Sunday, January 21, 2018

Epiphany 3B 3018: How to live "woke"

Lectionary: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:6-14; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

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En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

I told this story to the vestry and the search committee during our conversations, but I thought I’d share it today. Our readings are so great today… How I met Michael+ (the recently retired rector). Of course, I’m a priest in the diocese so I had seen Michael at diocesan things, but I got to know Michael+ when we served together on a diocesan
committee. The purpose of that committee was to help priests who were feeling a passion for building a ministry in their church get feet on that; to find a way to make it concrete – from an idea to a way. Michael+ was the first among us to do this and Michael’s+ passion was to bring mindfulness to this congregation. So I was a part of the team that helped Michael+ discern, listen, and bring from idea to concrete plan, a way to do that. And that gift is clearly here in this congregation. So, that’s how I met Michael+.

I had known about mindfulness… kind of. I don’t think I was very clear about the difference between that and meditation (at the time) but Michael+ was very clear, and so now I’m very clear.

The first encounter I had with mindfulness was when I went to Romania on a mission trip and I was serving with an Orthodox Bishop who, when we ate dinner at his “palace” (it really was very simple, it was a monastery) taught us how to eat mindfully, and it was really a wonderful, transformative experience, and so it’s a practice I use now in most all of the retreats that I give.

Mindfulness is a theme that rises up in our readings today. Wasn’t that nice of God and our lectionary writers?

Mindfulness is about paying attention; about being aware and fully present in the present moment. I know I’m teaching you what you already know, but this is going online too, and lots of people don’t know that.

Here’s what it is not: it is not about focusing thinking or quieting your mind or discovering wisdom in the quiet. It’s about opening ourselves fully to the moment, just the present moment, and noticing what happens in our thoughts, our bodies, and our hearts.

It doesn’t end there though for persons who are followers of Christ. After noticing, without judgment, what is happening in the present moment, we are called to respond faithfully. The gospel of Mark shows how that looks.

Jesus’ presence: can you imagine? You’re going about your daily work and some guy walks up and says “Follow me.” But could you imagine what his presence must have felt like entering your space? It had to be powerful and compelling. Look at what happened in this story. His followers “immediately” left everything and followed him. Now, I know that “immediately” is one of Mark’s favorite words, and he uses it a lot, but still it’s true.

As the story goes…Peter and Andrew are brothers, and fishermen and they’re just at work when Jesus walks by and calls both of them at the same time and immediately leave their nets and follow him. This shows us that sometimes the transformation of our hearts is so immediate and so complete, that we are willing to leave all we know, all we love, and all the security of the world we’ve been able to establish in this world and follow God’s call to us.

Interestingly to me, Jesus didn’t approach these four disciples, James and John also, and say ‘Follow me and I’ll make you great, or rich, or highly respected…’ did he? Jesus’ focus was, from the very beginning, on the other: “Follow me and I’ll make you fish for people,”

Mark doesn’t explicate that phrase either, sadly. So I have to wonder… what did they hear when Jesus said, “I’ll make you fish for people”? What images came to their minds? What was so compelling that they would abandon their work, their families and everyday way of living and follow this itinerant rabbi? But more importantly, radically shift their focus from themselves to ‘other’? I don’t know…

But this, I think, is where the mindfulness comes into play. As you know, mindfulness is something we innately possess, but we rarely practice it because we’re distracted by the worldly habit of focusing on overcoming our past or planning for our futures. We’re almost never in the present moment. These distractions of the world include fear carried by memories from the past, anxiety of a future we want to but really can’t control, the perceived need for self-preservation, or maybe it’s something more concrete like hunger, homelessness, or lack of heat in winter.

But in the presence of the divine, who is all truth, all life, everything else fades to insignificance –if we’re paying attention.

Even poor Jonah couldn’t help but respond, though he didn’t want to, when the God of all truth spoke to him and told him to go tell those people of Ninevah to repent, to live differently because the way they were living would lead to their deaths. This story is often perceived as a threat, because we hear the Scripture say that God is preparing to bring a calamity upon them, but I see it as a plea for life.

God is pleading with the people to repent because God wants them to live and they aren’t listening. They don’t see the terrible outcome right around the corner, but God does. I’ve had similar conversations, I’m sure some of you have too, with unrepentant alcoholics and diabetics. Please repent, change the way you’re living because the way you’re living will lead you to death. It’s not that I caused their death…

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians affirms this for us. The present form of the world, what we see, what we know, the way we live, is passing away. The appointed time has come. Repent. Now this is not grovel because you’ve been sinful. Repent simply means to change your direction, change what you’re doing. Repent – open yourselves to new understanding of your present moment. Be mindful, or as we hear online today, “be woke” because a new thing is happening.

Did I tell you these Scriptures could have been written for St. David’s right now? We are entering a season of being “woke” of intentionally listening for the voice of God who calls to us.

When I do spiritual direction and I talk to people about learning to hear how the voice of God speaking to them I usually get side eyes… like I’ve said something crazy. But this is Scriptural. Remember last week we heard about God calling to Samuel he kept saying, ‘Who is that? Eli are you calling me?’ Eli said ‘no.’ It took Samuel a little while to understand it was God speaking to him.

Each of us must learn to hear how God speaking to us – as God speaks to us – because it will be different for each of us. Some hear God speak in dreams, others during meditative or centering prayer, others while out in nature, or maybe through a stranger, or loved one, or a child, or a person speaking clarity through the cloud of their dementia.

How do we know it’s God speaking? We do it like Episcopalians… individually and in community. What we discern in personal prayer is brought to the congregation, or to a spiritual director, or to a beloved group. It goes from one to many for corporate confirmation. It’s how we discern calls to priesthood and diaconate. Right? We know this…

If confirmation from the corporate community of their choice isn’t received, it could be we “heard” wrong, or maybe the time is right for the planting of a seed, not the gathering up of a fruit. In the end, we trust God.

But how, then, do we recognize the new path God is leading us onto? Even if we hear the call to new life, how do we get there? What are the steps? Partly, that’s what I bring you as interim. But more importantly, the answer is quite simple: we follow Jesus – literally. We do what he did.

Immediately after calling his disciples, Jesus began his public ministry of healing, transformation, and freedom from all of the earthly barriers that constrain; barriers like sexism, classism, ethnic and religious discrimination, and self-centeredness.

He demonstrated the new way focused in the divine (remember his command: loving God) and on the other (the second part of his command: loving neighbor as self). And he relieved us of our perceived need for self-preservation saying: “… those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mk 8:35)

By word and example, Jesus showed us how to live “woke” that is, aware and fully present in the present moment. He demonstrated how living in the unity of divine-human love frees us and transforms us and the world.

This is what Jesus meant, I think, when he said he would make us fishers of people; sharers of this radical message of the transforming power of unified and unifying divine-human love. That is the divine purpose of Church… to be a vehicle for this transformation which, through the church who is us, happens one person, one conversation, one relationship at a time.

So I offer St. David’s a challenge from Methodist Bishop, William Willamon, who said, “… I challenge you … to do a little fishing, to attempt to share your faith, perhaps even using words, with one person whom you know. Try to express why you are here [at this church – then] invite someone to come [with you] next Sunday… Do one visible act of Christian charity to someone in need in the name of Jesus. See where it gets you.” (Source)

So let’s do it. Amen.

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