Momentous Acts

It’s the time of year when many media outlets are showing the year in review – 2014 has not personally been my favorite year and I’ve been hearing from others of you that it’s the same.   Maybe, like me, you’re ready to say so long to 2014 – don't  let the door hit ya on the way out.

Of course 2014 did give us SOME things - In May of this year, Mirriam Webster added the word selfie to its official dictionary – a picture of oneself taken using a digital camera especially for posting on social media.

The selfie.  Will that be the legacy that 2014 leaves behind?  The bad thing about the selfie is that is gives self expression a bad name.  Because a selfie is all on the surface -  what you look like, who you are with, what you are eating...

How can we move from a perhaps difficult 2014 to a new day in 2015?  How can we move from the goofy immaturity of the selfie to the depth and riches real self- expression?

Listen, for example, to this song from Mary, spoken 2 centuries ago.  She begins speaking from the depths of her being, 
MY soul, she sings, magnifies the Lord  - MY spirit rejoices.  

And although these few words are short enough to  fit nicely in a twitter feed no one says “Oh Mary, get over yourself,” Or “Geez, Mary, why do you always have to make everything about you,” or even “Mary, nice girls don't talk about themselves, they ask about others.”

On Monday I was at a conference and I heard this story.  (Thanks Margaret Marcuson) 

On August 28, 1963, a young white man in South Africa turned on the radio.  He was disgusted and dismayed by the apartheid of this government and as a ministry student he wondered how his church could  continue to support the regime.  And then he turned on the radio and heard Martin Luther King Jr’s I have a Dream Speech.  Later, he would say that that “momentous act of self-definition brought hope to the whole world.”

Listen to his words:

… even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood….

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day… little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

A momentous act of self-definiton that gave hope to the whole world. 

See, king did not say “you all should have a dream,” he did not say “ If only someone else could have this dream.”  

King proclaimed I have a dream.  

It was Kings ability to articulate his own hopes, expectations and understanding of God’s work in the world that gave impetus to a movement and hope to the world. 

I guess it’s like this  there’s a difference bertween self expression – that’s the selfie thing where a person shows she or he is doing, or even going to one step further to what they are thinking and feeling AND self definition, where a person talks about WHO THEY ARE.

And when you know who you are, then you can know more clearly who God is, and what wonder God is working in the world.    

Listen again to mary’s song, this momentous act of self definition, as paraphrased by Jim Taylor (Everyday Psalms, Wood Lake Books)

My body grows round with wonder;
my soul swells with thanksgiving.
For God has been so good to me;
God did not say, “She’s just a girl.”
Once I was a slip of a girl,
but now I am woman,
one who can bring forth new life.
In all generations, I am blessed.
How could anyone miss it –
this new life in me is divine.
It is holy.
God grants new life to all who have not lost a child’s wonder;
they will be born again, and again, and again.
God watches over them;
God’s fierce love fills predators with sudden fear.
The miracle of birth levels our human differences:
tough men become tenderly gentle,
learned professors blurt out baby talk,
even politicians fall silent in awe.
But the small and helpless are wrapped warmly in soft blankets;
they are held lovingly in caring arms;
they drink their fill with eyes closed.
The rich, for all their wealth and status, can go suck lemons.
That is how God deals with all faithful people,
all who do not put their faith in themselves.
So God has always done,
so God will always do,
from Sarah’s miracle, to mine.

A momentous act of self-definition, that leads to an understanding not just of an individual but of God’s work in the world, who God, what God wants.

I was very moved by the notes that I got from you about the talent offering.  You might remember that a month or so ago, Jeff and I distributed our December offering to you in 10$ increments and invited you to make it grow and return it during December. 

Some of you returned these with notes that seemed to be to be momentous acts of self definition worth sharing. 

Some of you built and sold things,  one person sold off a piece of a beloved collection. 

Others of you used the money to fund a variety of project far and near  that represented the heart you hold for brothers and sisters in need -  KIVA, World Vision, Neighborhood House, World Food Program Sisters of the Road….

One retired professor used the money to buy snacks for a free tutoring session he offered at PSU.  26 total students plus he reports 2 well behaved children, attended the sessions and a total of $50 was raised – he says he enjoyed this opportunity to return to the teaching he loved immensely – this is was not just what he did, it was who he was.

Another person writes:

After several days of thinking and praying about what to do. I realized that God gave me a desire at a young age to save money and not spend all I received.  God also me a grandfather who even with a very modest salary had learned to invest and passed that knowledge on to my mother who shared that knowledge with my father.  My parents shared that knowledge with me.  While ding the record keeping, I was was pleasantly surprised that 2 of the dividend checks that I have received recently had increased over what they had usually been, so the increase is what I am returning.

This is not just a story about saving and investing money, although it is a powerful testimony to the importance of that skill – it is also a story about family, knowledge passed from one generation to the next, knowledge that is heard and treasured.  A momentous act of self expression – not just what she did, but who she was.

Another person wrote – I brought lunch to my work colleagues.  Together they pitched in nearly $70!  And the gift kept on giving – two of our clients smelled the soup warming and and asked if we were having a potluck.  My colleague told them the parable of the talents and the story of the $10 bills we received at church.  She says they left feeling uplifted and more empowered.  We just never know how our efforts will be multiplied.  Only that they will. 

One of the unexpected gifts to me of this project – and indeed of all the ministry I share with you - is being witness to your momentous acts of self definition. 

Like Mary, like Martin – God calls us to sing the song that is bursting forth from deep within – to express exactly who we are.   2014 gave us the word selfie.  What will 2015 give us?  As a community, here is my prayer.  That 2015 will grant us a new ability to explore momentous acts of self definition so that we can be agents of hope and transformation in this community and all the world.  

Amen.