Birthing a PromisePosted: December 21, 2014
Birthing a Promise
SLIDE 3: CRISIS OF CHILD BIRTH
Giving birth in the ancient world was the most important and dangerous crisis in the life of a woman. Complications from child birth were the number one cause of death for women two-thousand years ago. But giving birth and nurturing children was also the most important purpose of a woman’s life in the ancient world. Without giving birth to children the tribe died out. Whatever promise a particular community might hold for the benefit of humankind it would die, if children were not brought forth and nurtured. The future of a woman’s people depended upon her sacrifices in childbirth. Mary was going to give birth to the future. She was asked to take the risks of bringing a child into the world, and this child was supposed to be the Messiah, a double risk, for the powers that be would seek to snuff out the life of a divine child – a rival to the throne.
SLIDE 4: HOW SHALL THIS BE?
Also since Mary was still unmarried there was the third risk of being stoned as an adulteress. Would Joseph still marry her, if she became pregnant before they had relations? Who would believe her? Could she even believe it herself? An angel talking to her, a baby named Jesus? And good girl that Mary was — “How shall this be, since I have no husband?”
SLIDE 5: STANDETH GOD WITHIN THE SHADOW KEEPING WATCH ABOVE HIS OWN
And Mary was asked to believe the angel’s words: “For with God nothing will be impossible.” How many of us would be willing to believe a vision of angels? Or like Joseph who was visited by an angel in a dream to tell him to take Mary as his wife. How many of us are willing to believe in our dreams? God is never as plain as the nose on our face. The divine is always at least partially hidden. In the words of the old hymn, “Once to Every Man and Nation,” “standeth God within the shadow keeping watch above his own.”
SLIDE 6: SEEING GOD IN HINDSIGHT
So God can never be seen directly or face to face. Like Moses about the best we can hope for is to glimpse God’s backside. Or as Glenna Shepherd suggested when she was preaching from our neutral pulpit in October, by the way I can now announce that Glenna has been called to serve as the Pastor of our Pleasant Hill Community Church in Tennessee, anyway as Glenna interpreted the passage about the vision of God’s backside, perhaps we can only see God’s presence in our lives in hindsight. Once we get through some episode in our lives we look back and say to ourselves, “I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but God was there in the midst of that mess.”
SLIDE 7: THE WOODPECKER AND THE SQUIRREL
We are seldom able to appreciate God’s presence in our lives in the present moment. Or as Marian Lammers reminded me this past week about the importance of Roman Catholic educator Thomas Groom’s notion of meditating before going to sleep to appreciate the God moments that occurred during the day. As Marian said, once the day is over and she is about to drop off to sleep she can recognize the red headed wood pecker who stopped on her window sill to look at her, and the squirrel who came up on her porch to talk to her were God moments.
The recognition and appreciation of the God moments in our days is faith. Faith in a power and purpose in the Universe beyond ourselves. Faith that each one of us has a promise to bring forth in creation. I believe because my father was so severely wounded during World War II, he had a sense that if we are alive we have a purpose to serve in this life.
SLIDE 8: HANK TUTTLE
I remember Hank Tuttle sharing with me why he felt called to the ministry. Right after graduating from High School in 1944 Hank enlisted in the United States Navy to serve his country in World War II. His parents weren’t keen on it, but Hank was determined. He was trained to drive an LST landing craft for the invasion of Okinawa in April of 1945. Just days before Hank was supposed to ship out into the Pacific, he was pulled from the invasion of Okinawa and sent to Corpsmen’s School. Someone had figured out they had more than enough LST drivers, but they were going to need many more medics for the scheduled invasion of Japan. But before the invasion of Japan could take place the Japanese surrendered bringing to a close World War II. Hank then discovered that less than half of the LST drivers who had trained with him for the invasion of Okinawa ever came home alive. Hank realized he could just as well be dead, and that knowledge left him with a tremendous sense of responsibility to make his life count for something – a purpose larger than himself. Some months after that he woke up in the middle of the night from a troubled dream in a sweat and knew he was supposed to go to seminary to prepare for the ministry. He began the process of birthing a promise – a purpose larger than himself. He tried to live out that purpose, and United Church was fortunate he served here.
SLIDE 9: WORD BECOMING INCARNATE IN US
Each of us is called by life to something larger than ourselves. Like Mary we may have a vision of an angel or like Hank we may wake up in the middle of the night from troubled dreams and just know what we are supposed to do. Advent is not just about the coming of the Christ, Advent is about God’s word becoming incarnate in us as we seek to live out God’s purposes for our lives.
SLIDE 10: BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE
Of course, sometimes we can experience discouragement even down right despair as we attempt to find our way through the darkness – find God’s purpose in our lives, even in the midst of disaster. Bad things really can happen to good people. As I grew older I began to appreciate my father’s struggle with all of the setbacks in his life. Just as he was making plans to try to stay in the army at the end of World War II he was severely wounded. About three weeks after he was wounded he received his regular commission as a major which would have kept him from being rifted after the War was over.
SLIDE 11: MAKING A CAREER AS AN EDUCATOR
Then he tried to make a career as an educator. First he was a school principal at Papillion High School outside of Omaha, where he had to teach chemistry and shop, and coach the baseball team and direct the senior class play. He then went back to school to earn his doctorate and became a college professor at the University of Omaha. Then just as his career was beginning to take off in 1960, he was wounded in a hunting accident, thirty-two pellets in the face, blinded in one eye, and he was unable to keep up with his reading as an academic. After that disappointment he invested more time in his family, and in mentoring student athletes. He truly believed that athletics could be an important part of education. He also invested in his professional association becoming the Chairperson of the Division of School Psychology in the American Psychological Association.
SLIDE 12: HE HAD TO REINVENT HIMSELF
Whenever he suffered a setback he picked himself up, and sought a new way forward to serve. If you are alive, you have a purpose. He re-invented himself on several occasions, and I can only admire his faith.
SLIDE 13: EACH OF US IS A SACRED GIFT
Advent is about faith, hope and birthing a promise. Each one of us is a promise God has made to the world. Becoming and incarnating the promise within us is a sacred mission just as Jesus embrace his calling and the promise God was making to the world through him. Each one of us is a sacred gift from God. We each bear an awesome responsibility to bring our promise to fruition.
SLIDE 14: YES!
Sometimes we are tempted to believe we are unimportant of no account. Our contribution doesn’t matter. Mary could have thought that. Who was she, a poor peasant girl, of a conquered people, yet destined to change the world. Each of us has an important purpose, and we should never discount the part God has given us to play. Like Mary God waits for us, God waits for our “yes,” to the divine promise within us. “Behold we are the servants of the Lord, let it be to us as you O God have said.”