Worship Notes: being and living from the heart in community...

NOTE: My very modest worship notes for this Sunday, February 23, 2014. My three organizing thoughts come from Henri Nouwen's spiritual direction notes in the book edited by Christensen and Laird simply called: Spiritual Direction.
Introduction
The late Henri Nouwen once wrote something that I have been thinking about a LOT over the past year:

Remember: YOU belong to God from eternity to eternity. You were loved by God before you were born; you will be loved by God long after you die. Your human lifetime – long or short – is only part of your total life in God. The length of time doesn’t matter. Life is just a little opportunity for you to during a few years to say to the Lord:  I love you, too.

·    + I don’t think most of us believe this to be true; I know that there have been times in my life when I didn’t believe it – but I do now.  In fact, today I think it is one of the most important things we can say to one another – we need to help remind ourselves over and over that from the cradle to the grave and beyond we are loved by the Lord – this is so important.

·    + So this morning I want to continue to share some of my reflections with you on what it means to live as hospitable, humble and hopeful people in the 21st century.  As I have noted before, these three commitments or Christian practices are inter-related – joined in a sacred unity like the Holy Trinity – that teaches us that we really can’t practice hospitality without a deep and abiding awareness of our fragility and limitation – that’s humility.  And we can’t really face the facts of our humility – our brokenness – without a deep trust that God’s grace trumps karma – that’s hope.

·    + Earlier this week I was talking to my friends from Canada, Peter and Joyce,
you just returned home from three months in Palestine.  They were there as witnesses for peace – ordinary human beings dedicated to showing up and sharing a little bit of love – in the hope that authentic hospitality, humility and hope can make a little difference in that wounded and tragic place.  They told me stories about the suffering of the Palestinian people – the incredible anguish and shame they are forced to endure – and how grateful they are for the smallest sign of solidarity.

·    + I hope to find a way to bring Peter and Joyce to share some of their stories with us later this year because they embody the heart of today’s message:  God loves us from before the beginning of time and will continue to love us long after we have died – and what we are called to do is share a little of this love and spread it around as best we are able given the time that remains.

Using the words of Henri Nouwen again, all that we can really do in this life is start to live in ways that recognize and enflesh three truths:

+ First, that being is more important than doing;
+ Second, that living from the heart is more important that living in our heads;
+ And that doing things together in love is more important than doing almost anything else alone.

Insights
Being is more important than doing:  man is this a tough one to own and make real – don’t you think?  Doing gives me the illusion that I’m in control – that I’m special – that I can fix things and make a real difference.  Being, however, is just about showing up – showing up and being a person of love (and humility and hope, too!)

A few weeks ago, my friend in Tucson, Roger taught me all about this all over again.  When we went down to visit and spend a little time with him before he becomes painfully sick, he and his sweetheart, Debby, kept saying how wonderful it was for us to be there.  It gave them both so much – and kept wondering to myself:  like what? What does just showing up and being DO?

+ I know it matters – it feels good to be with those who love you – and who know you and respect and value you even with all your flaw and failings – but what does it do I kept wondering to myself.  Sometimes at the end of the day, after we mostly just sat and talked and ate and laughed and even wept a little, Dianne and I would talk about: why does just being here matter so much?

·    + Have you ever had that experience?  Do you know what I mean?  You want to help – you want to make something better – and there’s nothing you can do except just BE there? It is in times like that that I come smack up against the truth that I really can’t do much of anything:  I can’t FIX most things, I can’t HEAL most things, none of my EFFORTS will do anyone any good EXCEPT just being present with love.

That is so hard… I remember standing around the bedside of one of the church elders back in Tucson years and years ago – his name was John Brown – and he was as crotchety and provocative as his name’s sake.  John Brown.  Dianne and I were waiting with John’s daughter, Ann, in a hospice room because it was clear he was soon going to die.  And so we waited and waited and waited. Sometimes we told John Brown stories – and there were a lot of them – sometimes we sang some hymns quietly or read from the Scriptures – and sometimes we just stood there in an awkward silence.

All of us, except Ann’s loving but very uncomfortable husband who as a very typical man with big feelings and wanted to DO something.  He was in business and had been in the military and he was a take charge kind of guy.  So he kept pacing around the room – fretting – and trying to rearrange the furniture until Ann in total exasperation Ann blurted out: for the love of Jesus, man, will you get out of here and go buy us some coffee or something?  And John’s whole countenance brightened as he raced out of the room because NOW there was at lease SOMETHING he could DO.

And, of course, now without his frenetic presence, it seemed that John sensed it was ok to let go – and he did – dying peacefully and beautifully in the quiet.  Most of the time all we can do is show up and BE there – we can DO anything that really matters – because most of the time being is more important than doing.  I know there were many times over the past two months when I would show up at the hospital when Rick Weber was there and I felt so impotent and useless.  In fact, once I even said to him in the ICU, “Man, I wish there was something I could do to make this better!”  But of course there wasn’t… so we just held hands for a time and prayed. One thing we must learn is that often being is more important than doing.

This is where St. Paul’s words are pure genius and grace when he tells us that after having a deep and mystical encounter with God’s love, God made him see his limitations. Paul tells u:

Because of the extravagance of the revelations, and so I wouldn’t get
a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me: My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

·    Nobody knows what Paul’s handicap was – ultimately it doesn’t matter – because Paul understood that whatever it was helped keep him humble. It pushed him to his knees so that he had to rely upon God.

·    That is to say, he could show up and want to be about love, but everything else was of the Lord.  When he lived this way, blessings grew out of burdens; when he tried to fix things by himself, it was disaster.

The second truth about living as people of hospitality, humility and hope is that most of the time our heart is more important than our mind – and man does THAT make some of us crazy?!?  We’re intellectuals!  We have graduate degrees!  Why most of the Reformed Protestant tradition is built on INTERPRETING the word in Scripture! We believe and certainly act as if being created in the image of God has something to do with being smart and sophisticated and oh so intellectual.  After all, Thomas Aquinas called us “thinking animals,”

·   And isn’t that the Latin name we’ve given ourselves - homo sapiens – from two words – homo meaning man and sapientia meaning wisdom? We really do think of ourselves as wise men and women over and opposed to the animals and the trees and sun and the stars.

·    What a joke – what an illusion – what a trap?  Not that we don’t have wisdom and not that thinking isn’t important: clearly it is.  But as Nouwen puts it: when the physical, emotional, intellectual or moral life commands all the attention, we are in danger of forgetting the primacy of the heart. The heart is that divine gift that allows us to trust, not just God, but also our parents, our family, ourselves and our world. Very small children seem to have a deep, intuitive knowledge of God – a knowledge of the heart  - that sadly is often obscured and suffocated by the many systems of thought we gradually acquire.

·        What’s more, he writes, people with physical or mental disabilities easily can let their hearts speak thus revealing to us a mystical life unreachable by many intellectually astute folk.  This life of the heart originates in God at the very core of our existence and is one of the ways we know that we have been loved by God since the beginning of time.

Remember how I started this message?  YOU belong to God from eternity to eternity. You were loved by God before you were born; you will be loved by God long after you die. Your human lifetime – long or short – is only part of your total life in God.

·    I’ve realized that again and again as I simply sit with people who are dying:  being present – and living from the heart – is what matters in those moments.  And they are really all we have to bring to the table, right?

·    Last Sunday, when some of us attended the 168th celebration of the founding of Second Congregational Church, their moderator, Mrs. Wiggins said something that knocked me out and humbled me in a beautiful way.  She talked about how grateful she was that there were people from First Church at this celebration.  She said that we had our start together as God’s people – and they will join us for our 250th celebration – and they will do so giving thanks to God for us. Because even though there were some rough and very ugly moments in our history, the Holy Spirit has used what was broken and weak to bring us together into THIS moment.

I’m telling you, she gave thanks to God for our historic racism – although she never said that – because by owning it now we can grow stronger in God’s grace.  And that is NOT the head or the mind talking, beloved, that is the HEART filled with God’s hope by the Holy Spirit. To me, sitting in front of that sweet congregation, I kept saying:  this woman is St. Paul speaking to my heart saying: I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

In something called “The Paradox of Our Time” falsely attributed to George Carlin, someone wrote:  Today we have taller buildings, but shorter tempers; wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less; we buy more, but enjoy it less. We have bigger houses and smaller families; more conveniences, but less time; 

We have more degrees, but less sense; more knowledge, but less judgment; more experts, but more problems; more medicine, but less wellness. We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom and hate too often. We've learned how to make a living, but not a life; we've added years to life, not life to years. We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor and conquered outer space, but not inner space. 

Homo sapiens?  Probably not so much – there is just too much evidence to the contrary – so in the cause of hospitality, humility and hope we’d do better to honor more of the heart and less of the mind. I love this reworking of St. Paul’s love admonition in I Corinthians 13 in Peterson’s The Message:

Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always “me first,” doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, doesn’t revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end. Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

So first it is more important to be present than to do something.  Second the
heart is more important than the mind and all our abstract thinking.  And third, given our call to community: doing things together in love is more important than doing almost anything else alone. When we live our lives from the heart so that most of our days are spent simply showing up to be real and loving with one another, we discover two things:

·   One is that we need others to help us stay accountable and connected: it is so easy to wander off on tangents – or get lazy – or hurt feelings and forget that this world and this commitment to God IS NOT ABOUT US.  It is about how we love one another. So, I know that I need loving and honest friends to say:  I think you are off track, buddy. I think you are too self-absorbed Pastor. I think you have your head up your butt!

·    Jesus is so clear in today’s gospel: You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

·   The second is that we learn best how to live for others NOT from the strongest among us, but rather from the weakest.  From our children, from those who are the most vulnerable, from those who need us the most.  Have you ever cared for a person who is dying who doesn’t have anyone else to help them?  No family? No hospice? No money?

·        Tell the story of Ellen Guzay in Cleveland…

Conclusion
I hate being vulnerable – I hate crying – I hate having to listen to the will of God’s people rather than my own ego or addictions or selfishness.  And every time I try to go it all by myself my life becomes a COMPLETE mess. I am my own worst enemy – you probably are, too.

And so God has given us a plan:  it has to do with practicing hospitality, humility and hope in our everyday, ordinary lives.  And when we do not only do we stay grounded to God’s grace, but we become agents of love and peace and hope in the real world.

·   Our lives are short my friends – too short – so I want to be saturated in as much love as possible.  Nouwen was right:  Remember: YOU belong to God from eternity to eternity. You were loved by God before you were born; you will be loved by God long after you die. Your human lifetime – long or short – is only part of your total life in God. The length of time doesn’t matter. Life is just a little opportunity for you to during a few years to say to the Lord:  I love you, too.


So let those who have ears to hear: hear!


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