Sunday, March 23, 2008

03/23/08, Easter Sermon

Our work is the work of resurrection—bringing ourselves to life in our lives. Jesus did the work of resurrection for 30 odd years before his death. His work, bringing himself to life in his life, consisted, as does ours, of living in ways that were integral to, aligned with, that which was deepest, truest, and best about him. His life was a life of complete integrity of being. He was who he was. Yahweh said to Moses, “Tell, them ‘I am who I am’ sent you. Get it? That which is godlike about us is being who we are, so that outer and inner are one.

Jesus said, “The Father and I are one.” I am one with “I am who I am.” Integrity of being is the essence of godlikeness, and it is the work that we are about. When we do that work, when we live aligned with who we are, when we are alive in the fullest sense of the term, we do not die. The truth of the resurrection is that Jesus did not die. He was so fully alive that he could not die, did not die. In the experience of his disciples and closest friends, he lived on. It is the work of being human to live on. That is the essence of the Spiritual Journey. “What I do is me,” says Gerard Manly Hopkins, “for that I came.”

But. There is a problem. We have to be who we are within the context and circumstances of our life. We have to adjust ourselves to, accommodate ourselves to the facts of our lives. And, we have to do the same with the fact of who we wish we were—with our ideas for ourselves and our lives. And, we have to do the same with our life’s idea for us. That’s a lot to balance. Particularly, when we are paid a lot of money to live like someone else wants us to live! So, we have to do the work of bringing ourselves to life within a context, and within circumstances, that work against us from the start.

All the tricks of the trade come into play doing that work. We are here to learn, and apply, the tricks of the trade in order to be who we are within the context and circumstances of our lives. One of the tricks is learning to associate with the right kind of people.

We find what we need in the right kind of company. The quality of our lives flows from, and is a function of, the quality of our relationships. The craziest, most dysfunctional, people you know are the products of the craziest and most dysfunctional relationships you could ever hope to experience. Pick a wack-o, and ride back through time with him, with her, and you will begin to wonder why he, why she, isn’t wackier than he, than she, is. Where we are is set up by where we have been. Where we will be is conditioned by where we are. You can improve then quality of our lives, even now, by improving the quality of our relationships, right now.

Well, okay. There is a caveat here. It does depend upon what we bring to the table. Fritjof Capra says that life is not predictable. No simple equations or easy formulas here. You throw a tennis ball against a wall and you can predict what will happen. You throw a human being against a wall, and who knows what will happen? A tennis ball’s response can be determined by the angle and force of the throw. A human being’s response cannot be known. A human being—and life in general—can be disturbed, but not determined. And a human being, and life in general, will decide what it will respond to and what it will ignore—and how it will respond. So, the right kind of company is not, by itself, the determining factor. It all depends upon what we bring to the table.

With that said, we can also say that what saves us is not prevenient grace, or irresistible grace (How gracious can something be that you can’t say “No!” to?), or the atoning sacrifice God’s only Son Jesus Christ our Lord, but the right kind of relationship with the right kind of people. Relationship is the saving grace. You only have to think about it to know that it is so. The people who have meant the most to us in our lives have not been the people who passed along the secrets of life, or some other valuable information, but the people who offered the right kind of relationship to us in the right kind of way.

The teachers we remember, the coaches, and instructors, and ministers, and group leaders who have been influential have been influential because of the quality of their relationship with us. The quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives. The thing that makes the most difference for the good in our lives are the people who care about us in the right kind of way. That being the case, you would think we would put more effort into improving and enhancing the quality of our relationships. You would think we would put relationship development at the top of our list. You would think we would learn what it means to be a caring presence in the lives of others, and practice it regularly and routinely as we go through our days.

But, don’t think that the right kind relationship with the right kind of people is a technique for achieving something beyond itself, that it has anything in mind. Don’t think it has an agenda. Don’t think it’s where you go to get the answer for your life. If we are going to consciously mold ourselves into the right kind of community offering the right kind of relationship to those who come our way, the first thing we are going to have to do is empty ourselves of the idea, conception, notion, desire of offering anything to those who come our way.

The right kind of community doesn’t force anything on anybody, particularly advice. It’s the association that does it, whatever “it” is, and it does it without intention, or direction, or suggestion, or intrusion, or intervention, or intercession. We aren’t here to straighten anyone out, or tell anyone what to do, he said, in a whole-hearted attempt to straighten them out and tell them what to do. Isn’t that how it is though? “We do by not-doing,” and all of those other contradictory paradoxes of The Way. Ah, but, back to the point!

The point is that association with the right kind of people calls life forth, without anyone doing anything intentional and direct to bring that about. We spark each other, influence each other, support and encourage each other, and provide the impetus that becomes the other’s life. It takes companionship, conversation, community to provide us with life, with our life. We are continually being born again in the presence of the right kind of company. No one can tell us what to do with our lives, or even, the next minute, but out of the context of conversation completely unrelated to us and our interests, something sparks something within us, and we are off and running with a life that is beautifully meaningful to us, and brings life forth in the world. We find what we need without knowing what we are looking for.

The Way emerges out of the right kind of relationships. We find ourselves opening to that which is open to us. We naturally do what needs to be done, effortlessly, thoughtlessly, and life unfolds as if according to some master plan, but it is nothing more than us following our heart’s path to its own deep joy. It takes the right kind of company for us to hear the beating of our heart, and to begin to explore what it might mean to listen to the still small voice whispering with the accent of our soul. In the presence of the right kind of people, we become ourselves, and make the changes required by the spiritual journey—and we aren’t even thinking about being spiritual.

Two things flow from this. The first is that we do not think our way to the spiritual journey, or along the spiritual path. We live our way there. Spirituality is living, not thinking. The second thing is that we take up the spiritual journey, not by changing the way we think, but by changing the way we live. The spiritual journey is essentially a change in life style. We have to change our living. We cannot continue to live like we are living and be more spiritual than we are. But, and this is the interesting part, the change cannot be imposed from the top down, from the outside in. We can’t do it by keeping our New Year’s Resolutions, or the Ten Commandments, or by living the kind of life our mother’s would tell us to live. We can’t just hand ourselves over to Those Who Know Best.

Those Who Know Best are glad to tell us what to do. I don’t know where they think we would be without them minding our business, and plying us with instruction, but it must be terrible, because they do everything they can to save us from ourselves, and our highly questionable sense of direction. I’ve noticed that Those Who Know Best have lives no one would trade for. Makes you wonder what they think they know, and what makes them think they know best. I lost the point again. Where was I?

Ah, changing the way we are living. From the bottom up, and inside out. The right kind of company provides us with an atmosphere that enables us to listen to ourselves, and to know what needs to be done, the kinds of changes that need to be made. Joseph Campbell says, “We know when we are on the beam, and when we are off of it.” That’s really all we need to know. Where are you most “on the beam”? Where are you “off of it”? Where do you spend the most time? We know what brings us to life, and what kills our souls. Where are you most alive? Where are you most dead? Where do you spend the most time? We know the people who are good for us, and the people who are not good for us. With whom do you spend the most time? We know what we like, and what we dislike—what we love and what we detest—what we enjoy and what we do well to avoid. Where do you spend the most time? How do you need to change your life?

It isn’t easy, you know. We talk of death and resurrection. Death is emptying ourselves of our idea of what our life should be. Under the Bo Tree and in the Temptations in the Wilderness, Gautama and Jesus died to one way of life and were raised to another way of life. What will we die to? What will we live for? In the Wilderness, under the Bo Tree, we have to allow our life to pass before us, and we have to decide what to keep, and what to let go—what to begin and what to end.

It is not a decision to rush. We live our way to what has true value, with our eyes open, over time. But, we cannot avoid the work of being aware of what is important and what is not. The work is the work of Identity, and Vision, and Clarity, and Focus, and Direction. The work is the work of Realization, the work of knowing who we are and what we can do to enhance that, and what we can do to diminish that. The work is the work of knowing what we need to be who we are, of what assists us and what inhibits us. The work is the work of knowing the difference between a tool and a prop. A tool helps us be who we are. A prop helps us pretend to be who we are not.

Incarnating who we are within the context and circumstances of our lives, serving our heart’s true desire amid the upheavals of life in the real world, is our life’s work. It doesn’t matter what belief system we operate within, the work is the same: Being who we are within the limitations of this particular time and this particular space. Who would Michael Jordan have been before basketball was invented? He would have had to work that out in his own time and place. And, he would not have been able to do that work alone.

It doesn’t matter how we think or what we believe. We can believe anything we want to, anything that strikes our fancy. What matters is working out who we are in our own time and place. We should believe what helps us do that work, and disbelieve what keeps us from doing that work. If you are going to believe anything, believe what helps you be who you are in the time and place of your living.

The spiritual journey, task, quest, path is the work of integration, the work of integrity, the work of living in ways that are integral to that which is deepest, best, and truest about you. It is the work of finding your way back to you, to “the face that was yours before you were born,” to the life that is yours to live, to who you are.

There is reality and there is your heart’s true desire (who you are). You have to accommodate yourself to the one and serve the other. And, it’s easier to eat popcorn and watch old movies until you die. It’s easier to deny both, dismiss both. Embrace diversion and distraction and don’t worry about reality or your heart’s true desire. Besides, your heart has so many desires, how would you ever know which one the true one is? Pass the popcorn! Load up Jimmie Stewart! The right kind of company won’t let us get by with that!

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