Sunday, June 08, 2008

06/08/08, Sermon

Are we playing baseball, here, or water skiing? Are we painting the ceiling or burning the building? It helps to know what we are doing, and how to do it. Are we bowling here, or planting tomatoes, or making ice cream? What’s our product? How do we produce it? Package it? Present it? Market it? Sell it? Who are we? What are we about? I wonder if I can get you to buy what I’m selling that we are selling.

Let’s say our product is life, living, being alive. Or, let’s say it’s quality of life, living, and being alive. It’s being as alive as we can be given the context and circumstances and conditions of our life. Our product is bringing people to life in their lives. We are mid-wives of life. We birth people into their own lives. We are the delivery room in which people are born into the rest of their lives. But, what we have to offer isn’t for everyone. You can’t give life to just anyone!

Jesus raised the dead, and left the dead to bury the dead. There you are. There are some types of dead that cannot be raised, that cannot be restored to life. It all depends upon what the dead bring to the table. We can be so dead no one can resurrect us.

The stories about Jesus raising the dead are told not so much to emphasize Jesus’ power over death, but his lack of power over death. The stories are told to emphasize the Pharisees’, and scribes’, and priests’, and religious authorities’ power to be dead. Their power to be dead is greater than Jesus’ power to raise the dead. They are deader than dead.  Jesus can raise the physically dead, but he can’t touch the spiritually dead.

How do you get to be that dead? By doing what you are supposed to do all your life long. By thinking what you are supposed to think, and saying what you are supposed to say, and  believing what you are supposed to believe, and eating what you are supposed to eat, and wearing what you are supposed to wear, and being who you are supposed to be, and being certain that is who and how it is supposed to be done.

The Lao Tse (AKA the Tao Te Ching) says (in chapter 2) “When everyone knows beauty is beauty, this is bad. When everyone knows good is good, this is not good.” In commenting on these verses, Thomas Cleary says, “Chen Jingyuan says this means it is not good for people to take their own ideas for granted, or get too fixed in their ways… When it is forgotten that conventional conceptions are conventional conceptions, and they are taken for objective facts that ‘everyone knows’ and no one questions, then narrow-minded bigotry and blind prejudice can develop unopposed.”

We have to know what we are doing, but once we think we know what we are doing, and become authorities in the matter of how it is to be done, we are dead, and no one can awaken us to the truth of our condition. “Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains” (John 9:40-41). When we see, we have to see that we don’t see, see?

It’s important that we know what we are doing in the sense of knowing whether we are roping steers or ice skating, but once we think we know what we are doing (whether we are roping steers or ice skating), we are lost and it’s all over, and we are dead beyond being brought back to life. This is the great spiritual danger. Thinking that we know what we are doing is the “sin that cannot be forgiven,” that is, it can be forgiven, but the forgiveness has no impact, no effect, upon those who do not recognize their need for forgiveness, and act as though nothing has happened.

We can only hear what we are able to hear. We can only see what we are capable of seeing. We can only understand what our lives up to this point have enabled us to understand. When you talk to us about things that are beyond us, we are going to look at you with Little Orphan Annie eyes. And, you are going to have to talk to us about something else, or go somewhere else and talk to somebody else, or get used to blank expressions and Little Orphan Annie Eyes. There are the dead who can be raised from the dead and the dead who will never be anything but dead. So, Jesus raised the dead, and left the dead to bury the dead.

 It all depends upon what the dead bring to the table—how open are they to being alive? As teachers, we have to work at saying what we have to say so that our listeners can hear what we are saying. As hearers we have to be constantly looking for teachers who can say what we can hear. Teachers teach only what they have to teach. We say only what we have to say. We can’t take anyone beyond where we are. And so the need for a lot of teachers, a lot of resources, a lot of conversations. There is a lot of repetition. There is not much new. We share ourselves with each other, what we know, how we know it, what we think and believe and how we came to think and believe it, what we see and how we see it… We talk about our perspective and our perception and our reality and our world and our life. Maybe people take what they hear and apply it to their own living, maybe not. We can only offer what we have, we can only be who we are. People will either find value in that, or not.

We can try to snooker them into thinking we are more valuable than we are, but our value comes down to the quality of our presence and point of view. Can we be with them in ways that change their lives for the good? In ways that enable their unfolding—that bring them forth into life and being? Can we give them themselves? Can we be with them in ways that allow them to be who they are? That’s the test of those who would be mid-wives of heart, and soul, and self. Can we stand aside and allow them to be who they are?

Our business is life, and that means standing aside and letting life be life on terms other than our own. We are here to bring the dead who can be brought to life to life. Life is our product, how do we go about producing it? How do we make people “more alive”? Eyes that see, ears that hear, hearts that understand. Clarity. Awareness. Perception. Perspective. How do we pass these things along? Conversation. The right kind of conversation. The kind of conversation that embraces paradox and contradiction and incompatibility and incongruity and opposition and irony. The kind that questions assumptions, and eschews certitude , and negates platitudes, clich├ęs, and formulas. The kind that brings people to life by requiring them to have their own life—not the life we might have in mind for them—and think for themselves. See for themselves. Hear for themselves. Understand for themselves. Experience for themselves the experience of being alive.

Being alive is experiencing life! It is seeing what we see, hearing what we hear, touching what we touch, tasting what we taste, smelling what we smell, thinking what we think, believing what we believe, knowing what we know—not what someone tells us. Don’t give me someone who can give me her, give me his, experience! Give me someone who can give me MY experience, who can open me to the experience of my own existence!

What do you know because you know it, and not because someone told you? Whatever it is, that is where you are most alive, because it is your own sense of how things are, of what is real, and actual, and true, that is being activated there, and you are being pulled into the experience of your own life. In bringing people to life we help connect them with the experience of their own lives, with what it is to be who they are, where they are, when they are, how they are, why they are. We stand with people and their experience of life and enable them to experience their experience and respond appropriately to it.

This means helping them make their peace with their lives, to come to terms with the context and circumstances, nature and conditions of their life, to accept things as they are, and to begin the process of making life meaningful, enjoyable, and good. Our product is life, and we are successful to the extent that people are more alive after spending time with us. How do we know? How do we measure “liveliness”? We have to take their word for it. It’s entirely subjective. How do they feel about their lives? How has their life changed? What are they doing that they weren’t doing, or not doing that they were doing? How do they rate their own degree of “liveliness”?

Being alive means experiencing our experience, and it also means responding appropriately to our experience—it means living in the context and circumstances of our lives. What are we going to do? How are we going to do it? We cannot be alive without answering these questions. What is appropriate to the situation? What is needed? What is called for? What is next? What is the thing that needs to be done? Do that thing and do it properly, do it well, do it right and be done with it. And then, do the next thing in the same way. That’s all there is to it. That’s all that being alive asks of us. But, that is more than we can manage, it seems.

How do we know what to do? So what if we don’t know? Do what we think is appropriate to the situation. If we are wrong, we are wrong. Then, we do what is appropriate to THAT situation, to the situation that arises from our having been wrong. What’s the problem? We don’t have to be right. Who could ever hope to be right all the time? Even a majority of the time? That’s why we have forgiveness and grace. Just make a good faith effort to be alive in the moment of our living, to experience life as we are living it here, and now, and do what is appropriate to the situation. Nothing more can be asked of us than that.

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