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Sermon for September 25, 2016

Awareness, Empowerment, Embodiement
Mark 13:34-37

Ignatius of Loyola was born in 1491, one of 13 children in a family of minor nobility in northern Spain. As a young man, Ignatius felt inflamed by the ideals of courtly love and knighthood and he dreamed of doing great deeds. But in 1521,  Ignatius was gravely wounded in a battle with the French. While recuperating, Ignatius experienced a transcendent spiritual awakening. He began reading about the life of Jesus and the  saints, and realized that the awakening feelings he experienced were clues to God’s direction for him.

Over the years, Ignatius collected his insights in a book called the Spiritual Exercises, one of the most influential books on the spiritual life ever written. With a small group of friends, Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus, a.k.a the Jesuits. He thought of the Jesuits as “contemplatives in action.” The ignatian way seeks to unite action, contemplation, and imagination to discern how best to love and free the soul from all unnecessary attachments so that we can seek God’s will.

Today I want to highlight two of those movements. These are tried and tested means to grow and nurture our spirituality. The first is awareness. Awareness is the beginning, middle and end of the spiritual life. We begin by thinking about an event near the end of the earthly ministry of Jesus. Mark 13:34-37
“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his workers in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
When we read texts like this, we can get so caught up on the literal details of Jesus’ return. I think Mark points us to something much more significant.  In Jesus’ day, there were only two groups of people who had any business being out and about at night;  shepherds who tended to their flocks and Roman soldiers who kept the watch. The most scrupulously kept regimen of the Roman Army was the night watch. Lack of courage in battle was a severe thing, but it could be remedied. Lack of disciple on a night watch was unforgivable. One Roman historian described what happened if a soldier was found asleep. A court-martial tribunal met, and if the soldier was found guilty the tribunal took  a cudgel and touched the condemned soldier with it, sealing his fate. After the sentence, all in the camp beat or stoned him. If the soldier managed to escape, he was not allowed to return to his home. None of his family would dare to receive him. Because of  the extreme severity of the penalty, the night watches of the Roman Army were taken seriously.. Mark’s readers would have known all about the night watch, so Mark borrows from this tradition when he writes about the events leading to Jesus’ arrest and death. Pay attention to what Mark does in the story.

  • Mark 14:17ff. When it was evening, Jesus came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” The disciples vehemently defend themselves. They are not aware. Evening has come and gone. The 1st watch is over.
  • Mark 15:32 ff. After sharing dinner, Jesus and the disciples go to the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s midnight. Jesus says, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” He falls on the ground and prays that the hour might pass from him. After praying, Jesus finds the disciples sleeping. He says to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The 2nd watch of the night has ended, and the disciples are not awake.
  • Mark 14:66 ff. After his arrest and detention, Peter follows to watch. When asked if he knows this man, Peter denies knowing Jesus. Just then, a rooster crows. The 3rd watch has come, and Peter’s lack of awareness is fulfilled by his denial.
  • Mark 15:1 ff. “As soon as it was daybreak . . .” The 4th watch is here. Jesus is bound and led away to Pilate. The drama has unfolded, and the reader knows that the failure of discipleship is a failure of awareness. We all play in this drama. The final act is dependent on us keeping awake. And what does he mean? On a practical level, how do we practice awareness?
Soren Kierkegaard once said, “Life must be lived forwards, but it can only be understood backwards.” His words remind me of Sankofa, a symbol from West Africa. Sankofa portrays a bird with its feet facing forward and its head looking back, usually with an egg in its mouth. It reminds us to keep an eye on the past, to draw from its treasures, while moving forward into the future. Picture this little bird joyously dancing its way through life – feet forwards, eyes backwards, looking ahead and then looking behind to fetch the essence of life. Imagine this bird singing in your heart, “If I hadn’t gone through that struggle back then, I wouldn’t be prepared for this struggle now.” The first movement of the spiritual life reminds us to be aware that life is beautiful yet broken.

The second direction or movement is empowerment, or, embodied love in the world as seen through the message and actions of Jesus. Empowerment means noticing, offering, and listening to your gifts in order to claim your own potential for transforming the world. It means living awake to your passion. It means finding your voice, or letting your voice find you. As novelist Emile Zola says, “If you ask me what I have come to do in the world, I will tell you: I am here to live out loud.”

One writer (Jurgen Moltmann), put it this way: The secret of human life is easy to understand: anyone who wants to keep his life, and therefore holds onto it and keeps it back, will lose it; he already loses it by becoming incapable of living. But anyone who lives life and commits it and surrenders it, will gain that life; she already gains it by becoming alive. Keeping his life means withdrawing his soul from his body ... In this affirmation life becomes alive in the truly human sense. Anyone who lives like this will be mortal, but dies meaningfully. Life that is never lived cannot die. But life that is truly affirmed can die.

To get to this place, we learn to live by our values and core beliefs. By the way, I am fierce in my determination that at CCC, we don't tell you what your core value and beliefs are. This is not a sign-on-the-dotted-line church. Everyone looks at the world differently. Two people can have the same experience yet have very different interpretations of what happened. Core beliefs are the deeply held beliefs that influence how we interpret our experiences. We may share many of those core beliefs. We may agree to work together to live them out. But we never impose one strict rule of thinking or behaving on another. Think of core beliefs like a pair of sunglasses. Everyone has a different “shade” that causes them to see things differently.

Imagine this situation: you meet a new person whom you find interesting. You think about asking the person out for coffee. A lifetime of self-talk and internalized messages kicks informed a core belief in you which says, ”I’m not worthy.” The next thought is: “Why would they ever go out with me?” The related behavior? You do not ask person to coffee. Many people have negative core beliefs that cause harmful consequences .To begin challenging your negative core beliefs, you first need to identify what they are. We hear them all the time: I’m not smart enough. I’m not successful enough. I’m not beautiful. I’m a failure. I’m no good. I’m boring. I’m stupid. I’m undeserving.

Let’s re-think the same situation: you meet a new person whom you find interesting. You think about asking the person out for coffee. After years of work and deep listening, you develop a core belief that says, “I’m am worthy,” which leads to the thought: “We might have fun if we have coffee together.” The behavior? Asks the person to coffee.

So, I have some homework for us. I want you to think of three negative, limiting messages you tell yourself all the time. Write each down somewhere. And for each one of those negative messages, think of three positive ways to describe yourself. You are kind, intelligent, loyal, hard-working, down-to-earth, attractive, organized and creative. You are strong, friendly, nurturing, thoughtful, confident optimistic, determined, enthusiastic, and motivated. You are insightful, funny, patient, honest, generous, independent, reliable, brave, innovative, and trustworthy. I think this is more than a schmaltzy self-affirmation exercise. When Jesus spoke words of affirmation, people’s cells as well as their souls were transformed. Jesus transformed people’s spiritual identities and transformed their place in society. We are empowered when we can tap into that and express it in our bodies. God wants us to have abundant life. Within the limitations of our current life situations, including our healthy and unhealthy professional and personal habits, our prayer lives, our addictions, and our deep desire for wholeness, God is at work, providing creative possibilities and power to live out who we truly are.

Empowerment means noticing, offering, and listening to your gifts in order to claim your potential for transforming the world. As you cultivate qualities of passion, compassion, gratitude, imagination, and openness to surprise, they build on each other as your inner work and outer work connect with glimpses of the greater work.

Awareness, empowerment and Black Lives Matter -- think about this at the lunch and learn after worship today. What are the realities to which we need to wake up? And when we do, how do we align our values, our thoughts, and our actions to embody God’s love and God’s will?

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