Nov 292015
 

Spiritual Direction: A Wakeup Call

Preacher: Bob Keller

I pray with you this morning Win the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

That’s some Gospel reading we had this morning!  I’ve taken my text not from Luke, but from the same story as it appears in Matthew’s Gospel 24:29.  Listen to this…

In those days…the sun shall be darkened,

and the moon shall not give her light, (this doesn’t sound like your typical eclipse)

and the stars of heaven shall fall, (meteor showers maybe, but a bit more than that I think)

and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. (hard to imagine)

And then shall they see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. (definitely not  your ordinary meteorological event)

Then shall he send his angels, and gather together…His…elect…from the four winds,

from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.

Isn’t it interesting that on this first Sunday of Advent, the Season in which we begin to prepare our minds, bodies and souls to receive the Christ child into our world…isn’t it interesting that we are called also to prepare for the Second Coming for that’s what this Gospel reading is all about.

This may seem a bit scary in that that those of us who are not among His Elect will be left behind to be destroyed with the heavens and earth.

But it’s not so bad because Jesus then tells us what to do to become one of the Elect, and this is really important: watch, keep awake.  And we know it’s important because, whether it’s in the Gospel or in fairy tales, if it’s said or it happens three times then you’d better pay attention.

… keep alert; he says for you do not know when the time will come….  Therefore, keep awake-he continues– for you do not know when the master of the house will come…. And as a final command he says: what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.

OK, great advice, Jesus, I hear you, but what exactly does that mean?

And I’m going to put off answering that question for now.  After all, if I answered that now, my sermon would be only 2 minutes long, and you wouldn’t have time for good nap.  Hopefully it will all come together in the end.

My Spiritual Direction Training.

Over the last two years I have been part of a training at Adelynrood just down the road in Byfield, in which 20 or so of us were learning the art of spiritual direction.  This was an intense experience with lectures, discussions, meetings for spiritual direction and much more.  I was exhausted by the time we finished last August.

And with all that preparation, our teacher has the temerity to say, “This training does not make you a spiritual director, only God does that.”  So whether or not God has done that for me seems likely to have an evolving answer.

What is Spiritual Direction?

So, what is Spiritual Direction?  Let me start by saying what it’s not.  It’s not psychotherapy, it’s not counselling, it’s not financial planning.  It’s not anything else where the goal is to fix something in your life.

Simply put, spiritual direction is a way to help you explore your own personal daily life relationship with God.

What’s It Like?

A meeting for spiritual direction takes many forms, but it may be about an hour, one on one between  you as Directee, the one who is to be directed,  and a Director whose job is to be a guide.  Usually you come with questions and stories about your experience of God in your life, and a sense of seeking to know Him better.

The Director, me for example, is primarily a listener whose job is to sense the story behind your stories and questions, and to ask questions and make suggestions to help you to see and to work with that back story.

I say that we’re not trying to fix anything in your life, and that’s true, but you may well bring up personal situations of conflict or other stress.  Some of the more dramatic things I’ve heard include: “I think God has abandoned me,” or “I’m losing my job that’s the meaning of my life,” or  “my husband has left me, my daughter is dying, where is God?”

My response to those situations is not to provide easy answers, but rather to help you put God into the equation.  This is not to try to make everything OK, but to put the things that are happening to you in a larger context.  I want you to explore and try to understand what God desperately wants to be for you just at that time.

It’s all about your becoming more aware of God in your life.  It’s about responding to His guidance, and about understanding yourself as a willing participant in God’s plan for you.

Incidentally, Spiritual Direction can happen in groups, and it does, here at St. Paul’s.  Our weekly Adult Forum is often an excellent example of group Spiritual Direction.

And a couple of miscellany:  Unlike therapy, meetings for Spiritual Direction are not frequent.  While you might go once a week for therapy, there are likely to be six weeks or a couple of months between meetings for Spiritual Direction.  It often takes a long time to integrate insights you may have had during a meeting.

And second, regarding cost:  I and most spiritual directors view your payment as a free will offering although the training suggested that $50 per meeting is a good guideline.  But this is completely up to you.  Neither I nor any other spiritual director is going to get rich doing Spiritual Direction.  Between infrequent meetings and the fact that I am not likely to have more than two or three Directees at any one time makes it not very attractive financially.

History of Spiritual Direction.

Spiritual Direction has been around since the early days not only of Christianity, but of Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism as well as every other religion on earth.  Until the 1950s in the Christian church, however, Spiritual Direction was available mainly to Priests and other clergy, to monks and nuns, and to others who were insiders in the religious establishment.  But then there was a burgeoning interest in couselling, psychotherapy, and the like.  And in the Church, pastoral counselling became more central and focused.

For various reasons, Church people began to see spiritual issues as fertile ground for guidance, and the need for a new kind of consultant—one who was not a therapist nor a keeper of orthodoxy.  And so in the 1980’s there blossomed interest in the art of spiritual direction as a way to meet this need.  Today there are several training programs around the country, but a deficiency in most people’s awareness of both the existence and benefits of Spiritual Direction.  A deficit I hope to correct.

So, back to the beginning.

Perhaps you’ve heard a version of the story about the Buddha, in which he is asked, “are you a god?”  He says “No, I am not a god.” “Well, then the student asks, are you an angel?”  “No, I am not an angel.”  “Are you a guru or holy man?”  “No, I’m not even that.”  “Well, then, what are you?” and the Buddha replies “I am awake.”  And of course, the Sanskrit word Buddha means awakened.

What does it mean to be awake?

In St. Paul’s words, it means to continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.  This is a thought  echoed by 13th century philosopher and mystic Meister Eckhart who said: “If the only prayer you ever say is Thank You, it’s enough.”

From other scripture, being awake means not to let your heart be weighed down by worldly cares, by dissipation and drunkenness, by malice, deceit and hypocrisy.  It means to keep faith in all situations.

It means that you can’t just talk about the Gospel (talk the talk as they say), but you need also to do the work God lays before you (walk the walk).

And most importantly, it means being constantly aware of God’s living presence in you, of tuning your awareness so you can hear God speaking to you, however faintly.

And how does Spiritual Direction fit in?

Is Spiritual Direction the key to salvation?  Of course not, but it may be your yellow brick road that leads to unexpected spiritual wakefulness.  It can help you watch, help you wake up, and stay awake.  Helping you awaken to your evolving relationship with God in daily life is the main point of spiritual direction.  And even more importantly, it’s what God is asking of each of us in order to be among His Elect.

Here it is, three times:  First, God asks you to awaken to His living, minute by minute presence in your daily life, being aware of His glorious majesty working through you.

Second, God waits for you to awaken to what He wants to be for you.  He waits for you to get to know Him intimately, to love Him, to be awake.

And third, God needs you to wake up to being an essential part of His work of creation.  Think of God is an infinite white light shining through a prism where it appears as a rainbow spectrum.  And think of each of us as an individual color in that rainbow.  Wake up to your being an incarnation of God on earth.

St. Paul says (in Aramaic) maraná thá, the Lord is coming (1 Corinthians 16:22).

And so finally, in order to be among the elect at the second coming, what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake!

WIn God’s Name, Amen.

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 Sermon for Sunday, November 29, 2015 the First Sunday of Advent  Posted by on Sun, 29-Nov-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday, November 29, 2015 the First Sunday of Advent
Nov 292015
 

 

 

A friend of mine described for me an episode of the political news program Crossfire that she had seen this way:

“It was a Thanksgiving feast for political junkies.  On this episode, people with diametrically opposed views were presented with an issue, and they argued, often with heated words.  It mirrored our political and cultural landscape.  One political party shoots its rounds of ammunition, then ducks for cover while the other fires back.  The messaged about power is clear: the one with the most bullets wins.  The one with the hardest hitting PR machine is victor.  Those in the crossfire of the shooting match? Get out toe the way or be taken down!”

In today’s gospel Jesus stands in the crossfire.  On one side are the religious authorities that hand Jesus over to Pilate.  They despise the Roman stated and hope for a messiah who had enough bullets to knock out the oppressors.  On the other side is Pilate, representing the most powerful military and political force in the ancient world.  Pilate would be happy to toy with this rabbi from Nazareth to show the Jews that the emperor is boss.

Then something incredible happens.  In the marble halls of Roman authority, Jesus turns Pilate’s notions of power inside out by saying, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Instead of firing back in this deadly crossfire, instead of engaging in Pilate’s kingly tactics, Jesus announces a stunning new way.  The Begotten One, truth made flesh, will be lifted up on a beam of wood drawing all people to himself.  Jesus embodies a different power than the world’s – a power of self-emptying love, a power marked by humility, a power where one’s might and right are given up for the sake of setting people free.

On this day when we Christians name Jesus as our king, this Gospel passaged points toward the paradoxical throne of the cross. And there on the cross we see one who rules not with the power of coercion or violence, but with the power of a strong, yet vulnerable love that unites a splintered cosmos.  Jesus’ power we receive in the word, at the font, and at his table: life abundant and health for all, signs of the glorious and gentle rule of God who lovingly gave birth to all that is.

How do we invite this incredible ruler – this powerful lover of souls into our lives to reign as king?  The best way I know how is through prayer.  Over and over we need to surrender our self-seeking will, and then seek his guidance – every day – sometimes every hour.  It is in developing that sort of intimacy with him that we can become his subjects- those entrusted to his care so that we might live his kingdom more fully into existence in this world.

In his book When God Happens, The Rev. Gray Temple writes about how he can tell when he is hearing Christ’s voice answering him in prayer – how he can separate it out from the many other voices which vie for his attention. He says he knows it is Christ when the response is characterized by unconditional positive regard for all people – not for all actions, but for all people.

It is an amazing thing to experience this love of Christ for each of us directed to us in our time of prayer.  I have had an amazing experience of this each day since I began reading a lovely little book of daily meditations about a month and a half ago.  It is titled Jesus Calling and was written by Sarah Young.  I came upon it in a gift shop in the Atlanta Airport in October when I was passing through there on my way back from my CREDO conference in Mississippi.  As I browsed the book rack, I came across it and felt instantly drawn to it and had the very strong sense of God nudging me to buy it.  So I did.  It is full of beautiful meditations based on Scripture written in the voice of Jesus.  On the surface it seemed a bit contrived to me, but I must say that I have found each page deeply nourishing to my soul.  I read the reflection written in the voice of Jesus and then I read the several scripture verses the meditation is based on.  It never fails that I feel like I have drunk deeply of cool refreshing water by the time I am done.  If this sounds interesting to you, this Advent I invite you to join me in this spiritual practice.  I would love to hear what some of the rest of you experience as you read this little book.  Details of it can be found in the announcement sheet this morning.

These readings emphasize his constant and unfailing love for us.  And that is the overarching theme of his kingdom.  He comes not to judge but to redeem.  He cannot redeem those he does not love, but that is not a problem because he loves every person and longs for all people to be released from the power of brokenness, sin and death and be reconciled to God.  That is the only way Christ could have taken the throne he did.  Mirroring that love as his subjects is one of our greatest challenges and one of our greatest rewards.

Let us pray often, listen intently for his voice, and follow his guidance that we may be instruments of his kingdom.  In his name.  Amen

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 Sermon for Sunday November 22, 2015 The Last Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Sun, 29-Nov-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday November 22, 2015 The Last Sunday after Pentecost
Nov 292015
 

 

 

Last Saturday afternoon, several of us from St. Paul’s attended forum at our Cathedral in Boston regarding the violent situation that grips the Northern Triangle of Central America – the countries of Guatamala, Hondorus and El Salvador.  We here at St. Paul’s have become intimately acquainted with this topic as we have been partners with Foundation Cristosal in El Salvador for over 6 years.  During that time we have raised and contributed monies to their programs, and some of us have even traveled there to meet our brothers and sisters in Christ there.

At the forum last Saturday Noah Bullock, Executive Director of Cristosal, spoke along with Patricia Montes, Executive Director of Centro Presente, an organization that serves the needs of immigrants from Central America in the Boston area.  Noah’s and Patricia’s descriptions of the situation in the Northern Triangle, and the impact on people fleeing from there were compelling.  But I have to say the part of the forum that touched me most was the testimony of 3 women who are recent immigrants from El Salvador.  All three spoke about how they and members of their families had to flee their homes because their lives were being threatened by the gangs.  One woman had her two children with her a daughter age 7 and her son age 11 – the same age as our Nicolas.  When I heard this mother say that they had to flee because the children’s father had been killed by the gangs, I wanted to cry.  Statistics can be compelling, but human testimony can break your heart!

The faces of this woman and her children kept coming back to me through this week as I thought about this sermon.  In the Gospel Jesus talks with his disciples about the end times when the world as we know it will be changed forever.  I wondered if that is how it felt for those children fleeing with their mother and grandmother from El Salvador.  Who knows what harrowing circumstances they encountered on their way here.  Most migrants from Central America do not have an easy or safe journey. Seeing that boy who was the same age as my own son made me wonder how I would cope if I were in their situation…

But thankfully, I am not in their situation.  I find myself in a very different situation.  I am safe and my family is not threatened.  So, my work is very different than the work of this brave family who were fleeing for their lives.  My work is to reach out from my place of blessed safety to do what I can for this family and the thousands other like them.  This work I feel called to now because though I do not suffer personal physical risk, I now know too much about what they suffer to ever to be quiet about this crisis again.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says “It is a fearful thing to fall  into the hands of a living God” (Hebrews 10:31) – fearful because the experience can be quite jarring and will change us forever.  I know what that writer means.  I believe that what I have learned in my association with Cristosal, has been given me from the hands of our living God.  I believe God has led our congregation on this journey of partnership with people in El Salvador - and our lives will never be the same again.  But we should not fear!  The writer of the letter to the Hebrews goes on to assures us that when we fall in to the hands of the living God this way, we have already been provided everything we need to survive the experience.   The writer to the Hebrews assures us,

“…we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus…”

 

Confidence is the word to underline here!  Confidence is the one thing necessary to weather the storms of the present time and those yet to come.  This writer feels that confidence down to the tips of his or her toes.

If we read on in this tenth chapter of Hebrews the writer tells us this confidence does not come from warehouses full of supplies, or safely locked doors in gated communities.  Rather, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, tells us, this confidence is hewn out of the experience of  following Christ Jesus into places of need and chaos; from voluntarily being acquainted with the suffering and pain going on in so many different corners of our world – even in our own lives, or the lives of those we love.

Your relationship with Christ enables you to endure hard struggles and sufferings, even sometimes public abuse and persecution, and to be partners with those who are so treated.  Your faith gives you over to compassion for those in prison, and to cheerful surrender of material possessions, knowing your true riches can never be taken from you.  You are clad with confidence born out of finding God’s grace alive and well, and very active in the midst of chaos that already grips our world.

This confidence, founded on faith in Christ Jesus, leads you to resist the urge to care only for your own safety and security and instead to reach out to those who get trampled in the rush.   We Christians, along with many other people of faith, are clad in our confidence that God is strong to save, and are called upon to resist the panic brought on by the fear of scarcity, and do what we can for those who are suffering and in need – now, and when the final tumult comes.

In the face of panic, grounded in Christ, we stand firm as beacons for others  – lanterns of God’s grace in the midst of chaos. And we should never underestimate the contagious effect of this confidence.  When we shine with the confidence founded on our relationship with our Lord, we affect the hold that fear has over others.  Our light can help loosen the bonds of fear and bring calm to panicked hearts- hearts that can then join the work of reconciling all of creation to God.

You may hear me and protest; “I feel no such confidence”.  But my friends in Christ, it is ours even before we possess it.  It is the free gift of our baptism.  All we need do is claim it and let it take root within us.  It will lead us to live into the strength of Christ that paradoxically comes from joining hands with weakness and need.

Yesterday several of us put forward to diocesan convention a resolution about taking action on behalf of those in Central America who are fleeing for their lives.  I am happy to say that it passed.  I have put a copy of the resolution on the bulletin board in the hallway if you would like to see the detail of it.  It is another step toward continuing to reach out in confidence to those whose lives have been so dramatically altered by violence.  We did so in Christ’s name and we are confident that he will show us our next steps. Amen+

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 Sermon for Sunday, November 15 2015 The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Sun, 29-Nov-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday, November 15 2015 The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Nov 132015
 

 

          Sometimes the Gospel can rattle us!  Over the last several Sundays this has been true for me.  Jesus has said some challenging things about the kingdom of God in our recent Gospel lessons.  For instance; “If anyone wants to be first they must be last of all and servant of all.” ; and “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it”; and “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

These words have brought me up short.  They have reminded me that the ways this human world has taught me to survive are not the whole picture.  Jesus sayings bang up against human precepts and offer a different vision.  Like a new and stronger pair of glasses, my spiritual eyes don’t easily adjust to this new vision.

This morning’s Gospel lesson lets me know I am not alone.  The crowd who is with Jesus has also heard his teachings on servanthood, childlike trust and the worldly attachments of wealth, but apparently they did not easily see how to apply those teachings to their lives – they can’t see clearly with this new vision either.  This becomes clear as they approach Jericho and many in the crowd of followers sternly try to silence the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, as he called out to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” What an embarrassment, that one such as this beggar should trouble this great man for his time.

Can we put ourselves in their place?  Can you think of times when you have been part of the crowd that does not understand what God is calling you to in Jesus?  I know I have stood in that crowd more often than I care to think about, and sometimes my lack of clarity has led me, if not to shush another who is crying out to God, at least to look askance because it seems so undignified.  At those times the sin of superiority might overtake us.  We might wonder, what nerve that other person has thinking God is going to take notice of them, and then we proceed to pick out some detail about the person to make our case. And maybe we just do it in our own hearts – we find a fault in the other person that we just can’t get past, and we think that means God will feel the same. So we stand in the crowd and in our blinding sin of superiority, we say – even if it is with our actions rather than our words – because most of us are too sophisticated or polite to speak it out right – we find a way to convey to that person this message– “be quiet – you are of no account to God!”

Or perhaps the sin that lands us in the crowd that is seeking to silence a brother or sister who is crying out for God’s mercy is the sin of believing in scarcity rather than abundance.  At those times our childlike capacity to trust is overridden and we come to the conclusion that if our brother or sister has God’s ear, then we ourselves won’t be heard.  And so we seek to silence that brother or sister.

Then there may be the times when the prayerful pleas of another remind us of how often we do the opposite.  We may try to keep our lives to ourselves rather than seek God’s presence in the midst of our pain and brokenness.  Perhaps because we fear being “out of control” or maybe because we are not quite sure God will show up for us if we did pray.  So we stand in the crowd and shush the one who is pouring out their pleas so unabashedly.

And then there are times, when hearing another cry out to God brings us face to face with a powerfully destructive illusion that plagues many of us in this culture;  the illusion that tries to convince us that because we are not perfect we are not worthy of God’s loving presence.  And so we look at the one who cries out to God and we say, “If I am not perfect neither are you, and so you best be quiet, my friend!”

          Thank goodness for the Gospel, because though it can rattle us, it also provides a light to our path and a lamp to our feet if we will stick with it.  In this morning’s passage the crowd does not have the last word.  Jesus tells the crowd that they should bring the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, to him.  Jesus recognized that the crowd, who had heard his words all along the road were still struggling to see him, while this man, Bartimaeus, who had no physical vision was the only one present with clear vision to recognize Jesus as the Son of King David; the long awaited messiah.  Not a political figure who was going to lead a political revolt, but the focused presence of an abundantly loving and compassionate God, who had time for the likes of a blind beggar on the roadside.  Bartimaeus saw Jesus, really saw him, cried out to him “Son of David, have mercy on me” and Jesus did.

The paradox of this Gospel story is that though the healing of Bartimaeus’s physical blindness was a great miracle in and of itself, it was equally important as a tool for the more far reaching healing that Jesus had been working on all along that road – the healing of spiritual blindness among those who were traveling with him– among his followers – among you and me.  There on the Jericho road Jesus embodied his teachings about the kingdom of God.  There Jesus rejected being first and instead became a servant.  He put aside adult dignity and with childlike compassion listened to the pleas of a man who by purely human standards had nothing, but by the standards of faith was rich indeed.  And the result was healing – abundant healing!

Our Lord has the same power to bring about immense healing in our lives no matter the nature of the problems that plague us.  Our part is to acknowledge our need, to trust in the abundance of his grace and to simply cry out to him.  Bartimaeus has given us the words; Son of David, have mercy on me!”

In his name and for his sake.  Amen+

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 Sermon for Sunday October 25 2015 The Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Fri, 13-Nov-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday October 25 2015 The Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost