- The Rev. Arianne Rice
Give Voice to Your Humanity
What is it you want to hear in a sermon? There are probably as many answers to that question as there are people in the room. Maybe a word of hope, strength or encouragement. Maybe something hard is happening in our lives right now so we want to know God loves us, it will all be ok. When I think about what I want to hear in a sermon – I know I want to hear, “good news.” And those two words cover a wide-variety of topics – but if it’s good news, I think it will be as risky as it is rewarding (think: love – think: forgiveness).
In a priest’s office I was once in, there was a giant painting on the wall called “The Sermon.” It was the point of view of the preacher – gazing at a packed house of parishioners. All well-dressed, smiling, laughing – clearly enjoying themselves. And in the center, front pew was Jesus (you knew, because of the beard and the robe) – and he was sound asleep. Hmmm. Everyone but him was enjoying themselves – wonder why?
I think about that painting a lot, wondering what it is that Jesus wants to hear us say. And I thought about it especially this week as the lessons from this morning make clear that what we say matters. Wisdom cries out in the streets. James tells us to bridle our tongues, we curse God and bless God’s creatures. Teaching is serious business. And Jesus asks a critical question – who do you say that I am?
So I was led to re-watch a TED Talk I’d seen awhile back. The man giving it is John Francis, its from 2008 and he tells the story of his adult journey of growing in his field and becoming an environmentalist. Watch it! His journey started in 1971 as he gazed at an oil spill in the San Francisco Bay. In a response of protest and personal accountability he decides he will stops using motorized vehicles. He’s going to walk, everywhere. And as he does this, people ask why. And he begins to notice that all the questions lead to arguments. People claiming its pointless, and that he’s just doing this to make other people feel bad.
So, he decides to stop arguing by ceasing talking. Decides to go a year – amazed at how freeing it is. After one year – still wants to do it. Goes 17 years. Gets his Bachelors. His Masters. Gets his post-graduate degree – and even teaches while doing so. Watches how students learn when he isn’t speaking – through wrestling with what he’s doing – they come up with questions and answers he couldn’t imagine. And he realizes, “If you’re a teacher and you’re not learning as much from your students as you are trying to share, then you are not doing a very good job of teaching.” Isn’t that what James is getting at in this lesson? Sometimes we teach as an expert – bridle your expert tongue, pay attention to what students are teaching you (we’re all students, we’re all teachers).
Then Exxon Valdez oil spill happens, 1988 – 17 years later. And because it started with an oil spill – and he has spent 17 years working on the environment and this topic – he is tapped, he’s the only one. And is made a UN Ambassador for the environment. Realizes it is time to let this practice go – this human discipline of not speaking, not talking planes, trains and automobiles. He learned that we are the environment – how we treat each other is how we treat and will treat creation.
In his practice of letting go – and relying on God, letting go of what other people thought of him, letting go of controlling the outcome and entering into possibilities - relying on the fabric of humanity – he lived fully – embraced living. He gave up his life to save it.
Jesus wants Peter to let go. When he says, “Stop setting your mind on human things, instead of divine things” I think we compartmentalize what he is saying. Like when we are at church, thinking about good, engaged in outreach, saying a prayer – then our minds are on divine things. But when we’re at work, running errands, dealing with the business of living – then we aren’t. No – that’s not it! Its in the business of living that we can choose to focus on the eternal “things” – and let go of the human “things” – envy, jealousy, comparison, anxiety – that keep us from connecting with our divinity – our humanity. And this morning there are three “human things” Jesus wants Peter to put behind him: Winning, Pride, Control
Winning. Peter gives the ‘right’ answer in saying Jesus is the Messiah. But to him that means they will win. Jesus will be King David #2, restore the people of Israel to the glory days, and Peter will be right there to bask in that win. His pride loves this. And it also loves the association with the good guys of the past, Elijah, John the Baptist. Its always easier for us to laud dead figures from the past – much scarier walk with them in our present.
And control is probably the hardest. Peter has a set idea of how this is supposed to play out, and it doesn’t include Jesus getting rejected and killed.
But Peter’s way is not how it’s going to play out. Winning – I don’t think so, Jesus loses big time. Pride – we don’t see Jesus struggle with that, he does accept the shame that comes with rejection – but we don’t know what he did for about 30 years of his adult life, so perhaps he struggled with that too. Control, though – he does struggle with this – Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross. Maybe that’s why it is one of hardest things for us to do – depend on God, trust God, let go of our need to control all the outcomes – cutting ourselves off from possibilities. This is what Jesus shows us – how he set his mind on divine things, amid the business of living. Jesus comes to his divinity through his humanity. That’s what incarnation is all about.
John Francis ends his talk by saying that never in his wildest dreams did he imagine his life would be as full as it is, that he would be where he is, doing what he does. He couldn’t have imagined it. That’s because he gave up something to gain everything.
We come to our divinity through embracing our humanity – through wrestling with who we are and wrestling with the human things of living and struggling. I don’t know what you came to hear this morning in a sermon – but I do know that there is wisdom crying out to you in the streets where you live. I do know there are ways in which all of us need to pay attention to our words and realizes how people perceive us as teachers. And I hope and pray that all of us find the strength and courage to risk letting go of the human things that get in the way of our divinity. What is it that you hear God asking you to let go of? Because trusting God leads to more than we can do on our own.
Glory to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Amen.