Monday, September 23, 2019

Three Parables

It's been awhile since I've preached using parables, since 2008 to be exact.  Here they are (character voices not included).

Three Parables:
The Parable of the Climate Denier
The Parable of the Misguided Pastor
The Parable of the Forgetful Church
Acts 3:1-11
September 22, 2019
Judson Memorial Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN
Rev. G. Travis Norvell

Prayer of Illumination
Divine Wisdom, Breath of Life, be with us as we hear your word, your stories, your world changing possibilities.  Amen.

Some words on broken syllogisms

You remember syllogisms: Major Premise, Minor Premise, Conclusion

God loves everyone,
I am part of everyone,
God loves me.  

But most of life is not a neat syllogism but a series of broken syllogisms

God heals the broken
I am broken
God has not healed me.

The story in Acts is a story of a healing, but the healed person will eventually die like the rest of us.  So instead of concentrating on the healing I ask you to concentrate on the exchange of looks in the story. Because in those exchanges is the power of this story, for us this morning.  We have power as people of faith, but oft times we forget it.  

Acts 3:1-11

Okay the ground rule for all parable preaching - you must resist the temptation to think I am talking about you in the parable.  You will think that I wrote this parable with you in mind as one of the characters, I did not. Example: in the Fall of 2008 I played golf once a week with X, the UCC pastor in town.  Xwas a great guy, but a terrible golfer. He thought all of his golfing problems were related to his equipment (external), not his skill (internal). I used a real life instance where X walked up to the tee box and said this hole is set up for a low-flight ball with medium spin, I have just the ball.  He reared back and swung (there was not one thing redeemable about his swing) and hit the ball and it traveled all of six to seven feet. I told this story to illustrate how many times we think an external solution will solve an internal problem. After the sermon, three or four people came up to me and had these responses: “that was me, wasn’t it? I knew my swing needed work, but is it really that bad?” OR “why didn’t you just say you didn’t like golfing with me”.  I shelved parable preaching that Sunday, until this morning because I know you are a mature, reflective and self-differentiating congregation…

This week, however, as I wrote this sermon parables kept emerging off the margins of the page.  I said, go away parables, but they kept pestering me. Sometimes while writing I can sense a poem in the prose, and sometimes I write a poem off the margin of the page.  But this week as I listened to youth (both excited and downcasted) prepare for the Global Climate Strike, as I participated in the Council Meeting where our moderator unveiled an amazing plan for the work of the council, as I watched kids racing one another on tricycles at the preschool, as i watched a preschool parent laugh and laugh at the pumpkin spice sermons note on the sandwich board sign as I listened to stories of care and compassion during the Congregational Care meeting, as I talked to Judson neighbors and blessed dogs, shook hands and read emails and talked on the phone and answered texts...these parables kept emerging.  

Second note, maybe you read A Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, an allegorical tale about the Christian life.  In the book there are no characters with normal names, each character is a metaphor with names such as Love, Perseverance, Mr. Worldy Wiseman, and Obstinate.  I’m following his lead...

Here they are, parables of faith-power.  

The Parable of the Climate Denier

One day there was a Climate Denier who said things like, “Why would God give us oil if He didn’t want us to burn it?”  And, “If the earth burns up, so what? That will just usher in the return of Jesus.” And so three upright, faithful, well-meaning people, Data, Persuader and Awe from Judson Church went to pay Climate Denier a visit.  

Data knocked on Climate Denier’s door and of course Climate Denier let Data in.  Data plopped down a six inch binder of spreadsheets on dot matrix printer paper. Data showed Climate Denier there was no logical reason to deny climate change because you cannot argue with the science.  But Climate Denier did not like Data insinuation that they were stupid so they said, “That binder looks and sounds like alternative facts”. Data became furious, grabbed the binder, stormed out the door and yelled, “ignorant fool, it’s because of people like you…”  As Data stomped down the sidewalk Persuader was coming up. Data said to Persuader, “If you’re going to see Climate Denier, it’s no use that person is stubborn as two 5 gallon buckets stacked tight together. But Persuader just smiled and said to theirself, “Oh Data, when will you ever learn, just hide and watch”.  Persuader knocked on Climate Denier’s door. Persuader could tell Climate Denier was shaken and troubled but they went ahead with their plan anyway. “Dear Climate Denier you know that CO2 levels are at an all-time high. If you do not reduce them now it will be too late. You must change now.” Again Climate Denier felt as if they were being insulted, why was it only Climate Denier who must change?  Climate Denier replied, “What about when a volcano explodes doesn’t that spew CO2 into the atmosphere? Besides what harm is it that I drive my car to the grocery store every now and then?” Persuader coolness quickly melted as they got in Climate Denier’s face and yelled, “You dumb as sledtracks SOB don’t you get it? The Climate is changing and it’s your fault. Get with the program. Why don’t you just leave Judson and join X or someplace like that”  Then Persuader stormed out of the house and down the steps and down the sidewalk. Just at that moment Awe was coming up the sidewalk. Persuader was so mad and frayed they just spit and screamed. Awe slowed down and gave Climate Denier some time before knocking on the door. When Awe knocked on the door they did not come in when invited, instead they invited Climate Denier to walk with them. So they walked, sometimes in silence, sometimes chit chatting.  They talked about their aches and pains, they talked about nieces and nephews, and grief and trouble paying the bills, they talked about God and prayer and the unfairness of life. Then they came to a bench overlooking Lake Hiawatha and sat down. They watched in silence as the sun set. After the orange orb dipped below the horizon, Awe pulled out of their bag two glasses and a bottle of Pinot Noir from the X McMinnville, Oregon vineyard owned and operated by an American Baptist family.  As they sipped their wine their faces relaxed even more and they realized how much they needed each other.  

The Parable of the Misguided Pastor

One day Pastor was feeling useless, like all of their work meant nothing - in one ear and out the other.  And so Pastor thought about becoming a politician, but then Pastor remembered the limits of politics and all the handshakes and speeches and crowds - just the thought made Pastor tired.  Then pastor thought I bet I’d make a great organizer. But then Pastor remembered the limits of organizing too and all of the time needed for administrative work, and planning and visioning and phone calling and texting and emailing - the thought of that made Pastor break out in hives.  About the time Pastor was feeling futile the phone rang, it was Broken-hearted they were in the hospital and it didn’t look good, would Pastor come see them. So Pastor pedaled and caught the bus and walked to Broken-hearted’s room. Broken-hearted was about to tell Pastor about their condition when Doctor walked in wearing a white coat, and official lanyard and talking in a velvet voice. Pastor went to leave, feeling useless again but then Doctor started talking to Broken-hearted in a not so kind voice and saying things that weren’t very kind.  So Pastor stopped walking and addressed Doctor, “You can’t talk to Broken-hearted that way. They are a valued member of Judson Church, they are a child of God like you and me. Doctor apologized and regrouped and Pastor never thought again of being a politician or an organizer.  

The Parable of the Forgetful Church

One day three demons, Enormity, Sustained Energy, and Division, came to visit 41st and Harriet Ave. in South Minneapolis.  Enormity said, “I hear you think you’re really doing something with your four working groups: White Privilege, Climate Justice, LGBTQIA+, and Youth Homelessness - well I’m here to remind you of the size of these problems and that one teeny church does, doesn’t matter diddly squat.  And Enormity laughed a wicked deep laugh and stepped away. Then Sustained Energy came forward and said, “Look at you, how long do you think you all can keep this up? Your bones are fragile, your paycheck work will consume you, and your results will never match your expectation Hah!.  Then Division piled on, “You know just for fun I’m going to send my minions of other worthwhile projects to tempt you. They will wiggle and waggle in front of you teasing you, they will make you feel guilty because you are not paying attention to them, they will make others feel jealous because they get all the attention and these issues get none oh it will be so much fun to watch the joy and energy and change drain away from you and watch you shrink back to the size.  As they stood giggling and taunting and mocking Judson their thoughts together said, “nothing more than a pompous mouthful, the best good enough 150 on a Sunday progressive church in America…

And then a person with a walker said, “Hold on.”  And then a youth said, “Yeah, wait a minute.” And then the coveted young family said, “Aren’t we a Resurrection community?”  And at the sound of that the demons shrank, then set of toddler twins went over and squashed the demons and popped them like bubble wrap...

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