Thursday, November 29, 2012

Jesus Unexpected

I approach Advent, the season of approaching incarnation, with questions of expectations and the unexpected. I'm thinking of the Gospel of Luke's description of the unexpected pregnancies of Mary and her kin Elizabeth. Elizabeth, barren and post-menopausal, "old" as the book reads, becomes unexpectedly pregnant. Mary, a teen aged girl, a virgin, also unexpectedly finds herself pregnant. How these unexpected events must have changed their expectations for life.

How unexpected for us to approach an encounter with one in whom the divine should come to us, as a human reality and experience? Who would expect the Spirit of God to be fully realized, incarnate, to us in human form, in the person of Jesus, who as today's reading from Ephesians describes as being "the fullness of him who fills all in all"? 

How unexpected is it then that the same God incarnate in Jesus would also fill us "all in all"? How does this change our expectations for ourselves and each other? How does this change the expectations of who it is we search out in each other? 

As we approach Advent, the final readings of the year for the Daily Office has the Gospel of Luke telling us about Jesus nearing his death in Jerusalem. The disciples have been told over and over by Jesus that he will soon die on the cross. Yet, the disciples will view Jesus' death as unexpected. They will later view Jesus's resurrection as unexpected joy from the sorrows of his death.

Jesus, the Unexpected!

Jesus, his life, death and resurrection are all things unexpected. His teachings, condemning the religious and embracing sinners, rejecting power and wealth for the company of the vulnerable and poor, all, in the common thinking of the world, are all unexpected of Priest, Messiah and God, and are all leading us to different expectations of God's judgement as being of compassionate forgiving, where we rather expect condemnation in the way we condemn each other. 

This season of approachment I will hope to change my expectations and seek out God's love in the unexpected people and places hidden behind the daily and ordinary of my life. 

God grant me the unexpected grace of eyes to see, with expectation in all, you who fills us all in all.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sermon, 11 November 2012, on Silence and Solitude

Glenn Memorial Methodist
11 November 2012

TEXT: Matthew 14:13-21
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ 16 Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ 17 They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ 18 And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

First I’d like to thank Josh and the worship committee for inviting me to be with you today. I also am grateful for your hospitality in sharing with me your fellowship in worship and at the communion table. Thank you, all of you, who make-up Glenn Memorial Methodist Church.

I have to share with you too that I always have an inner-giggle, or sometimes outright laugh, when contemplating the prospect of talking about… silence… and of solitude… in a room full of people. I love this irony and believe God’s sense of humor is expressed in the contrasting tensions of ideas expressed in irony.
I’m not going to speak today about forms and types of silence and solitude found inside and outside of our Christian tradition, as there are many to choose from, and places from where to learn these forms. Glenn Memorial has a Tuesday night contemplative group, if you’re looking for a group to learn from and meet with.

Instead today I’m going to talk a little about the objectives of silence and solitude as a practice towards compassion. Then we will engage in a little guided meditation, and a few minutes of silence, to get a taste of the solitary space that is intentional silence.

For some the goal of silence is to be in silence, to attain a place of absolute quiet inside of themselves, from the outside intrusive noise of living in a noisy world. For some it is to achieve an inner-silence, where the mind is quiet, away from the constant chattering of one’s own thoughts and mind, to become more attuned in the awareness of the present moment. These are helpful and healthy objectives which promote a freshness of mind, reduce stress, and lower your blood pressure, in the midst of a busy day.

What I want to offer to you today is the idea that the ultimate objective of constructing a space of silence, is to be able to break the silence. Likewise, the ultimate point of being in solitude is so to thrust yourself back into the communion of humanity and creation.

What kind of silence am I speaking of, whose ultimate objective is to be broken? It is the kind of silence suggested in today’s Gospel reading. In the verses just prior to the ones we read today, Jesus, after hearing of his cousin John’s, death at the directive of Herod, has gone away immediately to a place where he can presumably mourn, and be alone, in the quiet of a desolate place.

The reading picks up where Jesus leaves a place of sorrow, silence and solitude, from where Jesus then feels compassion, and then from this same place of silence and compassion, he heals the people; then, when the disciples can’t find it within themselves to do so, Jesus feeds the people, the people who are in a desolate place. Jesus feeds them more than they can take in.

What a wonderful place of silence and solitude Jesus has come from, what a place of plenty.
As I view this reading, I can relate to the crowds, as I too often feel surrounded, by so many things, and obligations of living, and of people so demanding, that life itself seems overwhelmingly desolate-- and regardless of how much I have on my plate, I still feel deeply hungry.

I too understand very well, the sense of helplessness expressed by the disciples, who looking around at the crowd, in their desolation and hunger, how the disciples too, like I have, must surely have felt powerless and overwhelmed by the sheer amount of need in this world, not to mention the need of five thousand…  plus women and children.

And then later, while collecting the left-overs from the Teacher’s miracle, the disciples too may have felt, like me, dumbstruck and full of wonder about the place from where Jesus drew this ability, to feed hungry people, in desolate places.

Where is this place? Where is this place Jesus comes from where his sorrow becomes healing power? Where is this place where silence and solitude, erupt in expressions of healing and plenty, where desolation becomes a feast of excess from which baskets of leftovers are taken away?

I believe this place is accessible to us all if we are willing to clear a space and place for it. We can do this following Jesus’ model, to find a little solitude and silence, and then be willing to enter into the space, this sacred space, which we all contain within ourselves.

Like Paul, I believe the body is the temple of God. I also believe that as the ancient Jerusalem Temple had the sanctuary of God within, we too have a sanctuary within the body: the heart.

And as the sanctuary contained the Holy of Holies, the place where God resided on earth, so it is within our hearts. I also believe that as was in the Holy of Holies of the Temple, therein was The Mercy Seat, where while on earth, God rested.

Likewise, God’s mercy seat may be found in the Holy of Holies within our hearts, and that it is the same place described by the 20th century mystic, the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, who described it as being the little place in the human heart where no-thing exists, other than the spark of God.

There is a place in your heart where no-thing exists, in solitude and silence, no-thing exists but for the presence of God, and God’s pure being--- Love.

This is the place I aspire to in the practice of silence and solitude. This is why it is the Holy of Holies for me, as it is the incarnational place I approach, in the hope of having the ability to be absolutely honest with myself, in God’s presence, and to be as vulnerable to God, as God is to me; as vulnerable as Jesus was, to the sorrows of John’s death.

Like Jesus we can be willing to be vulnerable to the suffering and sorrow we experience on this earth, and be alone with it, and be transformed by it.

We have to allow the full experience of the loving work of transformation in us, in both its joys and sorrows, as these feelings testify to each other, the power of love, as being found in vulnerability.

As Jesus comes from his mournful silence and solitude, he is met with a crowd, all clamoring for him, with their need for them. He has just come from a place of suffering, and because he has given himself into it, he can fully understand the suffering of others, from his own-very- full-human-experience, and not only feel compassion, but be moved by it, be moved by it, to heal and feed the needs of the people around him.
The miracles recorded in Matthew 14 are big. I think the miracles are big to teach how important the transformation from suffering to compassion is in our lives.

It suggests that there is more to our suffering than living through it. It suggests that more than live through it, we can love through our suffering in silence and solitude in the presence of God in our hearts.
“For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation”, reads Psalm 62, and likewise, Psalm 46 reminds us, “Be still and know that I am your God.”

Our hope is in stillness, knowing the silent salvation of God which is our healing. Our hope is in, as Psalm 145 boldly declares, that “The Lord is loving to everyone; his compassion covers all his works.”
God is loving to everyone. God’s compassion covers us, all.

In your silent and solitary place deep within, know this, and except this gift from God’s love.
Then, be compassionate, towards yourself. Then, be compassionate towards your neighbors, then, towards your enemies, then, towards the strangers.

Jesus, in compassion, made big miracles. I think often in my life the tiniest miracles are the biggest. The miracle of accepting God’s love and the joy it brings is the first small step, the small miracle.
But it’s really big. It’s big, as it breaks the silence of the sorrowful heart. It releases the lonely heart, the shamed heart, into the community of compassion.

Little miracles are all around us found in an understanding smile, a knowing laugh, a compassionate touch or simply a willingness to engage into just listening to one another. All of these can go a long way to feed someone who finds themself hungry, in a desolate place.

Truly, we feed the multitude, one person at a time.

Silence’s intention is to be broken. Like the primordial silence was broken by the word of creation. Like the silence and solitude of the womb is to be broken in the life of new birth.

Your silence is connected to the silence before creation, and your silence is like the womb ready to put forth a new life, your new life.

This contemplative practice of silence is a gift from God, which we then shape, as the bread on that table is shaped by our hands. The practice of solitude is the pouring out of the vessels of our selves, like the cup on that table, empty, waiting to be filled again by God’s healing presence and then poured out to us, to each other, hungry in a desolate place.

Then we can see these contemplative practices help form lives lived as communion, sound intentions for living a Eucharistic life.

The Eucharistic Life, like the communion bread on that table, are lives lived, accepted and offered in thanksgiving, to be shared as abundant and broken offerings, to feed each other, and to be lives lived, poured out into each other, as the cup on that table will be poured out, in healing through God’s compassionate love.

I pray you; enter into the silence of the sanctuary of your heart, the Holy of Holies, and come before the mercy seat.

Enter intentionally, vulnerable, where the loving Father’s mercy waits for you, your spirit and your truth.
Enter into the embracing of life’s unavoidable hunger and desolation of sorrow and suffering, where the loving Son waits in compassion to heal you and feed you.

Enter into the solitude where the loving Spirit waits to again fill you up so to be happily poured out again.

Then, break the silence!

Know the joy of compassion, the shared life in companionship, the joy of loving and being loved, of healing and being healed, of feeding and being fed.

Know the Eucharistic life lived as an oblation, a sacred giving, with open hearts, open minds and open hands… know the loving life lived in communion with humanity and creation.