Text: Mark 1: 40 - 45
reader : Rev Courtney Richards
preaching : Rev Kevin Howe
A homily for Ash Wednesday, to begin the season of Lent.
*Also included in this recording: special music 'Take My Life' (C.L. Bass) - tenor soloist Todd Maxwell, piano Susie Monger-Daugherty.
Karaoke began as a fad in Japan and quickly became a worldwide phenomenon. Humor me for a moment: How many of you have sung Karaoke? For those of you who are unfamiliar with this form of entertainment, it involves singing popular songs, as the lyrics are scrolled in front of you on some sort of teleprompter. The music being played sounds just like the instrumentals of the original recording artist, only it is you performing on the stage instead. Kinda’ like Guitar Hero, for the younger crowd. You with me?
I must confess that I enjoy my share of karaoke, but I always wondered how it ever became so popular. Who in their right mind would get up in front of a bunch of friends and strangers and belt out a song like some kind of rock star? I would have thought karaoke to be way too embarrassing to become as big as it has in our culture. But it’s so big, I know churches that have karaoke machines. I find that interesting, a bunch of folks who freeze at the thought of being asked to pray aloud, sing in the church choir, or read Scripture in worship would wait their turn to wail away at a little Elvis?
On the other hand, Karaoke is someone else’s song. It doesn’t come from the soul. It comes from a teleprompter and a playback device. The words were written by a famous lyricist—already socially acceptable—even if not in the best of taste. Besides, everyone does it.
The culture in which we live and function is a school. It is a classroom that we are involuntarily enrolled in; we have no choice. Harvard professor, Robert Kegan, suggests there are a variety of curriculum and literature—if you will—that we participate in as students of our culture. He calls it “the hidden curriculum of daily life.” It is in our American culture, for example, that we are exposed to the literature of parenting and being family; where we are taught the curriculum of falling in love. Learning the literature of work, ethics, hard knocks, survival, and of course, what’s cool.
According to Dr. Kegan, most people, even the brightest students, never make it past adolescence in our culture. They are forever social teenagers, and along with that comes a pack-mentality. A fear of not being thought of as one of the gang—an insatiable need to be constantly reassured by others that they are still okay.
Someone else writes the words, tells us what sing, puts it to music, and we never have to be bothered with writing our own song. Even when it comes to our personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
With this cultural schooling in mind, let’s look at our faith. Is it any wonder why sometimes we may feel like we’re wearing someone else’s Christian hand-me-downs? Does it seem authentic to us? Or could it be that we are only reciting someone else’s song?
The fastest growing churches in America over the last 15-20 years have been those that have written their own curriculum and marketed themselves very well by telling people what’s in and what’s out in terms of Christianity. “We believe X, Y, and Z.” You will sound like this. You will look like this. Your experience will feel like this. All you have to do is follow along.
But where is the song of the soul? Who went to the well and sat with Jesus? Who saw Jesus in Galilee and asked for healing? Someone else. That makes karaoke faith in a karaoke culture.
Does the popular shoe company Nike sell shoes in its advertising? No. It sells experiences that we participate in vicariously. Be honest with me now, aren’t we are tired of someone else doing all of the living, all of the first-hand experiencing? Aren’t we dying to encounter a life in Christ for ourselves?
Karaoke faith. Jump on the bandwagon. This is what Jesus is trying to avoid at the very beginning of Mark. All the hype, all the instinctual, cultural “following the crowd”—the living of faith through someone else’s song. He wants people to meet him and experience him and claim him and know him for themselves. Don’t think I’m saying community is bad. Community is fundamental to a life in Christ—“Faith is not individual, but it’s bound to get personal!” Otherwise, how can we be transformed? How can we overcome any of the stuff in our personal lives if we’re living vicariously through someone else’s song of faith?
In the Scripture reading we just heard, the leper who comes to Jesus in Galilee kneels before him, begging just far enough away to give honor. And then does a peculiar thing. Instead of asking to be cleansed, the leper makes a statement to Jesus: “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Not “Can you?” or “Will You?”… “Please won’t you?” Do you hear the subtle difference? The leper states it: “You have the ability to make me clean, to make me whole, if you would choose.”
This man wants to experience Jesus and his healing power—first hand; for himself. Not hear about it from someone else. His own song, so he can be whole again. And Jesus graciously responds with his healing touch.
So Jesus asks him to keep silent. To show himself before the priest, do the rituals as Moses commands, so as to reintegrate into society. But please, no flash. No bright lights. No crowds. But the leper had been well-educated by his culture. If someone does well by you—does something heroic for you—start singing at the top of your lungs, so everyone else can join in! So, he proclaimed it freely. The result was that Jesus could no longer enter into a town openly, but had to stay out in the countryside. People came to him from every quarter. Because he was all-the-craze. The hip thing to do—not necessarily because they wanted to really know him, fully experience him, to find wholeness and be truly healed.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent; a time where we aim to make space in the chaos and the clutter of our daily lives to draw closer to the Divine; to strengthen our relationship with Christ. Some have found it helpful, as a spiritual practice, to add or subtract something from their daily routine for this purpose. These Lenten disciplines help them grow closer to God. How is it, though, that thing for 99% of Americans is chocolate!? Do the sacrifices we make for Lent stem from this desire to grow in our relationship with God, or because it’s the thing to do during Lent? What about the other practices of our faith? Do we find important, personal, transformational connection with what we are doing, when we are doing them? I don’t mean to suggest that any act of faith is necessarily unimportant, or that our practices lack theological grounding and intention, but rather that it is easy to do just because it’s the cool thing to do. “Everyone else is doing it; I better do it, too!” There have been times in my life where I have caught myself headed to Jesus because that was what everyone else was doing.
My prayer for you and I this Lent, is that we will do the tough work of examining our walk of faith—to identify practices and disciplines that lead to transformation in our everyday living, the kind of practices and disciplines that bring awareness to our brokenness and that create the space for God to enter in and show the power of redemption; to show how God’s love can overcome even the deepest places of loss and grief in our souls.
It’s no simple task to write one’s own song. It may take training. It will take rigorous practice—commitment. Deep reflection. Soul searching. It takes serious courage to own up to a song you have created, especially if it is not like the other popular songs being sung around you. But imagine the satisfaction of singing that which is from the heart…how would that song change your faith experience?
We do not have to sing someone else’s song of faith, we can sing the songs of Zion all our own. The words may not be all the hype. The tune maybe slightly off pitch from the rest of our friends. But Jesus travels the road we walk every day, and we have the opportunity to experience Him for ourselves. He waits for us to approach him, kneel before him, and make our confession: “My Lord, if you choose, you can heal me. I want to know you for myself.”
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 From concepts put forth in Robert Kegan’s work, In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life.