Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Wednesday morning prayer time

I start this day spending time with "the monk" as Bill Brown says at Bible study. He expresses his frustration with this writer of "The Cloud of Unknowing." And I just continue to struggle - not with him as much as with myself. And I guess that is part of what this "retreat" has been all about.

We are in day 25 of 30 in an email prayer retreat based on "The Cloud of Unknowing." written by a monk to his young priest in training. And it is pretty amazing to consider that he continues to teach and grow us - hundreds of years later.

Here are some quotes from the readings
- "Let a need to love replace a need to understand."

"only love can pierce the darkness"

"follow the humble stirring of love in your heart."

What is ironic about this for me is that these readings about not knowing - actually help my understanding. Today the reading was about loving God for God and not for his gifts. We can worship the created and the creature and fail to live in the creator. We can come to God for what God does for us - and miss the mystery of the more of God.
And yet, and yet, and yet - as I concurrently preach a sermon series on the 7 deadly sins and just live this life of facing my own humanity and mortality - I very much need what God has for me. the gifts.

And this morning I write this prayer

My God, I thank you for this day in all its

I thank you for the way you stretch me
forgive me encourage me use me

Lord it is so hard to be fully human
open to and aware of my sin
open to and aware of needs of others

And I know I cannot do it unless I am open to and aware of
your presence
your on going creation
your never ending grace

So I want to and need to rest in the cloud of unkowing
living in a sense of expansiveness

May it be so today


Monday, September 16, 2013

Sermon on Sloth and Diligence

Matthew 25:14-30

14“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.

Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents.

17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.

20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’

21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’

26But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

You know this story and you have heard it many times. You have heard it at stewardship service – about risking giving, or during times when we look at the gifts and talents that we have.

This morning I want us to ponder this poor, fearful, lazy guy who did not work for the master. Instead he hid the talent in the ground. So while his companions where diligently trading and making more of what they were given. He did what? We actually don’t know what he did – but we know what he didn’t do.And so we call him lazy. Actually Jesus calls him lazy.

We know about laziness – doing less and less required, minimal work, less effort

* Melissa – tells a story of being a construction worker and people looking at the job they have done and say – good enough for government work

* Daughter who is a teacher tells me about teachers who keep using the same lesson plans

* One pastor never prepared during the week, and on Sunday morning he'd sit on the platform while the church was singing the hymns desperately praying, "Lord, give your message, Lord give me your message." One Sunday, while desperately praying for God's message, he heard the Lord say, "Ralph, here's my message. You're lazy!"

But actually lazy is probably not the right word here. A mis translation – better word is sloth – which Sloth is often related to the older latin idea of accidia – which is sometimes translated “spiritual weariness” or “despair”

We are in week 2 of a seven week sermon series on the deadly sins and today we focus on sloth – laziness – acedia. Not the outward manifestation – but the inword soul condition - Acedia, Spiritual torpor, indifference soul weariness

Dorothy Sayers – “it is not merely idleness of mind and laziness of body: it is that whole poisoning of the will which, beginning with indifference and an attitude of “I couldn’t care less” extends to te deliberate refusal of joy and culminated in morbid introspection and despair.”

Maybe this man was just weary - he was given a task and power and chose to bury it, to not risk or work.

- Was it because of Disillusionment – often from spiritual immaturity – I have been a “good person” and still I struggle.. Things didn’t turn out the way I expected and so I have lost my drive and motivation

- Was it Purposelessness – what is the point? Maybe fired up some time ago and nothing changed the way you thought it would – story about the social worker?

- Was his Inaction motivated by boredom, complacency and despair. And it is in despair that we start to believe things that are not true. The cup is half empty always. For this man – the master is hard, unforgiving, there is nothing he can do. Does he believe this? Maybe he is saying it to himself? The same way we say – that things can never change, we can never change, it is all bad so why try. Know folks who have stopped reading any news, voting, what difference does it make?

And so – sloth, or acedia is a lack of passion, it is something that happens slowly over time that we no longer get worked up about poverty or homelessness or hunger or war in the middle east. And by the same token we fail to see the beauty – the blessing of a bird at the bird feeder, the beauty of a rainbow, the majesty of Bach or the creativity of Mumford and Sons,

It is a spirit that reacts to cruelty, injustice and pain by shrugging the shoulders and switching the channel.

We can call it sloth, laziness, acedia, spiritual weariness, spiritual dryness, compassion fatigue – but it is nothing new

Psalm 42 – my soul is cast down within me, why are you cast down, O my soul and why are you disquieted within me?

And what I want to say is that this feeling – may not be depression, it may not be just a season that we are in – it may really be something that we need to look at within ourselves. It may be a stance that we have been “harboring” for years – underneath everything –our activity and the mask that we wear.

This sense of acedia –– Is that all there is? Is there a purpose to my life? To our life?

If we want to imagine the opposite of sloth, then Jesus fits the bill. We can never imagine the words “couldn’t be bothered” on his lips.
There was a life lived with passion, intensity, laughter, suffering, joy and pain, in which every person who came near seemed to matter.

And so we turn to him to seek a way out of this place of sloth, of ennuie, of despair. Our spiritual value is diligence – which is is translated – zeal, integrity, labor. Spiritual diligence is about doing the work of faith.

While we are not saved by good works, we are saved to do good works for the Kingdom of God . Paul explicitly affirms so in Ephesians 2:10, “[God] has “created [us] in Christ Jesus for good works, which [He] prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” And this way of life is a way of love – love for God, for each other, for ourselves.

It is to get out of ourselves and reach up and reach out to others. Diligence in love.

And that is why we come together this morning – to worship the living God. In very imperfect ways that may or may not speak to you. But trusting that somehow in the words that are spoken, the songs that are sung, the sacraments that are shared – somehow God’s presence gets through the wall of sloth, acedia, indifference. Somehow God’s presence helps us to get beyond ourselves and our “morbid introspection”

So that we might see that the talent we received from God was powerful and had a purpose beyond our own little lives.

Why do we worship? So that God’s power can break through us. So that we can lift our heads and our arms to God and find something more than US If we find ourselves in the grips of accidia, the mere act of remembering can be powerful. Remembering the realness of God’s grace that we have experienced in our lives.

And in this act maybe the greater purpose of our life can be seen. We are part of the body we have a part In the puzzle. My work and your work and his work and her work together make a picture – and the picture is the kingdom of God

We are working to help God to find a place where there is pure love. That’s our work And maybe what happens here, or in Bible study, or in personal devotions may move us to action The action of learning something new – as an antidote to boredom.

The action of responding to needs in our midst, in our community, in our world – knowing that our little bit can change someone – who can change something – which can change someone else. It truly is a domino effect

The action of creativity which is a form of hope – that God is doing something new in this world. And so the spiritual step for this week is not to work. It is to create - something. Because it is in our creativity (with God) that we are participating in the something NEW that God is doing.
This journey is a journey of transformation
Not from lazy to working
as much as from asleep to awake
from stopping to starting
from indifference to love


Two Down - Five to Go

The two that are down are gluttony and sloth - with lust, wrath, pride, envy and greed to go.
I am preaching on the seven deadly sins and the seven heavenly virtues this fall and it is definitely challenging me.

What I have learned so far is that whatever you think the sin is - superficially - it is so much more. And for me in the preparation, it is definitely a time of self examination as I struggle. I definitely believe that this spiritual journey is one of change and transformation, but I also know that it is not easy to see yourself and what you don't want to see.

Just want to basically recap what I am learning. First about gluttony - it is not about over eating as much as over consuming. We have gluttony about lots of things beyond food. And it does seem to have a relationship to spiritual hunger that we are trying to fill as well as uncomfortable feelings we are trying to numb. The trouble with gluttony in terms of eating is that we are literally too full physically and we often have not really appreciated and savored the blessing of eating. I ended this sermon with what I called a "spiritual step" to guide us - and it was not to fast - but to eat mindfully. Here is what I said
" Maybe a whole day, or a meal, or maybe just an apple or a banana. Eat Focus on each mouthful. Think about the flavour, texture and even the sound of the food in your mouth. Focus on how much you like, or dislike these sensations.
Think about the process of growth from seed to fruit, Think of the persons who were part of your pleasurable meal – those who grew it, delivered it, sold it,
Think of the miracle of your body and all that is happening as you chew, swallow and receive this gift.
Think about God in all of it. And this much I know – there will be no gluttony in this meal. Only grace."

I struggle with this because so often I do eat compulsively. What I keep learning about the spiritual life is that it is about slowing down in every way. Seeing, Hearing and TASTING the goodness of life - mindful of God.

I will post my sermon from yesterday on Sloth and diligence. What I learned here is that sloth is more than laziness. In fact, I think the "laziness" that we often indulge in can come from a "spiritual weariness" which is called "Acedia." It is easy to fall into an attitude of "I couldn't care less" and "whatever" and "same old, same old" and a sense that we have no power to change a situation so why bother. But the answer isn't get off the couch and get going - any more than the answer to gluttony is push yourself away from the table.
It really is to find a way to get in touch with the source of life that keeps creating and keeps loving.

The only answer is hope. Interestingly for me, as I work with these "deadly sins" I am also participating in a 30 day retreat on "The Cloud of Unknowing" and on Sunday morning the prayer was this:

On our journey into the cloud of unknowing
And union with God
There are some things that we must do for ourselves,
And some things
That God,
And only God,
Can and must do for and in us.

Of the work that belongs to God alone
I prefer not to speak,
I dare not speak.

But let us speak of the work that falls to us.

Our task is the hard and unending one
Of putting behind us,
Of consigning to a cloud of forgetting
All that must be put aside
If we are to approach
The cloud of unknowing, if we are to love God and God alone.

This is our task.
Everything else belongs to God
And God alone.
To do this,
Even with the help of great grace
Requires hard labor on our part.

But if you work hard,
If you press on
In the task of leaving behind
All that stands between you and God,
And beat relentlessly upon the cloud of unknowing,
Then God, I promise you,
Will not fail you.

But he is waiting for you
To do your part.

All through the Day

Love is our task;
Everything else is up to God.

There is work that we are to do - and it is the "work of love." And loving others and my sinful self is work but I am grateful for the "cloud of unknowing" that enables me just to rest in not knowing but trusting in a love that I don't have to manage or earn - just receive.

Anyway I write this blog - finally after three weeks of not writing (sloth!) as an act of creativity. That was the spiritual step I suggested yesterday to the congregation. To overcome sloth - maybe we don't have to "work" maybe instead it is creating - or co creating with our always creating God. Remembering that wonderful statement of hope - God is doing a new thing! Today. With me. With you.