Monday, October 10, 2005

10/09/05, Sermon

There are only two questions: What do we need? And, How can we help one another get it? Or, how’s this for phrasing: What is truly necessary? What is truly helpful? That’s it. The sum total of life and spirituality: Knowing what is necessary; knowing what is helpful. There is nothing else to know.
What is necessary and what is helpful varies from time to time, place to place, person to person. We have to always ask the questions, and listen carefully for the answers. We have to constantly be looking for what is needed, for what is helpful. And, we have to be aware of the larger context in which the questions are asked: Needed in terms of what? Helpful in terms of what? What exactly do we have in mind regarding the optimal conditions that we are trying to arrange?
If we are just trying to keep the baby from crying, that’s one thing. If we are trying to cure the baby of an ear infection, that’s another. What we think is needed and helpful will depend upon what we are trying to do. And, of course, this is all complicated by ten million things. A baby with an ear infection is one thing. A 25 year old daughter with a drinking problem is another. What is needed? What is helpful? Fix that, if you can.
It doesn’t take long for us to be hobbled and blocked in our efforts to know and do what is needed and helpful. We have to learn to live with problems for which there are no solutions. What is needed there? Helpful there? How do we deal with wanting what we cannot have, particularly when what we want is absolutely essential, needed, necessary and good? What is needed, helpful, to us in our inability to know and do, what is needed and helpful?
How shall we cope? Wailing walls and caring presence are more necessary and helpful than cases of Budweiser and fifths of Jack Daniels. We have to have caring communities without answers who can simply be good company as we grapple with the twin monsters STU and PID who keep things from being what they need to be in our lives and in the life of the world. We do not need to be fixed and cured so much as upheld and supported, encouraged and sustained, as we come to grips with our inability to know and/or do what is necessary and helpful. And we most certainly need to be saved from surrender to despair and hopelessness before the omnipotent and ever-present power of STU and PID.
Like water dripping on a rock, we refuse to quit, and, over time, wear down the mountain. Or not. It doesn’t matter if we wear the mountain down. We aren’t going to be alive to see it. We live as though we are going to wear the mountain down, because we know what is necessary and helpful, and we will not take no for an answer. We will not quit in the service of the good even if the world is too STU-PID to know what it needs or receive what is helpful. We may change tactics. We may back up. We may stand aside. We may take a different approach. But, we will not relent in the work for what is necessary, helpful, and good.
This is the true place of the church, of the caring community of the right kind of people. Its place is that of sustaining one another in the work for what is necessary, helpful, and good. We come together because we cannot stand long alone before the unrelenting madness of STU and PID.
What is worse, not knowing what is needed, or what is helpful, or knowing and being unable to implement the good because it is not wanted and will not be accepted? Either way, the agony is too much to bear alone, and we need one another to know how it is and say, “Yep. That’s how it is all right. Don’t surrender. Don’t quit.”
God is like water dripping on a rock. God doesn’t surrender. God doesn’t quit. That is the work of God, the work of creation, and it is the work of the children of God, the people of God, your work and mine.
It is up to us. We are the ones who are going to do whatever is done. And, we are going to do it by plugging away. By refusing to quit in the service of what is necessary and helpful. By serving the vision every day for the rest of our lives. Look around. There is no one here but us. It would be nice to think that there is a benevolent benefactor out there, with a checkbook in hand, to bail us out, and pave our way, and make a worthy future both possible and easy. It would be nice to think that we will be rescued, saved, delivered from the work at hand, which is the work of trying to find our way forward to the good, and create a space that is a good place for all people to be, the work of doing what is truly needed and truly helpful.
The message of the Messiah is that there is no Messiah. The message of the Messiah is that we—WE—are all the Messiah we will ever get, or need. We have what it takes, and it is up to us. THAT’S the gospel truth. And, if we get tired of plugging away, and if we wish for someone to clear the path, and show the way, and usher us into the Kingdom come, well, that’s part of it. That’s part of plugging away. We will get tired of plugging away. We will wish it were different, easier, better. We have to plug away through the weariness with plugging away.
The Messianic task is as much the on-going courage and determination to perceive and do what needs to be done as it is doing it. The Messianic task is the day-to-day expression of the high values in the service of the good when what we really want is to be relieved of the task and to sit with a glass of wine and marvel at the beauty and wonder of our achievement, with everything in place, and everyone on the same page, and nothing but how it ought to be for as far as we can see.
Let me explain this to you. We aren’t going to live that long. The wine is going to come as a pause at the end of a long day as a way of gathering our strength for facing what must be faced and doing what needs to be done the next day. We are here to face what must be faced and to do what needs to be done. We are not here to be delivered from that task and to sit in a swing in the shade to enjoy the view until we die. Or to move from happy pastime to happy pastime, exchanging gifts to commemorate the occasion, and planning teas and outings with those who have it made.
Having it made means having the spirit of the Messiah about us, who did not, if you will remember, count equality with God as something to be exploited for his own personal benefit, but accepted the role of a servant, and served the high values as the human being that he was, doing what needed to be done as servant of the good every day of his life, all the way to his death, even death on a cross. Having it made means understanding fully what it is about, embracing our role, and giving ourselves to the task of getting up, again, and doing what needs to be done, again, every day for the rest of our lives, plugging away in the service of the good, no matter what, for as long as we are alive. Like water dripping on a rock. Even a really big rock. Like Mt. Everest.
All we need is a little encouragement, a little kindness, a little compassion. I don’t know why that is so hard to come by. Everybody seems to need it. No one seems to offer it. What we get is sarcasm, criticism, cool receptions and cold shoulders. Mercy is an endangered species. Or, perhaps, extinct. What are we thinking? That we can bludgeon someone, everyone, into being pleasing? Into doing it our way? Into doing it like it ought to be done?
If we aren’t swinging emotional clubs, we are cowering in anticipation of being clubbed, or hiding in the shadows, hyper-vigilant and ready to run. We do not present ourselves for relationship because relationship cannot be trusted. We learn that by the third grade. Life is tough after that, with everyone trying to get what they want from everybody else and no one offering anyone what is needed.
Where do you go for encouragement, kindness, compassion? Understanding, acceptance, grace? Mercy? Peace? Where do you go to find those who know what is needed and are working to bring that to life in the world? Well, let me talk to you about the power of the sheep being led to the slaughter. It is the power of an encouraging, kind, compassionate, understanding, accepting, gracious, merciful, peaceful presence in the world of sarcasm, criticism, cool receptions and cold shoulders. Where do you think it is going to start, if it does not start with us? Do you think “they” are going first? Do you think “they” will lead the way? Those who see what is needed die in the service of what is needed. If we wait for everyone to “see” before anyone takes up the task of being what is needed, we will all be bereft and deficient forever.

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