“As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.”
I speak with you in the name of God in whom there is no fear. Amen!
Well, it is good to be home from vacation. My wife and I had a stupendous and rewarding vacation and I thank you wholeheartedly for opportunity for some time away. During our trip we had the opportunity to see the movie from a few years back Hotel Rwanda. It is a gripping true story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager in Rwanda that was able to protect over a thousand refugees in his hotel and eventually see them out of the country during the Huntu genocide of the Totsies in the early 1990’s. It is as hard to describe the atrocities that occurred during this uprising as it to explain why the world set by and did nothing. This man somehow was able to hold himself, his family, and this group of refugees together.
In one scene he has left the hotel with an army officer to procure items with which to bribe the officer to lead them to safety. The general does not want to return to the hotel and Paul could not get there on his own. Paul convinces the general to return to the hotel because Paul is the only one who could testify on the general’s behalf some day in war crimes trials. The general responds by threatening to shoot Paul. Now, I doubt that many of us have had a gun pointed in our face in sure certainty that the holder is quite capable of pulling the trigger. Furthermore, I doubt that our response would be the same as Paul’s as well, he laughs at the General. He says to him, “It would be a blessing for you to kill me and my entire family. I would pay you to do it. You can not hurt me.”
Now by this point you are probably thinking that Paul is insane and has cracked under the pressure, however the phrase that catches my breath is, “You can not hurt me.” See Paul is a man of faith and his confidence in God allows him to be truly free from the atrocities of our world. Neither the General, nor any other earthly power has dominion over him. His willingness to physically die exists because he is spiritually alive. He is free to do the right thing no matter the cost.
As I was meditating on our Gospel passage this week, I thought a lot about Paul Rusesabagina. See Paul is like the seed that falls on the good earth. In order for a seed to grow and bear fruit, it must die to being a seed. At the cost of staying comfortably as it is, the seed must give up its current state to become what God intended. To often we are choked by cares of the world and the lure of wealth, which prevents us bearing the fruits of justice and righteousness.
Also, in today’s readings the Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans of dying to flesh to live in the spirit. Paul is talking about a process of faith development that can best described as emptying. By emptying ourselves, by letting go our attachments to the material we are free to enjoy the spirit. Generally, we are attached to things, people, and even our emotions. Anthony De Mello, describes this as listing to a beautiful symphony and when the orchestra plays a particularly beautiful chord, we stand up and say play that chord again. We want the orchestra just to play that one chord over and over and again. Consequently we are not able to enjoy the entire symphony because we are stuck on that one chord.
That may sound absurd, but think on it a second. Too often our happiness is precluded upon other people staying exactly the same as they were in the moment we enjoyed them this most. We do not want people, things, or even our emotions to change. This ironically produces anxiety and fear more than happiness. When we are detached, however, we recognize that our happiness is dependant on no else but ourselves. We are free to love those in our lives because we no longer place conditions on how they should be in order for us to love them. We are even free to love God because we allow God to be free to be God and not how we want God to be. It is not through control that we are safe, rather in recognizing our lack control, in releasing our desire to bend the world to our will, that we are free and safe. We are free because we because the world doesn’t have to meet our standards in order for us to be happy. We are safe because we have nothing to lose.
Recently, the vestry has been studying the book of Philippians. In it the apostle Paul talks about his own process of emptying. See, he had within his society every marker of success and power. As he put it he was, “circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” Paul lays out quite a pedigree of his. This is analogous to being a Kennedy, a Vanderbilt, or a Rockefeller. To place it in Nebraska terms, he was a black that won the Heisman trophy and two or three national championships. But yet, Paul drops, discards, and detaches himself from all these titles and positions. He ultimately regards them as rubbish as compared to gaining Christ.
Now this might sound like a daunting task laid before us. Indeed it is one I struggle with daily. However, it is no more then what Jesus did. Also, in the book of Philippians, Paul quotes an ancient hymn saying, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, tacking the form of a slave, being born in human form.” Jesus was willing to empty himself of divinity. He was willing to give up being God in order to love us, in order to show us how to love. If Christ is willing to give up ultimate power for us, what should we be willing to give up for Christ?
Like I said, this is a challenge. We are conditioned to be dependant upon products, goods, and other material things for our happiness. We are conditioned to fear the loss of these so we accept the injustices of the world. For the Paul the manager of Hotel Rwanda, as is often the case, it took a major catastrophe for him to empty himself. His worldview, his perceptions and foundations for understanding his world, had to be eradicated. However, it is possible to enter into this process of faith development without being victim of genocide. We can practice detachment and there are things we can do to empty.
First, be generous. I don’t just mean by tithing to the church, though that is certainly welcome. From buying an officemate a cup of coffee to donations to Goodwill to large scale philanthropy, the intentional practice of generosity, helps free us from possessions owning us. Anything we have has less power over us if we are willing to give it away.
Second, enjoy nature, music, and poetry. Now, with this practice how you do it is as important as simply doing. The trick is to not try to hold on to it as you enjoy it. Simply let the beauty of it flow through you without trying to get the orchestra to play the same note over and over again. Enjoy the vision of nature without possessing it. Enjoy it with the realization that it is alive and it will never be the same as it is in that moment. Accept that moment as precious gift and then let it go.
Finally, worship God through the reception of Holy Communion. In the simple things of broken bread and poured wine we are re-created in the image of God once again. At this table, where all are invited, we are challenged to accept that we are accepted and leave our insecurities, brokenness, and shame behind. Here we are re-membered as the body of Christ freed to live without fear, to be motivated by love rather than competition and challenged to bear the fruits of justice and righteousness. Amen!