Good morning. Hear Jeremiah’s prayer, my prayer:
"O God, may you touch my lips that the words I utter are the words you have put there for me to speak". Amen.
The call from God to preach this sermon came clearly on August 1st while I was participating in a working SSIHC staff "retreat". The theme of the retreat was about learning how to communicate in order to become a team. We did an exercise which I would like you to spend just a few minutes doing now in silence. Let the word homeless rest in your mind and then think of ten words or images you have heard or even used in relationship to those who are homeless… .Maybe some of the words that came up were lazy, drunk, shameless, good-for-nothing, criminal. The retreat facilitator, Dr. Sheryl Chapman, turned to us after the exercise and said "so what do you feel your charge is from God in the light of this?" We blathered about the work that we do at SSIHC, but she cut us off and said "isn’t it about turning ‘they’ into ‘us’?" That’s when I heard the call.
I also heard an echo, loud and clear about all the times I have felt myself or even made myself out to be other, to be aligned with the misfits, the "they" that many could not see as us. In different circumstances, at different times, we all have fallen on one side or another of an invisible dividing line separating us and them, often in our own minds. Certainly, by truly promising ourselves to live as Christ invited us we become they to many who do not share our view. The line between us and them is fluid and ever-changing and messy.
Some of the words you heard in Jonny Lang’s song Thankful as you entered the sanctuary are: "Someone’s standing in the welfare line/ Or off the freeway with a hungry sign/ Someone’s stressing ’bout to lose their mind/ I gotta be thankful, thankful/ Someone just became a single mother/Someone just lost a sister or brother/ …Someone’s sitting in a prison cell/ Wasting away in a personal hell/ everybody’s got their own story to tell…"
How do we embrace the homeless, the single mom, the hungry, the emotionally broken, the prisoner, those that mourn, ourselves, as our own, as God’s? How can we possibly be thankful that so many "us and them" scenarios are alive and thriving in our world, in God’s world? How can we be thankful that we have so much work to do to heal the world? How indeed do we turn them into us, and how do we do that joyfully? This to me is what the commitment vow many of us just made is about – it is a multifaceted guide for living so that together we can bring about God’s kindom.
Last week as Deborah was preaching I heard both her message to respond joyfully with my life as God’s grace gives me freedom, and pieces of this sermon as they fell into place. She talked about finding joy in Babylon and I heard the invitation to love my enemies. I heard that in our mutual welfare was the salvation of our souls, the end to warfare. I heard them turning into us so that we could take up our harps and sing the songs of Zion wherever we are.
In this, the 21st century, there are many living in Babylon. Refugee camps exist in too many places, immigrants come to the US seeking asylum not because they want to leave their homes but because they can’t stay in their homeland. Babylon is all around us. The world has become Babylon. People identified as they are us living in culturally or spiritually compromised circumstances. We can become they on the turn of a dime. They can not so easily become we without our help.
Bowing appropriately to Gordon Cosby, the founder of Church of the Saviour, I quote from recent sermon excerpts posted on the Inward/Outward blog which spoke to me as I hope they will to you. "The biblical vision, the vision of the Shalom, is the vision of the totality. God is the God of a people called to be a blessing to all the nations, all tribes, all combinations of people. No one is going to be excluded. All are moving toward this Shalom. Everybody shares and participates, is a part of it – no one is left out. This vision is one of universal justice and peace….
In reality, we are not separate individuals, as we often feel ourselves to be. We are meshed, we are intertwined, we flow into and out of one another and all others. There is no way to fix the boundaries. The Christ who flows into us is simultaneously flowing into the billions of the world’s people. Where do we end and they begin? Millions of cells in the human body make up the body’s totality. All are working harmoniously on behalf of the whole… Each of us is part of God’s total people, and we cannot separate ourselves from the totality.
Until awareness of this universal belonging dawns upon us we are a hindrance to the human family. It is a great day when the boundaries drop. We are part of others, and they are a part of us. We are constantly flowing into them. We cannot protect ourselves from their sickness and pain and brokenness. Nor can others protect themselves from ours. All become united. …. We can live in the illusion of separateness, but it is an illusion.
The overall vision of God and the kingdom gives assurance that all of humanity is going to be freed from its present bondage and is going to be reconciled with the source of its life – God – and with one another. And each individual or cell in the body will know total, inner reconciliation and total fulfillment of all of its potential…. A basic question, of course, is how often or how deeply do we see this vision as really happening so that we live by it?
The vision is so fantastic that believing it requires supernatural faith. The nature of our sin is so profound and our alienation is so deep that the vision is seldom taken seriously. I can believe the vision when I am in the midst of my community. But all one has to do to shake that belief is to walk down the street…
In the midst of all the negative situations and data, there is no easy way to hold that universal vision – the vision that God, using us, is going to usher in the Shalom – that the kingdom is really coming – that one day justice and peace will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. Hope is the deep conviction that the vision will come to fruition; the confidence that it will really happen. Let us suppose that we have this conviction…. What is the power, what kind of leadership, will move it toward its destiny?"
Thank you Gordon for writing a piece of my sermon.
Incarnate hope, a piece of the answer to Gordon’s question is in the promise that God makes to us through Jeremiah. We are told that the days are surely coming when God will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. And just as God watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so will God watch over them to build and to plant…. God will put the holy law within them, and will write it on their hearts; and will be their God, and they will be God’s people. We are the Diaspora people of the houses of Israel and Judah, we are the seed of humans that God has sown.
We have the power of faith. Through our faith in Christ Paul tells us that everyone who belongs to God will be proficient and equipped for every good work. When we do not feel up to the task Jesus tells us to pray and not to lose heart.
Our prayers so often follow the line of fill us with joy and ease our burdens. But that isn’t wholeness in our world, in our time or in our life in the Body of Christ. Can we pray, O God, let us feel it all, the hope and the despair, the joy and the grief? Let our tears fall like rain in response to the intensity of our emotions and compassion, our gladness and our sadness. Let our tears water the tiniest of seeds turning the mustard seed into a force that can move a mulberry tree and the onion seed into a glorious many layered glistening bulb enough to make a nourishing soup from the Creator’s living water. Let us not be numb. Let us not be dumb. Let us feel, pray and act. Help us to not shrink into ourselves and hide from the whole of your world. Do not let us be as in leave us alone, but let us be as in let us be yours. Melt us, mold us, fill us, use us. Spirit of the Living God fall afresh on us. Even in our vows of commitment is a plea for divine Incarnate Hope, a prayer for help to live out our faith.
Prayer alone however is not living out our faith, living the law written on our hearts or living out the commitment many made today to our Creator, who is three in one and one in three. Prayer is only one promise we made to Seekers. What else is called forth from our faith? How do we live our faith as ditch diggers, dousers, dog catchers, and disciples? How can we believe that the poor, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst, and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake are blessed? More importantly, how can we make it true? How do we bless the poor, the mourners, the meek, the hungry, the persecuted? How do we turn them into us?
Questions, questions and more questions. Seekers ask questions. I have questions that have no simple answers, and maybe no answers at all. Each day, sometimes each minute, brings me more questions. It would be wonderful if I could also offer some answers but I can’t. Because I believe that there are many paths to the divine, and I have looked for help in my life in many places, what I can offer are two Buddhist teachings that continue to be juicy for me.
The first seems simple and comes from the Dalai Lama. "Be the change you wish to see happen." Easier said than done, but worth trying.
I received a recent reminder of the second teaching I offer from Frank Ostaseski at the Joseph’s House workshop in Deepening Relationship: Love, joy and compassion at the end of life. The teaching is:
Find the place of equanimity inside you and nurture it. Equanimity counteracts judgment. Giving up judgment allows an attitude of loving kindness. Loving kindness counteracts reactivity and dismantles the tendency to shut down. Loving kindness gives rise to compassion. Compassion allows us to turn towards both joy and suffering. Compassion counteracts fear and sends us in search of the truth. Touching the truth, no matter how harsh or sweet, brings joy.
That brings us back to our call to respond joyfully with our lives as the grace of God gives us freedom. Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center prays it this way: "May the One Breathing-spirit of the world Who unifies all life, bless us with the creativity and the compassion to act upon that unity, to breath new energy into the work to heal our wounded world." I believe that recommitting annually, or committing for the first time is the breath of new energy arising from our discernment process.
Many of us probably struggled with taking the commitment vow today because the scope of that statement seemed too vast. Some may have decided not to do so. Whether or not you committed today, to all of us I offer a reminder that we are each a ragged bit of cloth. Alone each of us could never hope to live fully into each facet our promise as a Seeker.
I can not do this myself, I need each and every one of you. My reading of our commitment statement in the light of the Body of Christ is that we will nurture our relationships with God and Seekers Church through spiritual practices, we will care for the whole of creation including the natural environment, we will foster justice and be in solidarity with poor people, we will work for the end of all war both public and private, and we will respond joyfully with our lives as the grace of God gives us freedom. Some among us are teachers, some among us are caretakers, some are healers, some dancers, some peacemakers, some parents, and some don’t yet see their path. None of us can do it all or do it alone. All of us will fail, and some will occasionally succeed. Through this small expression of the Body of Christ we are learning to communicate and become a team, a community.
According to Jean Vanier "The fundamental attitudes of true community, where there is true belonging, are openness, welcome, and listening to God, to the universe, to each other and to other communities. Community life is inspired by the universal and is open to the universal. It is based on forgiveness and openness to those who are different, to the poor and the weak….Community is the breaking down of barriers to welcome difference."
If any among us chose not to make the commitment today I extend to you an invitation to reconsider as God’s grace gives you freedom. I pray that all of us who made the commitment are open to you. Let us welcome you, listen to you, know you and be known by you. Let us forgive you through the Holy Spirit, and be forgiven by you according to God’s law. Do not let your differences stand in the way of being a part of the team, an integral part of this community of Seekers.
God weaves our ragged bits of cloth together into the greater cloth of life, a living fabric, a living breathing Body of Christ that by God’s grace will grow, shimmer and pulse to explode into the world like a thousand red birds.