August 16, 2015 – Rev. Jan Hryniewicz
Text: Matthew 13: 1 -9 & 18 – 23
This past week, I had face to face conversations with two clergy friends of mine who are currently serving churches. After discussing a variety of topics, each one asked me what I was preaching about on Sunday. You have to be real careful how much you reveal….for none of us is above stealing ideas!! In fact, we thrive on it! I shared the poem that I shared with you on the back of the bulletin…and said that this poem was the inspirational nudge that started this week’s sermon reflection.
How many times in life
Would we rather have wings than arms?
To float, to soar, to fly is to be.
To have arms is only to do.
This poem was written by Sculptor, Stephen DeStaebler,
who says this about what inspired it:
I wrote a poem that kind of expresses this. I was a freshman in college, and I was standing at the window of my dorm. I’m looking down. I’m scared. I’ve got reports and readings to do, and I’m very ill at ease. So I’m standing and looking through the neo-Gothic tracery of my window on the third floor and looking down. I see all the students, all the traffic: students, bicycles, cars. Somehow I focus on the figure of a student walking briskly on one path. And, at right angles, on another path a boy is riding a bicycle. The two intersect in a perfect cross. And out of all this angst I was feeling, suddenly I was left with a great sense of tranquility. I was at peace. I can only make certain assumptions that the power of the cross does stem from this intersection of the vertical and the horizontal. It was one of the formative experiences.
I think what gave me peace of mind was the realization that you can exist on two planes, the plane of accomplishment and the plane of the spirit-where you need nothing but being to affirm being alive.
In 1994 Stephen created a clay sculptor entitled)( Yoke Winged Man. It’s also in the bulletin by the poem.
In the interview I read, Stephen said: Clay has this great potential of responding to whatever forces are imposed on it. Most sculpture dies on the vine, from my point of view. It kind of follows a formula that says clay should be this. My attitude is forget about what it ought to be and do what wants to come through you.
I love to play with clay, and playdo…..molding and shaping, creating form. I like the image of us as clay, pliant, shape-able responding to stimuli around us…. expanding, ever evolving…. attentive to the rhythms of the natural world and responsive to the influence of the Holy Spirit.
In her elegant book, A Natural History of the Senses , science historian and poet Diane Ackerman writes:
There is no way in which to understand the world without first detecting it through the radar-net of our senses… Our senses define the edge of consciousness, because we are born explorers and questors after the unknown.
Deep down, we know our devotion to reality is just a marriage of convenience, and we leave it to the seers, the shamans, the ascetics, the religious teachers, the artists among us to reach a higher state of awareness, from which they transcend our rigorous but routinely analyzing senses/ and become closer to the raw experience of nature that pours into the unconscious, the world of dreams, the source of myth and mystery.
I told you that August was going to be a month for me to celebrate the beauty and impact of the creative, artistic spirit that dwells in each of us….. no matter how pedestrian we may appear…..or think we are. The Divine Creator, with great wisdom, fashioned the imagination….and what an incredible blessing that is! To possess a spiritual imagination is a powerful resource for relationship with God and with each other….and we all possess it, though we may not develop and use it.
Think of times when you may have had an extraordinary moment of insight, while walking on the beach, a casual conversation with someone that sparked a an answer to a question you’d been pondering, a meaningful dream that awakened an idea…. an epiphany while reading, listening to music or watching the sun set. It is in these moments when we stop racing around DOING ….and take time to be still and receptive……that we may have a sense of the Divine Spirit guiding us to an inner place where a creative seed has been planted by our creator.
The exercise we did together on July 26th …..was a productive one, identifying what is important to us as a church community…. our belief and theology, our practice and mission, our compassionate care. Many responses really touched me, one particularly. “A Both/And mentality and not an Either/Or.” That cut to the essence of what I feel is critical to me as a pastor and who we are as a church. I pray that we will always be open to the beautiful, profound influences that can soften and shape us from a rich variety of wisdom sources.
Popular and prolific author and wisdom scholar Richard Rohr is well known and respected for his affirmation for non-dualistic thinking which he states is the highest level of consciousness. Divine union, not private perfection, is the goal of all religion. He writes:
Reality is “not totally one,” but it is “not totally two,” either! All things, events, persons, and institutions, if looked at contemplatively (non-egocentrically), reveal contradictions, create dilemmas, and have their own shadow side. Wisdom knows how to hold and to grow from this creative tension; ego does not.
In his profoundly beautiful little book Yeshua of Nazareth, Richard Chilson, a Paulist priest, pastor and author shares some insight that sparked a responsive chord in me about the Parable of the Sower:
“No preparation of the land. No digging out rocks, erecting scarecrows to frighten off the birds, no tearing up of weeds. Just scattering seeds. An extravagant farmer.
Feel the freedom and letting go of the fling. No cautious conservative here. Let the seed carelessly rain where it will. Where have we found it strewn? Nature? At the seashore before the infinite. In the majesty of mountains. the brisk air of fall as leaves blush. The resurrection of Spring. In human relationships. Where have we found the word…. the seed of love cast upon our world?
Don’t fence Yeshua in. This parable contains the universal. His fellow Jews might be upset…..those that believed that God’s word was given to them exclusively. Today some Christians would be scandalized to think that the seed, the Word of God was not solely in their hands. If the seed is the Word of God, it is scattered to the four corners of the earth, suffers all the various mishaps that may occur and still goes on…thirty, sixty, a hundred fold.
It blossoms forth in Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. It is love.
The question Jesus asks us is what are we going to do the multitude of seeds the Extravagant Farmer sends our way every day? How can we cultivate the soil of our soul to encourage the God seeds that will give us wings to fly as Jesus did.
Author, scholar Cynthia Borgeault who wrote The Wisdom Jesus quotes Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi saying “ Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” We fall short of the mark if we just admire Jesus without acquiring his consciousness. She writes: “ To really put on the mind of Christ, we have to find our way to the same inner alignment that enabled Jesus to do what he did.
And how do we do that!?
The Parable of the Sower has been a sermon topic for most every preacher through the ages, because it conjures up familiar images in our minds, and imparts a very important spiritual truth that Jesus wanted to make clear to his disciples. Many indicate Jesus having a sense of humor, presenting absurd exaggerations to make a point., Ie, take the log out of your eye in order to see the speck in your brother or sister’s eye.
In some instances, as with any humor, the stories people already knew would have been a key part of the “joke”, and so we have little hope of getting it. ( You had to have been there humor) And I suspect some of Jesus’ stories sounded to his contemporaries a bit like the following: “Whoever hears my words and does not put them into practice is like the little pig who built his house of straw. The big bad wolf came along and huffed and puffed, and that little pig met an unfortunate end. But whoever hears my words and puts them into practice is like the little pig who built his house of bricks…”
I was reading one commentary on the Parable of the Sower which was entitled “ It’s not about YOU, it’s about God”! From this perspective, God is the central figure… the Divine Distributor of good seeds meant to be nourished and to blossom for the benefit of creation. Whether the soil of our soul has been prepared, fertilized and cultivated or not, the seeds will come. Even if our soul is full of weeds, undernourished and full of rocks…..the seeds will come from a Divine Farmer who believes in the power of the seed and in the resilient spirit of creation.
My sermon is entitled Wings and Arms, referring to the poem that started this whole reflection a few days ago. Wings enable us to BE and arms to DO. I don’t want the either or. I want the both and. After we take the inner journey to experience who we can BE as children of God….after we cultivate the God seeds planted within our souls….we will have to blossom….we will be compelled to use our arms and all our resources to do the work of the Kingdom that Jesus spoke about so ofter. To cultivate the love seeds and see that they flourish, even in the dark places….perhaps especially in the dark places.
Sculptor Stephen DeStaebler said: Artists don’t get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of not working. We will be driven, energized to DO because it will be too painful not to do the work of peace and justice.
One of the greatest spiritual teachers of the 20th Century, Abraham Joshua Heschel…theologian, poet, mystic and historian will have the final word today: Religion is what men and women do with the presence of God. It is an inherent weakness of religion not to take offense at the segregation of God, to forget that the true sanctuary has no walls. Religion is for God’s sake. The human side of religion, its creeds, rituals and instructions, is a way rather than the goal. The goal is “to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.” When the human side of religion becomes the goal injustice becomes the way.
I believe that we need both wings and arms…to BE in our union with God and to DO the work of God’s kingdom. I strongly believe that those are the seeds that Jesus planted in the minds of his disciples ….then and now that will enable us to fly and love to bloom. There is no doubt in my mind, that God will raise us up on Eagles wings and enable a glorious flight! Amen.
About a century or two ago, the Pope decided that all the Jews had to leave Rome. Naturally there was a big uproar from the Jewish community. So the Pope made a deal. He would have a religious debate with a member of the Jewish community. If the Jew won, the Jews could stay. If the Pope won, the Jews would leave.
The Jews realized that they had no choice. They looked around for a champion who could defend their faith, but no one wanted to volunteer. It was too risky. So they finally picked an old man named Moishe who spent his life sweeping up after people to represent them. Being old and poor, he had less to lose, so he agreed. He asked only for one addition to the debate. Not being used to saying very much as he cleaned up around the settlement, he asked that neither side be allowed to talk. The Pope agreed.
The day of the great debate came. Moishe and the Pope sat opposite each other for a full minute before the Pope raised his hand and showed three fingers. Moishe looked back at him and raised one finger. The Pope waved his fingers in a circle around his head. Moishe pointed to the ground where he sat. The Pope pulled out a wafer and a glass of wine. Moishe pulled out an apple. The Pope stood up and said, “I give up. This man is too good. The Jews can stay.”
An hour later, the cardinals were all around the Pope asking him what happened. The Pope said, “First I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity. He responded by holding up one finger, to remind me that there was still one God common to both our religions. Then I waved my finger around me to show him, that God was all around us. He responded by pointing to the ground, showing that God was also right here with us. I pulled out the wine and the wafer to show that God absolves us from our sins. He pulled out an apple to remind me of original sin. He had an answer for everything. What could I do?”
Meanwhile, the Jewish community had crowded around Moishe; amazed that this old, almost feeble-minded man had done what all their scholars had insisted was impossible! “What happened?” they asked.
“Well,” said Moishe, “first he said to me that the Jews had three days to get out of here. I told him that not one of us was leaving. Then he told me that this whole city would be cleared of Jews. I let him know that we were staying right here.”
“And then?” asked a woman.
“I don’t know,” said Moishe. “He took out his lunch and I took out mine.”
Let me conclude with a modern equivalent of what Jesus apparently said at the end of many of his teaching sessions: If you’ve got ears, use ‘em!