The Rev. Deacon Sherm Everett’s sermon from September 11, 2016.
…“ Moving On … “
There is a story of a wise man and teacher who removes himself from the community by leaving town for a solitary spot in the wilderness. Pursued by his disciples who beg him to return, and quiz him on the reason for his move.
He answers by taking a glass and filling it with water from the ocean: The water in the glass, now removed from the turbulent froth of tide and rocks, stands still.
Not all moves promise such peace. Some moves seem to disturb a settled state and throw us into disarray – both physical and spiritually.
Nature, and more specifically human nature, inherently, involves motion. Our existence involves space in three dimensions and time. Time intrinsically requires motion, and motion, in and of itself, generates time. A world, our lives, without motion would be static and timeless. And a world without time would be… well, in fact, would not be.
For human beings to pause time and motion, as in a reflective state creates a higher-order of conflicting importance. Modern life is fast-paced. Self-reflection requires mindfulness and quieting the mind.
The act of moving inevitably stimulates experience. And this insight, I now realize, prompted me to write this homily.
Whether we go out for a walk, or pack up and move on from years of history, changing our circumstances puts us into new circumstances. And new circumstances confront us with new experiences.
This open and engaged state of the mind in motion, I think, emerges from the very nature of our existence as mobile creatures in a changing world. Our minds respond intensely to change because if they didn’t we wouldn’t have survived.
I might apologize for the wandering nature of this homily. But I like that it’s brought me here. It gives me an excuse to wax philosophical. And allows my mind to ruminate through some of the experiences I have been privileged to witnessed during my tenure at St Stephen’s.
As some deep thinker said:
“All of philosophy is experience. And all of experience is the mind in motion.”
Life is a journey of change, growth and development. We begin our journey at birth when we came into the world and will end our journey at death when we leave the world.
Between the poles of birth and death we live our lives and right now, this congregation, St Stephens, is “centered” in this total process.
During this journey, this community, The Church, has passed through stages of development. The church community grows in talents and skills, the community gathered grows professionally, socially, psychologically and we grow spiritually.
To grow simply means to activate our potential to become all that we are meant to be.
During this journey the life of the church community has passed through various levels and relationships. One of these levels is our spiritual community, the church, where we established diverse relationships with people we counted on to support us. Those relationships have the potential of far reaching impact in the life of the community, and personally, to each of us.
As much as these relationships are based on a certain foundation and way of relating, we sooner or later discover that these ways of relating stop working. Maturity goes on and life demands that we change and grow. But more often than not, instead of growing and changing we become fixed in our familiar way of relating and being. We try to make what “used to work” work again but, alas, it never does. No matter how hard we try to make our familiar ways work we soon discover that nothing works. We don’t easily let go of the familiar even in the face of the familiar not working. In fact, we dare not let go or change because it has become the core of our identity and our basic way of being in the world. If I let go then, I ask myself, who would I be? Would I be loved? Would I be safe and secure? Conflicts in relationships are nothing more than growing pains telling us that something must change. But as much as life is telling us that something must change we doggedly resist such change.
But what is this change we must make? Is it trying to adopt a new identity? Is it trying “new liturgical experiences”? Is it trying to figure out the “right” thing? Is it trying to do more, get more or be more? Is it trying to change others to fit our expectations or demands.
Actually, change is none of that! The basic change we must make is to reverse or undo the whole process of trying to be something we are not!
One of the greatest resistance to “moving on” is fear. Fear is our justification for holding on. On some level we believe that continuing what was predictable protects us from being disappointed within the community. Predictability, is in some way a safe expectation.
And then there is the need for approval. We hold on to certain traditions because we believe that we will not get approval if we let them go.
And finally, there is our need for control and power. On some level we believe that holding on to certain conditions brings us control in the longevity of the church.
Because “moving on” touches on the whole foundation of our existence and identity, we cannot ignore the importance of spirituality in our lives. Spirituality is about knowing who we are, where our true identity rests. When we know who we are, problems come and go and naturally disappear. Spirituality attempts to answer the basic questions of our existence–Who am I? What is my purpose here? Where am I going?
Happiness is not about adopting the “right” belief or doing the “right” thing. Happiness is a function of being who we are.
It is important to distinguish between spirituality and religion. Religion is an organized set of beliefs that have significance in the support of our happiness and relationship with God.
Religion is believing in God. Spirituality is knowing God, and knowing God is knowing who you are as a child of God. When we try to control, when we begin to believe we are not loved, when we doubt our safety and security, we are out of touch with God.
The place where religion and spirituality converge is in the process of forgiveness. Forgiveness is an oft misunderstood process which gets caught up in religious meaning. Forgiveness has nothing to do with being “virtuous” or standing in some high and mighty place above another human being and “forgiving their sins.” It is not about being “nice” or never experiencing negative emotions or even being “religious.” Forgiving is about “being” compassionate. To forgive in it’s most pure meaning is simply to let go of negative thoughts and feelings that we have been habitually harboring for some time. In fact, one dictionary meaning of the word “forgive” is to “cease resentment”.
Religions have typically defined forgiveness as something that we do for the benefit of another person. If someone has hurt us or offended us in some way or done something “bad” then a lack of forgiveness is represented by our judgments or condemnation against them. To forgive would mean that we no longer judge and condemn but we now let him or her “off the hook.” So some religions would see forgiveness as something that we do for another’s sake.
In actual fact, forgiveness is for my benefit. When I have learned to release my negative emotions, when I have finally let go of holding my emotions against another, then it is me that is released, it is me that is no longer bound by my negative thoughts, it is me that is finally liberated to live life again and experience my happiness and purpose. The other person may truly benefit from forgiveness but that is not who forgiveness is for. The purpose of forgiveness is to get back in touch with our true selves.
Life is not complicated when you know who you are. Life is very complicated when you identify with pride. From pride’s point of view, life is a struggle of searching, seeking, looking for answers but never finding them. “Chasing the wind mill” as someone once said to me. When you have learned to let go of your self-importance you realize that the search is over, everything is available right here and now, there is no need to ask any questions, the answers are obvious.
In light of what has been said here this morning …I do have a question. Does the single sheep owe anything the other 99? The ones waiting patiently, staying obediently with the flock?
We do not have any explanation about the one sheep that left the safety of the flock.
And other than the fact that the missing sheep was compassionately returned to the community.
However, to be more timely, does St Stephen’s have any responsibility within it’s movement history to the rest of the diocese? To the other sixty or so parishes that comprise the community of faithful within the diocese.
The Sage we spoke of in the beginning no longer has the ocean in the glass. In his effort to promote peace and tranquility, he has removed himself form the very environment that required his leadership and direction.
St Stephen’s has identified new liturgical leadership,and, most certainly a welcome addition to a tired and maybe frustrated staff and vestry. The last 24 months has been somewhat tedious.
I ask you to remember, in the history of St Stephens, it has not only been the liturgical leadership which has been responsible for growth.
It has been this community gathered.
I would encourage you can continue to think “out of the square”
and to be the “openest” parish in the diocese,
at least the most “openest one” within the Anglican tradition.
Just remember, to keep one foot in the Anglican square.
Blessings, and God speed on your continuous journey..