Saturday, April 30, 2011

Oregon Associates Retreat 2011 #1

The theme for our time together this weekend comes from a sermon I heard earlier this year. The jist was this: Through God’s abundance we’ve been given so much… and two hands to hold it.

We have received and can continue to receive every day, but only if our hands are empty. If our hands are still holding on for dear life to those blessings, there’s nowhere to put the new ones.

The message of Jesus never much emphasized the receiving part… but he always spoke to the giving part. So we must learn to let go, to give what we’ve been given away. Thus the theme: hands to receive and hands to bless. Simultaneous receiving and blessing… that’s become my personal goal.

When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2.3-4)

Jesus made an assumption. In that moment when he replied to his mother, before he acted, he was relying on his preconceived notion of his time and what it would look like. He was tethered to a sense of timing. I can relate to that, can’t you?

We're all tethered to something. I don’t notice it in the always-on Internet world of New York, but I have become totally tethered to the Web. Free wifi in airports and hotels is important to me. Others who are not now, and will probably never be, internet users, are tethered to something else: yesterday's ideas or yesterday's systems.

It doesn’t really matter whether it’s wi-fi, or cars, or traditions, or world-views, roles, privileges – If you take them away, we feel lost. So this story of the wedding is a perfect story for us, to help us let go of our own tethers.

Our tethers don't define us. They might help us function and make us feel useful. But in God's economy, dislocation is often essential for stepping forward. Losing our grip on yesterday's assumptions and assurances is critical for doing what God wants today.

“Dying to self,” as Jesus commanded, isn't just about letting go of bad habits and self-centered ways; it's also about leaving behind those good things we thought we knew, things we worked hard to attain. It means putting aside old stories in order to claim God's new story.

Some theologians believe Jesus knew it all, had a perfect plan for his short three-year ministry, but this passage from John suggests he discovered his purpose and identity along the road. To do that, he had to let go of his own yesterday.

The miracle at Cana was more than magic with water. It was the miracle of Jesus cutting his tether and moving on. He lived his own eventual counsel: let God name the hour.

I think we want faith to be important, but too often it ends up being the ultimate add-on to life. We get an education, get the job, get the family, get the toys, and then we want to get faith. We get everything we want in life, and then we get right with God. Seems like a pretty good deal.

Then we discover the truth. The path to God goes by way of loss and bondage, not by accomplishment… by letting go, by keeping our hands empty.

We enter a wilderness, not a comfortable place. We hunger and then are fed. We fail to see and then are shown more. We feel lost and then are found.

We stand naked before life, not the heroes we wanted to be, not the flawless stars, and then God asks us to come closer to a tomb that is empty. Empty of everything except God's mystery. Our plans for the day are shot. Our dreams for life prove hollow.

Have you ever noticed that when we read the Gospels, Jesus is often busy (as in occupied, needed, pulled, demanded, pushed). But Jesus is never in a hurry. Is it possible that we can change the way we live, not by addition, but by subtraction?

Maybe this weekend we can practice being empty. Take some time to think about the things that clutter your hearts and minds: write them in your journal.

  • Do you need to be in a hurry?
  • Do you need to impress those around you?
  • Are you dissatisied with ordinary days and gifts of grace?
  • Are you preoccupied with all that's left undone?

When our identities are defined by what we do or have, or earn, or strive for, or require in order to impress, we have everything to lose. Maybe this weekend we can work on losing it.

Paul Tillich tells us, "You are accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not seek for anything. Do not perform anything, do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted." If that happens to us, we experience grace.

His words are a reminder that we can live and choose and commit "from acceptance" and not "for acceptance." I'm not doing any of this (Sabbath, prayer, rest, reflection, renewal) to impress anyone or earn stars in my crown in heaven. Life is full. This life. This moment. This relationship. This conversation. This encounter. The sacred present begins here.

1 comment:

Chris said...

We stand naked before life, not the heroes we wanted to be, not the flawless stars, and then God asks us to come closer to a tomb that is empty. Empty of everything except God's mystery. Our plans for the day are shot. Our dreams for life prove hollow.

--thank you for this!