. Jesus’ crucifixion (and this woman’s almost-sure stoning to death) could have come quicker than we know them to be. I know, the Bible’s gross, but who are we kidding, isn’t our world now, today?

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In case you print this out, have fun coloring this inaccurate portrayal of the Samaritan woman! Ok that’s my sass, now we can move on.

This is a text that comes up in a lectionary (a widely published rotation of Bible passages assigned for each Sunday) that somewhere around 4 million+ ELCA Lutherans and other Christians hear every three years. Many of those people hear in the sermon that the point of this story in the 4th chapter of John is that Jesus saves, even adulterous women.

I don’t want to belittle this perspective, but with some deeper digging into this Scriptural text, I realized that this woman was a survivor of a system that punished women. This kind of thinking that men are good and women are bad is the black and white thinking we find in 3rd order thinking (according to Robert Kegan, the author of In Over our Heads which has informed my learning this semester). Just to refresh our thinking, here’s what 1-5 orders of thinking/consciousness means:

To be clear I’m not saying that those in a more 3rd order of thinking are sexist. Not at all. I am saying that having a 3rd order frame of mind, and perpetuating systems that function in 3rd order frames, provides a fertile environment for victimization, “us vs. them,” and over all “othering.”  I think the frequent sermon on this text screams that our church, its cultures, communities, leaders, and conversations, are often functioning in a 3rd order space. There is only room for the conclusion that Jesus is the ultimate good, and therefore this woman is the ultimate bad that Jesus was merciful enough to pardon and save.

We have to remember that the point of this model is to provoke empathy in each of us for those using the same frame as us, and for people who are at different frames. Me saying, although I am tempted to, “The conclusion that ‘The Samaritan woman has committed adultery and is therefore only just barely save-able by Jesus, and bless her heart she is’ is stupid and I’m never coming back when this preacher is preaching again,” is not empathetic nor pushing us toward being in community like God calls us to be.

So what do we do? What do we do when we go to a church, for the 1000th time or the 1st time, and hear a sermon that is close-minded and so black and white that we couldn’t even stay to the end of the service?

Do we shake the pastor’s hand at the end and say “Good sermon” or “That was a terrible sermon! How about you try living as a first-century woman who is only valued for her slave labor and ability to give birth as she gets shuffled from brother to brother”? Or, do we come back next Sunday, say nothing, and instead connect with your friend back home via Facebook Messanger, only using Pusheen emoticons?

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If you were wondering, yes, this was a very intense conversation.

Honestly I don’t like any of these options. They scream anger, passivity, insecurity, and isolation. This isn’t what Jesus wanted for his followers 2,000 years later, this isn’t what Kegan would want as people use his model to examine how we make meaning, and this isn’t what I want as someone who doesn’t know what the future holds but knows that we are made our fullest selves together, working toward one mission, not apart in isolation.

Hey, do you have time for coffee? I’m often free Monday mornings, Tuesday afternoons…

We meet at Starbucks (of course), and instead of undercutting their sermon with historical critical analysis, cultural appropriation, and gender dynamics in first-century Palestine, I ask:

Where are you from? … Does your family still live there? … How did you meet him/her? (if relevant) … What brought you to where you work/study/lead/learn now? … Wait, how did you get from there to here? … This might be an odd question, but why is that important to you?

My point is that we have to listen to each other’s stories. I wonder if a significant percentage of pastors and people-oriented roles have experienced hurt in one way or another in their life. This is why they serve, which is beautiful. But it’s also why they sometimes find comfort in 3rd order thinking, in black and white paradigms, because their structured thinking gives them comfort. It gives safety.

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I’m learning that the biggest way that I can change someone’s hurtful, harmful, or dark behavior, theology, mind, or way of thinking is not through teaching, nor sermon-ing. It’s by example. It’s by showing up. It’s doing little things when I think no one is watching. It’s preaching when I don’t think anyone is listening (accentuated by a little girl last year asking me after a service, “Who made God?” and I had no answer); it’s recycling when I could have just dumped it in the trash; it’s writing when I think no one is reading, it’s dancing when I think no one is watching, it’s caring for my body and eating/buying healthy when I think no one is paying attention, it’s caring for and filling with pride for my spouse, one of my most cherished vocations, when I it feels like too few people care what lies in his future.

Lecturing someone who has preached from a 3rd order frame of mind about the “adulterous” Samaritan woman will probably not make a huge impact. It might. But I think what’s more impactful, in lifelong friendship, in lifelong collegeial relationships, in lifelong communities (we’re just a small portion of the church!), in lifelong learning, is showing a different frame of mind, not lecturing about a different frame of mind.

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Growing into a 4th order frame of mind looks like venturing into the unknown with questions, wonderings, and possibilities.

This looks like me offering my historical/cultural analysis in my own leading, designing learning experiences, and preaching, and going back to school to get the credential that shows my church my value and leadership. Yes, there is a tinge of hurt in that last sentence, that it’s only through ordination that I am entrusted with leading in sermon-ing, and leading a community in experiencing communion and baptism, and leading in other ways… so far. Times might change. Systems might change. Expectations might change. It’s through showing up for coffee and modeling a different kind of meaning-making that might be prompt perhaps the most significant learning of all.

For reference and varying views on the Samaritan woman:
John by Karoline Lewis, Fortress Press: 2014. The Women’s Bible Commentary by Carol Newsom and Sharon Ringe, Westminster/John Knox Press: 1992. John by Gerard S. Sloyan, John Knox Press, 1988.