With my daughter getting married in a couple of weeks, I am getting nostalgic-so I hope you will bear with me. This week, my mind has been flooded with memories of Paige’s growing up years (Paige is the daughter getting married). These memories are a blessing of course, although sometimes, a painful blessing. They are “poignant”—love that word—It comes from the French word, Poindre—which means to prick. When we say something is poignant we mean to say that our souls have been pricked. My memories of Paige’s growing up years are a mixture of happy and sad. How many mistakes did I make as a parent? And as much as I was in a hurry for them to grow up, now I wonder why especially Paige, the baby of the family, couldn’t have stayed young longer. I miss those days.
So here, I thought I would share with you one poignant experience. It was when Paige was in second grade. Her class held a Mother’s Day celebration. It was during school hours, on the Friday before Mother’s Day. There was a lunch at the end of the three hour affair—a lunch that the kids themselves put together—they had peeled fruit, and made sandwiches and even baked cookies for us.
Also in preparation for this special day, the seven year olds, including my daughter, had written short biographies of their moms. The biographies were written on lined newsprint—and then thumbtacked to cork strips along the walls of their room. It was up to us, the moms, to walk around the room, read the biographies and try to figure out which biography went with which mom.
One of the biographies started off this way: “My Mom reads Hebrew.” The first line was a dead give-away. At the time Paige wrote what she wrote, I was in seminary, and I was taking a course in Hebrew—which all Presbyterians must suffer through in order to become ordained ministers. So that’s what she wrote, “My Mom reads Hebrew.”
Seeing myself on paper like that, my daughter’s take on me, and comparing my biography with the rest, I was suddenly overwhelmed with guilt. The other biographies were reflective of the activities of self-giving moms: “My mom makes the best chocolate chip cookies in the whole world; my mom drives me to my soccer practice.” But not so for poor Paige! HER mom sits hunched over a desk in the evening reading Hebrew! All to say that my children have had to make some significant sacrifices in their lives so that the person you see before you could pursue her strange, consuming interest in God, religion and this thing we call church.
Again, while I was still a student in seminary, I had taken my daughters to see the Disney movie Pocahontas, you know, the animated musical? In that movie, the animated character, Pocahontas sings, “What I love most about rivers is: You can't step in the same river twice The water's always changing, always flowing.” (Pause)
“You can’t step in the same river twice.” You know who Pocahontas is quoting? She is quoting the philosopher Heraclitus, who lived in the 500’s BC. Honest. At the time I saw the movie with my girls, I was taking a course titled “Greek Philosophy and early Christian religion.”
Since I was in the midst of studying Greek philosophy, I recognized the quote, which you have to admit is pretty remote for anyone to know; yet there it was in the movie. When I heard Pocahontas quoting Heraclitus, I burst out laughing-a loud, hearty laugh. I was the ONLY one in the entire movie theater who laughed. I still don’t know if the movie’s writers knew who they were quoting but I presume that they did.
So, my children have had to suffer the humiliation of having a mom who, besides spending long hours at her books, is a little “odd,” when it comes to social norms. It is right to pity them.
And that’s a lead-in to our scripture reading for today, actually. We are reading from Acts. Acts is a history of the early church. It was written by the same person who wrote the gospel of Luke. We know that for a fact. The writing style supports that, the vocabulary, supports that, and the author of Acts himself tells us that. In the first paragraph of Acts we read, “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning, until the day when he was taken up to heaven.”
So the gospel of Luke is the first half of Luke’s story and Acts is the second half of Luke’s story. In today’s passage, we learn something about what early Christ-followers in Jerusalem were doing (and here I should just say that these Jerusalem Christians weren’t calling themselves Christians yet—the first time the word Christian is used in scripture is in Chapter 11 of Acts and it’s at the church in Antioch)—So again in today’s passage we learn something about what life was like for Christ’s followers, and, reading between the lines we can imagine how these first Christians living in Jerusalem, were perceived by others—their fellow Jews.
I think you will agree, again, reading between the lines that like me, a mom who reads Hebrew and laughs in all the wrong places, these first Christ-followers must have been perceived by others as being a little “off.”
How WERE they “off?” Well, for one thing they were engaging in table fellowship on a regular basis outside the temple--in peoples’ homes. They prayed together. They probably performed acts of kindness for each other and for people in the community—above and beyond what was normal—and they were exceedingly happy.
Their fellow Jews who were not Christ-followers must have scratched their heads and wondered: Why are Mary and Philip hanging out with these people? Why do they seem so happy, and why do they talk about God and Jesus all the time? And finally, “Who was Jesus anyway? I thought he was that guy who was crucified.”
No doubt even the Christ-followers’ children thought them a little odd. “Mom and Dad sure are acting funny.” Still, their actions were tolerated. We know that because according to what we read today, these Christ followers were allowed to gather in the temple.
Yes, except for the fact that Christ was now in their lives and they had a new set of friends; these Christ followers living in Jerusalem, lived pretty much the way they had always lived. They worked at a trade, which in Jerusalem might have been as a baker, or weaver, a merchant, or a metal worker. They went to the market, as they had always gone to the market; and they worshiped in the temple. They continued to buy a lamb for sacrifice at Passover and they observed all the other Jewish holy days. They honored the Sabbath that began on Friday evening, and stretched into Saturday. They continued to give money to the temple treasury.
However, these Christ followers were beginning to get a little uncomfortable—there was this pebble in their collective shoe—so to speak; a low irritating hum in the back of their collective mind.
The reason their lives were becoming uncomfortable was cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is when a person believes two things at once, or has inconsistent thoughts, attitudes or behaviors.
Thomas Jefferson suffered from cognitive dissonance. He believed that slavery is wrong—we get that from his early writings, yet he continued to own slaves because he needed slaves, to maintain and manage his land holdings.
Christ’s followers were deep into cognitive dissonance like that. Jesus said that God forgives everyone, and that acting on God’s behalf, they had the power to forgive one another. So they asked themselves, “Why then, should we pay a priest to make sacrifices of atonement for us?” Or how about this? Jesus says, love your neighbor as yourself and love your enemies even. So they wondered, “If we are to love everyone, why should I/we (good Jews) shun Samaritans? Why should I/we avoid lepers and tax collectors?”
And of course, the cognitive dissonance that was above all other cognitive dissonances in those Christ-followers lives, was this: “We believe Jesus is the messiah. Yet, in worship and in religious discussions among our fellow Jews we have to toe the line—the Messiah has not yet come. How can we pretend that Jesus was not the Messiah among our temple crowd, and then openly testify that Jesus is the messiah when we are with our fellow Christ-followers?”
Those poor, poor conflicted Christ-followers. What should they do? For those who couldn’t make up their minds, the decision would be made for them. Eventually they were perceived as being so odd, so different, that they were barred from the temple.
And now I want to pivot from talking about the early Christians, and talk some about us. Being a Christian is wonderful—we have the feeling, don’t we, that we are on the right side of life. We have a set of principles—we have a guide book, our Bible, and a guide, too--Jesus, who has promised to lead us in green pastures, as the Psalmist says. We have a family—a church family to raise us up when we are low, and to whom we are accountable in our day-to-day living. Those first Christ followers suffered from cognitive dissonance, but we don’t have to. We can follow Christ, largely without condemnation. But let’s be clear, following Christ makes not just me, but each one of us, odd, “a little off,” different. Our Sunday mornings are spoken for. We have morals that are sometimes not in step with those of our non-Christian neighbors.
A fellow Wesley seminarian stood up at the end of a strenuous end-term exam and announced to our class. “Done. Finished my exam. I am going on VACATION. For one entire week, I am NOT reading my Bible, I am not thinking deep thoughts, I am not going to pick up any books on religion; I will not pray.” And I thought to myself. Right! Does she really think she is going to pull that off?”
A retired pastor friend of mine, suggested to me something that is closer to the truth. She said, “You know, I think in a way, theology has ruined us. Once you learn to think theologically, you always think theologically.”
We may want to fit in, but how do we turn off our faith, our beliefs? Our trust in God and Jesus?
All to say, we are Christ’s followers. Oddballs everyone of us and there’s nothing really to be done about it. That’s both good and bad. Shall we say, a poignant truth.
May it be so for you as for me. Amen