Rise Up Souls: A Sermon Preached at Shepherd of the Prairie Moravian Church, Fargo

Proper 12 / Ordinary 17 / Pentecost +10

We are living in times that are calling for all souls on deck.  We are living in times where we are being called to expand the light of Christ that lives within us. 

The lessons today remind us how close God is to us, how very near.  How God want’s our souls to rise up.   How God is eagerly waiting to increase in us the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

How do we do this?  How do we incarnate the light of Christ in our body in our day and in our life here in this Fargo-Moorhead area in the year 2016?  Let us listen in our daily prayers for God’s guidance.

We were created for such a time as this.  Whatever we think we need, God is eager to gift us more than we can imagine.  Our imaginations are important.  Our thoughts are important.  For anyone who has spent anytime practicing meditation and sitting in prayer and listening for the voice of God among the chattering mind, we know how difficult the practice can be.  Some monks call our chattering mind, “the monkey mind” I like to think of it as the squirrel mind. Sitting in silence, observing our thoughts and emotions is downright uncomfortable.  Being alone with ourselves and our scattered thoughts (well at least that’s how I find my own sometimes) can be daunting.  Listening through all of our internal chatter to hear the voice of God can feel like searching for a needle in the haystack—or hidden treasure in a large field—or a small mustard seed lost in the fold of your hands.  But here is where we find the doors Jesus asks us to knock on.

Many of us are so walled off from ourselves that we miss the opportunity to experience the transformation St. Paul is talking about.  The shadow side of the good news is that we have to be vulnerable to experience the work that God is doing in us and in our world.  The most vulnerable people point us to God because they are in the most need of the changes that God’s Kingdom brings. 

We are people who like to be safe.  We have insurance for all sorts of emergencies.  Locks on our doors, on our phones.  We really don’t like feeling vulnerable.  We want to protect ourselves from hurt, from pain as much as possible.  We fear the unknown. 

But God is also found in the unknown.  God is leading us there to knock on doors we do not wish to open.

Sitting with discomfort is a spiritual practice.  Denying and avoiding our suffering and the suffering of others disconnects us from our soul and from God.    

God can be found behind many forbidden doors.  Truth is often found hiding behind a locked door.  We don’t always want to talk about it.  Sometimes the truth is hard to see.  The pain is hard to bear.  But if we are brave enough to knock, if we are courageous enough to look and behold the suffering within us and around us, then the pain has a shot at being loved and transformed into energy that serves God’s emerging Kingdom.

I’m reminded of Jesus’ words that when you look around and you see calamities and war, fear not for the Lord is very, very close to you, right here, in your midst. 

The scriptures are always telling us to fear not.  Remember, your source, the one who made you, the one who loves you, the one who has every hair on your head numbered.  Remember, remember whose you are.  Remember whom you serve as Mary and Martha asked us to consider last week in the lessons.

Whom do you serve?  Do you serve the one who knows you, the one who loves you?  Or do you serve the powers of fear and oppression that prefer you stay small and silent?  Do you serve your beloved who is whispering in your ear?  Do we serve in perpetuating trauma as we refuse to listen to suffering ones around us and within us. 

Be still. Pray. Listen. Then act. 

Psalm 138 says:
All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O Lord, for they have heard the words of your mouth. They shall sing of the ways of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord.

Every time we hear of more violence our leaders say they are praying with victims.  But when our prayers do not shape who we are in the world, when they have no effect on our inner most being, then maybe we are doing it wrong. 

Jesus, teach us to pray.  

When feel at the mercy of our circumstances, when we feel at the mercy of a big and cruel world that is erupting in violence,

Jesus, teach us to pray in a way that makes a difference. 

In a world wounded and traumatized by long histories of rulers who established order through violence, our bodies and bones know the vulnerability of being exploited; we long for shelter and safety and just order upon the earth.  We long to help God create a Kingdom of Peace where the lion and lamb lay down together.  The psalmist reminds us that our protection and safety is found in our creator, which one day all kings shall praise with song.   

Mitri Raheb, a Christian Palestinian and pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem writes in his book, Faith in the Face of Empire, (p. 127):

“We have to hold the reigns of the tension between history with its endless injuries and the vision of a future with its promises, ever conscious that the present is the space to heal wounds and to seize opportunities...For we lose the future the moment we lose our capability for imagination. Without faith, there is no imagination; without imagination, there is no innovation; and without innovation, there is no future. Faith embodies the view that we can imagine something that was not, until the present, part of history."

Jesus teach us to pray, so we can imagine and co-create a better world together. 
I’ve heard it said that depression is being stuck in the past, anxiety is being stuck in worry of the future, the present moment is the place that is difficult to inhabit.  It is the place of incarnation, of God dwelling with us here and now.  It’s a practice to stay here, to stay present, to be open to the unknown adventure.

We pray because prayer puts us in God’s presence.  Prayer helps our body become the sanctuary for the light of the Kingdom of God here on earth.  This light shines through us because we belong to our source.  We open to God’s love and God’s love flows through us.  When we fear, our reception to love is blocked.  Our light is hidden under a bushel.

I am one who has feared a lot.  When I was younger, my mother, who was my piano teacher, enrolled me in piano recitals and competitions.  I would get so possessed by fear that when I stood up in front of a group of people I completely forgot how to talk or sing or play the piano.  I remember looking down at this instrument that I knew so well and thinking: what are all these black and white keys?  My fear didn’t know how to use my gifts.  My fear hid my gifts to protect me from my perceived danger.

In a time when we are called to shine even brighter, fear is not the answer: imagination is.  Prayer connects us to our imaginations, it unleashes our potential.  Fear and prayer can be interesting dance partners.  When we experience fear, instead of shying away, we can meet it and match it with courage.  It took me a few years of facing my stage fright to experience a shift from fear dominating me, to watching it transform and become a dance partner that serves my greatest good.  Now performing is exhilarating, not debilitating.  Now there is more energy.  More joy.

Jesus models for us prayer as an essential part of ministry.  And he models for us a balanced way of being in the world.  We like to get things done.  We’re often over busy.  Busy avoiding what’s uncomfortable.  Prayer teaches us to sit with the uncomfortable.  Prayer gives us the space to rest in the wisdom of God.  As we sit and dwell in these bodies, as we receive God’s healing, we open to bear more light.  Our squirrely minds calm.  When we pray we are tethered to soul.  We become bearers of peace.  Peace grows within us and it extends like a garden of invisible light around us.  As we each grow, we connect and expand the largest tree of all:  the Kingdom of God.

We pray to remember that we are always connected to love. 

We pray to remember to see the suffering.  Because to maintain connection to soul we must face what it has suffered so that we can learn how to do no harm. 

Fear not when you behold the suffering in yourself and in the world.  This is a challenge.  We naturally block ourselves from seeing too much suffering because it’s heavy and it’s hard.  We don’t like to look at our own suffering; we try to avoid talking about unpleasant topics.  We don’t want to get mired down or be the Debbie Downer at the social function.  But, when we are asking our sins to be forgiven, we are also asking to see the depth of truth about ourselves.  And that can be hard to look at sometimes.  It takes courage. 

When we can acknowledge suffering, when we can show it compassion, something amazing happens: it transforms, it’s not the lead in the basement that we think it is going to be.  Suffering seen with compassion rises up like butterflies from the grave.  New life comes forth within you and within me.  The tree of life, the tree of light, God’s Kingdom grows within us.  Our wounds become like doors to the divine. 

Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen works with cancer patients.  She often asks those who’ve experienced great suffering:  what strength did you draw on to make it through?  We can all ask ourselves that of the difficult times we have been through.  We can frame suffering in a different way.  It is not here to make us helpless victims.  It can actually teach us to open our eyes to our internal strengths. 

She writes, “What appears to be a catastrophe, over time, becomes a strong foundation from which to live a good life.”

Suffering can be like good soil.  We are maturing in Christ.  We were made for such a time as this. 

When we pray, we call upon the creator who is sacred.  We are in communion the one who has known us before we were born, before our parents were born, with the Love from which we came and to which we shall return.  We are just passing through.  Remembering where we come from and where we are going. 

When we pray we ask for nourishment.  To be nourished is to know what we are truly hungry for.  To pray for sustenance means we are able to admit that the things we are using to stuff or alleviate our hungers are not truly satisfying.  To admit we hunger is to touch our own human frailty, to connect with the vulnerable parts of ourselves and the longings of our soul.

God is saying to us today:  I want to give you good gifts!  I have amazing stuff.  I can increase in you the Holy Spirit so that you can have a right mind, so your body is a holy sanctuary, so you would hear the voice of the good shepherd who whispers to you the way the truth and the light no matter what is going on around you.

Prayer is a practice of unplugging from our traumatic world so we can abide in love wherever we are.  So that we can shine light when there is darkness all around.  Don’t let the violence and traumas of our world play God.  Let God’s compassion for suffering reign.

This past week we celebrated my baby’s fifth birthday!  We had a simple party with our family as we went roller skating.  We tried new things.  We fell down a lot.  And we also laughed a lot too.  At the end of the day I was wishing I could afford to give my kids so much more and I heard a voice—maybe God’s nudge—reminding me that the best gift I can give to my kids is joy.  As I was preparing this sermon I thought: if I want to give my joy to my own children—imagine how much more joy God wants to give to us!

When we pray we ask for forgiveness.  We have to look and see what blocks we have built against love.  We knock on the doors of fears within us and face the illusions about why we can’t live in God’s joy, why we can’t live the dream God planted in our hearts.  We have to ask why can’t we let the life that wants to come forth within us play in the world.  Why can’t we go roller skating? 

So we knock on doors and ask if they really have to stay closed.    

We knock so the light can shine in whatever dark rooms we have not allowed love to come in.  We knock on the doors of shame, of unworthiness.  We knock so we can see where in our own lives we closed the gate to God’s kingdom because we’ve allowed fear to set up residence in our temples. We knock so we can keep opening to the deep “yes!”  We knock so the divine “yes!” is big enough to dissolve the fears, or at least teach them how to dance God’s dream with us.

“In the day I called, You answered me.  You increased my strength of soul.” (Psalm 138).

May our souls rise up!  People of God you were created to shine!  May our souls rise up!

May God give you grace to never sell yourself short,
   grace to risk something big for something good,
   and grace to remember that the world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love. Amen.