Rev. George Miller
“Not What You’d Expect”
Oct 24, 2010
Today is “audience participation day”; you are going to help with the sermon-telling process. Now, not to worry: there’s not much you’ll have to use except your voice, your money and your imagination.
First I need your voice. Repeat after me the title of today’s message “Not what you’d expect.” You’ll be prompted at various times to say it. Your money and imagination will come later.
We have entered Halloween week, a holiday that is growing more and more in popularity. Next Sunday we hope people will come to our after-church potluck in costumes. I’d tell you what I’m going dressed as, but guess what? It’s “not what you’d expect.”
What is Halloween without horror films? One of the most well-known is Alfred Hitchcock’s Pyscho, which turned 50 years old this year. Psycho changed movies forever, ushering in the modern horror film.
Part of its notoriety was that it was “not what you’d expect.” It defied censorship codes, being the first film to show a toilet being flushed. It also flouted expectations, tricking people into thinking Marion Crane was the main character, until she stepped into the shower and it’s “not what you’d expect.” How many people can take a shower in a motel without thinking about this film?
That shower scene is the most dissected scene in history; its power rests in what’s left to the imagination and how it tricked people into seeing what’s not really there.
Psycho took the moviegoer’s assumption of good and bad, plot and character and rotor-rooted it in a way that left people shaken, unsure and uncomfortable.
The same can be said about the parables of Jesus, some of the sharpest bits of storytelling that one can come across.
Parables are made up stories that used well known places, situations and characters to provoke thought and discomfort.
For his parables, Jesus used the overly familiar, easing the listener into thinking they knew what he was about to say, only to zig and zag in such a way that the parable ended up being “not what you’d expect.”
For example, today’s story, featuring a Pharisee and a tax-collector. Back in Jesus’ day, Pharisees were seen as the most holy of people. Tax-collectors were seen as traitors to their country, to be hated.
Jesus starts by telling us that a Pharisee and a tax-collector go to the Temple to pray. Already assumptions are made on who will be justified and who will be condemned. But it’s “not what you’d expect.”
And I bet that today you assume that the rest of my sermon is going to be about humility and confessing our sins. But guess what: it’s “not what you’d expect.”
Taking a cue from Psycho and the parables, we are about to go somewhere completely different. If I’ve lulled you into calmly sitting back to enjoy the ride; we’ve just entered into the Bates Motel and although what will happen next is not bloody, it’s still “not what you’d expect.”
Here’s what I want us all to do: dig into your wallet, your pocketbook, wherever you keep your money. Take out one of your bills. Now take your bill and wave it in the air, so everyone can see.
The stewardship season is about to begin. Stewardship is about encouraging people to give money to the church, but guess what. It’s “not what you’d expect.”
Here’s what I want everyone to do: take that bill…and spend it on something this week that you’ve always wanted or that you really, really like. (How many of you wish you had taken out a 20 and not a 1 bill?)
Why am I saying this? Because today’s message is not about being humble, meek or mild; today’s message is about being self-full. It’s “not what you’d expect.”
Self-full. That’s a word most people don’t know. That’s because it’s not a word at all. It’s been created by women, care-givers and spiritual leaders who’ve discovered that the key to happiness and effective care of others is not about putting yourself last or beating your chest non-stop in humility, but it is about making sure to take care of yourself and that you are personally fulfilled before meeting the needs of others.
We’re not talking about selfishness here, but self-fullness. And it’s “not what you’d expect.”
Self-fullness is a spiritual, healing matter. It’s about finding time to reenergize, about doing the things that make you truly happy and about honoring your right to feel safe.
Noted theologian Henri Nouwen wrote in his book The Living Reminder, that we should embrace the totality of life, which includes work and rest, eat and drink, act and wait.
He stated that when we do this, we are walking in the presence of God and every thing we see, hear, touch and taste will remind us of God.
Trouble is that many people come from cultural and religious backgrounds which assume that self-care is wrong and selfish and self-denial is right and good.
I can’t tell you how many people I know in which there is the assumption that work, work, work is good, and resting or treating yourself is bad, bad, bad.
We see this in mothers, first born children and in people who lifted themselves out of poverty. It’s all about self-sacrifice and doing without and putting everyone else’s needs first.
Forget about your own health needs if someone else is sick; don’t buy anything unless if is serves an absolute purpose; buy the cheapest food even it’s unhealthy and tasteless.
We all know people like this. And what usually happens? - it’s “not what you’d expect.” It turns one into a miserable martyr; a mood killer; an unhappy soul who looks upon others with contempt and jealousy.
There’s one thing to beat your chest while confessing your sins, it's another to beat your chest because you think you’re unworthy of enjoying life.
Some cultures and religions have tried to shame us into being as self-less as possible, but it’s really to no one’s benefit. But being self-full? Now that’s something to lift up.
But what does it mean to be self-full? For some people, this will come naturally, but for others it’s “not what you’d expect.”
First it means to learn how to say “no”, perhaps the most important word in the English language.
There are so many who don’t know how to say no. “Can you work this weekend?”, “Can you chair this committee?”, “Can I borrow $20?” These poor people say yes to everything, thinking it will earn them popularity or extra points. But it doesn’t.
What it does do is make someone easier to take for granted, sucking all of their energy, making them feel like a bad person when they can’t do it. Which can create a rage that is unleashed onto others.
Being self-full means knowing how to say no, and not feeling like you have to offer an excuse or an apology. “Can you work an extra hour tonight?” “No.” “Can you stop by my 2nd cousin’s uncle’s boss’s sister’s house: to take care of their dog?” “No.”
To be self-full means you know what you need to feel happy. Each person has their own list. For me it’s bubble bath, Pepsi, music, the making for a martini, and chocolate. Such simple, inexpensive things that make life good.
(As a side note: did you notice how long it took me to acknowledge that I deserved a new car with air-conditioner, working locks and stereo speakers? And when I finally got one, how do you think that has benefited my ministry?)
Third, being self-full means knowing what recharges your battery and energizes your soul. What do you like to do? An afternoon nap, a round of golf, a walk around the lake, going out to eat, reading a book?
Whatever it is, that’s what a healthy, self-full person does, not because they’re selfish but because they know that after caring for themselves they can better care for others.
A key to being a successful Christian and a successful church? It’s “not what you’d expect.” It’s about embracing the totality of life: work and rest, eat and drink, act and wait. This is, after all, what we see in Jesus, a man who was self-full.
Yes, he taught and healed, but he also spent time alone in prayer, he attended community events and ate sumptuous meals. He knew how to treat himself, balance work and wait, take time off, which allowed him to be fully present to others.
So what does this mean for us, this notion of acting self-full? First, it means we can give ourselves permission to care about ourselves.
It’s OK to focus on our needs, what we want and require, what we deserve, much like the widow who was seeking justice. Self-depriving martyrs don’t help anyone out or fit into God’s vision of how we are to live.
Second, it means that as the unified Body of Christ, we do not have to deprive ourselves. It’s ok to say “we deserve the best worship experience”, “we deserve a minister who can preach, pastor and be present”, and “we deserve a safe, clean place where no matter who or where we are, all are welcome.”
Because when we take care of ourselves and when we take care of our church, we can truly go out into the world to do and share the work and message of Jesus Christ.
In conclusion, I’ve pulled a Hitchcock by flouting expectations. Today’s message was “not what you’d expect”, but I hope it’s one that you can take with you and remember.
I hope that each of you will take the bill that was in your hand and use it to treat yourself, and may it make you smile and feel good in doing so.
Life is meant to be lived and shared. Yes, there’s a danger in thinking so highly of ourselves that we belittle others, but it’s almost just as dangerous to think so little of ourselves that we beat ourselves up and burn ourselves out.
Let us follow Jesus’ example, knowing how to care for ourselves, so we can all be self-full, so full that there’s enough of us to share with others.
Because when that happens, we truly do become healthy, happy reflections of God’s abiding love, able to care for others, and sharing the gifts of life, not to watch it swirl down the shower drain.
Blessings to Jesus who took time alone to pray, to the Spirit that surprises us and to God who calls us in unexpected ways.
Amen and amen.