Sunday’s sermon: The Gift of Misfits

Blessed are the weird people

Texts used – Ruth 1:8-18; Matthew 5:1-16

  • Been preaching our way through Eric Elnes’ Gifts of the Dark Wood: Seven Blessings for Soulful Skeptics (And Other Wanderers)[1] all summer
    • Dark Wood = struggles we face in our lives – not places that we intentionally seek out but also not places we can avoid → Everyone finds themselves in the Dark Wood sometimes.
      • Dark Wood is also not a one-time-only sort of experience → place we find ourselves in again and again
    • Surprising gifts/blessings that we find in the midst of those Dark Wood journeys
      • Gift of uncertainty → trusting in God
      • Gift of emptiness → making room for God
      • Gift of being thunderstruck → all about openness/awareness of those flashes of God in this world
      • Gift of getting lost → lets us be found by God of love
      • Gift of temptation → helps us discern our true calling to do God’s work in this world
      • Gift of disappearing → shaking off all the limiting labels that the world places on us and claiming our most important name: beloved child of God
    • And today, we come to probably my favorite gift – the one I’ve been looking forward to preaching since we started this series weeks ago: the gift of misfits. The gift of square pegs in round holes. The gift of those who go against the grain … dance to the beat of their own drummer … think outside the box. This is the gift of the weird people.
      • As we come to the end of this Dark Wood journey, Elnes: Up to this point in our exploration of the Dark Wood, we’ve been considering the quest for our life’s path primarily from the perspective of our journey as individuals. It is only as individuals that we awaken to find ourselves in the Dark Wood, and each of us must find our own distinctive path through it. Yet, given the difficulties and challenges we encounter in the Dark Wood, walking alone is about as advisable as walking alone in a physical dark wood. It’s easy to get lost without the aid of companions. And it is often through [those companions] that we receive our clearest glimpses of heaven.[2] → In a nutshell, that’s what the gift of misfits is all about – companionship. It’s about finding people who are struggling like we are – not necessarily with the same obstacles, but struggling just the same.
        • Not always the companions we expect
        • Maybe not always the companions we would choose
        • But companions nonetheless. The gift of misfits is about finding those other companions so we can band together and travel together through the ups and the downs, the sideways parts and the rocky paths – so we don’t have to suffer the scrapes and setbacks, the lost moments and the vexing moments all by our lonesome. A few years ago, I came across an anonymous quote somewhere in my internet wanderings, and it’s a quote that I’ve loved ever since: “Make your weird light shine bright so the other weirdos know where to find you.” The gift of misfits is about letting our weird lights shine bright so the other weirdos know where to find us.
  • Believe it or not, this is exactly what Jesus preaches as well!
    • Today’s NT text = beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount
      • Scriptural context:
        • Follows Jesus’ baptism
        • Follows temptation in the wilderness
        • Follows Jesus calling the first disciples (Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John)
        • Text just prior to what we read today says Jesus spent some time traveling throughout Galilee “teaching in their synagogues. He announced the good news of the kingdom and healed every disease and sickness among the people.”[3]
      • All this traveling and teaching and healing has stirred up the word about Jesus, and he’s begun attracting quite a crowd. So he climbs up to a higher place so more people can see and hear him. And what does Jesus start talking about? None other than … the misfits. – text: Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad. Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth. Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full. Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy. Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God. Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children. Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”[4] → Can you imagine what the crowd thought when they heard him say this? Here Jesus is, this brand new guy on the scene. He’s been roaming the countryside doing all sorts of amazing and unexpected things – teaching (even though he never studied with the legal experts), healing people, and talking about the Kingdom of God. Everyone’s curious about what this new and kinda weird guy is going to say. But Jesus’ pronouncement of who is blessed is almost certainly not what they were expecting to hear.
        • Happy are those who are …
          • Hopeless
          • Grieving
          • Humble – other translations of Gr. = gentle, meek
          • Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness = those who are not righteous → those who are broken, imperfect – those who have made mistakes and know it
          • People who live harassed because they are righteous
        • Not exactly the list of blessed people that the crowd was expecting
    • Goes on to emphasize the importance of being misfits: You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.[5] → Jesus is pointing out not the things that make salt and light common but the things that make them special … unique … noticeable: that distinct, salty flavor of salt and the brightness of the light. Without these things, salt and light are useless. They must stand out, they must not blend in with everything around them, in order to be themselves. To fulfill their true potential – to be the blessing they were created to be, they must, in fact, be misfits. “Make your weird light shine bright so the other weirdos know where to find you.” 
  • In terms of traveling through the Dark Wood together, Elnes delineates 3 types of misfits → think of them as 3 concentric rings
    • 1st misfit (innermost ring) = mentor/guide – Elnes: This is a person who has spent a little longer in the Dark Wood than you have and is therefore more familiar with trails that lead to dead ends, or over cliffs, or back out into the bright and broad streets that lead straight toward doing the wrong good. This guide isn’t always at your side, but is a wise person you can check in with regularly, particularly when the trail becomes faint or the wait between lightning flashes is long.[6]
      • Purpose for spiritual directors/advisors
      • Purpose for confirmation mentors
    • 2nd misfit (middle ring) = “small band of traveling companions” – Elnes: They do not have to be as familiar with the Dark Wood as your mentor, nor need they be on the same path as you. They simply needed to be committed to finding and living within their own place of aliveness, following their own sense of call that keeps them from worshiping at the shrines of the mediocre. … [These are] people with whom you can let your hair down and simply be yourself. They are the folks to whom you can reveal your triumphs and tragedies, your joys and fears, and they to you.[7]
      • These are the other weirdos that flock to your weird light
      • Could be friends, family members, people at work, people involved in some of those activities that are part of your genuine call/vocation in this world
    • 3rd misfit (outermost ring) = a misfit community of faith – Elnes: Just as individuals have distinct paths or callings, so do communities. … If a personal mentor could be likened to an interpretive guide in the Dark Wood, and a small group of Dark Wood traveling companions could be likened to a group around a campfire, a misfit community of faith could be likened to an alehouse in the Dark Wood. As common at alehouses in Great Britain or Ireland, those who gather in these misfit faith communities are drawn there for camaraderie and conversation, as well as the basic spirit of the place. … They cater to a diverse crowd. Yet there is a spirit within them that transcends differences and gives each its distinctive identity.[8]
      • Doesn’t have to be a church … But it is certainly my hope that this congregation may be that misfit community of faith for you.
        • We’re certainly all different
      • BUT, as Elnes says, I think we also transcend those differences to come together in support, in compassion, and in grace
  • Naomi and Ruth in our OT reading = probably my favorite unlikely, misfit pairing in Scripture
    • Naomi = woman who traveled to a foreign country with her husband and sons due to famine in Israel → while in that foreign country, her sons marry, her husband passes away, and then her sons pass away → Naomi gets word that the famine is Israel has ended, so she heads back home → And as she heads for home, Naomi is definitely traveling a Dark Wood path. She has lost her entire family – her husband and her sons. She is grieving. She is bitter. She is traveling back to a place that she knows will be difficult. As a widow with no sons to care for her, she has no holdings or property or anything of her own. Naomi knows that she will have to survive on the generosity of others. She has become the epitome of someone who doesn’t “fit in” in society at the time.
    • Initial traveling companions = daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah
      • Naomi convinces Orpah to turn back → return to her family so they can care for her → tearfully and reluctantly, Orpah finally agrees
      • But in contrast, she cannot convince Ruth to turn back as well. Naomi tries to convince Ruth that she has nothing for her and that Israel – home for Naomi but a foreign country for Ruth – has nothing for her either.
    • Ruth’s response = Dark Wood response of companionship – text: “Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord to this to me and more so if even death separates me from you.”[9] → Something inside Ruth knows that she and Naomi need each other as they travel this road of grief and hardship and outsider-ness together.
      • Fits perfectly with Elnes definition of “misfits”: What I mean by misfit is someone who is being as intentional as you are about embracing the gifts of the Dark Wood and finding their place in this world, if not more so.[10] → Maybe it’s because it’s two women. Maybe it’s because of the unconditional love we see in both Naomi and Ruth. Maybe it’s because of the wholehearted devotion that Ruth displays. But something about these women … this journey … this Scriptural soliloquy that tugs at the heart and seems to be such a perfect illustration of misfit community.
  • Elnes explains why the gift of misfits is so crucial: Countless are the processes that seek to tame the wild energy inside you, just as they seek to tame the wild energies of the world. … If you live an unreflective life, allowing these forces to shape you unawares, they will take away your name and give you a number. They will not ask what brings you alive in this world, but will demand instead that their world lives in you. They will not ask what is the specific good that you must do to live into your full humanity. Instead they will empower you to do only the good that keeps their specific processes alive and well, running seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day.[11] → But when we find our blessed community of misfits – when we find our other wonderfully weird folks – they give us the courage to break outside that box. They give us the courage to live a reflective life – one that values our name, one that encourages us to find our specific good that feeds our fullest humanity. These are the people that see us, not with the world’s eyes, but with God’s eyes.
    • On the cover of your bulletins this morning: “Blessed are the weird people – the poets and misfits, the artists, the writers and music makers, the dreamers and the outsiders – for they force us to see the world differently.” Alleluia! Amen.

[1] Eric Elnes. Gifts of the Dark Wood: Seven Blessings for Soulful Skeptics (and Other Wanderers). (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press), 2015.

[2] Elnes, 150.

[3] Mt 4:23.

[4] Mt 5:3-13

[5] Mt 5:13-16.

[6] Elnes, 157.

[7] Elnes, 159-160.

[8] Elnes, 162-163.

[9] Ruth 1:16-17.

[10] Elnes, 157.

[11] Elnes, 155-156.

One response to “Sunday’s sermon: The Gift of Misfits

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Where We Go From Here | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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