Sunday, November 23, 2014

Creating in the Dark (11/23/14)

Creating in the Dark
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

November 23, 2014

Genesis 1:1-5
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Qur’an 17:1
Glory to Him Who carried His servant by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Furthest Mosque, whose precincts We have blessed, to show him of Our wonders!  He it is Who is All-Hearing, All-Seeing!

There are a number of themes flirting and dancing this morning.    I usually plan more services than I deliver as schedules can change.   I am combining two themes, creation in the dark and Mohammad’s night journey in which, legend has it, God transported him to the seventh heaven.  If you are keeping track of the Christian calendar, today is Christ the King Sunday.   It is the final day of the Christian calendar, a day to honor the reign of Christ.  Legend and creed have it that Jesus ascended to heaven and sits at the Father’s right hand.    Then of course, we are coming up on Thanksgiving.  We have plenty to talk about.    
Let’s talk about Mohammad first.   I feel it is somehow important to honor Mohammad on Christ the King Sunday.   Jesus and Mohammad.  Wouldn’t it be fun to imagine them meeting?  I wonder if they would behave like so many of their followers.  Put them in a ring and have them duke it out.  See which one is toughest, loudest, and most willing to despise and kill the other one.

I was disturbed this past week by the flare up in the local paper.   A minister at one of the churches had a meeting that attracted media attention.  He didn’t like what he found in a seventh grade social studies textbook.  The discussion was supposedly about common core standards.  There was mix up about what are common core standards and what is curriculum decided by school boards.  Regardless of all that, the minister was on a holy roll.    The social studies textbook had a section on Islam.   From a social studies perspective, Islam and Christianity have been shaping influences in the world and we should learn about these movements.  Nonetheless, he felt threatened that his children were being indoctrinated and that Islam was being favored over Christianity.  

As it is in this internet age, the debate continued in the comment section.     I often hear the advice, “Never read the comments.”  I disagree.  The comments represent that seething cauldron of our collective Id.  Anonymous comments shared globally bring to the surface the fears and passions that drive us.    The individual commenters are not the focus for me.  What is the fear that drives them?    One commenter articulated the fear quite clearly.   The commenter wrote: 
“I do not want my grand daughter being taught anything about the muslims.  All she needs to know is that they are EVIL and will kill you if you do not convert to muslim.”  
The point is not the commenter. What gives rise to this level of passion?    What are the economic and political forces that create such fear?   George Orwell’s book, 1984 was about a dystopian society in which the controlling powers ruled people by manipulating their emotions.    Each day would begin with “two minutes of hate” in which children and adults would be instructed to hate the enemy.    Sometimes the enemy would change based of the whims of the powers.   The particular enemy was less important than the ability to manipulate fear and hatred.  Today, some media outlets broadcast hate and fear 24/7.   Religious groups translate it into a holy hate.

Information is never free.  It is never free of cost or free of value.  Anything we learn about the world, we learn for a reason.   A good rule of thumb is to follow the money.   Those who provide information provide it to shape attitudes, opinions, and of course, to ignite passions.  Who pays for this information to be disseminated and what do they get for their buck?    The audience, we, both consumers and product, whoever “we” are, overhear the propaganda from the other side as reported from “our” side, and so our fears are heightened further.   “Hear them!  See them!  They hate us,” we conclude.   “They will kill us.”   

To release the grip of manipulation, we should think critically.  We should always ask, “Who wants us to learn and feel this and why?”   When the American people learn to fear and hate Muslims, who gains?   The answer to that question is complex, but that should not stop us from asking it.

The enemy is not the Muslim next door or the Muslim across the planet.  The enemy is made up of the unseen forces that divide human beings into us and them and drive all of us to fear and to target others based on these divisions.   When I say unseen forces I am speaking of institutionalized forms of power larger than any individual or even group of individuals.    Biblical scholar, Walter Wink, calls them simply, the Powers.   It is effective. It works.   The technology is not the issue.   Any technology can be used to manipulate fear.    The good news is that the “powers” are not omnipotent.  Powerful yes.  But not all-powerful.  

The heroic are those that can rise above some of the manipulation at least and see a little more clearly.    They speak about what they see.   They inspire us to keep hope.   Martin Luther wrote about the Prince of Darkness in his 16th century hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”    Luther had his own prejudices and short-sightedness, but this hymn spoke to the hope of engaging the powers.      I am thinking of this couplet in particular:     
For lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
Luther is speaking of the power of truth to shatter the illusion of fear, ignorance and hatred.   It doesn’t take a propaganda machine.  It doesn’t take a media empire to counteract the effects of the media empires.    Sometimes it takes one, articulate, heartfelt letter to the editor.    Sometimes it takes swallowing hard and speaking up in front of a group.  

We can never match the Powers dollar for dollar.  You have to use jujutsu, using the opponent’s energy against him.   Use the system to disrupt the system.  It takes creativity.    In the void, in the darkness, a holy wind swept over the deep and God said, “Let there be light.”    

Barbara Brown Taylor writes in her book Learning to Walk in the Dark that what we call darkness is usually not completely dark.   You often make your way, in part, by using the light that is there.   The light of creativity is present, if hidden, in the dark.   
In the bulb there is a flower; In the seed, and apple tree…There’s a dawn in every darkness,Bringing hope to you and me.
Over the past several months I have been reflecting on my nine years with you.   I have learned so much from you.   This congregation and the various collections of people and movements that swirl around us and with whom we have affinities have inspired me.    I know that the positions and viewpoints that many have here are not majority positions.   Although, because of you, because of your courage, because of your willingness to be vulnerable, you have created space for many.    You have been able to articulate a critique of the powers.   

I realize that I have been honored to participate in a conversation that started long before me and will continue long after me.   I have added a word or two, but as it is with these things, I have received far more than I have given.    What I want to say is that creativity is bigger than us.  We are fortunate to participate in it.    

One of the things I appreciate about serving here is the trust you gave me to be creative and to try new things such as reading the Qur’an in worship and preaching from it.   That was a fun and challenging experiment in 2009.   It sparked my curiosity about the Mohammad and the Qur’an.    A book I highly recommend about Mohammad is by Leslie Hazleton.  It is called The First Muslim:  The Story of Muhammad.    She writes about the isra, or the night journey of Mohammad.  

Mohammad’s night journey happens during a period in his life of discouragement and criticism.   His revelations are questions and he is thrown out of the city of Taif.  One of the citizens said to him,
“Could God send only a nobody like you?”    
He awakes in the middle of the night and goes to the Kaaba to pray.  He falls asleep and is awakened by the angel Gabriel.  Gabriel takes him on a winged white horse to Jerusalem.  Jerusalem is a holy city.  The Jewish temple is built on the rock where Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son.    Abraham is the founding monotheist who is called a Muslim in Islam, one who submits to God.  

Mohammad is going to meet Abraham.  While is he on the rock of the temple, now the Dome of the Rock, he is met by hordes of angels and is offered three goblets.   One contains wine, the second, milk, and the third water.  He chooses the milk as a middle way between asceticism and indulgence and Gabriel praises him. 
“You have been rightly guided, Muhammad, and so will your people be.”     
 A ladder is brought to him and he climbs it and ascends through the seven heavens presided by Adam, Jesus and John, Joseph, Enoch, Aaron, Moses, and finally at the seventh and highest circle, Abraham.  

This parable about Mohammad is a parable for his journey into God.  He discovers his confidence as a leader after this, his sense of purpose and meaning.    We could and should learn a lot from Mohammad.  He was an amazing person.    Leslie Hazletton and Karen Armstrong both have important introductions to his life.

Rumi, who I quoted in the bulletin today speaks of Mohammad’s night journey by turning it toward us:
“And you, when will you begin that long journey into yourself?” 
Of course, that is what these religious and spiritual stories are about.  Whether they are about Jesus or Mohammad, Abraham or Buddha, they are parables that invite us to reflect upon our own lives, and not just reflect, to invite.    What now, friend?  Who are you?  What are you made of?   Where is your journey taking you?

The Isra, or the Night Journey, is a beautiful story.   I have to admire my Muslim friends who are inspired by that story and celebrate it the way I might the story of the resurrection for example.   Because don’t these stories, these parables, all invite us to do something similar, seek a depth of life below the surface?   In Mohammad’s case, choose a goblet, drink from it, and climb the ladder.   

There will be those who will use religion as a weapon or as way to divide “us” from “them” and to manipulate our fears.  But there will also always be people, like you my friends, who hear in these religious stories from a variety of traditions, an invitation to be something better, to look beneath the surface of things, to seek what we hold in common, to build a world of peace, and to never, never, never give up.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Awakening in the Dark (11/16/14)

Awakening in the Dark
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

November 16, 2014

This series of sermons is based on a book with the title, Learning to Walk in the Dark.   Notice the title is not, What to Believe about the Dark or Have You Been Saved by the Dark or Become A Spiritual Mystic in the Dark.  It is Learning to Walk in the Dark.    

I say that to make a point.  The point of this series of sermons including today’s sermon is about practical wisdom.   The point is not metaphysics or philosophy or theories about God.  The point is learning to walk in the dark.    How to do it.

I have refrained from speaking about this, but now that I am going to be leaving I realize this is too much fun to pass up.   Over the past month a letter has circulated about me from someone in the presbytery.  This individual wrote a letter to all ministers and clerks of session in the presbytery asking the stated clerk of our presbytery to make a statement about my beliefs.  In her letter she included a cd of one of my radio programs.  She questions whether or not my beliefs are Presbyterian.    Just to squelch any rumors this has nothing to do with my decision to take another call.  This is the same old stuff that has been going on for years.     It is likely to go on for years to come wherever I go.   My gift to the universe is to make people upset about my beliefs.  I use this as a teaching moment. 

My response to all of this is, “Really?  That’s the take away?  That is the take-home message for you?”  After 140 radio shows, after nine years of sermons, the concern is about my beliefs and whether or not they are Presbyterian? 

It is like going to the opera.   Someone asks you the next day at work:  
Tell me about the opera. 
Well the bathrooms were clean.  I wish there had been more variety at the snack bar during intermission.

We brought this on ourselves for centuries of reinforcing the lowest and least interesting aspect of religion, beliefs.   Think about what happened to Jesus.  He said some provocative things, got in trouble with the authorities, got himself killed, and what happened?   People made lists of beliefs about him.  Turned him into a salvation machine and created creeds and used him to promote their pet theories of the afterlife.    Jesus said,

Love your enemies.   We said,
That is no fun and it’s too hard.  So instead we will turn you into the second person of the Trinity, sing songs about you, and regularly ingest wafers in your name.

There is nothing wrong with the Trinity or communion or singing songs about Jesus.  I love it and do it.   It is beautiful.    I admire the creativity of this human cultural product we call religion.   

Last night I loved the Indian dancing at the United Religions Initiative Gratitude Dinner.    The teacher explained the dances and how they connected to the various deities.  One was about Ganesha who removes obstacles.  Ganesha is elephant-headed god and is the nephew of someone else I can’t remember.  The dancing was beautiful, graceful and expressive.   The stories and symbols and colors all mixed together.   The students had obviously trained hard and long.  It was really impressive.  I’m glad I was there.

Here is how you ruin it.   You ask this question:

Do you believe in Ganesha?

Oh man.  Just go sit in the back.  Don’t talk anymore.  Really?  You are going to reduce this to beliefs?

I am giving away all of my books on beliefs.   What Do Presbyterians Believe?  You can have that one.   That goes for all the rest, too.  What about the Methodists.  What do they believe?  Don’t care.  Buddhists, Muslims, Jews for Jesus.   It doesn’t matter.

Two books that are not in the book sale and that will be traveling with me on the Oregon Trail are by Stephen Batchelor.   One is called Buddhism Without Beliefs and the other is called Confession of a Buddhist Atheist.  

Stephen Batchelor has to do the same thing with Buddha and his wisdom that those interested in the historical Jesus are doing with his wisdom.    The guy we call Buddha, the awakened one, wakes up, says some stuff and then, poof, all kinds of beliefs emerge about him as well including metaphysics and supernaturalism and reincarnation and who knows what all.   

Again, there is nothing wrong with that.  In fact, there is much that is right with that.     The beliefs and the practices are good to the extent that they are helpful.   They are like tools.  Here is a wrench.    Do you believe in the wrench?  That’s pretty dumb.  The wrench may be useful with this particular task or not.    If it is helpful, use it, if not use something else. 

To make beliefs more important than doing what needs to be done to engage the task is what the ancient Hebrews called idolatry.   It is making an idol of that which is not real.    Illusion is another word for it.    Icons are not bad.  Symbols are not bad.  Take care when they become the end not the means.     How do we take care?  That is the via negativa.  We let go of beliefs.   Start anew.

Let’s talk about Buddha.   There is a parable about him and his life story that is good to know.  I am not going to repeat all of that now.    The parable continues to the night in which he awakened.   The right word is not enlightened.  He woke up.      He awakened to what was real.

He wakes up and articulates truths. 
Life is dukkha which is often translated as suffering which is not exactly it, but ok.
Suffering has an origin
Suffering has a solution.
Here is the way to enact the solution.  

The Four Noble Truths and the fourth truth is the eightfold path of how to do it.

These are not beliefs, any more than “love your enemies” is a belief.    One can argue with both Buddha and Jesus about what they articulated.   I think one should do that.  I think it is far better to argue with these guys than simply believe them or not believe them.    What do you mean, Jesus, “Love your enemies?”  I can think of a lot of things to do with enemies.  Love is not one of them.   What does that mean?  How do we do it?   You start asking those questions and you are on the path.   That is far more interesting and rewarding than believing stuff.

Buddha is the focus for today.    You don’t have to be a Buddhist to appreciate his wisdom.    Use it, don’t use it. 

He says, Suffering exists.  The origin is desire.   The solution is to cease desire.  Here is how you do it
1. Right view 
2. Right intention     
3. Right speech         
4. Right action           
5. Right livelihood    
6. Right effort           
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration

There is much commentary on how to do all of that.    The point again, is that this is practical.   This is about if you will, learning to walk in the dark.    Learning to navigate this life.  How does one live wisely, with less suffering for self and others?  

Here is what I have found in my own reflection and practice.   I think of lot of suffering, anguish, dissatisfaction, and so forth is caused by my own need to cling and control.    Things change.  I change.  I don’t like it.   When I am not intentional I can spend a lot of time and energy and effort chasing illusions rather than focusing that time, energy, and effort on what is real.   

I don’t need to judge myself in regards to that.  I can notice it and then ask what I can do to increase peacefulness about it, whatever that is.   A real test of this is moving.  Moving is a high stress event.   The emotions are high in regards to saying goodbye and to anticipating what is to come and working out the many, many details.   

I am quite skilled at worrying, so the practicality for me is play out the worries, name them notice them, talk about them, and to put them on lists of when I will need to deal with them.   I find that is helpful when I do it.  

This book sale has been a real interesting event.    Those books have been collected since college in my case.  Throughout our marriage, through my three churches, and the letting go of them has been hard and emotional.    You think, really books?    It is my trade.  It is what I do.  It is what I love.   What will I do if I need this one?   They are valuable.

But what was really helpful, was yesterday to watch people pick them up by the armloads and be so happy that they found these books.    They have been sitting on our various shelves for years.     Now they might actually be read.   Watching that yesterday finally allowed me to feel good about letting go of these books.

Sometimes we need to free up space, not only physically but spiritually so that we can be open to new experiences.   That is why change is hard and yet necessary.   Change happens anyway, life is impermanence.   But we have to practice impermanence and to be open to change.  That I think is what helps us to navigate life and the disrupting changes it brings.  

Yesterday someone was telling me about sand paintings.   You create these beautiful colored paintings, intricate and detailed.  You admire them and then you destroy them.   Everything is temporary.   The heartbreaking and yet liberating challenge is to accept that and be grateful for what is.    

As we are able even if for a little to cease our clinging to whatever it is we love and want to preserve beyond the time that we can preserve it, we can let it go and let it do what it needs to do.    Like those books.   

This time for me before we leave on the day after Christmas with our three dogs in our Prairie Schooner Corolla over the 2600 mile Oregon Trail, is to admire and honor the time that I have had with you in this beautiful part of the world.   If I have learned anything or become wiser or become better at all it is because of you.  

Even for the person who worries over my beliefs, well you know, I have learned a phrase here…bless her heart.   I don't mean that in a sarcastic way.    In the true meaning of blessing one's heart.   It is all good.  Everyone has their thing.   Ganesha knows I have mine.    Sometimes you have to breathe and laugh about it and take the next step.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Can You Drink the Cup? (11/2/14)

(This is my candidacy sermon I preached before the congregation prior to its decision to extend a call to me).

Can You Drink the Cup?
John Shuck

Beaverton, Oregon

November 2nd, 2014

Where can I go from your spirit?
   Or where can I flee from your presence? 
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
   if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. 
If I take the wings of the morning
   and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, 
even there your hand shall lead me,
   and your right hand shall hold me fast. 
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
   and the light around me become night’, 
even the darkness is not dark to you;
   the night is as bright as the day,
   for darkness is as light to you.
Psalm 139:7-12

They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.’ And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’
Mark 14:32-36

Episcopal priest, professor and author Barbara Brown Taylor wrote a book this year called Learning to Walk in the Dark.   I have been working with this book in my series of sermons for this Fall.   It is a beautiful book and I recommend it.   She is engaging and thoughtful.  I interviewed her on my radio program earlier this year.  

She explores the concept of darkness.   By darkness she means actual, physical darkness as well as metaphorical darkness.    We use the word “dark” often.  Usually, we use it in a negative sense.  The Dark Lord.  The Dark Side.  The Dark Ages.   Her thesis is that darkness is not  something of which to be afraid or something from which to run, or to get through as quickly as possible so we can turn on the lights, but something to be explored as a sacred path.   We walk in the dark in order to walk toward and with the Holy.    Darkness is not evil or the absence of God but a way in which God is present. 

I have been exploring texts from the Hebrew and Christian scriptures that are set in the night or at dark.   So far, we have explored Jesus walking on water in the dark and Moses climbing the mountain dark to prepare for the Ten Commandments.  There is the crossing of the sea to escape from bondage.   That happened in the dark.  Jesus went to a deserted place to pray in the dark.  Jacob wrestled with God all night.  He ends up wounded and blessed.  Those are the stories we have explored so far this Fall.  These encounters with the holy happen in the dark or at night.   

Today’s story is also about Jesus praying at night.  The added element is the cup.  That is the metaphor for today.   The invitation to drink the cup.    Before I go there, I should say a few words about how I look at these stories about Jesus. 

Historical Jesus scholar, John Dominic Crossan, wrote a book last year called The Power of Parable:  How Fiction By Jesus Became Fiction About Jesus.   Jesus told parables.  We know the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and so forth.   There are also parables about Jesus.  These are the stories we find in the gospels.   

With the parables that Jesus told, we are not concerned whether or not the prodigal son and his father and brother were real people and whether or not the story happened.  It is a parable that invites reflection on many things such as sibling rivalry, justice, reconciliation, the complex relationships of fathers and sons and so on.  The parable doesn’t live or die based on whether or not it happened.  

Similarly, stories in the Bible including stories about Jesus do not live or die depending upon whether or not they are historical. The evangelists were not giving us a biography or an historical report of the life of Jesus.   They were presenting a portrait or a parable of Jesus.   We are instead invited to explore what the stories might mean for us.   

The gospel writers would tell parables about Jesus by going back into their traditions, such as the Hebrew scriptures and drawing themes and details from those stories and then using those themes and details to create parables about Jesus.    Some are obvious.    Matthew bases the birth narrative on the story of Moses as a baby.   Pharaoh slaughters the children.   Herod slaughters children.   In both cases the chosen child escapes.  

The passion narratives are similarly constructed.   In our story today, Jesus ascends to the Mount of Olives to pray.  The Mount of Olives is also the legendary site of his ascension to heaven.   I visited the Holy Land in 1994.  It was a pilgrimage, a tour of the famous places.   We visited the place of Jesus’ supposed ascension.  The tour guide pointed to the very rock from which Jesus stood.  He also pointed out an indention in the rock.

Yep.  Jesus’ footprint.  For the curious, Jesus was about a size seven.   

The Jesus Seminar suggests that Jesus ascending the Mount of Olives to pray is drawn from David ascending the Mount of Olives weeping over the betrayal by both his son and his counselor.  That story is told in 2 Samuel 15-17.  Jesus is a David type.   They even share interesting details.  In both stories, for instance, the betrayer kisses the hero.    Absalom kisses David and Judas kisses Jesus.  

I trust that I can share this information with you since you have been hosting Jesus Seminars on the Road.  In fact, the one coming up in a couple of weeks with Steve Patterson should be a great weekend.  I interviewed Steve last week on my radio program on his new book on Christian origins.    

One aspect of being progressive is to evaluate our traditions and our stories critically.   Then the task is to reflect on the wisdom and truth of these traditions and stories.    We ask how are these stories true to our experience?  How do they inspire us?

So, we have Jesus ascending the Mount of Olives in the dark.  Betrayed.  Disappointed.  Filled with loss.  Anxious.  Grieving.   He prays that God would take the cup, whatever all of that means.  Then he says, “But your will be done.”   That is true.  We know this.  We know grief, loss, disappointment, angst.    Jesus is not exempt from this human experience.  

This is Mark’s parable of Jesus.  This is Mark’s imagining how Jesus might have faced his crucifixion.   This story is told decades after the historical Jesus.   By that time the theology of death and resurrection, and the cup that symbolizes that is part of the Jesus tradition.   The cup is heavy, filled with meaning.  The cup is not only a cup of sorrow, but a cup of life, of resurrection.  

Mark is not telling this parable of Jesus to speak only about Jesus.  He is writing to inspire and encourage his contemporaries to be brave, to be vulnerable, to trust and to drink the cup of sorrow and resurrection as he imagined Jesus did.

What might it mean to drink the cup?

In June of 2012, we lost our son, Zachary.  He was 25.  He suicided.  That is the cup we bring with us.   His death is not the cup.  The cup is the potential response on my part, and I will speak for me, to his death.   My decision to drink the cup is my decision to be vulnerable, to be brave, to trust, and like Jacob, to take one limping step in front of another in this life that is equal part dark and equal part light.   To drink the cup is to say this is my life experience.  I won’t run or hide or deny it as much as I might want to do so.     

Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a famous book over 40 years ago called When Bad Things Happen to Good People.  In it, he spoke of the death of his 15 year-old son after a long illness.   Many years later reflecting on this experience, Rabbi Kushner said that before his son’s death he was an average rabbi.  Afterwards he experienced real depth, insight, and spiritual growth.    This experience made him a better rabbi. 

Then he said something equally true.  He said if he could choose he would give all of that up if he could have his son back.  Then he said but we cannot choose.  

The only thing we can choose is to respond to what is.   Author and spiritual leader, Joyce Rupp wrote a book called The Cup of Our Life:  A Guide For Spiritual Growth.   She begins the book with this quote from May Sarton:

This cup holds grief and balm
            In equal measure, light, darkness.
Who drinks from it must change.

Buddhists have been our best teachers in regards to impermanence and change.   Impermanence means that nothing is permanent.   Everything changes.   That being true, drinking the cup is accepting that as opposed to living in a state of resistance, clinging, or self-destruction.     To drink the cup means that we change with change.  

As we were going through things to pack just this past week, I ran across my great-grandmother’s autograph book.  It was from 1876.  She was a young woman, 23 I believe, and about to take a trip from Lockport, New York to California.   Relatives and friends signed this autograph book for her before she departed on her journey.    A young woman travelling from New York to California in 1876 was no light trip.  That was reflected in the comments.  Her father wrote several lines about that and how he hoped to see her home safe, but if that was not to be then he would see her on that other shore where all sorrows cease.   It was written in elegant 19th century prose with impeccable penmanship.    There were numerous other autographs and comments.     One stuck out.    It simply said:

This too shall pass.  

You can only wonder and speculate about all the meaning behind that comment.  What was the relationship between mother and daughter and mother’s opinion regarding this journey?    That will remain a mystery.  Regardless of the back story, what Mother said is absolute truth.   

This too shall pass.

Whatever it is, it will pass.    That is the truth of life.   The question becomes, given that, given that nothing is permanent, that all is change, that this, too, all joy and all sorrow, shall pass, given that, can you drink the cup?   Can you accept that, weep, laugh, hold your head up, and live?   Can you say, “Yes” to life?

Or in the words of Mary Oliver, in the poem with which we began the service:

Tell me what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?  

I talked about the cup that is our response to our son.   Everyone here has a cup of some kind.   While each cup is unique, each cup is also quite similar.   To put it in Christian terms, that cup of death and resurrection, that cup from brokenness to life is a shared cup.    As Marcus Borg says we die to old ways of being and rise to new ways of being.  

This parable of Jesus praying at night in the dark about his cup shows me that in the midst of his struggle he is not alone.    This prayer on the Mount of Olives is a sacred moment.    The Holy, God, Spirit, whatever word or symbol we might use, was present.

Likewise, our own moments in the dark, not seeing, not knowing what is ahead, moving not by sight but by feeling our way is not a sign of divine absence, even as it might have felt like it.   As the psalmist wrote:

“Where can I go from your spirit…
 even the darkness is not dark to you;
   the night is as bright as the day,
   for darkness is as light to you.

I want to say that.   

I also want to say that this walk in the dark and this drinking of the cup is a shared experience.   And it is a sacred experience.  It is a shared, sacred experience.  As we connect we participate in a sacred and holy act.   As a community, we drink the cup of shared sorrows and resurrections.   The Risen Christ is in our midst.

If you extend a call to me to be your pastor, I will share this walk and your cup with you.    As individuals and as a community, I will be with you.   I will dream with you, plan with you, learn with you, listen to you, serve with you, laugh and weep with you.   I will have more questions than answers and more doubts than certainties.   

I come not as one who pretends to have the answers or a ten-point-plan-in-a-can for success.  I am, however, excited and energized about exploring possibilities with you about how our ministry will take shape in this place and turning those possibilities into actions.   

Mostly I come as one who has an increasing awareness of the preciousness and the precariousness of life.    I come as one who has walked in the dark and in the light and who has needed to make the choice to drink a particular cup.     Because of that I can share your walk and your cup as so many have walked and shared their cup with me.