Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44
Series: Already/Not Yet
It’s the first Sunday of Advent. During Advent, we become more aware of the Already/Not Yet condition in which we live since Jesus’ first arrival. Today we talk about the eternal reconciled “mountaintop experience” God has on His Christmas wishlist, and how we can live the Already in the Not Yet until Jesus returns and makes it the Now.
Scripture Reading: Paul Layte
Message in a Basket: Rev Barbara Jernigan
Main Message: Pastor Jenn (Rev Jennifer A G Layte)
These days it’s sort of trendy or something to talk about “the Why.” Coaches will often tell you, when you begin one of their programs, that in order to make what you’re learning with them “stick,” you need to be in tune to your most powerful motivation for doing it–that is “your Why.” Ideally, your Why is not the opinions of another person or group of people.
However, if you’re creating a coaching program, or a spiritual formation program, or writing a book, it is kind of helpful to be at least a little bit attuned to what other people think or want or are interested in, and then to narrow that down from “other people” to “specific other people.” In other words, the Who. Historically, I have trouble nailing down an audience. Which might be why I don’t have a Large Enough Social Media Platform (yet), I suppose. I don’t know. Mostly I just operate from a sort of “when the student is ready, the teacher appears” approach, or, as I put it when I talk about my church or this Pilgrimage or my books, “If you want it, it’s for you.”
This doesn’t work very well for book proposals, though, so when I put together the one for Follower, I zoomed in on Deconstructing Christians. Then one of the literary agents who affirmed my project said, “Your audience might be too narrow. There are other Christians who would get a lot out of this book.”
This morning I worked on updating my proposal, and as I redrew the lines for the audience of that one book, it occurred to me that it’s the same audience for this whole work of metaphorical Pilgrimage. So in case you were wondering, this is who the Pilgrimage (and Follower–and probably the other books I’ve got percolating in my brain) is for:
Deconstructing Christians who are attempting to hang onto Jesus while jettisoning the trappings that harmed them
Reconstructing Christians seeking a way back “home” without the toxicity
Churched Christians feeling unsettled by the familiar—or by injustices they are discovering in the church
Lay leaders desiring effective new ways to care for other believers before they, too, jump ship
Pastors and teachers seeking a fresh way into familiar stories
Individuals curious about stages of faith
In short–if you want it, it’s for you. You’re the Who.
Did you know that if you read the New Testament with a curious eye toward Peter and the relationship he had with Jesus, you can actually watch Peter transform? It’s pretty cool. So I wrote about it, in a book called Follower: How Getting Close to Jesus Brought Simon Peter to Himself. It’s been really invigorating to write about spiritual formation through a biblical person’s story, since I spend so much time here on Pilgrimage and at church, encouraging spiritual formation in present-day people’s stories.
Unlike the last time I tried to pitch a book to anyone, I feel pretty confident about the value of this book, and also more confident in my ability to pitch. (This, I must tell you, is due in large part to the excellent work of Build a Better Us colleague, Ruth Buchanan. If you want solid help crafting a book and a proposal and starting to get your mind wrapped around the crazy intricacies of the publishing world, she’s your woman.) This time, I actually have at least two different real-live agents, whose work I’m somewhat familiar with, who would consider representing it. But not now.
Why? Because I don’t have enough “followers” to make a go of Follower. The irony is not lost on me. I need at least ten times what I’ve got.
Listen, friends. It’s not negative self-talk, but simply a piece of realistic self-assessment to say that drawing a crowd is not in my wheelhouse. (What is a wheelhouse, by the way? And does everybody have one? Much like water buffalo?) Even as I, too, get closer to Jesus, that particular quality does not seem like it’s ever going to be part of who I am. This doesn’t mean I’m unwilling to work at making the book viable in this market. I’m willing. But I’m also trying to stay level-headed about this, and to be aware that when it comes to priorities, balancing home life with my already existing church and Pilgrimage responsibilities (who, by the way, are all people), is more important to me than producing a bestseller.
I get that agents and publishers have different priorities. Having a book do well is vital to them, and is part of their service to the world. Also, I’m pretty sure it was God who told me to get back to book-writing this year and stop putting it off until some hypothetical sabbatical which I have no assurance of ever experiencing, but which has been my procrastination excuse lately.
So. If it’s the case that Follower is really God’s idea and project, and also the case that publishers and agents need books to do well, and also the case that I don’t have the time buffer or the skillset or the knowhow to do loads of networking and PR–well, we might have a “Gideon’s army” situation here. By which I mean God will have to be the one who makes this book “happen,” the way He helped Gideon and 300 guys evict something like 30,000 oppressors from his people’s land. (Just, I assume and hope, without my having to in fact cullfollowers. And without the enemy infighting that happened in that story. Or, actual enemies. This analogy is falling apart quickly here. Let’s move along.)
Okay, my point is. This whole process, whatever it ends up being, is spiritual formation, too. I have a role here. You might, too. Some agent somewhere, and some publisher somewhere, ultimately also will, I hope. But given the odds, there’s no way I’ll be able to take the credit for the end result. It’ll be God who gets that, for sure, because this situation is going to need something like a miracle.
I’m kind of excited about that. Stick around, and we can watch what happens together.
Today I preached on Ephesians 5:21-6:9 (but mostly 5:21-33). This is the passage where the apostle Paul famously tells wives to submit to their husbands. (There are some other troubling bits in the passage as a whole, and I touched on those, but, like I said, today the focus was mostly on the first part.) A few weeks before I preached on this, knowing I was going to preach on it, I wondered how I would. There is a lot of baggage associated with a passage like this, including very current baggage for actual individual people. People I know–both at church and On Pilgrimage.
But during those weeks I have been preaching on the parts of Ephesians leading up to this and what I have discovered is that in Ephesians as a whole, Apostle Paul is writing a letter to newly minted Christians in Ephesus, describing how being part of God’s family is different than being part of any other family (or, arguably, institution, except AP probably would’ve been horrified at the idea of God’s family becoming an institution) in the world.
He describes God’s family as being different by virtue of
our having a genuinely good Father who dearly loves us.
our having been reconciled with that Father by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and our trust in Him.
our having been reconciled to each other without distinction (including the distinctions of gender, age, race, social/wealth status and maybe even–gasp–religion) through Jesus Christ.
our having God’s own Spirit merging with ours to empower us to live like Jesus
our being empowered to live lives from a basis of humility, gentleness, patience, love, and peace
our learning to steward our words well, keeping control of our anger, being kind and generous, having authority over the Powers and no longer answerable to any idol including sex, obscenity, lust, or substance abuse, with God’s help (and arguably things like meds and therapy, but those weren’t around in Apostle Paul’s day, so let’s not fault him for not mentioning those).
So why, I asked myself, and then asked the church this morning, in the whole wide earth, after telling us ALL that, would Apostle Paul suddenly contradict it all and tell a patriarchal enslaving society then (followed by other patriarchal, enslaving societies ever since, including our own) to do what they were already doing before they trusted Christ? That is, being misogynistic, badly-parenting, slave-holding jerks?
To get a glimpse of what I now think this passage more closely means, you’ll have to listen to the audio which I hope to post soon, but my question right now is how and why in the heavens and on earth God has allowed us to get Him so wrong for so long? After spending a few months in Ephesians, the question in the paragraph above seemed glaringly obvious to me when I finally sat down with this week’s passage, but I have literally never thought to wonder it before.
Every week I have one or two people come to me after the sermon and challenge some perspective or something I said, and I think that’s probably good for me–and them–but you can believe if I hear that they’ve misunderstood what I meant, I do whatever I can to correct them. Being misunderstood or misinterpreted is one of the worst feelings I can think of. I understand that God is mind-blowingly humble, but that He just let’s us go on for over 2000 years making a hash of what He meant through His writers just seems crazy to me. Especially when the fallout is that people get hurt and God gets blamed for something He never said or intended.
I wrestled with God in my 30’s and this doesn’t feel like the onset of a new wrestling match, but I do think I’m going to be sitting with this question for a long time. Why do you think God lets us get so many things about Him wrong for so long?
I’ve written a new book, and I’m trying to find representation for it this time, rather than self-publishing as I did for Favored One. I’m not opposed to going the self-publishing route, but I’d like to try the traditional way first.
I’ll tell you more about the book at some point, but right now I’m wondering. I have recently been informed by a professional in the business that I need at least five times the social media following that I have. This feels impossible, both from a skillset perspective and because frankly, although I really believe in this book I’ve written (and the others I have up my sleeve–because there are a bunch!), and I’m willing to get out there and publicize it more than I have in the past, I pastor both a local church and an online community, and those are my priorities right now and maybe forever. The current books are emerging out of one of those communities and turning into resources for the other one, so without that context, there wouldn’t be the books at all, arguably.
But I am still wondering. What I’m wondering is whether, after all, I could return to blogging in some capacity–and a greater capacity than simply posting the technologically rough audio of my sermons each week. I’m wondering a lot of other things, too, pretty much all the time, including when I’m prepping my sermons. So I’m wondering if maybe I could just start writing about what I’m wondering when I’m studying for the sermons. Maybe it would even help that process.