Isaiah 61:1-11; Psalm 34:1-9; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 1:46-55
You may have seen the movie Inception. It’s the story of people who make their living by helping groups of people experience the same dream while they’re sleeping. They use a machine that connects each person to the others. The point of sharing the same dream is not entertainment; in the dream, people work together to influence events in the real world.
But the most important story in the movie is about the relationship of a young man with his father. The father has built a huge business empire for himself. The son wants to please the father & believes that his father wants him to follow in his footsteps. On his deathbed, the father speaks to his son, who can understand only one word from the older man’s lips: disappointed. The son believes that his father died, disappointed in his son.
But later–in a dream–the son has an opportunity to return to his father’s deathbed & discovers that he was wrong. The father wasn’t disappointed in his son; he loved his son. The older man was disappointed that the son was following his father rather than becoming his own man with his own purpose & priorities.
Many of us in the church are people-pleasers. But what we find in our scriptures more often than not is people who risk disappointing those they love for the sake of claiming their God-given gifts & their unique purpose in the world.
Today is what Lutherans call the feast day of Mary, Mother of Our Lord. At the time of her engagement Mary was only 13 or 14 years old. Up until that point, she’d faithfully followed the religious traditions of her family. So imagine the shock of her family to learn that she was pregnant before she was married. Mary was certainly troubled by the news, and yet, rather than apologize, Mary listens carefully to what God has called her to do. What she concludes is that she must risk disappointing her family for the sake of her true calling. She decides that doing the work that God has called her to is more important than pleasing her family. Today’s gospel reading is her confident song of praise.
Maybe her own experience made Mary more patient with her son twelve years later. Remember the time Jesus disappeared, later turning up in the temple, teaching grown-ups? That’s not what twelve-yr. old boys did, but Jesus said to his parents, Didn’t you know that I would be in my Father’s house? On another occasion, Mark’s gospel tells this story: Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Ch. 3)
Being a “good son” or a “good daughter” is not necessarily a “good thing.” I’m not saying that children should be selfish & rebellious. I am saying that each new generation needs to listen carefully to its unique calling. Each new generation has a calling different from previous generations. They will have different beliefs, values & priorities, as the stories of Mary & Jesus himself show us.
I myself was fortunate to have parents who learned this lesson & allowed me to become my own man. Their willingness to let go of their hopes & expectations was a good thing. Likewise, my willingness to let go of being a people-pleaser has turned out to be a good thing for everyone. I have found that as my parents’ teaching helped shape me early on, as an adult I have had at least a little influence on the way they think & believe. We help each other grow.
In the movie Inception people who share the same dream acquire the power to change the world. People in the church who have the same dream also have power to change the world. Our shared dream is to be faithful to God’s mission for us in the world. But each new generation will have different work.
In the movie Inception, the dying man’s words are misinterpreted. When he says “disappointed” he means, disappointed that the child has not charted his own course. Deep down, maybe even without being aware of it, most parents desire that the child become not what they want them to be, but what God created them to be. In Mary, Mother of our Lord–& Jesus himself–we find encouragement for each new generation to build on the legacy of those who have gone before. Each generation does that by being true to the unique gifts & mission that God has given them. Thanks be to God!