The sermon for week March 30, 2014
VoicesMarch 30, 2014
The scripture centers around a blind man and his sight, but today we're talking about voices. Sometimes voices are good, sometimes not. Sometimes they heal, sometimes they hurt. What voices are you hearing?
Barbara Lundblad, the professor of preaching at Union Theological seminary, tells the story of Harold.
Harold was a chubby sixth grader. He wasn't one of “our kids,” that is he wasn't part of her congregation, or any congregation. He didn't live in the neighborhood and she can't remember if he found the church or they found him. Harold lived a few miles away with his mom in a falling down apartment. There was no father around but there were lots of men. That's what Harold told her. Harold appeared at the church sometime before summer, and Barbara convinced him to go to summer camp. It certainly wasn't his idea. Though things weren't terrific at home, at least he knew home. He had never been outside the city limits.
This was the era before Pokemon or Cabbage Patch dolls or Tickle Me Elmo. It was before Nintendo. This was the era of the Pet Rock. And while at camp, Harold found his rock. He didn't know anyone very well, was sort of awkward and an outsider, so the rock became his closest companion. It sat by him at mealtime while everybody else was singing songs about getting your elbows off the table and other songs Harold didn't know. When everyone joined in the songs around the campfire after dinner, Harold was as silent as his stone.
The other kids didn't quite know what to make of Harold. He didn't go to school with any of them, and he was, well, different. It was clear though, that Harold was fond of his rock. Here was a friend who never failed him, never sassed or hit or bullied him, and never laughed at his size or asked about his family.
Slowly, Harold and his rock entered the life of the camp. The other kids started saying “hello” to his rock, and sometimes they even got through to Harold. Before long, Harold was translating what his rock was trying to say, and soon it sounded like a real conversation. One night, around the campfire, Harold even began to sing, that is, until he realized someone was looking.
When the bus came at the end of the week, Harold and his rock refused to get on. He begged and begged and begged to stay. He said he could help the younger kids who had arrived for their week. The camp leadership decided to let him stay on, after all who could say no to a boy and his rock?
Harold introduced his rock to all the little kids. He even told them his own name: “I'm Harold,” he said, and for the very first time, it didn't sound like an apology. (59-60)
I think something happened to Harold during his time at camp. He transformed. He started the process of healing and becoming whole from whatever had wounded him at home. I wonder what voices were in Harold's life. Who told him he wasn't good enough? Who taught him that? I mean, no one would teach a child that they are less than. At least I hope not. Yet he learned it. Where did he learn it?
Voices are powerful: socializing forces of family, pop culture, school, mentors, all of these things and more are adding their voices to our lives. We are bombarded with voices. Advertising is big. Voices of our family. Voices of our parents, friends, bullies, teachers, and even here at church.
Part of growing up is internalizing these voices. We're forming our identity at that time. We're a sponges, taking everything in and learning. And not every voice speaks with words. Voices can speak with actions or inaction. Voices that influence us speak by what they show us, and also by what they omit. Voice takes shape in the communities that influence us. When we speak, at least two voices can be heard simultaneously. Our voices are always with us. What we choose to say has been influenced by what we have heard, whats out there in the culture and the communities we live in.
What were the voices you'v heard? Whose voices formed your identity?
Who or what voices are forming your identity now?
Voices are important. In fact they're vital.
Sometimes it takes a trip to camp, or a retreat, or a vacation away from voices to realize who and what we're hearing. It worked for Harold... maybe you have had a similar experience.
How aware are you of the voices and what messages they are telling us? Because the issue is young people are hungry for voices to help them to figure out who they are. There are many voices that will tell them where they can go and how they can fill that hunger.
We have spiritual yearnings and one of those is a yearning to know “Whose Am I?” Another is to figure out our purpose, why are we here. To do this, we need a community around us, mentors who will notice us, add their voices of encouragement and help us navigate the waters of life.
For the blind man, all of those yearnings were answered for him. He was relegated to the margins. There was something wrong with him, something his parents did or he did or would do that God was mad with and cursed the man with blindness. This was supported by the religious establishment and theology of the time. The community reinforced it. Even the parents bought into it and wouldn't answer, they just couldn't go against the voices of the day.
Harold bought into the voices he was hearing. Maybe he heard it at home, from his family. This trickled into his school and his academic performance, which then reinforced the perspective that he wasn't good enough. Kids can be harsh on those who don't fit the norm, and they probably saw an easy target in Harold.
But Harold found a way to break the cycle. He had his rock. And he had different voices at this camp. And there he found some answers he could live with. He got a glimpse of who he was and more importantly whose he was. He is God's. He is a child of God. That realization is so powerful and means so much. This realization means you don't have to say your name like it's an apology ever.
Lent is a time to make space in your life to hear God's voice. Harold found that time at camp. Sam recently pushed his highchair to face the backyard and away from our table maybe just to take a time out from the voices in his life, especially the voice of his big sister telling him what to do. We all need that time. Time to feel the grace of God, to hear that we are loved and we are children of God.
When did you learn that you were a child of God? Has anyone ever told you that? That you are loved, that you are not alone in this world, that you can heal and be whole, that you matter and have a purpose, have you heard that? Who told you? For those of you who have been told this... who then, have you told? Have you ever told someone that they matter, they have a purpose, that they are loved, that they shouldn't say their name like an apology?
Maybe you have. I know I can do a better job, maybe this sermon is trying to make up for when I've failed. That's my confession, and as they say confession is good for the soul, but terrible for the reputation. Maybe I haven't told people that because of the voices I've heard. Or maybe I assume that people already know this. Or maybe, I can be more like the Pharisees and scribes than I want to admit. When someone changes on me and it breaks my norms and assumptions. Sometimes someone changes so radically, I have to rethink the world and I don't like that.
Jesus comes through that town, and he changes everything. He changes the blind man's life, but he upsets the status quo and throws people for a loop and they call a meeting and have to talk about what happened. Their order is gone, reduced to rubble. Their theology was found wrong, misguided and they found that the very theology they used to trap that blind man, they are now trapped by. Their whole world was turned upside down by the Good News Jesus gave to that young man. And that young man would no longer listen to the voices that entrapped him and told him that he was less than. Jesus doesn't care about any voice that says you're lesser than, or somehow sinful. Jesus is looking for the possibility, to show how the works of God might be displayed in you, the voices that say otherwise are wrong. Those voices be damned. The blind man knew what happened and he wouldn't be talked out of it.
That's the power of following Jesus. It's scary sometimes. But it can be so liberating. Harold knew that. I hope the voices from the camp and the weight of the rock would remind Harold and ring in his ears when others tried to put him back in his place for the sake of the old order where Harold knew his place.
Jesus is good news for us. But being called a Child of God comes with the responsibility of spreading that good news and it can be so upsetting to the status quo and our daily lives. It's hard. And it's dangerous. Our economy is built on “you're not good enough.” It's built on scarcity, that second place is the first loser, dog eat dog, your win is my loss. This is not true. This is not how God sees things. God's economy is based on abundance. How many different types of trees are there? Not just one. Consider the lilies and the sparrows. How many different types are there of lilies and sparrows, not even considering other flowers or birds, but just those... how many?
And how many different types of people do you know? When I see someone who is different, I think that's something to celebrate! You're older than me! Tell me about how the world was when you were growing up! What book's a classic that you think I should read? What movie or piece of music spoke to your life when you were young? You're young, tell me about what movies you like, what toys you play with! You're a veteran! Tell me, which part of the service were you in, which war? Have you healed from what you saw there? Are you whole from those experiences? Are you single, married, or divorced? How can I tell you that you are loved, and that you matter and that I want to celebrate you even though you don't feel you need to celebrate.
And I want to be apart of a community that does that. Can we get intentional about that? It made a difference in that blind man's life and in Harold's life. This is good news then. It's good news now. One that the world is yearning to hear. You are a child of God, you have purpose. You are not alone, or weird, or an accident. You are loved by God and fully accepted just as you are. And God loves you too much to leave you that way. A new world beckons and you know this message and it's power. Tell the world. Add your voice. Some people are harder to love than others, but you don't have to understand to love. Love. Affirm each other as children of God.
The world is thirsting for your voice. Amen.
Lundblad, Barbara. Transforming the Stone: Preaching through resistance to change.Abingdon Press, 2001. Pages 59-60.