“Letting the kids help”
A sermon given by the Rev. Clare L. Hickman on January 28, 2018
Texts: Mark 1:21-28
Clare L. Hickman
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Ferndale
Rector’s report ~ January 28, 2018
The thread began with a classic parental lament: “I could have cleaned the kitchen by myself in less than an hour. But I wanted the kids to learn how, so I had them do it. Three hours later I was exhausted, and the kitchen still wasn’t really clean!”
Oh yeah, I’ve been there! It’s a constant struggle between the need to teach children responsibility and self-sufficiency, and the desire for efficiency. Sometimes, honestly, you just do it yourself. Because sometimes, you don’t have it in you.
So I was already “all in” on this Facebook discussion, when someone threw in a brilliant theological observation: that this is how God does it too. God could have perfected Creation in no time flat, but He decided to let the kids help.
That’s us, folks. We are the kindergartners sitting on the floor, earnestly tying our fingers into our shoe laces. We are the flour spillers, the indifferent moppers, the haphazard builders. We are the kids that God is patiently (eternally, patiently) trying to teach how to create a world. Why? Because we wouldn’t learn anything if it was all done for us. And so God is willing to let us get frustrated to the point of tears. And God is (apparently, clearly) willing to have the metaphorical Christmas tree we live in haphazardly plastered with decorations, all below the two foot level.
Which is to say: we have indeed been given the task of learning how to co-create the world, just as it’s a child’s task to learn how to tie her own shoes. In Judaism this gets the fancy name of Tikkun Olam, to heal and repair the world. But I appreciate the wisdom of the image, which acknowledges that we are mostly and understandably incompetent to the task that God has set us. We’re learning on the job. We are fumbling our way through. Which is why the world doesn’t work as perfectly as we’d like it to: God is letting the kids help.
Let’s look at the gospel. They say that the first thing that happens in any given gospel tells you a lot about what that particular writer thinks is central to Jesus. In Mark, we begin with the baptism, his call and commission to his ministry. Then the very next thing is the calling of the disciples. Jesus too, is letting the kids help (and boy oh boy, the disciples in Mark exemplify incompetence to the nth degree!). And then, his first public action is the one we hear about today. So, according to Mark, what is Jesus here to do? What are we here to practice until we stop tying our fingers into our laces every time? We are here to cast out demons and restore wholeness to the world.
Now, we don’t know how this person was tormented. We don’t know whether the forces that held him in their grip made him a danger to himself or to those around him. Unclean spirits, after all, come in a multitude of forms. But we know he was enslaved, distorted, and broken by this force that had hold of him.
And this is what Mark sees as the center of Jesus’ mission: to cast out evil and sickness. To heal broken spirits, broken bodies and broken societies. To confront the powers that assault humanity (the spiritual forces of evil, the political and economic forces of oppression, and the physical forces of disease and deformity); to confront them and overwhelm them, to flood them out with the power of God.
When the power of God flows through Jesus, it looks like feeding a multitude with a couple loaves of bread, it looks like raising a child from the dead, it looks like an unclean spirit silenced and sent forth from a man with much writhing and convulsing. When the power of God flows through our stickier hands, it looks smaller: more like forgiveness, more like compassion; it looks like confession and it looks like repentance; it looks like strength and companionship, advocacy and assistance. Then again, that’s what it looks like when Jesus does it too. It looks like bravery that casts out cowardice, kindness that casts out hatred, commitment that casts out callousness, humility that casts out pride, truth that casts out lies and denial.
Jesus shows us how. “You make a loop, and then you bring the other lace over the top…” He shows us how, by reaching out to this man, a man who probably (if we’re gonna be honest) scares people a little. A man who makes them feel vulnerable and uncomfortable, like they don’t know what to do or they are afraid of what he might do. So my guess is, this man might well have had a little space around him, all the time.
It’s tempting to back away. Not just when people act strangely, but even just when they are touched by misfortune: by illness or unemployment or divorce. We know it’s not catching, but we still feel reluctant to get too close. Or we’re afraid we won’t be able to do enough to help. We don’t know what to do, and we hate that uncertain space.
Just make a loop, and then cross the other lace over the top. Approach the person or the situation. You might be a little clumsy. It’s okay. Call on the power of God: call on truth, call on hope, call on compassion, call on fearlessness! Set that against the unclean spirit. And no, you might not cast it out as dramatically as Jesus did that day in the synagogue. But you are doing the only thing that ever possibly could. So keep at it.
At the annual meeting, we will be talking about some of the ways we as a congregation are stepping out into such spaces of courage and healing. In our small groups, we are learning how to drop the masks we are tempted to wear for each other, so that we might know ourselves, each other and God more deeply. In our nursing home ministry, we are visiting the lonely and vulnerable, recognizing the face of Christ in each other, even when all other communication is so challenging. And in our daily life together, we help each other to carry, to fight, and sometimes to mourn all the forces and griefs that assail us and our loved ones.
We fight evil. Not so much like superheroes, but sort of like bumbling sidekicks? It’ll do. Because we’re fighting evil, and that’s cool even if we’re not that great at it. Even if it takes us infinitely longer than it would take God if God did it himself. Even if, after all that time, we still don’t really get the job done properly. We’re learning. We’re doing it, every time we face into that discomfort, face into our fear of not knowing quite what to do, face into that instinct that tells us it would be easier to just walk away. We’re doing it when we hold out a hand. We’re doing it when we ask the question and listen to the response. We’re doing it when we witness those who are indeed tormented and are willing to learn the true name and nature of what plagues them, rather than the name the world might plaster on them: lunatic, layabout, thug, druggie, monster. We’re doing it when we call out unclean spirits wherever we see them, whether they abide in our own hearts or in those around us; when we recognize the unclean spirit and remember that an unclean spirit cannot abide the presence of the power of God.
So we’re doing it, when we let that power flow through us, when we call upon compassion, courage, selflessness, humility, repentance, forgiveness, hope, truth, kindness and commitment. We’re doing it. So let’s keep on doing it, because God is letting the kids help, and this kitchen is NOT going to clean itself! May it be so. Amen.