“Choose Your Words Carefully…”
One of my heroes is Brené Brown. She is an American researcher, storyteller and
professor. She teaches about shame, vulnerability, courage and empathy. She has a
podcast that she started just after COVID-19 lockdown began in Texas, where she lives. It’s called “Unlocking Us” and she talks to all kinds of folks about all kinds of different things.
Each podcast has two things in common; the desire to establish relationship with her
guest and the desire to speak to vulnerability. Brené, who has been an Episcopalian for the past 25 years, was asked to preach at the Washington Cathedral on the 21st of
January 2018. Originally raised Roman Catholic Brené reflected that her childhood
experience of Church was broken down into four things: sing, shake, eat, and go.
I’ll say that again…sing, shake, eat and go. Her reflections on the church of her
childhood included her dad yelling to get her and her three sisters into the car to go to Church or they’d be late. Then they’d stand and sing, sit and listen, stand and sing, sit and listen, shake hands at the peace, stand and sing, sit and listen, receive Holy
Eucharist and go. She said they very seldom heard the closing hymn because her dad
would rush the family out right after receiving the host because they wanted to beat the rush in the parking lot.
As she was telling the story I was crying with laughter. Her favourite four things, sing, shake, eat and go. She further reflected that when she left home for University she joined an Episcopalian Church on campus and enjoyed the sense of community she felt there. In her sermon she said something that stopped me short. She said “I wanna share the peace with people I’d punch in the face the other six days of the week.” I wanna share the peace with people I’d punch in the face the other six days of the week.
She yearns for meaningful relationship. With her family, her friends and especially with God. Relationships with all the joy and the crap that comes with them.
Our Old Testament reading today continues the lineage of Abraham. His son Isaac last week met Rebekah who was to be his bride. They have been married and she isn’t conceiving. Isaac prays to God who answers Isaac’s prayer. With twins. Lucky Rebekah! When she’s at the end of her tether…when she’s pleading that she’d rather die then endure another moment of this difficult pregnancy God speaks to her.
She is told, “‘Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be
divided; one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.’
When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. Afterwards his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob.”
For the record, Esau means “hairy or rough” which makes sense as he’s described as
both of those things. Jacob means “heel” as that is what he was gripping when he was born moments after Esau. Jacob also means “to supplant, circumvent, or over-reach”. We’ll see more of that as the story unfolds.
Esau is a rough and tumble kind of child. He spends a lot of time in the fields with his Dad, learning to live off the land. Jacob is described as quiet and one who lived in tents. Chances are Jacob was a bit of a dreamer, one who liked to read and observe, whereas Esau would rather roll up his sleeves and get to work.
Moving next to Paul’s letter to the early Church in Rome. That was a Church which was deeply divided and struggling to survive. Paul is writing to remind them that they have been baptised into Christ. Thus they belong to God. And as long as they belong to God they must follow God’s law, which is to care for each other, the widows and orphans and to give up the desires of the flesh. A notion which we, in the 21st century struggle to adhere to as we’re bombarded with advertising, telling us to buy this and we’ll be younger, healthier, thinner, more beautiful, stronger, wealthier, and more worthy.
For some reason I keep getting unsolicited ads offering me first looks at anti-aging
cream. Seriously? I don’t have any wrinkles, my fat pushes them all out. And those
lines and creases I do have, well, I’ve earned every single one of them. I have
absolutely no desire to go back in time. With each passing year I learn more of the
world, more about myself and more about my relationship with the Divine.
Paul is urging the early Church to turn back to what they have learned and put those
lessons to good use. His letter often sounds imploring because that’s exactly what he
was doing. He couldn’t get back to see them, though he wanted to, and these letters,
delivered by his emissaries, were the best he could do. [Spoiler alert – Paul does get
back to Rome, but ends up under house arrest].
Next to the gospel. The folks who choose the lectionary often cut out parts of the
chapter, sometimes for obvious reasons, and other times for reasons I don’t understand. Today is the latter…the gospel begins with the parable of the sower. At Christ Church, one of the beautiful triptych windows behind the altar is the parable of the sower. Jesus tells the story of one who sowed his seeds. Some on the path, some in thorns, some in shallow soil and some in healthy soil. Guess which ones do the best?
Usually Jesus speaks in parables and does not explain them further. It’s one of his
character flaws, in my humble opinion. 🙂 In the rest of the chapter Jesus tells the
parables of weeds among the wheat, the mustard seed, and the parable of the yeast,
among others. However, Jesus this time explains what happens, if the seed is sown on the path, in shallow soil, in the thorns and in the healthy soil. When I took a look at the entire chapter, the lectionary committee left out a paragraph between the parable of the sower and the meaning of the parable of the sower. And it’s a doozy.
The section begins with the apostles asking Jesus “ ‘Why do you speak to them in
parables?’ He answered, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.”
Jesus is telling his apostles that they should know what Jesus is speaking of and they
should be able to interpret what he is saying. Yet time and time again, Jesus shares
parables and you can imagine the stunned looks on the apostles faces. “Um, what do
you think he means?” “Uh, ya, I have no idea”. Words matter. Jesus chooses his words carefully. As does Paul. As did the author of Genesis. Esau means “hairy or rough”. Jacob means “heel or circumvent.”
Paul speaks of life and death, life and salvation, death and sin. Jesus speaks of believing without questioning (planting in shallow soil). He speaks of the
evil one snatching faith away (planting on the path). He speaks of hearing the word and ignoring it in favour of worldly possessions (planting among the thorns). Finally, Jesus speaks of the one, who hears the word and understands it, will reap great harvest of faith (planting in healthy soil). Jesus is reminding his apostles that they are the healthy soil and they are to continue to sow their seed in healthy soil by teaching, preaching and proclaiming. They are to listen to the lessons that Jesus is teaching, because he won’t be with them forever.
Have you noticed our vocabulary is changing? I’m finding now, whenever I see someone, at the end of the conversation they will say “Stay safe” rather than “Good bye”. My Mam has started doing that. Granted, she never says goodbye, but now, at the end of the conversation she says “Stay safe” and hangs up. Instead of talking about where we want to be a year, five years, a decade from now, we talk about what we want to do and where we want to be “post-pandemic”. Words matter.
Brené Brown signs off her podcast each episode with “stay awkward, brave and kind” which reminds me of Dr. Bonnie Henry, “stay calm, stay kind, stay safe”.
We are all weary, anxious and at times, afraid. Some people are getting angry. I had
some of that venom poured on me this week. I’ve been accused of “dereliction of duty” because our Church buildings are not re-opened, although the Roman Catholic Churches are. I will admit, when I read that comment I was hurt. And of course, I have no idea who it is who said it, because their name was not on the questionnaire.
And so after about an hour of wallowing and pouting, I put on some of my favourite
music and went for a drive. Then I came home and walked at one of my favourite
places. Then I re-read Psalm 62, “For God alone, my soul in silence waits”.
This past week has been tough. Adjusting to colleagues who have retired not being at
meetings I attend, or not as available to ask for advice or to vent. My counsellor is on
maternity leave and I’m struggling, so I’m asking my family doctor for a referral to
someone with whom I can help work through this. I’m safe, I’m okay, but I’m tired. I’m weary. I’m scared. And yet, at the end of the day, there is always hope.
This afternoon, I’m participating in an Anti-Racism Workshop through LeaderShift. The workshop is by Zoom and is limited to 25 participants. I’m looking forward to learning, yet know I will also be carrying profound shame for the racism that is inherent in this country, this province, and even in this valley. I will share my learnings with you, once I have processed them.
We are seeing COVID-19 cases rise again in British Columbia and all around us. We are making plans that may or may not see fruition when we want them to. We are watching and listening for the “second wave” and for the development of a vaccine.
So my advice to you, and to me, is to take one day at a time. One week at a time. To
pray without ceasing. To feel all the feelings. To be fully present when it’s necessary to do so, to daydream, yet also remember to savour the small things. A birdsong, a cool breeze on a warm day. Watching little ones paddle in the water at Maiden Lake. Saying hello to your favourite dogs at the dog park. Eating ripe fruit. Noticing the flowers. Walking in the rain. Climbing into a freshly made bed in a newly re-organized bedroom. Waking up to an elderly orange tabby cat gently snoring beside you. And for that specific moment, knowing that all is right with the world. And that God loves you; fiercely, unabashedly, and completely. More than yesterday, yet not as much as tomorrow.
Thanks be to God.
The Reverend Andrea L. Brennan
Pastor, Priest and Prophet
Christ Church Anglican & Knox United Church
Fernie, British Columbia
Sixth after Pentecost – 12 July 2020
Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23