Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Partners in Love: a homily/conversation with Debra Dean Murphy

“Any idiot can face a crisis - it’s day to day living that wears you out.” Anton Chekov

One of those statements that you don’t think much about until you hear it. When you hear it, it rings true. So true, you don’t hear it so much as you feel it.

Any idiot can face a crisis. It’s day to day living that wears you out.

The saying is true of all life, and the Christian life is no exception.

When we were children, maybe, we had dreams of a singular cataclysmic moment that would put us to the test, when we would be pushed against the ropes, a clear moment in time when we’d know that all of life was meant for ‘now’. This moment. And after that moment, if we survived it, we’d go back to life as usual. The moment of a super-boost of sorts, like when the hero finds her loved one trapped under the car and summons an other worldly strength to free him. Or when the soldier enters the climactic fight for which all his other days have been mere training and draws the sword.

No doubting that God meets heroes in these moments, but then, the moment’s gone: the battle passes, the car is lifted, a new day dawns. The foxhole may be a good place to find faith, but where do you keep it when the foxhole clears? After the war? What need for God now? And there’s laundry left unfolded on the couch. And you’re there, all alone in the room. Or a baby pulling urgently at your pant leg.

Crises will happen, but what of the life lived day to day? Can the Gospel equip us, equip you, with the strength to persevere in those times when it doesn’t look like anything much is going on? And if there isn’t much going on, in what are we to persevere? And behind all these questions, I suppose, this one: does God keep a real, living, interest in our ordinary days? These are the questions of our readings this morning. They’re my questions, too.

As is our custom from time to time, I’m inviting a guest into the pulpit this morning, a fresh set of eyes with which to approach the gospel and these questions. Debra Dean Murphy is an Assistant Professor of Religion and Christian Education at West Virginia Wesleyan College. She likes books, movies, music, art, and politics, and she likes to think and write about how religion intersects all of these arenas - thus her interest in speaking just now. Her work is a contemporary one, written in the shadow of the moment that didn’t happen - the end of the world that was prophesied a week ago Saturday. She writes today about how we are to understand and respond to the closeness of God on days the world doesn’t end.

Her reflection is on this Sunday’s readings and is entitled: The Close-at-Hand God.

[You can read Debra Dean Murphy's excellent piece here.]

Some summary thoughts:

God is close at hand, the Kingdom of God is at hand; that’s the Gospel of Jesus; and the task of the followers of Jesus is to bear witness to the love that has been in their midst. We bear witness to God's love, staying near to the world in love, because the Spirit stays close to us.

We started with questions, I end with just a few more:

What does it mean to be a partner in love?

How does God's love shape how you know what love is?

How does God's love, the presence of the Spirit, strengthen your love for others?

We are called not to withdrawal from the world, but to be an active love for the world. What is the world in which you live? Who are the main players? Your family? Your coworkers? The folks you don't know well but you usually run into? Is there one place in your world that you can imagine expanding in love this week?

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