Sermon,  Sermons

Living To Follow


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A few weeks ago our church hosted a memorial service for a family of the Durand community. The family wanted the service to be filled with music and gave me a list of more than a dozen titles. As I prepared the order of service, praying and discerning over the flow, where each piece should go, an internal struggle ensued. You see, a majority of songs were of the country or country leaning genre. And I am not a fan.

Still, as I prayed and listened, I began to hear the messages they held. And when Clark came home and asked what I was listening to, I told him that unbelievably, the Spirit of God was speaking to me – about God’s intent in the context of celebrating the life of a man whose presence impacted many people.

When Howie and I were first dating, he did not appreciate my great and deep love of jazz. But after a short time of listening with the heart of a lover, he soon came to love jazz – and now it is often his first choice when working and writing.

The apostle Paul told the well-established church in Ephesus,

“… we aren’t supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ.”

– Ephesians 4:14-15

The tea, allergenic foods and Beth’s kindness to fill a jar with junior mints. My children and learning, the need for a variety of teaching styles.

When St John of the Cross poured out his heart in his poetic work, “Dark Night of the Soul,” he spoke about a space, a darkness so profound that all of his senses were suspended – sight and sound, taste and touch, nothing could penetrate the darkness, the grief. Except, almost like a back door to the soul, this pinhole of light could be detected. An angle’s breath. But he had to stop fighting all the other senses vying for attention (those irritations at others, the discomfort of difference?) the Dark night – suspending all our senses . . .

When John quieted his whole being, he could finally sense the presence of Jesus and hear the voice of God. And be changed by God’s unfathomable love.

Sabbath as resistance

The Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie, did a Ted Talk a few years back, entitled, “The Danger of a Single Story.” Nearly eighteen million people have viewed this Ted Talk. The simple and yet profound thesis in her talk is that we have different stories. We need to share them, and we also need to honor the differences, recognizing the harm in imagining that ours is the only story.

We tell ourselves stories all the time. For some reason we are compelled to think if someone else’s perspective is different from our own, either they are wrong or I am. If I am uncomfortable with something or someone else’s perspective, then something needs to be fixed. But maybe we have forgotten about growing pains! They are real, and the most effective salve is sleep! Rest!

And in this way, the OT theologian Walter Brueggemann writes about keeping the Sabbath as a crucial piece of resistance. Sometimes making a change requires us to take a rest from the fight – internal or otherwise. Sometimes fighting change needs a rest, too. Because in that rest is a certain freedom – a freedom from being concerned about how that growth might look, which direction it might take.

Paul road on a donkey toward Damascus and was prevented from continuing. A forced darkness, blinded by the utter purity of light besieging his senses. And it wasn’t until he knew the inner light of God’s desire, Jesus’ love for him and all people, did the scales fall from his eyes.

The New History

The United Methodist denomination and a number of First Nations representatives collaborated to begin the Native American Ministries in 1989.

            Dr. Richard Twiss, a member of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate from the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, asked: “Will we be allowed to develop new ways of doing church that honor God’s purposes for the creative expression of our cultures? Will new ministry partnerships and coalitions form? Will you help be a part of this wonderful process of reconciliation, restoration and release?”

            It is on the third Sunday of Easter that we can answer YES! This is a Special Sunday where our generosity as a church equips and empowers Native American pastors, congregations and seminary students to do what only they can do: authentically worship and serve Jesus.

            It is also an opportunity to learn from their example, to see God more fully by seeing God in the way First Nations peoples reveal God’s image through them – distinctly.

Because we have a consuming responsibly, with care for creation and our impact on the ecosystem – perfectly created, working perfectly only when we keep our eyes clear of avarice.

            Ed DesRosier, a member of the Blackfeet Nation in Northwestern MT is a brilliant example:

“Despite the fact that they comprise the ancestral lands of hundreds of tribes, few national parks offer visitors the sort of nuanced Indigenous view that DesRosier wanted to provide.

The Blackfeet want to fix this problem, and others, in a dramatic way. The tribe is working toward that goal through myriad avenues, including a plan to become one of the few tribes in the country to open its own national park, a way to assert the tribe’s place in the region’s history, protect its natural resources and provide new economic opportunities to its members, mostly in Browning, home to approximately 1,000 people and the largest community on the Blackfeet Reservation.”

            Identifying potential biodiversity hotspots, important areas of habitat for bison, etc., to preserve and bring attention to these protected areas. By making them a part of a scenic tour, preserving and maintaining the land, first nations peoples regain agency and benefit by the revenue – rather than be exploited by it.

During the summer, many of us have and continue to visit national parks all over the country. People like those who hail from the Blackfeet Reservation teach the rest of us how to see the land from ancient perspectives, to notice the Diving in nature with more nuanced vision – but only if the scales come off. And seeing in a new way makes other areas open to this new sight, as well.

            Mary Oliver, invites us to seek delight in plain sight:

“Becoming keenly and consistently aware of what’s good, true, and beautiful demands a discipline: we must open our eyes, minds, and hearts, and keep them open.”

In order for me to be an instrument of peace, to offer peace and disburse it, I must first be at peace, be filled with peace. Mindfulness practices are effective tools and habits to cultivate this inner peace.

The human experience of awe and wonder is a basic initiating factor eliciting the reflection that cultivates openness to other perspectives. This openness is crucial to change. Change is crucial to growth. Without growth, there is only stagnancy, and then entropy – the slow, sure process of falling apart.

One Theatre Arts scholar used the phrase, “creative management of difference” to describe the perspective and process needed to nurture a culture of peace in social groupings that invariably experience conflict.[1] Individuals are unique and will always have unique perspectives, ideas, and opinions. Creativity is necessary to operate and live with one another as unique and as part of a whole, a community.

Mindfulness spiritual practice retrains the brain to be less centered on what in Jewish tradition is called yetzer hara, the evil, or selfish inclination. And Shabbat, or the Sunday’s Sabbath is made for exactly such a time – to just be, to let it be, to abstain from work and hurry and worry.

On Shabbat, in Jewish tradition, we receive neshama yeteira, an extra soul. The word for soul here, neshama, is related to the word for breath, neshima. This is what we do when we pay attention to our breath: welcome in this “extra soul” that comes purely from being able to relax.

We often use a candle to help us focus attention – in this way the Shabbat candles offer a beautiful way to draw the eyes, feast on the visual sensation of the burning candle. Focus on the light of the candle, not with a rigid wall of attention, but with an intention of receiving–of kabbalat shabbat.

Just let it be whatever it will be. There’s no right way to experience God’s presence, but we do learn from each other. It is only an openness to that loving relationship, to any sense of the Divine.

As we commune together, we use our senses of taste and sound in the elements and music. Communion is a means of grace – but we can only be changed in the sacrament if we allow that grace it’s way with us. And even that permission is an act of grace. We follow in the way of Jesus to places unknown to us.

It is uncomfortable, sometimes painful in the beginning, but without it we cannot truly live. Will you live to follow Jesus with me? To follow Jesus’ example, Jesus’ command (mandate, Maundy) to love one another – and then we will make beautiful music together – whether it is country or jazz!


[1] Ukuma,Teryila Shadrach, Deepening The Culture Of Peace In Nigeria As An Imperative For Sustainable Development: A Theatre Proposal, st.ukuma@gmail.com +234 806 549 1970 Theatre Arts Department, Benue State University, Makurdi, p2.