Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sermon for June 24, 2012

Five Ideas That Can Change Your Life: Love is the Thing
You Are Never Set Apart from the Connective Current of Life
Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love -- not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and God’s  love is brought to full expression in us. And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us. 1 John 4:7-13
How do you define yourself? I am a married, white, straight, educated, 41-year-old child of the ‘80s with four children, who enjoys variety in my menu, who likes to dress in mis-matched plaids and who enjoys a relatively good amount of health and happiness. You could say something similar about yourself. Each of these descriptions is a code to more understanding. When I was born, what I eat, how I dress, how much money I make, where I live and with whom – you form assumptions based on what you see and hear about me.

But I am more than any of that. I am defined by my consciousness. I think. I evaluate. I act on decisions. I am aware of my world. However, I don’t always know why I do the things I do, so something else must be at work.

So, am I defined by my sub0conscious? Sometimes I sense unknown motives and desires behind what I do. Sometimes these things just pop out and shock me. How can we explain an urge to suddenly call an old friend or to take a drive alone? How can I explain why I want to cross my legs when I sit down? Sometimes we can find triggers for our impulses, but usually we just move from one subconscious impulse to another without any real awareness of why we do what we do. So I know there are two parts of me, conscious and subconscious. But I don’t know enough about these parts and how they work to form a good picture of who I am.

There is a spiritual me -- driven by unseen forces and universal realities that are bigger than I can fathom. There is the me that others see.  People have an opinion about me when they get to know me.  Am I any of this? Can I know the real me? Can you know the real me?

When people try to explain something, we use two different kinds of languages. Let’s call them Day Language and Night Language -- two different but complimentary sides of our experience.

Day Language is the realm of objective reality. Day Language talks about what is empirically true. There is another reality, communicated to us through dreams, poems, metaphors and stories. It communicates a subjective reality. It wants to be interpreted. Let’s call this Night Language. In Day Language terms, I can explain that the average 150 lb. adult human body contains approximately 6.7 x 1027 atoms and is composed of 60 chemical elements, although only 24 or 25 of those elements are thought to play an active positive role in human life and growth. There are about 210 distinct human cell types. There are between 50 and 75 trillion cells in the human body. Each of those cells contains thousands of protein molecules.

So, I can understand myself in terms of mammal biology, but this doesn’t explain how I got to be me. I also need some Night Language -- some images, metaphors and symbols to convey reality. I can say I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I am a child of God. God leads me to green pastures and beside still waters. I believe these things to be true, but I can’t prove them with the scientific method.

A Surgeon named Sherwin Nuland tries to tie Day and Night Languages together to understand the human spirit. Nuland looks at the world and sees the tragedies humankind has visited on itself, the havoc we have wreaked on our planet.  Even though we have made a mess of the world, humans have developed a transcendent quality that gets bigger, generation upon generation, overcoming our tendency toward self-destruction. Through trial and error, humans gradually found within ourselves, over the course of millennia, what we call the human spirit.  Over time, human beings have chosen to value beauty, harmony, integrity, oneness, rhythm, and predictability. Through thousands of years, we have evolved what we call the human spirit, or soul.

We need both Day Language and Night Language to better understand who we are. Consider this biblical image: You are dust and to dust you shall return. What does this mean? Well, it turns out that all of the elements that make up my body are also part of the earth’s crust. We are dust. Or, instead of earth dust, we can think of ourselves as star dust. The elements in the earth’s crust had to come from somewhere. Our atoms were created from supernova explosions of distant stars, blown out in stellar winds from massive explosions that soared for millions of years through space to become part of the birth of our solar system. Our bodies have billions of bits of information that have been encoded and preserved in each of us -- stored right in our bodies. We are dust, of the day and of the night. We are connected to the earth and the cosmos in love. Or, as Native American elder, named Black Elk said, “The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of men and women when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the Universe and all its powers.”

We need both Day Language and Night Language to better understand who we are. We seek clarity in measurable facts, and then we express our understanding in poetry and stories. You are earth dust, connected elementally to the earth as her grandest expression. You are a star child, an expression of the blazing light and explosive power of the sun.

Perhaps this is how we begin to understand the love of God -- the evolving, breathing, life-giving connection that unites us. We need Day Language and Night Language to understand the fundamental affirmation of our Scripture: God is love. Far from being removed from the world, God is in every single atom of the cosmos, including you.

Both science and spirituality are beginning to affirm there are connections between everything in the universe that we can no longer afford to ignore.  A biologist named Rupert Sheldrake created a controversial concept called morphic fields. Sheldrake claims each individual both draws upon and contributes to the collective memory of the species. This means that new patterns of behavior can spread more rapidly than would otherwise be possible. For example, if rats of a particular breed learn a new trick in a lab at the University of Maryland, then rats of that breed should be able to learn the same trick faster all over the world. If enough chimpanzees learned to ride a bike, then it should be easier for the entire species to learn, no matter where they live. Wild idea, isn’t it?

Habits are subject to natural selection; and the more often they are repeated, the more probable they become, other things being equal. Animals, including humans, inherit the successful habits of their species as instincts. We inherit bodily, emotional, mental and cultural habits, including the habits of our languages.

In other words, we are never apart from the connective current of life. Everything is related. If humans practice violence and the habits of hatred, then it becomes easier for all humans to become disciples of death. But . . . if we practice love . . . if we live with compassion, if we see ourselves united with God and others, if we work for a more humane world . . . then we enable the entire species to do it.

I think a lot about our interconnectedness, and I think perhaps now more than ever we, it's beginning to dawn on us that our the ways in which we define ourselves, the choices we make about the foods we eat, the clothes we wear, and the cars we drive have effects on people all over the world, and even the waters, the skies, the soil, and the animals we share this planet with.

Love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  As I think about this scripture, I began to wonder if we're not all in covenant with one another. I’m talking about a covenant between God, humans, plants, animals, skies, oceans, rivers, earth. We're all in this together. The more we begin to look around and realize the world's problems: famine, rising waters, global warming, human trafficking, worker injustice and abuse, extinction, loss of resources, you name it — we begin to make the connection that who we are has an effect on the world. We are responsible. But the thing is, we've got a covenant to live up to. It all comes down to love. Love is the thing. For it is out of love that we were made out of the dust of the earth, and it is with love that we are given back to the earth. We are in a love covenant. If we love God, we cannot help but to love God’s earth. If we love God, we cannot help but to love God’s earthly creations.

Last week, as I was loading my car and getting ready to come to church, my neighbor called me over. Pointing down the street, she showed me a bird – maybe a catbird or a mockingbird – flopping around in the middle of the road. It looked like its wing was broken. My neighbor said, “Can you move it out of the road. I’m too scared to go near it. I don’t want it to get run over, but I don’t want to touch it.” Mustering all my bravado, I said, “I don’t want to touch it either.” She looked at me. I looked at her. Then I went to look at the bird. I stood over the bird and it calmed down. I reached down, and stroked its back. The bird sat in absolute stillness, neither trying to flop around or peck at me. I pushed on its back tail feathers, and then, as I went to cup the bird in my hand, it gathered its energy and flew away to the relative safety of a nearby thicket. I walked away feeling such a connection with that little gray bird – as if it were my sister, as if we shared a moment. I was reminded of the words of William Blake:
To see the world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.
Think of the times you have had the privilege to cup infinity in the palm of your hand, as if it were a small, wounded gray songbird – the times you had the power of healing or destruction at your fingertips – the times when you understood your connection to the connective flow of life. What a privilege. What a joy. What a responsibility. To respond in ways that generate life and unity, that is love.

Today I’m asking us to fall in love again. Like a partnership between two people who love each other, who make a promise for better or for worse, I’m asking us to fulfill a promise rooted in love, a covenant made between our God and our world that we might love so deeply that we act not out of our own self-interest, but out of the elemental connections that we have with each other and the world around us. We have a covenant based on love. Love is the thing. So, FALL IN LOVE! Or, as John says, No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and God’s  love is brought to full expression in us.

Margarate Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science, 57.
Krista Tippet, Einstein’s God, 41-67.
Michael Dowd, Thank God for Evolution, 48-117.
Roger Housden, Ten Poems to Change Your Life, 31-41.

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