Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

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    Feb 16, 2020

    The 6th Sunday after the Epiphany

    Passage: Matthew 5:21-37

    Preacher: The Rev. Greg Farrand

    Series: Year A 2020-2021

    Category: Epiphany

    Detail:

    When I meet with couples for premarital counseling one of the first questions I ask is, “Tell me about your last argument.” And if they say, “Well, we don’t argue,” it is a major red flag. Because life is full of conflict… and conflict is not bad. The key is learning how to argue and disagree in a respectful, graceful, and loving way. But learning to disagree is not a skill that’s taught well in our cultural context. For example, we have learned that there’s three things you don’t talk about in public… politics, money, and religion. Well, that’s not very helpful. Those are powerful and incredibly meaningful topics. Instead of avoiding these topics, what is we taught our children to engage them in a respectful and compassionate manner? I think that part of our radically divided nation is due to the fact that we have not taught people to argue and disagree in a respectful and graceful way.

    And that same thing was true 2000 years ago. In our first reading from 1 Corinthians, the church is going through conflict and they have no idea how to argue and disagree in a healthy way. So Paul is writing to guide them through the tension. And his words are brilliant and so timely. He accurately diagnosis the problem with laser precision and then prescribes a wonderful cure. And we will get there but let me first give a little background.

    In his missionary journeys, Paul moved to Corinth and lived there for three years.

    He was a tent maker by trade and spent that time working and preaching establishing the church in this wealthy port town. After Paul left, another great teacher named Apollos moved in to help shepherd and lead. But after Apollos left, the church fell into conflict. And when Paul hears about it, he writes this letter to offer guidance and encouragement in navigating conflict and tension in the church.

    To be honest, that is most of what the New Testament is about. Most of our New Testament is made up of letters to people and churches in the middle of conflict. In Corinth, as the church devolved into conflict and division, one of the ways they drew up battle lines was to say, “I am a real Christin because I was mentored by Paul,” and others are saying, “No, I am the real Christian because I was mentored by Apollos.” And we have division, anger, and an entire community that has devolved into “us versus them.”

    And Paul’s response? In essence, St. Paul writes, “you are acting like spiritual babies.” He says they are embodying spiritual immaturity? If you want to know the indicators of a nascent faith it’s this… quarreling and jealousy.

    “Brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?”

    This devolving into “us versus them,” into “quarreling and jealousy” are indicators of spiritual immaturity. But the root of this immaturity is something deeper.

    Paul describes the root of spiritual immaturity as being people of the flesh. Of the flesh, in our modern language, is comparable to people of the ego. He says you are living out of your egoic primal instincts.

    To live out of the flesh, or out of the ego is spiritual immaturity. It is a consciousness that is rooted in fear and scarcity, that divides and separates, that focuses on how we are different.

    It is defended and braced and often anxious and angry. When we live out of the ego, it defines our perception of reality. It’s like the opposite of rose colored glasses. In the 1800’s people would put on rose colored glasses to look at things in a rosy and optimistic way. Well, to live out of the flesh, out of the ego, is like putting on anxiety and scarcity and fear glasses. It impacts how you see everything.

    And this is important… if you are living out of ego, you will apply it to anything. You can be an Egoic Republican or an Egoic Democrat. You can be an Egoic Southern Baptist or Egoic Episcopalian or Egoic Buddhist. You can be an egoic doctor or stay at home parent or an egoic priest! The ego will take any religion or philosophy or political ideology and will use it to separate and divide. To make themselves feel better by categorizing and devaluing others. This is spiritual immaturity and we can be spiritually immature at any age! I think its safe to say that our culture, at this point, is dominated by Egoic Consciousness, or in the words of Paul, living out of the flesh. We are immersed in an ego dominated environment that bombards us with messages of fear and quarreling. We are swimming in a fish tank of divisive spiritual immaturity. It is a smog that we are breathing in all the time. So what is the cure? How can we grow spiritually and not, like spiritual babies be tossed around on the waves of fear and division?

    Well, Paul gives us a critical clue in our reading. He writes, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. You are God’s field.” 

    He says these created categories of division are ultimately meaningless. What is Apollos? What is Paul? We had our unique roles in cultivating your spiritual journey but the entire process is created and nurtured and possible because of the presence and power of God.

    You are God’s field and the divine gardener has been gently and powerfully nurturing you. You are not separate, you are one garden. Your idea of separation is an illusion because we are all in God and God sustains and nurtures us all.

    The cure, according to Paul, is an awareness of God’s nurturing presence within you and all around you. The more you actually experience the presence of God within you and within every person you meet… with a deep awareness that the Divine Gardener is at work everywhere around you, that is how we take off our egoic lenses, step out of living in the flesh, and see through the eyes of Jesus. The cure to this spiritual immaturity, the healing balm, is cultivating a growing awareness of our connection with God and one another.

    But too often we are not aware of God’s presence all around and we devolve into being people of the flesh, spiritual babies.

    I was meeting with someone for spiritual direction and I asked him to tell me about his spiritual life. He responded that his spiritual life was a couple hours on Sunday morning and maybe a couple of brief prayers throughout the week. He said the rest of his life was not spiritual. So, in his mind, spirituality was only when he was being overtly religious which was maybe 2-3 hours of his entire week. So about 2% of his week was spiritual but the rest, in his words, were secular. 2% sacred and 98% worldly. Like his spiritual life was a small drawer but the entire dresser, his real life, was secular. He had created a false barrier in his life assuming that spiritual vitality was only experienced in formal religious settings.

    As we talked, my desire was to begin to break down this artificial wall between the sacred and the secular, between spiritual and worldly. Because the fact is, if we are God’s field and the divine gardener is working all around and within us, then all of life is spiritual. As Paul says, “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

    So I asked him, what do you really enjoy doing? And I thought he might say, “I like walking in the woods,” or “I like going to the beach.” But he said, “Well, I really like chocolate pudding.”

    I said, “OK, here is your homework. Before we meet again, I want you to sit down with a cup of chocolate pudding. And as your peeling the lid off, say, ‘Thank you God for this pudding.’ And then I want you to savor every bite. Give it your attention. Savor it. And when you take that last spoonful, say, ‘Thank you God for that perfect time of prayer.’” He responded, “What? Are you saying eating chocolate pudding is spiritual?” And I said, “Absolutely. Do you know how much God is enjoying you, enjoying that pudding? God is just as present with you when you are at home enjoying that pudding as when you are in church, and even kneeling at that alter rail.” You see, all of life is spiritual, there is not a moment when we are not immersed and splashing around in divine love and presence. And when we create intentional space to grow in awareness of our already existing connection with God and others we take off our egoic glasses, we start to mature and grow spiritually.

    And I will close with this very practical encouragement… if you want to take off the egoic glasses of the flesh, if you want to mature spiritually, you don’t have to become more religious, more serious, more dogmatic. You simply need to create regular space, through an intentional activity, for God to grow in you an awareness of that divine presence within and all around you. It could be going on a walk through the woods, or journaling, or meditating or eating chocolate pudding. Create intentional space and ask God to open your eyes.

    Just a couple of weeks ago I was leading a workshop at Christ United Methodist church and woman raised her hand and asked if she could share her spiritual practice. She said, every morning she gets up and goes into her walk in closet and sits on the floor. She sets her timer for 3 minutes… she said one minute for each person of the Trinity. Then she sits quietly in stillness until the timer goes off. She said, that morning routine of three minutes has transformed her life. She said most mornings, as she sits in stillness tears start flowing as she feels God’s presence with her. She calls those tears her first shower of the day.

    Then she gets up and continues on with her day.

    Honestly, in my experience, it doesn’t take much. We are immersed in God’s presence and if we create even a little space in our busy lives, if we crack open the door, the Spirit rushes in. And over time, as we create space for the Holy Spirit to dance with our spirit, our lens is transformed, we are set from egoic consciousness and begin to see the world through the eyes of Jesus.

    Paul is telling us, that we don’t have to live like spiritual babies tossed about on the waves of fear and anger that are all around us. We can mature as we experience a growing awareness of our connection with God and one another. So take some deliberate time each day, even three minutes, to step out of the wind of the noise and busyness of life. The cure for the conflict of the world is not out there… It is not ultimately in new politicians or a stronger economy or political agendas. The cure begins by making space in our lives to cultivate our inner spiritual journey… that is how our awareness of God’s presence grows. It is in these spaces that the categories that separate us begin to evaporate. It is in intentional space that quarreling begins to dry up and we experience the love and compassion of God from the inside out. And that compassion overflows from your life to impact everyone around you. That is the healing balm the world needs. That is how the world will be transformed. The cure is not out there it is in here… and it begins with you.