Monday, June 19, 2006

06/18/06, Sermon

We have to know what works, and, in order to know that, we have to know what it means to say something works. We have to know in light of what does it work. You can catch trout with dynamite or with a fly rod. Either approach works. What determines which you use?

What is The Good and how does it apply to this situation, here, now? What is being asked of us? In light of what do we respond? We live toward what? Away from what? Guided by what? We have to have some sense of what we are about, of what we are trying to do, of what is important, of what we want to happen, of what we are willing to do to have it happen, and of what the limits and restrictions are under which we operate. We have to know what works, and what the variables are that determine whether something works, or doesn’t work. We know what works in light of what is right, of what is good.

What do we intend? What do we mean to happen? What is our purpose? What do we hope to achieve? What is our orientation? Toward what are we living? Away from what are we living? These are the questions which, when answered, enable us to know whether something works. They also plot our position relative to the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God is an orientation to The Good that runs contrary to the operating principles of the kingdoms and empires of the world. The Kingdom of God is an alternative to civilization as we know it, and represents the end, and beginning, of life. Life in the Kingdom is lived on a different basis, in light of different goals, than life in the world. It represents the radical transformation of the world. It is, simply put, a brand new world.

Nothing is willed into being in the Kingdom. Nothing is forced, pushed, pulled, compelled. In the Kingdom, things happen “in the fullness of time.” Nothing is made to happen before its time. Nothing is delayed past its time. Things happen in their own time. When the time is right, the savior comes, sometimes to us, and sometimes to life within us, and through us, into the world. In the Kingdom, the potter listens to the clay, and a pot is formed.

In the world, we are concerned about how to get to happen what we want to happen. In the Kingdom, we are concerned about listening to the clay. What needs to happen? What is trying to happen? What time is it now? What is coming to life now? What is being born now? How can we assist the coming to be of what needs to be? What is being asked of us? What is truly helpful? How can we help? In the world, we try to get ahead. In the Kingdom, we try to be of help. How to be helpful without being used is one of the problems of the Kingdom. How to see into the heart of things and know what is needed without being deceived and victimized, disillusioned and abused is one of the problems of the Kingdom. How to live in the world in ways that are true to the qualities and values, nature and character of the Kingdom of God is one of the problems of the Kingdom. Right seeing, right hearing, right living, right being—these are the problems of the Kingdom.

We begin to solve the problems of the Kingdom with time and distance. All things become clear with time and distance. We achieve the proper perspective with time and distance. We wait. We watch. We sit. We listen. We step back. We look. We walk around it. We “sleep on it.” We “put it on the back burner.” We “let it marinate.” We breathe. We allow ourselves to not know what to do.

Of course, the world intrudes. The world thrusts itself upon us, demanding action NOW! The world cannot wait. No time, no distance. That is what keeps the world in place, unchanged and unchanging. No time, no distance, and profit at any price. Those are the things that make the world, the world. And, they are the things that are contrary to the experience and expression of the Kingdom of God.

In the world, the profit motive is the primary motive. We don’t do anything unless there is something in it for us. We certainly don’t do anything for very long unless there is something in it for us. In the Kingdom, however, there is the idea of “God’s will.” There is the idea of that which has need of us beyond our need of it. There is the idea that we “find our lives,” that we live best, when we live in the service of that which is beyond us, of that which is greater than we are, of that which is more than we can “ask, or think, or imagine.”

We think doing God’s will is the way of earning the big pay off. We don’t understand that it IS the pay off. We think it is about being rewarded with prosperity and the easy life now, and the splendors of heaven when we die. If we do something good for God, God will do something good for us. If we mind our manners, and our P’s and Q’s (What’s a P and a Q, anyway?), and keep our noses clean, and to the grindstone, and go to church, and talk a lot about family values, and vote the way the Religious Right tells us to vote, then we will live happily ever after and have it ever-so made. We think doing God’s will is all caught up with clean noses and P’s and Q’s and having it ever-so made. We are so convoluted and contorted, I don’t know if we can ever be straightened out.

Joseph Campbell says “We know when we are on the beam and when we are off it.” Think of “doing God’s will” as being “on the beam.” There is nothing beyond “being on the beam,” nothing more than being “on the beam,” nothing greater than being “on the beam,” nothing better than being “on the beam.” “Being on the beam” is IT. When our lives are “on the beam,” we are in synch with ourselves, aligned with that which is deepest, truest, and best about us—and about life, generally—in the center of how things ought to be, and at-one with ourselves and with God. The spiritual quest is for that kind of alignment, synchronization, oneness.

We get there by slowing down, paying attention, being mindful, being aware, being awake, being alert, listening, looking, watching, seeing, hearing, feeling, sensing, intuiting, and knowing on the level of the heart. It’s like this: We know where we belong and where we have no business being. But, it’s also like this: Fooling ourselves is what we do best. And: Shooting ourselves in the foot is what we do best. And, Talking ourselves into—or allowing ourselves to be talked into—what is not in our best interest is what we do best. There you are. That’s what keeps me in business. That’s the spiritual quandary. We know where we belong and we have eyes for where we have no business being.

That’s the story of the Garden of Eden. And the flip side of that same story is the Garden of Gethsemane. Now, one of the bad, really bad, things about the Bible and the way it has been handed to us is that we think the Garden of Eden is about us, and that the Garden of Gethsemane is about Jesus. We sin in the Garden of Eden, and Jesus erases our sin in the Garden of Gethsemane, and on Golgotha (which is the logical extension of Gethsemane). That is so wrong. Eden and Gethsemane are both about us. We are Adam and Eve, and we are Jesus. One minute we are saying “Yes” to the wrong thing, and the next minute, we are saying “No” to it. We are not all bad. John Calvin was wrong about us.

I know that is hard for you to take, but just look at it logically. If Calvin was right, and we are all wrong (Totally Depraved, you know) then, how could he possibly be right? Surely, you see the conundrum. If he’s right about us being all, completely, totally wrong, then he’s wrong. If we are Totally Depraved, not only can we not do what is right, but we cannot even know what is right. Of course, if you buy this, you can never sing Amazing Grace again, at least, not in good conscience, because you most surely are not a “wretch.” We have some wretched tendencies on occasion, but we also do some thoroughly wonderful things that wretches would never consider.

We stand in Eden in one minute, with eyes for what we have no business having. And, we kneel in Gethsemane in the next minute, and sacrifice everything for the sake of the truly good. “We know when we are on the beam, and we know when we are off it.”

Now, there is no permanent fix for our condition. We live between Eden and Gethsemane. Get used to it. We are on the beam one minute, and off the beam the next. That’s the way it is. But, doing God’s will is not a strategy for prosperity now and heaven when we die. That’s a calculated ploy for accruing the advantages. It’s having an eye out for what’s in it for us. It’s the Garden of Eden all over again.

Doing God’s will is listening to the clay and bringing to life what is trying to come to life—assisting with the birth of what is struggling to be born. And, there is no recipe for that. There are no rules to follow for that. We cannot make that happen. We are not in command of the beam. Sometimes we are on it, and sometimes we are off of it, and we aren’t conscious of doing anything different. Sometimes we sit with the clay and listen, and hear, and create with the clay more than we could ever manage on our own. And, sometimes, we sit with the clay and nothing happens. Sometimes, Eden, sometimes, Gethsemane.

But, Gethsemane is the place to be. We are looking for the beam. When we are off, we have to know we are off, and watch, and wait, and look, and listen. We have to keep showing up with the clay, sitting and listening, even if we aren’t hearing anything. Being with the clay, being present, being open, being ready is essential.

God’s will is the beam, the path with our name on it, and it opens before us in the strangest times and places and ways. It comes down to attitude and orientation, to having eyes that see, and ears that hear, and hearts that understand. It comes down to being present with what is present with us. It comes down to listening to the clay, and offering what is needed to the moment of our living. That’s the miracle, the wonder, and the joy. And, we flow into it and out of it all our lives long.

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