Sermon for May 6, 2018
A few months ago, I was attending a casual event with my family. Another person, sitting next to me, saw something occur at the event and began explaining to me what was happening and why. Keep in mind, this person had no idea who I was. It doesn’t matter what the event was regarding, so I won’t mention it, but I could have been the international expert on this topic and he never would have known. For whatever reason, he clearly made an assessment that I was probably not on his ‘level’. I politely smiled and listened to his explanation but I had to laugh a little bit afterward because it was just so eye opening to have someone define me with such confidence, and lack of information. It made me look at myself and my own assumptions that much more closely.
On another occasion, while driving home, I had apparently done something to cause another driver to have some road rage issue- to this day I have no idea what exactly set him off and I suspect it doesn’t really matter anyway. As we approached a red light, he sped up to pass me, stuck his head out of his window, and motioned for me to follow him. My assumption was, and I think it was accurate, that he wanted me to follow him so we could pull over and have some type of confrontation. Again, this person had no idea who I was, what my skill level was in whatever type of confrontation he was looking for etc. Fortunately, he turned the opposite direction and I kept on my way in my direction. Again, seeing this behavior in another made me even more aware of my own temptation to think I accurately see others and their intentions. Even in this case, I could be wrong about whatever his intentions were.
Both of these people were looking at me through their own filter. Although these are quite extreme examples, this happens all the time. In fact, I would say that there are as many versions of “Rob” as there are people with whom I interact with. Each person sees a combination of the ‘me’ I project and the ‘me’ they choose to see. Even those perceptions can change on a moment to moment basis as things like mood, context, awareness etc all change. In a different context, that road rage guy might be the person to help me change a flat tire. The know it all guy, with just a couple changes to the situation, might have asked me for advice instead of giving me a lesson.
The point is that who we “really” are is much more complicated than we’d like to think...and much more simple too, if we can let it be. It’s complicated in that we are often anxious about who we are. We are concerned about how people see us, if we’ll be liked and understood, if things will work out the way we want them to. It’s simple in that, when we start to examine things as we did above, we realize that we can’t control all these variables. We can’t find one, static, definition of who we are. When we realize that, we can begin to let go of the idea of control. That is the beginning of freedom.
When God tells us that we will find Him when we seek Him with all our heart, it begs the question, “What is ‘all our heart’?” One way to approach it is to understand what God did NOT say. He didn’t say seek Him with all our knowledge, all our intellectual power, all of our perspectives and opinions. Those are all the ways we get into trouble even seeing ourselves, and each other, as we explored above, let alone God.
It’s exhausting, and confusing, trying to decipher all the ways we can be judged by others. You will never please everyone, nor have any kind of a consistent and unchanging image, in this world. Especially in today’s social media environment, where people are just waiting to be offended and outraged by someone or something, relying on the world to define us is a recipe for disaster. God, however, is steering us away from a dependence on our own perceptions and intellect.
What does that lead us to then? What is the heart? The heart is a simple “beingness”. Seek God with only your sense of presence, and you will find Him. It’s so simple that, compared to how we see ourselves, and one another, in our daily lives, it is incredibly difficult. Many will interpret 'all your heart' to be a measure of effort. While effort is certainly important on one level, this other aspect of effortless presence with God is often neglected, or ignored completely. Effort is a great teacher, but if you think you can 'effort' your way to God, you might be in for a tough lesson- one that I've had numerous times!
For a practical idea of why this is hard, imagine entering an empty room, with only two chairs and another stranger sitting across from you, and being totally silent, and present, without making any conceptual judgements about that person, or wondering what they might be thinking of you. Just be there, in the presence of someone else. Simple, or hard?
In contrast to how we relate to one another, God is calling us to enter the simplicity of being right where we are, right now, with Him. He is telling you He is already here, where your heart is. You just have to be still and present. It’s something like reading writing on a blank piece of paper versus a piece of paper with all kinds of designs already on it. You can see the writing easily, and clearly, when the background is blank.
Sometimes the concepts discussed in a sermon can be easy to become satisfied with. You hear the ideas but you resist moving past that to the experience they are pointing to. Especially in this sermon, I want to make sure we make an effort to get to the level of experience, rather than just intellectual understanding.
So, in your daily lives this week, practice being aware of two contrasting things-
First, moments when someone sees you in a way that is totally different than either how you intended to be seen, or how you generally see yourself. What does this mean in terms of who the ‘real’ you actually is? How could you find the real you? Do you think there is a real you to be found or are you just a myriad of varying ideas of yourself and others?
Second, spend some time alone, being present and still. You don’t need to have an idea of meditating, or praying, or any other idea or thing to do. Just be present and still. Whatever happens, just experience it. Does a sense of who you are emerge that you didn't expect, or see before? What do your worldly ideas look like when you are still?
Whatever you experience when you practice these two things, remember that God’s Grace, His presence that resides in the fullness of your heart, is always with you. It is not dependent on the world, our ideas, our impermanent feelings of anxiety or peace. His Grace is your being.