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Fake It Til You Make It

June 1, 2009

From time to time I’m going to put the “texts” of my sermons up here. That word “texts” is in quotes because I actually don’t preach with a script or notes any longer. I’ve found it to be as liberating as people will tell you, but it’s not easy, and it actually takes more prep time to do well. For instance, I find it helpful to write out a “manuscript” that I then make an outline from. I read the manuscript a number of times, and then study the outline several times before I preach. This generally means that I have to finish the sermon earlier in the week than most people seem to, but I’m not as far ahead as some (Mr. MALONE). Then I rise up, say a prayer, and let the Spirit lead. What I remember are the essential points, and the transitions. But what comes out is frequently more than what I had originally, and often people will quote back as most meaningful things that were not even in the manuscript.
I guess that’s all a disclaimer that what you are about to read is not actually the sermon I preached. This is the manuscript that I then used to make the outline. In fact, I may even post up the outline that came out of this one, just so you can see what happens in the writing process.
One final note on the format. I’m a Mac guy and I use a piece of software (every day, many times a day) called Scrivener. It is magic. I love it. And it puts the number sign after each movement when I compile the draft. Rather than change it, I left it in there. Go figure.
At any rate, I hope this is helpful, and remember that this was written to be READ, or memorized and recited, so the grammar is definitely non-standard. You don’t need to tell me that. I know. I hope God continues to challenge you in your faith, and thanks for reading.

Since the sermon I preached last week, several times, in meetings and just visits this week, I heard people say, “well, if you don’t like clutter, don’t come to my house.”
PLEASE. What I tried to communicate last week got a little muddied I think. I was not saying I’m Super Clutter Fighter…My perfectly folded cape streaming out behind me, returning to my perfectly ordered hideout after a day spent de-cluttering houses and civic spaces. No, what I said was, I get crazy about my own clutter, in my own space. Your clutter is of no concern to me at all. Kathy, our administrator here at church, was apologizing for all the boxes piled up in her office. I told her, “Forget it, I don’t even see it.” And I meant it. So really, don’t let that be a barrier to visits, and know that I judge you not at all by the state of your house. MY house, well, that I get fired up about.
Besides, through it all, I am well aware that perfection is not an option. We spend so much time worrying about it, of course, and fretting about how others perceive us. We want things in our lives to be as perfect as possible, no matter how “easy going” we present ourselves to others. Let us pray…[and then we did, and I’m not going to try to write it out, because I do not write prayers–if you want those you have to join us at 10:30 on Sunday mornings, 9:30 in July and August].
You will hear stories from my time at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, from time to time. But one of the most important, at least for what I want to say to you today, is about how you begin as chaplain. It is an image I want to set in your head that I will pick up later in this message.
When you start out, as a chaplain in training, the first few weeks, most folks feel completely unmanned. It’s tough. Most of us are seminarians in the beginning, or near the beginning, of our training. We think we are not prepared to answer the big life and death questions that are going to come our way. We feel like if we only had a few more years to study, to prepare, we might be able to be of better comfort for folks.
But the truth of the matter is, if you ask people at the beginning of seminary or those who have gone part time for seven years and are taking chaplaincy in their last year how capable they feel, either one will tell you they are not remotely ready. Both are right. Chaplaincy is one of those things where there truly is no first time. You can’t let on that you are brand new at it if you hope to be of comfort to people who need you. Well, you might be able to, but you choose very carefully who you can let your guard down with and who you have to be strong for. For the first HALF of my summer in chaplaincy, it was such a struggle.
For the most part, these people didn’t ask for me to be there. They didn’t request to see a clergy person, and more than half, if they did, requested a PRIEST, as in catholic. For some of the older folks, when they were told the chaplain was in the room, their faces contorted in terror. “Is it the last rights he’s after, then? Has my doctor been lying to me all along? Sure’n you’d better come right out with it, fadda.”
“Actually, I’m not a priest. I’m a baptist, and I’m a student still in seminary.”
“Oh, that’s fine, I don’t care how far along you are fadda, ya gotta start somewhere, right?”
“Well, yes, but you don’t have to call me father, just Charley is fine,”
“Right, sure, Fadda Charley, that sounds alright.”
I never did get some of them to say it right, but my sage supervisor reminded me that it was just fine. They could call me by whatever name they wanted. The important thing was that they be comforted, and edified in their time at the hospital. That same supervisor, helped me to reflect on my reluctance, and we eventually discerned that I had authority issues…well, no, no those authorities so much, but instead, issues with my OWN authority, that I wasn’t good enough or ready enough to be a chaplain yet Ron had to break me out of that, and he had to allow me to break out myself. Not easy. So day after day, I kept showing up, walking into rooms, DOING chaplaincy before I was even a “real” chaplain.
One question came up again and again, in different forms, as I slogged away at it in those first couple months.
They say there are no atheists in foxholes, well, that may or may not be true, but presented with an opportunity like a man or woman of God coming into their hospital room, quite a few people near death are willing to talk about their faith. Some are there to tell you that they not going to start pretending like it all matters this late in the game. They may even say they know they are lost, but they don’t care, indicating that the theology they claim not to own may yet still have some sway over them.
Others just want to talk to anyone, and jabber away into the morning hours, happy to have someone to talk to about the fact that they are deeply spiritual, though they haven’t been to church in years.
But one question repeated over and over, and I remember it clear as a bell when one patient with bad mesothelioma, someone who was entering real last chance, asked me, “Father, how does one…I mean, how would you…how do you get closer to God?” That conversation came up just this week. That questions has haunted me all through my ministry. And as usual in faith, the answer is not what you would expect, or at least, it was not what I expected. But when you talk about faith, you frequently have to give an answer that confounds people’s initial expectations.
Remember when Jesus was approached by a young man and asked, “Teacher, what is the path to salvation,” and Jesus comes back with “Sell all you have and follow me.” The young man sputters and presumably does not follow, because he did not get the answer about piety or other things that were part of his world of faith. Instead, Jesus made a real clear turn in an unclear direction.
But if deepening faith, is so important, than it bears addressing.
And really, at the heart of it, I believe what people are saying is that they would like to experience their faith more. To feel it. It’s like they want the experience that the apostles went through at Pentecost.

The disciples are gathered in Jerusalem, probably in some upper room, and a mighty wind comes in and changes everything. It blows through their lives and makes them into new agents. It rests on each of them, fills them, makes them full of ability and power, to speak in many languages. The Holy spirit turns disciples into prophets. It remakes the possibilities, into something new out of whole cloth. The Holy Spirit is the hot wind that blows in across their souls and finally says, well done, good and gentle servants, well done! Now here’s a triple tank of fuel for the trip ahead, because you all are going out to change a LOT of lives.
Essentially, the Holy Spirit does not show up at the beginning of their ministry. The Holy Spirit does not prepare them to begin. Instead, the Holy Spirit comes to them after they have traveled miles and miles, walking with Jesus, listening to his teaching, feeding the people who came out, and helping Jesus get from place to place. They witness his death, and then hear the good news of his Resurrection, and through all of this they are out in the trenches, leading new believers to Christ, helping people to transform their lives in the light of the good news. They had to go through the practice of doing their faith, because faith IS a verb, in this way, and it comes by hearing, yes, but it grows by doing, and so the commissioning of the disciples by the Holy Spirit comes after they’ve spent a lot of time being evangelists already. It’s like a reward, and it allows them to take ministry to the next level.
So, no surprise now: sometimes you’ve got fake it until you make it. Don’t worry about being a perfect Christian, all well figured out and saintly, all sorted out and ready to serve. This is just not reality for us humans. If you really do want to deepen your faith, if you really do want to be closer to God, then please: DO Faith. Just do it. Serve in our service projects, join committees and boards, attend annual meetings, start a new small group, if you are inclined. Pray. Pray several times a day. “Thank you God, for this day,” when you wake up. “Thank you God, for the fruit of your earth,” when you eat. “Thank you God, for the opportunities you gave me today, the ones I used, and even the ones I squandered. I’ll try better tomorrow.”
And then, if you show up, time after time, I think you’ll find that the Spirit starts showing up as well, to greet and guide you. God does not call the equipped, goes the old saw. God equips the called. And in that same way, a young seminarian can go through the motions, day after day, walking over threshold after threshold, until the moment when, as she stands in the doorway, she on longer introduces herself as so-and-so, the Student chaplain, but instead says, “I’m the chaplain. Would you like to talk?”
At that moment, she is the chaplain.


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  1. Joe Sawicki permalink

    This was very interesting! I enjoyed the sermon live and its nice to see the process and thoughts behind it.

  2. i thought Jesus had a problem with the fakers. He called them actors and white washed tombs. I think I can perceive a different take on this, “take baby steps of faith,” but fake it till you make it seems to be a Pharisaical approach.
    Help me out here bro.
    God is good

    • John,
      thanks for a thought-provoking response, and one that illuminates the tricky aspect of using a cliché as a sermon title. When I brought “fake it til you make it” as the title of this sermon, I was not asking folks to fake the faith, nor asking them to take an external approach to their faith. What I was hoping for was that more people would feel welcome to BE in church, DOING church events, rather than staying away until they were “ready.” It has been my experience that folks who stay away until they get it right never come back, and wind up missing out on any sort of relationship with Christ (or with the community that supposedly follows him). Your “baby steps” (though I might not use that exact phrase) is very much what this is about; some never do more than attend church on Sunday, and that is a step, but not much of one. Some begin to pray on their own, read scripture on their own, and even gather with friends intentionally to study the Bible or talk through their faith walk. Then there are those rare few who challenge themselves into a much deeper walk, one that transcends and lets them become a force for change in our world, often while simultaneously experiencing a deep conversion of the heart and a new orientation toward Christ. Maybe instead of baby steps I would argue for levels of discipleship. The phrase “fake it” was presented quite tongue-in-cheek, which comes across clearly in delivery, but not on the page. I don’t want anyone to fake it. But I do want them to try to show up and be a part of things even before they are all sorted out and ready to pursue discipleship. Thanks again for the call-out. C

  3. Thanks for the clarification with which i wholeheartedly agree.
    God is good

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