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Friday, November 24, 2006

Birthpangs

Megan Elisabeth Sanders
Staff Seminarian
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul
Chatham, NJ
19 November 2006

“This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.”

When I was a little girl, I lived in Washington, DC with my mom. It was an amazing place to grow up, and I loved it. But you all know what it means when you live near a big city…people come to visit you! All the time.

Whenever anyone would visit us, my mom would be a perfect tour guide and take them to every museum and every site in town. And I would be forced to tag along. Every time.

I would follow the crowd and do my best to smile and have fun with our visitors…and I always knew that the reward was coming. The reward was in the gift shop at our ceremonial last stop on the tour…freeze dried ice cream at the Air and Space Museum. If you’ve never had it, I think you can order it online now. It is the best reward ever after a long day of following grown-ups around the city.

So I would get my ice cream, and my mom sent me to sit in my favorite spot, in the front of the museum by the moon rock that you can touch. I would lean back and look up at all of the planes above me as I waited to go home.

My favorite plane to gaze at was the roundish orange one that Chuck Yeager flew when he broke the sound barrier…the X-1. And, as it turns out, Chuck Yeager has a lot to say about today’s gospel!

Elizabeth and I were talking about this last week…in his autobiography, Yeager says that just before you break the sound barrier, the entire cockpit begins to shake. The closer you get to breaking the barrier, the more violently the entire airplane shakes, until you fear that it will simply come apart. When you break the barrier, he says, there is a sense of enormous peace and calm, and you know that you have entered a new reality.

So whether you’re trying to break the speed of sound, or you’re trying to break through in to new life, it takes work to break through. And it doesn’t always work the 1st time or the 50th time…Chuck Yeager certainly knows that.

But this is the moment in the sermon where we remember the very important point that everything in life worth doing at all is worth the work it takes to get there.

Mary Hulst, a minister in the Christian Reformed Church, writes that it’s also important to remember, in light of this gospel, that as painful as birthpangs may be (although I’ve never had them), they are signals that the mother’s body is doing exactly what it is supposed to do to bring forth the new life waiting to break through. Jesus uses this metaphor as he describes what horrible things must take place – but the end, he says, is still to come.

God’s Kingdom come. God’s will be done. We pray these words all the time. When I was living in Pensacola, FL working as a hospital chaplain before I came to seminary, I was trying so hard to be calm in my prayers to God that I be sent to pursue holy orders. And it seemed impossible to truly be calm.

I began praying part of the Lord’s Prayer in silence. Breathing in – Thy Kingdom come. Breathing out – Thy will be done. That my life would be an offering to God for those things to happen. To really happen! No wonder Jesus uses birthpangs as his metaphor of choice…these things he’s saying will happen, the wars, the earthquakes, the famines, and the false prophets inviting us to follow them…these catastrophes normally signal that things are very wrong.

But Jesus is telling us that these signs should reassure us that everything is working as it should. Humanity is still humanity. We continue to hurt one another and we continue to abuse and hoard our natural resources. Jesus is telling us to be reassured because he knows that the destruction is not the end of the story.

Jesus expects us to understand that these birthpangs – these prophesies of persecution and distress – are the labor pains necessary to bring about his return at the end of the age. He’s telling us that if the suffering is true, than the new life to come is true as well.

Now, this does not mean we should take lightly the pain that happens around the world and in our own communities. Sometimes our birthpangs do not bring forth new life in this life. Wars rage. Loved ones die. In the midst of breathing God’s Kingdom in to our lives and God’s will be done in to the world, we must seek with all our strength to relieve the suffering of those in pain and we must work tirelessly to promote that true shalom – that peace with justice that our new Presiding Bishop speaks about – we must work for peace with justice in every land.

So I think, and not just because it’s stewardship Sunday, I think that this gospel is really about proclaiming the Kingdom of God – God’s Kingdom come, God’s will be done. It’s about putting our money where our mouth is when we say that we believe in God through the life, death, and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Frankly speaking, we put a lot of things on the line in the name of God. But our money? I don’t know about that.

I was talking with Allison Pishko yesterday about this gospel and she was recalling a question that’s appropriate for all of us this morning: What do I do with all that I have when I say that I believe?

When we believe in God in this community, we believe in the whole package – Creation, Life, Death, Eternal Life. We believe because of our history, our experience, and because the writer of Hebrews tells us that God has put God’s in our hearts, and written them on our minds.

We are not charged to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest all of the things we’ve seen and heard today all by ourselves. We have one another, and we have the Holy Spirit to write on our hearts that which we cannot know on our own.

So as we barrel ahead here at St. Paul’s, in the Diocese of Newark, in the Episcopal Church, and in the Worldwide Anglican Communion at the speed of sound, and we seem to be coming apart at the seams, let us rest together and know that Our Lord Jesus Christ will keep us woven together during this life and in the new life to come.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

AMEN.

1 comment:

revsusan said...

Nicely done! Happy Thanksgiving!