“Real Life on the Right Path”
May 11, 2014
When we come to this place –
we come to worship God
But we also come to question ourselves;
Our beliefs / Our purpose
I can only hope that what I have to share
Helps in that endeavor . . .
May we be soothed and challenged.
READINGS FOR THE DAY:
First Reading: An excerpt from Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life by Henri J. M. Nouwen, Michael J. Christensen, and Rebecca J. Laird
“God’s time is timeless. Kairos contains both past and future events in the present moment. Words like after and before, or first or last, belong to mortal life and chronology. God is all in all, the beginning and end of time, and the deeper meaning of history. To gain this wider perspective, we first look backward to see how the seemingly unrelated events of our lives have brought us to where we are now. Like the people of Israel, who repeatedly reflected on their history and discovered God’s guiding hand in the many painful events that led them to Jerusalem, so we pause to discern God’s presence in the events that have made or unmade us. For by not remembering, we allow forgotten memories to intrude into the present and become independent forces with crippling effects on our lives. Forgetting the past is like turning our most intimate teacher against us. Remembering the past in this way allows us to live in the present and gain hope for the future, until chromos is converted to kairos.”
Second Reading: John 10:1 – 10. From The Message by Eugene Peterson
“Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you know he’s up to no good – a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. They won’t follow a stranger’s voice but will scatter because they aren’t used to the sound of it.” Jesus told this simple story, but they had no idea what he was talking about. So he tried again. “I’ll be explicit, then. I am the Gate for the sheep. All those others are up to no good – sheep stealers, every one of them. But the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for – will freely go in and out, and find pasture. A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”
“Sema” or Deep Listening by Rumi
What is deep listening?
Deep Listening is a greeting from the secret ones
Inside the heart, a letter.
The branches of your intelligence
Grow new leaves in the wind of this listening.
The body reaches a peace.
Rooster sound comes,
Reminding you of your love for dawn.
The reed flute and the singers lips.
The knack of how spirit breathes into us
Becomes as simple and ordinary as eating and drinking.
The dead rise with the pleasure of this listening.
If someone cannot hear a trumpet melody,
Sprinkle dirt on his head and declare him dead.
Listen and feel the beauty of your separation,
The unsayable absence.
There is a moon inside every human being.
Learn to be companions with it.
Give more of your life to this listening.
As brightness is to time, so you are
To the one who talks to the deep inside your chest.
I should sell my tongue and buy a thousand ears
When that one step near and begins to speak.
I just recently completed the task of chairing the Conference Search Committee to find an Interim Associate Conference Minister – for the northern half of Wisconsin, for the Wisconsin Conference of the United Church of Christ. I want to share a little bit about the experience, because the process was a great example of “listening to the Spirit” work. In this case it was among the six members of the committee.
When I took on the task, there were a couple of people from Wisconsin that I knew were going to apply and I for one had, in this case, a prejudice against 1) calling another person from Wisconsin and 2) at least one of those people I was totally against having as our next Interim Associate Conference Minister. I had experienced her in a few situations and did not appreciate her style and demeanor.
As the committee met, I started them all out with a long discussion about allowing the spirit to work through us in our endeavor to choose the right person for the task. We had 16 people express interest, we looked at 12 profiles, most from out of state, we interviewed four over the phone, and two in person. And yes, the person who I did not want in the beginning emerged as truly the best candidate for the position.
When Jesus says to the disciples, “they follow the shepherd because they are familiar with his voice,” he is talking about hearing and knowing what the right path to follow is going to be. The comments reflect Jesus’ style of teaching. And you know what? The path may not be what you expect, or want.
There is one more part of this passage from John that I want to emphasize; when Jesus says to them, “I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for – …. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” I want to suggest as a possibility, that he is speaking ‘as the spirit guide for our lives’ and that the ‘real and better life’ has absolutely nothing to do with material possessions!
I think he could be saying something like, “listen to me and listen to the familiar voice in your heart that is a voice you will know as the right path to take.” Or, as in the Rumi passage, “As brightness is to time, so you are to the one who talks to the deep inside, your chest.”
Listen, hear, and recognize that the voice within is a voice that can guide you; and know that other voices are the voices that call you away from the core of the teachings that Jesus has to offer.
The Quakers have a great repertoire of discernment resources. There is, in the Quaker tradition, a spiritual practice of waiting: waiting for the right moment to speak, waiting for the spirit to move within one’s heart before saying anything, waiting and listening for the gentleness of God, the Holy and Sacred, to offer the words to express the path. And there are, in the Quaker tradition, some great questions to ask yourselves as you wait and discern whether it is a thief or the voice of the Sacred speaking to your heart.
Just a few:
Are you open to the healing power of God’s love?
Do you set aside times of quiet for an openness to the Holy Spirit?
Do you follow the examples of love in action?
Do you respect that of God in everyone though it may be expressed in unfamiliar ways or be difficult to discern?
The ancient Israelites saw the importance of discernment by reflecting on the stories of their past. That is what the Hebrew Scriptures are (our Old Testament); stories from the past filled with thoughts for reflecting on how the Sacred has interacted with life over the ages. Henri Nouwen, in the first reading says, “Like the people of Israel, who repeatedly reflected on their history and discovered God’s guiding hand in the many painful events that led them to Jerusalem, so we pause to discern God’s presence in the events that have made or unmade us.”
Looking back on your experiences, what has brought you to this place? What spirit movement, good or bad, has put you in the midst of this special place in this moment? Chances are, at some point, it was pausing to reflect and listen to the Spirit God speak to your heart and move you to walk in the door. Or perhaps, like in my case, to stay away for a while. About 14 years ago, I visited here one Sunday morning, really enjoyed it, and might have continued if I had not met another minister. Soon after coming here, I met and became good friends with the minister in Two Rivers, and started attending his church when staying up here. Had I continued coming here, I would likely have been ineligible to be called as your pastor.
St. Augustine, at the beginning of his life as a theologian, did not believe in predestination. But at the end of life he looked back, and could see the interwoven trails and determined that it must have been predestined. I don’t believe life is predetermined, but I do know that I can see how the sacred has been at work through the past, and I am prepared for this moment, and I accept that these moments are preparing me for the next as we listen and try to determine what lies ahead.
What is in our future, as a congregation, as individuals, as a community of faith that is striving to find ways to live out an example of coexistence in the world where respect for one another’s beliefs should be the norm.
What is in our future as we struggle to find ways to be a community seeking social justice for all residents of our communities?
What is in our future as we work together supporting the United Church of Christ and its efforts on behalf of all of us?
What is in our future as we strive to ENHANCE the future of the work we do together as a congregation in this building, on this land, and for the benefit of all people?
We CAN look back, assess our presence, examine how we got to where we are, and prepare to live out our existence as a voice of inclusivity, but only as long as we carefully, thoughtfully and with the guidance of the Spirit, consider all we are and all we are to become.
From the book, The Sun and Moon Over Assisi come the words, “Blessed are the ears which hear god’s whisper and listen not to the murmurs of the world.”
Friends, know the voice of the Spirit when it speaks. Deep Listening is the letter from your heart, the whisper of God, and you’ll only hear it . . . when you listen for it.