Pr. Sara Yoos, Guest Pastor and Preacher
You may have noticed that I’m pregnant. Now, the first few months, people were really cautious about asking. But after 4 months, it was pretty obvious this was more than just a big lunch.
But once it was obvious that I am pregnant, it became especially awkward around strangers. See, I’m a foster parent as well to an eleven month old baby girl. So when people see me carrying around a baby – then notice that I’m pregnant – I see them trying to do the math in their head. And I’ve had so many strangers ask in a super fake polite voice (so you know they’re being totally judgmental): “so – what will be the age difference between those two?”
And because I don’t have a “traditional” family, I have to figure out how to navigate all of the assumptions that people make about parenting. Like, my foster daughter has an unusual name. So people often ask for the story behind her name. And I have to shrug and say, “She came with it? Her mom named her.”
Or there was the one lady who asked me: “Was she born with that much hair?” Having gotten her shortly after birth, I was able to nod in the affirmative. “That must’ve felt so weird coming out!” she said.
But most often, the questions I get are about adoption.
Are you going to adopt her?
When do you get to adopt her?
Do you know if you get to keep her?
And while we are open to adopting, that isn’t the purpose of fostering. We foster in order to provide a child in need with a loving, safe home. That’s our goal. That’s the end.
But for so many people, starting a family is about permanence.
It’s about making that perfect stick figure family to put on the back of your car.
It’s about establishing some stability and security.
In an ever-changing world, who wants an ever-changing family? Family should be the one thing we count on to be constant… right?
That’s what I thought at first. That’s the narrative about family and parenting I was led to believe in.
But as my husband and I started discussing our desire to start a family, we wondered about why we wanted to become parents and how we could do that faithfully. And God started nudging us to consider becoming foster parents. To love all of God’s children as much as we’d love one of our own creation.
It took a long time and a lot of work to rewrite the narrative of what being a family looks like and means. Once we made the decision to foster, we spent a lot of time helping our family and friends reframe the story of our family as well. Whether or not this daughter is part of our family short term or long term, she is part of our family. She is a granddaughter, niece, and cousin… regardless of her legal status.
Offering a counter narrative – when a dominant narrative has been so deeply ingrained in our culture and expectations – is very difficult work. It is hard to hear an alternative story when we’ve been told a single story our whole life.
You notice how Peter and the other disciples struggle to hear Jesus present a counter narrative today.
Jesus begins by asking them what the narrative is – who are people saying that I am? They answer him: Elijah, John the Baptist, a prophet.
But then Peter jumps in: We know who you are. You’re the Messiah!
What you have to know about “Messiah” is that title comes with a very particular narrative. In the Jewish tradition, the term was associated with an anointed king with a lineage tracing back to King David. The story that had been passed down from generation to generation about this Messiah was that he would come free Israel from their oppressors and restore Israel to its former glory.
This “Messiah” was the hero everyone was waiting for. So when Peter says, “You’re that guy,” he’s expecting a certain story to be unfolding.
But then Jesus begins to offer a different story about the Messiah. And it’s not a heroic tale, but a tragic one. A story that involves being tortured, killed, and abandoned on the cross.
And Peter’s rightly confused. He thinks, “Clearly Jesus’ mom didn’t tell him the same story we were all told growing up. That’s not the version we all grew up with. Jesus has got it wrong!”
But Jesus isn’t about to follow the narrative that’s been made for him. He’s writing his own. And it challenges every expectation of the dominant narrative.
Jesus wasn’t there to violently crush the enemy.
Jesus wasn’t going to overthrow their evil ruler.
Jesus wasn’t going to magically put the government back into the right hands.
He was going to lose his life. Lose it completely.
And in fact, they are told, if they wanted to follow him, they had to “take up a cross” too. If we want to follow Jesus, we have to become losers too.
We lose our lives by
– Putting God’s purposes above our own comfort/security
– Spending our lives for others – using our time, energy, and resources – so that others may experience God’s love
The world might try to sell us on a story about winning and gaining and getting and owning – but Jesus challenges us to live a new story. A story about loving and losing. About letting go. About giving up and giving away.
The particulars of this story look a little differently for all of us. For my family right now, it means fostering this little girl. It means loving her without abandon, knowing that we will lose her in a month when she returns to her parents.
For you, it might mean offering to care for someone who is grieving, undergoing a health crisis or going through a difficult transition.
It might mean giving generously to someone in need and not expecting anything in return.
It might mean taking a risk that will take you beyond your comfort zone to a new, unknown place.
I wonder what story Jesus is encouraging you to rewrite today.
I will say, it takes a lot of energy and prayer to discern when Jesus is offering you a counter narrative. Because our inclination is to reject whatever ideas don’t fit inside our norms.
We said “no” to fostering several times before we ever said “maybe.”
Like Peter, we are all quick to reject new ideas when they run counter to our expectations.
But this is the guidepost Jesus offers:
If your story is about saving your life, rewrite it.
If the story you are telling others is about your success and reputation, or comfort and security, your mind is on human things and not the divine.
If your chief operating story is about your pursuit of some self-serving endeavor, you may gain the whole world – or at least worldly pleasure – but you forfeit life as God intended.
You can rewrite these stories.
I remember when I was in high school, we had our guidance counselor come in to talk to us about careers. But the first thing she did was have us write our mission statement.
Regardless of our career path, setting aside any financial or professional goals, who did we want to be? What did we want our life to be for? This is the story to pay attention to.
What we find in these stories, is a truer story.
A story of who we are and whose we are.
We never needed to strive for worthiness because we were worthy all along.
We never needed to seek approval because God approved of us all along.
We never needed to hide from our past because God redeemed and forgave us long ago.
When Jesus rewrote the story of the Messiah, he not only rewrote their expectations of success and failure, of winning and losing, of glory and suffering.
He also rewrote the ending.
He rewrote the story that said death was the end. The thing to dread. Defeat.
He wrote a different ending. One of resurrection. New life.
This is our story.
This is the true story.
Those who lose their life, will save it.