Beyond Our Comfort Zones

June 7, 2015 – Rev. Jan Hryniewicz

Text: Psalm 30: 1 – 5 & Matthew 19: 16 – 22

Seeking a nifty alliteration for June …. for the monthly update….. rejecting jumpy, jazzy and jerky, I settled on JOLLY.   Jolly June has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it ?… and it started me thinking about the importance of being jolly. …smiley and not pouty!    Not necessarily in the Ho Ho Ho sense….at least not all the time! Being people who live with a joyful heart….smiling and laughing a whole lot!

Have you ever gotten the giggles at most inconvenient times, which has led to moments of embarrassment?   Something strikes you funny and you just cannot contain the laughter! It bubbles up in you and restraining it is actually painful!   Have you been there? Embarrassing… but healthy!

Isn’t there a wonderful feeling that comes upon you after a good, long belly laugh? Something deep within has been defused, lightened, healed , released…rather like a dam bursting.

Did you know that you can stimulate your heart and lungs, elevate your blood pressure, and temporarily improve breathing capacity by laughing? In terms of exercise, you can get the same benefits from laughing 100 times a day as you can from 10 minutes worth of rowing? (Why sweat when you can laugh?)

* Charles Darwin believed that one’s facial expression can actually influence one’s moods? (Studies in bio-feedback confirm Darwin’s belief. We smile so that we may feel good, not just because we already feel good. Want to feel better? Even on your gloomiest day, walk around with a silly grin on your face. Of course, people will wonder what you’ve been up to.)

* Laughing for 15 seconds adds two days to the life span?

SO…..wishing us all a jolly June…. a month of joy and contentment, led me to pursue the idea for my sermon message on this first Sunday in June. And as often happens, I joyfully discover that others are following the same train of thought.

First, a daily post from motivational guru , Brian Johnson, : “This week, laugh a lot. Look for the humor in things. Sing in the shower…..make a shampoo scultpture…..get over your seriousness and let your hair down! Don’t worry if you look foolish…the more foolish you are, the more enlightened you’ll feel”!!

Second: The Daily Good message on June 5th was written by mythologist and author Joseph John Campbell on “ How to Find Your Bliss.”

He wrote: “ Wherever you are, if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.”

How do we do that? I thought!

Discerning one’s bliss, Campbell argues, requires what he calls “sacred space” — a space for uninterrupted reflection and unrushed creative work.

[Sacred space] is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.

Much to think about….sacred space, creative incubation…..bringing forth our authentic self…. embracing our potential. I loved it!

Then, on Friday morning, as I sat to create the final sermon draft, this Buddhist prayer of the day emerged from a Belief Net post: May the lonely be comforted. May love abound and divisions between us cease to exist. May all beings of the earth feel safe and free of fear. May we each continue on the path towards enlightenment with gladness and diligence.

Beautiful prayer…..a lovely thought to begin each day all year…. a path of enlightenment, gladness, diligence. !

I quietly prayed the prayer and got to work…. with a spirit of gladness, thinking about those things that fill us with a sense of joy and well being, and those things that derail the joy and make us pout and whine!

As I was checking a favorite online newsletter, Brain Pickings, I found this article: The Crossroads of Should and Must: An Intelligent Illustrated Field Guide to Finding Your Bliss by Maria Popova

This article discussed the importance of moving beyond our comfort zones…abandoning the “shoulds” that control our lives and finding those things that are a “must” for our personal bliss and fulfillment. The truth of this article hit me….. and I realized that I suffer from the grumpies when I am buried under a stockpile of “shoulds”….. when I fail to consider what is absolutely necessary to my happiness and my spiritual well being. When I am afraid to venture into the realm of the unknown and chose to live each day on a treadmill, going nowhere. When my relationship with God is ho hum. I kept thinking about the challenge this article proposed….to move beyond my comfort zone….to find bliss…. joy…spiritual enlightenment!

That’s a stretch for many of us, isn’t it? We are not too crazy about pushing the boundaries of our comfort zones…… about venturing out on the ledge of the unknown.

I may have told you some years ago about a colleague of mine in Westfield, Massachusetts, a dynamic UCC pastor named Quentin Peacock….an apt name for a tall, handsome, stately man who either walked or rode his bike everywhere! He had a contagious, robust spirit that radiated energy and joy.

He had a theory that he tested on the confirmation students he taught in his church every year. His theory: that you come closest to an encounter with the divine spirit when you moved beyond your comfort zone, faced a terrible fear in your life…..and overcame it.   Each confirmation student had to identify a fear and then together with the class, would face that fear… it fear of heights, the dark, bugs, elevators, water, being alone, speaking in front of a group…whatever. He said that at the moment you have faced and conquered that fear, the feeling of exhilaration…… accomplishment…. is to experience the joy of the Spirit. Pure JOY! Freedom!!

When I was a mere 40 years old, applying for the job of youth Minister at the First Baptist Church in Beverly, Massachusetts, I was told that the youth minister had to lead the 2 week high school Allagash canoe trip every year. Was I up to that? was the question! Wanting the job…and believing there would be a guide, I said confidently… “ Of course I am!”   Even as I said it, my knees were shaking!   I have been afraid of water since a near drowning experience when I was a child. I got the job and loved it, except for those two weeks in June when I had to lead 25 or more kids down that wilderness waterway. I was terrified …and was certain to invite experienced adults to join me on the journey! It was definitely way beyond my comfort zone…..and yet, along with some of my scariest moments were some of the most beautiful, precious moments of my youth ministry that took place on those trips….alone in the wilderness for two weeks with those kids… phones….no modern conveniences of any kind.   The raw, natural beauty of the waterway, loons, moose, deer….all kinds of birds…..and bugs! We all got back to the essential things, shed the cosmetic trappings, stripped away the pretenses and came to know each other as we really are. Some of my most ardent prayers and sense of God’s presence came as I was drifting, close to shore( !!) in my canoe on calm mornings when the group was still asleep…or sitting by our nightly campfire sharing stories and songs. Daring to confront my fear, led to growth and yes, joy!

For some reason, and I am actually not certain why…..the story of the rich young ruler, found in all three synoptic gospels…..came to my mind.

Here was a man who was living a good life. He knew and tried to obey all the commandments of his religion.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke, give us a composite picture of him. Matthew describes him as young. Luke tells us that he was a ruler. Mark relates how much Jesus loved him.

All three agree that he came to Jesus with a heavy question: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” The Greek word translated here as “eternal life” really means joy, fulfillment, and peace with God. It is the most wanted commodity on earth, in the first or the twenty-first centuries. The rich young ruler had everything in the world except what he wanted most this sense of fulfillment …. this abundant life.. a deep relationship with God. The young man’s question was: “What must I do to live a Godly or God-pleasing life? How do I move beyond the “should’s of my life and find the joy?

Jesus gave him two answers. FIRST, HE DID SAY. KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS….and then He gave him a second answer that was even more important: He said (and allow me to paraphrase) IF YOU REALLY WANT THE GOOD LIFE, if you really want to be happy, to live a SPIRIT FILLED LIFE….GET RID OF THE DISTRACTIONS….ANYTHING THAT YOU LOVE MORE THAN GOD AND THEN FOLLOW ME ….embrace my lifestyle of servant hood and compassion.

OOPS, not so easy. According to the story, this man had many material possessions that he was very fond of and was not ready to give them up. This was a request that was way beyond his comfort zone! No way! Is there another answer I might like better, Jesus?!

Jesus was not saying that all persons should liquidate their material assets in order to be good disciples. Jesus had nothing against wealth. Money is morally neutral. It can do great good or terrible harm, depending on who is in control of it.

Jesus was really saying to the rich young ruler: “You are carrying a security blanket which you rely on more than God. Your priorities are mixed up! You need to move beyond your comfort zone, let go of that security blanket, ditch the distractions and discover other ways to use your gifts…. your resources.

Verse 22 is one of the saddest statements in all of Scripture: “When the young man heard this, he went away.”   Could not take face his fears….was unable or unwilling to let go of the life he knew.

This question confronts us: What are the things in our lives that we cannot release that may obstruct the joy…our relationship with God?  Jesus told his disciples that he had come to bring abundant Joy. I believe the joy he speaks of is the knowledge of God….. the joy of relationship with the Divine Spirit which will be an ever present source of strength and love.

This perhaps is the joy of the psalmist who wrote the very beautiful Psalm 30 that Caryn read a portion of this monrning….who scholars believe was David. He wrote after a dark time in his life when he had turned away from God. David felt wounded and broken-hearted until he called on God to restore his soul and enable him to dance and feel joy once again. He invited God back into his life and experienced healing ….. his burdens lifted. …. his life restored to wholeness.

The final two verses in that chapter are quoted often:

11 & 12: O God….You have turned my mourning into

dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and girded

me with gladness, that my soul may praise You

and not be silent. Oh Lord my God, I will give

thanks to you forever.

Last week, I spoke about the power of the Holy Spirit….. the indwelling Spirit of God which calls forth our gifts.   I mentioned that some mainline churches (maybe even us!) are fearful of the Holy Spirit, fearing it may incite some weird behavior among us… speaking in tongues or dancing in the aisles, or moving beyond our comfort zones!   Fr. Richard Rohr commented that the early Christian community was considered radical for encouraging alternative behavior to what was considered the norm…. rather than acquiring wealth, sharing possessions equally….rather than segregation…living together with different social classes and races. People were called forth from their traditional ruts to an attitude and lifestyle which encouraged them to move out of their comfort zone and embrace one another with an all inclusive love.

There is a bird in Europe called the chaf finch. It’s about the size and color of a robin. It has a beautiful song, and people keep these birds in their homes to hear them sing. But the chaf finch has a peculiar characteristic–it can forget how to sing. If it does not learn how to sing again, it becomes depressed and dies. There is only one way for it to relearn. The bird must be taken back into the woods where the wild birds sing.

You and I frequently forget how to sing and dance. The church forgets how to sing and dance… express and share the joy. Churches are too often full of pout pout fish!! We need to gather with others whose hearts still ring with God’s melody…. united together in community, we share the joy and our spirits are renewed and our spiritual energy recharged. That’s one of the perks of being part of a church community.

We come to the Lord’s Table today with a joyful spirit. Jesus offers us abundant joy… when we are able to embrace his lifestyle of love….to let go of our comfortable “should’s” and embrace the must’s.  Amen.