sermon video, pt1. Click for part 2. (please note, about 5 minutes is missing between the Amnesty video and part 2 of the sermon video)
Howie’s church, the Rockton UMC building, is falling apart. The wall that once supported the now missing balcony has been leaning increasingly off –plumb. A couple of pillars are crumbling and a number of other points in the ceiling are sagging. Contractors all agree this winter’s snow might be the proverbial straw that will bring the entire south side of the sanctuary toppling in on itself.
They’ve had all the requisite emergency meetings, looked for alternative worship spaces, calculated the variety of ways they can address the quite aged building.
And people are all over the map in their responses, as you might imagine. Some are the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of the original occupiers of those pews; many were baptized, married, and mourned the loss of a loved one in this sacred space. So they want to do all they can to preserve the building.
Others who are more recent additions to the faith community, or who have similar histories as the former, but aren’t as attached to the structure itself, want to imagine other ways to create a safe space in which to worship.
Whatever the case, they will be displaced for a time (and several area churches, some even of vastly different theologies, have graciously offered their spaces), and all of it will incur significant costs. The greatest of which would be the option to scaffold the outside and bolster the wall of the sanctuary, leaving aside the other renovations that also need addressing.
Feelings on this matter are very strong. “We’ll lose worship attenders,” many are saying. Others lament the loss of tithes, offerings, and speculate about the future of their church community. And to find a consensus seems an impossible task. It is, of course, impossible without listening to each other’s perspectives.
We will all only maintain our own perspective, our own sight, if we do not listen: immovable as a church building crumbling all around us.
Henri Nouwen once said,
“Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure.”Henri Nouwen
Human beings are meaning makers. And we attach meaning to places and spaces and people and mementos. Still, if the thing becomes the meaning itself, it is now an idol, and the very device that Jesus tells us unequivocally violates the Greatest Commandment, in which sums all the law and the prophets, about which no other command is greater:
Listen up! Hear Me, O Israel: the Lord your God is One, so Love God with everything. The 2nd greatest is like it: love everyone else . . . as you love yourself.
Why did you decide to follow Jesus?
Amnesty Poland – 4-minute gaze.
When talking about the problem of refugees, we use dehumanised language, which reduces human tragedy to numbers and statistics. But this suffering concerns real people, who – just like us – have families, loved ones, friends; their own stories, dreams, goals… Only when you sit down opposite a specific person and look into their eyes, you no longer see an anonymous refugee, one of the migrants, and notice the human before you, just like yourself – loving, suffering, dreaming… 20 years ago, psychologist Arthur Aron discovered that 4 minutes of looking into each other’s eyes can bring people closer. Using this discovery, we decided to carry out a simple experiment, during which refugees and Europeans sat opposite each other and looked into each other’s eyes. Clearly, it is most important to give each other time to better understand and get to know each other. The experiment was conducted in Berlin: the city, which – first of all – is a symbol of overcoming the divisions, and secondly, seems to be the centre of the contemporary Europe. We wanted the movie created on the basis of the experiment to be as symbolic as possible – and to touch upon the general divisions between people. The experiment participants were ordinary people. The situations were not staged; we wanted to get natural, spontaneous reactions. The people sitting opposite each other had not known each other before and saw each other for the first time during the experiment. What is important, the refugees mostly came from Syria and had not been living in Europe for longer than a year.Amnesty Poland
First impressions? Four minutes is a long time to shut up, right? But when I look, actually see – because I’m not paying attention to you if I’m trying to say everything I want to make you understand – when I see you, I notice more about your expression, sense your presence. And it is powerful. All of them connected physically at the end. How did that level of trust happen between strangers so quickly?
This is what Jesus did. He went to the people – the outcasts, the immigrant, ones that made other people uncomfortable – Jesus went to the people and listened. He noticed the sick and healed them, he recognized the foreigner and offered acceptance, belonging.
If we are in this place we’ve already had an encounter with Jesus. The purpose statement for Methodists is:
“To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,”
that is, share this love we already experience by having encountered Jesus. If I desire to share love and grace, I cannot approach relationships with judgment – as if I know everything about God. If I want to show God’s love, it cannot have qualifiers (you look like that, or do those things, or support this cause . . . so you do not deserve God’s love – at least, not from me). If I really want to, cannot help but to share God’s love – everywhere – it starts by shutting up. Listening.
And, oh, how excruciating that can be! I have so much to say!
Why did you decide to follow Jesus?
Pema Chodron’s story has stuck with me for a decade: At a meditation retreat, the guy sitting near her kept making an annoying clicking sound. Again and again, she was jolted from her practice because he kept clicking his tongue.
During the break, as she gathered up her courage to tell him that he was ruining the day for her and for everyone else, she realized that in fact, it was a nearby radiator that was causing the clicking.
Suddenly, the fact that it was an inanimate object changed everything for her.
It wasn’t about her any longer.
It wasn’t intentional or selfish.
It was simply a radiator.
The rest of the day was fine, because it was simply a radiator.
My biggest takeaway is that the key leap wasn’t in discovering that the sounds came from a radiator. The lesson is that acting like it comes from a radiator completely solves the problem.
Sometimes (often, usually), it’s not about us. It’s simply weather.Seth Godin, The Anatomy of Annoying
And perhaps, if I set aside the annoying or offensive thing in another – and just look, see, notice – I will see in her the face of God.
Why did you decide to follow Jesus?
Before you speak of peace, you must first have it in your heart.St. Francis of Assisi
Last week I shared the prayer of St Francis during the coffee hour. To be that instrument, the vessel of peace, the vessel must first be filled with it.
“God desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. . . . [Paul says] I desire, then, that in every place the people should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument . . .”1 Timothy 2:1-8
- Here is The Truth: God is one God, and Jesus is mediator, a ransom – everything is covered from the highest heaven to the hellishest hells – we owe nothing.
- This is the truth. The command that is above all others: Love God with everything and love your neighbor – whoever that neighbor is. This sums up all the rest and flows from the Truth that God IS, and Jesus is mediator, act and being.
You’ve heard the term “short-sighted.” It’s that wall, that mask, which crusts over our very being. It’s so insidious it keeps me from reflecting inward on what is really going on – Because there is nothing to reflect off of! I cannot have an adequate inner gaze because there is no light getting in, no one else’s luminescence to shine, or help me see, the light of Jesus already there.
And so I cannot see past my frustration, or the sting of someone else’s slight, and see – really perceive what is happening between us.
Lifting up holy hands in prayer – our hands cannot be directed toward God, open in prayer and supplication if our hands are in fists (metaphorically speaking) ready to punch the ever-living light out of our sister or brother.
Why on earth did you decide to follow Jesus?
Here’s our word for the day:
- The arrangement of three celestial bodies in a straight line
- The metaphorical alignment of two people, ideas, or events
- “During an eclipse, Earth, the moon, and the sun are in perfect syzygy.”
- “For the first time, I found myself and my coworkers in perfect syzygy regarding how we should proceed next.”
A syzygy of purpose creates a pathway of peace.
Jesus told a lot of parables. There is an instruction in here for us with regard to discipleship – for being a disciple, being discipled, and discipling others – and Jesus actually explains it to his followers, his disciples. And it has to do with being in sight of it:
Eyes to see:
and that is what we are doing in our Bible study the 1st and 3rd Wed evenings of the month . . . .
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
– Luke 4:18-19
. . .
“What did Jesus come to do?” . . . Jesus answers that question himself in Luke:
- to bring good news to poor people
- to set prisoners free
- to give sight to the blind
- to liberate the oppressed
- and to usher in God’s abundance
But Jesus doesn’t want to go at it alone. He begins calling disciples to join him in his ministry. Jesus [is not] looking for converts, though. [people who profess belief only]
“Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” (Matthew 4:19)
He’s looking for doers to join him in the work of his ministry. And what is that ministry?Brian G. Murphy
We must judge our theology by its fruits!
Why did you decide to follow Jesus?
Amy-Jill Levine said,
“The Gospels generally present sinners as wealthy people who have not attended to the poor.”Short Stories by Jesus, Levine, 35.
How do we follow Jesus as active members of this community? What does it look like for us to have eyes to see? Jesus shows us how to fish for people.
And Paul instructs us in 1 Timothy 3:14–16
“I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth. Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great:
He was revealed in flesh,
vindicated in spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among Gentiles,
believed in throughout the world,
taken up in glory.
The household of God – the church – living – pillar and bulwark of the truth. The church that is living, has seeing eyes, the sight of disciples, and it will not crumble, will not fall in on itself.
Let us take this discussion to the tables. Look at each other. Maybe be quiet for a bit and see with Jesus’ eyes; notice the Spirit of God in the person next to you. And ask each other, Why did you decide to follow Jesus?