August 14, 2016
Thirtenth Sunday after Pentecost
ItI want to invite you on my journey of learning to say no. Seems like a simple concept: Just say no. Luke 12:49 and Hebrews 12:1 are the scriptures for this week which caused me to meditate around the task of saying “no”. I was somewhat embarrassed that saying no is such a superficial topic; but I was relieved to discover that this is but a part of a larger mission. I decided to continue with the topic of “Saying No When There is a Greater Yes,” When placed in the context of a spirit-filled life, I concluded this is a respectable strategy for Godly living. In this sermon, I will suggest four phases of emotional and spiritual maturity and conclude with a suggestion for how we can provide mutual support in our individual journeys.
In today’s reading from Luke, Jesus says “I came to bring fire to the earth.” In Matthew, the first gospel of the New Testament, Jesus says that he will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. Matthew 3:11-12. Both quotes describe phase one of emotional and spiritual maturity, which is transformation or spiritual awakening. For some people, a spiritual awakening is gradual and for others, it is sudden. Paul and other New Testament authors have described the concept of spiritual awakening many times. In Romans, for example, Paul says that “letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace (v6)…You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the spirit of God living in you (v9)… and the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God (v10). Romans 8:6-11.
So what actually happens after a person experiences a spiritual awakening?
Do you recall your conversion experience? Or for anyone who has been wounded by something in his religious past, let me restate the question as:
Do you recall how and when you began the transformation into the person you are today? Was the transformation based on a sudden spiritual awakening or was it gradual awareness of God’s presence?
What happens after the spiritual awakening?
One biblical suggestion is that after spiritual awakening we should go out and preach the Good News to everyone. In twelve-step programs it is suggested that, as a direct result of our spiritual awakening, we carry the message to the other alcoholics and practice the 12-step principles in all of our affairs.
What if you think that you have never had a transformative experience and wonder of you will? Please consider that Jesus has already brought the fire of the Holy Spirit and it dwells within each of us. All can be redeemed. However, each of us has to trigger or ignite the flame within before things begin to happen. We made a choice or we make a choice.
I keep wondering how the fire that Jesus speaks of and we are baptized with work? Fire of the Holy Spirit brings some peace and freedom as it did the disciples on Pentecost Sunday. For others, fire just seems to burn. Responsible use of fire gives warmth and light, but it can also scorch any who touch with careless disregard for its power. Matthew quotes Jesus saying that He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat. Luke tells us that Jesus says his message will divide households. Not all will receive the gift it seems.
What’s next for us after receiving a fire of wisdom?
You may know the opening lines from May Sarton’s poem, “Now I Become Myself:”1
It’s taken Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terrible, old, crying a warning,
“Hurry, you will be dead before__”
I ask Ms. Sarton, before what? Before one reaches the morning? Before one gets it right? Before the end of the poem is clear? Or before one lives safely in the walled city? If, as I have read, “We are always being led by something.” What is propelling you and me through each day?
How do we channel the fire of wisdom? The second phase of emotional maturity or spiritual awakening is to let God direct our lives. Paul, in Hebrews 11, the previous chapter, gave many examples from the old-testament of people who lived by faith, yet they did not receive what was promised. Hebrews 11:39. The people Paul cited lived by their faith under the care of God as they were instructed. They did not focus on personal outcomes. They accepted what they could not change or control and ran with perseverance the race that was set before them. The fire of wisdom comes to each of us differently.
In order to be consciously willing to have God direct our lives, we must listen, reflect, mediate and pray. When God sets our course, we are encouraged to run with determination the task that is set before us, to embrace God’s direction with a big “Yes”
Phase three of emotional maturity or spiritual awakening is to wait on God’s direction before proceeding. We must wait to discern the big “Yes” in our lives and must have the determination to wait on God, to make space until the big Yes becomes clear. We most likely will need others to help us in the discernment process as it is so easy to confuse our self-will with God’s voice. Paul points out that we can receive help from those who have gone before us, that: “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” Hebrews 12:1. In addition to the saints, we receive help in the discernment of God’s direction from the people we let into our lives who will help us become transparent. Parker Palmer in his book, A Hidden Wholeness, the Journey Toward an Undivided Life,2 describes transparency as an exposure of the soul.
In The Splendor of Recognition one of the ancient sages explains:
“When you lose an object in the dark,
You can find it with a candle or a flashlight.
You can turn on a lamp.
But when you lose your thoughts,
Ideas, intentions, and goals
In the dark field of your mind,
How will you regain them?
Only the light of your awareness can
Illumine the field of your mind.
I suggest that not just our awareness, but our awareness as confirmed by trusted others will help us discern when God gives us direction.
The fourth phase of emotional maturity or spiritual awakening is an action phase, taking action on the tasks that God has set before you. Surrendering to the big yes. But what stands in the way? Paul suggests that we also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely [to us]. Hebrews 12:1. Perhaps, one way we fail to serve God’s purpose for us is to entangle ourselves with a great many tasks that keep us too busy to whole-heartedly tackle the task God has given to us. This is another example of when saying no to even healthy, helpful activities is appropriate. We need to spend most of our energy on those things that God has called us to do. He is the Master, we are the servants. God takes care of us, we do as God directs. Simple but certainly not easy. If we keep our eyes on Jesus, we will be saying “No” a lot of requests to make way for the bigger Yes God has for us. Now I understand what it means to say that it is easy to say no when there is a bigger yes inside me.
A second barrier to accomplishing the big yes tasks that God has given us is our own flaws, old wounds, and shortcomings. We must continuously strive to know ourselves and our shortcomings in order to ask God’s help in their removal, a God-improvement program rather than a self- improvement program. AA offers us a prayer to address this very issue, the Seventh Step prayer: “My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character, which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding.” Another way of saying this is let me drop every habit which stands in the way of my willingness to be God’s person and do as God alone directs. Old wounds and our reactions to them also get in the way of accomplishing the big yes tasks for many reasons including that hiding our wounds takes energy, impairs our ability to heal, interferes with our relationships with others, and can be a source of both shame and a feeling of not good enough. We must address our wounds in a responsible and healthy manner as suggested in one of my favorite poems:
“The Lessons of the Wound” by Bruce Balin3
Now hear my words, these are the words of the Lesson…
I am a man, I am a wounded man, Oh God, I am a deeply wounded man
And in my fear, my pain and my fatigue I have covered my wounds with a blanket of lies and illusions
For I would feel them no more
For I would see them no more
And these are the words of the Lesson….
I am a man and when I would reach out to men, when I would walk among them and give them my Love and take their loving for me.
My wounds rise up between me and them and turn me back against myself, No more, not again
I am a man and when I would reach out for my children and make a safe place where they might tarry a moment and learn before they go out and do their living
My wounds rise up between me and them and turn me back against myself
No more, Damn your eyes, not again
I am a man and when I would reach out to a powerful woman
That the two of us might come together and go to a place where no one goes alone
My wounds rise up between me and them and turn me back against myself
For I am He who torments me.
And these are the words of the lesson…
I am a man and I shall puncture a hole in the blanket of lies and illusion and peel it back
I shall go down in the shadow among the wounds and I will fight for my right to decide
I will fight for my right to live
And these are the words of the lesson….
I am a man, and I shall puncture a hole in the blanket of lies and illusions and I shall take a soft hand and go down among the wounds and I will rub the salve of compassion and understanding into these old wounds that they might have a moment to heal
That they might have a moment to close
And these are the words of the lesson….
I am a man and I shall own my wounds and all the power therein and I shall reach out to men and walk among them. I shall give them my loving, and take their loving for me,
I will surely do it
I am a man and I shall own my wounds and all the power therein and I shall make a safe place for my children to tarry a moment, I will show them the wounds and the life that made them,
that they might understand before they go out and do their own living,
and I will surely do it
I am a man and I shall own my wounds and all the power therein and I shall reach out to a powerful woman and I will share with her those wounds and I shall take her wounds as my own
And we shall come together and with our power we will go where no one goes alone, the two of us
And I will surely do it
And these are the words of the lesson….
I am a man, I am a wounded man, I am a deeply wounded man,
I own my own wounds and all the power therein belongs to me to do with as I wish to do my bidding, and the world shall yet know the power of my loving…
The power of my wounds… And I will surely do it
Now that I have addressed the four phases of emotional maturity/spiritual awakening that enables us to accomplish the big yes tasks God gives us, I want to turn to considering how can we provide mutual support in this process? One answer is that we can encourage each other to acknowledge that we are human beings rather than human doings that faith is in being not doing. We cannot earn salvation, indeed, Jesus has provided that for us. God is perfectly able to run things without our assistance. We need to focus on being first. Sounds like a contradiction, right? Think in terms of the Goal setting model most of us have learned, where there are A, B and C tasks: A is the most important, B is if not quite as important but has high reward outcomes, and C goals come at the end of the list, and are not high pay-off or value.
B=risk of surrender/exposure to others
We need to concentrate on the being.
“Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.” Rumi Letting go of what I cannot change. Quit trying to take control of the situation. Worry, shortcuts, alternatives, despair and grief all fall under the umbrella of trying to take control. One final thing that needs mentioning, is saying yes when you want to say no. Have you ever found yourself saying yes when you really wanted to say no and you are overwhelmed? Are there times when you think, “if I can just get through this week, if I can just get through this meeting, if I can just make till my vacation starts, just get through this conversation.” Or maybe it is saying yes in order to solve a problem or conflict and you rationalize that “If I can just get this problem solved then I will relax and get back to _”. I’m sure you can fill in the blanks with your own drama. As Pat has explained to me, salvation is about what matters to me. What matters to me is not worshipping being “busy” as a badge of honor, having time to spend with God, having the space and silence to hear God’s voice, and not confusing activity (which I can control) with outcomes (which God controls). What matters to me is saying yes to God’s purpose for me. This means saying no to other possibilities.
Supporting each other in saying no when there is a bigger yes leads to my next suggestion. At Seekers Church, as in many other churches and organizations, we have so many opportunities to do good things, to help with projects, to perform service that we are tempted to think that perhaps we can add just one more activity to our already over-scheduled lives. Parker Palmer, who comes out of the Quaker tradition proposes that we create Circles of Trust. Circles of trust are simply groups where there is: no fixing, no saving, no advising and no setting each other straight. P. 115. The rule is simple but not easy. A circle of trust can be part of a mission group, created in a class, or offered in many other settings. A Circle of Trust could become a code for saying, let’s get together in a specific way, one for which there are not many models, yet one that is so crucially needed for our healing.
In his book, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life4, Parker Palmer says,
“Because our stories make us vulnerable to being fixed, exploited, dismissed, or ignored, we have learned to tell them guardedly or not at all. Neighbors, coworkers, family members and maybe members of our various church groups can live side by side for years without learning much about each other’s lives. As a result, we lose something of great value, for the more we know about another’s story, the harder it is to hate or harm that person.
Instead of telling our vulnerable stories, we seek safety in abstractions, speaking to each other about our opinions, ideas, and beliefs rather than about our lives.” p.123
“But in a circle of trust-whose ground rules forbid us from confronting and correcting each other-a remarkable thing happens; we confront and correct ourselves. To put it more precisely, the inner teacher confronts and corrects us.” Ibid, p. 128
Each morning when I arise I picture the day ahead. I prime the pump. I look from the perspective of eye of Jesus, who will I help today? Who will I warm? I take responsibility for the fire in my heart. I will be aware of habits that no longer serve me or others, mental obsessions, and my desire to take control of people and situations and will set aside with God’s help. I no longer rationalize that is just the way I am. I will make it safe for my soul to show up in me and for others. I will be able to say No to a greater Yes.
1May Sarton, from . © W.W. Norton, 1993.
2John Wiley and Sons, 2004.
3we have sought without success to more fully source this piece and/or to find the writer so that we could obtain permission for its use. The writer or the copyright owner is welcome to contact Seekers Church if there is a problem.