Saturday, January 31, 2015

Sacred Deeds

A reflection on Mark 1:21-28 for Epiphany 4B

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, not to be confused with Harold Kushner of “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” fame, is a retired rabbi who grew up in Michigan and served a synagogue on the East coast. Larry, as he likes to be called, also writes about Jewish Mysticism. In one of his books he tells this story:

In the middle of a cold winter night, his wife, six months pregnant with their second child woke him. She said, “Larry, I know this sounds crazy, but I would give anything for a chocolate bar, especially one with almonds. “ Larry replied, “Don’t worry about a thing.” 

And he proceeded to pull on jeans, sweatshirt, and a coat over his pajamas. Outside it had been snowing and there were a few inches of snow on his car, driving was slow and slippery. And of course it took him a few minutes to realize that in this small town of Massachusetts everything would be closed. Where would he find a chocolate bar in the middle of the night? Then he remembered the Holiday Inn on the highway. The night clerk must have though him a little crazy, coming in out of a snowstorm, pajamas and all, to buy a candy bar out of the vending machine. 

Once home, and his wife’s craving satisfied, Larry reflected on this strange night. How on this night and under these circumstances, he had never given a thought to doing this, he just responded to what his wife desired. And it felt good, he felt good having done something so selfless and out of great care for another. He says it made him happier to do what his wife wanted than to have done anything that he wanted, like sleep….He calls this doing sacred deeds.

Doing sacred deeds, even one as seemingly mundane as this, helps us to transcend our selves, our lives, our worries. Doing sacred deeds is part of our calling as Christians. Jesus models the way, and our baptismal covenant helps us understand what we are to do.

Every time I prepare a family for baptism we discuss the three renunciations and three affirmations found in the baptismal liturgy. These six questions ask us to have some clarity about our faith, our understanding of who Jesus is, what evil is, and how we intend to support this person in their life in Christ. These are heady questions, provocative questions. The conversations I have with baptismal families is intended to help them articulate an understanding of what they are agreeing to so that they are not just going through the motions but have a real sense of what is evil in this world, who is Jesus, and what does it mean to put our trust in God’s grace? 

Baptism is the first step that one takes to become a member of the Christian church. Often baptism is done to us when we are babies, and so the first steps of formation happen with our families. Hopefully, as we grow up, our formation takes place, in a church that offers us opportunities to wonder, to question, and to develop a mature faith. Growing in our faith is a process of engaging in spiritual practices that inform and form us and can sustain us when life is challenging. 

Today we will baptize Ike Frady, welcoming him into the body of Christ. For several weeks we have been praying for Ike, using only his first and middle names. This is because today Ike’s surname is the same as all of ours, Christian. In a few minutes Ike will become part of the long historic Christian family. But what does this mean today?

In her book, “The Practicing Congregation, Imagining a New Old Church,” Diana Butler Bass speaks about the church community as a place anchored in a rich heritage where people are formed by the practices of our faith, which include a variety of sacred deeds. 

Butler Bass suggests that some people who come to church on Sunday are like tourists – they are taking time out of their “real” lives to do something different. Perhaps coming to church on Sunday gives them a respite from the daily grind? May be it offers them a place to be with friends? But afterwards the person returns to their real life, essentially unchanged from the respite.

The question for Christian communities like ours is, are we offering people an opportunity for transformation by inviting them, or inspiring them, to become part of a common journey into the rich life of the Christian faith?

To be a place where those who come here on Sunday are motivated to become part of a common journey means that we are offering people a compelling sense of mission. A  mission that calls out and speaks deep into their soul, addressing a profound, perhaps unrecognized, longing.

As a Community-Centered Church, we are discovering what it means to to be a place where people who are on a journey can join in, no matter where they are on the path. Some people are not even aware that they are on a spiritual path when they come here for a meeting or a class. But coming here means, for us, that they have entered into our mission, into a shared journey of building community. 

The question we are asking is how are we meeting them along the way? How are we seeking to build relationships?

Other people who come here have a greater awareness, even a desire, to be on this journey. These people may actually seek out relationships with people here, finding in us a mutual desire for companionship, sacred deeds, mission. 

Some are actively leading the way, inspiring the rest of us to follow. 

Our Gospel reading this morning from Mark, in fact the entire Gospel of Mark, offers us a vision of God manifesting God’s self in the person of Jesus. In Mark, the God we experience in Jesus is abrupt, breaking into all the ways we are stuck and, unsticking us. Mark names these sticking points as demons. These demons pull us away from the love of God. Jesus casts out the demons and sets people free. Released of their demons people are free to join the journey of people on a mission out to change the world one sacred deed at a time. 


Megan said...

I really loved the quote from Diana Butler Bass. I will probably use it in a few months for our church's 200th anniversary. Thanks for sharing your sermons online.

Terri said...

It's from one of her older books, but I like it too. It's still appropriate, I think. Thanks, Megan.

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