God of Nature and the Nature of God
Preparing for this has been a wonderful experience. When Julie approached me with the idea of preaching, I knew I had to do it, because I was scared. You all are a pretty intimidating bunch when it comes to religion. When I analyzed the fear, it boiled down to the fear of being vulnerable. Never in a public forum have I spoke of my spiritual beliefs. My mother raised me as a Christian Scientist, and while those in that radical faith consider themselves Christians, I have come to learn that many in our Christian society do not. In fact I often felt a certain amount of negative prejudice against my birth faith (oh, your the ones who won’t use doctors, but rely only on faith healings — that’s ridiculous!) both in the community in which I was raised, and since then, in my life’s pursuits. This prejudice has done little to affect my faith in God, in fact it may have strengthened it, but it has tended to keep me quiet.
You may notice from my verbiage, that I don’t claim Christian Science as my own, but I respect the faith a great deal, have experienced many faith healings, and am very glad I was raised with it. I have learned over time that as is the case with most prejudice, this one too is based upon ignorance. I have also learned that many of the things that most of you take for granted, such as baptism and communion, were not a part of my growing up religious culture, and that my religious terminology is sometimes different from those from a more traditional Christian approach.
I state all this just to put me in context as I share the word with you today. I have grown to realize that with all our differences, we at Seekers, and Church of the Savior on the most important level are of like mind.
From an unknown author:
"Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a friend (community), having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to poor them all out just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away."
I am so thankful for the Church of the Saviour and for Seekers. No where else could I imagine speaking as I do today.
Hold the hand of someone nearby. … Mentally wash away all those distracting thoughts that fill our mind and feel the presence of our community. … Give yourself to Love. … Feel the Christ among us. … Being present is being with God.
From Job 7:7 (all biblical quotes are from this weeks lectionary) "Remember Oh God that my life is but a breath."
Watching my Dad’s last breath was the most profound spiritual experience of my life. It was the day after Christmas, the sun had set, and a soundless, sound absorbing snow was falling outside. God was in the house. God is always in the house, but my Dad was open to God in a way I’ll only be once, and I saw God, I was present. The family was a circle of love holding hands surrounding and touching Gus. I witnessed the instant his soul left his eyes, and experienced a timeless moment of absolute loving security — my 63 year old father was free of his diseased body — and my father was not dead! This I knew and know absolutely. When I closed my fathers body’s eyes it was not my father — He was with God.
When Dad passed on, I felt the indefinable presence, which I had felt many times before but not quite to this extent. After his passing, after the moment (though in some ways the moment has never ended), my human eyes looked up and saw the Christmas gift my nephew Caleb, Dad’s grand son, had given him only the day before. A beautiful mounted iridescent sky blue butterfly resting on the mantle above the fireplace. I had seen the image of the butterfly as a symbol for the soul before — it is just a symbol, but for me it is the tangible connection between heaven and earth, between God and person. Between Dad and Grace. Think of the last time you saw a butterfly ..Did you smile inside, did it bring delight to your soul? That was God.
… Dad was free of his Body, I too was free from a plague of circuitous questioning based around the existence of God. My mind had finally caught up with my Heart and Soul — no doubt remained about the existence of God. This was my Epiphany, I could now go on to the next question. What is the nature of God?
This is a very scary question … "but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him. Who puts their hope in his unfailing love" (from Psalm 147). The first line never made sense to me. I grew up believing that God is Love — what is there to fear in Love. I realized though, while pondering this weeks lectionary, that there are many fears. The fear referred to is not the fear of lightning bolts from the heavens, but is what I call the "excitement-fear" of what God might reveal — of what the Christ within might ask of me.
As I once journaled in a class of Carolyn Brock’s. It reminds me of being at the cusp of a great rapid while kayaking. There is an extraordinary moment when one is in still water, yet the force of the river is too great to turn back. What incredible exhilaration it is when this realization crystallizes. I would rather be no place on earth than in that moment (Yea God!), yet the moment terrifies me, knowing that I must be 100% present to make it through the 20 foot waves of broiling water. I don’t know if you can relate, but within intense experiences in nature such as this I have felt safely cradled by the loving Christ — I am filled by God. "Safety is not the absence of danger but the presence of something else" (A quote picked up in Ron Arm’s "Loving your Enemies" class — I don’t recall the author).
Lately when I meditate on the nature of God I have been feeling this "excitement-fear". I think God is happy about this. I am in the still water, and who knows what the ride will be.
What is the Nature of God? … For me, Jesus is the path or way to God. He is the quintessential role model. He is the perfect child of God, as we all are to some degree. We all have a little music in us, but Mozart was a true genius with his understanding and sharing of music … in the same way, we all have God within us, but Jesus was a true genius with his understanding and sharing of God. In my personal religious lingo, the term Christ represents this God within. Jesus was manifest Christ, or so close to God that there is really no way to distinguish him as separate, thus in truth he is God, or Man/God (Person/God), but he is not God alone. I pray to God, not to Jesus, though I use the words of Jesus as represented in the bible, and the Christ feeling within, to direct and guide my prayers and my life.
I do not believe that Jesus is the only way to God, but his is the path I choose. I have experienced too many people who are farther along the journey than I and who have not directly chosen Christianity as their path. But I do believe that ultimately the truths to pure understanding of God is through the truths that Jesus taught, and that the God within, or Christ (when accepted) is the only way to God.
Jesus was clear with who he was, who God is, and what their relationship is all (and I mean "all") the time. Thus he always could be present in the moment, with the ever solving "third way" to a problem, listening to, and healing the needs of his fellow people. He could always appear to work miracles, when in fact he was just doing and representing supremely natural events. (from today’s Gospel) "So he went to Simon’s mother-in-law, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them." [no comment on the sexist culture] This reads like me describing my day to Shauna — just a natural, expected everyday occurrence — not describing a miracle. This clarity that Jesus was is available to us all.
These are fine thoughts, but so what? What can we do with them?. While preparing for this sermon I dug out my file of quotes — little scraps of paper that I’ve saved through out my life. One of these said (and it may have been someone here who said it) "Three points for a good sermon — Say what you need, See what is possible, Do something about it". "Doing something about it" really struck me. True Christianity is an active faith. We open ourselves to God through prayer (again from the Gospel) "Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed". But we can’t stop there, Jesus didn’t. Prayer gets us into the presence, and from the presence we must expect miracles. "so he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons".
I prayed for my father when we were told he should expect no more than 6 months more of life. I didn’t pray for more life, but this was the miracle. Dad surprised us all. He never went back to the doctor, and for the first time in his life turned to the teachings of Jesus Christ. The medical profession would say his metastasized colonal cancer went into remission, I say he discovered the power of the Christ within. For three wonderful year he lived full of God’s grace. In addition to the symptoms of his cancer, his nagging arthritis completely disappeared — he beat me in tennis (like he hadn’t done in years) when he was "supposed to be dead". He became the Northwestern Michigan native American Chipawa liaison to the local public schools, a parent aid as awarded by the court, a Sunday school teacher, he volunteered his vast experiences with youth on a mission to Japan, etc. etc. God’s work. And with the death of his body he taught his youngest son the true nature of a loving God. Death is not spiritual failure, but a spiritual transition of Life. Even those Jesus the Christ healed or raised from the dead eventually faced this transition.
Thanks to the Christ within I see my Dad every time I see a butterfly in a solitary place. Thanks to Jesus the Christ we too can open ourselves to God and tap into His Grace. We can live an ordinary life in an extraordinary way.
I’d like to share a recent testimony of faith. It is important for us to share how God works in our daily life.
For those of you who do not know, I direct an environmental education Laboratory for the Arlington Co. Public Schools. It is a rustic 200 acre facility of sort of similar to Day Spring with woods, meadows, a pond, etc. and a few fabulous fresh water springs. This fall the board of director hired a contractor to install a new septic system for our toilets. The story is complicated, but in a nutshell, I was looking out my office window and saw a back-hoe preparing to dig up a fresh water spring which has been flowing from the base of a huge beech tree for hundreds of years. I ran out to see what was up, and unbelievably discovered that the health department regulations required this spring to be capped with a ton of cement and gravel — it was too close to the new sewage system. I demanded that they stop construction.
The Health Department people came back and I spent one of the most frustrating two hours of my life explaining the value of the spring. This spring along with others is the breeding ground for rare salamanders. [show yellow spotted salamander and share story if time — talk about miracle of one day migration to breed] I even convinced them of their faulty regulatory logic (the spring was uphill from the sewage system) but still — a regulation is a regulation. They wouldn’t budge and the contractor needed to continue work the next day. There seemed to be no solution — human solution that is.
I often use my commute home from work as prayer time. That afternoon as I let my angry thoughts dissipate, the Lords prayer came into my mind. "Our father mother God, who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…" Of course, what a fool! I had completely locked God out of the loop, as we so often do. "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." A solution, the one I could not conceive, the "supremely natural event", lay within these words. I went to bed that night with a marvelous sense of peace, but still no answer.
In the morning I called the health department person not knowing why — the gentleman answered the phone, and upon hearing my name, quickly stated that he was sorry but there was nothing he could do, this even before I had a chance to speak. Then it happened — the supremely natural event, I who know nothing about this type of thing was filled with a system redesign which no one else had thought of. The idea, once implemented, not only solved the spring problem but a number of other issues as well — the third way. I truly felt like Moses being filled with the words of God. On the outside, this seemed like a non-event, but I know the source of the solution — it did not come from me, but through me. God’s will was being done.
Listening is the key. A Native American was visiting a friend in the City of Seattle — he was a man of the woods, while she a native urban dweller. While walking and laughing near Pike Place Market he stopped her and asked "Do you hear it?"
"What" she replied.
All she could hear was the hustle and bustle of the city, the cars, the shouts, the horns, and buses — all the things she was attuned to. The native American smiled, pulled out a coin from his pocket and whispered "watch". He flipped the coin into the air … it landed on the sidewalk with the soft silver tinkle we all know. Everyone in the radius of 20 feet stopped to look. He then lifted up a nearby stone to reveal a single cricket chirping away — much louder than the coin. She had not heard it, no one else had either. The sound of the cricket was always present, but it took one who was open to such a sound to make others aware of it. We so often tune out what we do not make a common part of our experience. For me this is a metaphor for prayer — a listening process, to wash away the everyday trappings of our humanness in order to let in the ever present voice of wisdom … the cricket … God.
I challenge all of us to actively engage God in our everyday living — especially our youth who may have less experience with what I speak of. The teachings of Jesus should be inseparable from our daily lives, at work, in school, with family, during sporting events, or in theater, etc. etc. Even with something as mundane as building a toilet system.
- Watch for rainbows — the laughter of God
- Follow the butterfly — follow your soul
- Learn from the miracle of the Yellow spotted Salamander
- Listen to the wisdom of the cricket
Offertory Music: Give Yourself to Love — Kate Wolf / Sung by Blair Pettyjohn, from Potter’s House community
Give yourself to love, if love is what you’re after
Open up your hearts to the tears and laughter
And give yourself to love, give yourself to love