To Be Holy: A Parable

The following is a narrative sermon which borrows heavily for Salman Rushdie’s new novel, “Luka and the Fire of Life.”  An excellent novel, and I highly recommend it. (newsflash: it is much better than my edited version of it below!)

Sermon Texts:

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18

Matthew 5:38-48

There once was a young boy named Luka.  He lived in a city with his brother, his mother, and his sister.

Luka loved his family with all his heart—his older brother, who was much older than he, and whom he looked up to.  His dear mother, who loved him passionately and for whom his birth had been a miracle, and his father, who every day would fill his head and his dreams with stories, wild tales of a magical world where the evils of this world were no more, and the conventional rules did not apply.  Luka would find himself wishing he could be in that place, find that world and live in it completely with his family by his side.

Perhaps he wished this because things weren’t so easy for Luka out in the world.  Born 18 years after his older brother, Luka was a dreamer, and often he got in trouble for drifting off in class.  And there was one more thing:  he was left-handed.  This may not seem so bad to you, but perhaps that is because you are right-handed, and so the world is made for you to be in it.  Luka felt different, because the world didn’t operate in a left-handed way; everything was made for right-handed people, and things were often harder for him than they were for other people.  His difference also made him a target for people who liked to push others around.

His mother told him: you are special.  Your left-handedness is a gift, given for a reason.

His father would tell him that there was a special magical world, like and yet unlike our own, where everyone was left-handed, and it made him sigh to dream of such a place where he would feel normal.

Now one night, the family was gathered on the porch, watching the stars in the sky, when his father began to feel unwell.  His went to bed early that night, and the next morning Luka’s father didn’t wake up.  In fact, he slept for days, as if under a spell, and the family began to worry that something evil might be afoot.

Luka knew that something was wrong.  Every day his father seemed weaker, his breath shallower, his pulse weaker.  He realized that his father might not wake up, and he wanted with all his might to help his father get better.  He wasn’t ready for a world without his father and his wonderful stories.  He remembered that his brother had once gone on a adventure to save his family long ago, and Luka yearned to be like his brother, brave and strong, capable of anything.  So he decided to go on a quest of his own, to find a cure for his father’s illness.

That night, while his family lay sleeping, Luka snuck out of the house with his pet Dog, and set out to find a cure for his father.  He journeyed through many lands, searching high and low for a healing balm.  As he journeyed, he was surprised to find that was guided by his father’s words of wisdom, stories that he could hear in his heart as he sought to help him.  He was also encouraged by the example of his brother, whom he admired.

And as he journeyed, he also encountered friends who helped him, as well as foes that threatened his quest.  At every near disaster, his friends were by his side, encouraging him and supporting him.  If not for them, he would surely have failed, for they gave him strength that he never knew he had to keep going when things seemed impossible.

Finally, after a long journey, Luka found a cure for his father.  It was a healing fire, the Fire of Life itself, smoldering at the top of a steep mountain that seemed impassible.  He worried to himself—how can I possibly get up there?  There seemed to be no way up the mountain; Luka feared he had come all this way for nothing. He could not imagine a way forward through this fearsome barrier.

Just as he was about to give up hope, Luka remembered a story that his father had once told him.  One night, after a hard day at school, his father had sat him on his knee by the fire and had told him a story:

It may not seem like it, but there are two worlds out there:  the Right-Hand and the Left-Hand world.  Most of the time, we find ourselves in the Right-Handed world, and for many of us, this world feels just as it should be.  But for some of us, perhaps for you, this world is impossibly difficult and feels all wrong.  For these other people, it is the Left-Hand world that makes sense.  But it can be difficult to see the Left-Handed world when all we have been surrounded with is the Right-Handed world.  In order to find our way to the Left-Hand world, we must first accept who we are, embrace our difference, for then we have the ability to know which world we belong in and we also possess the willingness to seek that world out with confidence.

Luka wondered to himself:  What if I am looking at this mountain all wrong?  What if I am trying to look at it Right, when I should be looking Left? What if I am trying to be something I am not meant to be?  Perhaps my mother was right—my left-handedness might turn out to be a gift after all.

Luka closed his eyes and focused with all his might on this one thought, put all of his energy into his belief that he needed to see Left instead of Right, to embrace his different nature, to love who he was and what he was made for.

He counted to three- 1, 2, 3—and he opened his eyes.  To his astonishment the steep mountain had—poof—completely disappeared, and in its place was a rolling hillside.  Barely able to contain himself, Luka ran up the hill to the fire, giddy with delight, and carried it home to his father, where he was restored by the warmth of the light that Luka bore him.  Luka never again let himself fall into the trap that there was only one way of seeing things, for now he knew the truth—there is more than one way to be in the world.  And Luka never again felt ashamed to be Left-handed; for he knew that he was special, and that this was the way he was meant to be.

What might this parable mean?

Like Luka, we Christians find ourselves left-handed in a world made for right-handed people.  For we are commanded in the Scriptures to live in a way that seems to put us with odds with everything around us.  The world is simply not designed for people who live their lives by the code that Jesus teaches:  people who reject selfishness and instead embrace generosity to strangers and the needy.  Nor does the world we live in reward those who choose to reject the punitive system of justice, choosing to turn the other cheek and to resist retaliation, instead praying for our enemies and loving those who persecute us.  And this world just does not understand those who define their neighbor not in terms of who lives next door, but rather by God’s terms—as those whom God loves.

When we try too hard to play by the rules of the world, we risk denying who and whose we are—we lose our capacity for generosity, our ability to see the world as God sees it.  When we try to pretend that being Christian is no different from being anybody else, then, Scriptures like Leviticus 19 and Matthew 5 become a problem, because they point out the difference that we try to hide when we try to hard to fit in.

If we choose to walk the path laid out by Scripture, then we find ourselves on a quest, much like Luka, in which we will certainly face adversity before us.  We must be willing to take risks because, like Luka, ours is a journey of love for our Father.  We too are lucky, for we do not journey alone, but are accompanied by the many who walk with us, those loving neighbors in the body of Christ, and we are encouraged by God’s Word and the examples of those brothers and sisters who have gone before us.  And we are guided by the example of one who walked this path before us, Jesus the Christ, whose living revealed that walking this path isn’t impossible; it is merely risky.  Because of his example, we know that there will be obstacles, people and things that stand in our way, but we also know that we are on this journey for a reason:  we walk because love bids us do so.  And we know that we will only survive this journey if we know who we are and embrace it:  We are Left-Handed people, living in a Right-Handed World.  We are Jesus-Followers and God-Lovers who reject the idea that all that matters is “Me.”

When we embrace this otherness, we find that we can see the world like God sees the world.  And we are changed, for we know that once we see the world as God sees it, nothing will ever be the same.

And this is what makes us Holy as God is Holy, and Perfect as God is Perfect.  The ability to know our story, God’s story, and embrace the people it shapes us into.

Alleluia, Amen.

Seeing is Believing

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

John 20: 24-25

This afternoon hubby and I made our first (and hopefully only) visit to the local hospital in order to have an ultrasound on young “Snaggy,” as we have been calling the creature inhabiting my body for the last 22 weeks or so (there is a story, but it isn’t worth repeating here).  While our birth center doesn’t require any fetal imaging for low risk pregnancies like mine, we decided we wanted to go through with the 20-week (or in our case, 22-week) fetal anatomy scan.  The point of the scan, essentially, is to confirm fetal age (and therefore also due date), as well as get as many photos as possible of things like the heart, kidneys, bladder, stomach, and extremities in order to confirm that things are going as they should.

The ultrasound took about an hour, and the tech was extremely nice to us both, pointing out the various elements of the scanning to us as well as commenting on our apparently quite active little critter.  An hour later, we left with copies of a couple of the ultrasound shots, and a healthy dose of information regarding el nino’s health and well-being.

All-in-all, it was an interesting process, but it also got me to thinking a little on the way home about the importance of seeing.  By all accounts, hubby and I have no reason to suspect that anything would be wrong with “snaggy”–we are both young and healthy, and the midwives at our birth center are confident of our baby’s health as well.  And yet, having someone show us that little critter flipping around inside of me, pointing out a healthy heart and kidneys and bladder, along with legs and arms that look as they ought, feels somehow like the proof we needed.

But it is more than that. It has been getting harder and harder to forget that I am pregnant these days (any tendency to forget is mediated by a growing belly, a slower run pace, and the jabs of this little one gaining its strength), but seeing it someone confirms the peculiar truth that there is a little person inside of me, a little critter with its own mind and heart that is growing and experiencing life even as we speak.  For hubby and I, to see its face for the first time was in some ways to realize its reality.

So what is it exactly about seeing something with one’s eyes that is peculiarly truth-affirming?  Why is it that we, like the disciple Thomas, find that seeing something makes believing it easier?  What is it about humanity that the eyes, easy to fool as they are, become a means toward accepting what often is there?  I must admit, there is a part of me that is uneasy with the need to see to believe.  Part of me wasn’t certain I wanted to do the ultrasound at all–I found myself wondering to what extent seeing this child might limit the possibilities that await us down the line.  While it is nice to see, there is something about seeing that has the potential to kill the mystery of a thing.  For when we see, our imaginations no longer fill in the blanks–whether it be God, a baby, or anything else.  And while some things indeed need to be seen, I find that I tend to prefer to sit with the mystery when given a chance.

Don’t get me wrong–I am happy that this baby is healthy, and it was amazing to see its little self flipping around within me.  But I also imagine that I would be just as happy to wait for the inevitable future in which it will be in my arms–because no matter what, this baby is gonna be a reality soon enough.