Thursday, May 19, 2011

Falling, dying and then what?

Death was in the air as Barbara Brown Taylor talked at the opening session of the Festival of Homiletics last Monday.

The death of a grain of wheat in the ground.

The death of a man on a cross.

The death we fear in our own lives.

The death of churches as we once knew them.

“It’s hard to preach the Gospel to people who are scared to death of dying,” Taylor said. She’s a noted author, teacher, preacher.

She talked of how people come to pastors looking for the Jesus who can give them a pass on “the full catastrophe.” Then they meet the Jesus who said “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

That’s not a message calculated to increase church membership, Brown noted.

And then pastors themselves start focusing on a message that will bring to people to their church. But then, Brown added, “it’s hard to preach self-preservation is the presence of the cross.”

This led to her key observation: “No one is much interested in learning to fall. We all want to rise.”

So then maybe we learn how to find salvation in the falling.

She talked of being at the bedside of someone dying. Death is very literal in this case. And yet as the family gathers around, stories are shared, good-byes are said, hands are held in prayer, touches are exchanged, there is life emerging from the death.

She talked of a family devastated by the falling economy. No more meals out, cable television gone, no trips to the movie theater. Instead, there are books read together, games played on the living room floor, meals around the kitchen table. Is it what they were used to, what they had hoped for? No. Was there high anxiety? Yes. And was new life emerging out of the falling? Yes.

“There are worse things than falling on the ground that can happen to a grain of wheat,” she suggested. The grain of wheat dies and gives birth. Jesus knew about bread. Jesus knew about life.

Death was in the air. And so was life.

Trust this, Brown suggested. When you are falling, “God will know what to do with you next.”

Or as Anthony Bailey said as he thanked Brown for her words, “We are all waiting to fall into the waiting arms of God.”

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