“Servants of the Sacred”
Rev. Richard Feyen
recorded on 16 Feb 2014
READINGS FOR TODAY:
First Reading: An Excerpt from
Blowing the Lid Off the God-Box: Opening Up by Anne Robertson
“We need to keep our boxes open to new images of God. These biblical images aren’t the only ones. On any given Sunday, pastors around the country can be found giving children’s sermons that present new images: ‘God is like this flashlight,’ or ‘God is like this teddy bear,’ or ‘God is like this bar of soap.’ Sometimes the images we hear don’t strike us as being that benign. Some people still cannot imagine God as black or gay or even dressed in something other than a bathrobe and sandals. Maybe we need to sit with some difficult images for a while, before we rule them out. Jesus certainly encouraged his listeners to do that. Jesus must have horrified some listeners as he implied that God was like a heretical, racially mixed Samaritan.
We won’t always be ready to put every image we’re offered into our God-box. But if we can keep the box open — if we can keep the humility that shows us we can know God in many, many ways — we’ve made it easier to love and harder to judge one another.”
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:1 – 9 (from The Message by Eugene Peterson)
“But for right now, friends, I’m completely frustrated by your unspiritual dealings with each other and with God. You’re acting like infants in relation to Christ, capable of nothing much more than nursing at the breast. Well, then, I’ll nurse you since you don’t seem capable of anything more. As long as you grab for what makes you feel good or makes you look important, are you really much different than a babe at the breast, content only when everything’s going your way? When one of you says, ‘I’m on Paul’s side,’ and another says, ‘I’m for Apollos’, aren’t you being totally infantile? Who do you think Paul is, anyway? Or Apollos, for that matter? Servants, both of us – servants who waited on you as you gradually learned to entrust your lives to our mutual Master. We each carried out our servant assignment. I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow. It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow. Planting and watering are menial servant jobs at minimum wages. What makes them worth doing is the God we are serving. You happen to be God’s field in which we are working.”
An interesting thing happened on the way to writing this sermon. In reflecting upon Paul’s apparent chastising of the people in the church at Corinth for arguing about who taught them about the Christ Spirit that led them to God, I thought of the phrase, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” We all have heard that – I just thought I would give credit to the originator, (a short story by the American humorist Seba Smith – The Money Diggers, 1840) but in the process, I discovered another interesting phrase. There is more than one way to get to heaven that was found in a sermon written by John Needham in 1709. I would not have thought that people were talking of multiple paths to God back then, but I guess this progressive movement has been around for a while. There is more than one way to skin cat as there is more than one way to connect with all that is Sacred.
Paul has his hands full with the people at Corinth. They are arguing amongst themselves about the proper religious teacher to follow to the kingdom of heaven, the appropriate religious path to follow. But Paul says, “You’re acting like babies, all of you, what difference does it make?” I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.
In God is the mystery. In that which we worship, we witness power beyond our ability to understand. In the Sacred Essence that is in and of all things, is where we seek the presence of God. The power of the sacred is what we long to serve and what we ought to be seeking to offer others because there, people can find hope in a real sense. When we find that sacred center, then truly, there is the opportunity for creation to be at peace.
Part of a conversation this week with a friend involved hearing about their church’s annual meeting. (Not Peggy’s, I assure you.) It seems that the pledging was short of what was needed to fund the budget and so they were going to take the shortage out of two places, the endowment fund and the minister’s health insurance package. That and some bylaw changes resulted in an emotionally charged discussion that lasted for two hours, in the end the bylaw changes were tabled and the minister’s package reinstated.
Where do you suppose the image of the sacred was found in that congregation that day?
What is your ‘image of god’? Think about it a little. How do you envision the Sacred Essence that we are part of, that we work through, that we offer love on behalf of, in the world? But then don’t. As soon as you begin to define it, it’s bigger than that. Lawrence Kushner in Honey from the Rock says, “The first mystery is simply that there is a mystery. A mystery that can never be explained or understood — only encountered from time to time. Nothing is obvious. Everything conceals something else . . .Spiritual awareness is born of encounters with the mystery.”
One of the things that we are here to affirm is that there is a mystery. It is a mystery that is larger than the universe in which we live. There exists in this place and beyond the edges of space and time, a sacred presence that we are arrogant enough to attempt to name. Who do we think we are? And then not only do we attempt to name it, but we argue amongst ourselves, like the people of the Corinthian church, as to whose path of discovery to the Sacred is the right path!
Again, who do we think we are?
Bruce has mentioned his on-line spiritual community that is called Shalom Spiritual Community a few times, it has a symbol on its Facebook page of an open box with a note in it that says, “I don’t fit in your box, God.” As you ponder that, remember that Jewish people will not say the name of God nor write it out, the Buddha refused to discuss the idea of there being a God because it is beyond our ability to define. Hindus seem to have a different god for every separate thing and event! For all of us who like things neatly put away in boxes and clearly labeled and identified – we can’t do that with God. It does not work for all that is sacred!
Even the image of peace among the people of the world is an image that is too big to imagine, but that is not going to keep us from working for peace. Ever since, and even before, Moses needed to bring order out of chaos in the wilderness and came down from the mountain attributing the rules he called the commandments to God, people have looked to the sanctity and peace of creation, to the equilibrium and order of creation, and to the beauty of creation all around them; to seek a way to understand peace and find it among the people.
And still, everywhere you look people continue to fight and argue and harass one another over their own definition of the sacred. The world today is no different than the church at Corinth that Paul chastised for acting like babies. Who DO we think we are?
I believe that the imagery in the song that Mary and the choir chose as the anthem for today – while echoing Isaiah’s words in a lofty and mysterious way – can continue to be something to strive for. I think it takes some translating but if we imagine the Holy Mountain of The Lord to be that place where all humankind can live and dwell with ‘All That Is Sacred’ – referring to allowing all that we consider to be sacred, love, compassion, beauty, kindness, justice, grandeur, and more; to rule our lives, then in that place . . . creation will be at peace. Because when the religions of the world can find that common denominator, when we can realize that it is the Sacred we all serve, when we can come to realize, as Paul says, that it is God’s field in which we all serve; then creation will be at peace, all war and strife will cease.
This is not a God or a sacred entity we can define, nor is it even a sacred essence to which we can define one path … It is all and more.
Blessings to you friends,