Rev. Dr. Paul Moore
February 25, 2018
LINK TO PDF VERSION (Good for saving or printing out)
I have on my wall a of a Precious Moments needlepoint design. It shows a boy, standing on a stool, leaning hard over a rough wooden pulpit. At the foot of the pulpit is the cutest little mouse ever rendered in needlepoint. Under the picture it says, “Preach the truth, no matter what.”
It’s good advice for a preacher. Sweet as that picture is, there is a dynamic tension implied in preaching that can never be overlooked. Within the craft we say you should never stand up to preach without a letter of resignation in your back pocket. We know what we know, and we are called upon to proclaim what we believe to be the truth. On the other hand, how many times have I been thanked for a sermon I didn’t preach?
It goes like this:
“Father, that was a great sermon, thank you.”
“I’m glad, would you mind telling me what touched you?”
“Sure…” and they tell me something that for me was a minor point, or something I didn’t even say at all!
So, who preaches and who listens? This is the question that drives us to look beyond both the question and the answer. It is the irreducible tension, out of which we are shoved into something greater.
Let’s bring this down to earth. You love apples and you love oranges. Someone shows you one of each and says, “I have both and apple and an orange. I love both. You choose and I will eat what you do not choose.” So, what do you do? You take both, cut them up, and share a fruit salad.
This is the second sermon in a series on the spirituality of Holy Week. Last week we looked at the nature of sacred time and space. In sacred time and space, the rules are different because they work in us at levels that are deeper than everyday living. They put us in touch with eternity. We noted that Holy Week is for the Christian the most sacred and most holy time and space. We approach Holy Week from a place of humble awe, ready to touch and be touched by the holy, and ready to be changed by the encounter. Today I want to talk about the nature of the first four days of Holy Week.
Palm Sunday/the Sunday of the Passion, kicks off Holy Week. The name itself reflects this tension: Palm Sunday-slash-Sunday of the Passion. It is the beginning of the Most Holy of sacred time, and its nature is to throw us into the dynamic tension from which there is no way out but forward. Behind the Triumphal Entry looms the shadow of the Cross. That tension, however, is more than just the tension in a dramatic story. It goes to the very heart of what it means to live as a believer.
The lessons today speak of the tension. In the first reading, Abram and Sarai are both given names that reflect a reality they had not yet seen. Both of them, well beyond the years of child-bearing, are promised a son, and from that son would come a multitude, including kings. From that time until the time that Isaac was born, both of them had names that were still-unfulfilled promises: a child-less Abraham—Father of many; a barren Sarah—Princess of the multitude.
The Epistle lesson names the experience of the tension. Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Abraham lived in the tension of his name, and received the fulfillment of the promise—and this constituted a right relationship with God. We, too, argues the apostle, live in the tension of the promise. We have been forgiven, but we work out our own salvation. We are redeemed, but we still fall into sin.
We have the promise of heaven, but we still walk the earth. To believe God is to be in right relationship with God. That relationship is a tension between what is and what will be.
The Gospel story spells it out clearly. To save your life is to lose it; to lose your life is to save it. Freedom is only found in willing bondage. Ego must suffer what it thinks is death so that the spirit can truly be free. This losing and finding, dying and rising, is the tension of the Christian life—precisely the tension of Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion. It is the same tension as what I just mentioned, of having and not having, of being and yet becoming. This Sunday casts us headlong into that core of our daily living in faith. It is out of that core that we will move into the next days.
The resolution of the tension does not come quickly. One must sit in it, resisting at all costs the urge to jump one way or the other. The way forward includes both sides of the tension, but as Ken Wilber says, also transcends them. Include and transcend. This is not achieved easily, in fact, it is not achieved at all. It is given. One must wait in silence, holding the tension.
It reminds me of when I was a kid and my mother would make bread for the week. We lived too far from town to buy bread, so Mom would make it. She would heat up the wood stove and knead the dough. She would make rolls and loaves and cinnamon rolls, and they would smell heavenly when they came out of the oven. The smell would make us hungry. She would always give us all a piece of dough to work with. We would get to work making all kinds of culinary works of art. Cinnamon and raisins would usually figure highly in our artistry, and our stomachs would growl with hunger while our works of art baked in the oven.
Now, hungry children want to eat something, right? We had some options. We could eat one of Mom’s rolls, but that’s not the same as one’s own creation. Our own works were carefully crafted to satisfy our particular tastes. Mom’s rolls would need butter or jelly, and those weren’t always available. Or, we could always just eat the dough. While that would probably get us past our hunger, it wasn’t very good for you, and would probably give us a tummy ache.
Or we could do what we had to do: Just wait. Sit in the hunger. Let the hunger teach us patience and endurance, for sooner or later the wonder of our creations WOULD come out of the oven. They always looked different than when we put them in, and they always tasted fantastic, much, much better than dough, and even better than one of Mom’s rolls.
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week are the space in which we sit in the tension. The yeast of the Spirit is working unseen, beneath the surface. Anything that would resolve the tension too soon must be resisted, for it is most certainly a fantasm of our own ego, chafing at the tension itself, and unwilling to just sit and hold it, trying to take control and “fix it.” This is the time to learn to sit, for beyond what you and I can see, deeper than the spirit can know, the Spirit of God is baking up something we can’t even imagine.
So, what have we got? We’ve got a day that throws us into a dynamic tension between on the one hand, trying to save our life and losing it, and on the other, losing our life only to save it. Then we’ve got three days of sitting in that tension, refusing to jump to quick fixes, trusting that the Spirit is working in the background.
What is the take-away?
This is not about your ego. Holy Week is not about your ego. Sacred Time and Sacred Space are not about your ego. They are precisely about surrender of the rule of the ego, letting go, letting your inner being be guided rather than guide, being led rather than leading, being ushered along rather than being in control.
And it’s gonna be alright. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said it nicely. “Don’t give up. Don’t get discouraged. I’ve read the end of the book. We win!”