Sunday, September 4, 2016

Sermon: September 4

Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, as you will and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus was not a capitalist. In fact, Jesus didn’t really own anything. He relied on friends, the hospitality of strangers. He said he had no place to lay his head, no home of his own. What he did call us to do was to follow him and seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness.

I suspect he would find our craving for things, our lust for power, privilege, success, & wealth to be idolatrous. That we too often seek first our wants and desires before anything else, often forgetting the needs of others.

“None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

These are not easy words. All Possessions? But we need our possessions, or we think we do. The words of farmer and author who has wrestled with the words of Jesus, Kentuckian Wendell Berry, is useful, he writes,

“My reading of the Gospels, comforting and clarifying and instructive as they frequently are, deeply moving or exhilarating as they frequently are, has caused me to understand them also as a burden, sometimes raising the hardest of personal questions, sometimes bewildering, sometimes contradictory, sometimes apparently outrageous in their demands.”

And today’s words from Jesus are indeed outrageous in their demands, asking of us a seemingly impossible task, asking of each of us, the hardest of personal questions about our lives & how we follow him.

Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”

So give up all your possessions. Hate your family and friends. Yikes! Is this what we signed up for? But Jesus didn’t hate, he offered love and compassion. He engaged people, he didn’t hide, so what is Jesus saying to us?

As we think about Jesus’ words, his outrageous demand about discipleship says something profoundly more about discipleship than really hating others. Jesus wants us to see what may be holding us back from our journey with him. He even tells two parables that talk about planning for that journey (building tower, king & army).

It may be that others, or ourselves, or our possessions that get in the way of following him. (In his society, family obligations certainly could.) What Jesus is really asking of us, for those who follow him, is to give up everything, both people and things that comes between us and God.

But, as Abbott Andrew puts it, “if parents, children, spouses, friends, or fellow members of a community help us draw closer to God, we don’t have to give them up. The same would go for material possessions. Even Benedictine monks have to use things in this world in order to live so we can’t give up having anything at all. The trick is to use things in such a way that the work and recreation we do with them draws us closer to God rather than farther away. We could phrase this approach by saying that the problem is not possessions but possessiveness.” (from his blog)

We certainly can think of extreme cases, like hoarders who can’t let anything go, and things pile up in their homes, or abusive relationships, where being possessive of the other is often violent either physically or emotionally or both.

But we don’t have to go to the extremes for our lives to reflect such possessiveness in smaller ways. Things we hold on to. Ways we act that shows us grasping on to things and people in unhealthy ways.

But Jesus would rather we let it go, to hold with open hands rather than clenched fists, for love to be our guiding principal in our lives as his disciples and not possessiveness of people, things or even our ideologies.

For me one of the most beautiful and striking practices of letting go, of detachment, and working against possessiveness, & seeking out the divine, is the Tibetan Buddhist practice of creating the intricate colored sand mandalas that a team of monks work on. A reflection of this practice, from Sister Joan Chittister:

“The creation of a mandala, the representation of the world in divine form, perfectly balanced, precisely designed, is meant to re-consecrate the earth and heal its inhabitants. But it is more than a picture. Sand painting is an intricate process. It requires millions of pieces of sand to make a mandala five by five feet square. It requires a team of monks working anywhere from days to weeks, depending on the size of the mandala, to create this floor plan of the sacred mansion that is life. It requires the interplay of vivid colors and ancient symbols.

The monks bend over the piece for hours on end, dropping one grain of sand after another into intricate symbolic patterns. The purpose is to call the community to meditation and awareness of something larger than their own small world. But the process itself, as laborious, as precise, as artistic, as stunningly powerful as it is, is not really the message.

When the mandala is finally finished, however long it takes for the monks to deal in this divine geometry of the heavens, they pray over it — and then they destroy it. They sweep it up, every last grain of sand and give handfuls of it away to those who participate in the closing ceremony as a final memory of sublime possibility. Then they throw the rest of the sand into the nearest living stream to be swept into the ocean to bless the whole world. And that’s it. It’s gone. In an instant, after all that artistry, all that work, it’s over.

They destroy it. Why? Because the underlying message of the mandala ceremony is that nothing is permanent. Nothing. All things are in flux, it says, beautiful but ephemeral, moving but temporary, a plateau but not a summit. All things are called to balance and enlightenment and the fulfillment of the Divine image in them, yes, but in flux. Always in flux.

There is nothing in the meaning of the mandala that denies or undermines the Christian story or its message, of course. But there is something shockingly profound to hear it coming from a wisdom written on the other side of the world. It gives a new note to an ancient truth. It strengthens the ties of humanity a world away.” (Huffington Post)

We need to, like those Buddhist Monks do, let go of things, sweep them away especially those things that get in our way of seeking the divine, of knowing our creator and the ground of our being. Possessiveness is not our calling as Christians. But to love God, first and second, to love our neighbors as ourselves.

“Jesus did not act in the way others expected him to act. He did not say the things they expected to hear. Shall we, then, his followers, live as the world lives, act as the world acts, strive for the things the world tells us to strive for, at the expense of our poorer brothers and sisters here and throughout the world?” ~ Br. David Vryhof, Society of St. John the Evangelist

May we let go of our possessiveness and seek out our God, in order to enable the seeds of God's love to grow and come to fruition in our time and in our lives. Amen.

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