We all have awkward moments. Such as when the pastor, unexpectedly, shows up at your door. Or, when you start to sing, one beat ahead of the rest of the congregation. These moments have become Internet memes. All of these messages begin with the words, “That awkward moment when …” “That awkward moment when the only thing you know on the test is your name.” “That awkward moment when your boss sends you a friend request on Facebook.” “That awkward moment when everyone is serious and you start laughing.” “That awkward moment when you say goodbye to someone, and then start walking in the same direction.”
All awkward. Awkwardness is part of the national mood these days, and advertisers are picking up on it. According to David Ignatius in The Washington Post, “Many television commercials end with a deliberately awkward moment, where the characters make non sequiturs, or say things that make others uncomfortable or otherwise look like miscast nerds.”
You’ve might recall Direct TV’s ad campaign that included Rob Lowe and Payton Manning in commercials that feature these men as there cool, collected, and together selves with Direct TV, in contrast to painfully awkward Rob Lowe and Payton Manning who have cable. Advertisers have made the discovery that awkward sells. Ignatius continues saying, “It takes the edge off. It’s fashionably geeky. It’s anti-elitist. It’s memorable in its otherness. And it’s inclusive: For, really, what’s more down-to-earth and American than feeling awkward?”
Perhaps we can all relate to just such a statement after hearing our text for today. Jesus creates some awkwardness when he says to his disciples, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled.” Although he is known as the Prince of Peace, Jesus surprises his hearers by asking, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division … father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother.” That’s awkward for sure! But we can take solace in being mindful that Jesus knows what he is doing.
Just as advertising today is memorable because it is awkward, Jesus grabs our attention with his unexpected and uncomfortable words. He’s giving us a message about the kingdom of God, a new order in which the social structures of the world are completely rearranged. He tells us that he comes as the Prince of Peace, but then he says this here in chapter twelve. What he is saying is that he, Jesus, Son of God, is at the same time both one who takes part in and also summons the approaching conflagration that is his ministry. And additionally, he is, ultimately, the source of the firestorm he speaks about. Jesus’ ministry is simultaneously unique, extraordinary, loving, compassionate AND disruptive. Which is to say, Jesus’ ministry is faithfully awkward. Just as our ministry ought to be too.
The church is no stranger to awkward moments, and if you are a pastor, there is no end to those awkward moments. Like for instance when a pastor delivers a message he/she knows is among the best they have ever given, and it turns out that it’s far from such. Or, when we deliver a witty joke and instead of an eruption of laughter, there’s only the awkward and painful sound of crickets. And don’t get me started on hospital visits. Awkwardness knows no bounds when it comes to hospitals.
Like, for instance when I was new to a church and barely knew anyone yet, I walked into a room to make a visit to one patient, only to find two patients in the room. I had forgotten to find out which bed the person I was looking for was in, so I asked for Kathy. The only problem was that both patients were named Kathy, and I ended up talking to one patient and her family for ten minutes before everyone realized I was visiting the wrong person. Awkward.
Or another time when I visited a woman who had just had surgery to remove her second leg as a result of her diabetes. During our conversation, I shared with her a story, where I had lost an argument—about which I can’t remember—but I clearly remember using the cliché and saying to her, “And Susan, I didn’t have a leg to stand on!”
And if that wasn’t bad enough to say to a double amputee, I then tried to back pedal and apologize, by saying, “I’m so sorry. I really put my foot in my mouth!” Awkward. Thankfully she had a wry sense of humor and she just laughed and laughed and laughed.
Were these visits awkward? Of course. But were the faithful? Absolutely. And because of awkward moments like that, when I was trying so hard to be faithful, I developed a mantra I live forth from, and say to people often—I say it at wedding rehearsals and I said it repeatedly last week at Advance Conference during my keynote about being and becoming the change they wanted to see in the world— “It doesn’t have to be perfect, it only has to be faithful.”
And maybe I should start adding… “But it might be a little awkward.” I should add that because it’s true. Faithful moments of grace and peace and presence and compassion and help might just end up being a bit awkward.
These things might be awkward because they are things that our culture doesn’t do very often and because it doesn’t we don’t know how to respond and react to them when they do happen. But awkwardness should never deter us from being fully present in moments of faith.
Jesus was often asking people to do some awkward things. Drop your nets and follow me. Give to Cesar what is Cesar’s and to God what is God’s. Go and sell all your possessions. Come down from that tree because I want to go to your house. Be born again.
So answer me this… What, for you, is “That awkward moment when Jesus asks you to …” do something? I’m certain all of us can come up with our own awkward moments in the church, but I think if we took the time to dig deep into discerning what those awkward moments Jesus asks us to step into are, and be fully present for, two would rise to the top of the conversation.
The first is: Speak the truth… in love. That’s surely awkward. It’s awkward because one, we don’t always want to speak the truth. “That was a wonderful sermon pastor!”
We know that the truth in certain situations is often better left unsaid. No one wants to tell someone that they didn’t do a good job, or that their new hair cut makes them look old, or the work they did was not what it should have been. And so we side step the truth, we avoid the truth—often because we don’t want to hurt someone. But sometimes we share the truth, in an effort to be anything but loving! We use truth to inflict pain, to wound others. But Jesus calls us to speak the truth in love—find loving ways to be honest, find loving ways to be open, find loving ways to help someone learn and grow and become better.
The second awkward thing that Jesus asks is he asks us to pay attention to signs of the kingdom. In today’s text, Jesus criticizes the crowds who are able to predict the coming of rain or the arrival of a scorching heat wave, but cannot see the coming of the kingdom of God. Often the direction taken on this text is to criticize the crowd around Jesus, but we have to ask, do we perform any better? Do we focus on the wrong things at time? Of course. We’re able to spot the arrival of the latest iPhone, but we cannot see signs of trouble in our marriages, our families, our churches and our communities. New Testament scholar Alan Culpepper asks, “Have we given as much attention to the health of the church as we have to our golf score? Have we given as much attention to the maintenance of our spiritual disciplines as to the maintenance schedule for our car?”
Paying attention to the health of the church and our spirituality can be awkward. It’s much easier to focus on worldly things, things of interest to us, but Jesus challenges us to look for signs of the kingdom of God, and to shape our lives in accordance with kingdom values, even when such values cause conflict with people around us.
Truth be told—in love of course—much of what Jesus talks about, and invites us into, is awkward. Asking for forgiveness. Offering forgiveness. Letting go of a grudge. Accepting a volunteer assignment. Being part of a mission trip. Seeking counsel from a pastor. On and on and on, our faith calls us into awkward places—and it is hard and uncomfortable. But what we need to remember, because so often we fail to, is that Jesus invites us into those awkward places, and Jesus is always present with us in those awkward places.
The rule for marketers these days is “wear your awkwardness on your sleeve.” Especially if you want to reach the millennial generation. Simon Dumenco, a media columnist for Advertising Age, says that the hottest of television shows these days celebrate a sort of nerdy awkwardness. Think of “The Big Bang Theory” or “New Girl.”
This reality of today shows us that perhaps Christians should embrace our awkwardness as well. It could work in our outreach to millennials who embrace awkwardness, it could comfort us Gen X-er’s who always struggle to figured out who we are supposed to be in ever changing time, and it could help older adults who are feeling more and more out of place in a fast-paced/technology saturated world.
So may we… When Jesus asks us to visit a person who is dying, or offer or seek forgiveness, or speak the truth in love, or pay attention to signs of the kingdom… may we know that yes it could be awkward, uncomfortable, and unsettling. But although these situations may make us squirm, such actions, like Jesus, shake up the social order and prepare us for life in the kingdom of God.
Yes, they are painful awkward now. But in the end, the awkwardness of this life will be replaced by the peace of eternal life with God. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It only has to be faithful. Even if it’s awkward faithfulness. Amen.
Holy God, in the busyness of the time of year, it is good to be made aware of your faithfulness even in times of pain, rebuke, conflict, and awkwardness. You show us a way to be faithful no matter life’s varied circumstance—to show love and dignity no matter the struggle or reason not to.
Help us to become those who reflect your Son in all that we say and do.
Loving God, in the communion of Christ, we are joined with the trials and sufferings of all, and so we lift our prayers to you and ask for your blessing to be with those who endure the wind and rain and flooding in Louisiana this week.
Be with those in California enduring the devastation of wild fires.
We pray your spirit of resilience and healing with those in West Virginia who are still cleaning up from and trying to recover from the natural disaster they endured.
It is our prayer that you protect those in the path of danger. Open the pathway of evacuations. Help loved ones find one another in the chaos. Provide assistance to those who need help. Ease the fears of all and make your presence known in the stillness of your peace.
We pray your blessing on all those who are striving to be hands and feet of healing and wholeness, like Week of Compassion and Disciples Home Missions. May you bless their work, and make it transformative.
We pray such a prayer because holy God you are our help and hope when waters rise, and when fire threatens. You brought Israel safely through the sea and you ended the fires of Babylon.
So may you once again sustain all those who seek to save others, so that they may repair the ruined cities, raise up the former devastations, and be the restorers of cities and towns in which to live.
May you, once again, show up to those in need of peace and comfort and healing, and stretch out your hand, wipe away their tears, and pull the afflicted up to their feet where they will know they walk with you.
We ask that you would hear now the prayers we offer to you from our hearts in this time of Holy Silence.
All this we pray in the name of our Savior, Jesus, who taught us to pray saying, “Our…”