Sermon preached by the Reverend Cindy Stravers
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – August 11, 2013
Our Gospel lessons in this season after Pentecost continue through the book of Luke. Jesus has “turned his face toward Jerusalem” – that is, he is heading to the city where he knows there will be pain, heartache, betrayal, death and ultimately birth into new life. In the previous chapters and in those that follow, Jesus uses words to teach, words to help his followers understand what they have experienced with him.
They have seen him heal the sick, raise the dead, confront the powerful, lift up the weak; they have seen him break all kinds of rules and they have seen things that made them question who he was and what he was all about. Certainly their expectations of him as the Messiah, the Savior of their people, had been shaken, if not completely destroyed.
Yet, he kept encouraging them – through story and teaching – that their future was secure, a new thing, a new age, was already coming. The Kingdom of God was being built in them, around them, beyond them and through them.
I heard an interview this week with Brene Brown, a professor of research at Houston Graduate School of Social Work. After some kind of pain-filled event in her own life (which she did not specify) she decided to return to church, following the age-old advice that when something is amiss, one should go back to church. She returned to a community of faith for comfort, for assurance, for a place to belong and to feel safe, a place to heal. She was convinced that rejoining a faith community would take her pain away.
She was looking for and expecting to find that the church would act as a kind of epidural – a numbing agent that would help her move through the tough times and on to a better place. What she realized was that the church had more important work to do and she summed it up like this: “The Church should be more like a midwife than an epidural.”
I tend to think she’s right about that. Sure, many of us have come from places of deep pain and anguish and have found a place to belong, a place to be accepted and loved as we are – no matter what. That is a wonderful thing and that alone can deaden pain – but it is not the only thing the church has to offer. I’ve had some experiences with midwives. Here’s what I know about the good ones.
1. They know what they’re doing – they have been taught the process of birth and trained about what to do in case they run into any complications. And
they have back-up.
2. They are confident, they trust the process, and they are ready.
3. They are calm and so very patient while at the same time always encouraging the process.
4. They are there to serve – to assist, not to control.
Jesus was a good midwife. He knew what he was doing – he had been learning his whole life about God and about the process of becoming what God intended him to be and what God intended for all of creation. And he knew what to do when complications arose. (The old back-up “repent and return” has stood the test of time!)
Jesus was confident. There aren’t many “it seems to me” or “I sincerely hope” kinds of statements in his teachings. He trusted God and in the end he was ready to be a part of the world’s salvation.
Jesus was calm and patient – while at the same time always encouraging the process of new life – in his disciples, in his followers and even in his enemies. He did not show up with general anesthesia or sterile forceps.
And Jesus was there to assist, to support and encourage. He did not take anyone’s individual choice away. He did not take control; instead, he invited his followers to do their work. He encouraged them: you can do this; I am here; blood is to be expected; don’t be afraid; keep breathing, now push. And when new life arrived, he cradled it gently, gave thanks and gave it back.
Yes, Jesus was a good midwife. What about us?
If we understand our existence to be the real-time presence of God in the world, a gathering of people who have chosen to follow Jesus, our purpose and our work is not simply to dull or deaden pain, but also, and more importantly, to encourage and support new life that is waiting to be born. We have been invited to be midwives of the kingdom.
How will we go about that? Jesus has some advice for us today.
First, just like a good midwife, we need to know what new life looks like, what the process is for its birth and what to do in case of complications. We get ready – sometimes by backing up and starting over. We study, we tell our stories, we pay attention to what’s going on in us and around us. We remember that it is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom.
Secondly, we believe – or maybe we simply do our best to believe – that something new and amazing is actually occurring: we open our hearts to the possibility and are willing to trust that there is treasure and truth in the teachings and life of Jesus. We get ready by emptying our closets and making room to pray. We get rid of those things that are in our way and give them to those who are in need.
Thirdly, we need to be patient but ready. We need to be dressed for action and light our lamps and open the door when God knocks.
And finally, we need to remember that our job is to serve not to control, to assist not to insist.
Something way beyond our wildest imaginations is already under way – and we are invited to participate in it. If you’re feeling ready to give birth, trust the process. If you’re called to be a midwife, get rid of what’s in the way, and stock up, instead, on birthing supplies. Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s great pleasure to birth the kingdom in and through you. Amen.