Posts Tagged ‘authenticity’

Don’t Pick On Personality 7-21-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 10:38-42, I explore the odd little exchange that occurs between Jesus and the sisters, Mary and Martha.  When we did, just a little bit, we start to uncover some interesting insight.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

May the grace and peace of the Triune God be yours, now and forever. Amen.

In recent years, there has been an amazing emphasis placed on the exploration of different personality types and the ways that they manifest in the lives of individuals.  There are tons of different tests and surveys…countless different expressions and categories.

There’s Type A vs Type B.  There’s the enneagram scale.  There’s Strengthsfinders…just to name a few.  Now…I’ll fully admit that I haven’t done a ton of work in this realm…a lot of it goes over my head and I’m kinda lost in what each specific category is aimed at, and what the individual results within that category reveals.

But what I do know is these different things…personalities and tendencies and strengths, whatever we want to call them…they manifest themselves in a lot of different ways…and they differ greatly between individuals…and perhaps there is no-where that we begin to see this better expressed than within families.

We see drastic differences between siblings…we see them between parents and children…and we definitely see them between spouses…and I can confirm this from personal experience. My wife and I agree on a lot of things…but we have two VERY different personality types…something that becomes VERY apparent on Saturdays.

Now my wife would be called Type A…and one of her strengths is achievement…and this manifests itself in the fact that she has a very hard time sitting around all day doing nothing.  (Pause) Now me, on the other hand…I will happily lounge around on my keister all day without batting an eyelash…I suppose that makes me Type B…and yes…just like we find in today’s story…this can…and does…lead to tension. (pause)

Mary and Martha. Another story that has infiltrated our cultural awareness in the differences that lie between personality types.  We’ve got Mary, the laid back one…the one who casually sits at the feet of Jesus, just taking it all in…oblivious to what’s going on and the tasks of hospitality that linger in the house around her. (pause) And then we’ve got Martha…the proverbial busy-body…the one who can’t even think about sitting down because…THERE’S JUST SO MUCH TO DO!!!!!

Now, its my tendency to try and put myself in the headspace of the people that we hear about in the scriptures…and this one’s no different…so for starters…we’ve got Martha. (Pause) Oh…Jesus is here….goodness me…so much to do…I need to tidy up before he even comes inside. I bet he’s hungry and he’s got all those people with him…they all need to eat, better get in the kitchen…and all the neighborhood kids will be bugging them…I need to shoo them away…is it too stuffy in here, do I need to open a window…so much to do. (pause) And then there’s Mary…DUDE!!!!! Jesus is here…YES…I am totally just gonna sack out and listen…where’s my beanbag chair? (pause)

Now as we know…as this little scene progresses Martha gets continually annoyed with Mary…and it seems with Jesus too, because she snaps…at him…Jesus! Dude…don’t you care, that my sister…has left me to do all the work. Tell her to help me!

And then Jesus, finally speaking aloud for the first time calmly tries to grab Martha’s attention…and she’s in such a tizzy that he has to say her name twice…Martha…Martha…you are distracted and worried about many things…only one is needed. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be take away. (pause)

It seems…at first glance…that Mary is praised and Martha is condemned…and that Jesus is throwing some shade on the work that Martha is doing.  And if we limit things to the surface level, we walk away from this passage with yet another moral lesson that seems to say…Sabbath is important, don’t be so busy…take a load off.

And if that’s where we stop…we are doing an incredible disservice to Martha…Yes she’s distracted…yes she’s worried…but that’s what Jesus seems to be calling her away from…not the actual work that she’s doing.

Here’s the thing…and pay attention because this is important…in the original language…we hear that Martha is distracted by her many “services” or we can even say “ministries.” It’s the same word…and that should be eye opening for us here in the church. She’s so distracted by trying to do too many ministries all at the same time that she’s missing out on the one thing needed.

I don’t know what that one thing was…maybe all Jesus needed was a cloak picked up off a chair so he could sit down…she didn’t need to clean the whole house.  Maybe he was hungry for a chunk of bread…but she’s trying to prepare a lavish meal…I don’t know…but I’m pretty sure he’s not condemning her for attempting to be of service to her guests.  That’s Martha’s personality…that’s her tendency…she’s living into her authentic self by hosting…but Jesus seems to be pointing out that she’s going overboard and her distraction and worry is evidence of that.

Now that being said…the flipside is also worth paying attention to…Mary’s not being praised for sitting around doing nothing…because you know what…sometimes people are hungry and a meal needs to get made…sometimes the communion bread needs to be baked…or the scripture needs to get read, or Sunday School classes need to be taught.

So what’s different?  What do we take from this?  If its not the surface level lesson that we should ignore busy-ness so we can zero in on our guest…then what is Jesus calling us into here? What is this better part…this good portion that Mary has chosen that Jesus seems to acknowledge? (pause)

I think that’s a good question to ponder on…especially in light of our recent gospel stories over the course of the past few weeks…because honestly…if we take all of Luke Chapter 9 and 10 together…Jesus is giving us a lot of mixed messages.

We hear, early on that Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem…indicating intentionality about his mission and his ministry…an intentionality that is highlighted when a few would-be followers each ask for a touch of leeway, only to have Jesus hammer them for a lack of focus and commitment.

Then he sends out 70 people to proclaim the good news that the Kingdom has come near…which is apparently so important of a message that they can’t even turn aside to say hello to someone on the road…NO DISTRACTIONS…get right to it.

That’s followed up by a question about who’s my neighbor and the parable of the Good Samaritan that gives an impression…no you should be willing to turn aside…to offer mercy to those who need it…to get involved in the immediate need as opposed to that directive over there.

And now the implication that mundane tasks aren’t the answer, but that we should just zero in on the guest…or at least maybe on Jesus.

So come on Jesus…seriously…what do we make of this? (pause)

I went round and round with that question…trying to make head’s or tails of the good news of this odd little exchange that all too often pits two sisters against each other and leaves people reeling when they see themselves in one or the other.

But what if this odd little passage reveals an invitation of Jesus to simply be honest and authentic about who we are?  What if Martha isn’t getting smacked for hosting…but rather is being called to be her best self at one thing.  And what if Mary isn’t getting praised for being lazy, but rather she’s being affirmed in her desire to engage with a guest. (pause)

It seems to me…over and over again in the scriptures…and especially in the gospels…and specifically here in Luke’s gospel…it seems like Jesus continues to extend an invitation to countless different individuals to be precisely who they are…and when they do…it seems like he takes joy in that…and he finds delight in the presence of their authentic self.

And when I think about that…I’m reminded of the truth that we find clear back in Genesis…that our existence begins from a place of joy and delight of the one that made us in the first place.  Think about that…God made you…and God has called you VERY GOOD…We have a God who made ALL of this out of a sense of divine goodness and joy…and the brokenness of the whole thing…that didn’t come around until chapter 3.

Admittedly…there are times when our Lutheran tendencies put a little too much emphasis on the brokenness of humanity and the world. I don’t dispute that this brokenness is a reality…far from it…but that’s not where our existence begins.

And maybe, just maybe, whatever it was that was being accomplished in the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus…maybe it was it making it possible for us to see that we are perfectly loved and accepted and claimed by the God who joyfully made us in the first place…and that this is true RIGHT NOW in this moment.

You don’t have to hide who you are…who you really are…in order for God to love you…and the gospel frees us to truly believe that…and to know that whatever brokenness does exist within us…there is grace for that…but that we don’t have hide our true selves away for God to give this love to us…that’s a ludicrous idea when we think about it…that the one who created this reality and everything in it by simply speaking it into being could ever be fooled into thinking that the false persona we present to the world is real. God knows you intimately…and God desires for you to be honest with yourself…and to be free in that…that’s the gospel…that’s the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven coming near to us…

And the other amazing thing about all this…is that we are also free to love one another in this same way…which, let’s be honest…is something that body of Christ really needs to work on. But praise be to God that there’s grace for the church too.  Yes she is broken…yes she is flawed…because she is made up of broken and flawed people…but thanks be to God…that the perfect, all in…completely encompassing grace-filled love of God continues, day after day, to overcome our shortcomings…and continues to invite us forward into that amazing freedom that we find when we realize that the kingdom HAS come near…and that we are already a part of it.  Amen

We Are Here Now, But Where Are We Going?

I’m a new pastor, I’ve never made a secret out of the idea that I’m the new guy…and I’m new at this.  I was ordained on Father’s Day, just a few months ago. I started my first call right after Independence Day which puts me just short of the 2 month mark of this whole thing.

That being said, I’m not new to life in general. They say the first third (as in first third of life) ends right about 30-33. I’m 34. Darn it, I guess I’m not a kid anymore am I?

All sarcasm aside, one of the things I’ve been doing in my new call is getting to know the people through Cottage Meetings. A couple of hours in the home of a member, sitting down with about 7-12 members, letting them get to know me. Also, letting them give feedback on what they’d like to see happen in the congregation and the community.

So far, I’ve seen a trend emerge. Most of the people coming are retirement age, or getting close to it. There have been a couple of middle aged families, and I’ve had one couple attend that are in their mid-20’s with a new baby, but they’ve been the exception so far. When I’ve posed the question of “What would you like to see happen in the future?” I’ve heard the same thing time after time. “We need to get our youth involved again. We used to have such great stuff for them, and we need it again.”

My first thought…absolutely…I agree. As a young person that has remained involved in the church from college on (though admittedly the annoyed kid that walked away from the church all the way through high school), I understand the issue that many of my peers have not remained involved, or were never involved in the first place. It saddens me…but its also the reality.

One of the (MANY) books that I had to read in Seminary is entitled We Are Here Now by Patrick Keifert (amazon link for the book here). This book encourages us to be realistic when we take a look at ourselves to see just what is our reality? We can’t possibly know how to move forward as a church (either the church as a whole or individual congregations) if we don’t know where we are starting.  The key is not to dream about where we’d like to go and get stuck in the notion of “if we were just in that situation, then we could move forward.”

Sorry folks…that’s not reality, so let’s stop for a minute, look down, and see just where our feet are standing.

The sad reality is that young people are leaving the church in record numbers. I stumbled across a blog today that offers what I consider to be a pretty honest and candid look into why so many young people are leaving.

Please read it.

Self admitted, I hate the phrase “church of the future.” As in, our children and our youth are the church of the future.  I cringe whenever I hear it. When I hear it I feel my personal BS meter red-line.

If we continue to think of our young people as the church of the future and neglect them or treat them like second class citizens in the here and now…which I’m sorry to say happens in a lot of congregations that I’ve seen…then there isn’t going to be a church in the future, because when we die (and rest assured that we will at some point) then there isn’t going to be church anymore because the next generation won’t be here to continue it.

And while I think it is important to offer programming for our youth as a way to engage them, I do NOT think that it is the only solution. Nor do I think that hiring a 30-something pastor with a young family is going to automatically bring in the young people.

The notion that I got from this article on why millennials are leaving is that they want some authenticity. They want to know that the church isn’t a place where behavior is dictated ahead of time. They want to know that the church is a place that can not only handle questions of faith, but welcomes questioning OF faith. They want to know that the church is a place that’s safe for everyone…and that’s accepting of everyone, even those people that don’t have it all figured out yet.

You know what, I might be a little bit more of a millennial that I realized, because that describes a lot of my thoughts too.

Yes I love God. Yes I believe that Jesus died for my sins and without His sacrifice I am condemned. I do believe that…but I’ve got a lot of questions too. I don’t have all the answers…but I am excited to engage with the questions…and I rest easy in the faith that Jesus’ sacrifice was big enough to overcome the mistakes that I make, both in my life and in my ministry.

And it is my hope that the congregation that I have been called to serve embraces the idea that we are all in this together. We may not know where we are going? We may not know where God is leading us in the world today. We may not know what the “church of the future” looks like (may not nothing…we flat out don’t know), but if we are all willing to open up to one another regardless of age (or race, or demographic, etc, etc, etc) and see that God can use all of us and any of us to teach one another, then we stand a pretty good chance of learning.