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Sermon: The Mother Questions

A Stewardship sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill, Alexandria, VA on Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012.

17th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20); Year B (RCL): Jer. 11:18-20; Ps. 54; James 3:13-4:3, 7; Mark 9:30-37


            Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth Your Spirit, and we shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth. Amen.


I heard recently a paraphrase of a story attributed to Robert Fulghum, a best- selling non-fiction writer.


The story goes that a man’s home backed up to an elementary school.  This man enjoyed sitting out in his back yard, especially in the morning.  When school was is session, he would hear the hustle and bustle of cars arriving, parents dropping their kids off at school, and the comments that would air during those deliveries.


Now this man’s property had suitable trees and bushes lining his fence that kept him from seeing any of the activity; so he learned to suspend his need for sight and seeing, and engaged more intently in hearing and listening.


That is when he began hearing the “Mother Questions.”  You parents, perhaps especially the mothers, probably know what I’m talking about:


“What in the world are you doing?”

Maybe the kids couldn’t resist reaching into their school lunch bag or box to raid the cookies Mom has packed for later, and now crumbs are everywhere.


“What on earth have you done?”

Indelible color markers have found their way out of book bags or backpacks, losing their caps in the process, and have left marks all over the car upholstery.


I think you get the idea, but please do let me complete the list:

“What in the name of God are you doing?”

“What will you think of next?”

“Who do you think that you are?”


When I stop to reflect upon my life, and the most recent parts of it: leaving Visa after 26.5 years, realizing I’d spent more than half my lifetime laboring there; not knowing exactly where I was going or what I would do next; stepping out in faith that God had a plan and that I was part of it – it really is somewhat amazing! And these Mother Questions do not sound entirely foreign to me, and yet they are set in a different context altogether:


What in the World are you doing?

While I offered the customary two weeks’ notice at Visa, I stayed for only one of those two weeks.  I had become a distraction to my co-workers.  Leaving as I did was unusual for that business culture.  Not for a new, more lucrative offer.  Not because I was being shown the door.  But rather because I had done all I could do there to the best of my ability and it was time to move on. 


A line formed outside my office for those five days.  Everyone asked the same thing:  What on earth have you done?   I wasn’t sure, but some thought they knew.  Chrissie knew, and she had been waiting patiently for God’s call to penetrate my hearing, to permeate my heart, and to open my eyes to the idea of new ministry.


What in the name of God are you doing?

I spent time sloughing off the weariness of that 26 years of work that had taken its toll on me: physical, mental and spiritual.  Eventually I went to walk dogs for a friend’s pet care business, first for six months and then ultimately for a whole year.  I was physically active and getting exercise, taking time to pray and offer thanksgiving while out in creation, spending time with God’s best example of God’s unconditional love, dogs, and I was reading scripture and reflecting on the Word regularly.  I was working my body, feeding my heart, and nurturing my soul.


What will you think of next?

One Tuesday, with a shaggy Labrador named Vodka sitting at my feet, something stirred in me, softly, steadily, from deep down inside, that welled up in my being and pushed its way up my throat and through my lips: “God, are you calling me to be a priest in our Church?”  The sense of warmth and peace that enveloped me once I had finally articulated God’s call to me was overwhelming, leading to laughter through tears.


Who do you think that you are?

The discernment process for ordination continually raised this question, seeking an answer.  Who do you think that you are?  I am a seeking servant, who prays to my Almighty Father, for guidance.  I was a soldier for the Lord as a layperson, but could I be worthy enough to be a priest in our Church?  Only if God be willing, and the people still consent to it, we will have the initial response in December when I am priested.


Today’s lessons are like the Mother Questions.  In the Epistle from James, we hear about Wisdom from above, and in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus tells us what true servanthood looks like and to whom we should serve.  What are we doing?  Who do we think we are?


First in James, we hear these words: “Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.  //  .. the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.”


James calls us back to the basics of Christian discipleship.  He reminds us we should no longer need to use tools of sin because they don’t work well for us.  Instead, God has entrusted us with spiritual tools – including prayer.  These blessings are gifts to us, not of our making.  The Lord wants to be our Lord, not only in word, but also by deed.  God simply desires to provide for us.  God loves us and wants what is best for us.


Barbara Brown Taylor, Episcopal priest, professor, theologian and one of the best known preachers in the Church, wrote this week in the Daily Feast: “For James, wisdom is not in the head but in the behavior.  It is a way of life, not a way of thinking or believing.”


James’ very practical outline on how to live a Christian life focuses on the image of Wisdom.  Wisdom is a fascinating image.  Wisdom is personified as the most hospitable of women.  We use it to talk about the nature of God, we use this image to describe the gift of understanding that we seek from God.


And isn’t that God’s promise?  Isn’t that what we hope for finally, for union with God?  We can experience that here as well as in the hereafter, and part of our ministry is to make sure we welcome all our brothers and sisters on that journey.


In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all. … Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the One who sent me.”


Humility is essential to Christian discipleship.  Jesus spoke about the importance of humility on a number of occasions.  Using the image of a child, with little to no social status, Jesus issues a welcome to all regardless of social status.


It is as if Jesus is saying to us: “You want to be a leader, you want to be first?  Fine.  But do it right.  Don't be preoccupied with your own selves, your own survival.  Die to your old self.  Begin anew once more.  Start over as a child.”  That's where real leadership is -- with those who are formed, informed and transformed, and who help to transform others.


A child represents new birth, the fresh start necessary to real leadership and real life. To welcome this in someone honors Christ and honors God who makes it all possible.  Vision, trust, willingness to risk - these qualities appear in a toddler, in Jesus, in every saint that has gone before us, and in all the transformational leaders of this parish, which includes each and every one of you.  It is the same Spirit at work in all.


Last week, Mary+ spoke about our Christian response to Stewardship and the Annual Giving Campaign.  “Stewardship is everything we do after we say, ‘We Believe.’”  It is all we do when we say “Yes.”  We all have heard about “Time, Talent and Treasure.”  I like another way to consider stewardship:  “Self, Substance and Service.”  And yet I heard a third way to imagine stewardship as “Vision, Mission and Commitment.”


 If we have a Vision for what the Reign of God here on earth looks like, then we can undertake that Mission to accomplish it, and we will only succeed if we have the Commitment to get it done!  


Stewardship is not passive; it requires an active response.  And it is good and right that when we prayerfully consider our giving, that it come from our abundance, and not from our leftovers.  The first 10%, off the top, the first fruits of our labors in recognition of the many blessings we have received from above.

As you consider your annual giving to the mission and ministry of Immanuel Church-on –the-Hill, please prayerfully reflect upon those Mother Questions:


“What in the world are you doing?

“What on earth have you done?

“What in the name of God are you doing?”

“What will you think of next?”

“Who do you think that you are?”


When we reflect on how we hear these questions now, think about how they invite us to live the life James calls us to, the life of the Kingdom that Jesus calls us to enter as children.

            When we catch that Spirit, or allow that Spirit to catch us, we are transformed and set free from fear.  Our own well-being is no longer Issue #1.  Instead, the vision of God’s Kingdom is what matters.  Our mission will be active and on-going.  Our commitment will get it done.  And so the world can change.  It does change, starting with us.



( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Sep. 29th, 2012 01:15 pm (UTC)
I just read your sermon you delivered yesterday and I know why Susan said she thought it was great. You very gently but also forcefully challenged all of us to pause and look at ourselves and ask those questions and try to honestly see what we are doing ? Why ? Do we need to changes ? If so how and what should we do? Sometimes wondering if we can do what we think we are called to do.

All of us who have felt being called by God to enter the ordained ministry have at one time or another saying to God ; "God are you kidding ?", " I'm not worthy." then at some time we finally say : "Here I am, send me." I still do that a lot.

Just keep on doing what you are doing and remember what you are delivering is from God, we are His messenger. I sometimes use the idea that God's is radioing the message, I am the radio that has to listen for the message and then broadcast that to those who will listen and hear in the message God's voice.

I remember Charlie Price reminding us that when we stepped into the pulpit if we did not feel butterflies in our stomach we had better look out because we just may be preaching the "Gospel according to Derrill Crosby", and not the Gospel of Jesus Christ." As I read your sermons, I hear Jesus speaking to me.

God's peace and blessings, just listen for his voice and then go and say what you hear from Him

Love - Dad.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )