Sermon for June 3, 2018
We like to think we’re in control, that we have a general idea of what is going on in our lives. We try to reinforce this feeling in as many ways as we can, because we have an innate sense it isn’t true. We make up rules, concepts, ideas, systems all in order to make reality feel like something we can control. This is a double edged sword because there are times when it helps to calm us into a sense we can actually have some security, making the world seem not so overwhelming, but it also causes great anxiety because we know, just under the surface of our pretending, that none of the things we invent to help us can offer any REAL security or control over our lives.
We can temporarily maintain some sense of control as long as we stay within our made up set of parameters. The problem is, life will ALWAYS violate the rules we make up. Death, disease, a traffic jam on the way to work, a betrayal by a close friend, a failure of something you had put great faith in. Big things, little things, simple thing, complicated things, they are all subject to the checkmate power life has over our sense of our existence and control.
Have you ever been able to tickle yourself? Can you surprise yourself and feel true fear and shock? Have you ever tried really hard to ‘be yourself’ when you’re in a strange situation? Don’t just pass by that question, really think about what you would do if someone told you you HAD to be yourself- what/who is that?
How do you find yourself where you are in life right now- the job you have, the workout you do, the wife or husband you married...everything? At first glance you might feel you made the choices, you were in control. I can assure you that you were not.
An infinite number of things contributed to your so called self made life. Your great, great grandmother may have chosen to come to America. She made a choice that influenced every choice you’ve ever made. The fact that some amount of time, which is an illusion in and of itself, separates you is totally irrelevant. Your dad chose to have children. Your wife or husband chose to marry you. You see how quickly this can turn into an infinite spider web of causality. We can do this in the grand scale or even in your small life decisions. Where is your control?
If you want to pursue some spiritual path, where did that desire come from? What was the original cause of you deciding to want to seek God or enlightenment? How can a person who is in a state of ignorance choose to follow the right path to non-ignorance? Why would an ignorant mind even have such a desire? Can you give up desire by desiring not to desire? Can you be humble because you’ve decided you have too much pride, or is that also pride?
At this point, you might be thinking, ok, so I’m not in control, I’ll just let go. Well, isn’t that also you trying to control, but now through letting go? It’s a seemingly never ending, frustrating trap. You can’t do anything and you can’t give up, so-
WHO IS IN CONTRO!?!? WHAT DO I DO?
If you’re feeling deflated by this, that isn’t a bad thing. It’s a beginning. If you’re feeling insecure, like the rug has been pulled out from under you, don’t try to fix that feeling. Grace isn’t always a warm and fuzzy feeling when the ego first experiences it. It often starts like this, as a ‘bad’ feeling, a feeling that tempts us to go back and rely on the false rules we’ve designed for ourselves.
We wind up pushing God’s grace away because we can’t recognize it for what it is. We even ask God, as Paul did, to take away this pain from us. God, in His wisdom, says no and that His Grace is sufficient- GOD IS TELLING PAUL THERE IS NO ULTIMATE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE PAIN AND THE GRACE. GRACE, WHEN FELT BY EGO, OUR SELF THAT IS SEPARATE FROM GOD, IS PAIN. Grace does not have to be pain, but it can be felt as pain depending on us. This is a hard truth, but don't dismiss it. At first glance, it will rightly shock your logical mind- go beyond that.
We have fooled ourselves into our own concept of what grace is and so when it comes, it might feel like anxiety, pain, confusion etc. We can go back to fooling ourselves with our own designs, or we can allow God’s grace.
You have to really become totally convinced that you can do nothing. You have to experience, at the ground of your being, that it is as if you are in a trap, totally helpless. When you experience these things, when you become convinced, you will start to see that it is only the limited you that is trapped, that there is something else beyond that, and that the trap is what shows you what is real and what is not.
It would seem that the vast majority of us don’t allow the possibility of grace, of this kind of truth, until the final moment of death, when there is no other way to go, no control, no further game we can play to distract ourselves. We will have gone through a myriad of experiences prior in life that tried to wake us up, but we’ve been brainwashed into thinking that toughing things out, using our strength to get through hard experiences, is what we need to do. Unknowingly, we have rejected God’s invitation to grace, to truth and true strength. Using our idea of our own strength simply locks us back into our made up ssense of control.
This is part of the Truth that Christ’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. Our weakness, our lack of ultimate control, is what allows grace, and grace is what carries you over the perceived space between you and God which doesn’t actually exist.
If, at the moment, you’re relying on your own strength, playing the game, there is no guilt you need to feel by reading this sermon. It is simply where you are. I urge you, however, even when you are feeling great, and everything seems to be going well, to ask yourself if anything that is contributing to that feeling will last? Does it have any real power, and do you have any real control? Are you aware of the subtle wisdom you already have that tells you this is all just a pyramid standing on its head, even as you attempt to enjoy the experience as if it were stable? I think you will find that if you look carefully, and you find out the real nature of the game you’ve created, you will see that it is an illusion with no real substance or basis. Once you really see that, you can still play the game but without the self consciousness and anxiety that normally accompany it.
If you’re in a bad place right now, this sermon will strike nerves...perhaps very raw nerves. You might be tempted to turn away, succumb to anger and sadness and create the depressed version of the happy game the person created in the prior paragraph. Again, guilt is not necessary. You are both creating the structure you need in the moment in order to survive. Still, however, I urge you to use what you are going through to see that you were never in control in the way you thought you were anyway. Allow the possibility that pain and helplessness can be transformed into an experience of divine grace. Once that apparent transformation occurs, you will see there wasn’t ever anything other than grace.
I know that this sermon touches on some really difficult things, things which are heavy on experience, very difficult to describe with words. If you’re happy, you might feel like ignoring all this and keeping the momentum going. If you’re sad, you might feel totally stuck and that it’s ridiculous to say grace comes from, or is the same as, pain. The goal here is to spark further investigation by you. Reading this and leaving it here, or just holding on to the concepts as mere ideas, will not do much good. There has to be active introspection in your daily life, in your moment to moment thoughts, so that you can experience, rather than just think about these challenging matters of the spirit.
You, Christ, the Spirit, and God are one thing. Everything above points to this truth of what you already are.