SERMON: Parable

Parable
Mark 4: 1-25
Rev. Catherine Smith

“There was once someone who said such wonderful things . . .”

We begin with words about a kingdom unlike any that had been lived in or visited or heard of by those who encountered it in Jesus. It was a kingdom he lived and told in parables.

It was like a sower,
A lamp,
As if someone would scatter seed on the ground and sleep.
It was a kingdom whose king became a parable
Subverting the orthodox not only with words but deeds
Dying on a humiliating cross.
It was a realm whose God
Was a hidden pearl, a lost sheep or a lost coin to be sought for and found.

The kingdom was like our two parables this morning.  And it is like the One who explains those parables.
Destabilizing,
Edgy
But somehow tied into our craving.
There are lots of ways to explain these parables
and there are lots of ways to come at the unsettling things Jesus says in his explanation.
But rather than explaining, today I want to tear open the gift of destabilization the parables offer.
And it is a gift.
I want to encourage the breath-taking realization that there is always a Way outside our ways;
Real outside our real;
God outside our explanations.
There is the Way that Mark describes throughout his Gospel.
I want us to look through the skylight of words that are parables
into the larger world they create.
I want us to be prepared to see so that we may perceive,
prepared to listen, not so that we will be informed
but so that we will be transformed.
I want us to turn round til we are dizzy with forgiveness.
I want us to come to parables as keys that will release us, to a more vibrant life that is the Way.

I want to tell you a story.

I went Thursday night, as some of you did, to the movie Room.
It is full of parable and this is one.
Jack and his Ma live locked in a shed
with a skylight providing the only view on the outside.
Ma has been in the shed since the age of 19,
kidnapped and forced into captivity,
repeatedly raped by her captor.
Two years into captivity she gives birth to Jack.
The movie opens with their waking from sleep on Jack’s fifth birthday.

Ma has created an amazing way of being for Jack.
She has succeeded in creating in him a sustaining belief,
a belief in which he is content,
a belief that there is no real outside Room.
And more amazing still, Jack in this one Room, is not stranger to delight.
Jack understands the people and places on the old TV they watch
As streamed in from planets with names like fitness or cartoons.
They are places that exist only far away in the outer space beyond Room’s walls.
There is real and there is TV.
He knows only himself and his mother as real.
“Women aren’t real like Ma is, and girls and boys aren’t either.
Men aren’t real except Old Nick, [their captor] and I’m not actually sure if he’s real for real.
Maybe half?
He brings groceries and Sunday treat and disappears the trash,
but he’s not human like us.
He only happens in the night, like bats.” [1]
Jack imagines Old Nick  goes into TV when he’s not with them
and that TV is where he gets the food and supplies he brings.

One night Old Nick gets angry with Ma and nearly chokes her.
Then he turns off the power.
After two days in the cold Ma faces the threat posed by Old Nick’s unemployment.
They could die of cold and hunger.
She needs to do something drastic.
So she tells a story that is parabolic.
It subverts the old story of Jack’s life, the foundational belief on which his understanding rests,
That there is no life like theirs outside Room.
That Ma is only his.  That they are the only real.

Jack has never in his five years been outside Room where there is no sideways window
only one in the roof where sky is the only thing he sees.
“Come here Ma says to Jack, “I have a story for you”.  [2]
“A new one?”,
“Yeah.”
“Excellent”.

“You know how Alice wasn’t always in Wonderland?

That was a trick, I know this one already, Jack says.
“Yeah, she goes in White Rabbit’s house and grows so big she has to put her arm out the window and her foot up the chimney. . .”

“No,” Ma says, “ but before.  Remember she was lying in the grass?
Then she fell down the hole four thousand miles but she didn’t hurt herself.”

Well, I’m like Alice, says Ma.  . . . “I’m from somewhere else, like here.
A long time ago, I was  —
Up in Heaven.
I came down and I was a kid like you,
I lived with my mother and father.”

Jack shakes his head.  “You’re the mother.”[3]

“But I had one of my own I called Mom” she says.  “I still have.”

“Why she’s pretending like this, is it a game?”  Jack wonders.

Ma’s not smiling.
“I’m telling you about your family.”

I shake my head.

“Just because you’ve never met them doesn’t mean they’re not real.
There’s more things on earth than you ever dreamed about.
Jack, this is important.  I lived in a house with my mom and dad.”

“I have to play the game so she won’t be mad”, Jack thinks.
“A house in TV?”

“No, outside.”

That’s ridiculous, Ma was never in Outside.

“I wish I could describe it better.  I miss it.  All of it.  Being outside.”

“I hold on to her hand.
She wants me to believe so I’m trying to but it hurts my head.
You lived in TV one time?”

“I told you it’s not TV.  It’s the real world, you wouldn’t believe how big it is”[4]

By this time Jack is angry
as we might be at a story that subverted the world as we knew it;
a story that drew us into a new reality,
a story that had the power to transform our way of being.
A story with the kind of king we were not expecting
The kind of kingdom this world never imagined
The kind of God that waits to be found
like a hidden pearl or a lost sheep.
A parable.

“I wouldn’t lie to you about this”, Ma says.  “I couldn’t tell you before, because you were too small to understand, so I guess I was sort of lying to you then.
But now you’re five, I think you can understand.”

“I shake my head.”

“What I’m doing is the opposite of lying.  It’s like unlying.”[5]

After a kind of truce in which they take a nap
Jack presses the story.
“Why don’t you like it here with me?”

“I do but I’d rather be outside with you.”

Jack cannot hear this new reality.  It’s too much for him to perceive.
So, he gets angry.
“Liar, liar pants on fire.”[6]
Just like we might,
at least metaphorically,
he puts his fingers in his ears and shouts Blah, blah, blah . . .

(This is not an unusual reaction to a parable, or in fact to Jesus.)

The electricity’s still off so they go to bed and Jack sleeps in the world-changing words his Ma has told him.
Perhaps like us he meets the words in dreams where,
like us, Jack is undefended from the things that will transform him.
Jack’s transformation has begun.

The transformation of Jack’s inner world is what frees both him and Ma, literally.
The destabilization of his foundational belief
by a story irreconcilable with all he knows, set him free from Room.
“If, says Richard Rohr, People are unable to live askew for a while, to be set off balance, to wait on the threshold of liminal space, they remain in the same old room all of their life.”

Five-year-old Jack is set off balance by a new story told by the Ma he loves and trusts.
And they are freed.

The words of Jesus came in parables that cracked open the world.
And then they were changed by the new forming church.
The were made into allegories where each element was code for something else.
Or moral example stories.
These were easier to deal with and easier to manage.

But parables are never static, they invite us deeper in,
the more often we come to them.
Sometimes though, as Godly Play tells us, “it is as if parables have doors that are shut.
You can’t go inside the parable even if you are ready.
. . .
It just happens, so don’t be discouraged.
Keep coming back again and again.
One day the parable will open up for you”.
And you will be again prepared to leave Room
And step into the kingdom of God.

[1] Emma Donoghue, Room:  A Novel ( Toronto, ON HarperCollins e-books  2010), Loc 264 – 266, Kindle.
[2] Donoghue, 1281 -1282.
[3] Ibid., 1292.
[4] Donoghue. 1313.
[5] Donoghue. 1332.
[6] Donoghue. 1360.

 

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