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Good morning everyone!
I’m Ivy – a pastor here at Reservoir. I’m interrupting the regular scheduled programming of Steve’s summer series on reinterpreting the Apostle’s Creed – he’ll be back up next week. But I am going to piggy-back on Lydia’s sermon from last week – where she preached out of the well known Ecclesiastes 3 passage
There’s a season for everything and a time for every matter under the heavens.
This past year has been a year that has reminded us of what it is to be human.
We have been confronted and (maybe humbled) by our human-ness, in ways that we likely never thought we’d have to – or want to.
My skin has been crawling with the awareness of my human-ness – my limits, my fears, my uncaring moments, my frustrations in closer view than ever before. I’ve also become so deeply aware of JUST how much I love people – and unfortunately how much pandemics love people too. And I have felt not just the “hardness” of this pandemic – but just how hard it is to be human.
Because as it turns out we are neither immortal, nor invulnerable, nor invincible, nor infallible.
And it can feel like – I know for me this is true – that in my human-ness so much has been taken away this past year – and yet today I want to talk primarily about how much we still have! So much inside of us, planted within us – the potential to reimagine and shape the world ahead of us – in fact, perhaps the stripping down – allows us to look through a new window to the days ahead with clarity, vision, and wisdom.
I want to inspire us to believe that WE, as human beings, are “good news.” Even if we’ve worn the same sweat pants 6 days out of 7 this past year. I want to remind us of how JESUS imparted to us, taught us how to be human – the gospel. And how this might inform where we stand today, at this inflection point in our world. Not quite “post-pandemic” – but with enough pandemic in our back pocket to have some clarifying perspective – of how to live this “human life” with thriving, vibrancy and joy – AS IF this way of being has been written in the scriptures AND IN US – all along.
Lord, help us see the way forward in this human life – with you, our divine shephard, you, our divine help, our ETERNAL SOURCE OF LOVE and our all-together human companion. – Amen
On July 4th in this Sanctuary on our “opening day” of in-person services – I had one of the most provocative, heart-opening conversations I’ve had all year. It was about 90 seconds, with Rosie, a 6 year old.
I stopped in, just prior to service to say “hi” and check in with Rosie and her brother and her mom. And in the trading of quick check-ins ….Rosie, above her mask line – locked eyes with mine – and said,
so the next time there’s a pandemic, (pointing to the red/yellow/green dot sticker on her shirt) could you make the red and green dots in different colors (these dots that indicate your comfort level with physical proximity) – because my brother, Conrad is color blind.
…and I thought, “Oh my gosh – how do I get 2 more hours with you – you amazing sage.”
Now here’s the amazing thing about this conversation – I was walking through the aisles of church that morning feeling angsty, unsettled, excited too…but more prevalent were these questions:
What am I doing here?
Who am I? Where am I going? Where are we going?
What is church? Where is the future of church?
How can I, this church, be “better”? What have we “Learned”?
AND what is my job in this, my work to do?
These were the questions rattling in my head, that to be honest, almost always are to some degree present. And maybe you’ve bumped up against some of these recently too – in your own contexts because these are fundamental “human” questions.
*and then – cue my conversation with – Rosie.*
Who I think watered something that was already planted in me. Rosie, in part reminded me that our job is to become what we already are – human. And to believe that my full – whole human self, might be more useful to God than my exhausting striving for some external goal of “betterment.”
That moment with Rosie, let me see what it is to be authentically human and eternally divine at the same time.. A child of God – a child of heaven, and a child altogether present to this Earth. And to see it expressed in the most simple, beautiful way. Real, genuine, attentive to both the person in front of her – and also to God. This, it seems, is a way forward for change, and exchange of “more,” love to the humans around us.
I’m going to say more about this conversation with Rosie in a minute – but I think she had her thumb on what we get to press into today as we read along, where Lydia left off last week in Ecclesiastes, let’s read it together.
Ecclesiastes 3:9- 11 (The Inclusive Bible Translation and NIV)
9 What do people really get for all their hard work?
10 I have reflected on this while learning all the kinds of work God gives to humankind.
11 God has made everything beautiful for its own time. God has also planted eternity in the human heart, yet no one can see the scope of God’s work from beginning to end.
12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.
13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.
14 I understand that whatever God does will endure for eternity; nothing can be added to it, nothing can be taken away. God makes it this way to keep reverence for the sacred alive in us.
In part our work, our job here on Earth, is to recognize what has been planted in our human hearts. This unquantifiable source, this mysterious – experiential thing…eternity.
This vastness, this limitless infinite source of good – and love- that bends beyond time and covers all time.
As the preceding verses tell us in Ecclesiastes – we as humans will encounter – All. The. Times.
Times of birth, Times of death,
Times of tearing, Times of mending,
Times of planting, Times of uprooting – and so on….
Much of these times – will require our actual human effort/toil – and with these times our human limits will be stretched. Pushed. Exhausted.
In all of these very human times though we are reminded that WE HAVE A PARTNER – in this. A divine source orienting us to long for eternity – for “better.” This kind of “better” – that suggests that there are new ways – improvements and reframing for a society that hinders the betterment of so many lives.
This is good and holy justice work.
But to do this by having our body and heart in harmony – and also by being in harmony with Jesus. Because this partnership will be what allows the work to endure, to not be in vain, to bring heaven to earth, to remember that we can coordinate, co-create, co-labor, co-partner with the Divine as we go forward.
Here’s the thing though – it’s messy , vulnerable, intimate work. Partnering with Jesus requires us to bring our whole selves into view. Jesus isn’t interested in co-creating a world that engages only one part of yourself- he wants our full selves – emotions, your feelings, thoughts, failings, your realness. This is how we keep moving ahead.
And this is the live question that some of us are starting to entertain right now? Right? How do we move forward? What do we take from this pandemic? What do we leave behind? What work have we done? What work do we have to do? And what steps should we take now?
These are live conversations that so many organizations and businesses, schools, etc.. are having. What does “work” look like these days? Days in person? Days remote?
I was listening to an interview with Howard Lutnick, who is the CEO of this company, Cantor Fitzgerald, a large global financial service firm. Who was responding to this pivot point we are in – speaking to his desire to have his employees back in the office. Presuming that more work could be done in the office than not. He said
Young bankers who decide they’re working too hard — that 100 hours a week,is too much, need to choose another living — that’s my view…these are hard jobs. – people need to know what they are getting into – and show up for it!
You have to work extremely hard to get ahead.
You have to give people/clients what they want – and faster – and better than everyone else.
In other parts of our nation – we continue with these themes, that come out of not just a for-profit sector – but in all parts of life. These themes to be “faster” and be “better”and to “keep going.”
As so many of you this week have heard – with the news that Simone Biles stepped out of the team gymnastics competition at the Olympics. Naomi Osaka prior to that with an exit from the center stage when she pulled out of the French Open, Simone Manuel in swimming with “overtraining syndrome,” and in the track & field, Olympic Trials with Sha’Carri Richardson – who expected to perform at peak level after getting tragic personal news.
There is significant disproportionate weight on Black folks, and inequitable challenges to their wellness, freedom and health.
Sha’Carri Richardsonhe tweeted, and Simone Biles said – and others have said for forever:
“I AM HUMAN.”
The underlying question that echoes from that refrain is not so much specific to work places – or elite athletics – but it is this fundamental/universal question – which is,
“Do you see me as human?”
“Can we see each other as human?”
If we do, then we must see God in front of us as well. And that is the challenge – that is the work. For within each of us, is planted eternity. And that eternity is not just for us personally to know, but it is a realization for the betterment of our whole community and society,
This is what steadies our work – and breaks open systems and frameworks that twist our human-ness beyond its limits – in toxic/non-divine ways – to the point of breaking, fragmenting, collapse. Because our heart can not hold the weight of such work.
What do people really get for all their hard work? Verse 9 here asks…
The earthly framework – says you get “ahead” of the other. This way of being, of making a living – and of hustling for our worthiness, success, prominence; to be seen and noticed, to be picked and chosen…that’s what we get! This is evident in big companies, in the machine that turns out elite athletes – as much as it is in our kid’s schools, our town meetings, and in our everyday vocations.
Today, I wonder though – if “getting ahead” has gotten us anywhere? Except further from ourselves – and our hearts that hold the universe and eternity within them.
I was reminded recently by a priest, that…
“at the core of human personhood, we discover that what it means to be human is to also be divine,”
…the same journey I believe Jesus made on this earth.
God poured God’s fully divine self – into this fully human Jesus. Jesus holds together both the human-ness and the divineness. This priest reminds me, that
“when we deny what Jesus holds together, we can’t hold it together in ourselves!”
And that’s the whole point: you and I are also children of heaven and children of earth, children of God and children of this world. Both are true simultaneously.
We are not simply souls having a spiritual experience, but physical beings whose very breath is given by the Divine. As Richard Rohr says, In order to incarnate God, we are called to be fully human, with our full, beautiful, LIMITED, messy, complicated selves in every setting.
As saints before us have said,
“The glory of God is a human being fully alive”
—St. Irenaeus of Lyon
But it is hard to be fully alive when systems and structures do not value our full human selves but as dismembered / fragments of our selves – with an expectation of super-human goals.
Simone Biles said this week,
“My heart hurts because doing what I love has been taken away from me to please other people. At the end of the day we have to remember we are human.”
Sha’Carri Richardson – learned about the death of her biological mom in an interview from a reporter. And then tweeted “I am human.” A statement that should disrupt – because it communicates her vulnerability and invites us into empathy and intimacy.
Using the word “human,” encourages us to remember that she isn’t just a young track star, or a near-celebrity, or a would-be Olympian – she’s a human being.
A heart that has been planted with eternity – keeps reverence for the sacred alive in us.
This is where the fullness of our human-ness – all our stories (at the intersection with each other’s stories) can not only be held, but seen as a way forward. A way to get ahead if you will because it becomes a source, when we can bring our whole selves into each setting, for generative collaboration and creativity and spontaneity and joy.
There is such a fascination/maybe a sickness in our culture with outcome and output. And so, our lives follow suit – task after task performed, Doing a good job, getting great grades, the raise, the quote in the article – all we become focused on is the next thing.
But our heart, our soul takes the hit – because if being fully human and spirituality is whatever it takes to keep your heart space open – then this driveness doesn’t allow us to ask ourselves the most fundamental human question – which is
“How am I feeling right now?”
Let alone the question that I think Jesus asks us which is,
“What part of eternity is planted in you, do you want to impart to this life..?”
Jesus showed up as his whole human self – angry, sad, weary, joyful, in pain.
He changed his mind about things, he was influenced by his encounters with people. And yet his divine character of love never changed.
He was vulnerable with those around him, he laughed, he drank.
He was powerful – but not controlling.
AND and he co-partnered , co-created, co-labored with God for the work that he was here on Earth to do – as he did with people.
He came to give us these opportunities too – within us.. The opportunity to love as best we can, the opportunity to release control, defy injustices. The opportunity to be fully human.
He gave us practical ways to practice being human too –
“love your neighbor as yourself and love God.”
Speaking & listening to one another with love
Treating and regarding our neighbor with love
Not lying, cheating , hoarding, competing
Jeus came to open up the spirituality in us – as he came to teach us how to be a human being. We aren’t just made for performance – to be better, faster, please more people. I think most of us would say, correct, I know that! And yet, Jesus knew this would be an eternal tug *even after a life-altering pandemic* that it might be easy to fall back in the ways that have always been.
That’s why he came, to teach us the way of living among/alongside other humans. Holding their humanity (and their divinity) in the light.
It is a never ending battle, there really is a war to “get ahead.” Jenee Osterheldt a Boston Globe columnist just wrote in response to Simone Biles this week, that it is an,
“every day battle to remember your worth so you aren’t swallowed by American determination to bankrupt [you] of self-love.”
It is work – to keep reverence for the sacred alive in us. This is our first task perhaps as we move forward this year – to keep reverence for the sacred alive in us so that we too, stay fully alive.
Frederick Beuchner says
“Yup that’s the battle! – to become whole and at peace inside our skins. It is a war not of conquest but of liberation – it is the war to become a human being. This is the goal that we are really after and that God is really after. This is the goal that power, success, and security are only forlorn substitutes for. This is the victory that not all our human armory of self-confidence and wisdom and personality can win for us—not simply to be treated as human but to become at last truly human.”
In Rosie’s 6 short years so far on this Earth – a pandemic has taken up nearly ⅓ of her lived life. So in her scope – it’s completely possible that there will be another pandemic. And in her view, now is the time to make change.
To be kind
To be inclusive
To be attentive to the people in front of us,
And revere the divinity in all of us.
To be human.
This is the work.
A work that will endure all seasons, all time, and work that may engage our greatest unlearning for our way forward.