Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sunday's Sermon-An Allegory

Once upon a time, as so many fables start—except this is an allegory, rather than a fable— there was a church that was asking itself. “What shall we do? What is it that God is calling us to become? We know we have a mission and that mission forces us to look at ourselves and leave our comfort zones to do whatever it is God is calling us to do. But what exactly is our mission and why should we leave our comfort zones to find it? So they found themselves going on a pilgrimage led by Aging Hippie from California.

As they started out the front door three figures blocked the way: We’ve-Always-Done-It-That-Way, Inertia and Comfort. “Where are you going?” Comfort asked. “To find our mission,” replied  Aging Hippie from California. “What! and leave this beautiful church? Go back,” Comfort said. “You don’t need to leave. The church is fine, just the way it is,” said Inertia. Yes, said We’ve-Always-Done-It-That-Way, things are quite OK the way they are. Why do we need to find our mission?”

Doubt and Bitterness joined the first three. Now there were five figures blocking the door. They yelled, “You can’t leave. Things are fine just the way they are. It’s a hard world out there. It’ll take too long and you’ll never make it!”

Of course voices came up from the Congregation: “Well, maybe you are right.” “Maybe we should just go back our to old ways of thinking and doing—it’s easier that way.” “Maybe we should just wait till we get a new leader.” “But wait!” said Aging Hippie from California, “Abraham did it and so did Moses. Let’s ask Moses what he has to say about this.”

Moses answered, “Hey, I had doubts too and was undecided when the Lord told me to leave my father-in-law, Jethro. ‘Why would I want to go back to Egypt?’ I asked. Anyway, I wasn’t qualified and I can’t get in front of people and speak.” Two more figures came up to the door, just behind the others while Moses finished what he was saying, “When I came to the Red Sea with the People of God, I just prayed and trusted that God would lead us out of Egypt and slavery.”

The two new figures, Trust and Prayer, opened a path between the five that stood in our way. We made our first step to find our mission. The path looked clear but it’s mud season here in Maine and the ground is not as solid as we would like. Going through the mud slowed us down and we went up to our ankles. Those L. L .Bean boots helped, but the bottoms got really caked and made it hard to move. Now two more characters show up: the twins Worry and Fear.

Fear said, “Don’t bother trying to get through that mud. Wait till the ground is dry. You’ll get stuck.” And Worry yelled, “You don’t need to tire yourself out. You won’t have any energy left for mission. Go back! You can do it later.” Then Worry added, “Someone could break a leg in that stuff and you know the hospital is so far away and anyway you might run into a cow moose and her calf and get gored. People say there are no poisonous snakes in Maine, at least according to most experts, but there are copperheads in the streams and we’ve got to cross rivers and all.”

“Let’s think about this for a bit,” said Aging Hippie from California. “We call ourselves the Church of the Good Shepherd and King David left us a psalm just for this occasion.” “The Lord is my shepherd; I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures: He leads me to water in places of repose. He renews my life: He guides me in right paths as befits his name. Though I walk through a valley of deepest darkness, I fear no harm, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me. You spread a table for me in full view of my enemies: You anoint my head with oil; my drink is abundant. Only goodness and steadfast love shall pursue me all the days of my life; And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for many long years.” (Tanakh Translation)

She pointed out, “we don’t have to walk through the mud. There’s a dry path right there.” Some of us almost lost our balance in the mud, though, when Fear shouted “Stop!” but Fear is found only in our imaginations and as FDR said the only thing we had to fear is Fear itself. We all felt a bit weak but you could tell the congregation was proud that it was able to tell Worry and Fear to “get lost.” They might show up again along the way, but we can always count on our Name, Good Shepherd, to call on whenever we need courage and strength.

The path to our mission is not going to be easy. We’ll need to call on Sense of Humor and Compassion, two old friends to help us on our way.

Good grief, there’s a bunch of copperheads right across our path just ahead. I thought we’d run into them much later on. The leader is Control with a bunch of followers: Gossip, Negativity, Pride, Blame, Anger, Selfishness, Criticism, Prejudice, and Jealousy, all hissing.

Now Aging Hippie from California lived in lots of places with snakes during her life. They never really fazed her. It seemed as though they were just part of her life and the lives of the people around her. She found it kind of fun and maybe even a bit ego boosting when Blame could be used to cover her mistakes, or Gossip used to belittle others. Prejudice toward those not like her helped her fit in wherever she was, and Jealousy just made her want to outdo others. And then, of course there was Anger—a great tool to get others to do what she wanted. Over time, though, she learned that those snakes made life difficult. They often bit and she wasn't the only one who got hurt.

To help explain this to the congregation she pointed out Moses standing a distance away, raising up a bronze serpent on a pole. The Israelites had blamed him for bringing them out into the desert with its terrible food and sparse water. “Then the LORD sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.’ So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.”

Maybe Moses was trying to tell the People of God they needed to use their creative energy for their mission and to stop complaining, gossiping and criticizing and work on bring about God’s Kingdom. John tells us that just like that bronze serpent is lifted up so people may see it and not die from the snake bites, Jesus, the Son of Man, was lifted up on a cross so that those of us who believe may have eternal life. That’s the message we need so we can go forward to find our mission in spite of those snakes.

Moving on, there was a mountain on our journey. Again, there was something blocking our path. It was dark out and just ahead were four wildcats: Deceit, Pretense, Falsehood and Ignorance, all snarling and wanting us to stop and there was a lot of talk about turning around. What those four wildcats did not want to hear was the truth. They preferred to stay in the darkness. They had forgotten what John had said about the light coming into the world but people loved darkness rather than light so that deeds would stay hidden.

A bright light appeared and Jesus lifted high on the cross was the source of that light. This light is what we needed to continue on our journey to find our mission. It is the light that makes the wildcats slink away into the night. It is the light that drives away Fear and Worry and helps us find our mission so can see that what we do is from God.

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