‘Tis a Gift

In preparing for my sermon this week, I came across a beautiful dialog sermon by Martin Marty and his son, Micah. The sermon emerged out of a book they have done together called, When True Simplicity is Gained. The book contains striking photographs by Micah, along with commentary by his father. (My copy is on it’s way to my door as we speak.)

The Martys’ sermon gracefully deepened my understanding of the virtue of simplicity. Yet, as is often the reality of preaching, nothing from their sermon directly made it into mine.

So we come to the beauty of the blog. Here are a couple of quotes from Micah Marty that are well worth sharing, even though they don’t quite fit into Sunday’s sermon.

Unlike a painter, for example, who starts with a blank canvas to which paint is gradually added, the photographer starts with everything-an infinitely crowded canvas, as it were-and progressively removes distracting elements from view.

That feels like my life process right now. It’s not about finding people, activities, commitments, causes, to add to my life. It’s about focusing. Narrowing. Putting the energy where I want it to be instead of where other people are trying to pull it.

It also strikes me at times that the elements I choose to put into the frame of my viewfinder might strike some folks as odd juxtapositions; woman and pastor, adoptive mom and birthmom, Bible-believer and gay rights advocate, writer and crafter, literary snob and mystery novel lover, and most recently a pastor who preaches on simplicity while starting a small business.

The metaphor of photography encourages simplifying and narrowing. And it also allows for unfamiliar yet beautiful combinations of images.

So it’s not just the spectacular that’s beautiful–in fact, I’ll take a beautiful picture of an ordinary object any day over an ordinary picture of a beautiful object.

This is a truth I think I’m slowly growing into. When I was ten or eleven I wanted to be a foreign missionary. Not so much because I loved God (though I did) or because I wanted to serve the oppressed (though I did); I wanted to be a missionary because I watched a made-for-TV movie about some nuns who were missionaries in El Salvador. They were kidnapped and raped and murdered. Somehow this was appealing.

I tend to be drawn to drama. There’s a part of me that longs for the obviously spectacular. But I’m learning that God’s call on my life is pretty ordinary—as much as anything connected with God can be termed ordinary.  Or at least it feels ordinary to me as I’m living it.

I’m not running a program to get hundreds of teenagers off of drugs; I am doing my best, day by day, to nurture my own three kids and help them make good decisions. I’m not preaching revivals that end in mass baptisms; I am walking the journey of faith with a small community of folks, having the deep privilege to baptize a few of them each year. I’m not a missionary in El Salvador risking my life for peasant farmers; I am (or at least was) risking my ordination credentials in an effort to show Christ’s love to LGBT people and to open the doors of the church a bit wider. I don’t think they will be making a TV movie about me anytime soon.

“I’ll take a beautiful picture of an ordinary object any day over an ordinary picture of a beautiful object.”

In art and in life.  Beauty is created not by our own valiant efforts, but by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit who frames and illuminates our lives.

Amen and amen.

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