Transcribed from the sermon preached June 1, 2014
The Reverend Max Lynn, Pastor
Scripture Readings: Ps. 23, I Peter 4:12 – 5:11
“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them. Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud. Do not complain. Make every effort to change things you do not like. If you cannot make a change, change the way you have been thinking. You might find a new solution.”
― Maya Angelou, Letter to My Daughter
It was an interesting week in the news. We have the horrible news of the tragedy in Santa Barbara, where a young man’s inward emptiness turned to hatred of women and violence. And then we have the privilege and joy of reflecting back, and giving thanks to God for the life of Maya Angelou. From this we see two people, both who faced the wonder and struggle of being human, the joy and struggle of relationships, the pain and suffering and loneliness of life in different ways with different outcomes; one went off into the terrible; one rose from the terrible shadows to shine forth power, beauty and love.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
I am here today to say, The power of God already in our soul; shepherding us, restoring us, protecting us, comforting us, nourishing us, granting us mercy, calling us home so that whatever may come, still we rise. The Church is here to be a community where we can gather together for encouragement and support as we attempt, by the grace of God to live joyous, righteous and fulfilling lives. We want our children be in a place where they hear the news, over and over and over again, that we are children of God, that God is for us and God is with us, no matter what, no matter where, forever and ever. If there were no God, we would have to invent Her just so we can gather together every week to celebrate and proclaim this hope and faith over and over and over again. We are children of God, God is for us and with us, now matter what, now matter where, forever and ever and ever. Whether or not we are asked to the dance, or are turned down when we ask someone to dance, or we are slow learning to read, or we just can’t seem to figure math out, or when we attempt to catch a ball it is just as likely to bounce off our head as our hands…. What are the thousand things young people have to feel anxious or low about?
Of course there are truly difficult things, tragic things; we may have been treated badly; we may experience poverty, illness or loss; we may have not had good enough parents. But the Church is here to say that God wants good for you, that the power of God is within you to help you overcome. There is the light of God within you, and nothing and nobody can extinguish it.
It is a great thing to have someone to love intimately. The young man in Santa Barbara felt he needed someone else in order to live and let live. And sex is wonderful. Let the Church proclaim that we are for intimate love, for marriage, that God is for marriage, for teaming up with someone, to comfort and to hold, to share the battles of life. But we also want to affirm singleness, we want to affirm the individual you, to affirm that the power and glory of God is poured out on us whether we are married or have a girl friend or boyfriend for not. We can find intimacy and meaning without sex. Paul says that singleness is a gift, that it enables us to have a special focus on the power and will of God. We have been given an individual soul, and God alone can fill our cup until it is running over.
I love the movie Jerry McGuire, with Tom Cruise, Rene Zelweger, and Cuba Gooding Jr. who has the famous line, “show me the money.” The movie starts by showing Jerry, a sports agent, with a highly successful but shallow life. He has a nervous breakdown and decides business and his relationships should be based on more than money and appearances. Jerry also has this personal issue that he cannot be alone. So after his superficial girlfriend breaks up with him, he quickly jumps into a relationship with Renee Zellweger who is a single mom. Renee’s character is very idealistic and romantic, and so when she sees another guy say to his girl, “you complete me”, she longs for that kind of relationship. So the rest of the movie they go through trials and tribulations until the climax when Jerry comes in and says, “You complete me.”
Now it is true that no man is an island, that we need human contact and intimacy to be human and fulfilled. But if we have to have another person to feel like a complete individual, a worthy individual, a beloved child of God, then we set ourselves up to let other people determine how we feel about ourselves. It is true that social and political systems can have a big impact on our lives, and we want to work together to form a society that promotes safety, equal opportunity and prosperity for all. But there is a danger in focusing too much on the situations outside ourselves, in allowing other people and groups of people to determine how we are going to view life, how we are going to view ourselves, how we are going to live. Maya Angelou spoke: “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”
If our self and our soul demand fusion, if it is too dependent on others to feel complete, because people are people, they are sure to fail us. On the one hand they may feel special because they have the power to make you feel complete, but a piece of them will probably resent it, and another piece of them will use your weakness to their advantage. Thus the more people need each other to be and feel complete, the more likely that relationship will be a roller coaster ride or a relationship locked down in rigid martial law. One will chase and the other will run. One will lecture and the other will never quite measure up. The savior will never quite save, and the one needing saving will never quite be saved. One will wait and the other will never quite arrive. One the one hand we want and demand fusion of ourselves to feel complete, on the other hand we resist because in complete fusion we lose our autonomous self. We are meant to love, but we are also meant to have our own soul to love with.
Kahlil Gibran writes: “Love one another, but make not a bond of love; Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your soul. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone. Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”
Strong individuals make strong relationships. When we can love ourselves by ourselves, we can love others. Maya again: “I do not trust people who don’t love themselves and yet tell me, ‘I love you.’ There is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.”
The challenge then is to get to know ourselves, to be intimate with ourselves, to get to know our own soul, to love and be loved by our own soul. We have hidden from parts of our self for a reason: usually for fear, anger, pain, grief, guilt or shame. I Peter says, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you
The beginning of our salvation is risking trust in God, trusting that God will not condemn us if we let ourselves be known. This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ: that trusting in the gracious mercy of God, if we confess our sins, we will receive forgiveness and new life. Now the tough truth of the Gospel is that we die before we are reborn to new life. So we have to let go of what we have been holding. And we have been trying to hold it in and hold it together so that we don’t lose it, so we don’t die. We try to save ourselves by putting on a mask, by finding a quick fix, a soothing or titillating habit, by blocking this feeling off here, or by exaggerating this feeling there, by getting someone else to fill the missing space. By letting go into God, we have to feel all those feelings we are certain will kill us and tear us apart or make us unworthy of love. On the one hand there is an immediate experience of grace when we face our truth before God. Amazing grace. Yet on the other hand, when we start the new way, we have to learn new ways of being, which includes accepting our limitation and feeling pain, and doing the disciplined work we have for long tried to avoid. But Jesus says, take the risk, lose your life and you will save it. We have to lose control for God to gain control. We have to allow ourselves to fall alone, before the mighty hand of God can catch us.
Yet the wisdom is there inside of us, the power of God already in our soul; shepherding us, restoring us, protecting us, comforting us, nourishing us, granting us mercy, calling us home. Deep within we know God is already there. It may be just a glimmer, fogged over with grief, covered with a blanket of rejection, hidden under piles of stuff and the business of life, but it is there. This light within you is eternal beauty and grace, right here, right now. So we sing, “this little light of mine, let it shine, let it shine. Let it shine.”
 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want;
 he makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters;
 he restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil;
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff,
they comfort me.
 Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
thou anointest my head with oil,
my cup overflows.
 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD