Sermon for Sunday May 27, 2018
1 John 2 (NIV)15
"Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father[d] is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh,the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever."
On this Memorial Day weekend, we set aside time to focus our thoughts on those who have sacrificed their lives for others. Each life lost has its own unique story, so I won’t attempt to generalize about their sacrifices beyond what I’ve already said. I will, however, specifically call to your attention where we focus our thoughts, and not necessarily to ideas like honor, respect etc. While those ideas may be in the forefront of your thought, each person will have different things they focus on while thinking about those who have died.
The most important thing is that our thought, our attention, is given to those who have passed on. There are special experiences, things you need to experience for yourself, that I won’t define for you here, which occur when you offer your thought, sincerely, to someone who has passed on. I encourage you to stop and experience this for yourself at some point during this memorial holiday.
Although this holiday, hopefully, makes us stop and consider more than just our usual, everyday, routine, it can still be hard to see the Spirit which underlies the hypnotic show the world gives us each day. It’s as if we are looking at the ocean, taking in the waves, the reflection of the sun and sky off the water, all the while missing the depths that are below the surface. If no one had ever told you about the depths of the ocean, the entire world that exists beneath the surface, that which makes what you see possible, you would never really understand the ocean beyond the surface show- even if it can be so beautiful, and even destructive, seemingly on its own. The Spirit of God is so subtle, so quiet, and the world is so loud, so busy. It’s easy to think life is everything, and death is nothing.
Whether you are thinking more deeply about death because of Memorial Day weekend, or simply because of something going on in your own life right now, many people become afraid that there is just ‘nothing’ there after death. They see the surface of the ocean, hear and see the waves, and they can’t imagine what is beyond that. A surface, however, always has an underlying basis for its existence....and even that division will fade if you're ready to delve deeper.
All of us have an innate sense of what is beneath the surface of our lives. It is a kind of tension, an effort, we feel in just living, that comes from living on, what seems to us, two levels- worldly and divine. It can express itself as anxiety, depression, confusion- a myriad of different feelings. It makes us exhausted at the end of the day, and robs us of a truly restful sleep.
In contrast, those times when we lose ourselves in the moment, when we seem to be unaware of ourselves, of time going by, of the sense of an ‘I” watching you experience life, the tension is relaxed, we have boundless energy. When we rest in this state, it is deep and restorative. It’s much like treading water, then diving deep, then treading water, then diving deep. We try to find peace treading on the surface but it’s exhausting. Yet, diving deep, and feeling that peace, we still haven’t found the way to remain there yet either.
You may not realize it, but what you fear in death is what you seek in life. In a way, you are addicted to the tension of life. We can become addicted to our sense of individual self, until we become exhausted, anxious, confused, and need rest. Then we seek the peace and true rest that comes when we relax into just being, without a million thoughts about being. It’s a seemingly constant yo-yo game of thinking we can live in that state of tension, watching ourselves, and trying to control our lives, until we either get exhausted and are forced to give up the illusion of control or we find ourselves having the spontaneous experience of losing ourselves in a wonderful moment, or succession of moments, when we feel totally in union with whatever we are experiencing.
It's almost like a trap. We're bouncing between effort and control, treading water, and trying to abide in peace, diving deep. We can't seem to really control, or stay in, either state.
So, in life we are always searching for a way to both maintain our identity, and our control, yet experience the peace of the depths also, but without the risk of losing our sense of ourselves totally. We play this game in relating to what death may be like also. We fear we can't maintain control, but we also fear letting go, losing that tension that we think keeps us alive, in control, but is really a source of our suffering. We don’t realize that we can just float on the water, be free to experience the surface and the depth, if we stop fighting for control.
If we look at the verse above, we are told not to “love” the things of the world. We are being told not to attach ourselves, seek union with, the things of the world because they are impermanent. All the things of this world, like the waves of the ocean, the glimmering reflection of the water’s surface, pass away. This doesn’t mean the world is insignificant anymore than the waves are insignificant. It means that the depths, God, which is the source of all things, is the only true place to put your faith. When you relax and float on the surface of the water, it is the depths that are supporting you.
We are being told, in these verses, how we can release the anxiety and tension of being isolated as an apparent individual in the world, relying on worldly things, and find lasting life in God, even beyond our physical death. In its most elemental form, the ‘will of God” is love. It is simple, open, unifying. In reality, “you” and God are not separate and there is a somewhat hidden truth in the way this verse is worded. Love, from our individual perspective, cannot be willed by us. It is our natural state of being that is willed by God. When you take away all individual will, divine love is what remains. When you do the will of God, you abide in a state of love. You are floating on the water, totally supported, without division between depth, surface, and you.
“Lives forever” is pointing to our living fully in the present moment. This moment, experienced in God, is forever- it is the state of being when you realize you are unified with God. There is no longer anxiety about the past, or the future, but just the experience of the moment. If this seems too abstract, think of any moment in your life when you felt totally present, unaware of anything but the experience in that instant. Now imagine that experience magnified, continuing seamlessly and forever, without bouncing back into your ‘normal’ state of feeling like an individual experiencing something. This is a conceptual understanding meant to be experienced and not simply written about- words can never communicate this true meaning. The experience of being caught up in the world versus experiencing a perfect, lasting moment with God is like being hammered by the wave thundering toward you versus diving under it into the quiet below.
So, as you contemplate life and death, consider the intersection of the experience of life, the concepts you hold about death, and the instruction given in the verses above. If losing yourself in the moment in life can be bliss, might this be even more so after death? Can the show of life really exist without a deeper reality which underlies it? Have you ever experienced a love so transcendent that the common lines between yourself and others, yourself and the world, became blurred, and that moment seemed to be beyond your common experience of time, seared into your memory as if it was still in the present?
If you feel bounced around by this sermon, it is by design. You won’t find peace, or truth, in understanding the symbols written here, but in experiencing what they are pointing to. It is meant to show you the surface of the ocean from a safe place, throw you into the current and beat you up with waves, drag you down deep, feeling both peace and a need to come up for air, then challenge you to let go and float between the surface and the depth, relying on God, who was always there, waiting for you to realize it.