Steady

I was listening to a podcast by the comedian, Nate Bargatze, and he was taking callers, who were asking him questions about stand-up comedy, and one of the callers was from Colorado. This was back during the pandemic when all the comedy clubs were shutting down and closing their doors temporarily. The caller asked Bargatze, “I’ve been doing stand-up comedy for about a year, and I was just starting to find my voice as a comedian; but now all the comedy clubs are shutting down. What should I do to continue learning my craft?”

Well, before Bargatze could respond to the caller’s actual question, he blurted out, “For starters, there is no way that you have found your voice as a comedian in just one year. It takes multiple years to discover your voice,” which is also true in life.

It takes years to discover who you are, but what nobody tells you is, once you figure out who you are, it is equally difficult to maintain it–to not lose sight of yourself in the midst of life.

We cultivate who we are within the love of God, for we are all God’s beloved children. It is knowing that we are God’s children that we are able to live lives of authenticity.

I probably spend more time than most walking through cemeteries. Oftentimes, I find myself after a graveside service wandering over to familiar markers, remembering the lives of beloved church members. On those markers, there are words of comfort and short descriptions, like “beloved mother” or “cherished friend”—remembering who we are.

One day I walked over to the markers for Claude and Mary Virginia Moore. Our annual lecture series was created by Mary Virginia in memory of her husband, Claude, who served this church faithfully for years as its Treasurer and as a Deacon.

At the very top of the marker for Claude is a picture of a chicken because he was Head of the Department and Professor of Poultry Science; but what really caught my eye was the short description at the very bottom of the marker, where in quotation marks it simply says, “A Steady Man.”

I have thought about that description for a long time. It speaks of that little known virtue of what Stanley Hauerwas calls, constancy. It is the virtue that enables all the other virtues. It gives us stability, steadiness, and authenticity in our lives. As Stanley Hauerwas writes, “A person of constancy can be trusted to be who they seem to be.”

It takes years to discover who we are, but we maintain it through constancy. It means that who we are is not determined by who we are with. We do not live compartmentalized lives–one way over here, and another way over there. It leads us to authenticity, where we are able to remove any masks that we are prone to wear because we do not want to be anyone other than who we are. It takes years to discover, but we maintain it through the simplicity and courage of constancy.

When Jesus took the commandments of God and reframed them as two commandments—to love God and to love neighbor—I think he was striving for the simplicity and courage of constancy. Just take the Ten Commandments, where the first part focuses on the love of God: do not have other gods, do not create idols, do not take the Lord’s name in vain, honor the Sabbath. All of those focus vertically on the love of God.

But then the next part of the Ten Commandments focuses horizontally on the love of neighbor: honor your father and mother, do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not cover your neighbor. Jesus takes all of that and says, love God with everything that is in you, and love your neighbor as yourself.” It is simple, but it takes courage to love God and to love your neighbor constantly.

In the story where Jesus cleanses the temple, we find another occasion where Jesus seems to emphasize authenticity and constancy, where he chases the money changers out of the Court of Gentiles in the Temple. We have oftentimes surmised that Jesus was upset with the practices of the Temple, where Gentiles were not welcomed and where the money changers were exploiting the poor, both of which Jesus would be upset with.

But, as Amy-Jill Levine points out, we do not find overwhelming evidence for either of them in this story. For starters, they were in the Court of Gentiles in the Temple where Gentiles were welcomed, and the money changers were simply doing their job, which was necessary for worship. The Temple was the only place where someone could make a sacrifice for God, and when they traveled from afar, they didn’t bring their animals with them. They could get lost or injured, so when they arrived, they went to see the money changers using their currency from another place to exchange it for the currency of the Temple, so they could purchase a sacrifice.

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, when it cautions us not to turn a house of prayer into a den of robbers in this story, it is quoting the prophet Jeremiah, who was calling people to worship with authenticity. Jesus sees those who are coming to worship without an authentic spirit of prayer, and he is chasing them out. It’s why Alastair McIntyre says, “The enemy of constancy is charm, because charm makes it hard to determine whether we are being authentic or whether we are just going through the motions.”

We gather for worship to remember who we are as God’s beloved children, so that when we leave this place, our lives can continue to embody the worship of God. It is why Jesus says of the Temple, “We will tear this place down and in three days raise it up.” He was speaking about his life. Faith is not limited to a place. It is not compartmentalized. It moves beyond these walls, because there is a constancy to them.

It might sound as if constancy adds something to our lives—like there is more for us to do—but, in actuality, it removes something from our lives. It means that we never have to chase the expectations of others whenever those expectations change who we are as God’s beloved children.

I had a friend in Macon who served his congregation for years as their pastor, and whenever Otis walked into a room, he lit the room up. What you saw is what you got! He was completely authentic, never going through the motions.

Oftentimes, Otis was wearing a pair of overalls. He had this thick beard like he had not shaved since he turned seventeen years old, and he was an excellent listener. He was as comfortable with complete silence as he was with talking to a complete stranger.

Every day for exercise, he would go to Kroger and he would walk the aisles. He was not grocery shopping, and he was not looking for deals. He was getting to know the regular shoppers, while he got his steps in, and he was visiting with the staff.

The staff came to love him so much that every November after Halloween they would give Otis all of the leftover pumpkins–hundreds of them: big ones, small ones, round ones, odd-shaped ones. Then, under the cover of the night, he would load up his truck, and he would drive out to the house of a cherished friend or beloved family member, and he would leave all of the pumpkins in the front yard. When you went to get the paper the next morning, your lawn was littered with hundreds of pumpkins. The strange part was everybody hoped to be the house that year. I kind of hoped one year we would get the pumpkins.

Otis was beloved in that sort of way because he was so authentic. You just felt like you could be yourself around him. He lived a life of constancy: always kind, always open, always willing. He was the same wherever you saw him and with whomever he met.

I’m guessing that we could all look back in our lives and think of someone who lived with constancy around us. They always showed up for us. They were always available to us. They would speak words of grace constantly into our lives.

We might take some time during this season of Lent to think about them and to take notes from their lives, so that we might be a steady and constant presence for the love of God and the love of neighbor for somebody else.

Amen.

Auburn First Baptist Church