First in series: Preparing for Our Next Big Step
As I have made mention of here in the past, I have another job helping run a before school program in at an elementary school in Evanston. It’s a program that provides a healthy breakfast and help with homework for kids that may not be getting that at home.
About a month ago, I there was a boy, I won’t use his real name, so for the sake of this talk I will call him Bubba, mostly because I have always wanted to personally know someone named bubba. So, Bubba comes in and, I ask him what homework he had to work on, and he told me nothing, that he didn’t have any home-work. Now, something you need to understand is that kids are not always honest with me about whether they have homework or not, shocking I know. My “I think I being lied to” radar starting going off. And I knew that he was in the same class as another kid in the room, so I asked bubba’s classmate whether he had homework. And, surprise surprise, he did.
So, I sat down with Bubba and gave him a little lecture on how important it is that he tells me the truth when I ask him about homework. And the whole time Bubba has his head down refusing to look up at me and eventually just storms out of the room. He went and choose to sit by the principal's office for the rest of the morning. I later actually found out that he went on to have pretty terrible day, ending up with him getting in a fight later.
the next day I stop into his Teacher’s classroom, to tell her what happened the day before. She stops me in the middle of the story, and tells me that in fact he doesn’t have the same homework as the other classmate that I talked to. She tells me that he goes to a special education teacher each day and does his homework there since he doesn’t have much support at home.
(Pause) He wasn’t lying to me at all. He really had no homework. On top of that she tells me that Yesterday out of nowhere he came up to her and asked for extra homework, because my program needed him to have more work to do.
I was still processing all of this when I head back for my program to start. And guess who comes in. Bubba, with his extra homework assignment all complete. He can’t actually stay for my program because he has to serve an inschool suspension for the fight yesterday, but he wanted to stop by to show me that he had done his homework, which I had just learned was extra homework he had requested just for me.
I felt like I had been punched in the gut. On one hand, I didn’t know. How could I know he had special circumstances around his homework? Nobody told me? But on the other, I could help but see what happened in a whole new light. He, who goes to a special education teacher to do his homework, is called out - in front of his classmate - and then lectured for lying. This poor kid wasn’t keeping his head down or storming out in an act of defiance, it’s in an act of embarrassment, hurt. I can’t shake the feeling I set this kid up for failure that whole day. Maybe he still gets in a fight later that day, but maybe he doesn’t.
I kinda shake it off, and think. “Well at least I know for next time” But this nagging thought just sticks in my head, something that in hindsight I have attributed to Jesus, I have this nagging thought that I need to apologise to Bubba. I need to get on my knee, look this 10 year old in the eye and say, “I was wrong, I am sorry”
I make a few excuses in my mind about why I shouldn’t have to apologise. But, this pull inside my chest, just won’t quit. I know I have to do it.
So, the next day I pull Bubba aside when he get there, and his face looks a little afraid he won’t keep eye contact with me. But I get on my knee look him right in the eye and say, “I talked to your teacher and found out that you really didn’t have homework. You were telling me the truth. I want to tell you, I was wrong, and I am so so sorry.” His face kinda lightens up and he smiles at me and gives me a hug.
after that day, Bubba has been totally different. He is engaged, responding, showing up ready and excited to get his work done. There has been enough of a difference in his affect that his teacher has gone out her way to tell me how much she thinks it is helping him.
(Pause) I feel like this experience, like so many other experiences that God lead me into. teach me that deeper, fuller, the more connected life, a life I will like more, is found in -- as challenging as it can be -- humbling myself, admitting my shortcomings, and failures. In short, softening and becoming more open, rather than hardening and protecting myself. I could have just protected myself and gone on with Bubba like nothing happened. He is a kid what is he going to do.
And to be honest, I am not always great at this, these kinds of things like apologising, admitting shortcomings, my struggles, I have had a hard time with this on my own accord. I have a hard time with this, but my I have found that Jesus seems so willing to help me still. Like I believe he was in nudging me with Bubba. He seems determined to help me find depth, fullness, connection, even when I’m kind of a self-protecting jerk sometimes.
(Pause) As you may be aware, this is our first Sunday meeting in what is known in the Church calendar as Advent -- the 4 weeks before Christmas, which is meant to work a time of preparation for celebrating God coming to humanity in the birth of Jesus
As we here at BLV enter into this season of preparation We find ourselves thinking about preparation for the next big step in our church.
As we mentioned at the top of the service, part of that is returning back to our permanent Sunday home, the more-cool-than-ever New Davis Theater on January 8 (our first service in the new year).
And there’s much more than that on the horizon for us, which we’ll tell you more about a little later in the service .
But one activity of preparation Vince and I have begun as the pastoral staff is distilling into like 8 to 10 simple statements our values as a church -- like many of us here probably know what these are by experience, but we’ve never tried to actually put them in writing, all at once, in a concise way
Next week, Vince will bring us into this list of values in more depth, but this week, I want to take a more reflective approach...
As we have been thinking through our values in general, My experience with Bubba just sticks in my head That in some way the heartbeat behind it all is the question: “soft heart or hard heart?
This is particularly apropos in our current season of advent. For as we prepare for christmas, the celebration of Jesus birth. That he chose to be born in a stable of a humble couple in strained circumstances, far from home and out of money. The simplicity of this birth has ever since given people pause to realize that God chose to communicate the great mystery of His love and mercy by sending us the least threatening divine presence we can imagine — a small child totally dependent on his parents.
And in this I think Jesus modeled for us the kind of life, if we were to pursue, where we could discover the help we can’t give ourselves, the help in finding a life more connected, deeper, and fuller.
(Pause) There is a prayer that Mary, Jesus Mother prays upon finding out she is pregnant with Jesus. This is a prayer is often read as part of advent.
I would love to read this with you now, because it is advent, but also because I think it is the first picture we have of someone coming to terms with the implication of the God the universe coming to us as helpless Child. And I want to invite you to pay attention to May’s heart in this prayer.
Luke 1 NIV 46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. 50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”
I’ve always kinda loved this prayer by Mary.
In a strange way, it has described my own experience of faith as well as anything. That when I embrace my need, when I acknowledge my shortcomings, that is when I most find the help, validation, guidance, healing, support that God has for me.
Look at her words he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. has done great things for me His mercy extends He scatters the Proud He has lifted up the humble Filled up the hungry Helped his servant Been merciful Fulfilled his promises There is an embrace of weakness, need. She is not striving to prove herself, jockeying for position, keeping score with the world?
No, she is open and vulnerable, and soft.
(Pause) Richard Rohr a Catholic thinker, whom we tend to quote fairly often as he is one of my favorite writers on matters of faith and spirituality alive today.
I think there is an excerpt from something he wrote this last year that gets at the heart of Mary’s prayer here, and gets at the heart of Jesus’s birth, and frankly gets at the heart of Jesus life, death, and resurrection.
“It takes all of us a long time to move from power to weakness, from glib certitude to vulnerability, from meritocracy to the ocean of grace. Strangely enough, this is especially true for people raised in religion. In Paul’s letters, he consistently idealizes not power but powerlessness, not strength but weakness, not success but the cross. It’s as if he’s saying, “I glory when I fail and suffer because now I get to be like Jesus—the naked loser—who turned any notion of God on its head.” Now the losers can win, which is just about everybody. The revelation of the death and resurrection of Jesus forever redefines what success and winning mean, and it is not what any of us wanted or expected. On the cross, God is revealed as vulnerability itself (the Latin word vulnus means wound). The path to holiness is so different than any of us would have wished or imagined; and yet after the fact, we will all recognize that it was our littleness and wrongness that kept the door to union and love permanently wedged open every day of our life. In fact, there is no way to close it.”
(Pause) Today, we so often look for hope in strength, success, and power. I know at least for me, I so often associate the life I want with a life with plenty of resources, a life with power I can wield, with success, and comfort. But, this Advent season, invites us to consider a subtle inversion of value, a flipping of the script. that power is borne of weakness and strength of humility. It is not strength, or self reliance that lead us into life, it is humility, the acknowledgment of our need for help.
And this is at the very heart of our vision for this church, BLV In fact, I remember vince and I praying together several year back at some church event this was when BLV was a mere glimmer of an idea and as we were praying we felt like God laid out the heartbeat of what BLV would later become. And this heartbeat was true and honest humility... that finding the help we need in life, finding the validation we desire, the connection and depth we long for. It all begins with humility, the softening of our own hearts to say, I don’t have it all figured out, I am limited, I do have flaws, I do fail, And It is this which opens up the door to everything Jesus has for us.
So we began planning to start a church because we wanted to experience more of the amazingness of the humility Jesus has led us to... and we wanted more people to experience the amazingness of the humility Jesus leads people to.
Thus, one of our biggest guiding questions as we have created, formed, and grown BLV IS “Does this make my heart softer or harder”
Like, my experience with Bubba, the choice to apologise was one that made my heart softer. And we want BLV to be a place that encourages, supports, and equips you to discover all these heat softening experiences in your own life that we believe Jesus wants to lead you into.
And if we have a whole community that is pursuing this kind of humility, this pursuit of soft hearts, Man think about the potential.
This can be a place open to any and everyone, a place where people can bring their full, incomplete, imperfect selves to table.
A community that is safe and supportive, and apologies when it’s wrong. And in our current world, don’t we need more places where people’s hearts are becoming softer not harder?
We have big dreams that BLV can be a force for this in our neighborhoods. That we can be a place that pushes back against the anger, division, partitionship, the “I’m right, you’re wrong” crap of our world. And rather, we can lead a revival A revival of people who say things like, “I still have so much to learn, so tell me more about you” That we lead a revival of respectful and soft hearted conversations. That we can lead revival in this neighborhood where humility is the first thing associated with Jesus’ name, not anger, or bigotry, or division.
I hope for this more than about anything I can dream of hopping for our Church. Because on the deepest of levels I believe this softening of our hearts, this kind humility is where we find the life we want, where we find the healing and resources we need, I believe it is where we find Jesus.
Takeaway for advent - When you’re faced with a hard choice, try praying and asking Jesus, What would lead me to a softer heart? Then imagine each course of action you might take playing out, and pay attention to which is being highlighted as leading you most toward a softer heart… In my experience, there always seems to be a course of action being highlighted. Jesus does will not leave you out to dry.
Well, in moment I will pray, and we will enter into a time of singing and prayer. Something that spiritual communities have done for centuries. And I invite you to engage in that time in whatever way feels best to you. Maybe it is singing along and dancing. Maybe it is just sitting back and letting the music hit you. And, as we are doing that we will have a team of people in the back who would love to pray with you, It can be a really meaningful thing to have somebody else pray along with you. And I have found that God tends to show up in surprising and powerful ways when I have asked someone else to pray for me. It’s a safe and good group of people, no one is going to make you feel uncomfortable or give you unasked for advice. -- So if you will stand with me