Stephanie Little Coyne, originally from Athens, Georgia, lives in New Orleans, Louisiana with her husband, Jesse, daughter, Annie and son, Logan. She is a graduate of the University of Georgia, (B.A., English), and McAfee, School of Theology, (M.Div.). She worked as a hospice chaplain from 2005 to 2012. She serves as the Minister to Children, Youth, and Families at St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church. Her blog, “A Redhead’s Revelations,” looks at the parallels between chaplaincy, parenthood, literature, and theology.
The following is an excerpt from a sermon preached by Rev. Stephanie Little Coyne at St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church, New Orleans, LA, on October 27, 2013. The sermon looks at Moses’ experience at the burning bush and beyond, exploring how his staff, throwing it down and picking it up, links to Jesus’ call “Take up your cross and follow me.”
[Moses has thrown down his staff, picked up the snake it became and now holds his staff again; Ex. 4:1-5 ]. Moses’ journey is just beginning and it is not an easy journey. The trip to Egypt, in Egypt, and out of Egypt is horrific. And then Moses gets stuck in the wilderness with a people whose satisfaction is always short-lived. We hear these people in the wilderness ask time an time again if God has forgotten them—they lose faith during the journey.
What of our mission, of our ministry? What of those days when our good works feel worthless or painfully perpetual? What of those days when we do good works but we find our faith weakened? Come on James! We’ve got works and we’ve got faith, but there are some days when we’re not sure that we believe.
Several nights ago, as I lay in the bed with my daughter Annie, we sang “Jesus Loves Me” together because she’d be singing it since I picked her up from preschool. At the end of the song I said, rather offhandedly to her, “Jesus does love you, Annie.” Her reply, “I know. Mr. Stephen tells me that.”
All at once, I sighed with relief and felt a pang in my gut. I was relieved that she was hearing about Jesus’ love for her at school and I was hurt at the possibility that she didn’t know this from me, her mother. Her mother, a minister.
The roll of questions started to flood: “Was my ministry becoming a job and was I no longer willing to bring work home? Was my faith wavering enough that I was failing to share the faith with my own daughter?”
Here’s the answers: Maybe and maybe and I don’t know. I don’t have any answers. I’m willing to accept that I get tired and I’m willing to accept that I do share the message of Jesus with my children, and that Annie, in that occasion, was just relaying a simple fact from her day at school.
But I share the more painful possibilities of that story with you because I believe that I am more human than unique—I don’t think that I’m alone. I think that I sing in unison with many the words, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”
Hear this heart-wrenching quote from Mother Teresa: “Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.”
I find consolation in the fact that others struggle, even those saints like Mother Teresa. I find consolation in the fact that it felt good that night to sing “Jesus Loves Me” with my child. I find consolation in the fact that I often feel burdened by faith; burden can sometimes mean recognition of and reaction to the lack of one’s own understanding. And realizing that we don’t know it all is, in itself, a push to do more and a release from having to know it all.
On those nights when I have circular conversations and I just want to go back to sleep, I am consoled in the morning because something has been going on—I am wrestling, I am struggling, but at least there is action.
I don’t believe that my journey of faith or our journey in faith is supposed to be easy. If we have a solely rosy interpretation of scripture, then I don’t think we’ve been presented with the whole text. In life, I believe that we will hurt and be hurt. I believe that we will feel overburdened and that sometimes those burdens will be too much. I believe that on occasion we will do good works and they won’t be received well or we will do good works for the wrong reasons. I believe that there will be days and nights and weeks or longer that we will strain to hear the voice of God and we will not be successful. And we will grieve.
These words are no benediction, are they?
Go ahead and argue with God. Pray. Cry during the struggles. Pray again. Keep doing good works! Be open to the possibility of joy every morning. And when you find it, share it abundantly. Love abundantly. Pray to the one who receives your burdens and cast those burdens before the Lord. You will be sustained. This is not the end of the story.
Take comfort in knowing that God knew we would need each other! Take comfort in that fact and take advantage of that fact! Be the church to each other and be a visible, loving church to the world, just outside these doors. Go, share peace today. Amen.