In the Fullness of Time
SLIDE 3: TIMING
The time is fulfilled. How do we know when it is time? How did Jesus know? A farmer knows when the grain is ripe. We watch the blush appear on the peach to know, when it is ready for eating. We gently squeeze the tomato, thump the melon and smell the cantaloupe to try to discern if they are ready to cut and serve. A good General waits until just the right moment to commit his reserves. A long distance runner paces herself, and then pours it on in the back stretch. Some politicians have a sixth sense for knowing when the time is right to make their move. But many endeavors are ruined by moving too quickly. And then other projects fail because our nerve fails and we wait too long. So how do we know when the spiritual time has arrived? How do we know when it is God’s time?
SLIDE 4: GOD’S ETERNITY
First let us admit that God’s eternity is different from our time. We are finite creatures bound by the clocks and calendars of our lives. We measure things in seconds, minutes, hours, days and years, but creation spans billions upon billions of years measured in epochs and eons beyond our imaginations. There’s the old story about the person who prayed and asked God for a million dollars reckoning that to God that would only be chump change. God responded. “You are correct a million dollars to me is like a penny, just as a century for you is like a second to me.”
“So,” said the person, “would you give me a million dollars?”
“Sure,” God replied, “just give me a minute to go and get it.”
SLIDE 5: GALATIC AND STELLAR EVOLUTION
Creation both in space and time dwarf our imaginations. Even the time represented by the Grand Canyon is merely the blink of an eye in the long history of the Universe. And even though we are intensely interested in the story of the evolution of life on our own planet there is a much longer narrative of galactic and stellar evolution that reaches back to the very beginning. Although now the whole notion of the Big Bang has even been called into question by a new theory using what the authors call “quantum correction terms,” to claim that perhaps there was no beginning to the Universe. Now I am not qualified to comment on these calculations, I only got a D in college calculus, and that only because the professor felt sorry for me. Even if the Universe is “only” 14 billion years old, that is still far vaster than our imaginations.
SLIDE 6: HISTORY OF LIFE ON EARTH
In the relatively short history of life on earth, we can see how important the fullness of time is. For about the first billion years of earth’s history life was impossible. Conditions were too volatile to support even the most primitive life. But in time as liquid water condensed and formed shallow seas, small one celled organisms began to form and multiply. For a billion years, life consisted of one celled creatures. And there was almost a massive die off, when some of those one celled critters learned to use photosynthesis and poisoned the atmosphere with oxygen. But life found a way, and cells adapted through mitochondria to process the oxygen as part of a food supply. The introduction of oxygen into the atmosphere did not occur until about 2 billion years into the history of the earth. In other words for the first 2 billion years our planet was incapable of supporting more complex life. Talk about the fullness of time!
SLIDE 7: MULTICELLULAR LIFE
Not until a billion years ago did multi-cellular life appear on our planet. Adaptation and change were slow. Not until about half a billion years ago did the first really recognizable plants and animals emerge, jelly fish, trilobites, tube worms. And only about 50 million years later did plants and animals begin to populate the land.
SLIDE 8: REPTILES
Reptiles did not appear until about 350 million years ago. In the development of our planet, animals as complex as reptiles have only been around for about 8% of the history of the earth. Again talk about the fullness of time.
SLIDE 9: FIRST MAMMALS
The first mammals, warm blooded creatures like us did not appear until 220 million years ago about the same time as the dinosaurs, who dominated the planet until the great extinction about 65 million years ago that opened up many evolutionary niches for warm blooded furry creatures.
SLIDE 10: FLOWERS AND GRASS
We should also note not only were animals evolving but one of the important adaptions in the plant world occurred about 130 million years ago, when flowers and grasses began to cover the earth. Can you imagine our world without flowers or grass? And yet those plants have only been around for less than 3% of the history of the earth. Only in the fullness of time did our world assume a form we can even recognize.
The point is that within creation itself the process of evolution there is a sense of timeliness. Some things cannot happen until other conditions are fulfilled — in the fullness of time.
SLIDE 11: PATIENCE
So what might we learn from creation and Jesus’ sense of timing? First, Jesus was patient in a way similar to the process of evolution. How many billions of years were required before the earth was home for more than one celled organisms? Jesus was at least 30 years of age before he began his public ministry. He waited for the ministry of John the Baptist to take off before he ventured out of Nazareth. He did not begin his own ministry until John had been arrested. He didn’t put the cart before the horse or jump the gun. Jesus demonstrated the kind of patience required of us, if we want to try to make a difference in our world.
SLIDE 12: CRITICAL MASS
No matter how much we want something to happen, until the time is right, until a critical mass of support has been achieved, our efforts will fall short of our goal. The thirteenth amendment to abolish slavery required two tries in the House of Representatives before it achieved the necessary two thirds majority for passage as a constitutional amendment. And even after the passage of the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments guaranteeing “civil rights,” we would wait almost another one-hundred years for the enforcement of those “civil rights” guaranteed by the constitution. We need patience and the example of the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments to the constitution also illustrate the need for persistence.
SLIDE 13: PERSISTENCE
Jesus did not give up even though it would cost him his life. Martin Luther King did not give up right up until an assassin’s bullet cut him down. In the church we need to be persistent in sharing the gospel and United Church’s special message that, “no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” Persistence and repetition establish identity or branding. The average person has to be exposed to a product or slogan at least eight or nine times before they begin to remember the name of the product. According to this model persistence through repetition is essential for the message to be heard and eventually understood.
SLIDE 14: PRAYER
We can also learn from Jesus the importance of prayer in discerning the movement of events and choosing the right time to act. Before Jesus turned his head toward Jerusalem he took his disciples to Caesarea Philippi one of the most beautiful areas in Israel. Here was forest and streams and waterfalls, beautiful to behold – a place to connect with God’s natural world. We know from the Gospel of Luke while at Caesarea Philippi Jesus devoted himself to prayer and taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer.
Then only little more than a week after his visit to Caesarea Philippi, Jesus retreated to a mountain top again for prayer and in the vision of light that accompanied the transfiguration Jesus discerned that the time for the journey to Jerusalem had come.
SLIDE 15: NON-ANXIOUS PRESENCE
The fourth lesson we can learn from Jesus about timing is to become a non-anxious presence. Jesus was not in a hurry. He embodied the question what would you do if you were not afraid? He could be patient, because he sought to align himself with God’s will – “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” He wasn’t centered on himself or making things turn out the way he wanted them. He was content with prayerful patience, offering everything up to God including his own life. It is sort of like the poem “If,” by Rudyard Kipling.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all people doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too. . . .
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a non-anxious presence, my child.
SLIDE 16: UNIVERSE IS AWESOME WE ARE INSIGNIFICANT
Perhaps part of knowing when the time is fulfilled is to realize how awesome is God and the creation and how insignificant is our place in the universe. We are the result of a process of evolution that has been unfolding for 14 billion years, and we are just a planet that circles a medium sized star in one of billions of galaxies. We are exceedingly, insignificant and humble, yet God loves us. As Jesus said not a sparrow falls to the earth without God’s notice, and even the hairs of our heads are all numbered in God’s infinite care for the creation.
SLIDE 17: CENTERED IN GOD’S LOVE
So, love God, be patient, be persistent, pray, center yourself in God’s love and become a non-anxious presence reflecting the love and beauty of God’s creation.
SLIDE 3: A MIRACULOUS VISION OF LIGHT
Today is the feast of the Transfiguration, the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Today we remember that just before Jesus set his face to Jerusalem, he climbed a mountain with three of his disciples, where they experienced a miraculous vision of light. The transfiguration is often described as a mountain top experience, a dazzling revelation. But today the lectionary bids us pay attention to what happened, when Jesus came down from the mountain top.
SLIDE 4: COMING BACK TO CHAOS, CONFUSION, SUFFERING
Like coming home from vacation or returning to our everyday routine after an awesome spiritual experience what did Jesus find: chaos, confusion and suffering. When he went up the mountain Jesus left some second string disciples in charge of the camp site. In the meantime a distraught father showed up with his epileptic boy looking for Jesus and healing for his child. Who knows how far they had traveled in search of the Rabbi, who wasn’t there. Then the disciples offered to fix the boy, and no sooner had they said a prayer and performed an exorcism than the child suffered a seizure.
SLIDE 5: IF YOU CAN DO ANYTHING, HELP US
To make matters worse there were scribes who fancied themselves religious experts and healers who were arguing with the second string disciples about how they had botched the exorcism. (You didn’t tie a red thread around his pinky finger! You didn’t repeat the Shema three times!) The poor father was at his wits end. And then Jesus showed up. Jesus asked one of his disciples, “What are you discussing with these scribes?” Recognizing Jesus the epileptic boy’s father broke in to beg for help, “If you can do anything have pity on us and help us!”
SLIDE 6: ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE TO HIM WHO BELIEVES
This is one of those moments in the gospel, when I wish we had a recording, so we could hear the inflection in Jesus’ response. Did he say, “If you can?” Or did he say, “If you can?” Is the question about Jesus’ power, or the father’s faith? “All things are possible to him who believes.”
SLIDE 7: I BELIEVE, BUT HELP MY UNBELIEF
Not only was the crowd amazed, but his disciples were dumbfounded. “Why couldn’t we cast out the unclean spirit?”
SLIDE 8: DO ANY OF US SPEND ADEQUATE TIME IN PRAYER?
And Jesus gave them the enigmatic answer: “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” And what did that mean? So what were the disciples doing in their attempts at exorcism? We can only guess, but perhaps their attempts to exercise authority over the spirits were not fully grounded spiritually. Do any of us spend adequate time in prayer?
SLIDE 9: PRAYER AND THE WORK OF COMPASSION
Jesus alternated between the life of dedicated prayer and deep immersion in the messy world of human need. Sometimes I crave the quiet and rest of meditation and prayer. I fanaticize about a month long spiritual retreat — take a sabbatical and become more spiritually centered. But we cannot camp out on the mountain top of spiritual devotion. We must descend into the world, where there is work to do – the work of compassion.
SLIDE 10: JESUS DIDN’T DO IT ALL HIMSELF
Part of the genius of Jesus was that he didn’t do it all himself. He invited people to follow him. He trained them. He prayed for them. He taught them to pray. He mentored them into leadership. He invited people to join him in becoming the Commonwealth of God. He created a community of compassion welcoming everyone saints and sinners, rich and poor, in group and outcastes, to come to God’s Sharing Table, where acceptance, love and healing were shared.
SLIDE 11: WE ARE INVITED TO BECOME THE COMMUNITY OF COMPASSION
The work of Jesus is not finished. He still invites us to become part of the community of compassion. Everyone is welcome. Jesus prays for us and encourages us to pray with and for each other together seeking the healing power of God in our midst.
At this point I would like to cite our Moderator’s most recent letter to the congregation. Bill Tucker really does work hard on these messages. He ponders them seeking insight into how can our community of faith thrive. When he writes something we are not required to agree with him, after all this is United Church, but we really should pay attention.
SLIDE 12: CHURCHES ARE TYPICALLY EXPERIENCING SLOW DECLINE
For some reason I have been doing a lot of reading about church membership lately. I have learned that our recent experience is completely typical. Churches are typically experiencing a slow decline. On the other hand, some are thriving. I am sure that our church is unique and quite special.
On the other hand, we live in the same world as all of those shrinking churches. Money is tight everywhere. Jobs can be hard to come by. People everywhere lead increasingly complex and incredibly busy lives. If we are to thrive when others are shrinking, we have to be different. So what makes UCH special?
SLIDE 13: WHAT MAKES UCH SPECIAL?
My own faith journey is boring. (I don’t think so.) My family began attending UCH when we moved here because we were UCC and this was the only game in town. (Not only did Bill grow up United Church of Christ, he had an Uncle, George Hirst, who was a UCC minister and the coordinator of migrant ministries for the Illinois Conference of the United Church of Christ.) We soon knew we had made the right choice because of the incredible support provided to our then young family. But that story could have been true of any church. UCH is special because it provides that kind of welcome and generous hospitality to everyone — not just people who transfer to another congregation in the same denomination. I have heard appalling stories of people finding a home here after being rejected elsewhere. That makes us special.
SLIDE 14: WE DISAGREE BUT MAINTAIN TRUST AND RESPECT
That much diversity is guaranteed to create some amount of conflict. Perhaps if we were all the same, maybe we would get along, or, maybe not. Here we seem to be able to disagree but maintain trust and respect. That makes us special.
SLIDE 15: SEEKING TO BECOME THE COMMONWEALTH OF GOD
Bill is describing a congregation seeking to become the Commonwealth of God envisioned by Jesus — a compassionate community. We welcome everyone. Is it easy? No! As Bill wrote, “That much diversity is guaranteed to create some amount of conflict. . . . Here we seem to be able to disagree but maintain trust and respect. That makes us special.”
SLIDE 16: EARLY CHURCH WAS DIVERSE AND EXPERIENCED CONFLICT
Sometimes we are deceived into thinking that in the early church everyone got along, everyone was in agreement, we were one in the spirit and one in the Lord, and it was one big love fest all the time. A closer reading of the Book of Acts and the Letters of Paul suggest otherwise. First century Judaism was incredibly diverse. There were Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots, Herodians, and Essenes, and each of these groups had multiple sub-groups. There were the Jews who lived in Israel, but then there were the Hebrews of the Diaspora who outnumbered the population of the homeland by at least five to one. And each group had their own peculiar way of interpreting the faith.
The early church had attracted Jews from many different groups and they didn’t always get along. And then the gospel began to spread to the gentiles and the church had to try to incorporate a multitude of the ethnic groups that made up the Roman Empire. And they didn’t always get along. Sometimes they had really nasty fights.
SLIDE 17: LIFE AT UNITED CHURCH IS ALWAYS EXCITING
Our diversity is a challenge — although in comparison to the early church we all do speak the same language. And our diversity makes our call to become a compassionate community all the more meaningful. If we all agreed about everything, if we were all the same, we would be boring. As one member of our congregation said, “This ain’t no white bread church. We aren’t vanilla.” Life at the United Church of Huntsville is not boring!! Why just this week on Monday evening we were on the cusp of making history as we celebrated a marriage in defiance of soon to be twice removed Supreme Court justice Roy Moore. Oh my, was that political? Well as we say we don’t all have to agree all the time. Life is always exciting at United Church.
SLIDE 18: UNITED CHURCH CAN FLY!
We are called to be the compassionate community following the way of Jesus. We pray with and for each other so that God might equip us to be the people of God in the world. And that is why two weeks from now we are going to have a party after church. We are going to celebrate this community of faith, because we believe United Church can fly!
Source of Strength
SLIDE 3: SOUGHT OUT A CAVE
Extraordinary and miraculous things happened, when Jesus preached and taught. People reached out to him for healing and acceptance. He gathered together people, unlikely dinner guests, to eat together crossing social boundaries and religious taboos. In our scripture after an exciting morning at the Synagogue Jesus walked to Peter’s House, where he healed Peter’s mother-in-law, and at sundown the close of the Sabbath the town’s people gathered at the door of Peter’s House bringing their sick friends and loved ones with them. So after an evening, and perhaps some of the night, healing the sick ones brought to him, Jesus walked into the dark up the slope of what today we call the Mount of Beatitudes and sought out a cavern, a cave, where he could be alone, rest and pray.
SLIDE 4: ALONE TIME
What was the source of Jesus’ strength, the secret of the miracles that seemed to sprout around him? Jesus was deeply engaged with people, and he also needed lots of alone time for rest and prayer. Again and again we read in the gospel that Jesus withdrew by himself to pray, often all night. We should also pay attention to Bargil Pixner’s reference to a cavern on the Mount of Beatitudes in his important book, With Jesus Through Galilee: According to the Fifth Gospel. Recently scholars and archaeologists have discovered and restored a small cavern near the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus may have retreated for prayer. Pixner believes that understanding the geography of Holy Land is like having a “Fifth Gospel” we can use to understand our written scriptures.
SLIDE 5: DESERTED PLACES
If we visit Capernaum, we can see that the village lay at the bottom of the Eastern slope of the Mount of Beatitudes. The Bible sometimes uses the word “desert” to describe areas around the Mt. of Beatitudes and between the villages of Capernaum and Bethsaida. That term should more accurately be translated deserted, because much of the Galilee around Capernaum was lush and green even forested. Jesus went into these deserted areas to be close to nature and seek solitude for prayer and meditation.
SLIDE 6: DARKNESS, QUIET, SOLITUDE
Bargil Pixner claims that the cavern on the Mt. of Beatitudes was one of Jesus’ favorite retreats for prayer. Barbara Brown Taylor points out in her book Learning to Walk in the Dark, several important spiritual geniuses spent considerable time in caves: the Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, St. Patrick, St. Francis all spent long periods of time in caves. What did they find there? Darkness, quiet, solitude a time and place free of distraction, a place of self-emptying.
SLIDE 7: ST. JOHN OF THE CROSS
Another spiritual genius St. John of the Cross drew strength and insight from his imprisonment in a dark cave like prison. He was responsible for coining the term the “dark night of the soul,” and he may give us some insight into the source of Jesus’ spiritual energy.
SLIDE 8: NADA
For John of the Cross, the dark night is a love story, full of the painful joy of seeking the most elusive lover of all. John is no help at all to anyone seeking a better grip on God. One of the central functions of the dark night, he says, is to convince those who grasp after things that God cannot be grasped. In John’s native Spanish, his word for God is “nada.” God is no-thing. God is not a thing. And since God is not a thing, God cannot be held on to. God can only be encountered as that which eclipses the reality of all other things.
SLIDE 9: THE REAL THING
This makes John a teacher in the negative way. He does not try to teach by saying what God is, since positive statements about God serve chiefly to fool us into believing that our half-baked images of God and our flawed ideas about how God acts are the Real Thing. John works in the opposite direction. He teaches by saying what God is not, hoping to convince us that our images of and ideas about “God” are in fact obstacles between us and the Real Thing.
SLIDE 10: THE DARK NIGHT IS GOD’S BEST GIFT
The dark night is God’s best gift to us, intended for our liberation. It is about freeing us from our ideas about God, our fears about God, our attachment to all the benefits we have been promised for believing in God, our devotion to the spiritual practices that are supposed to make us feel closer to God, our dedication to doing and believing all the right things about God.
SLIDE 11: OUR HEART’S DESIRE SOURCE OF STRENGTH
All of these are substitutes for God, John says. They all get in God’s way and prevent us from realizing how far we have strayed from our heart’s true desire. Perhaps in the solitude of the deserted places where Jesus retreated to pray he connected with his heart’s desire, a direct experience of that reality that eclipses all other things, and drew strength from the source of all spiritual energy.
SLIDE 12: CONNECT WITH THE NATURAL WORLD
Now that may be all well and good for John of the Cross and maybe Jesus, but what does that mean for us? First, I think Jesus’ deep attachment to nature should be an important example to us. We can take time to connect with the natural world around us. My daughter Jennifer seeks her connection with the divine in nature. Tom Hedrick hikes every day. I am greatly diminished, when I do not walk outside. (And that has been difficult lately.) Connecting with the natural world can bring all of us into closer harmony with ourselves and the universe. In the words of Henry David Thoreau: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”
SLIDE 13: SOLITUDE
And Thoreau suggests to me our need for solitude in our spiritual development – time alone without distraction. And our world is full of distractions, televisions, radios, ipods, Kindles and our ubiquitous cell phones. Can we spend twenty-four hours without all of our devices? What if we had a “silent retreat?” No phone calls, no email, no text messages, no Facebook. Made to do without all of those connections we might finally connect with ourselves and God?
SLIDE 14: LISTENING
Solitude also suggests to me the importance of listening — deep quiet listening. At first when we try to be alone all of our internal voices begin clamoring to be heard. The endless babble of our very busy stream of consciousness. In order to quiet the chatter, we may need a piece of paper beside us to write down some of those thoughts, so we can promise we will come back to them later. And then when the voices fade away we can listen to the silence. For it is out of the silence we connect with the divine.
SLIDE 15: ADDICTION TO ELECTRONIC DEVICES
I suspect that our addiction to our electronic devices our avoidance of solitude has something to do with our fear of the dark night of the soul. We use our phones, the internet, our music, our cable T.V., Netflicks, and all of our electronic messaging to try to keep at bay the dark night. Like most difficult disciplines the hardest part of the dark night of the soul is simply persisting long enough to get through.
SLIDE 16: STAY WITH THE NIGHT
According to St. John of the Cross we are never more in danger of stumbling than when we think we know where we are going. When we can no longer see the path we are on, when we can no longer read the maps we have brought with us or sense anything in the dark that might tell us where we are, then and only then are we vulnerable to God’s protection. This remains true even when we cannot discern God’s presence. The only thing the dark night requires of us is to remain conscious. If we can stay with the moment in which God seems most absent, the night will do the rest.
SLIDE 17: HUMILITY
One last thought about finding our source of strength is humility. Only when we are willing to give up everything we think we know do we find the way to God. St. Thomas Aquinas provides perhaps the best illustration of this kind of humility. Aquinas wrote the Suma Theologica, a multi-volume work covering almost every conceivable subject about God. Then he had a direct spiritual vision of the divine, and he stopped writing. A friend begged him to continue his work, but Thomas replied: “I cannot, because all that I have written seems like straw to me.”
SLIDE 18: SNOOPY’S TRUTH
Perhaps in his divine vision Aquinas discovered Snoopy’s great truth, “has it ever occurred to you, you might be wrong?” Which isn’t to say we are wrong, but maybe we finally discover humility and a vision that transcends our feeble mortal understanding. As we grow older and become less sure of all we think we know, maybe we grow closer to the source of strength that will see us through.
POWER TO DO
SLIDE 3: EXTRAORDINARY THINGS HAPPENED
When Jesus’ ministry exploded on the scene in Capernaum in Galilee, people sat up and took notice, because they sensed his spiritual power and authority. His teaching was not full of feel good platitudes, or long renditions of what the law required, rather his ministry prompted people to experience mystical transformation — their lives were not simply enhanced they were turned upside down. People were healed – even lepers, who suffered ostracism as well as disease. People found themselves compelled to go beyond the requirements of the law to actually love other people. They were challenged to reach across barriers of social convention and class to touch religious outcastes, and embrace the poor. Even the unclean spirits appeared to respond to his authority. Jesus seemed to have the power to make extraordinary things happen.
SLIDE 4: IF JESUS HAD THE POWER WHAT’S HAPPENED?
SLIDE 5: MARCUS BORG
When Jeffrey Ballon and I met with the late New Testament Scholar, Marcus Borg, he referred to Jesus as a gifted spirit person. By “spirit person,” Borg meant that Jesus was a “mediator of the sacred” for whom the Spirit or God was a reality that was experienced. Based on his experience of the sacred, for Jesus compassion “was the central quality of God and the central moral quality of a life centered in God.” What Borg meant was that on an extraordinary level Jesus transcended our ordinary dimensions of physical existence and was as aware of the spiritual dimensions of life as most of us are in touch with the mundane and temporal aspects of our lives. Now if we don’t believe in a spiritual dimension of life that transcends our physical reality then Borg’s term “spirit person” doesn’t mean very much.
SLIDE 6: DARK ENERGY — DARK MATTER
On the other hand that brings me to a conversation we had during our Monday Bible Study. We were discussing Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark, and a member of the group, who is a gifted engineer and physicist, was pointing out that we now believe over 95% of our Universe is made up of Dark Energy and Dark Matter. And that led me to think if over 95% of the Universe is made up of stuff that we can’t see or directly observe, and 30 years ago we didn’t know it existed, then why is it such a stretch to believe that Jesus was in touch with a transcendent spiritual reality most of us are unaware of most of the time?
SLIDE 7: TRANSENDENT REALITY?
So for the moment allow me to invite everyone to stretch our imaginations to include the possibility of a transcendent reality, and then maybe we can begin to appreciate the latent spiritual power that may be asleep within us.
SLIDE 8: RUACH — SPIRIT ENERGY
In Hebrew one of the words for spirit is ruach. In the first chapter of Genesis in the beginning the ruach of God hovers over the face of the waters. That spirit of God is like a brooding power that infuses all of creation. Maybe spirit is a kind of energy we do not fully understand that is inherent in creation and in us. We each of us is an energy system that is part of the larger universal energy system, and when we connect with that larger source of divine energy synergy can occur and unusual even miraculous things can happen.
SLIDE 9: OBSTRUCTIONS THAT BLOCK OUR SPIRITUAL ENERGY
For most of us most of the time we do not tap into the larger universal energy source. Often we are blocked, and when we are really messed up even the flow of our internal energy system can be impeded. So what are some of the obstructions that prevent us from becoming fully energized?
SLIDE 10: FEAR
Fear can block our power to make a difference in the world. Again and again I have to ask myself, what would you do if you weren’t afraid? Fear robs us of the power to act to challenge to take risks. And the world is full of bullies who will try to intimidate us, who act aggressively knowing that most people will back away. Most people will avoid conflict.
And then there is the abuse of grading and evaluation systems. Too often rather than helping students or employees improve assessment systems are used to denigrate and judge individuals for the purposes of the institution. As a result many people emerge from our educational and training systems emotionally abused and afraid of failure.
SLIDE 11: ANGER
Anger can be a source of immense energy. Anger itself is not bad. Uncontrolled anger, rage, however, can lead us to say and do things we will later regret. Also anger that is harbored and unresolved, turns into resentment, and uses our energy to build walls that ultimately block the flow of energy. That is why the author of the Letter to the Ephesians advises, “be angry but do not sin, do not let the Sun go down on your anger and give no opportunity to the devil.” So, controlled anger creatively channeled in the face of injustice can serve as a source for social change. But rage or resentment that only seeks to hurt in return will end up disrupting the flow of energy creating even more injury.
SLIDE 12: HOPELESSNESS
Hope is a thing with feathers that perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.
Hope is fragile but it is also hard to kill. Hope helps us get out of bed in the morning. Hope can carry us through pain and disappointment. Hope promotes healing. People who have no hope often don’t get well.
SLIDE 13: INFLATED EGO
Unhealthy inflated ego also blocks energy. When we become full of ourselves, we cannot connect with sources of energy outside of ourselves. Martin Luther is reported to have said, “It is God’s nature to make something out of nothing. That is why God cannot make anything out of the person who is not already nothing.” Humility unblocks both our own energy and our potential links to the universal energy system.
SLIDE 14: UNBELIEF
The final obstruction to our access to energy I want to mention is unbelief. If we don’t believe we can do something it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Whether we believe we can or we can’t, we are probably right. Without faith in anything larger than ourselves, we are unlikely to connect with any energy sources outside of ourselves.
SLIDE 15: OUR LIVES ARE UNMANAGABLE WITHOUT A HIGHER POWER
So how do we become aware of and connect with the spiritual reality that so energized Jesus? Like 12 step programs we can begin by acknowledging that our lives are unmanageable until we acknowledge a power higher than ourselves and seek to connect with that power. Prayer is a beginning. Turning our attention beyond ourselves to become aware of a higher power. Meditation and mindfulness exercises can help us transcend our physical reality and connect with the spiritual reality we sometimes refer to as Christ consciousness or God consciousness. As we learn to trust our spiritual insights and embrace compassion as the center of our lives, we begin to reach out to the needs of others — feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the poor and the homeless.
SLIDE 16: JESUS CALLS US INTO COMMUNITY
Jesus also does not call us to be lone rangers. He calls us into community as part of the Commonwealth of God. By ourselves we can pray, we can meditate, practice mindfulness, but when we join hands with others to pray with and for one another, then our spiritual power is multiplied rather than simply added. Jesus says, “whenever you gather together in my name, there I am in the midst of you multiplying your power creating synergy.” And not only do we pray for one another, but we offer material support to help one another in mission. We bring groceries for Foodline. We help Alix’s ministry by providing funds, water, warm clothing and other items for the homeless. Many of us have contributed funds to help Mike Stroud in his effort to establish a new UCC church start in Northwest Alabama. Jesus can connect us with the power to do if we are willing to believe in the power of God among us.
SLIDE 17: WHETHER WE BELIEVE WE CAN OR WE CAN’T WE ARE PROBABLY RIGHT
We are about to be tested as a community of faith. If we are going to continue our life together as the United Church of Huntsville, we need to find the power and resources to respond to the challenge of our budget deficit. Do we have enough faith to make this happen. Whether we believe we can or we can’t, we are probably right. Do we have the faith?
SLIDE 18: OUR SPIRITUAL LIFE IS AS REAL AS THE PHYSICAL WORLD AROUND US, WHEN WE BELIEVE
Jesus assures us that God loves us. God believes in us. Our spiritual life is as real as the physical world around us, when we believe. And God also gives us hope not only for this life, but for life beyond with God. In life in death in life beyond death we are not alone — thanks be to God.