Monday, February 6, 2012

While we reject others, someone else says "You Are Accepted"...

Yesterday I gave my first "official" sermon as an intern at the Wesley Foundation at Purdue. I am happy to report that the feedback I got later has so far been very positive...and since no mob chased me away with pitchforks and torches it would appear that my Methodist friends still like me. ;)  But seriously, it was a privilege to do this and I am very much looking forward to the next time I get to do this at Wesley this semester.

Since I never write down my sermons, I was hoping my dear reader that you would allow me to share with you a few thoughts and ideas that were part of my sermon yesterday. **Disclaimer** (Before I started I said that the title of my sermon You Are Accepted, was taken from the title of another sermon by one of my favorite theologians by the name of Paul Tillich. The title of that sermon and a couple of lines from there were used by me. However, while his sermon was about the connection between sin and grace, I spoke about something else. So hopefully the Paul Tillich Society or his family will not hunt me down. In fact, I hope that if he was still alive, that he would give me his gracious approval of my own sermon.)

I was inspired by the idea of how Jesus took the time to go somewhere, to find solitude and pray: In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. (Gospel according to Mark 1:35) More on this later.

In life we deal with being accepted and being rejected. For example, to those of us in college (a few years ago or now ha ha) we were 'accepted' by our respective universities. But some of us were rejected by those same universities and accepted by different universities. In fact, to open that certain letter in the mail that would inform us of another chapter in our future or our 'doom' is something many of us do not forget. As human beings we accept and reject other human beings for many reasons: a manager looking to fill a position may only accept those candidates with college degrees regardless of work experience. The Air Force (like other branches of the military) uses the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (the 'ASVAB' test) during the recruitment process and depending on your score you are allowed to continue with the process. However, if your score is too low the Air Force will reject you but, the Army may accept you.

Yet this acceptance (that we usually seek) and rejection (that we usually try to avoid) can also be found in other parts of our lives; these are not only to be found in the academic and professional arenas, but they are also found in the world of human relationships and in society. As human beings (including Christians) we are very 'good' at accepting AND rejecting depending on: the 'right' education, the 'right' doctrine, the 'right' color of the skin, the 'right' gender, the 'right' economic status, the 'right' sexual orientation, the 'right' family background, the 'right' political party or ideology, the 'right' church or lack off, etc, etc.

As I thought of all this I remembered the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector as found in the Gospel according to Luke chapter 18. Does not the Pharisee say something pretty close to: "God, I AM AWESOME!!! Look at what I do and I am thankful that I AM NOT like 'those' other know who I mean, those adulterers, those robbers, those politicians (**that one is not part of the original but I think you know what I mean**) and specially...specially NOT like that TAX COLLECTOR!!!" Now, let us be honest: how many times have we thought the same regarding those people we do not accept, those 'other people', those we reject? How many times have we JUSTIFIED our rejection and we are unwilling and/or unable to look beyond our own "perfect" reasons to do so? Of course 'we' could NEVER be wrong...

When the 'evil' tax collector speaks he could have replied to the Pharisee, either by telling him to take a hike or by pointing out some of the shortcomings (don't we all have them) of the Pharisee. But he did not. In this parable, Jesus tells us that the tax collector said: God, be merciful to me, a sinner. That Scripture reading (along with others) is part of the inspiration of the Jesus Prayer found in the Eastern Orthodox Church: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." While many of us debate what 'sin' IS, 'who' is the 'sinner', how do we treat 'sinners', along with the merits and shortcomings of the expression 'hate the sin--love the sinner' (that is a discussion for another time), many of us are still left to struggle with pain, with suffering, with despair, with rejection...many times in isolation.

I have found myself in the place of the rejected many times in my life; I will guess that you my dear reader has felt this way at some point in your life. It is at those times, sometimes when we are by ourselves and/or sometimes when we are praying that we may feel that HAVE to do something. This is itself is not wrong, quite the contrary! If there is a problem in our lives we should try to do what we can to fix and/or alleviate it, including asking for help from friends, family members, doctors, psychologists, social workers, etc. The double edge sword of the spirit of individualism sometimes makes us thing that WE do not need anyone or, that to ask for help is a sign of "weakness". But I believe, somewhere in our hearts and minds we know this is not true. For Christians like myself this should always, always be clear and we understand this. And yet, it is also in those moments of isolation or solitude (there is a difference) that sometimes we find ourselves trying to pray. And if we do pray, what do we say? Do we use the Lord's Prayer? Do we use the Jesus Prayer? If you are an Episcopalian like myself you may use the "Book of Common Prayer", or perhaps there is a verse from Scripture that you like using; some people are very fond of Psalm 23. Maybe there is a line from a poem or a song that you like to use. From my Roman Catholic roots, I have a very special place in my heart for the "Prayer of St. Francis" and from my studies, I find "The Merton Prayer" by Thomas Merton to be very special to me.

But what if we already decided that we want to pray; maybe we already found a special place where we can do this and then...we really don't know what to say or how to say it? Are we supposed to 'ask' for something ? I suggest that there may be times when we don't have to 'say' or 'ask' anything. Sometimes we can't. Not just in trying to pray, but in trying to explain ourselves to others. So I suggest that perhaps to be in silent is the way to go. While it is true that words are very important in our lives, words are in the end just symbols and these symbols have a meaning and/or a feeling behind them; maybe to NOT say anything is the key so that we can be more connected to the feelings, emotions, ideas and thoughts that defy the words we could use. To be in solitude makes this easier for us...he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

So there comes the moment while we reject others, someone else says "You Are Accepted", and it is here that I use the words of Paul Tillich: You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!

In life we deal with acceptance and rejection. May we be in touch with that reality, with that state of being in ourselves that will allow us not only to deal with the effects of acceptance or rejection, but so that we may also better look at the reasons WHY we accept and reject others. Let us not be afraid of solitude. Perhaps a few moments of solitude, to slow down, to think, to pray, to not do anything, to be in silence...maybe...maybe....

I hope you are well my dear reader. La paz del SeƱor...the peace of the Lord be with you...with all of us, always. Have a wonderful week :)



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