I'm now a week-ish removed from the Festival of Homiletics. The event, on the whole, proved rather disappointing to me-- and maybe in some ways I've out grown it. But in other ways, there were surprises and learnings and Words.
The preacher with whom I most identified was not one of my careful, wordsmith preaching heroes. It wasn't someone that would ever wear a preaching robe, not someone who'd likely ever have a Ph.D behind her name. No, she was not that kind of preacher-- she was not the kind of preacher I've always dreamed of being. Instead, she was tattooed and ripped, and had the huge ear-stretching earrings. She wore sleeveless shirts that showed off her tats, and a stole and clerical collar. She cussed during her sermon, completely unbothered by the "that's not a proper way to worship" tsks. She was honest. And raw. And the person who most faithfully and unapologetically brought the word.
Her text was Mark 7:31-37. It was the story of Jesus healing the deaf-mute man, where Jesus (who apparently had no boundaries, as the preacher pointed out) actually stuck his fingers in the man's ears and said "Be opened!" (Ephphatha! in the greek, if you're that preacher.)
She made an interesting point. The ones who brought the man, brought him for his healing. As she said, "He was the designated sick person-- all the rest were the designated well ones. They never realized they were broken too."
Then she said, "Be opened. Maybe healing is not about finding what's wrong and fixing it. Maybe it's more about being opened."
Those are powerful words that I needed to hear. But she didn't stop there. She said, "Be opened! Be opened to the fact that your value is not in working 60+ hours for someone who will never be pleased. Be opened to the fact that you are stronger than you think, and opened to the fact that you are not as strong as you think. Be opened to the fact that the gospel is true, and that it is for you."
And then she drove it home with, "Whatever it is that you cling to with frozen fingers cannot love you like Jesus loves you. Be opened to hearing that Good News."
It was gospel.
As I sit here, a week later, those words still rattle around my soul. What is it that have stopped up my ears? What is it that has caused blockages in my heart? What expectations have I let define who I am, instead of believing that my value comes only from being a beloved child of God?
I don't know that I want Jesus to stick his fingers in my ears and shout "Be opened!" But maybe, refusing to let Christ deal with my brokenness is just too costly. To what am I called to be opened to?
"Graceland" is the name of my favorite song and album. It's by Paul Simon, but more importantly, it's what "home" sounds and feels like to me. We always listened to this album as we traveled from my home in Tennessee to my parents' childhood homes in Florida. But today, it's also a pretty good snapshot of my theology. Somewhere I really believe that the Christian journey is all about a wild trip to Grace-land. As I see it, Grace-land is the place where God is waiting to meet even us–with all the baggage and brokeness that we tote with us. Grace-land is the place where we will be received with open arms, even though our attempts at “getting it right” have been miserable failures at best. But, I think, every step we take is a step on the journey to Graceland.