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We are not done yet.
We are moving my mom into a nursing home. We are getting closer, but the sorting and the sifting and the sadness persist.
And so, the biblical text yet again lives my life is such a way that this column has to be a “part two.” The biblical story just won’t let me go. And I guess I am glad it won’t -- because it reminds me of what the life of a preacher, of a believer, should be.
You know what I mean, right? You try to find something else on which to preach. You imagine going rogue, and wow, is that ever a ride! Outside of whatever lectionary you are using. You consider justifying a chosen text for a situation when really, all of the machinations are just escapes to avoid the ways in which a text comes way too close to the truth.
Two weeks in a row. Luke, you are killing me.
So, here I go again on possessions.
What is close to your heart?
In last week’s column, I talked about how our possessions matter if they matter to another -- if the meaning of the object can be lodged in how it means outside of yourself.
This week, it’s a 180, friends. What is close to your heart?
Driving back on Sunday night from a day of packing, I called a dear friend. I needed to talk, to process. I needed help. How do you decide? What do you keep? My friend told me, “When my mom died, I kept just a couple of things, a few things close to my heart.”
There it is. And what is one thing she kept? Her mom’s sweater. Why? Because it was who her mother was.
What will I hold on to when there is so, so much I could keep?
I came across a box marked “Scandinavian doo-dads.” My mom is half Swedish, half Norwegian and I grew up with various and sundry traditions that she chose to carry on -- lefse, Santa Lucia, for example.
The box indeed contained Scandinavian doo-dads -- a small plaque with Bestemor (Norwegian for grandmother), an Uff Da tile, a wall-hanging that said, “Kiss Me, I’m Norwegian.” I brought the box to my mom this past Tuesday. We went through the contents and my mom decided there was little to keep -- both for her and for me. But do you know want I wanted to save? The box.
I wanted to keep the box because it was a reminder of her vocabulary.
Like “beaky.” She loves that word. I have never heard anyone else use that term for someone who is cranky or a crabby patty.
So it made me think. What possessions you end up holding close to your heart has everything to do with how you are able to describe the meaning of those possessions. In other words, I just want to keep the damn box because the description on the outside better encapsulates my mom than what is on the inside.
This week Jesus is asking us, what is it that encapsulates the Kingdom of God for you? What is the one thing that if someone asked you about it, you would be able to give witness to your faith in God, your belief in the work of Jesus, your confidence in the presence of the Spirit? Is it a bible gifted to you? A confirmation keepsake? A baptism remembrance? A picture that hung on the wall in your grandmother’s living room? An icon? A doo-dad?
According to Jesus, the possession that reminds you of the meaning of the Kingdom of God is your personal faith vocabulary.
There are many things we believe, on which we insist, for which we will stake a claim. But to back it up? To be able to describe what it really means? Well, there’s the difference.
Jesus says that the treasures close to your heart are those you can actually clarify to another in a way that the other gets what you mean, can sense that it matters, and that it matters deeply.
In other words, what you think about God, believe about God, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, doesn’t really make a difference if you don’t have the language to share it. That which is close to your heart should be that which is the easiest to express. Not easy in terms of its complexity, but easy because it is so clear to you how much it matters, how much it defines you, how much it truly expresses the depths of who you are.
As pastors, as preachers, as believers, Jesus invites us to consider our own theological vocabulary -- and maybe even to stake our lives on it.
What is yours? Do you know it? You have to. Why? Because that is a critical calling of a preacher -- to know her own theology so as to see it in the text, and, to see when the text challenges it. To trust that the multiple contexts of a congregation’s life will also lay claim on the theology you wish you could preach -- but can’t.
And when we better know our own theological commitments, we can better listen to another’s vocabulary -- what they hold close to their heart. You may not agree, but it’s theirs. You may challenge it, but you are more equipped to listen if you are aware of your own. You may want to dismiss it, but it is harder to do so when you realize you, too, have commitments at stake. And that, I think, is truly needed in this time and place. In this time and place of Black Lives Matter. In this time and place of LGBTQ rights. In this time and place of blame of terrorism. In this time and place of an election in the United States that is sure to be polarizing and why? Because, the first woman nominated for the presidency of the United States calls out our country’s systemic sexism -- a vocabulary that needs to be upended.
What we need more than ever is confidence in our own vocabulary of faith, not for the sake of competition or expectation or agreement, but for a truly impassioned commitment to dialogue and conversation.
What do you preach, then? Your preaching is invitation -- an invitation to invite all to discover their own theological vocabulary. This is not a call to recite proper doctrine, but to be able to express in your own words, close to your heart, what your faith means to you. You invite a call to witness. Witness is not about having all of the answers, but confessing what matters. Your preaching is a come to Jesus moment, if you will. If you had to say what your faith, what your commitment to the church, what your belief in Jesus and God mean? What would you say? That’s the rub of this passage this week. The treasure of speech. Or, we might say, the treasure of the Word.