Benediction Online

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Healing Speech
James 1:17-27Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Language is fundamental to the experience of being human. In fact it is so important to us that some philosophers have argued that language precedes experience. In other words we can’t fully experience something that we don’t have words to describe. We all know that our experiences can be significantly influenced by the words someone else has used to describe them. If that wasn’t the case, advertising would never work. We use language not only to communicate experience but to create expectations and to influence behavior.
God used language to create the world. ‘God said let there be light and there was Light.’(Gen1:3) “In the beginning was the Word” says John’s gospel (John1:1). As the Epistle of James says in today’s New Testament reading, ‘In fulfillment of God’s own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.’ Language is not only fundamental to who we are but it is fundamental to creation. Language is creative. Language enables us to co-operate and to build things and organizations to do much more then we can do as individuals.
This is why James says we should guard or bridle our tongues, and Jesus says that it is not what we eat that makes us unclean but what comes out of us, from our intentions. We express our intentions in language. Language can break down and destroy, language can build up and unite. This morning I want to reflect on the qualities of language that heals. To heal means to make whole. Each one of us is in need of healing. Many of us long for healing for our physical problems, for others it is emotional or spiritual healing we need. Given that we are mortal, healing does not always look like being cured. Healing may be continuing to experience pain and difficulty but to do so with a deeper and deeper awareness of God’s grace with us, or simply to bear the pain gracefully. The language we use in our self-talk and in our conversations with others can bring greater healing.
Healing language acknowledges things the way they are, it builds up, and it reflects God’s grace.
It certainly isn’t language which is dishonest.
When I first moved to the States I thought when people said ‘Hi, How are you doing?’ that they actually wanted an answer. It took me a while to stop being offended when people asked how I was and didn’t stay for an answer. It also took a while for me to stop feeling dishonest when I replied “Fine, thanks. How about you?” I am not always fine, in fact I’m can usually find something to complain about. I now know that ‘Hi, how are you doing?’ is a ritual exchange which is not meaningless but neither is it expected to be truly honest.
But Americans have a tendency to think that we should always accentuate the positive and this can lead to an unintentional dishonesty. Healing speech acknowledges the pain but also God’s grace. ‘Yes it hurts but it’s not unbearable. Thank God for painkillers.’ Healing speech is humble in that it does not try to diminish someone else’s experience nor does it puff up the speaker’s. It tells things like they are. Not ‘Well, buck up and try to look on the sunny side’, but ‘I can tell this is a difficult time for you right now, I’ll pray that God will help you to find the light at the end of the tunnel.’
Healing speech builds up. It makes people feel better and it contributes positively to the community. Some people have a gift for appreciating others. They can see positive things about them and give appreciative feedback. The rest of us have to work at it. We all know how good it feels when someone says, “You know Joe, one of the things I really appreciate about you is…” or when someone says “I am grateful for the way you do…” It builds us up, not in a puffed up ego sense but in the way it helps us to feel appreciated and part of the community. Sometimes we have to really think about ways to appreciate others but every time we do so from a place of honesty and humility we build up community. I say from a place of humility because it is possible to use appreciating someone else as a way of making yourself seem more important. “Oh Mary Joe, I do appreciate you cleaning the bathroom – it means I won’t have to do it this week.” Healing language comes from our soul-center not our ego.
Healing speech builds up the community because it looks for areas of agreement before disagreement. It acknowledges each person’s wisdom and their contribution. Rather than harping on problems, it looks for solutions and is patient with process.
Healing speech reflects God’s grace. It always comes from a place of deep respect for the other person. One of the astonishing things about God is that she loves everyone equally. When I find myself shying away from someone or feeling judgmental, I try to think about the fact that God loves them just as much as me. Healing speech recognizes that Christ is in each being even if we can’t see it. Healing speech comes from the Christ in me and reaches out to the Christ in you. It doesn’t necessarily include language about God, but often it does.
Healing and faith are intricately bound up with each other. The more we are able to trust God’s graciousness, the more we will experience healing. The more we experience healing the more we are able to open up to God’s grace. Language about God can help to increase our faith. As we share our glimmers of God’s presence, the brighter they become. I am grateful that I get to preach quite often because it always gives me a new and deeper understanding of how God works in our lives. Articulating how we experience God is healing for ourselves and others. (Providing it comes from that place of the God in me greeting the God in you.) Preaching pious platitudes to each other is neither healing nor helpful.
‘I am grateful that God has given me this experience’. “When I feel that things are getting on top of me I try to turn it all over to God.” “Sometimes it helps me to sit quietly and remember that God is here and God loves me.” Those are examples of God-talk which can be healing. Of course it would be absurd to create a list of healing sentences, like a foreign language phrasebook, but it is helpful to think through some statements which are authentic for you so when the opportunity arises you can contribute to the healing of the community and the healing of the world by using healing language.
In today’s gospel reading Jesus said that it is from the heart that evil intentions come. It is also from the heart that healing intentions come. Today we will be using the healing language of prayer for each other. May this be the beginning of a discipline of holding healing intentions in our hearts and using healing language with our tongues.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Eat, digest,become Jesus
John 6:56-69

If you’ve been paying any attention these last few weeks you’ll know that Jesus is the bread of life. This is such an important idea that we’ve been hearing about it for four weeks. The gospel of Mark is our basic text this year but the Church considers this to be so important that we have made a lengthy detour into John’s theology of bread.

In today’s gospel we hear that it was a make or break concept for many of Jesus’ followers. They could not get their heads around the idea of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood. It’s certainly quite a gross cannibalistic picture! Many of his followers gave up and went home.

Eating is a strong metaphor. Eating is something we need to do for life but it’s also something we do for pleasure and to share with family and friends. Psalm 34 says ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’. What we eat becomes who we are. Jesus was not telling his disciples to believe certain things but to become Jesus. This is indeed a hard teaching. It is easier to have a list of things to believe than to become Jesus.

We are what (or who) we eat. To become Jesus means to be willing to be compassionate, totally present for other people, constantly listening for instruction from God, and responsive to the needs of others without losing one’s own center. To become Jesus means being sufficiently detached from food to be able to fast for long periods, being able to pray through the night without falling asleep, being willing to suffer extreme pain to fulfill one’s vocation of service. To become Jesus means being stripped of one’s ego desires, letting go of all pettiness, worry and frustration and being transformed into a Christ-like being.

That is our calling. To eat Jesus, to digest Jesus and to become Jesus. Being a disciple of Christ is not learning a litany of beliefs. Nor is it following a list of rules. It’s not even taking part in a specific form of meditation or other spiritual discipline. Being a disciple of Christ is more difficult to grasp and more difficult to do. Eat, digest and become Jesus.

This is not the same as trying to imitate Jesus. That is good and it is important, but imitating Jesus can just be acting out a part without allowing the inner changes that are necessary to become Jesus.

I know this isn’t an easy teaching. This is where true discipleship begins. That’s why a whole load of the disciples gave up and went home. But as Peter said, ‘where else are we to go? You have the words of eternal life.’ For us, life is in Jesus, the living bread.

How do we eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood? The obvious answer is that we do so in the Eucharist. As we gather here together we are participating in Jesus’ life-giving work, and we are eating Jesus in the bread and the wine. But it’s not that simple. It is possible to come to communion every week and never eat and drink Jesus. A sacrament is a sign of God’s grace, it’s not a magic spell. It does not take away our freedom.

Because God is free, God made us free. Which means that the followers of Jesus were free to go home, and not continue into the deeper mysteries and the deeper discipline of his teaching. It means that we can come to the eucharist without the willingness to digest Jesus in our souls. If you inadvertently swallow a small stone because you failed to wash your rice or lentils enough it goes through your body undigested because we don’t have the capacity to digest stones. If you are choosing not to digest Jesus the eucharist can also leave you unchanged.

The New Testament lesson reminded us that we are working on a spiritual plane. We are called to counter the negative forces that seek to destroy and to pull down. We are called to work towards fulfilling God’s mission to bring all things into reconciliation. We are called to be different from those around us. We are called to be the children of God.

That means eating and drinking Jesus. Letting him into every part of our lives. Choosing to be transformed. Choosing to take the risk. Challenging ourselves to become more, and in some ways less, than we ever dreamed. Allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us softening the hard places and strengthening the weak.

Eating and drinking are active verbs. This is not something that happens without our choice. This is not something that happens when we are busy doing something else. This is something we choose to do in co-creation with Creator God. It does happen in the midst of our busyness. We do not have to become monks or live in an isolated place. But it is always our conscious choice.

Just when the disciples thought they had it all sorted out, Jesus came up with this bizarre statement, ‘whoever eats me will live because of me’. Often life suddenly doesn’t fit with our theology. We think we have it all sorted out, we understand what Christianity is all about, and then God throws what is known in cricket as a ‘googly’ – a ball that spins the wrong way. Like Jesus’ followers we have a choice, a choice to stay connected to God and to roll with the unexpected, blindly hanging on until we begin to grasp what is happening, or we can quit.

When we choose to eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood we may find that things become more difficult as the Holy Spirit uses our everyday circumstances to help us digest and become Jesus. Jesus’ life was not an easy one, but it gives eternal life. Being Jesus’ disciple is not an easy life but it is a fulfilled life because only in Jesus do we become the people we were created to be.

As we come to the eucharist together today, let us make the difficult choice to eat, digest and become Jesus.