Wednesday, March 07, 2007

03/04/07, Sermon

The readings: Luke 13:31-35; Hebrews 13:2; Rumi—The Guest House;

In introducing The Guest House, Coleman Barks says:

One of the models Rumi has for the Psyche is the image of the guest house. He says we are not the moods, the impulses, the desires, the fears that visit us. We are the source from where they arise, and we are the host. And, the problem is to be a good host—to welcome those emotions that come. Jealousy comes up the walk, you say, “Come on in. I haven’t seen you in five years (or fifteen minutes). I thought you were dead.” Ecstatic love comes to the door. “My pleasure!” A sentimental sense of oneness with everything comes: “I knew your mother.” A cynical doubt, sarcastic about anything spiritual comes up: “Bro! How ’bout that game last night? Unbelievable!”

The people saw Jesus coming and closed the door. “How often,” he says, “I would have gathered you under my wings like a mother hen gathers her brood, but you would not.” The writer of Hebrews says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so, some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Rumi says we must be like a guest house, welcoming all comers, inviting everyone in to eat and drink, turning no one away, asking all to tell us their story, listening intently to what they have to say. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.

There are a couple of things here. One is the matter of receiving graciously the stranger and listening to what he, or she, has to say. “Come in, come in! Have something to drink. Tell me your story.” If what they have to say is accusatory and shaming—if they are disgusted with us, filled with accusations and sarcasm—if they come with malicious intent, with disgust, even hatred, spilling out, we listen. “Say more. Let me hear you out.”

And, if, in the telling, and in the hearing, we find ourselves being defensive, or angry, or ashamed and depressed, open those doors as well, and invite the visitors in, welcome them to the table, to the chair, and invite them to speak. We are the guest house. Whoever comes to the door is a friend in disguise, an angel in street clothes. Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond. …This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.

That’s the first thing. The second is this: meet them at the door laughing. There was never an enlightened being who did not laugh. Wakefulness, mindfulness, awareness requires laughter. Playfulness is the unified theory. It’s the only way of making sense of the whole ball of wax. You will never get anywhere if you don’t go there playfully.

We take everything too seriously. We think too hard. We talk too much. We laugh so very rarely, if at all. We cannot welcome anything we don’t meet at the door, laughing. We cannot live soulfully without living playfully. Jesus said it. “Unless you turn and become as children, you will never inherit the kingdom of heaven.” There you are. What more do you need?

What child ever refused to play because it was too hard? Because it accomplished too little? Because it didn’t make enough of a difference? Because the payoff wasn’t worth the time and effort involved? Do you remember the tree houses you built in your youth? The doll houses you furnished? The forts you constructed? The miles you rode your bicycle? Do you remember playing baseball with the kids in the neighborhood with no pro scouts on the sidelines and nothing on the line? What in the world were you thinking? Well. Think it some more.

We have to recover the spirit play, the ability to not take things too seriously, the simple joy of being fully alive in the moment of our living. Play is something we do for itself alone. No one pays us to play, or grades our playing. When we play, we don’t worry about how well we are doing, or if someone else is doing a better job at it than we are, or if we should be doing it differently in order to get more out of it, and have something to show for it. When we are playing, we are just playing. We can’t be alive without “just playing” somewhere in our lives. How long has it been? What can we imagine doing for no other reason than because we like to do it?

“Recreational” drug use doesn’t count. Neither do any of the other addictions. Play is not escape, not denial. Play is restorative, regenerative. Play is an oasis, a way of living in the desert, not a way of pretending the desert doesn’t exist.

Jesus didn’t have a plan for doing away with the desert. Jesus did not come with a solution for the problems of life. He did not have an idea about structuring society with abundant equality and everyone being pleased with themselves, their lives, and everyone else. When your idea of a just social order is everyone doing right by everyone else, because that’s the right thing to do, you’re going to have trouble. Asking everyone to “love one another, now,” is not going to get it done.

Jesus couldn’t even create that kind of environment among his own disciples. Jealously, and in-fighting, and positioning for the favored seats in the kingdom completely missed the point of the kingdom. How are you going to wake people up to the fact that there is nothing in it for them? That they aren’t doing it to get anything out of it? That they are just playing around here?

“Do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return,” says Jesus. And, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life to set others free—to wake others up, to show others the way of giving their lives to set others free—to wake others up, to show others the way of giving their lives to set others free… How do you think that is going to sell on Madison Avenue, or on Wall Street? We don’t do anything in which there is nothing for us. Yet, that is the hinge upon which the kingdom turns.

We are to live like children play, without an eye on what’s in it for us. Without thinking about what the advantage is, or what we stand to gain, or what the payoff is. What kind of payoff would it take, to make it worth our while? Can you image anything that we wouldn’t want to be better somehow, after about ten minutes? What is the advantage, exactly, of having the advantages? When we wake up, for instance, what do we get that is worth all the fuss?

The only advantage of enlightenment is that we laugh more. We don’t get upset as often, or stay upset as long as we did before enlightenment. We walk slower, and see things we overlooked with unenlightened eyes. We are alive, and present, like little children.

When we see clearly how things are and what we can do about them, we laugh. And do it. And let that be that.

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