“immersed in what’s real,” august 28, 2016


Responsive Call to Worship
We are all immersed
in what we take for granted
and so don’t see.
Entering the water,
following in the way of Jesus,
we are immersed
in what’s most real—
immersed in truth.
And so, we are those, dripping,
who strive to see what we take for granted—
in the greater context of grace and love
so abundant it steals our breath away,
and we die to illusions of small and separate—
the fatal misperception of a part as apart.

Witness of the Closed Canon, i.

1 Corinthians 12:1-31
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters,
I do not want you to be uninformed.
You know that when you were pagans,
you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak.
Therefore I want you to understand that no one
speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’
and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;
and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord;
and there are varieties of activities,
but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom,
and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit,
to another faith by the same Spirit,
to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,
to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy,
to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues,
to another the interpretation of tongues.
All these are activated by one and the same Spirit,
who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
For just as the body is one and has many members,
and all the members of the body, though many, are one body,
so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized
into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—
and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.
If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand,
I do not belong to the body’,
that would not make it any less a part of the body.
And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye,
I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it
any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye,
where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing,
where would the sense of smell be? But as it is,
God arranged the members in the body, each one of them,
as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be?
As it is, there are many members, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’,
nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’
On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker
are indispensable, and those members of the body
that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor,
and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect;
whereas our more respectable members do not need this.
But God has so arranged the body,
giving the greater honor to the inferior member,
that there may be no dissension within the body,
but the members may have the same care for one another.
If one member suffers, all suffer together with it;
if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
And God has appointed in the church first apostles,
second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power,
then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership,
various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets?
Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing?
Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts.
And I will show you a still more excellent way.

Witness of the Open Canon, i.
David Foster Wallace, from his 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address

There are these two young fish swimming along
and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way,
who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?”
And the two young fish swim on for a bit,
and then eventually one of them looks over at the other
and goes “What the [heck] is water?”
Of course … the really significant education in thinking
that we’re supposed to get … isn’t really about the capacity to think,
but rather about the choice of what to think about….

The point here is that I think this is one part
of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean.
To be just a little less arrogant.
To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties….
Here is just one example of the total wrongness
of something I tend to be automatically sure of:
everything in my own immediate experience
supports my deep belief
that I am the absolute center of the universe;
the realist, most vivid and important person in existence.
We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness
because it’s so socially repulsive.
But it’s pretty much the same for all of us.
It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth.
Think about it: there is no experience you have had
that you are not the absolute center of….

It’s a matter of my choosing to do the work
of somehow altering or getting free of
my natural, hard-wired default setting
which is to be deeply and literally self-centered
and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.
People who can adjust their natural default setting this way
are often described as being “well-adjusted”,
which I suggest to you is not an accidental term….

Witness of the Living Word, ii.
Right now, many of us are immersed in school beginning?
new schools?
new grading procedures?
new weather related closing policies?
new teachers and classes and relationships?
signing up for this and that?
paying for this and that?
lesson plans?
submission deadlines?

We are immersed in newness—
even if for many of us it’s within a familiar framework.

Right now, we’re immersed in, can’t help it, politics—
the build-up to the elections—
all the implications of campaign rhetoric and tactics
and divisive partisanship
(and there is something, by the way, true and right about that.
Ours is no privatized spiritual salvation.
Ours is a being redeemed within the redemption of all creation.
It doesn’t get any more political than that).

And we’re always, doesn’t it seem?,
immersed in schedule—
in routine—
our responsibilities—
our commitments—
our pleasures—
fulfilling obligations.

And in all the details—
forms to fill out—
to get filled out—

We’re drowning in stuff—
drowning in debt—
drowning in desire for more stuff—
other stuff—better stuff—newer stuff.

Drowning in media—
in commercials and advertisements—
objectionable objectifications and justifications—
social media—
in the never-ending cycle of posting and wanting to be liked.

Immersed in negativity.

We’re immersed in what’s immediate—
the cough—
the pain in the hip—
the surgery—
the diagnosis—
the waiting—
the treatment.

Immersed in meal planning—
grocery shopping—
food preparation—
bill paying—
as David Foster Wallace called it
the day to day trenches of adult existence”.

Immersed in fears.
Immersed in hopes.
Immersed in memories—
in possibilities and in anticipation—
in what just happened—
in what’s going on right now—
in what’s next.

Immersed in stress—
that for too many turns into anxiety.

From a wider angle—
seeing more than just the self,
we’re immersed in relationships
with colleagues and peers—
working together—
with friends—
working to stay in touch—
to remain relevant.

We’re immersed in family—
trying to do it well—
to be honest—
to love well and laugh hard—
and forgive always—
to surprise—
to enjoy—
to engage—
to include—
to bless—
to love—
trying to do it right—
trying to do it better.

We have to be so intentional, don’t we?
Have to take initiative—keep taking initiative—
working to keep things real.

We are immersed in child care—elder care—
the books and toys and language of children—
the challenges of getting old
(which y’all regularly remind me isn’t for sissies!)—
the amazing gifts and the profound challenges
the elderly can represent for families.
We’re immersed in figuring out solo parenting—
solo adulting—
not having planned on that.

We’re immersed in crises—
one crisis after another.
In Louisiana they’ve been immersed in water—
in Aleppo in dust and blood—
in Italy and Myanmar, in tremors and aftershocks—
rioting in Zimbabwe—
violence in Turkey and Syria—
There are so many shootings in our own country we don’t keep track of them—
so many hungry we can’t imagine.
We’re immersed in a systemic racism that still catches us by surprise.
We’re immersed in unjust economic and legal structures.
We’re really a great country with a whole lot that’s pathetic about us,
and to ignore either part of that is to cheapen what’s most real.

We’re immersed in a numbing response to crisis—
overwhelmed by so much need
we can’t pay attention to it all.

We’re immersed, I think, in good intentions—
the best of intentions.

We are, hopefully, immersed in communities—

Depending on what you’re plugged into here,
we’re immersed in worship planning—
immersed in scheduling—
in service ministry—
building and grounds—maintenance—
heating and air—
the baptistry foundation—
the website—
conversation about the role and the future of the Church in our culture—

We’re immersed in so much,
it often feels like we’re drowning.
And immersed in what’s real—
drowning in what’s real—
honestly, right?
To be immersed in what’s real
is to not deny
any of the truths that flood our time.

And a lot of that in which we’re immersed is good, right?
But good can take up too much time and energy too!

I remember on several occasions now through the years
hearing Cheryl Duvall advocate for balance in life—
naming the different and important aspects of life
that all need to be acknowledged—
for which we need to find time.

But beyond any such balance
(which is not juggling
too many people these days mistake juggling for balance!),

one of the challenges these days—
maybe it’s always been a challenge,
is how many try and achieve balance
not by assessing where all the time goes,
“Oh, look how much time is going there into that,”
and then by dialing back there and that,
but by amping up everywhere else.

So, if I may ask
what, in your life—
in your drenched, saturated, overwhelmed life
is creative?
life giving?
people enhancing?
spirit refreshing?
joy bringing?

That’s part of the balancing, yes?
Paul wrote long ago to the faith community at Philippi,
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing,
whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence
and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things”
(Philippians 4:8).
Here’s my question for you this morning:
is that about balance?
Could be—think on these good things as a balance
to everything else coming your way.

But maybe Paul was about more than balance.
He goes on,
“Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received
and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you”
(Philippians 4:9).

What if Paul’s really saying something like
“Live into this story
to know the truth—
the truth that is not about balance,
but about foundation”?

Because foundation is not every moment.
What’s foundational is not all your moments—all your experience,
foundation is rather comprised of the moments you choose to value—
the affirmations you choose to make.
We build our lives
on the foundation to which we give our lives.

It’s not that the rest isn’t real—
not that it’s not important—
that it won’t take of your time and energy,
but it’s not as real—
not as true.

Immersed in moments,
and amidst the many moments are the transcendent moments—
that make time stop—
that make the planets stop spinning—
that take our breath away—
little things—
a smile with two teeth gone—the first two lost teeth, right Vera?
Katie Evans celebrated this week
a thank you from someone she helped at work.
It’s when you discover just how much the prayers of others mean

Jay Hogewood is the pastor of St. John’s United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge, LA.
They’ve been offering shelter and food to those displaced by the flooding.
Jay writes of a boy named Wendell, no more than 17 years old,
who walked miles in the Baton Rouge heat
down a street with no sidewalk from a questionable part of town
to hand off some pants and shirts,
and to respond to the how-could-it-be-anything-but-suspicious look
with a “They’re clean.”
He had a teddy bear (“I want one of the children to have this.”)
and two one dollar bills he gave to Jay
because as he said, 
“I think you’re showing the love of Jesus”.
We did, by the way, collect almost $700 last Sunday
to go to St John’s United Methodist Church to reimburse them for their expenses—
to allow them to keep showing the love of Jesus,
and you can still contribute toward that, if you wish.

It’s the dog lying down on one foot
as you lean back in your chair and put the other foot on top of her.
It’s two girls amidst the bickering and shrieking
and the difficult trying to figure out
how much too much time on the cell phone is
(we are, by the way, trying to implement a screen sabbath—
for the whole family, no screens on Sundays.
Because if you have to keep checking it,
it’s not the tool, right? You are!
Parenting from the pulpit).
but amidst the stress and frustration of parenting,
to have two girls standing in the front door
making that heart sign with their hands
as you leave for the grocery store.
It’s a baptism—
a commitment.
It is worship and story and song and prayer.
And “it is unimaginably hard to do this,
to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out”.

I usually show up here on Sunday mornings
with my computer and portfolio.
Today I walked in with my swim trunks in my gym bag.
It felt appropriate.
Going to work out.
It is unimaginably hard,
but it really is just about choosing, time and time again,
what moments are going to matter and why—
choosing amidst all that’s real, what story is true—
what truths are foundational.
As we say so often, it’s so simple.
Not easy.
But simple.

Consistency is the challenge.
We are immersed in so much that’s real,
will we consistently choose what’s true?

Hear this.
Remember it.
We are immersed in love
(remind yourselves of this often—
even if you don’t think you need to—
maybe especially if you think you don’t need to!)
We are immersed in blessing.
We are immersed in grace.
We are immersed in joy—
in gratitude—
in wonder.
We are immersed in God.

And that’s not about balance.
That’s about the truth we may take for granted—
the foundation on which we seek to create balance.

And church—faith—
is about helping us balance, yes—
modeling better balance for ourselves and our culture—
but also about affirming what’s more important than balance—
what’s foundation.

And we get to drown in that—
to be raised to newness of life—
life that is abundant—
life that is everlasting.
Thanks be to God.

Witness of the Open Canon, ii.
David Foster Wallace, from his 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address

This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education,
of learning how to be well-adjusted.
You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t.
You get to decide what to worship.
Because here’s something else that’s weird but true:
in the day-to day trenches of adult life,
there is actually no such thing as atheism.
There is no such thing as not worshipping.
Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship….
If you worship money and things,
if they are where you tap real meaning in life,
then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough.
It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure
and you will always feel ugly….
The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.
Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid,
and you will need ever more power over others
to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect,
being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud,
always on the verge of being found out.
But the insidious thing about these forms of worship
is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious.
They are default settings.
They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into,
day after day, getting more and more selective
about what you see and how you measure value
without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.
And the so-called real world will not discourage you
from operating on your default settings,
because the so-called real world of men and money and power
hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration
and craving and worship of self.
Our own present culture has harnessed these forces
in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth
and comfort and personal freedom….

… You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish.
But please don’t just dismiss it ….
The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.
It is about the real value of a real education,
which has almost nothing to do with knowledge,
and everything to do with simple awareness;
awareness of what is so real and essential,
so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time,
that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:
“This is water.” “This is water.”
It is unimaginably hard to do this,
to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out.
Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true:
your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.
I wish you way more than luck.

Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels,
but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
And if I have prophetic powers,
and understand all mysteries and all knowledge,
and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains,
but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body
so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind;
love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end;
as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.
For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part;
but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child,
I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult,
I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly,
but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part;
then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three;
and the greatest of these is love.


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