"The Spirit of Being At Home": John 14: 23-29
There is no question that our gospel lesson this morning points to a very high calling of Peace and Love: that to follow Christ is to be "in Christ," and to allow Christ to dwell IN us. He says, if you love me, you are to love as I have loved, for "We" (the Father and I,) will "make our home in you." This really means the Holy Spirit too! So the church, given the gift of an indwelling Holy Spirit, will "do even greater things" than Jesus, he promises..... And that would mean a whole lot of Peace and Love! We remember he says "My Peace I give to you." It is both our possibility and promise. Let me approach this journey in two parts: Inner and Outer.
INNER JOURNEY - We are supposed to be able to feel "at peace," or we could say "at home" in our own skin. We can have an inner disposition of peace, gratitude, hope, a smile about life. The Buddhists speak of the "half-smile!" I suppose it is to distinguish it from an ear to ear grin, to show an interior source, a smile from within. The Transcendental Meditation teachers spoke of the "Mother is at home" feeling of quiet meditation. (How great it was to know that Mother was at home, when we scraped a knee, or were crying for some reason). Yoga teachers insist that slow, deep breathing helps us move toward inner peace. And Christians have emphasized the inner journey with scripture reading, meditating, and singing. Our communion sacrament actually invites Jesus to come inside, to fulfill his promise to "make a home" inside of us. He is clear that we are to "let our hearts not be troubled, nor let them be afraid." He is clear that we can live with inner peace.
OUTWARD JOURNEY - We are to extend the Peace and Love we find to others! I've spoken of my college experience before.. that at Williams College I attended the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. While I may not have agreed with every thought, I can say truly that I felt "at home" with most all of the students in the fellowship. After all, we had the same God, the same Christ, the same intention of peace and love; everyone tried to practice the ways of Christ and greet each other with kindness. I love the phrases "by the fruit ye shall know them," and "they will know you are my disciples by your love."
In the recent Alumni magazine, they spoke of how college students are making "space for the soul." Interesting that I couldn't find the Intervarsity fellowship, but here are some interfaith samplings. One speaks of the Muslim Prayer Room on their holy day, Friday: "It is quiet here, you take off our shoes, there are prayer rugs, I feel comfortable here. Whoever comes in the room is going to be a smiling face I want to see." Wow! Does that sound similar to what I was experiencing 30 years ago in the Intervarsity fellowship: In the outer spiritual journey, one greets the world with a smile! A Roman Catholic puts it this way: "The community of the Newman Room really did become a home away from home.... Just virtuous Christ-centered friendship. It's beautiful to share faith with your peers." Imagine that, calling it a "home away from home!" And from the Jewish Religious Center: "It's warm there - like a cozy library, a reflection time. And there are all the people you don't see much during the week. A few minutes to slow down and catch up with people. In the outward spiritual journey, one feels "at home" or "at peace" with others!!
So this is officially Peace Month in Newburyport, and yet we hear that in the first week a Brazilian family on Market Street had the windows of their car and apartment broken, as well as hearing racial slurs shouted at them. People who are angry inside seem to need a target or scapegoat on whom to unleash their inner torment. Churches also have trouble living up to Jesus' ideals of peace and love. Too often there is fighting over politics, over who has decided what. And the nuclear family has difficulty also. Romans 12 says, "If possible, so far as it is up to you, live peaceably with ALL." Even with the ones we love the most, peace can be elusive.
Sometimes we need practical suggestions, and this is where psychologists and therapists can be helpful. Do you all know the famous psychologist Richard Carlson? (No one raises a hand!) OK, does the title of his book ring a bell? "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff!" Ah, yes, it became a best-seller, because his short pithy sayings are indeed good proverbs, many with spiritual precedent! Let me conclude this sermon with some of the ones that may help us with our inward and outward journeys.
For INNER PEACE AND LOVE:
- "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff!" (Why make molehills into mountains? Jesus observes that the Pharisees strain out gnats, yet miss the weightier matters of love and justice)
- "Make peace with imperfection" (Yes, everyone needs and can receive Grace... "Just as I Am," says the revival hymn)
- "The In-basket will never be empty" (Yes, we need rest, one form of grace, from to-do lists)
- "Surrender to the fact that life isn't fair" (It rains on the just and the unjust, says Jesus in Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5.)
- "Get comfortable not knowing" (This is why "Mystery" is such a helpful way to view God, and why Paul says "now we see dimly).
- "Make Quiet Time Every Day" (he also suggests Yoga for quieting the mind) - "Become aware of your moods, and don't be fooled by the low ones" (a similar proverb is "This Too Shall Pass." And Jesus, encouraged all "heavily laden" to come to him for rest, renewal... Then would come the new life, the new creation, the new birth)
For OUTWARD PEACE AND LOVE:
Like the 10 Commandments, we start with negative imperatives.
- "Stop Blaming Others" (obvious, but difficult! We remember that Jesus tells us to take the log out of our own eye before digging for the speck in another's eye)
- "Resist the Urge to Criticize" (similar to above, and Carlson's mentor, Wayne Dyer puts it this way: "Be a Doer, not a Critic. A non-doer is often a critic, someone who sits back and watches doers, and then waxes philosophically about how the doers are doing! It is easy to be a critic, but being a doer requires effort, risk, and change.)
- "Don't Interrupt or Finish Sentences" (a negative imperative, whose redemption involves: "Become a Better Listener!"
The following three all involve the spiritual discipline of FORGIVENESS:
- "Look beyond behavior" (as with children, often, "they know not what they do")
- "Give the Benefit of the Doubt." - "Be the First One to Act Loving or Reach Out" (Initiate the Forgiveness)
- "Imagine people either as infants, or as 100 years old" (See how you have a softer place in your heart for them)
- "Choose Being Kind over Being Right" (Said another way: "Do you choose to be in relationship, or to be right?!)
A couple more, that both have to do with BOUNDARIES:
- "IF Someone throws you the ball, you don't have to catch it!" (It's OK to say no, to avoid enmeshment or co-dependence, OK not to fix everything. Jesus, in silence, certainly did that with Pilate and other people who questioned him!)
- "MYOB!" "...which includes eavesdropping, gossiping, and analyzing other people." Carlson admits to being too involved at times and says: "now I'm not butting in where I'm not wanted, so I'm available to help when asked or when truly needed." It is "knowing when to help and when to let something be." Jesus enacted this one by moving on from his hometown when they did not want or ask for his help!)
So let us all do everything we can to cultivate Peace and Love. Let us be "At Home," first within OURSELVES, by inviting the Holy Spirit continually to dwell within us, and secondly with OTHERS, by sharing Christ's Peace and Love, with appropriate boundaries.
Rev. Ross Varney, May 13, 2007