Occasionally I misplace things. Like my phone. Fortunately I have a tablet that allows me to “find my phone”–this works of course only if I haven’t misplaced my tablet. But one day this week I had my tablet and sent out a “ping” to find my phone. Mind you, I ended up finding the phone in the area of the house I had just hunted in but somehow I could not “see” it. And that is actually a full discussion for another day on our perception and how it is we do not see what is obvious. Along that line of thought (so I am going to chase this rabbit for just a moment), the philosopher David Bentley Hart writes in his book, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, “…atheism may really be only a failure to see something very obvious…”
So I sent out the ping and heard it faintly piercing the water of my misperception. I kept walking until I moved to a place where the pinging got louder and then, louder and finally, I found my phone where I had left it.
Is it too far fetched to say we are lost? Dante wrote of this in his first canto of Inferno. ”Midway upon the journey of our life/I found myself within a forest dark/for the straightforward pathway had been lost.” Have you ever been in a car with someone (like a father or brother or boyfriend–males generally have this issue of pride that refuses to ask for directions) and wondered why the driver, obviously lost, didn’t just stop and ask someone for directions? Of course this seems a dated reference given the GPS technology most of us carry around in our phones but this only begs the question–why are we so lost when we have satellites and technology that will lock our coordinates into place?
Scripture, hymns, ritual, poets, art–these are ancient technology for pinging the lost item and in this case, the lost soul. Don’t be afraid to ask. Do not be shamed by admitting you’re lost. It’s a big and complicated world. It is easy to become lost. The first step to being found is accepting that one is lost. Ping the lost item. There is a sound like a bell ringing, calling to you. I think if you enter through the sanctuary doors this Sunday, you may in fact hear it loudly. Ah, to be found! ~See you Sunday.
The mystical painter and poet, William Blake, wrote these words in his poem entitled, “Jerusalem.”
I GIVE you
the end of a golden string;
Only wind it into a ball,
It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate,
Built in Jerusalem’s wall.…
A brief verse, but filled with clues about a life of spirit.! The life of spirit is inaugurated often by someone giving us something. In this case, Blake is offering a golden string. Perhaps someone—a professor, a teacher, a pastor, an artist or parent—gave you a question to answer or an answer to question that led you to search. In my life, my sacred journey began when, as a child just about five years old, my mother told me there is a God. I remember that. It planted a seed in my mind and my heart. And I have been winding her golden string handed to me ever since…
The string is golden. Can you detect the irony in this? String is so ordinary, such a mundane and coarse thing. It is, in a word, cheap. But Blake is offering a golden string. Gold is valuable, of course. What is ordinary or common has, in his poem, taken on enormous value and importance. This has the aroma of Jesus’ parables. A man finds a treasure in a field and sells all he owns in order to buy the field. Leaven is small but it leavens an entire loaf. A mustard seed of faith can move a mountain. But too often we judge our spiritual lives by our society’s standards. Big is better, more is best, the right brand name is preferable and so forth. This is one reason, I suggest, that people flock to preachers and churches that push those buttons of prosperity and wealth. But Blake understands in a profound way what the bible knows: a life of spirit begins when the common or ordinary takes on the gold of a spiritual journey. The woman at the well offered a cup of water to a man she didn’t know. He offered her the water of life that would quench her soul.
In Baptist life and thought, faith comes by hearing the Word of God. In other words we are given the Word, twined together like string and dipped into gold. Wind them into a ball and they “will lead you in at Heaven’s gate.”
Worship is a gate. It is an opening, a threshold, a passage-way. From what to what? From the world of the mundane to the kingdom of the holy. From the huts of our wilderness wandering into the Temple of Being. Wind the ball, begin your sacred journey.
After three Sundays in a row where we nearly had to ice skate to get to the church; after three cold, wintry-mixed-nixed week-ends, it is now getting warmer! The roads are clear. The sun is out. We can see Spring around the corner. What is the correct response?
How about a Doxology sung in the sanctuary, standing shoulder to shoulder with brothers and sisters who bless and affirm you? How about a gathering of faith, hope and love? Spring your clocks forward one hour before you go to sleep tonight and let’s go to church in the morning! ~See you Sunday
One of the most fulfilling aspects of being a pastor is the vantage point from which I get to view the world, especially the world of faith, hope and love. From children to teen-agers to middle-aged adults and seniors, I get to see the treasure of faith developed, sculpted, woven, composed–pick a metaphor!–and it is a beautiful sight. I would like to share with you some of what I have seen from this overlook of a pulpit.
I saw you:
Entering the church with crumpled clothes and looking like you had just ascended from some journey in the inner earth, the smoke rising from you and your gait limped. I saw you arrive earlier than anyone but me in order to make coffee for worshippers and prepare the house of the Lord in your own humble way. I saw you wearing a robe of faith and laughter for a crown.
I saw you …
Speaking words of kindness, filled like flowers by nectar and so sweet and genuinely kind that they pulled hurt and broken persons into your field of view. The fragrance of your mercy and hospitality have awakened in people their own quest for the holy. Your love of God gleams like a star, it dispels darkness.
I saw you…
Praying fervently in the pew, eyes shut tight and lips moving, and words from your inner life falling on the floor like crepe-paper cut-outs of hearts, but rising like spirit and wind. Your warrior nature submitted to the Prince of Peace in service to God, kingdom of Christ and church.
I saw you…
Singing with your head thrown back and a smile on your face like you were seeing God or at least an angel and I am pretty certain you cannot “sing” like a pop diva or some smooth crooner singing for his livelihood, but sing you did and full of heart and soul so that your notes were pulled like filings by the magnet of God’s love and formed with the celestial choir for a gift of eternal praise.
I saw you…
Weeping. Your face was cupped in your hands for all the grace you have known and for all the grace you will need to get through whatever it is you’re going through.
I saw you…
Helping your mother into her pew, caring gently for her and thus mimicking her care of you when you were a child. Your devotion was a royal purple robe you pulled onto her shoulders while the God of mercy and love simultaneously placed you beneath the shelter of a wing.
I saw you…
Giggle and smile and roll your eyes, lean into your parent’s side for comfort and peace andthen hop down the aisle to share the Peace of Christ. Child of God, you are so full of light that I am filled by your light. The face of Christ peers deeply into my eyes when I look into your face.
I saw you…
Greeting a stranger in the foyer, making sure they knew where to go and how to get there. You smiled and touched in measures of sugar and spice so that friendship could be served, offered as tokens of hope on a paper plate, baked golden brown.
I saw you…
Overcoming your fears, resisting hatred and death and refusing to pick up the stones of ill will that graveled the paths you walked throughout the week. Instead, you turned stones to communion wafers and shared the cup of salvation, grape juice from a jar transformed into symbol of love that overcomes hate, life that overcomes death, light that the darkness cannot put out.
I saw you…
Enter the Shepherd’s gate into the city of God, find your place in the community of believers, link your hands in prayer and extend every fiber of your being toward the Light of the World. You stood tall, head bowed and one hand extended to the heavens like God was a face to be touched.I saw you worship God. I saw you full of dignity as the People of God. And because I saw you, I saw the Nazarene, his clothes crumpled and the smoke of the grave rising from him as he limped on broken feet, ascended from the inner earth, as he gave a shout that the kingdoms of this world could no longer hold sway over him. Bless the Lord, you people of the Lord. Now and world without end. Amen.
The bible is constantly warning us against idolatry. It’s an old word and one that has little resonance in our culture. Why? Because our culture is strewn with the litter of little idols, their plastic impoverished thingness of little use to anyone, clogging rivers and sloshing at ocean’s depth, piled in landfills: the things we gave our hearts to but in turn could provide us nothing but some immediate titillation of the new. Idolatry is simply worshipping that which is not worthy of your or my devotion. If “worship” is a problematic word in that sentence then simply substitute “following after.”
On Sunday we enter a sacred space to bring ourselves before the One, the Holy and Just, the Compassionate and Loving God who is worthy of our worship and whose Being fills us with being. This act of worship is a tossing overboard of idols; a clearing of the decks of those things that compete for our heart’s devotion but instead burden us; a cleansing of the debris and dust of a world-in-love-with-death that pelts us with its hatreds and assorted curses. No wonder then upon leaving the church’s sanctuary, we feel lightened, relieved and renewed. We have exchanged the cheap copper coins of our culture for life. We have untied the loads of assumptions and presumptions and left them behind. We have picked up the gentle yoke of Christ instead.
Find a sacred space and confide and reside in the One who alone gives you peace, transforms hate into love and cures us of our warmongering. I like this poem from the Sufi poet, Rumi, that speaks to this idolatrous tendency of our culture and time entitled, “You Embrace Some Form,” translated by Daniel Liebert in the book, The Rumi Collection, edited by Kabir Helminski.
you embrace some form saying, I am this
By God, you are not this
Or that or the other
you are Unique One
you are throne and palace and king
you are bird and snare and fowler
like water in jar and river
are in essence the same
you and spirit are the same
your every idol
your every thought-form
in your formlessness