It is not my practice to preach from a manuscript, but I almost always write one. We have been posting the audio from the homilies in this email and they are on the website, but I thought some might wish to see the text. This is not exactly what was preached, but it is close. Grammarians, please note I don't write these for publication and I have not edited them. I can promise spelling and grammatical errors, missing words, and the like!
I first heard the word “fickle” when I was in elementary school. There was a girl, for the life of me I can’t remember which one that I was enamored with. And much to my pre-pubescent excitement, she was enamored with me. Or at least I thought. Because one day she sitting with me at lunch and laughing at my jokes and dotting her “I’s” with hearts in the notes she sent me. But then the next day, I apparently didn’t exist. Nowhere near at lunch, not laughter at my comedic timing and certainly no notes and no hearts.
As I explained this to my father, he tried to console me and said, “Son, girls are fickle.” No, before I raise the ire of more than half the congregation, let me state for the record that the condition or state of being described as fickleness infects both sexes. It’s not a female problem or a male problem; it’s a human being problem.
And it’s a human being problem that has implications that go far behind romantic relationships. Fickleness is the wick that keeps the flame of human brokenness burning.
Go back to the story of Adam and Eve. Don’t eat from this tree. Any other tree in the Garden is fine, but not this one. What happened? They ate from that tree. Fickleness whose fruit, no pun intended, was a way of life that is marked by an inability to hold firm, to be steadfast.
It has permeated every single aspect of life. It’s our default setting as people.
And here’s my theory: we have a predetermined idea as to how things should be. And so our fickleness gives us the options we need to come closer to that ideal. For instance:
If what we want politically is achieved by popular vote, then we say that the people have spoken and their will must be obeyed.
But, if the masses vote for something we don’t agree with, then we call on the courts or elected officials to overturn it.
On one had we like to say the Constitution is a living document, evolving with the times – when it suits. When it doesn’t, then we demand the Constitution be interpreted and applied from the same perspective as its Framers.
63% of Divorce Lawyers reported an increase in couples signing prenuptial agreements. I know this gets tricky, and as older adults, such as my 71 year old father, contemplate marriage, the legalities with estates and inheritance is tricky, but as a general rule, I won’t solemnize a marriage if there is a prenuptial agreement. I don’t know how you say to death do us part if we have an out.
Having options to achieve your ideal, on the surface, seems reasonable. But in the end, it’s never satisfying. And here’s the reason why: our ideal, when it comes from us, our vision, will ultimately, inevitably also take on the characteristic of fickleness. It will change. It has to, because that is our nature, and if our ideal comes from our nature it will act the same way.
But when our ideal, when our goal, comes from beyond us, it has the potential for stability. It can’t come from other people, because they are fickle too, it has to come from something that cannot be moved, that cannot change under pressure, it has to be constant.
When our ideal comes from God, stability is guaranteed. Through disaster, doubt, divorce, demotion, disappointment, disenchantment, disenfranchisement, depression, and disease, stability is guaranteed.
The Roman philosopher Seneca, who lived the same time as Jesus said that if you don’t know your harbor, no wind is a good wind. The human condition is to change course not because it’s the best course, but because the destination is ever changing.
With that in mind, now let’s look at what Jesus said to the would-be disciples who came to him.
Three men come to Jesus, two say they want to follow him and one Jesus actually calls. In every exchange, Jesus calls them to leave the fickleness of their own conditions and their own stipulations and to trust in the stability and eternity of his love and will. But as good as that sounds, it’s far easier said than done.
The first one comes to Jesus and says I will follow you wherever you go. Jesus replies and says, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests but the Son of man has no where to lay his head.” In other words, the man said he would follow Jesus wherever he goes, but Jesus says he’s not going to any place. There is no personal or earthly security in following Jesus. There’s no material advantage in following him. If you want to follow me, he says, give up your need for earthly or personal security.
That challenges us because that is a major motivating factor in our lives – to make sure we have enough to be secure – the question, however, is how we define what is ‘enough’.
Every time we put something in the offering plate, we have this conversation with Jesus. The Church isn’t asking us to empty our life savings or sign over our retirements. Jesus does challenge us, through the Church, to give enough so that we wrestle with what it means to be secure. Giving sacrificially, that is enough that we feel it, moves from the fickle realm of our understanding of security to trust that God will provide for us as he clothes the lilies of the field and the birds of the air.
Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has no where to lay his head. Are we willing to go to place where there is pillow? No bed? No roof? No golden parachute? If we’re not – then we’re not following Jesus. We’re following ourselves.
Jesus calls the second man and says, “Follow me.” The man makes a reasonable request, “Let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said the very harsh “Let the dead bury the dead.”
What does he mean by this? On one hand, the man’s father may not have been dead or even at the point of dead. The man might have been saying, let me finish all of my obligations, and then when I’m done, I’ll follow you. Jesus was having none of it. If you wish to be my disciple and to be freed from the tyranny of your own instability, then coming follow me. Nothing can be an obstacle, even something as heart wrenching as this.
Jesus is making a point. This is how serious this is. Because he understands our nature; he took it on. We are very good at sliding down that slippery slope. If we are given an out or a condition or another option, we will take it every single time.
And finally, the third man is similar to the second. He tells Jesus he will follow him, but says let me first go back home and say goodbye. This is nearly identical to the scene in 2 Kings, where Elijah throws his mantle on Elisha and Elisha begs Elijah to let him go home and kiss his father and mother goodbye. Elijah lets him, but there are two major differences:
1. Elijah is not Jesus.
2. And by throwing his mantle on Elisha, he didn’t give him much a choice. He was conscripted to be a prophet.
Jesus doesn’t conscript. We come to him freely and if we come to him freely, we have to understand what we are getting into. He is freeing us from ourselves and reconciles us to God and to each other through him.
Following him is not a matter of convenience or preference or left up to the whims of our fickle human nature. He is the source and summit of our life.
So let me sum this up.
We as human beings are fickle. We are at our worst when our understanding and ideas about the world and how we are to live comes from within. Since we are fickle, so will our ideas and understanding.
Jesus is the Rock, he is immutable. He is constant.
In calling us to be disciples, his demands, as absolute as they are because they have to be, free us from our instability and give us direction.
Any relationship with Jesus that has loopholes or conditions or periods of time-off will always, 100% be incomplete. We will blame organized religion, or hypocritical people, or the Church, but that is not the real issue.
To be authentic disciples, we have to give up our notions of personal security, obstacles, and time-lines. Doing so is allow ourselves to truly trust Jesus and allow him to show us that as scary as this is – it is the only path to freedom.
Two quick, but deep, questions to end on.
1. We are baptizing a baby today. How are we making the promise, cost, and joys of being a Christian known? How do we teach this? How do we establish a culture so that this baby, even though he lives in Asheville, when he comes to visit will see that this place is different from any other? How we establish a culture so that everyone who is baptized or visits here understands what following Jesus means? Doing this fulfills our vow we make to help these children grow in the full stature of Christ.
2. How do we make sure that everything we do – every activity, every group, everything that is under the banner of St Timothy’s, helps us to follow Jesus and move beyond our fickle insecurities? And how we do eliminate those practices and attitudes that look for outs, excuses, and loopholes?
Doing this work will not only show us how love Jesus with all our heart, mind, and soul. It will give us joy. A fickle-less joy.