I was trying to get myself organised the other day, a constant battle, and so was attempting to get rid of the thousands of emails that have piled up in my inbox, 20,000 to be exact!
I know, I know, it’s outrageous that I have that many, but somehow I can’t seem to delete them. And I was wondering why?
But pondering this question has led to me to some home truths about myself. Maybe I find I can’t let them go, not because I might need them one day (which I sometime use as an excuse), but because of my inability to embrace the something new in my life, which is largely unknown. So I tend to stay in the past, surrounded by reminders of it, hence the emails. The emails detail what has gone before, and show me the life I and my family and community and the world have had, rather than facing and embracing what is going on now and in the future for us all. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have memories or photos, but if we get stuck in the past, reliving times that have gone, it affects how we live in the present and is counter-productive to planning a future. While we can learn from the past, sometimes we have to let it go!
But there is something else going on with me, which I only just realised lately. It’s a bit like any artist or writer, you are only as good as your last song, or last book, or last blog. I keep all the things I have written over the years, and sometimes revisit them to remind myself, that yes, I could write back then, and yes, I did have some interesting thoughts that may have helped a few people. When you come to a new page, you are again in that space where doubt can enter through the side door. Can I still write, do I still have some good ideas, will people still read them? I sometimes have this feeling when I sit down to do a service or write a sermon ( as I work part time as a minister in a local progressive church). Even though I am supposedly channelling the spirit, it is often lonely when the page is empty of words and meaning. And the spirit seems quiet. It is easier to go back and look at what I have written in the past then to be brave and write something new.
But then I read a lovely column by the writer Anne Lamont, “The 12 truths she has learnt about life and writing”. Although they all spoke to me, there was one that I loved, number 6..
“Writing. Every writer you know writes really terrible first drafts, but they keep their butt in the chair. That’s the secret of life. That’s probably the main difference between you and them. They just do it. They do it by prearrangement with themselves. They do it as a debt of honour. They tell stories that come through them one day at a time, little by little. When my older brother was in fourth grade, he had a term paper on birds due the next day, and he hadn’t started. So my dad sat down with him with an Audubon book, paper, pencils and brads — for those of you who have gotten a little less young and remember brads — and he said to my brother, “Just take it bird by bird, buddy. Just read about pelicans and then write about pelicans in your own voice. And then find out about chickadees, and tell us about them in your own voice. And then geese.”
So the two most important things about writing are: bird by bird and really god-awful first drafts. If you don’t know where to start, remember that every single thing that happened to you is yours, and you get to tell it. If people wanted you to write more warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.
You’re going to feel like hell if you wake up someday and you never wrote the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves of your heart: your stories, memories, visions and songs — your truth, your version of things — in your own voice. That’s really all you have to offer us, and that’s also why you were born.”
I am not sure I was born to write, but I do get that urge to put pen to paper, regardless of the fear that people might not care.
Maybe that doesn’t matter, and we become who we are by doing what we are called to do, regardless of whatever other people think.
For me, I write how I see the world, how I see God (whatever that term means) and my faith journey, how I see how my community and how I see myself. And I try to do it honestly and with thought and with love. But I don’t confess to have any more answers than you, whether it is a sermon or a blog or even some notes on a page.
But I am going to do it more often, and stop looking back but look forward, for as Anne said, I am going to “keep my butt in the chair”, and edit that awful first draft until it’s a 10thor 100thdraft! For in the end its my voice and I want to share “the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves of my heart”, with you all!
PS. By the way I am slowly getting rid of the emails!!!
Readings: Matt 5:1-20
Today, as I said previously, we are making a 2020 commitment. A commitment that leaves no one in any doubt about who we belong to and how we might live.
I feel it’s a bit like a wedding ceremony, that I often perform between people who have been living together for some time. Seems like that is always the way with my prospective couples, sometimes they may even have children. So what makes them suddenly decide to get married. It’s commitment, they want to make a commitment to love and cherish each other that’s public and binding. I often use a quote from the novel, The Brothers Karamazov in the ceremony. It goes like this …
“Love in your dreams is such a marvellous and glorious thing. Yet love in reality is active, labour and fortitude.”
The couple in question are making a decision to commit to one another in love, in good and not so good times. And it’s a beautiful decision.
So what is the commitment we are making today. It’s a commitment to the way of Jesus, to his life and teachings, which will be at odds not only with a lot of our secular world right now, but actually with many of our fellow Christians. So a commitment that is also made in good and not so good times.
The novel, “The Brothers Karamazov is a classic, written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. For those who are reading Jim Wallis’s new book, “Christ in Crisis”, this will sound familiar. Apart from the quote I used before, Dostoyevsky’s story within a story recounts the tale of the grand inquisitor. How Jesus comes back to earth during the days of the inquisition, when religious leaders were controlling, imprisoning and killing their fellow Christians and Jews, all in the name of Christ. The unwelcome return of Jesus results in his arrest, and the grand inquisitor himself comes down to Jesus cell to confront him. The inquisitor explains that the church of that time had been able to keep people in line and therefore create an organised and complacent society. Everything is working perfectly, the inquisitor argues, without allowing the people free with all its messiness. If Jesus is released, all he will do is mess things up. Throughout the encounter Jesus says nothing but simply responds with the kiss of peace.
As Bishop Michael Curry, the writer of the introduction to Wallis’s book remarks, “the contrast is a powerful one. There stands Jesus of Nazareth, whose life and teachings are a threat not only to the surrounding society but, sadly to the church that professes his name but tries everything possible to keep him and his message hidden away from view”
Maybe the truth in this story is the truth of today.
Today we have many people who are worshipping Jesus rather than living his way. People who confess to be Christian but act as though they hadn’t read the gospels. Somewhere along the way a disconnect between his teachings about the poor, about justice and compassion, and how people are to treat one another has occurred. Somehow this seems to have gotten worse in our global world. Right wing politics, fear and exclusion, out and out lying and misinformation seem to be the order of the day, and seem to be coming from people who are supposedly followers of Jesus.
Rev Prof. Bill Loader, at his talk the other night, showed how embracing the message of Christianity can lead to either inclusion or exclusion. It depends on how people see the good news, to be shared with everyone for everyone, or hoarded for a privileged few.
So sometimes we need to stop and review where we are, where we are heading. And remind ourselves what the good news actually is. As Jim Wallis says, we shouldn’t go right or left, but deeper.
In many Christian circles, both progressive and evangelical, and throughout the history of Wembley Downs Uniting the life and teachings of Jesus have been and are central to faith. Whatever you believe about Jesus death and resurrection Jesus was a man who lived a life for others. We hear this message mostly in the form of story, parables, which turned things upside down. Think of the good Samaritan, the prodigal son, a persistent widow, the mustard seed and the sheep and the goats to name a few.
Yet it wasn’t just parables or shorter sayings that he used. It was also found in his actions, eating with people seen as sinners, including women, and in his speeches, most notably the sermon on the mount, which was last week’s reading but we read again today. While probably not given all at once as recorded, the sermon reflects a manifesto for life, a way of transforming and the making the world better. This list, the beatitudes, are the essence of the gospels for many of us.
Today we also heard what comes after the sermon on the mount. Jesus commands his listeners to go out and be salt of the earth, a light to the world.
This is where the disconnect occurs for me most strongly.
Jesus doesn’t say, go and worship me, exclude those who don’t believe what we believe, and by the way, heaven is waiting so don’t be too worried about what is happening here on earth. No, he says, go out and be salt to the earth, and a light to the nations. And follow my way of living. Protect and support the poor, the marginalised, the widows, eat with sinners, form communities, be peacemakers, speak truth to power, and unfortunately, possibly even suffer because of it.
I try hard not to judge those who understand the Christian faith differently to me, but somehow we have to reclaim his message and his way. Jesus did not come to save a few, but everyone, and he did it by showing us how to live with one another within Gods spirit of life and love. We are called to follow him in enhancing life while also shining a light where darkness has taken hold and where people suffer because of it.
Which leads me back to Jim Wallis’s book, “Christ in Crisis”. He along with many others also recognise that Christianity has lost its way. Jesus has become an idol which people worship, but not a leader who we are to follow.
He, together with a number of other church ministers have put together a public statement, in an attempt to reclaim Jesus for the world. It has everything to do about Jesus teachings, and the God of life and love he reflects and nothing about Jesus as a personal saviour. It was written for lent in 2018 and up to now over 5 million people have supported it.
It is called “Reclaiming Jesus: A declaration of faith in a time of crisis” and reflects how they saw we are to be salt and light to the world.
While It is firmly aimed at America and the current President of the United States,
I still want to show you what it says….
It’s not an easy thing, to live to these ideals, really live them .
What my young and not so young couples in my wedding ceremony are signing up for is not the love of a romance novel or a dream, but the mystery of love in real life. Love that requires commitment, fortitude and sometimes labour. Because the love that is affirmed at a wedding is not just a condition of the heart, that comes and goes, but an act of the will. And the promise that this love makes is to will the others good, even sometimes at the expense of our own.
When Jim Wallis calls us to reclaim Jesus what does it mean. It means joining all those who love what Jesus loved, whether they are people of faith, different faiths or no faith to become the best we can be, as individuals and as a community and a world. To be more inclusive, more compassionate, more loving. To will the others good, sometimes at the expense of our own.
A huge promise, but a beautiful, exciting promise. For it speaks to us of what human life at its most human and its most alive and most holy must be. Even through the ups and downs of our messy, chaotic, joyful and sometimes sorrow filled lives, we can all become bearers of Jesus’ vision that can change the world.
This is our commitment today and always.