Friday, April 18, 2008

To Shepherd or Shove’ em?

Last Sunday I preached one of those sermons that folks either loved or hated. Wednesday, in particular, was a very curious day. I would get a quick complement how great it was followed within the hour by a long complaint about how disturbing it was. Later the same day, I listened to a long complaint about my blogging, followed by a couple of quick pats on the back about it.

It was a beautiful day in Bobcaygeon. The first day the temperature hit the double digits that year. A warm breeze blew in my face as I kept finding good reasons to go for a stroll. And as I strolled I wondered what was going on with the little flock that I work with?

The angry ones seemed to be saying that they didn’t get fed. I’d stirred up controversy. The United Church of Canada was once again pushing the boundaries of long accepted beliefs. While I didn’t say that I’d given up on a living Jesus – only that other Ministers had - I didn’t say what I did believe either. Instead I asked a bunch of questions and posed a bunch of problems that the mysterious stranger on the Emmaus road raised for me.

I pointed out that in the United Church, the circle we’d been drawing wider and wider had taken us outside of the lines that even the Bible had drawn. Women in the pulpit! Gay Ministers! Now, Ministers who don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ! Maybe that was what did it. After that, was the blood pumping in their ears so that they couldn’t hear what the Spirit was trying to say through me?

I dunno. As a Pastor I gotta think that these good folks are feeling like they’re fighting on every front. As the faith of their Fathers, and the world of their hopes, seems to dwindle away, why can’t we come to church and find the assurance and presence of a “word” that has always got me through?

Unfortunately, I am trying to follow Jesus. Jesus was no good shepherd in my opinion. He told his disciples “I send you out like sheep among wolves.”? (Luke 10, Matthew 10) What kind of a shepherd does that? He pushed and pulled them to break their hearts and crack their minds open so that a new “word” could live in them. Today we call it a paradigm shift. Jesus called it being born again. To see the world with new eyes sometimes requires us first to become blind, or dead, or lost. “Change is always first experienced as Pain.” says Walter, my Minister of Ministers.

As much as I love the compliments, they are only the other side of the coins of complaint. The currency of valuable. It keeps me employed in a democratic organization that could vote me out of a job. But the part of me that the Holy Spirit works on is not the same part that likes it when everyone is happy. The “is everybody happy?” muscle gets exercised when I start dancing in front of a mirror. The desire to find my own sense of personal value in the opinion of others is a strong attraction for me. But it’s not what got me started on this journey following Jesus.

The muscle that the Holy Spirit keeps working on makes me “dance like no-one’s watching”. The pursuit of what really matters – and the desire to share what I’ve found – is what Jesus called me into. The need to express it – put it on paper and try to work it out; co-create it with other strange people – is what drives me. The problem is that fundamentally I have to come back to that place where - even if it’s is only “my truth” based solely on my relationship with Christ – even if it doesn’t fit into any Biblical, theological, denominational or politically correct box currently available – I have to just keep putting it out there.

So whether people love it or hate it, I have to keep sharing what my journey comes up with. I’d like to telly you that your opinion is like “Water off a duck’s back”. But, I do have an ego – so far (I hope to ditch it beyond this life) - and, as a Pastor, as I’ve already pointed out, I live on top of that water. Do I Shepherd and protect? Do I push and pull? Do I get pushed and pulled? Or do I work it out with the other ducks?

My mission is not just to express what I find but to try to work it out and make it real; realize the kingdom of God among us. It’s the place where I meet other opinions, other experiences, and – and this is really big – and really paradoxical – to me the kingdom looks like a place where everybody’s got a different experience of Christ to share. It doesn’t look like a place where we’ve all got the same experience and idea. It looks and feels very chaotic and conflictual and competitive. It’s more like a jungle than a garden.

So where’s the peace? The peace of Christ? Where’s the peace of an abundant life in the kingdom of God that the prophets end all of their visions with. The peace is the water that the jungle lives from. The water that the roots draw up into healing green leaves. The ever-flowing spring of pure clean water that comes from the deep places fed from the high places in the great circle that is infinitely wider still and immanently within every atom that matters.
So suck some up and spit it out at me. I’ve got water-proof feathers you know.

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