Standing in the Gap

Last year I declared myself Queen of the World and changed “Good Friday” to “The Day of Tears”. The “good” came with the theological belief that in the execution of Jesus, God’s will for his life was fulfilled and he accepted the punishment for humanity’s sins begun by those errant, rebellious first humans, Adam and Eve. My heart, mind and soul do not believe in that theological concept of sacrificial atonement, or a fall/redemption model. My heart knows this day as a day of tears.

Last night we remembered the day when a beautiful person, healer, teacher, prophet, lover, and friend was executed for speaking of love and equality; when the seemingly impossible actually happened; when (in the words of Don McLean) the music died; when dreams died… ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

(For the full audio version of the sermon, click here.)

On the Day of Tears we entered fully into the human experience with Jesus – the experience of living life as best we can, of loving and being loved, of dreaming big dreams of how your life can be and how the world can be, of wanting to make a difference, of looking opposition in the eye and deciding whether to back down or not, of grief, betrayal, joy, hope, loss and death… all of it. It’s all wrapped up in this story and it leaves us bereft at the end.

What do we do when life falls apart?

What do we do when dreams die?

Where is God in all of this?

Henri Nouwen, in Seeds of Hope, talks about “befriending” death. He says befriending death allows us to claim the totality of the human experience.  Befriending death means integrating the often darker, shadowy, fearful place of death into the life-giving part of ourselves. It’s hard because death is one of those things we don’t like to think about. But, he insists, that if we really befriend death, we would be a free people.

How do we befriend death?  Nouwen says: “Love – deep human love – does not know death… real love says, “Forever.” Love will always reach out toward the eternal. Love comes from that place within us where death cannot enter. Love does not accept the limits of hours, days, weeks, months, years, or centuries. Love is not willing to be imprisoned by time…”

I think in Jesus we see that Nouwen was right. Because he could look death in the eye and accept it as part of the journey of life, no more and no less a part of God, he was able to live freely with integrity and love until the end. Perhaps part of what makes yesterday so difficult, is that Jesus died an awful death with so much more grace and dignity than most of us believe we could muster.

So, that brings us to today. Holy Saturday they call it. Maybe (as long as I’m renaming things) it should be Holey Saturday. After any death we feel like there is a part of us missing, an emptiness inside, a hole. Yes, we all know the end of the story, but it behooves us to understand the importance of this day within the human experience as well. These are the days where we find ourselves in the gap. A most uncomfortable place to be. A place between what was and what is yet to be, a place between known and unknown, a place between past and future, a place between death and new life.

It’s okay to be a little melancholy and reflective on these days. It’s normal to feel a little anxious and concerned. What’s next? We want to know. But on these days it will need to be enough for us to know that there will be a next. The Spirit is working in the gap, just as the seed is germinating in the darkness, waiting until it is ready to spring forth into the light. Wait… hope… keep the faith.

~Kaye

A Man on the Edge

I was somewhat surprised yesterday when a number of people approached me to say that I had just preached the best Palm Sunday sermon they had ever heard (to listen to the full audio version, click here). Their reasoning was that they’d never heard the story put into context so well. Truly, Jesus’ triumphant procession into Jerusalem makes a whole lot more sense, and makes a much bigger impact, when one considers the back-story. So, here it is in an even smaller nutshell than my 20 minute sermon!

At the time of Jesus, the Roman empire, which included what we now think of as Israel, was a miserable place to live if you were not among the upper class. The people suffered from heavy taxation, land appropriation, and indentured servanthood. In fact, between 1/2 to 2/3 of their income padded the pockets of the elite thanks to a system of unjust laws designed to make the rich, richer and the poor, destitute. The leaders of the Jewish religion had their own fingers in the pot as well and used religion to help control the people.  One must do as the law requires, after all, they reasoned, the King and the Emperor were Divinely appointed.

Into this arena, where people struggled daily to survive, came Jesus. He was an anomaly. He was well-educated in the theology, laws and scripture of the Jewish people; plus he knew a trade. Still, he didn’t set himself above anyone. He didn’t dress in fine clothes or talk down to the people; he spoke with compassion, love and authority. But, Jesus not only spoke, but lived in contradiction to the political and religious systems of oppression. He didn’t allow himself to be hindered by the many cleanliness laws of the Jews, but ate meals with everyone, even those the rabbis would consider unclean and unworthy. By talking to them, eating with them, touching them and caring for them, Jesus showed, in a concrete way, that poor folk were just as good as rich folk, women were just as good as men, the sick were just as worthy as the healthy, and children were just as important as adults.

Jesus’ movement wasn’t about elevating himself above everyone else. He wasn’t running for political office, vying for high priest status or wanting to be worshipped. No, Jesus’ movement was about elevating all people, empowering them to live, to know God, and to experience equality and love. He wanted them to understand that living this way was living in the Kingdom of God – here and now!

Not only did he challenge the powers of the day, but he gave the people something invaluable… a sense of worth. He told them God loved them. That was subversive! He was a man living on the edge, consciously, deliberately. As more and more people flocked to him, storm clouds gathered. The leaders of Rome and the leaders of the Jews came together to rid themselves of this common nuisance. Rumors made their way back to Jesus. The powerful were plotting against him. He was not long for this world.  And, Jerusalem was the most dangerous place to be.

But once one begins to live on the edge, it is hard to go back, to pretend you don’t see or don’t care. No, Jesus would not back off, he would not stop speaking his truth, he would not let the people down, he would not stop loving. He would do it his own way. He had only a very few cards left to play, and he played them strategically.

Now, the Kingdom of Heaven is within, but it is present in humanity when lived outwardly. So, I believe Jesus gave the people a symbolic coming of this kingdom on a day when everyone could see the clear polarity between the kingdom of heaven and the powers of the world.

It was Passover time. Passover is a Jewish festival that celebrates Israel’s liberation from the oppression of Pharoah and an earlier empire (I think that works symbolically, don’t you?)  Thousands of people would be coming to Jerusalem for the celebration. But Pilate, the Roman governor, with full military accompaniment, would also be there as a political presence to ensure there would be no uprising.

Jesus knew the scriptures well. Recalling the passage in Zechariah 9:9 that a king will come into Jerusalem humble and riding on a foal of a donkey, Jesus sent his disciples for a donkey and had them prepare the people. One last card played… Jesus-style.

While Jesus rode into Jerusalem from the east to cries of “Hosanna! Save us!” waving of palm branches, and coats being thrown on the ground hailing the king, Pilate and his garrison rode in from the west with horses, weapons, helmets, flags, shields and power.

It was a grand day for the peasantry (and a few others) who felt a rising of hope… perhaps things would really change for them now and life would get better. But they didn’t really understand. This parade was almost like throwing down the gauntlet. The powers of the day couldn’t NOT respond to this audacious show of rebellion.  The wheels were set in motion… it was going to be a long, difficult week. But today the kingdom of God has center stage.

 ~ Kaye

Expansion vs. Contraction

Yesterday we were blessed to have Markus Kasunich (spiritual guide, life coach, energy worker and all-around-exuberant guy) as our guest speaker. Markus spoke to us about the Power of Self-Awareness… I’m going to attempt to summarize his sermon, but if you’d like to listen to the full audio version, please click here.

Self-awareness is to see, feel and be conscious of our personal state of being and what is going on inside of us. Sadly, it is very easy to plod our way through life having no clue why we make the decisions we make, why we feel the way we do, or why we behave and react in certain ways. Awareness says that we are now going to bring these things to consciousness.

When we bring these things to consciousness, we recognize that we live our lives and make our decisions either out of love or out of fear. Markus insists that there is no middle option, just degrees of the two.

There is no right and wrong in making a decision out of love or fear; however, the natural state of the universe is love. Love, by nature is expansive… it grows, changes, is unlimited, bursts forth with creativity and is filled with joy. Fear is contractive by nature and causes things to shrink, to be confined, to be limited.

In a state of self-awareness, we are conscious not only of what we are doing, but whether it is rooted in love or fear.  Only then, with consciousness, are we able to change (if we so desire) how we are living. The power of self-awareness comes as the manifestation of the ability to choose.

Markus’ invitation to us was to be aware, that we might then choose to live an expansive life – opening doors, creating new opportunities, healing our souls, developing new relationships and deepening old ones, and knowing more fully the depth of the Divine.

Thank you for your words of wisdom, Markus.

~Kaye

 

Don’t be afraid to live

Fear. One of the definitions I found for fear was: the emotional response to danger – real or imagined. I think about ninety-nine percent of the time our fear is about that imagined thing that hasn’t happened yet. Interestingly, the psychological condition of fear is not associated with hard and fast, immediate danger… it is all based on something our minds have conjured up! True, these things have a greater or lesser degrees of probability, but why do we want to live in that uncertain, fear-based future? We can handle just about anything in the moment, but a projection of a possibility? The only way to really handle that is to recognize it for what it is and release the hold it has on us.

(To listen to the complete audio of this sermon, click here.)

Buddhists (and many enlightened therapists) suggest we befriend our fears. Rather than letting them dominate our minds and control our imaginations, we can learn to identify our fears through self-awareness and walk alongside them.Then perhaps when we get caught up in our own fears, we’ll be able to greet them, “Oh, hello fear,” and even learn something from them.

Over and over again we are told in the Bible, “Do not be afraid.” The psalmist assures us over and over that God is with us, we have no one to fear. The angel tells Mary, Joseph and Zechariah, “Don’t be afraid.” God says to Isaiah, “Fear not, for I am with you.” God says to Abraham and Hagar and Jacob, “Do not be afraid.”Jesus repeats the same thing over and over again, “Do not be afraid…” to the disciples, Simon, Mary, the people of Jerusalem, and Paul in a vision.

And then we watch the news and think… yikes, there are psychotic people on the loose out there, it’s not safe to be anywhere! Yikes, our economy is going to hell in a handbasket, what’s going to happen to me? Sex trafficking is a brutal reality… I should lock my daughter in her room until she is old and ugly like me!

Some folks would say, “Obviously your faith isn’t strong enough, that’s why you are afraid.”

I would say that this has nothing to do with my faith. I know God loves me. I know God is with me. I know that worrying about and being afraid of things that are not here right now is a waste of my energy. And, I have great faith in the loving energy of the universe… I just … um… forget about it sometimes.

The truth is: we are more than our fear. We have the choice to succumb to our fears and limit the extent to which we live our lives; or, we can live as fully as possible.

Perhaps all of the “do not be afraids” are telling us one thing… DO NOT BE AFRAID TO LIVE!

Do not be afraid of people, of challenges, of changes, of illness, of death, of new jobs, of growing older, of what people think or don’t think of you, of failure, of where God is leading your life… DO NOT BE AFRAID TO LIVE! We should not let fear hold us back … we should not be afraid to dance the dance of life. In the words of a wonderful song that was sung yesterday in our service, “when you get the choice to sit it out or dance… JUST DANCE!!”

Guilt is a Choice

This is a very brief version of my sermon from yesterday. If you would like to hear the entire message, please click here.

Psalm 32:2 very clearly tells us that God is not keeping track of our mistakes. Who knew? Generations of people have been led to believe that the Almighty One is making a list and checking it twice in order to accurately determine the course of our miserable existence. And, perhaps if we feel contrite enough, guilty enough, ask forgiveness enough, then just perhaps God will see fit to let us enjoy heaven someday.

Psalm 32:2-5 puts a whole different spin on this concept.

“Happiness comes from YHWH not counting your mistakes, from having nothing to hide. As long as I kept my stubborn silence, my bones grew weak because of my constant complaints. Day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped by a summer’s heat. Finally I admitted my sing to you, and stopped hiding my guilt. I said, “I confess my rebellion, YHWH,” and you took away the guilt of my sin.”

According to the psalmist, guilt is not required by God, or given by God. Guilt is actually taken away by God. This perceptive passage essentially says that we will know peace and joy inside when we recognize that YHWH does not keep track of our mistakes. Alas, we are apt to try and hide our mistakes from God, to keep our stubborn silence, as it were. We don’t talk about our guilt. We hold it close to our breast and it feels like a weight, like a heavy hand upon our hearts. Little do we know that it is not God’s heavy hand of condemnation, but God’s hand of love and forgiveness that we are loathe to accept because we have deemed ourselves unworthy (thanks, in part to the church telling us this for centuries). When we finally get exhausted from carrying our guilt and pain, we lay it at the feet of the Divine and finally are able to leave it.

To be even more clear, we need to remember that the Divine IS love and forgiveness – by definition. So, by definition, the Divine would never want to hold us in an unhealthy place where we feel overcome by the things we’ve done wrong. The God I know is not an angry, punishing, judgmental God. We hold onto our guilt until we’re ready to let it go… and then we feel the light and love and forgiveness that had been there all along.

Sure, one could argue that guilt is a healthy, essential feeling that helps guide our moral and ethical life. Feeling guilty may even prompt us to change our behaviors or life for the better. However, when one gets stuck in guilt and allows it to consume large amounts of energy for large amounts of time, one must conclude that guilt has become unhealthy. This kind of guilt eats away at one’s soul, one’s happiness, one’s balance, one’s relationships, one’s ability to function in the world. But this type of guilt is also a choice.

Thinking about this, we have to ask ourselves, what function does this type of guilt serve? As far as I can tell, it gives us a way to beat ourselves up. Period. It does not heal the one we may have hurt. It does not heal us. It continues to hold power over us and keeps us from moving forward with our lives.

I have been there and done that, right up to the point where I decided that I really didn’t want to live in that place of anguish anymore. It was then that I discovered that it was my choice to dwell in the guilt.

What was done was done. My apologies were said. I had atoned for my failures as best as I could. The past was the past. There was no going back. I wanted to live again. I was not serving the ones I had hurt by my guilt. I was not serving myself. And, I was certainly not serving God. For me to be whole I had to let it go.

To let go I had to become conscious and mindful of the guilt when it started dragging me down.  It was hard, but more and more I was able to look my guilt in the eye and say, “No. I’ve done enough of this. It is what it is. I deserve to be happy and whole.” I just wouldn’t go there. More and more I allowed myself to be seen and loved by God. I wasn’t hiding so that I could hold on to my pain.

Perhaps some guilt simply shows that we’re humans with a conscience… but living there denies our full humanity in that it denies us the right to life in it’s fullest. And we each hold the key. When you go there, try to cut yourself some slack. We’re not God, we mess up, we feel bad, but no one is asking us to live there. We are forgiven and set free… if we choose.