July 19, 2015 – Rev. Jan Hryniewicz
Text: Luke 6: 47 – 49 & John 17: 20 – 26
I can’t resist beginning my remarks today by sharing this very funny….and profoundly true email I received this week…with apologies to huge Facebook fans:
For those of my generation who do not really comprehend why Facebook exists.
PRESENTLY, I AM TRYING TO MAKE FRIENDS OUTSIDE OF FACEBOOK WHILE APPLYING THE SAME PRINCIPLES.
THEREFORE EVERY DAY, I GO DOWN THE STREET AND TELL THE PASSERSBY’S WHAT I HAVE EATEN, HOW I FEEL ,WHAT I HAVE DONE THE NIGHT BEFORE, AND WHAT I WILL DO AFTER.
I GIVE THEM PICTURES OF MY FAMILY, MY DOG AND ME GARDENING AND SPENDING TIME IN MY POOL.
I ALSO LISTEN TO THEIR CONVERSATIONS AND I TELL THEM I LOVE THEM. AND IT WORKS :
I ALREADY HAVE 3 PERSONS FOLLOWING ME : 2 POLICE OFFICERS AND A PSYCHIATRIST.
Love it!! It made me laugh out loud, and it made me think about the popularity of Facebook. As of April, 2015…there are 1.44 billion Facebook members around the world! I personally have people who list me as friend and I have no clue who they are! Facebook has become an internet HOME for millions! I am frequently amazed at the very personal, intimate things people share on Facebook, as well as the enormously mundane information about daily activities….that prompts me to say “ who on earth cares if you just burned your tongue on a hot cup of coffee…or finished weeding your garden and are now off to the shower!” Wow, thanks for sharing that!!
People ask for prayers, advice, sympathy, information. We share jokes, stories, pictures, plans and travel information. We love to share our politics and theology! WE post when we are furious, have been wounded, had a successful surgery, have a job prospect, acquired a new toy, home or car, are engaged, just got married or divorced, had a baby, took a trip or saw something beautiful or cute we can’t wait to share with someone. It truly is amazing.
I hear from relatives I never see, because of distance, and we keep in touch via 20 second Facebook posts! We post to express our opinions, to illicit support, and we love it when we find a whole bunch of “likes” affirming one of our posts!!
I know that when we are feeling lonely or bored, bubbling with excitement and pride, frustrated or anxious, we take out our phones and click on Facebook. Instant family connection….. perhaps providing for many what belonging to a church does for others! We are not alone in the world. We are connected with billions!! We have community! Think about the impact…. the possibilities for abuse and slander….as well as for affirmation and support. Lost dogs have been found, missing children identified, articles sold or swapped, causes promoted and charitable funds raised, friendships formed. News spreads like wildfires….for good or evil! Truly Facebook and Twitter also, provide a sense of home for millions…..an internet family….a nesting place if you will. They are webs of connection ….that are both powerful and frightening. Possibilities are endless with today’s incredible technology.
However, statistics reveal the rising problem of Social Media addiction. Persons between the ages of 15 & 19 spend an average of 3 hours a day on social media and those between the ages of 20 and 29, spend an average of 2 hours a day, often when they are suppose to be at work or studying.
This is an issue that most of us here never even imagined when we were teenagers and young adults!! It’s both a blessing and a curse….that obviously can and must be managed. Perhaps, also like a religious institution! It all comes down to how we choose to spend the precious hours and days we have in our lifetime. What will guide and manipulate our thinking and inspire our actions?
How will we spend our time?
I think that one of the realities and blessings of aging, is recognizing the value of each day . That recognition encourages us to spend our time more wisely….like creating a bucket list of things we really want to see and do in our fleeting life journeys….. being present to each moment. I was driving on a very scenic country road recently, thinking how beautiful it was……everything was so lush and green, flowers peeking colorful heads in verdant meadows. I felt an almost desperate need to take it all in…and make it part of me ….. a inner dwelling place of warmth and green and blossoming to visit time and time again when this same road will be covered with ice and snow.
Anne Murray sent me an adorable Doodle this week with a picture of a little Buddha like figure and an elephant sitting under a tree. The caption: Return to the Root of your being.
What are the things and places and experiences that nourish the root of our being? What is the root of our being?
Trees for sure are nourishing places for me, which Anne knows! What are the dwelling places that nourish our spirits and refresh our bodies?
For me, and I hope you also, this church has been a dwelling place for fifteen years that has richly shaped and blessed my daily life journey. It has energized my spirit and inspired in me a real sense of home and family…..much better than Facebook! Now, thinking about our church in transition, has stirred up a whole lot of thought and emotions for me, along with that of retirement!
Next Sunday, we will dedicate most of our worship service to a thoughtful discussion of the “ideal church”. What are the features and factors of our spiritual home that we want to hold on to, to enhance to refresh? I was led to look back at a sermon I offered in August of 2008 entitled the Church as Nesting Place. I love that image, and thought it would be fun to revisit that image and refresh it for 2015.
Here is a brief excerpt from that sermon:
“As I was walking in the woods, I came upon a perfectly formed little bird’s nest right in the middle of the trail. I picked it up gently and wondered what kind of bird had dwelled there….and how many eggs had hatched from its soft, warm center. It had obviously fallen from a tree….discarded… no longer needed as the young family has taken flight. I carried the nest home…..and placed it on my windowsill, already cluttered with pine cones, shells, rocks, plants and other gifts from nature…..and as I did so, I looked out and saw our neighbor’s children building a rather ungainly looking tree house in one of the huge pine trees that tower between our two houses. I watched them with great amusement, sensing their delight at creating their own special place to hang out….listening to their excited chatter as they designed it and lugged things up the tree. It ended up only being large enough for one mid size child or two tiny ones….which caused some rather fierce competition and debate! Taking turns is not always easy!!
It became increasingly clear to me….that this was the analogy I was searching for to describe the church…..and its function in our lives.
Most of us are nesting people. Like our fine feathered friends, we like to gather our favorite things around us to create a safe dwelling place providing us warmth, comfort, security, beauty, peace….a sense of home and family. Some birds, like gulls, terns and vultures build scrape nests, just hollowing out indentations in the ground …..others like the White Throated Kingfisher and Bank Swallows build borrowing nests….. hollowing out holes in the side of cliffs….some birds like owls and wood peckers construct cavity nests in trees or cacti….and there are many other kinds of nests…unique and personal for the type of bird that will dwell in it and raise its young. Each of our homes is unique to us….reflecting our personality and taste…. our hobbies, passions, interests, family life. Some of us choose antique homes …and some of us are Condo or apartment dwellers. Some of us stay in the same home all our lives….and others of us move about frequently. But whatever kind of house we choose, we immediately go about the business of making it home…..We build our nest….and it is an ongoing process. “ Can we apply these feelings and principles to our spiritual home as well?”
Our new member, Katrina, introduced me to an author, Howard Mansfield who wrote a wonderful book entitled “Dwelling in Possibility, Searching for the Soul of Shelter. “
The title excited me, so I ordered the book and read an excerpt from the introduction online. Let me share a few of his thoughts: The mystery that holds my attention is that some houses have life—are home, are dwellings—and others don’t. Dwelling is an old-fashioned word that we’ve misplaced.
When we live heart and soul, we dwell. When we belong to a place, we dwell.
A good dwelling defines a place, brings forth the true qualities of that place. When this happens, he says, we are in touch with the higher realities, with a spiritual life.
…and truly….it is an energy that you can feel when you enter a home or church!
We have refurbished and redecorated our church home, trying to modernize the facility without destroying its historic character. We have added new equipment, updated our church covenant, organizational structure, modified our worship liturgies and mission outreach and increased our membership. We have encouraged the gifts and energies of many people who have stepped up to create programs, establish financial security and lead the church forward. This is the church….the nest that we have built. Is it a church that God built…that the Spirit inspired? I believe it is.
Three children were talking about their religions.
“I’m a Catholic,” said one, “And our symbol is the cross.”
“I’m Jewish,” said the second, “And our symbol is the Star of David.”
The third child said, “I’m a Unitarian Universalist and our symbol is a candle in a cocktail glass!”
Like a warm, nurturing home that reflects the lives and loves of those who dwell there, a church home is filled with the symbols of our faith and ministry that both welcome and inspire us. Our banners, cross, flowers, children’s corner and lots of candles in glasses of all shapes and sizes!! Beyond that, the church is filled with the energy, spirit, creativity, passion, talents and faith of the people who have chosen to dwell here and adorn the spiritual nest that is Union Church.
I have always enjoyed the parable of Jesus, recorded in Luke’s gospel that John read this morning about how and where to build our house….on sand or on rock. It always amazes me to read about houses swept away by the torrential flood waters when the river or sea overflows….and then to hear that people rebuild their homes in the exact same place…..daring nature to destroy them once again when the next major storm strikes!! There needs to be a lesson learned somewhere here!! The parables of Jesus were told and retold to teach important lessons of faith and life.
Jesus relates this parable to the building of our faith. If we listen to the his teachings…. seek God’s spirit in our lives….. deepen our relationship…. study and allow our spirits to be nurtured….then we will have a firm foundation of faith to withstand the horrific storms of life that will surely come from time to time….threatening to destroy us.
The church is called to be such a nurturing nest for all who seek shelter and community here. A strong foundation of faith and ethics, based on the teachings of Jesus is critical for a Christian church. Doing ministry together is our joyous task…..and as a church family…..we are about the business of nourishing and supporting each other on this not always easy journey through life. I love the image of a nest, designed to be soft in the center, warm and strong, built to support the specific needs of the creature who built it.
Have we created a dwelling place of possibility….a shelter that supports and encourages our soul?
I love this little funny:
Question: Why are there are no Liberals in Heaven?
Answer: Because they heard there was a choice between going to Heaven or a discussion group about the existence of Heaven….. and that’s what they chose!
Our church is one that loves to discuss…to question and reflect. We are also a church that welcomes and supports those who believe in heaven and those who are still wondering about it!! We have an inclusive theology that is based on love and freedom of interpretation. Such is the church that we have built based on our understanding of God and the teachings of Jesus. It is a church that welcomes all seekers and even those who don’t know they ARE seeking!!
The gospel of John records a prayer that Jesus prayed for his disciples then and for those who would follow in the future, for you and for me. For Union Church and all religious seekers.
Here is what Jesus asked. He prayed that we would become one in heart and mind. He prayed for unity of spirit among all peoples. He prayed that divided selves would find a singleness of purpose. He prayed that divided believers would become united. He prayed a divided world would find peace. The union for which Jesus prayed is a Spiritual Union… it is a sense of our oneness with God that is demonstrated so perfectly in Jesus….and it is Jesus’ ardent prayer for us all. Unity with God and with each other.
Unity does not mean uniformity. How boring would that be! There must be diversity in our unity…allowing for different styles, interpretations, cultural and ethnic differences… a wonderful variety of traditions in the church. The common unifying energy is love. God’s love in us and through us….enabling peace and unity of spirit. That must be a primary goal in our church in order that it will be the nurturing nest we all desire and require to go forth to serve with loving compassion.
Oneness with God is expressed also through our identification with those who stand in need. Starvation, malnutrition, poverty, and rootlessness continue to haunt our modern world. When one hurts, we all hurt. Unity of spirit with God congeals in the depth of our compassion. Even as the compassionate Christ prayed that his love would be evident through the bonds of unity, he implies that expressive action will be the demonstration of how evident that love is.
Willem, our 12 year old grandson, was here in worship two weeks ago, apparently listening intently as he usually does. On Monday morning, he was up early, not something he usually does in the summer, and was off on his bike with his backpack and camera to film a documentary…. a 3 part documentary based on three words he had heard me say in the sermon which motivated him. The first word was serenity, the second was change and the third was unity. He filmed part one for several days, filming places in Ocean Park he considered serene and interviewing strangers on the beach and in the town about where they experienced serenity. He’s still editing part one!
Perhaps those are three words that can guide our lives together in our nurturing nest…. in our spiritual dwelling place….our church home: Serenity, Change and Unity.
“ Peace and Presence, by the Sea”…poetic words we have used to describe our church, and I hope we all can experience serenity here. Change….important that we continue to evolve, accept change, grow with it and be nurtured by it. Unity….. unity of Spirit with our God, with Jesus, our teacher and guide and with each other here in this nest that God built…..and a sense of oneness with our sisters and brothers in the larger family of God….. whoever and wherever they are.
Lastly, it is critical that our nest be a place of peace and harmony…that we are able to come to the table with open minds and hearts, ready to respect and listen to each other…and ready to forgive each other for the inevitable human errors. It goes without saying… but I will say it anyway! If we truly love God, we will be enabled to love each other and that will lead to peace in the nest.
Jim Cymbala is the pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle Church, a dynamic church in New York City. He started out with about 10 people and now there are over 6,000 people there. For 20 years now, Jim has been saying to every group of new members “Now I charge you that if you ever hear another member speak an unkind word of criticism, or slander against anyone—myself, an usher, a choir member, anyone else—stop that person in mid-sentence and say ‘Excuse me, who hurt you? Who slighted you? Let’s go get it straightened out right now,’ so God can restore peace and harmony to this body.”
In order for us to go forth and serve, confident and free, we must have a loving nurturing nest, with a soft, warm center to strengthen the core and enable our flight.
May this be our daily prayer:
Make us one, Lord, make us one.
Holy Spirit make us one.
Let your love flow
So the whole world will know
We are one in you! Amen