Soren Kierkegaard, the famous philosopher, wrote a parable about the Christian Church. A flock of geese would gather every Sunday morning in the barnyard. The gander would preach to them about the glorious destiny of geese. He would tell them of how their Creator wanted them to use their wings to fly away to distant lakes and streams. And when he mentioned the Creator, the geese curtsied and bowed their heads. He would preach the same thing every Sunday and then the meeting would break up and they would all
waddle home. But that was as far as they ever got. They became healthy, grew fat and plump and delicious. At Christmas they were eaten and that was as far as they ever got.
Kierkegaard grew up in a country where everyone was “Christian” in name, but where taking that label to oneself involved little involvement in the world. He noticed how he and most everyone else treated their life of faith: their faith was sheltered from the real world, kept at a safe distance from the realities of life. And no matter how rich and meaningful the Sunday liturgies were, none of that really affected how they chose to live
their lives every other day of the week.
I have been to many a clergy conference, as a lay leader on the “outside looking in” as it
were, and also as a priest, from the “inside looking out.” There isn’t much difference really because in almost every instance the gathering seemed an awful lot like a gaggle of geese
cackling in the barnyard rather than the People of God striving to hear and live the Word of God. Everyone laughs at even the most sexist and homophobic jokes uttered by the hierarchy, despite his personal views. The individual mind is turned off and a group think mentality takes over. This continues to be true, even as the barnyards continue to shrink, and the number of people claiming to be leaders continues to increase! This is the reverse of supply and demand thinking.
Truthfully, I’ve been in Kierkegaard’s parable more times than I want to admit. I grew up with this disconnect between the comforting words about the God of Love, the Creator
of All That Is on Sunday and then getting completely lost and confused in the
mess of creation during the week.
Jesus put it like this: There were two sons. The father asks the first son to go to work for
him picking broccoli. “No way am I going out there! You must be joking, right?! It’s hot and humid and there’s no way I’m doing that kind of work on a day like today!” But later the son decides to actually go to work for his father and turns his refusal into a “yes.”
In the meantime, the father goes to the second son with the same request. “Hey, son, will you go and work in the fields for me today?” “Why sure thing, dad; I always enjoy helping you out. I’m just about done watching this video and then I’ll be out there picking broccoli and I’ll even do some weeding while I’m out there.”
“Hey, thanks, son. I knew I could depend on you.”
The bad news is that this son has only finished the first season of the Tudors and now he’s
ready to watch all the seasons of Sex and the City. That will take him through the whole weekend, so there won’t be any time for working in the field.
“Which one does what the father asks?”, Jesus asks. Or to borrow from Kierkegaard’s parable, which son has the courage to try out his wings and fly? Did the disrespectful son who changed his mind and went into the field do the right thing? Or did couch potato son do the right thing—the one who formed an elegant, almost liturgical rubric for saying yes? Which son are you when you are asked to support and help build your faith community? When you are called to put feet on your faith and do more than just recite high sounding words?
We know from firsthand experience how easy it is to recite the Lord’s Prayer, or to pray all
the Mass prayers, believing every word. We also know how difficult it is to get out of bed Monday morning and to do what we just affirmed the day before. That makes us like the older son.
Maybe we have a nagging sense of doubt when we pray together and aren’t even sure what
we believe about God or the Church. Perhaps our understanding of the Gospel is shaky at best and whenever we want to look at a particular book in the Bible, we have to look in the Table of Contents to find what page it’s on. Maybe wefeel as though we’ve said “yes” to God, but God hasn’t really said “yes” to us. This makes us like the younger son.
To both types of people God invites us to say “yes” again, and to simply allow the Spirit to
direct our actions. God calls us to come together in faith, weak or strong, and
take on the tasks that present themselves to us. We’re not called to save the world, but we
are called to serve those whom God sends our way. God’s family is large enough to allow space for both types of son: to those who can say an eager “yes” as well as to those
whose “yes” is feeble and reluctant. God only needs our permission to enter into us and start changing things around.
So Kierkegaard’s cackling barnyard geese parable might have an alternate
ending. Maybe that flock of geese decides to start to fly, and as they leave the ground, one by one, they are pulled up into the migratory flyways forming hundreds of “v’s” across the
autumn skies. They’re soaring together, flying with grace and precision, uncertain of their final destination, but nonetheless flying with direction and purpose. As we approach the beginning of our fifth year of service, let us lift up our heads and hearts and see this parish lifted up and made airborn by the breath of God’s Spirit, upheld by God’s grace, moving with confidence into a future that God has already preordained for us. Amen.