May 21, 2017
One of the things I love about this congregation is our diversity! We have practiced as Catholics, Baptists, Mormons, Wiccan’s, Jews, Lutherans, Quakers, Lakotas, Mennonites, Methodists, lifelong Congregationalists, Disciples of Christ, Episcopalians, Metropolitan Community Church…help me…what am I forgetting?
Every time we gather, there is a richness that is powerful. For years, people referred to the United States as a Melting Pot, but I don’t think that is something to aspire to. Why would we want to just melt into one homogenous way of thinking and being in the world? In fact, I think it is beautiful when Allen can help us pray to the directions out of his Lakota experience. It is powerful to hear all those with Catholic background praying the hail Mary. Danny brings Matzah for communion at Easter. We don’t have communion in worship each Sunday, but AO, Sharon, and Tom are offering it after worship from their MCC and Disciples traditions that emphasize communion. Marjorie’s Mennonite connections got the sign that says, “No matter where you are from, we are glad you are our neighbor.” Those are just a few examples of how rich we are together.
We have traveled different paths, but somehow we are all together at this time on this path. No matter how we may be different, at our core, we share something powerful in common – our hunger for God.
Poet Anne Sexton said, “I cannot walk an inch without trying to walk to God.”
World religion scholar Huston Smith once compared the five world religions to the fingers on a hand. If we look at each on the surface, we see the gap between them, but if we go to the core of each (the pad of our hand), we find that they have much in common. The same is true of us as human beings. We can look at the surface and it seems that we are very different. Then there is this strange temptation to decide which different is better. We do it with everything.
Some of us will only drink a particular kind of coffee.
Some will only cheer for a certain team.
Some believe one kind of car is superior to all the others.
Heck, some of us even believe some fonts are superior to others.
When you think about it, it’s all rather strange. But it doesn’t stop us from believing certain things are better than others. The same is true for churches. Ok, I will admit that I believe we are pretty awesome, but I would like to justify my choice by saying that we are open to a whole variety of people and experiences. In text study when several differing opinions show up at the table, we have enough room for them. At the same time, I believe that it is important to have many faith communities so that we can find a way to continue on our path that is authentic and life-giving to us.
In the reading from Acts, Paul shows up in Athens which was the gathering place of intellectuals. Everywhere he looks, he sees tributes to various gods. Rather than criticizing them and telling them they are doing it wrong, he says, “it is clear you are hungry to know God. Let me tell you about this God.” He wants them to understand how close God is to them and then he quotes poets to try and describe the mystery we call God. He says, “in God we live and move and have our being” and calls us “God’s offspring.” I have always loved that line “in God we live and move and have our being.” It touches the deep hunger I have to know and be known by God. It is interesting to me that Paul responds to the deepest hunger of the people with poetry.
When I reached midlife and everything that had made sense to me seem to come unraveled, I turned to poetry. I didn’t have much to do with poetry before that. I always assumed it was too esoteric. Suddenly, the beauty and language were just what I needed to hold the big impossible truths of my life. I directed a spiritual renewal program for clergy for ten years that addressed our deep hunger for God. I used some scripture, but I watched the clergy treat scripture as something to preach. They seemed to know how to do scripture as a public exercise, but they weren’t as comfortable with it as a private devotional. That is when I turned to poetry with them. I wanted them to have a container that was large enough to hold their hunger. Scripture has that capacity, but it was familiar and I wanted them to allow it to speak to them in a new way. Poetry seemed to awaken their senses.
To address our deep hunger for God, today I will follow Paul’s lead and turn to poets.
Mary Oliver calls poetry a “life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.”
Christian Wiman is a poet who grew up in a small town in West Texas. He was shaped in a Baptist Church. He rejected the church and later found his way into a UCC where he began to claim his hunger for God. Christian lives with an incurable cancer and wrote a book called My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer. He talks about this speech of Paul as an attempt “to see the life of Christ as not merely a point in time but as a portal to eternity.” Paul wants us to understand that “God is in fact always near us if we will simply learn to look.” (p. 165)
Kathleen Norris says, “I take refuge in God’s transcendence, continually giving thanks that God’s ways are not my own. God has a better imagination, for one thing.” She goes on to say her favorite name for God is the one God gives to Moses when calling him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. God chooses Moses who is a wanted man because he murdered someone. Moses can’t believe God is calling him so he asks, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt?” God responds, “I will be with you.” That was helpful!
This God will be known not through a dictionary but through a relationship. This God demands a great willingness to trust and take risks. Moses knows that the people will want to know God’s name so he asks, “What is your name?” to which God replies, “I am who I am.” Moses might as well have asked, “Who’s on first?”
Norris says the rest of the Pentateuch is an elaboration on God’s answer. “God appears in the scriptures as a rock, woman in labor, an eagle, a warrior, a creator and destroyer, listener and proclaimer, lover and judge—the Great “I am”. The God we worship is not a noun but a verb. The-God-Who-Is.” (Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, pp. 109-111)
What we do as people of faith is acknowledge the depth of our hunger. We are honest that we desire God and then we show up. We practice faith in a multitude of ways. We pray. We listen. We talk. We serve. We welcome others. We allow ourselves to be led into uncomfortable places. We do not give up. Well, sometimes we give up. But then we show up again.
While we are doing this, we need to be reminded that God goes before us calling us into deeper relationship. God is the one who holds us. God is the one who will not let go. We are God’s beloved offspring. We are beautiful and perfect and God is there. We make a holy mess of things and God is there.
I am not trying to make this sound easy. It is hard to show up for God every day. It is hard to make room to address the deepest hunger we carry. In fact, a friend and I made an agreement to show up every day because we were tired of making excuses and struggling to find time. It’s ironic that we struggle to make room for the thing we desire deeply. But we can be assured that our life is in God. In fact, God is life itself. So, come and drink deeply of God’s goodness. There is more than enough for everyone.