Prepared Messages for February 9 Meeting for Worship

Kitty Bendixen-park Worship Leader 2/9/2014

Friends, have you ever been flat out on your back, sick, and uncertain, paralyzed in fear, resigned in your depression? And who carried you then? Who picked you up in love and faith and ushered you into a whole new order of being, who took you to the feet of the healer and held your hand when grace swept over you? Who in your life has done this holy work, pushing past your passivity, past your grief, and your woundedness?

And what about you? Do you not have strong arms? Who have you carried in the act of faithing? Who in your life have you loved past their feelings of hopelessness?

Are we not all gathered here today because there are those who carried us in faith to this moment in time, to this manifestation of the beloved community? And in our still, quiet moments in prayer, in worship, do we not hear a call to pick up and carry others, to be radiant in our faith—to be agents for life? (Reading from the book: Practicing Peace: a devotional walk through the Quaker tradition ed, by Catherine Whitmire, Sorin Books, 2007. This entry, pp. 85-86, was written by Beckey Phipps, 2004.)

We are called to give ourselves to others in ways that matter. Giving ourselves away has never been about being successful or self-important, Jesus calls us to be faithful. When Jesus called his first disciples, they gave up everything, their occupations, their possessions, some their families, and went with Jesus to learn what God’s kingdom was all about. And so did Paul. He gave up a successful career, as a rabbi, in order to go traipsing around the ancient world teaching and preaching the Good News of God.

But these were not the only people to give themselves to the ongoing practice of listening and opening themselves to following God’s leading. The author of Hebrews has a whole list of people who lived faithful, though far from perfect lives. Chapter 11, reminds us that we cannot expect faith to be much more than “an assurance of things hoped for” and a “proving of things not seen.” We’re not to expect miraculous interventions and huge cash inflows, because faith is a pilgrimage, a journey not of arrival and status, but of an active encounter with the Living God moment by moment along the way. And it may not lead to success and fame. Many who gave themselves faithfully to God were tortured, mocked, flogged, imprisoned, stoned to death, slaughtered by the sword and sawn in two, the text says. Now this probably won’t happen to us as we learn to give ourselves away to God’s leadings.

But the author of Hebrews reminds us that plenty of faithful people were homeless, jobless, outcasts, refugees, just plain destitute. The lives and ministries of these faithful people were not successful by modern standards. They took great risks, and found no quick fixes, many of their lives did not have happy endings. All these faithful people “died in faith without cashing in on the promise.” And yet, they teach us that listening to God’s calling is always an act of faith. Lasting faith and authentic spirituality is not easy, sensational or fleeting, but rather long and drawn out. You see we do not quickly conform ourselves to God’s ways. Giving ourselves away is a spiritual exercise of non-attachment. It involves the steady discipline of listening, discerning and then taking risks of faithful, holy obedience. The kind that Jesus modeled and calls us to follow.

This Meeting is already involved in self-emptying ministry and there are endless ways to give ourselves away. We give ourselves away by giving our time and energy when no one else will. We give ourselves away by loving those who are forgotten and forsaken when others don’t. We give our strength and labor when that is what is needed. We give our money and resources to make sure things happen that need to happen. We give ourselves away when we welcome the poor, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, encourage the sick, visit the imprisoned. When we stand up and advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves, we are giving ourselves away. We give our prayers, our gifts, our service, our presence and the witness of our testimonies.

Fifty years ago, someone from this Meeting gave themselves away by leaving a box of groceries at the door of a family living on Dalke, about three houses down from Pam and Bill Emery. The father was out of work at the time, laid off, there was only bread in the house to eat. But a seed was planted that day, a hope restored, a mother’s prayer answered, a sign given that somebody cared. Fifty years ago, I was six years old, and someone gave themselves away, so that I could have something to eat. I think I know who she was. She ministered to both me and my family. She did not know what would become of the seed that she planted, but she risked planting it anyway. She listened, she followed her awakened heart’s leading. And I am here today to bear witness that giving ourselves away matters. It matters greatly. I was a life that was changed.

Fifty years ago, it was another group of people in this Meeting who shouldered the responsibility of bringing the Good News of God to our neighbors and community. Now, it is our season to shoulder this responsibility. Now, it is our turn to be a light in the darkness. It is not by accident that God has gathered each of us here today, at this particular moment in history, this particular configuration of people. There is a reason, there is a purpose, and our job today, and every day frankly, is to listen to God, to discern the Spirit’s leading and to faithfully obey. Even if it costs us, remember Hebrews 11. This is our time, it stands on our shoulders to keep the fire burning, to keep our doors open, to be caretakers and stewards of the gifts and resources God has so generously given to each of us.

We celebrate the lives of those who have gone before us in this Meeting, and I especially. Those who faithfully listened and risked following the Spirit’s leading in their time. And while we are not beholden to them, to doing things the same way they did, we are connected by the convictions of our faith, by our shared Quaker heritage and by our desire to follow with integrity wherever we discern that God is leading our Meeting, today.

Kitty Bendixen-park 2/9/2014

Nick Block 2/92014

Paul wrote in Philippians 3: Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

I saw Russell Wilson, the Seahawks young quarter back, interviewed the other evening.  He is an impressive young man.  He repeated in the interview how, growing up, when an opportunity arose, his father would ask him, “Why not you?” And then how, as this last season began, he asked the whole football team, “Why not us?” being the national football champions.

For any of that to have happened in his life, first it required that Russell was given the sense that he mattered, that he was valued for who he was.  His identity was instilled.  You can’t make anything of yourself if your self doesn’t exist?

Most of us have raised children, matter of fact all of us at some point in our lives were children.  We can each recall specific moments in our growing up. I remember, in Cub Scouts, learning to tie a tie.  I remember getting my drivers license.  I also remember getting my first traffic ticket and my father’s admonition that if I couldn’t pay it myself I could work it out on what was then called the “P” farm,  that is the prison farm.  I remember buying my first car, a rusted out 1947 Chevy, and then having to replace the axle after popping the clutch.  For some reason High school graduation isn’t as keen a memory as turning seventeen.  We all recall such moments of new found maturity, each such moment challenging us to be more grown up.

Immaturity in individuals, unfortunately, is easier to identify than maturity.  Don Smith, evidently a student of Bowen Family Systems Theory, says that being an authentic adult is hard work and a never completed task. The pathway to maturity is paved with difficulty and challenge.  To become an adult, he says, every person faces the task of the differentiation of self.  This might be helpful: to not differentiate is to fail to become a separate person.  As a non-person we simply blend in with the masses, place responsibility on others for the situations or predicaments in which we find ourselves and even the hurdles we face – literally for the way in which our lives develop or not. Don Smith listed 18 ways to describe self differentiation – I’ve listed just a few.
I think the first maybe: Being willing to say clearly who I am and who I want to be while others are trying to tell me who I am and who I should be.  Next is :Intentionally developing autonomy and intimacy. As I develop autonomy I set myself towards achieving my dreams and ambitions. As I develop intimacy, I allow those close to me to see and know me as I really am.  Another is: Learning to live from the sane, thinking and creative person I am, who can perceive possibilities and chase dreams and ambitions without hurting others in the process.
Then there is the need to become aware of where controlling emotions and highly reactive behavior have directed my life, then, opting for better and more purposeful growth born of creative thinking.  It requires giving up the search for the arrival of a the proverbial Knight in Shining Armour who will save me from the struggles and possibilities presented in everyday living.
Leaving the need for “instant” gratification and choosing to engage in a process when it comes to love, miracles, the future, healing and all the important and beautiful things in life.
There is also deciding to enjoy the water rather than praying for it to be wine; learning to swim in it rather than trying to walk on it. Of course that’s all about growing up, the putting away childish things like going with the latest fad, swallowing whole the most recent book on how to be more religious. One of the surest signs of immaturity is a closed minded, confident, arrogant certainty.

Maturity is about accepting yourself as God accepts you: a person with certain God given characteristics which are advantages, no matter how much they may seem like disadvantages in the moment. These characteristics include your physical appearance, your temperament, your family and ancestry, and your mental endowments. Having all these characteristics you learn that you are a dearly beloved child of a loving God who through the presence of the Holy Spirit patiently leads, guides, comforts and teaches you

God’s design for the church is that we should relate to one another honestly yet lovingly. As we carry out our mutual truth in love ministry the result will be that choices and decisions will be made with harmony throughout the church. If the world wasn’t such a broken place the end result of such church harmony would be that because of the church’s clear witness to the world people would be attracted, numbers would increase and the body would be strengthen spiritually. That may be the world’s definition of success.  The more important element is that there be a clear witness made because it is to that we are called.

It takes a Spirit-led blend of courage and compassion to speak the truth in love. Others in the body of Christ are God’s chosen instruments as well.  It’s not wise to reject God’s instruments! God knows what we need better than you do. You are where you are because that is where God wants you. God put you with those around you because they are the people you need and you are the kind they need. They may be rather prickly and thorny and hard to live with–and they may think of you in cactus-like terms as well! But they are what you need at the present time, and you are what they need.  It takes a willingness to accept others, forgive others, forbear with others, and compromising on secondary issues so that our primary issues of our unity, our love, and our witness–may never be compromised.

The apostle Paul gives us the ultimate goal of the life of faith. It is the measuring stick by which we can judge our progress as individuals and as a community.  In verse 13 he says it is “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” And in verse 15 he urges us to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” He puts it also in a most descriptive phrase, “mature manhood”! That means God wants you and me to fulfill our humanity, the design for us that God intended when He created the first man and the first woman.

But today we are going to talk about how that relates to being a faithful community.  Does a community have an identity.  Is a community of faith an entity beyond being a gathering of individual persons?

Maybe some of those standards of self differentiation identified earlier should be held against our Meeting.

The first is our willingness to say clearly who we are and who we want to be while others are trying to tell us who we are and who we should be.

We spoke of the need to pair autonomy with intimacy.  What does that look like in the context of a community among other faith communities. The Meeting develops a sense of autonomy as we set ourselves towards contemplating and then achieving dreams and ambitions for ministries. The intimacy piece of that is allow others to see and know us as we really are.

It’s interesting to imagine an organization learning – but I want to point out to you that we’ve seen it.  I don’t think Mary and Judy would mind me using them as an illustration or the Eastern Washington students who introduced to the concern for the transgendered.  Our Meeting has demonstrated the capacity to learn.  And when learn to trust the community’s capacity to be lead by Christ’s spirit to perceive possibilities, entertain dreams and articulate ambitions the ministry that can be achieved is far beyond what any one of us could manage.

Yes, the community needs to be aware of where controlling emotions and highly reactive behavior have directed our corporate life in the past. That opens us up to opting for better and more purposeful growth in the future.

To live with the hope that there might come a Knight in Shining Armour who will save us from our struggles and challenges we face as community is simply trusting in that which is other than God. As Paul told the Corinthians, they already had everything necessary to be the church God intended them to be, to do the ministries God intended for them to undertake.  Our recent experience is responding to challenges God puts, quite unceremoniously, on our front porch.  That’s God’s challenge to us.
Nothing happens worth while that doesn’t cost something.  As individuals must be mature enough to give up the allure of instant gratification our community must understand the need for the sometimes painful and lengthy process of discernment that leaves no one behind when it comes to the working out of love, miracles, the future, healing and all the important and beautiful things that God puts on our plate.

Don Smith, in his list of marks of the self differentiated life speaks of the need to decide to enjoy the water.  It is water, don’t expect it to be wine.  Don’t try and walk on the water, maturity involves recognizing our limitations. Rather he suggests that we should enjoy swimming in it, knowing full well that we aren’t responsible for success, only for making a valiant effort to respond to God’s call on our Meeting.

God’s overarching goal is to produce a community of faith, consisting of women and men  who personally and corporately demonstrate the character of Jesus Christ. God does not necessarily want a church filled with white-robed saints. I don’t think God is interested in a church filled with theological authorities or cultured clergy persons. God wants a church which lives out the extraordinary integrity, temperament, wholeness, compassion, individuality, boldness, righteousness, earnestness, love, forgiveness, selflessness, and self giving faithfulness of Jesus Christ!

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