Sermon for 4th Pentecost, (C), July 3, 2022: Weeping may spend the night (The Rev. Dr. Deborah White
Many of us have been hearing about “The Great Resignation,” the name given to the tremendous uptick in people quitting their jobs over the last year. The numbers are astounding: Over 4 million Americans have quit every month for the past year. Business analysts have offered a variety of ideas to explain this trend, including that folks who became accustomed to working at home during the COVID quarantine do not wish to return to work outside the home, but writer Mike Clementi has suggested that “we need to understand the more nuanced and transformative underlying process: a series of individual journeys that [he] has termed ‘The Great Exploration.’”
According to Clementi, instead of imagining “resigners” as greedy, lazy, or simply unrealistic, it is more helpful to think of them as “seekers” – individuals who are on a journey to figure out what they are supposed to be doing with their lives. One study suggests that “Employees who have discovered their purpose are 49% more likely to report intrinsic motivation, 33% more likely to express higher job satisfaction, and 25% more likely to go the extra mile.” The trick is to ask them about it. Most companies, says Clementi, focus their interview questions on how much money or what type of benefits the prospective employee wants, rather than demonstrating interest in them as individuals by inquiring about where the job might fit into their sense of self – what they are good at and who they want to be. He thinks this kind of exploration is necessary, even when it still leads to resignations because when you “’allow them to leave [they can] become brand ambassadors for your company… they’ll be your best corporate missionaries, telling everyone about your good work.’” I think Christians worrying about how to stop our numbers from shrinking might take a page out of Clementi’s book and find out what people are seeking in this divisive, politically-charged, endemic-focused world and how we might give it to them.
That’s the way that Naaman found God. Despite his success and power, Naaman was unhappy because he suffered from leprosy. I suspect that, given his community status, he had already tried all the known cures when a young captive maid told him that a prophet of her God had a sure cure. So, after some political wrangling, Naaman was summoned to the prophet Elisha’s house, where he received a message telling him what he needed to do to get rid of his leprosy. But Naaman was not happy with this response. Like the king of Israel, instead of seeing an opportunity in this cross-cultural operation, Naaman took offense. He did not want a cure if it was from a disempowered, alien slave. He did not want to have to do what he was assigned to make the cure work. He had expected God to wave an enormous, enchanted hand and immediately make him well.
I think that we often feel and act the same way. We are conditioned to discount prophecy when it comes from people who are different or more disadvantaged than we are. Despite our best efforts, we are susceptible to worshipping power and prestige, believing in the pronouncements of the prosperous rather than the experience of the underprivileged. We want God to swoop in and annihilate those we consider evil without recognizing that the work of God on earth belongs to the apostles of Christ - to us.
Well, you can’t always get what you want. St. Paul makes this perfectly clear in his letter to the Galatians when he tells them that following Jesus does not involve taking a magic “belief pill” and suddenly finding that all is right with the world. The building of God’s Beloved Community depends not just on Jesus’s sacrifice of himself for us, but on our willingness to believe in and follow him. Do not be deceived into thinking that saying you love Jesus is enough. We will reap what we sow… so whenever we have an opportunity, we are to work for the good of all. That means everybody – not just our own family of faith, but all of God’s children in all nations, and of all persuasions.
This is a tall order, spelled out to the future apostles by Jesus himself prior to his death. They were sent out by Jesus “like lambs into the midst of wolves,” without fancy clothes, good references, or important connections. They were warned that they would not be successful all – or even most – of the time. They were not allowed to pick and choose who they would evangelize; their message was for all of humanity. Most shockingly, they weren’t allowed to wait until the world was quiet and they had an optimal window for intervention. “The message that those servants of God brought to the people of the towns and villages was essential and immediate. They preached that the kin-dom of God was important to all, both those who received them and those who did not.” Like shrewd employee recruiters, they were to be good ambassadors for the Jesus brand, recognizing that people might refuse to join right now or leave the community for a time, but they would be far more likely to check back if they remembered it as a place of love and acceptance.
I’m guessing that at this point in the sermon you might be feeling exhausted, wondering why I can’t just preach a sermon full of comfort and acceptance. You may question why it is necessary for me to ask you to evangelize for Jesus in a time in which you are already so emotionally drained from simply bearing the disheartening events around you. The answer is that today’s sermon – like all of them – is based on the scriptures we have heard today. So, if my recent sermons have been more inciting than consoling – blame the scriptures! We are in the Season after Pentecost, when our readings – and our color green – are about growth – and today’s readings remind us that the continued growth and survival of God’s church is our responsibility.
I understand if you are afraid of talking about your faith right now. I get that you don’t want to feel rejected, threatened, or attacked in our currently hostile and contentious environment. I’m sure you would like me to give you permission to weep rather than urge you to sow. But I am here to tell you that when we reach out with the power and authority of Jesus, the demons of this world will submit to us. There are many lost, lonely, and suffering people in the world who need Jesus - and it is up to us to tell them about him. It is our job to find out what they are seeking and show them that God can give it to them. It’s okay to weep for a night - but then we need to remember the goodness of God so we can spread joy in the morning.
It’s not as hard as you think. We did it this weekend. Yesterday, we demonstrated that the love shared among Christ’s family is eternal and undying. Today we welcome two new members to our Beloved Community. With God’s help and ours, Holden and Everly will grow in love and become laborers for God’s harvest. Weep not. Instead, rejoice that their names – like ours – have been written in heaven. AMEN.
Keith Ferrazzi and Mike Clementi, (June 22, 2022), “The Great Resignation Stems from a Great Exploration,” Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2022/06/the-great-resignation-stems-from-a-great-exploration Quoted in Keith Ferrazzi and Mike Clementi, (June 22, 2022), “The Great Resignation Stems from a Great Exploration,” Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2022/06/the-great-resignation-stems-from-a-great-exploration Keith Ferrazzi and Mike Clementi, (June 22, 2022), “The Great Resignation Stems from a Great Exploration,” Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2022/06/the-great-resignation-stems-from-a-great-exploration Richard J. Shaffer, Jr. (2009), in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season after Pentecost (Propers 3-16), David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. [Louisville, KY: Westminster Knox Press], 216.