Sermons

Dwelling in Confidence

Dwelling in Confidence

When Howie and I first started dating, we discovered rather quickly that our form traditions were very similar. We sang the same bible songs in Sunday school, heard the exact same analogies for the Trinity and forgiveness. Even the sizes of our churches were similar. Still, my church was a part of the Evangelical Free denomination, while Howie’s was Free Methodist. You would think that with the word “Free” in the name they might be about the same thing. You would think.

The Free Methodists, like the United Methodists, are oriented around Wesleyan-Armenian theology. Evangelical Free Churches typically orient along Calvinist lines. Technically, the E Free denomination considers itself a combination, but in practice, they tend more toward Calvin. I am absolutely not going to go into the intricacies of the varieties of theological distinctions right now! Just one feature is relevant here. Calvinists believe in eternal security and Wesleyans do not. And this caused a bit of a problem for us in the beginning . . .

I would say, ‘how can you believe in grace if you think you can lose your salvation? – that sounds very works-oriented.” And he would say, “exactly, how can you believe in grace if you believe that you say a magic prayer and you are ‘in’ for good – but can go on sinning? – that sounds like cheap grace.” Well, the more we talked through it – because we desperately wanted to understand each other and reach the heart of the matter – we realized it was so much more a matter of semantics. We both absolutely believed that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is entirely about grace and mercy: mercy – not getting what you deserve (i.e., punishment); grace – getting what you don’t deserve (forgiveness – utterly, definitively).

You may know some of us have been reading and discussing the book by Parker Palmer, “On The Brink of Everything.” It is a beautiful collection of meditations on growing older, mentoring the younger generations, and engaging these with grace and presence. Palmer is also a Quaker by heritage. This informs a great deal of his writing, and provoked thoughtful and spirited discussion. I did not realize, however, that toward the end of the book, in his meditations surface more overtly political musings. So, reading for our last gathering around this book a sense of unease crept in.

I was ill for Thursday evening’s group, so when Friday morning came around . . . Did I say spirited? Yes, there were very strong reactions to the reading – from every angle and side. But let me tell you, it was gorgeous! I was concerned that some might be afraid to speak her mind, but each member of the group was so respectful and free to share, explain, and explain again but with a refreshed perspective. And I grew still more in love with y’all! Did I say gorgeous?

Parker Palmer says in a different book A Hidden Wholeness, “Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other. In the process, we become separated from our own souls. We end up living divided lives, so far removed from the truth we hold within that we cannot know the ‘integrity that comes from being what you are.’” But the more we perceive the dividedness in each other, the less safe we feel to share.

What was remarkable to me about our discussion on Friday morning is that while there was the entire range of political philosophies and identification, our perspectives from distinct points of view, I know these people to be – every single one of them, without exception – to be incredibly generous, compassionate, selfless individuals who would not hesitate to come to the aid of anyone, irrespective of political affiliation, ethnicity, or any other identifier.

It was a holy moment. Truly sacred ground. All free to share stories and perspectives – some especially raw – and continue to see the sacred in each other. How were we able to do this?

I’m gonna say, Love. It seems that we instinctually hone in on the heart, look past some of these other things, when we love someone. When we are in relationship with each other, in proximity to another, there is this desire to respond to a need. And we desperately want to understand each other and reach the heart of the matter.

The trouble is, well, it started at the beginning: When the eyes of the first humans were “opened” by eating the fruit, they were effectively blinded to the soul of the other (and to God)—no longer free to see the true person for the physical characteristics, so to speak.

Spending time engaging mindfulness spiritual practices with other people is a profound experience. While leaving one more vulnerable it creates a certain trust that makes the risk irrelevant. And the creative collaboration that results is beautiful.

But it isn’t only an issue of understanding someone else’s point of view.

Verse 22 of the Hebrews 10 reading tells us that because of Jesus, we can be certain that our sins are washed away and our conscience can be clean. Why is this so hard to believe? What inhibits us from fully feeling free? Is it that we somehow intuit that we inhabit a divided self – torn between who I sense I am and who I think others expect me to be? Do I run an incessant, insistent internal monologue, testing the temperature of my situation and how and what I should reveal about myself? Do I really believe that I am complete and whole and entirely free – free to be me? – that human made in the very image of God?

If am really am free, why am I offended by someone else’s opinion. Can we not both hold thoughts and perspectives that look diametrical from the outside, while trusting the beauty of each other’s souls that we love so much? Can I trust that God is absolutely showing me a truth about God’s heart, and showing you a piece of God’s being – and that we know and trust the same God? And then listen? And love – together?

  • How are we creating a culture of authenticity and vulnerability in our congregation?

The Message translation of the Hebrews 10 passage:

22-25 So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. God always keeps God’s word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.

[from my book, Leading Together] Many researchers who have studied the effects of mindfulness found that those who engage mindful practices regularly tend toward a simple lifestyle, including attention to environment care.[1] One such study focused on those who use scripture as a source for mindfulness practice.[2] A significant association was seen between higher engagement of such a practice and concern for often politically liberal interests such as social justice issues, environment care, equality of rights, openness to differences/cultures, etc.[3]

What is more, when research focus turned to group behavior, studies found that engaging in mindfulness practice enhanced social performance. That is, those who practiced mindful awareness in one study displayed greater inclination to cooperate and demonstrated evident synchronous group effort.[4] Other leadership training confirms that group mindfulness practice generates an increase in genuine group leadership.[5] [end excerpt]

Leading together. This doesn’t just happen on its own.

It’s not enough to wish for something to happen. Still more impossible is willing something great into existence. Van Gough said, “The great doesn’t happen by impulse alone, and is a succession of little things – that are brought together.” And it may seem that all of these little things are disparate, random, even utterly opposed to each other. But if brought together, sifted and resorted, seen from a variety of angles and perspectives, they fit together to form something never envisioned or thought of before – perhaps, even a masterpiece.

But something happens when we are only able to see one or only a few of those pieces and little things. It is much more difficult to be creative, to imagine – and to trust that there are more pieces that might fit with mine, that validate mine . . . and yours. And somehow we begin to think that some of those pieces are more significant, important, carry more weight. And I then, question whether mine is correct, or yours somehow threatens my understanding of an important issue. And I wonder . . .

Brené Brown is one of the leading experts on shame and its antidote, vulnerability. She says this: “Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.” “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.” Because, if I am not good enough, I never will be good enough. So why even try?

But, of course, we must. Because, of course, who I am now is enough – for this moment, in this moment.

I love Rainier Maria Rilke’s instruction in his “Letter to a Young Poet:”

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in you heart and try to love the Questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, go live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will find them gradually, without noticing it, and live along some distant day into the answer.”

I think it is precisely here: that we feel like we need to have the answers, and now. But how many times have you been absolutely certain about something and find, years later – your perspective from a more developed brain, perhaps 1 or 2 or 50 challenging life experiences – you see the matter through a different lens? Haven’t you seen a movie or read a book, and ten years later to see or read it again and think, huh. I didn’t notice that, or wow, that character was actually kind of a jerk?

I submit, if we aren’t altering our opinions informed by the changes that accompany growth, then we are dying. So if I am growing, my perspective is enlarged. I am increasingly able to shift a matter, turn a perspective, flip an opinion around and apply an expansive view – one that has more surface area to be saturated . . . by grace.

Which reminds me of . . . a U2 song.

Grace
She takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name

Grace
It’s the name for a girl
It’s also a thought that
Changed the world

And when she walks on the street
You can hear the strings
Grace finds goodness
In everything

Grace
She’s got the walk
Not on a ramp or on chalk
She’s got the time to talk

She travels outside
Of karma, karma
She travels outside
Of karma

When she goes to work
You can hear her strings
Grace finds beauty
In everything

Grace
She carries a world on her hips
No champagne flute for her lips
No twirls or skips between her fingertips

She carries a pearl
In perfect condition
What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings

Because Grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things

Grace finds beauty
In everything

Grace finds goodness in everything

We are a result of all the forces on our formation field, and more. Remembering where I have come from, who I am living into – living it in the company of all of y’all – and doing it saturated by grace . . . what beauty we can make – together! And shall we make that our aim this week as we celebrate Thanksgiving? To walk at the pace of grace – let her find beauty in everything

22-25 So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. God always keeps God’s word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.

 

[1]. Brown and Ryan, “The Benefits of Being Present,” 24; and Brown and Kasser, “Are Psychological and Ecological Well-Being Compatible?” 349–68.

[2]. Franzen, “Reading the Bible in America,” 19.

[3]. Dy-Liacco et. al., “Spiritual Transcendence,” 25; Lynch et al., “On Being Yourself in Different Cultures,” 14.

[4]. Haas and Langer, “Mindful Attraction and Synchronization,” 13.

[5]. Barton, Pursuing God’s Will Together.