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Recent Sermons

Do We Dance? Do We Mourn? Are We Weary?

Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
July 9, 2017

How’s life for you these days? Is the summer treating you well? If we can avoid listening to or watching the daily news…There are those who say “Ignorance is bliss.” I’ve fantasized being able to turn off my brain and I meditate now everyday, which helps, but…We are living in a time of crisis and it can be truly overwhelming if we do not have a way to balance the constant inflow of information and challenge with a meaningful way to respond.

Jesus was born into a time of crisis such as ours. It is said that Herod wiped out a whole village of children under two in an attempt to be rid of the prophesized coming of a messiah. Caesar rulled his Empire with an iron fist. He said: “It matters not if people love me, only that they fear me!” Crosses lined many a major road in Palestine with the dying bodies of those who had attempted insurrection!

The only significant difference between times in the past and now is the amount of media bombardment and the constant fear it can produce. Are you afraid? It is perhaps the intentions of the powers that be to keep us in fear. When we live in fear our ability to respond rather than react is diminished. Ron Evans, our Office Manager shared this from his current studies on why we human beings behave the way we do (it’s in our brains):
"Information reaches the amygdala (the seat of emotion) very fast, but it is often inaccurate. The amygdala thinks it knows what it's seeing before the frontal cortex (the seat of reason) can slam on the brakes. So, an innocent young man reaches for his wallet and dies."
And so many other tragic events are taking place!

So how do we respond? Do we dance? Do we mourn? How do we find rest for our weary souls?

Ecclesiastes, named for the Teacher, reminded us that there is a         time for everything, but the trick and the challenge is to know what time it is, and how to balance self-care with meaningful action, and what kind of action?

My Spiritual Director, who I see once a month, asked me this week, if I have any role models for a healthy response to the chaos of these times. Pema Chodron, a Buddhist teacher who wrote a book I am reading and re-reading right now called “The Places That Scare You,” came to mind. And later I thought of Richard Rohr, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation who practices and teaches the balanced Christian path I hope to follow. These words from  his book “What the Mystics Know” felt particularly helpful, if still challenging:
“Action does not mean activism, busyness, or do-goodism. Action, however, does mean a decisive commitment toward involvement and engagement in the social order. Issues will not be resolved by meer reflection, discussion, or even prayer. God ‘works together with’ (Romans 8:28) all those who love. To requote so many saints, ‘We must work as if it all depends on us and pray as if it all depends on God.’ That does not imply frenetic programming, but it does say that our work is essential and even cocreative of the new world.”

So again, how do we respond? How do we work together to create the new world, the Beloved Community, that may seem so far off in these troubled times? In our reading today we hear Jesus suggest that it doesn’t help to judge how others are choosing to act.

John the Baptist came as a prophetic wild man calling for repentance down by the River Jordan. And Jesus went to him and responded to his call, and experienced his own call as he emerged from those waters of baptism: “You are my beloved!” Then Jesus began a ministry of healing and teaching, sharing meals with the wrong people, bringing abundance to all who gathered to hear him. Critics called John possessed by a demon, and Jesus a glutton and a drunkard. But Jesus’ only response was to remind us, “Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” He knew that John helped to transform lives, including his own. And he knew that his own ministry was encouraging and challenging the poor and the meek, the hungry and hopeless, to believe in themselves and to work together for the healing of the world. He reminded them, and by extension us, that when “we are weary and are carrying heavy burdens,” we can turn to God, by whatever name we call God, we can turn to that center of peace and calm that is our birthright as children of the Most High, to breathe deeply into the Presence that can gentle and humble our hearts. We can find rest for our souls. For God’s yoke upon us is easy, and God’s burden is light.

But that doesn’t let us off the hook! We need to examine our hearts, our minds and our souls to ask: Are we listening to God’s call to us? Are we responding with wisdom or fear? Are we willing to follow wherever God leads? Jesus also asks us to “pick up our cross and follow him.” His cross led literally to his death. Our cross will no-doubt lead to the death of our egoes, moment by moment, if we are willing…

Ron shared another quote with me this week that I found         particularly challenging: “What was an unexpected pleasure yesterday, is what we feel entitled to today, and what won't be enough tomorrow." (Let me repeat that!)

Our mass media not only fills our heads and hearts with fear, it fills us with wants that become needs, that then become distractions. We can use those distractions to avoid facing God’s call in this moment, to let go, to serve, to be courageous, kind, humble.

I’m reading William James’ classic, “The Varieties of Religious Experience,” and took it with me on a silent retreat at the Mercy Center in Burlingame last week. It was an old copy I had purchaced from Feldman Used Books in Menlo Park and when I opened it an old newspaper clipping from 1972 dropped out. It was a Charles McCabe editorial called “How to Bully.” It talked about a very popular book at the time by Robert J. Ringer called “Winning Through Intimidation.”

The book declares that we all “know that Christianity will never get you into boardrooms, or White Houses, though it is useful to fake Christianity when once you ‘intimidate’ yourself through the doors.” It says, “you cannot be happy or prosperous unless you are a bully…and the woods are full of appalling young bullies and old ones too who believe that you cannot fulfill yourself except through the use of fear as a weapon…and thousands of them
practice it with outstanding success.”

We now have a consummate bully in the White House, but McCabe was talking about Nixon and Watergate. Has the world come full circle this fast? Or are we just getting to see more clearly the world as it is and the real challenges to our faith? Caesan too was a bully!

I am very aware of how difficult it is to respond to our current crisis from a center of peace. I am meditating every day and have been for several years now, but I still find myself overwhelmed and reactive in the face of the troubles I see on our daily news and in the world around me. All I can do is admit, “Humility is endless,” and keep on practicing breathing, and praying for help and guidance. What am I called to do? What are we?

My emotional brain (the amygdala) is as strong as ever. But my frontal cortex is getting stronger. I’m able to pause with my emotional reactions and choose to think and pray before I act! That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!  May it be so! May it be so for all of us!