I Don't Want to Stay Folded
St. Paul's Episcopal Church | Louisburg, NC | November 23, 2014
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in our sight, our Lord, our strength, and our redeemer. AMEN
This is the thought I want you to take with you into your week ahead. How is this particular moment in the passage of Time, this very moment, also a moment in timelessness of Eternity?” How can this be true? And more importantly, how can we perceive it, and experience the true potential of this invitation?
(I take a strip and staple it together, drawing a line on the inside for all to see.)
This circle of paper is now a metaphor of how we live the vast majority of our lives. We circle the wagons. We build a construct of either or, of we and they, of good and bad, of right and wrong, of hard working and lazy, of rich and poor, of black and white, of young and old, of citizens and immigrants, of the sick and the healthy, of the Christian and the Muslim, of the haves and the have-nots; you get the picture.
And as we sit in the safety of our particular ring, we experience time in a moment by moment linear way. Time flashes by us quickly at some moments, and then grinds to a halt at others. Certainly we are solely responsible for our perception of this speeding up and slowing down, and ultimately running out of this commodity, this time. And good Lord, when we do run out of time, our breaths becoming shorter and further apart, how will we reflect on our lives as but an interview, as a Last Judgment into the Eternal?
For a moment now, I want you to consider that you can experience the Eternal before the actual physical death of your body. To experience this you must actually see the component of time from a different point of view. Let’s go half way around the world to one of our collective grandfathers, our “Mahatma” that is what the word means, ‘grandfather” to his actual name Mohandas Gandhi, whose favorite word was Satyagraha. Satyagraha means, “to be the change you wish to see in the world.” It means to wrestle with the truth. How can we change our perception of time, and adjust the manner in which we connect, love, and serve?
Change is an action verb. It is not work for the fearful. Before action, let’s slow down and ponder our relationship with Time. How does it ride us? How do we ride it? And eventually, how do we get off on our stop, and watch the ride keep revolving?
Our desire to change the way we see time is central to how we live our lives. In order to reach out for that change we have to adjust the CONTEXT in which we see the purpose of our lives. Context is a magical word. Here’s an example: We are sitting still, in a quiet sanctuary, in a quiet town, on a quiet morning. We are completely still, correct? A change in context occurs when we realize we are actually spinning at 1038 mph on a planet which makes one revolution every 24 hours. We are hurtling through the black void of space at 67,000 mph whipping around our star the sun, once every 365 days, something we call a year. Just a small shift in our context you see.
You have to really quiet your mind and your body to a point of stillness to dwell in the idea of the eternal. Do you do the right thing when no one is watching? Do you do the responsible act and let someone else get the credit? What is the purpose of your life? These are questions concerning why we exist. Closer to home this morning is the idea that we are not being called to just hear the story from Matthew, we are called to live it.
The poet Rainer Rilke said it best, “I want to unfold. I don’t want to stay folded anywhere. Because where I am folded, there I am a lie.” We are called to live in the open. We should feel encouraged and buttressed to unfold past our fear. When you unfold yourself you are exposed to a life much older, much larger than your individual existence. This experience is to touch the wonderfully unknown, the eternal.
But again, this is risky work you are undertaking. It is counter-cultural. Do you remember Bobby De Niro in Taxi Driver arrogantly asking , “You talking to me - You talking to me?” It is a shocking acceptance when we realize the Gospel is indeed talking to us. No, we do respond with arrogance like DeNiro’s character, instead we are humbly knocked to our knees when we quietly say, “My God, are you really talking to me?” It is so difficult to comprehend that any particular action you make at this moment is actually also an action in the stillness of eternity.
Jesus is warning about what lays ahead. Why is it so hard for us to accept that God is fundamentally on the side of the hungry, the thirsty, and the poor in spirit?
And the Lord will say, When I was hungry and you gave me food, when I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, and when I was a stranger you welcomed me, and when I was naked and homeless you gave me something to wear and a room, and when I was sick and you took care of me, and when I was in prison and you came and visited me.
We have not seen you Lord. We have not done these things. And the Lord will say, “How you treated the least of those among you is how you treated me.”
It takes a certain audacity to contemplate the Eternal.
Here is a powerful symbol of the eternal. It will be useful in understanding the idea of being in two places (a moment in time and a moment in eternity at the same time.) This the Gospel’s invitation to us this morning.
(Circle strip, rotating it then stapling. Draw with pen, revealing that the strip now has only one side, not two, just one, maybe Lucy or Kaylee can draw the line while I hold it.)
This was first done by a German mathematician, Ferdinand Mobius in 1858. Hence the name, a Mobius Strip.
All of a sudden this piece of paper has only one side. This piece of paper can be a new metaphor for our life. How can I see the purpose of my life in this manner? What kind of ego armor do I have to take off to live life in this one sided manner? How can I get to that place where there is not a two-sided WE - THEY, and only a one-sided US?
Perhaps our misunderstandings of time and eternity are born out of our misperceptions of cause and effect, our selfish need to be rewarded. What fear is not letting us see our disconnection with our broken sisters and brothers? Perhaps this has nothing to do with others. Maybe we have trouble connecting with our OWN brokenness and then simply project that on to others. I have read somewhere that none of us can get into heaven without a recommendation from the poor. We miss the larger question. We miss the eternal question. We flunk the test on community.
We resist hearing that Jesus is asking us to see ourselves as agents of change.
In closing, 1000 years before Christ, captured Greek slaves serving as scribes wrote the Odyssey. This epic poem is based on the brilliant sailor Odysseus and his 10 year trip home following the Trojan War and 10 more years of wandering in search of his home and family. Odysseus is visited by an Oracle, his god, and this is what he hears, “Take your favorite oar and go inland until no one has heard of you. Then go further until no one has heard of an oar or knows what a sea is. Plant your oar there and start a garden.” Have you ever thought about what part of your life you were willing to die to?
Why is it that those who are dying are the only ones that really know how to live? I believe it is because they are willing to risk feeling the judgment and ridicule of their peers. The seduction of being a self-made person pales when our own linear time meets the collective state of the eternal.
Yes, it is almost as if we have two lives…the life we learn with and the life we live with after that. This is the model preparing us for the eternal. In the Gospel reading for today Jesus is radical in his call to reach out to those less fortunate. It is so hard to be this new person and act in this new way, even being called to some place, or some interaction where people do not know me.
This is the invitation that Jesus is making to us, to live with each other, and love each other in a new way; a way and a manner in which we are not comfortable with. This happens when your actions are led by the audacity of the eternal. This happens when we bend the strip of our lives.
What’s your feeling now about following a God that is going to eternally judge you on how you treat the needy and the distressed? My friends, it’s not just our sins of commission which weight us down on our life’s journey, it is our sins of omission, things we have left undone which may be the greater burden.
Jesus our brother is always challenging us, Jesus the Christ is always going ahead of us. The Risen Christ is leading us into a future for which we’re never ready for or can even imagine. Only bit by bit, conversation by conversation, day by day, do we become capable of a mutual growth and a true understanding of the passing of time and the stillness of the eternal.
Our lives become a Service of Communion when we share our time and treasure with the weakest and most vulnerable of our sisters and brothers. Only when we are guided by this concept of love and empathy do we eclipse the moment to moment and find ourselves lifted to the eternal.
“Hey, you talking to me?”