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Sunday, October 07, 2012

Becoming Wholehearted--A Sermon

We celebrated communion as part of World Communion Sunday. We had special guest musicians, kRi and Hettie. They sang three songs that fit right in with the service, including You Matter to Me that I found on youtube. 

Becoming Wholehearted
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

October 7, 2012
World Communion Sunday

Mark 12:28-34
And one of the scholars approached when he heard them arguing, and because he saw how skillfully Jesus answered them, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

Jesus answered,
“The first is, ‘Hear, Israel, the Lord your God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength.’

The second is this:
‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

There is no other commandment greater than these.”

I order worship along the four paths of Creation Spirituality. A path for each season of the year. These paths have been described by theologian Matthew Fox in his book, Original Blessing. Fox was formerly a Roman Catholic priest, but because of his views he was silenced by the Vatican. He is now an Episcopal priest. Fox challenged some traditional doctrines such as original sin. He suggested that we might instead embrace original blessing.

He also wrote about the spiritual journey in a different way. Rather than Fall, Repentance, Reunion, which is the common three-fold path of traditional Christianity, he saw the experience of life as more nuanced and complex. He articulated a stream that was present but underground throughout the Christian tradition. Known as Creation Spirituality, this way of seeing the universe, God and ourselves affirms creation not as fallen but as wonderful and awe-filled.

The spiritual path of embracing creation in its wild beauty is the via positiva, or way of awe and wonder. Fox is a Roman Catholic so he knows his Latin. Via means path. The way of "wowing" at this amazing and expanding universe is a path to the Sacred.

Three other paths are the via creativa, the way of creativity. We are creative beings, making all kinds of things, wonderful things, and destructive things. We are generative and creative. All of us. That is a path to the Sacred.

Another path is the via transformativa, or the way compassion and justice-making. This is the way of channeling our creativity toward the good, toward wholeness, toward peace and well-being for all creation. This is the path of the activist and the prophet within us. This also is a path to the Sacred.

The path that we are exploring during the season of Autumn as the leaves change color and fall, is the via negativa, the way of letting go and letting be.

These four paths are ways of dancing with the Sacred. We move in and out of them. Not a ladder climbed, but a spiral danced, says Matthew Fox.

This via negativa is trickier than the others in some respects. It is sometimes equated with sin and suffering. But that isn’t quite correct.

The via negativa or the spiritual path of letting go and letting be is a spiritual path.

I emphasize path.

It is a way to the Sacred.

The via negativa isn’t to be equated with suffering, tragedy, or moral evil.

It is possible, however, that those experiences can present a path through which we receive grace, touch the holy, discover the sacred, and find our heart.

It is a path in which the traveler refuses to be defined by experiences or events but finds the heart to face, reflect and walk through these experiences to an unknown future.

The word heart comes from the Latin cor from which we get the word courage. If we are lucky in life we will meet courageous, big-hearted, whole-hearted people. If we are blessed in life we will be inspired by them to find our own heart.

If you want to know where to find these people,
I would say look to your left and right.
Look in front of you and look behind you.
Go ahead.
Take a moment right now and look around
and see big-hearted people in your midst.

From my vantage point I see the faces of wholehearted people who have found the heart to move through a difficult experience and grow from it.

That courageous big-hearted, wholehearted person is your neighbor.

That courageous big-hearted, wholehearted person is you.

Somewhere along life’s path,
you found the courage whether or not you called it that
and you found the heart,
to move through a challenging experience.
It may have been with fits and starts.
It may have been with pain and bleeding.
You may have the scars to show for it.
On that path,
you found within yourself a previously untapped skill,
gift, virtue, or strength of character.

Somewhere along life’s path, you had to let go of some image of yourself. A piece of armor or protection was removed and you saw yourself vulnerable and exposed. While painful and frightening that you is of great worth and deserves great love.

That is the sacred.
That is the holy.
That is the pearl as in Jesus’ parable:
The kingdom of heaven is like some merchant looking for beautiful pearls. When he finds one priceless pearl, he sells everything he owns and buys it. Matthew 13:45-46

“Selling everything he owns” is a metaphor for letting go.

The pearl is you.
It is your sacred self.

The via negativa is letting go of what we are supposed to be so we can embrace who we are.

"Let Go of Who You Think You are Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are" is the subtitle of a book by Dr. Brene Brown. The title is The Gifts of Imperfection. She writes about wholehearted living:
Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It is going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging. P. 1

The ancient wisdom for that is found in the words of Jesus when he was asked,
“What is the greatest commandment?”
What is all about, Jesus?
What is the main thing we should know to make it through this life?
What is the answer?

Jesus says:
“The first is, ‘Hear, Israel, the Lord your God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength.’

The second is this:
‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

Now we can fight with each other over the meaning of “God” and who worships the right “God” or which religion worships “God” right. I don’t think Jesus was worried about that. You can define God how you need to do it.

I say with serious jest that we are a BYOG church.  Bring Your Own God.

According to the via negativa you will be wrong. As are we all.
The via negativa in regards to God is the path of saying everything we can about God and then saying,
"God is not that."

A healthy via negativa in regards to God
  • allows you distance when others try to force their idea of God onto you and 
  • it keeps you from clinging to your favorite image of God as if that image is the real thing. 
The via negativa keeps us humble, vulnerable, and open to new possibility. 

So we love this God whom we cannot name
with our whole heart, says Jesus,
and with our soul,
and our mind
and our strength.

Love life, love the universe, love all.
Then Jesus says, "Love your neighbor as yourself."
It is all together.
Neighbor, self, God.

Do you want to know how to love God?
Love your neighbor.
How do you do that?
Love yourself.

Who is yourself?
That is where the via negativa comes in.
All those images we think we are.
Those images we have inherited from culture, parents, religion.
All of those ideals.
All of those expectations.
All of those “shoulds” and “supposed tos.”
Not that.

Something deeper.
Something more beautiful.
Something more tender.
Something more holy.
A pearl.
A treasure.
That is you.

That is also your neighbor.
When we can discover the fleeting grace to connect at that level,
we experience what Jesus called the kingdom of God.

Communion is a symbol for that.

On World Communion Sunday,
we dare to hope,
we dare to live the reality that such a kingdom is possible.

Amen.


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