March 17, 2013
Here, in this space where we gather,
My hope is that each is touched by the Sacred — Not by my words,
But through the compassion shared.
May the Light of Life be yours.
FIRST READING: An Excerpt from Awakening the Spirit, Inspiring the Soul: 30 Stories of Interspiritual Discovery in the Community of Faiths co-edited by Wayne Teasdale and Martha Howard
“I find myself a Christian mystic in an increasingly inter-spiritual world, threatened by the dangerous refusal by fundamentalist extremism to acknowledge the authenticity and value of other belief systems. Up the road of history this extremism will dissipate, but not through violent reactions to it. Through patient dialogue and the careful building of consensus, a way forward will emerge. Such dialogue and consensus building is the practical side of interreligious work. This work has, as its long-term task, the envisioning and development of a new global polity; a civilization of love; a new universal society with a heart, one conceived in wisdom; compassion; an ethics of kindness; and the full awakening of all humanity, as well as other sentient beings, to their ultimate potential for spiritual maturity.”
SECOND READING: Isaiah 43 16 – 21 (from The Message by Eugene Peterson)
“This is what God says, the God who builds a road right through the ocean, who carves a path through pounding waves. The God who summons horses and chariots and armies – they lie down and then can’t get up; they’re snuffed out like so many candles: ‘Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands. Wild animals will say ‘Thank you!’ – the coyotes and the buzzards – Because I provided water in the desert, rivers through the sunbaked earth, Drinking water for the people I chose, the people I made especially for myself, a people custom-made to praise me.’”
The sermon title, “Irish Isaiah”, could also have been “Friends the Road Really Is Not That Straight”. I say that to point out the difference between the famous Irish Blessing – “May the road rise up to meet you and may the wind be always at your back”- and the text from Isaiah. Isaiah talks about God as the One who is “making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands. … and provided water in the desert, rivers through the sunbaked earth.”
The book of Isaiah is written in a way that wants us to think that Isaiah is writing to the people of Israel on behalf of God. That is what prophets do, of course, and Isaiah was one of the Hebrew people’s greatest prophets. A wealthy man he made great predictions rooted in the teachings that essentially claimed that, if only the people would follow the way of the law, God would make the way straight for the people.
Listen to him again; “God builds a road right through the ocean, carves a path through pounding waves, summons horses and chariots and armies, and snuffs them out like so many candles, now I am making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands. I provided water in the desert, rivers through the sunbaked earth, drinking water for the people…” parking places for harried mothers on busy streets and a winning lottery ticket if you pray hard!
Okay so those last two weren’t in the reading, but they are just as unlikely!
Isaiah’s role here is to lift the spirits of a down-and-out beaten people. He is the leader trying to give the people hope for the future. Maybe he was the Joel Osteen of the Hebrew Scriptures! The one who says, “Look, just pray hard enough and it will all get better!” But his point is really radically different than today’s prosperity-gospel preachers. Isaiah is speaking to the people as a community; and saying, “come on, pull together, you can do it! Come back to the law and find the way.” Admitting they were a group not living well with each other, Isaiah is saying to the people, “We can do this!”
What is God but the collective work we do as a community of faithful people; living well together and caring for the oppressed and stricken people of the world?
Just this week I read about a somewhat new and young Irish theologian by the name of Peter Rollins. I ordered a couple of new books of his that I hope to be integrating into some messages in the coming weeks. One of the points he makes early on, is that Buddhists have it right as they begin from a point of recognition of the brokenness of society. Siddhartha’s journey involved a new realization that there is pain and suffering and hunger and emptiness in the world, and we ought to find a way to address it. Rollins says in his book, The Idolatry of God, “I am arguing for collectives … where the liturgical structure does not treat God as a product that would make us whole, but as the mystery that enables us to live abundantly in the midst of life’s difficulties.”
I like what I initially read about Rollins and the book so much, that I ordered a couple more of his books – because I, too, believe that it is not liturgical structure (think the bulk of organized religion) that provides a path to God, or the Sacred One if you prefer. It is our gathering here, as a community working together, recognizing the injustices – and attempting to do something about it by serving oppressed and stricken people, people of our world community that are generally not accepted. It is our gathering where we are strengthened, and where we can find new wholeness. I believe that that mystery, that wholeness that we seek, is found – and life becomes abundant for us in supporting one another through life’s difficulties. In one way it is saying, “I don’t know what God is, but I know we can find strength and wholeness by coming together, by working through difficulties together; by working together to achieve great things, we grow in depth and wholeness.
When we were living in St. Germain, we lived about 8 miles from the church. There were two ways to get there that were about the same number of miles, but the journey was vastly different. There was the ‘mostly’ straight and easy highway route, and the old logging trail route. One way was smooth and easy and boring and fast – and so routine that the car could practically do it by itself and it rarely took more than ten minutes. The other route was a challenge, and could take up to an hour! It went through the woods and up sharp rises that dropped suddenly on the other side. It went around blind curves that were barely wide enough for two snowmobiles to pass (it did double duty as a snowmobile trail in the winter). It was rutted and narrow, hilly and slow going.
I loved taking that alternate route!
I saw far more Bald Eagles, deer and owls along that route. One time, I even had a Black Bear cross my path and scamper up a tree! I rarely ever saw another vehicle, and could stop wherever I wanted and breathe the scent of pine and feel the crunch of acorns under my tires (and feet if I walked about). This is where the Red Tail Fox would hunt, and the wolves made forays down the lane. This was a place of discovery.
So much is lost in organized religion when so many others have gone ahead and straightened the path or moved the hills out of the way. So much is lost when we think we are doing others a favor by widening the lanes and smoothing the way so cars could speed along without noticing the deer feeding or the hawk searching. So much is lost when others speed ahead and say, “This is the way, follow me!” Folks on that highway of religion may, perhaps, get to where they need to be . . . but they will have missed the fantastic opportunities that abound on the forest path of self-discovery!
But here is the conflict that longs for resolution – while on that rugged path upon which we can discover the journey for ourselves – we still need, and benefit greatly from, the work of the community.
The traditional way of doing Religion is often straight and easy and paved with signs and steps and progress reports and with easy instructions and GPS signals that tell you what to believe and when to believe it. The way of Hope – or this “new way” – may not be at all simple, or straight, or step by step … but it is REAL. It calls us all to a path of discovery, it calls us to be in community coming together for the betterment of all – it also requires thought.
Blessings Friends, Amen