Sunday, December 25, 2011

Birthing

Friends, this is my last sermon as pastor at New Covenant Presbyterian Church in Mt. Laurel, NJ. I have always called it Tiny Church, and I am profoundly grateful for my time there. I learned how to preach at Tiny Church through the kindness of this congregation. They hired me as pulpit supply during my last year in seminary, and by the time I was ordained I had already preached 30 times in their pulpit.

They have been almost ready to stone me more than once, and yet we have wandered the wilderness with good humor and potlucks. I will miss them deeply.

This will be my last post on this blog, which I will leave up for a while. You can find my further musings at http://insideouted.blogspot.com

Sunday, December 25, 2011
Sermon by Katie Mulligan

Scripture Readings: Jonah 4 and Luke 2:1-20
(We used a Christmas Litany by Jennifer Phillips to call us to worship)

We have been following the story of Jonah through Advent, and here we are now at the final chapter of Jonah on my last day of service to this church, on Christmas morning, worshiping with our brothers and sisters from the afternoon church. A truly blessed three and a half years it has been, and I am sorry to be leaving you.

I came into this church with wild children, and I leave you with wild children. In three and a half years, nothing has changed and everything has changed, both for me and for you. We go into the new year, both you as a church and I as a pastor, with only a vague outline of what is coming next. There could be no more appropriate symbol for this juncture than the birth of a child.

The birth of a child is a moment of disruption, hours of labor, a vulnerable time out of time. There are few things more intimate than birthing a child, feeling that tiny body slipping out of your own body into the world, hearing the baby cry for the first time, nursing to offer life and comfort. There are few things more painful than birthing a child. 

Every birth is different. Some births end in death, others in unexpected life. The biggest surety is that the child born is rarely as we expected. Some births are long and painful, others fast and easy. No two births are the same--my first child came fast and hard and hasn't stopped raging at the world yet. My second came slow and easy over many hours, took a nap for several hours (and thereby stalling my labor), and then did not speak for three years.

Every birth is different, and therefore the metaphor of Christmas settles over us with peculiar and particular importance. As we too bear the Christ child into the world in this coming year, we are called to stay present in this birth, to know the cost of bearing the Spirit, to listen carefully for the cry of God, and to offer life and comfort to Christ as we care for one another.

We are not so different from Jonah, this little church. We are a stubborn people—and I include myself in that, for all that I am a newcomer and for all that I am leaving. Our vision is often narrowly focused on what is directly in front of us—as a church we have difficulty lifting our eyes into the future and beyond these walls. We get frustrated—and it has been a frustrating few decades as our numbers have dwindled and EVERYBODY seems to have a better mousetrap or transformation program or a new copier or overhead projector or prayer plan or whatever it is that will supposedly bring life to these bones. It is no wonder that like Jonah we are tempted to wander only a third of the way through Ninevah. It is no wonder that when God declares there is life after all that we prefer to sit on the hill and pray for death. It is no wonder we are angry with God.

Jonah sat on that hill and watched the rebirth of Ninevah. Perhaps what he failed to see was the rebirth happening in himself.

Jospeh and Mary journeyed long and hard in her last month of pregnancy to get to Bethlehem, and then in less than perfect circumstances they gave birth to the tiny Christ child. They birthed the Spirit into the world and changed who we are forever. Nothing came easy, nothing came quick, but they persevered on the journey, and they walked with God. This is my Christmas prayer for you and our churches: May you birth the Spirit into the world, may you be changed forever. May you persevere on the journey, and may you walk with God.

(We closed our worship with this Franciscan Benediction)

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