“equinox,” September 27, 2015

Responsive Call to Worship
The need for balance
lives deep within us—
deep in that place
that’s simply about standing.
We need such balance, after all,
simply to stand—
let alone walk, run, and dance.
In truth, we need a balance of all facets of life
to negotiate healthy living—
balancing the physical, the emotional,
the mental, and the spiritual—
giving time and discipline to each facet of our living,
balancing an outward and an inward focus,
attention on ourselves and on others,
an awareness of how bad things can be
that does nonetheless not overwhelm hope and joy.
So to move through an abundant life
requires more balance than we might ever have suspected
and more attention to balancing as lifelong effort.
May God not ever be just one more element balanced,
but the director of our balancing—
the priority that defines our center of gravity.

Witness of the Closed Canon, i.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Witness of the Living Word, ii.
Four times a year, each and every year,
based on the orbit of the earth around the sun,
we name a time—an event—dictated by the relationship
of light and darkness—day and night.

Twice it’s the solstice (either the longest day of the year in late June—
when the sun is at its highest position in the sky from the North Pole,
or the shortest day of the year in late December—
when the sun is at its highest position in the sky from the South Pole),
and twice a year, it’s the equinox,
that twenty-four hour period in late March or late September
in which the northern and southern hemispheres are equally illuminated—
in which light and dark are approximately equal—
well, day and night are the same (sunrise to sunset; sunset to sunrise).
It’s actually light longer than it is dark,
because it gets light before the sun actually rises.
The more technical, less familiar term, the “equilux,”
refers to the day on which light and darkness are equal.
The word “equinox” comes to us from two latin words
one meaning “equal” and the other meaning “night,”
while the word “equilux” comes from two latin words,
the one meaning “equal” and the other “light.”
If you’re interested, an equinox occurs
when the plane of the earth’s equator passes the center of the sun.

This past Wednesday was the autumnal equinox,
which I took as a seasonal invitation for us to consider balance.
Our reading from the wisdom literature—from Ecclesiastes 3,
offers us an exercise in the balancing of circumstance.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, a time to die;
a time to weep, a time to laugh—
all circumstances balanced.

When it comes to life and to stories though,
more than the assurance that balanced circumstances exist,
we honestly want a balance in our experience,
or, even better, an imbalance
but weighted toward our preferred circumstances!
And we resist the idea that it’s random—simply a matter of chance.
We believe in some kind of balance as what’s right—what should be—
believe in it as in want it, whether we even expect it or not.
To great extent, this is the perspective of privilege.

So there is a weighing—an assessing—of circumstances
and then a balancing
corresponding to an innate sense of what’s right—
of what’s fair.
When we read a story—when we watch a movie,
we expect such balance—such balancing.
Our hero can go through all kinds of turmoil and tragedy throughout the story,
all kinds of imbalance,
but we expect resolution at the end.
We don’t always get it. But we expect it. We want it.
Some writers, of course, as do some lives,
play with our expectations—use our expectations.
Met or unmet though, they remain real.

To keep reading Ecclesiastes, is to see the frustration
with the lack of experienced balance pretty quickly.
Just a few verses after the text we read, the writer laments:
“Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice,
wickedness was there, and in the place of righteousness,
wickedness was there as well. I said in my heart,
God will judge the righteous and the wicked,
for he has appointed a time for every matter, and for every work”
(Ecclesiastes 3:16-17).

So, even in wisdom’s balancing of circumstance,
there’s the expectation that ultimately, God establishes balance.
Balancing what’s good and what’s hard,
we think about fairness and justice,
and so we come to think about judgment.
Often particularly appealing to those not operating
out of a place and expectation of privilege.
So there are some scary inversions of circumstance.
Consider the Magnificat—Mary’s song in which circumstances are inverted
as God scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
brings down the powerful and lifts up the lowly;
fills the hungry with good things, and sends the rich away empty (Luke 1:46-55).

Most of y’all are probably familiar with the story of Job.
He becomes a pawn in a game—or competition—between God and Satan,
and, in the course of the story, God allows everything to be taken from Job:
his five hundred oxen and five hundred donkeys,
his seven thousand sheep, his three thousand camels,
his very many servants, his seven sons, his three daughters,
his health. he loses everything (Job 1:1-2:8).
Much of the book consists of Job and his friends
trying to come to some understanding of why.

At the end of the book and the story of Job,
you remember what happens?
He regains his health. His stuff is restored to him twofold:
fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels,
a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys.
And he gets seven new sons and three new daughters (Job 42:10-13).
God does it. This is divine judgment—
divine justice as circumstances balanced—
and, in the end, weighted toward the preferred.

But I have aways been left feeling a bit hollow at the end of Job.
Maybe you can replace a house—material possessions—
flocks of sheep and oxen, donkeys and camels.
You don’t just replace children.

As a book from within the wisdom tradition
that nonetheless calls some of wisdom’s assumptions into question,
maybe that sense of hollow dis-ease is the point.

If so, then not only do we truly question the balancing of circumstance
(whether or not it happens—naturally or imposed as judgment),
but we also acknowledge that it is, even if it does happen,
ultimately unsatisfying.

So is there another kind of balance—a different kind of balancing?
Maybe in what John Roberts developed last week—
a balance not in beginning and end, but in beginning and beginning again?
So balance not as resolution, but as—what?

Throughout Scripture, there is this beginning again—
manifest in a deepening growing expanding sense of more.
And it’s not always because things go wrong either, is it?
Sure, sometimes it seems to be.
We have creation, and it’s blessed—named good—very good.
But then there comes a time the Lord saw
that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth,
and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts
was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5).
And we have the story of the flood. We begin again.

But long before there was Noah,
we are offered two stories of creation—
the story in Genesis 1 and the story in Genesis 2—
balancing different emphases.

Later we will have four gospels—each one telling the same story anew—
balancing different perspectives—different emphases.
Brian McClaren describes scripture as a great conversation
in which all the voices (especially the ones that disagree with each other)
are important.
Great conversations are about a kind of balance, aren’t they?
But (this is important) it’s not about balancing what’s right and wrong in Scripture—
as if we’re ever working toward some purer truth—some less diluted truth.
It is rather something about keeping the conversation going—
keeping the different voices engaged in the conversation—
committed to the conversation.

So here’s what I think we need to notice and track:
in stories of beginning,
we have God interacting with the family of Adam and Eve.
later, we have God interacting with Noah and his family,
later still, the family of Abram and Sarai.

Not a different story—different characters.
Less history than parable.
Less in the beginning as from the beginning.
Less about human inconsistency
as God’s steadfast love.

And so it’s not that as things go wrong—
don’t go as desired or planned, God switches families.
No.
It’s that the story goes on—the conversation.
Isn’t that key to the biblical message?
It’s our story too.

And it’s a family story that becomes the story of the beginning of Israel
which becomes the beginning of the monarchy
all told within the framework of relationships, right?
God’s relationships with prophets and kings
and orphans and widows.

And so when we come to the story of Jesus—
that’s also not a different story—
the ongoing conversation—
Jesus and his family, defined as all those who do the will of God (Matthew 12:50).
And in the story of Jesus and the disciples,
how many times and how many ways do the disciples blow it?
Oh, let me count the ways!
They misunderstand.
They are oblivious.
They get it all wrong.
They want the wrong things.
They don’t do what Jesus asks them to.
They betray.
After each failure though, the story goes on.
And it is a beginning again,
but it’s also a growing.

So within the priority of relationships,
and the unfolding of history,
forgiveness becomes a key concept.
Forgiveness and grace are the ways to establish balance
through sustaining relationships.
Greed/selfishness not so much.
Think about it.

And any story of forgiveness is a beginning again.
A valuing of what might be over what is.
A prioritizing relationship over outcome.
An investment in more than the immediate.
An extension of self into another.

Our culture cultivates in so many ways great imbalances
and often in an apparent focus on balance that is a focus on self
that’s emphasized as safe—
a pulling back/a withdrawing/a receding
into the individual/the partisan/the ethnic/the national.
So shortsighted.
So fear-driven.

Did you see the Pope in Philly stopping his car—his Fiat—
because he had seen a boy in a wheelchair?
And he got out and went over to bless the child.
This man of God sees those too many don’t—and values them.
So sad that out culture chooses another way to try and balance.
Did his blessing change the boy’s circumstances? No.
Did it change the boy within his circumstances? Well, I don’t know,
but I’d say there’s a good chance.
I googled “pope stopping for people,”
and it’s apparently a rather regular thing!
Reaching out to others to achieve balance.

Russ Dean, in thinking about the affirmation God is always doing all God can do,
has pointed out how if something terrible were to happen to him,
his family would be there.
They wouldn’t be able to change what happened—
wouldn’t be able to take away the consequences of what happened,
but their presence could make a transformative difference.
Reaching out to others to find balance.

How many of y’all do/have done yoga?
You know the tree pose?
You don’t balance in the tree pose by withdrawing into the center of yourself.
That’s how you lose your balance.
In yoga, you gain balance by extending—
extending down and up and out.

In the article from which we drew two of our meditations,
dance instructor, Glenna Batson, writes
“when it comes to balance we are training the dancer
to become a creative problem solver within the moment,
rather than chasing the elusive perfect placement.
Creating an environment of exploration
where dancers can practice “error” to find their way to balance …
might be a smart option toward the growth and development
of the autonomous dancer” (Glenna Batson,
Understanding Balance: Applying Science to Dance Training)

Yes, it’s counterintuitive.
It feels so much more risky—this extension
of compassion—emphathy—love into the story of someone else—
someone whose circumstances might seem to too easily pull us out of balance,
and yet are the secret to our balance.

Which brings us to the greatest balancing:
we are sustained in the truth not of plot, but of presence.
We do not await satisfactory resolution, but ever-deepening relationship.
We are not defined by circumstance,
but by identity and relationship through circumstance.
That’s the secret to joy—
not happiness—that is more circumstantial.
Nothing wrong with happiness, by the way!
But joy is deeper, richer—not inconsequential, but not consequential either!

Have you considered Jesus in extremis?
No playing the victim card, no lamenting circumstance,
as horrible as it was—the physical pain,
the pain of the disciples’ betrayal, the crowd’s fickleness.
No, Scripture records only these words:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
After being forsaken by everyone else,
the desperate cry for the only possibility left—
for the true balance that matters.
(“I thirst,” is the other thing Jesus says about his own circumstances,
and it’s about more than wanting water too.)

All kinds of theological affirmations
about what it means for Jesus to feel the absence of God,
but part of the truth of that story
is that when forsaken by all others,
even the affirmation of God’s presence isn’t always enough.
God doesn’t always feel present to us.
We know that, don’t we?
Some of us all too well.
We gather regularly in worship to affirm God’s presence with us.
It’s more than belief.
It’s assurance … reassurance.

So considering worship and balance,
I invite you to consider our worship structure for this lectionary sabbatical year.
Early in the service, we read the first closed canon reading—
the word of God that defines truth for us.
Once we know what truth looks like—
sounds like—smells like—feels like,
we find it in the open canon.
“Oh, I know that. I recognize that. I name that.”

Then we discover that we live that truth in the living word—
that it is, in fact, not just something I talk about
because I’m a minister/a preacher,
but that it is rather something we live as members of the faith community.
It’s something relevant to our lives—
or it’s meaningless.

The witness of the living word continues,
now not from a congregation member,
but from me wondering aloud with you
about where we are in our culture,
as people of faith—
wondering about what God has to say to our times,
and what God says through our times,
and wondering what difference that makes—
the word of God—
to a culture in so many ways antithetical to our faith,
and yet in which we still find truth in the open canon
that we know to name because of the closed canon
with which we go out into the world
to begin the cycle again—
looking for truth to name and to experience.

And our experience is framed with truth
and what defines truth for us.

I’m not sure it’s always a lived balance, as much as it is an affirmed one.
I often feel like my days are less balanced.
than my faith claims,
but I affirm them anyway—
sometimes just because you do.

When we celebrated communion several weeks ago—
when we celebrate it again next week,
we locate it right in the very middle of our worship.
That feels strange. It’s different.
That’s the point.
To rethink it.
To consider it as a place where the ancient story and ours
are overlaid in ritual—
where Jesus’ experience and ours overlap,
and to consider that not as the end of our worship,
but the heart of it—us living Jesus’ story—
the fulcrum of our balance.

And so we go from worship, this and every Sunday—
teetering sometimes.
We go from relationship framed in truth—from worship into world.
Balance is only gained in extending out—
living in the world but not defined by it—
claimed by the world, but not belonging to it—
sent out to live in the way of God as manifest in Jesus—
entrusted with a story
and called, regardless of circumstance, to hope—
to trust—to live love—
any way we can—
any way.

Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
John 17:14-18
I have given them your word,
and the world has hated them
because they do not belong to the world,
just as I do not belong to the world.
I am not asking you to take them out of the world,
but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.
They do not belong to the world,
just as I do not belong to the world.
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
As you have sent me into the world,
so I have sent them into the world.

Hymn
“May I Balance All”

music by Winfield S. Weeden
the tune to which we traditionally sing, “I Surrender All”

All through Jesus, may I balance.
In his truth then find my place.
In the story, God is living,
may I know and name my base.
May I balance all. May I balance all.
All through Jesus, may I balance. May I balance all.

In this world so out of balance,
those without a center flail.
Midst the chaos and confusion,
souls adrift at health will fail.
May I balance all. May I balance all.
All through Jesus, may I balance. May I balance all.

All through Jesus may I balance
finding in him my shalom.
Counterweight to all that’s hopeless,
he’s my center; he’s my home.
May I balance all. May I balance all.
All through Jesus, may I balance. May I balance all.

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