October 25, 2015 | Luke 9: 57-62 | Rev. Nancy Talbot –
For the last couple months we’ve been exploring the theme of “Finding Our Way.” We’ve been doing that because in our newly renovated space people have literally been getting lost, not knowing which door leads to which room or which drawer the dish cloths are now being kept in or how we are even going to utilize some of the new spaces which have been created like the café space and the library space.
We’ve been talking about finding our way because we’re aware of how easy it is to get disoriented or even lost when what was once familiar has been taken away or left behind, or when we courageously step out on a new path.
We’ve been reflecting on which path to take, which decision to make, which direction to follow because life in one way or another, is always about starting something new and leaving something else behind. It’s how we were born into the world, how we begin each day and how eventually we will take our leave of this world.
We are forever on the move and yet even as life propels us forward, as human beings we are prone to getting stuck.
Of all the commentary and cartoons flowing out of Monday night’s stunning victory by Justin Trudeau and the Liberal party, my favourite cartoon is this one:
“Who want’s change? (Everbody) Who wants to change? (No One) How we long for something new, as long as we can keep everything just the way it is.
Justin Trudeau launched a very successful political campaign based on the premise that what Canadians wanted real change. But how successful do you think his campaign would have been if he said “You want change? Which one of you is ready to make the first move?”
If Jesus had aspired to run for Prime Minister in our recent election, he might not have even made it on the ballot if this morning’s scripture reading is any indication of the way he would have run his campaign. Imagine advertising based on these three scenes from scripture.
Three different people say they want to follow Jesus. The first is willing to go wherever he goes until Jesus suggests he’s too attached to his home to become a true follower of his way. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests but those who come with me will have no permanent place of rest” he says which is a rather unattractive political platform, unless you consider homelessness for everyone a good thing.
The second person is interested in joining the Jesus team but he has family obligations he needs to take care of first. But family values aren’t a priority for Jesus whether they are middle class family values or not. You need to bury your father? Let the dead bury their own dead.
Finally the third person is ready to commit “I will follow you, Lord” he says, right after I take a few days off to take care of some personal business. But with Jesus it’s pretty much his way or the highway, either you commit to a 24/7 work week or you don’t commit at all. “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” definitely not the way to court the union vote.
My guess is Jesus wouldn’t have stood a chance in this election. Because from the start he would have told us like it is. If you want to find your life, you have to lose it. If you want to follow me, you must be devoted to me and my ways above all else. If you want change, you must be the change you want to see in the world. No one else is going to do it for you.
Last week I talked to those of you who were here about our deepest desires and how some of our desires expand our lives and the lives of those around us and other desires diminish our lives and the lives of those around us. I talked about ordered and disordered desires.
The great thing about desire is that it’s what propels us forward. If we had no desire for food, we would starve. If we had no desire for knowledge we would never know there are galaxies beyond this galaxy. If we had no desire for love and relationship we would remain in isolation.
But what’s also true is that sometimes our desires become unhealthy compulsions. These are the things we excessively desire to have or to be; or the things we excessively desire to avoid. St. Ignatius called these our inordinate attachments and when we are clinging to our attachments or when our attachments have a stranglehold on us, he said we are not free to be who we were created to be.
Sometimes what we are inordinately attached to are things. For example, I’m quite certain my neighbour has an inordinate attachment to his car. He has painted it twice in the last month. Other times what we’re attached to is our identity or our perception of ourselves. If you’ve always been a doer or a giver or a high achiever and suddenly you get very sick and you can no longer do what you once could, you can find yourself wondering who you are without those abilities. You can barely recognize yourself.
Sometimes what we are attached to are our fears. A fear of failure can stop us short of even trying to succeed. A fear of flying can limit us from seeing the world. I once actually considered not taking a job because I was afraid of driving on the highway.
Our attachments can be positive, things we cling to because we love them so much we can’t imagine how we would live without them, how we could ever be happy without them. We hold them tightly because if we let them go our life will never be the same.
And our attachments can be negative, they have such a strong hold on us we get hooked. And whenever we are excessively attached or inordinately dependent on someone or something, what we are is stuck. What we’re not is balanced and free.
I wonder what it is that holds you back or that catches you when you are off guard or to which you are clinging to for fear of letting go or because you cannot imagine who you would be without it?
For some of us the things that hook and catch us or to which we cling for dear life because we cannot even imagine letting them go, maintain their hold on us for year after year after year. In fact sometimes we are so mired in our unhealthy attachments we don’t even notice we’ve stopped really living our lives and we’re really just existing. Sometimes these are full fledged addictions or co-dependencies and medical treatment is the only pathway to freedom and even then the freedom we gain might never give us complete release but rather we experience the kind of spiritual and emotional freedom that allows us to know these things do not and cannot define us.
For others of us the things that hold us back are more cyclical, they come and go, at times wearing different disguises so as to creep up on us without our noticing: our need to prove ourselves through overwork; doubts about ourselves and our abilities that rise up when new opportunities present themselves; the way our need to be accepted and liked gets in the way of us doing or saying what we really want to say or do.
I grew up in rural Ontario and every now and then a big snow storm would blow in causing white outs along the highways and byways. Driving in a white out is a hair raising experience because you can’t see the road in front of you. During a white out some cars go careening off the road and right into the ditch and nothing but a tow truck can get them out. Other cars slide off the road part way and only the back wheels get stuck in the snow. It’s easy when this happens to spin your wheels so hard trying to get out that you only get further stuck. That’s when you need a bunch of friends or sometimes strangers to push and pull and sometimes rock you out until you regain your grip on the road. Other drivers simply slow down, maintaining a firm grip on the wheel, paying close attention to the feel of the road beneath them until the storm has passed and clear passage is in sight once again. The goal in a snowstorm is always the same; to get back on the road, to be moving freely and heading towards our destination.
Last week I talked about how in order to make good choices in life, to choose the right path we need to listen to our hearts and to pay attention to the choices we are making on a day to day basis and whether they expand our lives or diminish them.
The same is true for our attachments. Pay attention, is what we are clinging to life giving or life denying? Listen to your heart, ask God to show you in prayer. Where are the places I am prone to getting caught or thrown off course? Who or what am I holding onto too tightly for my own good or theirs? What are the ruts I am stuck in? Give me the grace to be set free.
Barbara Brown Taylor when talking about this morning’s scripture reading says that if we really think about it, we are all like Jesus in this passage with no permanent place to lay our heads. We are all wanderers in this life with no real fixed address. God is where we have come from and God is where we are going to. If we are fortunate we will find good and safe places to park ourselves along the way and good and beautiful people to companion us on our journey. If we are not, the row we hoe might be more challenging and more disorienting. But none of these good things and none of these challenges can fully define, sustain or deny us forever because they simply do not have that kind of power. We are made of something more eternal and knowing that in the depths of our being, is what truly sets us free.
And that is the work about which we are invited to put our hand to the plow and the destination to which we are to keep our eyes set on if we really and truly want to win the race, to be followers of Jesus. It’s what he referred to as the work of the kingdom, the work of hauling each other out of the ditch, the weak, the poor and the broken hearted. It’s about rocking the systems that are spinning their wheels over things like climate change and poverty reduction back and forth and back and forth until we are on our way to a better world for all.
Whether we realize it or not, life is always about starting something new and leaving something else behind. It’s how we were born into the world, how we begin each day and how eventually we will take our leave.