Mark 10:35-45; Testimonies!; Delivered October 21, 2018

 As you may already know, Katie McKown is the pastor at Scottsville Baptist.  We were at Baines last year discussing plans for our ecumenical Lenten services.  Katie said this: “I think this year we should make time in our services for personal testimonies.” Sound good?  Maybe you have no experience with testimonies—I don’t either really, although my guess is, a little more than you do.  A woman at one of the previous churches I served, yes, a Presbyterian Church, DID offer one, one Sunday.  Ignored the order of worship in the bulletin and everything!  Yep!  Some of the church members felt it was highly inappropriate. You know, exposing all those personal emotions. Disrupting a well-organized, carefully planned, church service!

At any rate, Katie’s idea presumably meant that there would be a set time in the service for a testimonial-a little more orderly, then.  I ran it by some of you, Katie’s idea about offering testimonies at our ecumenical Lenten services.  It was an “over my dead body!” kind of response.  Happily, Katie didn’t mention her idea again and I decided not to, either. You’re welcome.

I do think the sharing of faith stories is important, though. They feed our faith—I hear your faith stories, you hear mine, and we discover our commonalities.  We become more connected to each other and to God.  It’s one of the things I appreciate most about my years in seminary.  In small groups, and small group participation was required, we shared our faith stories. 

 Mary and David will be joining the church today.  I know only a little bit about Mary’s story, not her faith story, but some of her life’s story.  —Sadly, I don’t know much at all about yours, David.  I hope we can rectify that at some point. 

Most of what I have learned about Mary’s life story she has shared in our Bible study class.  She shared with us that both of her parents died when she was just starting out in life, as a 20 something year old.   She admitted that it messed with her life.  Consequently, she made some bad decisions.  I understand that.  I myself lost my parents, when I was just starting out. I made some bad decisions, too.   

Our 20’s.   It’s a crucial time in our lives—although I didn’t appreciate that when I was living through those years—as I am guessing most of us don’t   You think, “I’m all grown up now.  I can handle anything. Bring it on! “ Life, that is.  But really, even in our 20’s, we need someone in our lives who can act in a parental role-- Someone to listen to us as we navigate dilemmas—and unlike when we were younger, the decisions we make as a young adult, may have long lasting, life altering consequences.   

Having weathered my daughters’ 20’s, I know that now.  My oldest daughter’s main dilemma: “Shall I continue with my studies in a PhD program in New Jersey? Or, shall I stay in Tennessee and marry the love of my life?”  For some very good reasons, she decided that marriage was the better course.  With my middle daughter it was, “Is law school too difficult, too cut-throat for me? How much do I really want to be a lawyer?”  She decided to stick with it.  And for my third daughter it was, “Shall I take the abuse of my boyfriend, (Who had some definite anger management issues) or move on?  She moved on, established a career, and ultimately married a young man who loves her and respects her. As that same daughter says, when something goes her way, SWEET.  

In each case, I listened to them, helped them identify the real problem, and gave them affirmation “Well you should feel the way you feel. And know this, I love you.”  

That’s what was missing from Mary’s life and my life. I am not wanting pity, and I am sure she doesn’t either-- but it has been good for Mary and me both—I hope I am not putting words in your mouth here, Mary, to recognize as we lived through young adulthood with our children, that maybe we did the best WE could in our own particular circumstances.

So now I want to return to the subject at hand, which is testimonies.  I’m not asking you to share your faith story today, Mary and David, were you worried? but I will share mine, since I think our scripture passage calls for it.  So first a run down, of what some of you already know.

Along with losing my parents young, I almost lost God. 

It was precipitated by my father’s death when I was 18.   I was already holding on to my faith by the flimsiest of threads— The day my father died, though—suddenly of a heart attack—the pastor comes to our home.  My mother, my fifteen-year-old brother and I are sitting in the living room crying.   We had just received the news that my dad’s heart attack had been fatal.  Through her tears, my mother says, “Why did this have to happen?”  The pastor, sitting rigid, in an upholstered chair at the far end of the room, his face revealing no emotion-- to my mother’s question, “Why did this have to happen?”  answers, “It’s God’s will.” 

And the thought popped into my head? “if this is God’s will, Then I hate God.” 

I didn’t know that then, but I know it now--my mental response was actually a tremendous leap of faith.  I had refused to accept a God that as Shakespeare says in King Lear, “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, They kill us for their sport.”  God doesn’t kill 46 year-old-fathers and husbands for sport.  It wasn’t God’s will that my father died.  It happened, but God didn’t WILL it.

Contrary to what that emotionless pastor offered that tragic, life-altering day, God was with us in that room.  God had enveloped us in his strong arms; SHE was weeping with us. That’s what I didn’t learn in years and years of attending church school, church services, and UMC youth group, I only learned that through life experience, through personal study, and through participation in a church community that actively demonstrated God’s love, as we here in this church community demonstrate God’s love.    

Now, I am sorry, I am going to get heavy with you.  I need to bring into this discussion an important book.  William James was born in the early 1840’s and died in 1910  He is still today a celebrated thinker and writer.  One of his books, which has become a classic, is The Varieties of Religious Experience.  It is actually a compilation of his Gifford Lectures.  In the lectures, as in the book, he explores the connection between psychology and religion.  For the lectures, turned book, he interviewed faithful people—about their faith.  What he discovered was this—in EVERY instance, EVERY INSTANCE, these men and women of faith had had a conversion experience.

Ok.  Now that might not sit well with you and for good reason.  Have you ever been asked, “When did you accept Christ into your life?”  I have.  And if you can’t identify an exact place, date and time, then, well, you aren’t REALLY a Christian. Like it’s up to them to decide if you are in or out. I don’t mean that kind of conversion. 

Think back, though…was there a time—when your faith was tested?  When you gave up on prayer?  Was there a moment when you rejected the faith of your parents, your pastor, your religious community?  Instead you said, “I am striking out and accepting something else—or even, I am going to be agnostic, or atheist for awhile?” Yes, maybe eventually you circled back to the religion in which you were raised and for good reason.  As someone has said, “If you are looking for the truth, rather than dig six shallow holes,  better to dig one deep hole.”

William James says that is all part of the faith process. Believing, not believing and then believing again. We have to accept our faith for ourselves, or else it is not OUR faith   It can’t be imposed on us  Nor can it be easily won.  

That’s what I know. The fact that two of my daughters have questions about faith, and rarely attend church, should be a reason to celebrate, then.  They may yet circle back around, or not.  But a smooth and easy faith life, is not really a faith life at all.   Faith involves weathering some difficult times.  

And now, finally, it’s time to turn to scripture.  Mark 10. John and James have faith, yes.  But it is an easy faith, as yet.  Their side of the crucifixion and resurrection, they are assuming it can just be an uphill climb for them.  Jesus knows. They are still novices at faith and at life.  They are still using crayons.  They haven’t yet learned the finer art of painting in oils.  As Jesus predicts, they will have to be “baptized with the baptism of suffering,” and earn the faith they are after.   

I tell you this.  I have lived without faith—or at least without much faith.  Today, I can now claim my Christian faith.  That is because I have experienced some ups and downs.  I know that a life without faith is hardly a life at all. I claim my faith boldly and without fear or embarrassment.  And, Mary and David, I suspect that is why you are joining the church today.  And for that the rest of us are grateful.  We embrace you, we share our faith with you as we hope you will share your faith with us.   Welcome to the club.   Amen

 

 

 

 

Mark 10:35-45

 

As you may already know, Katie McKown is the pastor at Scottsville Baptist.  We were at Baines last year discussing plans for our ecumenical Lenten services.  Katie said this: “I think this year we should make time in our services for personal testimonies.” Sound good?  Maybe you have no experience with testimonies—I don’t either really, although my guess is, a little more than you do.  A woman at one of the previous churches I served, yes, a Presbyterian Church, DID offer one, one Sunday.  Ignored the order of worship in the bulletin and everything!  Yep!  Some of the church members felt it was highly inappropriate. You know, exposing all those personal emotions. Disrupting a well-organized, carefully planned, church service!

At any rate, Katie’s idea presumably meant that there would be a set time in the service for a testimonial-a little more orderly, then.  I ran it by some of you, Katie’s idea about offering testimonies at our ecumenical Lenten services.  It was an “over my dead body!” kind of response.  Happily, Katie didn’t mention her idea again and I decided not to, either. You’re welcome.

I do think the sharing of faith stories is important, though. They feed our faith—I hear your faith stories, you hear mine, and we discover our commonalities.  We become more connected to each other and to God.  It’s one of the things I appreciate most about my years in seminary.  In small groups, and small group participation was required, we shared our faith stories. 

 Mary and David will be joining the church today.  I know only a little bit about Mary’s story, not her faith story, but some of her life’s story.  —Sadly, I don’t know much at all about yours, David.  I hope we can rectify that at some point. 

Most of what I have learned about Mary’s life story she has shared in our Bible study class.  She shared with us that both of her parents died when she was just starting out in life, as a 20 something year old.   She admitted that it messed with her life.  Consequently, she made some bad decisions.  I understand that.  I myself lost my parents, when I was just starting out. I made some bad decisions, too.   

Our 20’s.   It’s a crucial time in our lives—although I didn’t appreciate that when I was living through those years—as I am guessing most of us don’t   You think, “I’m all grown up now.  I can handle anything. Bring it on! “ Life, that is.  But really, even in our 20’s, we need someone in our lives who can act in a parental role-- Someone to listen to us as we navigate dilemmas—and unlike when we were younger, the decisions we make as a young adult, may have long lasting, life altering consequences.   

Having weathered my daughters’ 20’s, I know that now.  My oldest daughter’s main dilemma: “Shall I continue with my studies in a PhD program in New Jersey? Or, shall I stay in Tennessee and marry the love of my life?”  For some very good reasons, she decided that marriage was the better course.  With my middle daughter it was, “Is law school too difficult, too cut-throat for me? How much do I really want to be a lawyer?”  She decided to stick with it.  And for my third daughter it was, “Shall I take the abuse of my boyfriend, (Who had some definite anger management issues) or move on?  She moved on, established a career, and ultimately married a young man who loves her and respects her. As that same daughter says, when something goes her way, SWEET.  

In each case, I listened to them, helped them identify the real problem, and gave them affirmation “Well you should feel the way you feel. And know this, I love you.”  

That’s what was missing from Mary’s life and my life. I am not wanting pity, and I am sure she doesn’t either-- but it has been good for Mary and me both—I hope I am not putting words in your mouth here, Mary, to recognize as we lived through young adulthood with our children, that maybe we did the best WE could in our own particular circumstances.

So now I want to return to the subject at hand, which is testimonies.  I’m not asking you to share your faith story today, Mary and David, were you worried? but I will share mine, since I think our scripture passage calls for it.  So first a run down, of what some of you already know.

Along with losing my parents young, I almost lost God. 

It was precipitated by my father’s death when I was 18.   I was already holding on to my faith by the flimsiest of threads— The day my father died, though—suddenly of a heart attack—the pastor comes to our home.  My mother, my fifteen-year-old brother and I are sitting in the living room crying.   We had just received the news that my dad’s heart attack had been fatal.  Through her tears, my mother says, “Why did this have to happen?”  The pastor, sitting rigid, in an upholstered chair at the far end of the room, his face revealing no emotion-- to my mother’s question, “Why did this have to happen?”  answers, “It’s God’s will.” 

And the thought popped into my head? “if this is God’s will, Then I hate God.” 

I didn’t know that then, but I know it now--my mental response was actually a tremendous leap of faith.  I had refused to accept a God that as Shakespeare says in King Lear, “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, They kill us for their sport.”  God doesn’t kill 46 year-old-fathers and husbands for sport.  It wasn’t God’s will that my father died.  It happened, but God didn’t WILL it.

Contrary to what that emotionless pastor offered that tragic, life-altering day, God was with us in that room.  God had enveloped us in his strong arms; SHE was weeping with us. That’s what I didn’t learn in years and years of attending church school, church services, and UMC youth group, I only learned that through life experience, through personal study, and through participation in a church community that actively demonstrated God’s love, as we here in this church community demonstrate God’s love.    

Now, I am sorry, I am going to get heavy with you.  I need to bring into this discussion an important book.  William James was born in the early 1840’s and died in 1910  He is still today a celebrated thinker and writer.  One of his books, which has become a classic, is The Varieties of Religious Experience.  It is actually a compilation of his Gifford Lectures.  In the lectures, as in the book, he explores the connection between psychology and religion.  For the lectures, turned book, he interviewed faithful people—about their faith.  What he discovered was this—in EVERY instance, EVERY INSTANCE, these men and women of faith had had a conversion experience.

Ok.  Now that might not sit well with you and for good reason.  Have you ever been asked, “When did you accept Christ into your life?”  I have.  And if you can’t identify an exact place, date and time, then, well, you aren’t REALLY a Christian. Like it’s up to them to decide if you are in or out. I don’t mean that kind of conversion. 

Think back, though…was there a time—when your faith was tested?  When you gave up on prayer?  Was there a moment when you rejected the faith of your parents, your pastor, your religious community?  Instead you said, “I am striking out and accepting something else—or even, I am going to be agnostic, or atheist for awhile?” Yes, maybe eventually you circled back to the religion in which you were raised and for good reason.  As someone has said, “If you are looking for the truth, rather than dig six shallow holes,  better to dig one deep hole.”

William James says that is all part of the faith process. Believing, not believing and then believing again. We have to accept our faith for ourselves, or else it is not OUR faith   It can’t be imposed on us  Nor can it be easily won.  

That’s what I know. The fact that two of my daughters have questions about faith, and rarely attend church, should be a reason to celebrate, then.  They may yet circle back around, or not.  But a smooth and easy faith life, is not really a faith life at all.   Faith involves weathering some difficult times.  

And now, finally, it’s time to turn to scripture.  Mark 10. John and James have faith, yes.  But it is an easy faith, as yet.  Their side of the crucifixion and resurrection, they are assuming it can just be an uphill climb for them.  Jesus knows. They are still novices at faith and at life.  They are still using crayons.  They haven’t yet learned the finer art of painting in oils.  As Jesus predicts, they will have to be “baptized with the baptism of suffering,” and earn the faith they are after.   

I tell you this.  I have lived without faith—or at least without much faith.  Today, I can now claim my Christian faith.  That is because I have experienced some ups and downs.  I know that a life without faith is hardly a life at all. I claim my faith boldly and without fear or embarrassment.  And, Mary and David, I suspect that is why you are joining the church today.  And for that the rest of us are grateful.  We embrace you, we share our faith with you as we hope you will share your faith with us.   Welcome to the club.   Amen

 

 

 

 

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