There are a variety of way to judge the “success” of a sermon. Sometimes I consider whether anyone has started to cry; sometimes I check to see if anyone remember the subject of the sermon the following Sunday (that is usually humbling). But I think the best measure of whether or not you hit the nail on the head as a preacher is to see if anyone leave the service agitated. Unsettled. And the person its probably most important to unsettle is yourself.
That’s what happened last Sunday. I preached on the passage in Jeremiah where God tells the people in exile in Babylon to plant gardens, build houses and have babies. I talked about how easy it is to root our faith in the future and in the past, and how hard it is to make faith a functioning part of our life in the present. Afterwards, and for several days following, people told me I had “touched a nerve” for them. They left worship feeling agitated.
So did I, incidentally. I keep musing about what it means to engage my faith in the present moment. I realize that I’ve done a lot more thinking about disengagement as a spiritual value. After all, if we’re living in a sick, broken and corrupt culture, isn’t withdrawl the holiest option? Shouldn’t we step back and form a community which stands out as an alternative to the world around us?
But on Sunday, I somehow convinced myself that the Word from God that Jeremiah relayed to the Israelites in Babylon might just be the Word from God to me, here and now. And believe it or not, that has me thinking about Iran again.
Back at the end of September, a small group of us from KC spent the evening talking about the relationship between the US and Iran. All of us were anxious about the inflammatory statements being made by both governments. All of us had the sense that the next war was already being planned. We remembered the amazing amount of organizing and protest worldwide in advance of the start of the current Iraq war, and we expressed a sense of helplessness to prevent a war that we believed would be truly disasterous for all parties.
Then we started thinking. What would we do if we believed that we could make a difference? We could engage our own fears and look to dispel them. How do we do that? We could learn about Iran, someone suggested. We could work on deepening our understanding and appreciation of Islam and of Middle Eastern culture. We could build connections with individual Iranians—here in the U.S. and in Iran.
How do we do that? Well, once we started talking we could think of a whole number of ways. Several people in the group had neighbors from Iran. We have connections with local mosques. We started planning an evening of hospitality at our church that could perhaps lead to friendships and connections, even in Iran. We left the church that night feeling a tiny bit hopeful.
We’ve been nudging along on that dream for the past few weeks, and my irritation with Jeremiah (and with God) has got me working on it again. It feels like engagement in a deeply broken current moment that isn’t just wishful and isn’t just cynical. It feels like faith that lives and breathes in the present.