Monthly Archives: June 2012

Marian’s second “first” sermon

“A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.  Probably  because of all those times he was caught cow-tipping.”  (Mark 6:4, 21st Century Gen X version)

In January, I preached my first wildly successful sermon to a throng of twenty in the rugged mountain town of Idaho Springs.  I’d never laid eyes on any of the parishioners; they’d never seen me.  But they took me under their wing and the day went off without a hitch.  I get a warm, fuzzy feeling every time I think of it.

This Sunday, I’m preaching for the first time at my home church.  Several family members and friends will also be attending.  Therefore, this has the potential of being a whole different ballgame.

Jesus said, “A prophet is despised in his own land.”  I interpret this to mean that you can’t reasonably expect people to take your message about the kingdom of heaven all that seriously when they have seen you trim your toenails in the living room, laugh hysterically at every fart joke you ever heard, and regularly scrutinize the scandal sheets for a glimpse of Colin Firth without his shirt on.*  The people who remember the day you agonized over penning the perfect fan letter to Ricky Schroeder are not going to reflect somberly on your insights about the incarnation.  The people who watched you inelegantly navigate the waters of post-divorce dating are probably going to react with skepticism when you talk about fulfillment in the body of Christ.  And the people who applauded the alternative “ecumenical” lyrics you wrote to John Rutter’s “I Believe in Springtime” (repurposed as “I Believe in Zombies”) aren’t going to give a second’s thought to how much time and care you spent selecting thematically integrated hymns this worship service.

Well, at least I know what I’m up against this Sunday.  Maybe I should work a fart joke in, just so everyone knows I’m not getting above myself.

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* It’s been almost a year since I started this blog and I finally got a Bridget Jones reference in.  She shoots, she scores!  Oof…fell off.

© Marian the Seminarian, 2012


Discipleship on a need-to-know basis

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.  (Matthew 9:9)

Several years ago when my brother and I were training to become river guides, an old veteran river runner offered us this sage observation:  “You have to be a little crazy to do this job.”  To that, and with the benefit of hindsight, I would add: “And lacking certain essential information.”

An angel fills Matthew in on what he “needs to know”

In the literature of “The Call,” Matthew’s is one of the most terse invitations to discipleship.  Now, maybe the author didn’t want to steal thunder from the Son of Man by going into overmuch detail about how he got hired.  Or maybe the invitation (or the inviter) was just that compelling; there really was no way to resist.  As always, I suspect we don’t have the entire story at our disposal.  Filling in the blanks, I suspect that Jesus identified in Matthew a guy who was “a little crazy,” the kind of guy who would ditch a perfectly lucrative career, blissfully unaware of just what essential information he didn’t have.

If I’d known about the black flies that infest the banks of the White River every June, would I have signed up to be a river guide?  If I’d known about how Mee Canyon regularly tops out at about 110 degrees in July, would I have signed up to be a river guide?  If I’d known how difficult it is to fish a submerged canoe out of water running 17,000 cfs*[i], would I have signed up to become a river guide?   

The short answer is: Hell, no.  Which is why I’m glad I didn’t have all the facts when I signed on.  Because guiding is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, partly because I would have thought that any one of the aforementioned scenarios would kill me or, at the very least, make me insufferably bitchy.  Facing them has taught me a lot about my relationship with the Divine (“God is my stern paddler[ii]), about the importance of asking for  – and accepting – help from people, and the camaraderie that arises out of intense, shared experiences.

Would Matthew have signed on with Jesus if he’d known that his teacher was bound for crucifixion?  Would he have signed on if he’d known he’d spend the end of his life a world away from the land of his birth[iii]?  Would he have signed on if he’d known he’d have to write a book about it?[iv]

My guess is, maybe not.  Good thing that the God who makes the blind see and opens the door to those who knock also knows when a “need-to-know” basis is required for discipleship.    

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[i] Cubic Feet per Second, the standard measurement for river flow levels.  On the river where this particular dump happened, 17,000 cfs comes out to about 35 miles an hour.  Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration.  It was probably more like 5 miles an hour.  But still, try pulling up behind someone at a stoplight at 5 mph someday and imagine how it would feel to lose your brakes at that moment.  Suddenly, 5 mph seems like terminal velocity.

[ii] By which, I mean that God is my captain, steering our course from the back of the boat – which, in nautical parlance, is called the “stern.”  This is not intended to be an oblique reference to the God of Zephaniah, who, by most accounts, was a pretty crabby character.

[iii] There aren’t any authoritative sources on exactly how or where Matthew died, but according to newadvent.org, most of the unauthoritative sources say he wound up in Ethiopia.  Or maybe Persia.  Big diff.  Unless, of course, you’re Ethiopian or Persian.

[iv] The Gospel of Matthew.  I’ve never been crucified, but as a published author/editor of two books, I’m here to tell you, writing a book ain’t no frickin’ picnic, either. 

© Marian the Seminarian, 2012


God’s eye is on the sparrow

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.  Luke 12:6-7

About three years ago, a new couple moved into our condo complex.  Despite being noisy and shrill and occasionally waking us up with early morning squabbling – sometimes with each other and sometimes with other residents – they have been good neighbors.  And they’ve been even better parents.  We figure by now they probably have at least nine kids.  Not all of them living at home, of course.  Because when home is forty-five feet above ground, it’s important to make sure you get each batch of kids out on their own and on the wing as soon as possible.

I’m talking about a family of crows.

In early April, we noticed that our nesting pair had returned to their favorite address – a humongous pine tree right across from our third-floor balcony with a cup-like crown that makes seeing the actual nest impossible, even with binoculars.  Except for the nearly daily intrusion of one particularly pestiferous squirrel, the crow family lives entirely unmolested and largely, I suspect, undetected.

In mid-May, we heard the first peepings of baby crows.  Three weeks later, the peepings had become baby crow caws.  Good efforts, but needing a lot of work to become good throaty adult crow cackles.  Comparatively speaking, the baby crows sound like they are gargling with salt water.

So, we’ve had a good time watching the parents take turns scouting for worms and moths, patrolling the neighborhood, watching for predators (like the big owl that occasionally comes calling in the evening), and kicking the crap out of the squirrels.  Then, came the big storm.

Eastern Colorado is similar to Kansas in terms of violent high plains weather.  Here in Denver, we don’t see much of that.  Once in a while, a cloud will turn lumpy and green and the local meteorologists go berserk with up-to-the-minute reporting.  And sometimes, we get squishy, pea-sized hail that mushes down the potted plants for awhile, but for the most part, Denver weather, even in high summer, is pretty mellow.

So, last week, when we found ourselves under tornado watch, with round-the-clock weather coverage on every station and lightning that reminded us of CNN footage of the Battle of Baghdad, deluged with buckets of rain and hail in such quantity that five days later, some parts of town still had remnant drifts of it, we worried about the crow family in the top of the pine tree.

 The morning after the night-long bombardment, coffee cup in hand, I dejectedly surveyed the damage to our tiny container garden – pepper plant shredded, tomato plant broken in several places, and lettuce smashed and frozen under half an inch of congealed hail.  Picking miserably at the soggy remains of what had been a rather magnificent viola, I suddenly remembered the crow family.  I tried to see them in their nest, which, as I said before, is an exercise in futility.  But eventually, I saw one of the parents fly in with a tasty bug in its beak and I heard the baby crows’ enthusiastic gargling.  I realized that all was actually all right with the world.

I need to remember that family of crows, crouching together in a swaying tree top with sheets of rain and hail pounding them relentlessly.  I need to remember that darkness and deluge are part of our mortal experience and that God is compassionate in our suffering.  God also keeps a longer view of life than I am generally able to muster. That vision apparently does not include home grown lettuce this year.  But it may include a Lazarus-like banana pepper plant and half a tomato plant, both of which sprouted blossoms over the weekend.  And it definitely includes a measure of grace for a couple of nesting crows.

This morning, we were treated to the highly anticipated “first flying lesson” of the year.  Parents perched on buildings across the parking lot, cawing and barking encouragement to three charcoal grey, fluffy chicks who did not seem at all convinced that flying is a very good idea.  Every once in awhile, one of them awkwardly flapped its wings and tumbled inelegantly over to an adjacent branch.  The most enthusiasm they showed all morning was for breakfast, brought at intervals by whichever parent wasn’t presently engaged in aviation instruction.  My husband and I worried a little that a baby might lose its footing and go crashing to the ground.  But their parents seem to be watching out for them pretty well.  And, I think, so is God.

Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
I draw the closer to God, from care God sets me free;
God’s eye is on the sparrow, and I know God watches me.
I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
For God’s eye is on the sparrow,
And I know God watches me.

– From “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” by Civilla D. Martin and Charles H. Gabriel, 1905

 

© Marian the Seminarian, 2012


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