Sermon June 14, 2020

Curiosity

The Slippery Slope

Scripture Readings

Luke 18:15-17

People were bringing babies to Jesus so that he would bless them. When the disciples saw this, they scolded them. Then Jesus called them to him and said, “Allow the children to come to me. Do not forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children. I assure you that whoever does not welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.”

Genesis 15:1-6

The Lord’s word came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your protector. Your reward will be very great.”

But Abram said, “Lord God, what can you possibly give me, since I still have no children? The head of my household is Eliezer, a man from Damascus.” He continued, “Since you have not given me any children, the head of my household, a servant, will be my heir.”

The Lord’s word came immediately to him, “This man will not be your heir. Your heir will definitely be your very own biological child.” Then God brought Abram outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars if you can.” God continued, “This is how many children you will have.” Abram trusted the Lord, and the Lord recognized Abram’s high moral character.

 May God give us curiosity as we hear and reflect on these words.

Curiosity: The Slippery Slope

Will you pray with me? Holy God, stir the curiosity within us! Help us to see the world through the eyes of a child. And now, may the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Morning Poem by Jessica Kantrowitz

What if curiosity 

is the gateway drug 

to beauty? 

What if doubt is not a dead end 

but a dark, brambly path 

deeper into our faith? 

What if we don’t have 

to be afraid? 

What if the slippery slope 

leads right into the open arms 

of God?

Curiosity is not one of my spiritual gifts, which is why it was wonderful to have Bernie reflect on curiosity this morning. I think it IS one of his spiritual gifts. Me? I don’t like the slippery slope of curiosity. I prefer answers to questions — something clear that I can hold onto.  

I daresay, 2020 has brought more questions than most of us would like. 

Wildfires is Australia 

A global pandemic.

Rude re-awakenings to the racism deeply embedded in our nation 

civil unrest 

calls for justice and systemic change. 

Why, God? 

How long, God?

What now, God?

Do we really have to change?

Can’t we just go back to being comfortably oblivious to it all? 

I can’t help but hear Jesus’ words: 

“Allow the children to come to me. Do not forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children. I assure you that whoever does not welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.” 

Whoever does not welcome God’s kingdom with a child’s humility, hope, or sense of fairness…

Whoever does not welcome God’s kingdom with a child’s playfulness…

or vulnerability… or curiosity…  

… will never enter it. 

I ask questions because I want to do something with the answers. A child asks questions and wants to know simply because they want to know. Because they want to understand, to explore and learn. Because they are…. curious! 

Children are willing to show up in their vulnerability.

To risk admitting ignorance, looking uncouth or foolish, even offending.

They’re willing to ask for more than what’s been offered. “A cookie AND chocolate, mom?”

Or Abram: “Lord God, what can you possibly give me since I still have no children?”

Usually, I read my own cynicism, my own desire to do something with the answer into Abram’s question. But what if Abram is just curious? Wanting to understand? to know simply to know?  

And God? God responds to Abram’s desire for an answer — this man will not be your heir — and God responds to Abram’s curiosity: “Look at the stars. Count them if you can.” 

God puts Abram’s question, Abram’s curiosity in the context of the heavens, the universe. This response does not offer a pat conversation-over answer but expands the conversation. God’s response invites Abram onto the slippery slope of humility, vulnerability, trust and yes, probably more questions. 

Look at the stars.

You are part of something far greater than yourself. See how vast the universe is. Shift your perspective. See through the eyes of a child…..

And I can’t help but wonder….

What if we saw today’s charged and troubled world through the eyes of a child? 

Might we ask: why wildfires? How can we prevent them? What can I do, right here at home to protect koalas and kangaroos, wombats and wallabies? 

Might we ask, as Bernie did so beautifully in his reflection: who may not feel fully affirmed and welcomed in our community? How would I feel if that was me? Do I believe that EVERY person is made in God’s image? How can I, how can we,  affirm everyone as God’s beloved child? 

Perhaps we would ask: why have so many people died of COVID? How can we keep each other safe? What can we learn from this time? Stepping forward instead of back? 

Perhaps we would ask: what do people mean when they say black lives matter? DO black lives matter in our country? Where did racism come from? How has it impacted my life? What biases might I carry without even knowing it? How can I, how can we change systems that endanger the lives of people who have brown or black skin?  [PAUSE]

Curiosity is a slippery slope. It reveals what we don’t know. Our ignorance. Our assumptions and biases. Our vulnerability. 

But it also reveals our desire to learn. Our longing to understand. Our willingness to be changed. Curiosity IS a slippery slope…. But it might just lead into God’s open arms. 

On Monday evening, the Holy Spirit invited me down the slippery slope of curiosity. I was gathering virtually with our church’s Pastoral Relations Committee to talk about my goals for the coming year. One of the goals suggested to me was: Continue to have the hard conversations. I figured, I’m doing great here — no need to have this as a goal. 

But then one of the members of the Pastoral Relations Committee challenged me. My first response? To get defensive. You know, when you put up walls and have ALL the answers. When you just want to shut down the conversation.

Well, that doesn’t work great in a Pastoral Relations Committee meeting — or anywhere else for that matter. So I fell back on my less than favorite back-up response: curiosity. 

“Don’t you think I’m having the hard conversations?” I asked. [PAUSE] Crickets.

“Stay curious,” the Holy Spirit seemed to whisper (or maybe it was just the uncomfortable knot in my gut. 

Do you think I’m having the hard conversations?”

Now I was really on the slippery slope.

And the answer was not the one I wanted…. 

Okay. So my curiosity disappeared a second time. 

Back to the defensiveness, ALL the answers and shutting down the conversation. 

But that Holy Spirit (or maybe it was the pit in my gut) would not let me rest. She would not let me shut down the conversation. 

Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it…. 

Thank goodness for the Holy Spirit! Thank goodness for the slippery slope of curiosity! Because by asking questions, I learned that I have not been clear enough about my role in our congregation’s journey towards a discernment process around Open and Affirming. 

After numerous conversations with colleagues and mentors, I have heard without fail, the advice that any process to become Open and Affirming MUST arise from within our congregation AND NOT BE INITIATED OR LED BY ME.

My role, my colleagues tell me — and I now firmly believe — is to be your pastor. All of you. Whether you want to enter a discernment process or not. Whether you wanted us to become open and affirming ten years ago or still do not want that to happen today. I am here to be your pastor.

And over the last 5 months, being your pastor has meant over two dozen one on one conversations with YOU, our members, about Open and Affirming. It has meant listening and asking questions. It has meant holding in confidence what you tell me and then sharing the overall trends I am hearing. 

If you have been waiting for me to take up the reigns and create a timeline and move us forward in becoming Open and Affirming, I realize this response may disappoint you. 

I hope that it will also clarify. I hope that it will also empower. 

Because I am not this church, YOU are! 

I will not push any particular way of moving us forward but neither will I stand back and watch from the sidelines. 

Instead I will walk beside you. Praying for and listening to you. To the Holy Spirit. To the Jesus we know through the Gospels. And Trying — Holy Spirit help me! — to be curious instead of defensive. 

And why all of this now? Because someone got curious and challenged me. Because I let go of my defensiveness and found myself on that slippery slope.  

I want to leave you this morning with the words of poet and mystic Rainer Maria Rilke who writes:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. 

Beloved of God, let us boldly, like a child, approach this charged moment in our world with curiosity. Let us ask the questions, let us love the questions, let us live the questions now. Let us allow ourselves to slide down that slippery slope of curiosity trusting that it will indeed lead us into the open arms of God. Amen.

© 2020 Thandiwe Dale-Ferguson, all rights reserved. Please contact thandiwe@lovelanducc.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.


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