A Cynic's Sermon Notes: 1.
Our new Padre recently preached about the Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 1.
Q: What is your only comfort in life and death?
A: That I am not my own, but belong--body and soul--in life and in death--to my faithful savior Jesus Christ.
I had to memorize these lines when I was 14 or so in order to make "Profession of Faith" (a formal way to become a Member at my parent's church, cool-aid drinking rights and all). This was a strange time for me.
I'm not convinced that my motives for doing this were based on
1. fear that I would somehow miss out on a cool retreat, a youth group hike, or heaven
2. shame that as the Pastor's daughter this was expected of me
3. peer-pressure because all of my friends were doing it. I know, I'd likely have jumped off the building too...
I'm not convinced my motives weren't those listed either.
I remember standing in The Holy Council Room in front of the 25-foot wide meeting table one night during the monthly Council Meeting. It was me against 13 old, white men who smiled and nodded as I clumsily and awkwardly recited Q & A Number One. This question and answer, this question that meant nothing to me. I had lived a privileged life. My only comfort in life at that point was that I would get to sit next to Mark Mayson on the bus the next morning. And that my crimping iron was in top shape. I had no knowledge or fear of death, save for my dear Uncle Albert whose death made the adults sad, and prompted in me a reverent silence to disguise my confusion in their midst.
So, my bias in hearing the sermon topic was palpable. I sighed, and I thought, what can you possibly say about this topic that hasn't been said at least 450 times over the past 450 years? I have this same revolt when I hear certain passages from the Bible. I am bored of them. And I am tired of hearing the same old phrases that seem to exist to help people brainwash themselves: "In God's timing," or "God will provide," or "God's comfort," etc. Worn out phrases thrown around as flippantly as greeting cards and carry as much power as "Just Do It," or "I'm lovin it." As if we've made God a capitalistic venture like all of his competition.
But Padre didn't recite those.
Instead he recited a litany of real-world shitty problems, stinky shit and all. He may or may not yet know the despair of a stressed-out, sleep-deprived mother, or have heard the tension spoken and hidden in an almost-broken marriage, or recognize the thought patterns of a lonely and suicidal life. But he told some stories that sounded like he did.
And then he talked about the courage it takes for humans to face and feel and live in... this depravity, this brokenness, this loneliness. And I'm not yet sure what this means, that I am courageous if I "let the loneliness wash over me." It seems like saying I'm courageous if I feel like crap. And I don't find this particularly courageous, and neither does my family. They like it much better when I'm not... feeling the pain. So, perhaps, what he meant to say was that it is courageous when I let the pain wash over me when it doesn't affect all of the humans who depend on me for their daily bread, toilet paper, and hugs.
Then it occurred to me that maybe the adults in The Holy Council Room decades ago smiled when they heard my memorized lines because they knew. They knew I would need that comfort. Some day. Maybe they smiled because they could see that I did not need those words yet. Perhaps they saw my innocence, the kind that can provoke a sort of smiling jealousy that looks like a weird smirk.
Padre ended with this: "We may find these are the stories dreamed in the heart of God--when we see him face to face." And I don't understand why God would dream of depravity. But perhaps by "dreamed" he meant "known" the way we know someone when we look into their eyes for a long time at close range. I dare you to try it. You will walk away a different human.
I am not my own. But I've certainly worked hard for many years to convince myself that I am. I forget most of the time that I belong to someone, something else. And much like all of my household chores, exercise, and being nice to others that I forget to do, I neglect to admire the faithfulness of God. Yet, here I am, almost four decades into this game of life, this dance around objects and ideas, the tangible and the invisible... still listening to the voice of God, spoken through a conduit, wondering if God got my Change Of Address Card, and then quite sure that he did.
(And, because I am immersed in a shockingly secular academic world right now, and longing for the Spiritual, I will attempt to open up comments to hear your thoughts and hopefully offer mutual encouragement. Thanks.)