January Series: Love Beyond Belief – Love Stays Awake, or, You Are Not My Enemy

January 22, 2017 ()

READING ~ from the Christian New Testament Scripture, Gospel of Luke 4:16-21

And Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went into the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opend the book and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has annointed me to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim acceptable the year of the Lord.”

And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

 

READING ~ from Mark Nepo: “Holding Nothing Back.”
An interview With Tami Simon – Insights at the Edge on Monday, August 29, 2016

Staying awake has become for me much more than just opening our eyes. But it’s opening our heart and our mind and our sensitivity and our compassion.

I think being human beings and the very term “human being” kind of captures it all because we’re a walking paradox. The human is very finite but the being is infinite. So we kind of walk around like lightning in a bottle, you know, and I feel—at least my life experience has kind of taught me—that we’re constantly opening and closing, dilating and constricting, becoming clear and confused. You know, we blink how many times a day? We inhale and exhale how many times a day? So staying awake is this process of not trying to arrive at some permanent state of enlightenment—which I just don’t think is possible—but how do we move in and out, as everything living does, from being open to closed?....

It is a practice of return. You know, we get hurt, [and] it’s instinctual to kind of close up, circle the wagons. But if we stay that way, we block out everything that can heal us, everything that matters. So how do we open again? That’s part of staying awake. How do we open our minds after we’ve shut them down or pain has caused us to be rigid?

 

SERMON

What a week we have had. Are you tired? I don’t care what political position you hold, the week has been exhausting. And also exhilarating. For some, Friday noon was the high point of the week. For others, Saturday’s marches and rallies was the high point. The contrast between the Inauguration of our new President and the Women’s marches is stark. Emotions are running very high. There is a lot at stake in our country, and the world, and how we respond to what is already happening or what may happen is important.

Thanks to Black Lives Matter, and the fusion coalition of groups and movements and people who feel threatened, and now engaged, by the noise and actions of our streets and podiums, sleeping America is awake. We woke up to the reality of the threat or acts of violence and discrimination that many, many people experience every single day of their lives.   I admit that for the most part, I just didn’t think about the enormity of the impact of constant hyper vigilance on a person’s life. And therein, my dear spiritual companions, lies our problem and our solution. I was unthinking. Asleep. And now, I am awake. And I need to stay awake because what we hold dear and what has made America strong is at risk right now. Now that we are awake, we must decide what to do. There is work to do.

Philosopher and poet, Mark Nepo, says that staying awake is more than continuing to see with our eyes. It is also opening our hearts and our minds and our sense of compassion. Staying awake means that we are open to the pain of life as well as the joy of life. Each of us carries some level of pain in our lives. When we get hurt, we contract and close ourselves down to contain and control the suffering. This is a natural response to pain and threat. Yet, we deprive ourselves of the fullness of life if we stay in that closed and contained place. Staying awake is the practice of returning to the expansiveness of our lives. Just as we breathe in and breathe out, we learn to open up again after a time of contraction.

In a larger sense, then, staying awake means that we cannot deny the truth of the pain that neighbor inflicts on neighbor because of race, class, religion, language, citizenship, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or any other categorical identity. We can no longer deny the truth that lies before us about the deep divide between the so-called liberal elites and the so-called redneck bubbas. ….. and I know you know what I’m sayin’. Staying awake means that open ourselves up to acknowledging, to seeing, to knowing with heart, mind and soul, that we and others suffer.

Jesus was awake and he stayed awake throughout his ministry of teaching and healing - even to the moment when he gave up his life on the cross of crucifixion. Jesus wanted others to wake up and stay awake. The message we hear in the story of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry; a ministry that began in his home town with the very startling reading of the words of the prophet Isaiah, is this: Wake Up and Love Your Neighbors – not matter who they are. These words would have been familiar to those present in the synagogue, but Jesus read them with an authority and a mandate that was unexpected and, frankly, unwelcome. Jesus was in their faces with the words of the prophet which he put forth as his own calling and as a challenge to his faith community.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has annointed me to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim acceptable the year of the Lord.”

What is it that faith requires of us now? We are required to be good and do good and quit doing things that make life unnecessarily hard for others. We are required to look beyond the comfort of our own situation and see the discomfort of our neighbor. We are required to open ourselves to life beyond our own hardships and see that there is goodness and joy awaiting us. We are required to seek and follow truth. We are required to forgive others when they cause us pain and we are required to seek forgiveness when we cause others pain. We are required to practice love, for it may very well save others and it will surely save us.

What is this love, this love that stays awake? It is the love that flourishes in open heartedness and open mindedness. This is a love that knows no boundaries, no separations. It is a love that is not conditional on like ways or like thinking or like beliefs. This is love beyond belief. It cannot and will not be confined by our limited understandings and our prejudices.

Love beyond belief lives within us as perfect love of God or Creator or Universe or whatever you perceive when you feel yourself to be part of something much greater than everything we know. This love carries us through the darkness as we find our way back to the light. It lifts us to higher expressions of our humanity that we think ourselves capable of achieving. This love is also in the struggle to overcome what separates us from each other. Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” It is easy to love your friends and those who agree with you, but more than that, we are to love those who disagree with us or make us angry or even those who would seek to do us harm.

Well, I have to tell you, this commandment to love beyond belief, to love beyond my friends, beyond my family, beyond my fellow Unitarian Universalists, beyond those who vote as I vote, beyond those who see America as I see America, beyond all those who are easy to love and to begin to love those who are nearly impossible to tolerate let alone love, is just so hard. But . . . Love stays awake. I know.

Really? How can I love those who seem like such utter and complete enemies? You may know what I’m talking about. You may feel as I do – that sometimes “those people” are beyond reach and must simply be defeated. Period. And yet. . . .And yet, we must not. When we close ourselves off from others, we have already lost the opportunity for reconciliation and finding common ground and achieving the Common Good.

So, we keep on keeping on. We are in a time right now when it feels as though there are sides that can never meet. I don’t know if there can be any common ground. I don’t know if our country can come together. I can tell you that yesterday at the Women’s March in Augusta, I felt unity; a unity of millions of people all around the world marching and rallying with women, for rights and equality, for respect and dignity, for the future of our planet, for water, for freedom of reproductive, for humanity.

How then, shall I love?

Here is what I’ve come to believe, at least for right now.

Our adversaries are not our enemies. I we continue to see our neighbors as our enemies, we will continue to categorize and objectify them and when we do that, there is no hope for working together for good. Fear and hate and disregard for others and our planet are the enemy and these forces are to be resisted – fully and completely. People are not the enemy. Our charge is to work for the best world we can imagine. My mantra over the last few days has been Love - - - for people, for our planet and for peace. That’s it. People. Planet. Peace. That’s what I’m working for and I will continue to do so because my faith will not let me do anything else.

What love beyond belief will not let us do is make enemies out of neighbors. What love beyond belief offers us is a way forward despite our differences and difficulties toward wholeness and peace. We won’t get there today, probably not tomorrow, but we can get there if we place our trust in love’s power to change our hearts and our minds so that one day – maybe not too long from now - we can be open to others, even when we cannot support their actions.

My dear Spiritual Companions, we find ourselves in a time of struggle and difficulty. Love reaches out, it does not close down. We may not be able to reach out on our own, but together, with the strength of love and the power of commitment, we may find that we are more awake and more able to fully embrace this one precious life we are given. Together, may we work faithfully for people, for our planet, and for peace.

May it be so, please divine spirit, help us to make it so.

Blessed Be. I Love You. Amen.

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Rev. Margaret A. Beckman

Rev. Margaret A. Beckman

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